As temperatures began to plunge in Helsinki, a soggy excuse for snow fall out of the sky and the November blues seep in, I decided to head out for a small tour of the ex-Yugoslav republics of South-East Europe. My hasty escape would take me through Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, in hopes of sampling the textural differences of this area which I’d only previously seen from the Serbian side.
The South-Eastern parts of Europe have quickly risen as my favorite nooks of my home continent, thanks to the fantastic broth of various cultural influences. Whereas in South-East Asia the cultural mix has been tossed around on the waves of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, here in Europe, the lifelines of cultural interaction have been the roads of the Roman Empire and nation states spawned by it.
The Northern parts of Croatia are sat straight in the middle roads which have linked cities like Rome and Vienna to the eastern Slavic and Turkish empires for millennia. The ensuing culture has been molded as expected. In the capital Zagreb, great wines and pastas sit comfortably on the same dinner table as Germanic pates, Turkish grilled meats and Russian pickles.
A few hours west from Zagreb, along the coast bordering Italy, the dialect, faces of people and cuisine quickly take on a decidedly more Mediterranean hue. More specifically, these are Venetian lands of old. In Pula, some of the most pristine Roman theatres and temples I’ve seen rise out of fishing communities built up and razed over millennia by nearly every great empire of Europe, Africa and the Middle-East.
The city of Rovinj turned out to be a particularly beautiful nook of this interesting land. A dense hill of grey rock and cobblestone rises from the sea like a vast barnacle, with a single solitary church sitting at the top to provide shelter and spirit to wary seamen. A place like this speaks true to anyone and everyone like me, who’s grown up to the lullabies of seagulls and still has their ears tuned to the winds.
In large parts, Croatia is a perfect destination to sample European history and the various cultures involved therein within a welcoming, easy to navigate, delicious and (still)inexpensive country. And the north especially so, where tourism is still unobtrusive and the locals genuine, unlike in the south of the country.
From Rovinj, I was set to cross the border into Slovenia to an old expat contact. But before that, a few last glasses of wine along the marina, listening to boats lapping on night waves.