Croatia has been at the very top of my “to visit” list for years now. In fact, I’d planned to go during my year aboard, but timing-wise it just didn’t work out as I wanted to go during the warmer summer months, but was still in South America in late July. So I wrote it off as a destination to look forward to.
I could hardly believe my fortune when I was told that the company I’d started working at post-traveling (Covideo) was preparing to open a second office in Croatia… of all places! It seemed like fate. And it seemed like I need to do quick work to prove my worth and secure a ticket overseas ASAP.
Earlier this year I was given that very opportunity to prove myself when my boss set a fairly significant sales goal for me in Q1. “If you hit it, we’ll send you to Croatia.” By the second month of the quarter I had surpassed the goal. I was NOT fucking about.
After connecting through Paris early Tuesday morning, I arrived in Zagreb, Croatia that same afternoon. I was anxious to get through customs since my friend and colleague Marinko was picking me up. Marinko is Croatian, but moved to the US when he was in middle school. After completing his education and working for a few years, he decided it was finally time to head home to Croatia, where he now heads up Covideo’s European office. But more on him later.
“Customs” turned out to be three guys huddled around a desk who simply smiled and waved at me while I cautiously walked through, worried it was a little too easy and fully prepared to be tackled at any moment. But there was no such action, and Marinko was there shortly to pick me up and take me to my AirBNB and the Covideo office as I had a scheduled call later that day.
At the office I was greeted by my lovely colleagues – all of whom have been so kind and welcoming, despite their protests that Croatians are “rude” and “cold”… that has not been my experience at all. Then again perhaps I’m just too busy smiling and gapping at the lovely scenery to notice.
My initial impression of Zagreb:
- The city/buildings are beautifully old and crumbly (I mean this in a wonderful, charming way)
- It’s also graffitied. Everywhere. Even on the beautifully old, crumbly buildings (I do not mean this in a wonderful, charming way).
- Parks are FULL of people making out shamelessly. Like I’m talking I’ll spot them making out as I approach from one side of the park and when I walk past them 2-3 minutes later they’re STILL making out. I’m told it’s because Croatian families are pretty conservative, so you have to find somewhere away from your home/street/neighborhood to go at it. I’m convinced it’s because everyone is super hot (see below).
- Despite its stature, coffee is big here. Nearly every Croatian I meet makes a point to tell me about the coffee culture. Asking someone to “get a coffee” here is not a quick, 20 minute affair. It’s an hours long commitment where you’ll sit outside at one of the thousands of cafes, sipping espressos, people watching and catching up. It’s America’s version of “let’s get a drink.” Which means are least two, but probably four glasses of wine/beer/cocktails.
- The portions of meat and potatoes are comical. It’s like they’re serving meals for the stage – they pile it up so that even the audience in the back can see. Then it’s covered in a downpour of gravy. It’s a Thanksgiving meal, masquerading as a weekday lunch.
- And the most noticeable of all: the enormously tall and gut-wrenchingly beautiful people. Honest to God, I’ve done more double-takes this week than I have in the past 6 months in America.
Croatians seem to strut, but with an easy confidence that lets you know it isn’t forced. They’re tidy, put-together, polished – classy. It makes me regret my relaxed wardrobe that I’ve crammed into a carry-on bag. I don’t really regret the amount (I’m not a fan of checking luggage) but I wish I would have packed smarter looking things. Instead I’m in the laidback beachwear that I had picture myself wearing on a sailboat while sipping a drink. Maybe there was a brightly colored scarf tied around my head in the fantasy (there was).
Alas, I find myself surrounded by hoards of spectacularly tall, slender and fashionable Croatians, while I flop about in over-sized bag-looking dresses. Perhaps I’ll come off as “exotic” to Croatian men? A girl can dream…