Europe is a continent that I spent much time exploring during my early travel days. My first big trip out of the country was to Ireland; then I spent several of my college breaks visiting friends abroad. I took each opportunity to visit as many countries as I could. But, the one place I always dreamt of visiting was Croatia.
Croatia plays a large role in my family history. It is where my paternal grandfather, Emilio, was born in 1923. Actually, during that time the part of the country he was from wasn’t even Croatia. Instead, it was a part of Italy, and the rest of the country was Yugoslavia. Though my grandfather doesn’t talk much about his life growing up there, I do know that he was in the army, and I also know that he left the country at 18, around the time Croatia was involved in World War II.
Knowing that my family was from a place that I knew little about, I had always been interested to travel there; it was always important to me. In 2006, my dreams came true with a family vacation that included the island of Cres, the place of my grandfather’s birth.
On this trip, we were only in the country for five days, but they were completely unforgettable. Not only did we stay in the small town that my grandfather was born in, but we also stayed in the house where he was raised. We learned all about our family history: visiting gravestones and olive oil trees that were once our own. We also lounged on the smooth pebbled beach in town, swam in the Adriatic, drank plenty of Croatian wine and beer, feasted on traditional delicacies, napped during the day, and explored the towns on the island. It was the most relaxed I have ever been in my life.
But, aside from it’s lifestyles that promote relaxation, Croatia is also great for those traveling on a budget. Now, my experiences of the country are different because I’ve never stayed in a hotel or hostel there. However, because Croatia currently uses the kuna instead of the Euro, it is cheaper than most of Western Europe. The exchange rate for Americans is a great one: 1 Croatian kuna = 0.1749 US dollars, which is a welcome change from the euro: 1 euro = 1.3171 US dollars. This alone is a welcome change for your wallet.
For me, Croatia offers much more than a cheap stay. The beaches are beautiful and relatively crowd-free, and the Adriatic Sea is warm and crystal clear. You can admire the fish and sea urchins below you, as you cool off from the hot sun. The food is also some of the best I’ve had in any country. While it’s very similar to Italian – pizza, pasta, fish, and gelato – they have many of their own dishes that match perfectly with their beer and wine. And, the people are among the friendliest I’ve met around the world. No matter where you go in Croatia, you are sure to be met with a breath-taking view, plenty to eat, and a smiling face .
While I may be a bit biased in my love for Croatia, it is not only a place I would encourage everyone to visit, but it is also a place I could see myself living in. My current life, living right outside of New York City, can be a bit hectic, since I’m constantly on the go. But, life in Croatia would be a welcome change. The scenery, food, and laid-back attitude are exactly what I would like to infuse into my daily life, and I know, Croatia is just the place to do that.
This post is part of BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge 2012.
Week ten’s topic: Europe! What have you done in your own visits to Europe to make it more budget-friendly or to get away from the crowds? If you were going to spend several weeks – or several months – in Europe, where would you go (and why)?