Monday 15 April 2019

What is wrong with this picture of Dubrovnik?

One day, far in the distant future, I dream of returning to ancient and beautiful Dubrovnik.
When the overblown TV series has been long forgotten and the hordes of ridiculous fanatical tv fans have left that incredible city, forgotten by the world, and are back on their sofas watching some other mind numbing dross.
I cannot take a single step inside those city walls until those that make the pilgrimage come for the splendour of ancient history and the beauty of the architecture, not purely to take a selfie on what they only view as a stage set for their imagined heroes and heroins.
Proud Dubrovnik has many times repelled invasions but so far has failed to prevail in this modern battle. A true Trojan Horse, the city has opened it's doors and invited them in.

Sunday 14 April 2019

Tips and tricks for survival in Karin.

Karin survival guide. Also applies to any small town in Croatia. 

1. Bars do not serve food of any kind. Not even crisps. It is acceptable to bring your own food to the bar of any kind and eat it there, inside or out. Everyone smokes inside, it's against the law but they don't care.

2. Restaurants are bars that serve food. Everyone smokes inside or out. (Except posh restaurants in cities like Zadar)

3. Restaurant Dalmacija is our favourite place, it's not flashy but the food is great and the people are lovely.

4. Cafe Bar Way is the local hangout.

5. Restaurant Ivan is slightly tidier than Dalmacija, the food is the same, but it's a steep walk up the hill.

6. There will be other bars that open in the summer. In Croatia you are never more than 10 meters away from a bar.

7. You pay at the end. Don't expect the waiter to be in a rush to serve you or bring your bill. Relax and wait. Polako means "slowly" and applies to all of Croatian life.

8. If someone invites you for a drink or a meal, they will normally expect to pay the bill. The reverse also applies.

9. Not many people speak English here, they will assume you are German if you don't speak Croatian. Menus in small Croatian restaurants are almost all identical. Don't be expecting world food.

10. A white coffee is Bijelo Kava. Pronounced "Beeyellow Karver". Coffee is like religion here. A Croatian can sit in a cafe bar for 4 hours with one coffee and 6 friends, then go to the next cafe bar. You will usually get a glass of water with your coffee.

11. Beer is pivo, but everyone asks for the brands: Ozjusko pronounced "Osejoossko" or Pan pronounced "Pan" or Karlovacko pronounced "Karlovachko". Pan is the nicest and easiest to say. I drink Ozjusko.

12. White wine is Bijelo Vino Red is Crno Vino. Don't expect a wine list, but they will have local wine which is lovely, as well as the usual basic choices.

13. Gemist pronounced "Gemmisht" is a white wine spritzer. Bambus is red wine and cola (yes, really!).

14. Kids drink Cedevita which is a powdered multivitamin squash like thing. Or coke. There is no diet coke. Or diet anything. Everything is full fat.

15. You will be offered a rakija "Rakeeya" at times, often on the house. It will either be sweet and lovely, or like paint stripper. It's very rude not to drink it immediately in one shot and say "MMMmmmmm". Rakija is the local hooch, everyone has a still in their shed, it's legal to make your own spirits. Our house is full of the stuff.

16. Cevap pronounced "Chevap" or "Chevapi" or Chevapchichi" is the standard food item. It's a bit like a mincemeat skinless sausage which is grilled. It's dirt cheap and the portions are massive.

17. The fish is always excellent. Black risotto and squid are always good.

18. Meat is excellent. A whole lamb or pig on a spit is common. But don't expect any kind of finesse or presentation of food.

19. Pizzas here are better than in Italy and very common and cheap, go to Pizzicatos for the best pizza, they also do takeaways as do all the restaurants. Just ask. It's also normal to ask for a doggy bag.

20. Vegetarians are better off going on a diet for their stay here.

21. The shops are mini markets, full of allsorts, but it's almost impossible to buy all the things you need for an actual meal. We go to Plodine the supermarket in Benkovac for provisions. Or Zadar.

22. Buy fruit and veg from the pop up stalls in Karin or on the road sides, this is direct from the producer, fresh and cheap.

23. There is no convenience food. No ready meals. Except frozen pizza. Everyone cooks from basic ingredients.

24. Bread (Kruh) is everywhere. If there is a huge meal and more food on the plate than you can eat in a week, a Croatian will ask "where's the bread?"

25. If a Croatian man says he is going to light his grill (BBQ), get a bottle of red and sit down in front of it, you've just been invited to dinner.

26. Croatians drive either incredibly slowly, or at full speed everywhere. Indicating is either non existent or done at the point of direction change or just after. It is compulsory to be on the phone if you have a steering wheel in front of you. Watch out for people pulling out at junctions and overtaking, they will expect you to brake!


Croatian is pronounced exactly as it is spelled. You only need to know the sounds of the letters. Some are slightly different to English. Rs are rolled as in French. A č or a ć is "ch", but a c is "ts" like in cats. Pronunciation is everything, but if you go 10 miles away, they pronounce things differently. It's a constant battle.

Dobro Jutro or just jutro, is good morning.
Dobar dan is good day, Dobra večer is good evening. Laku noć is good night.
Hvala is thank you.
Molim is a bit like please, but more like Bitte schön in German, said in response to Hvala. Bog or bok is "Hi".
Vidimo se is see you.
The bill is račun (rachoon) You already know beer, wine and menu!

Wednesday 10 April 2019

Benkovac Fair

Where can you buy a sack of potatoes, tomato plants, a fishing rod, an antique taxi meter, a live pig, a tractor, an axe, a huge wooden table, some flowers (or some flour), 10kg of cheese, a brass tuba (or a vegetable tuba), some socks, a horse, a cowboy hat, a giant spoon and a book about dragons?

The answer is not ebay. It is far better than that. In this fantastical place you can also get a beer and eat as much pork or lamb, freshly cooked on the spit, as you can eat.

Where is this incredible destination? Benkovac Fair, situated in Central Dalmatia, about half an hour from Zadar inland. You don't need directions. Just get yourself to somewhere near Benkovac town and follow the 10,000 or so visitors who go each month on the 10th.
Go early in the morning, if you want to avoid the huge traffic queues which form after 9am until 11am. By 2pm it's winding down, this is a morning event.
Parking is chaotic, so take care when driving along the road by the market as people return to their cars with chickens, sacks of produce, tools etc.

The Fair is free to enter and people come from all over Croatia to visit this famous monthly event. Mostly Croatians come for the social side of things, if you know any Croatian people, you'll understand why. They come early and sit in one of the many places to eat, where they meet their friends and talk all morning whilst consuming huge quantities of pork or lamb and of course, beer. Don't expect fine dining here, or even some potatoes or salad with you meal, but you can expect good value delicious meat and good company.

Like the ancient fairs that were held in many European countries 100 years ago and more, this is a really traditional event, where almost anything you can imagine can be bought and sold. The focus is on agriculture and food but you can also buy any kind of clothing, tools, etc.

Look out for seasonal foods and produce, they are always in evidence at the Fair. This month (April) I saw puzevi (or puzi) which are edible snails popular at this time of year.  Being Spring, there were also a large amount of plants for the vegetable garden.

I went this time to meet my friend Ljubo who was going for the first time with his traditionally hand-made furniture. He makes beautiful tables and chairs (and more) from reclaimed Croatian sourced hardwood. See for more information.

It really is a must go destination if you are in the area on the 10th of any month. The Fair is bigger in the summer months but even in the depths of winter, it is still amazing.

And if you really want that book about Chinese dragons, where else will you find it?