I deliberately did not put much thought into how things would be different moving from lovely Jelsa on the island of Hvar to a village just outside Varazdin in late December. I wanted the experience to wash over me to see what things stood out as strikingly different. Ten days into our new life, things are VERY different, in a number of ways. Let's start with the most obvious ones.
Of course one of the attractions is better access to the rest of the world. With our latest project, Total Zagreb, starting next month, a 58-minute drive to the Total apartment in Zagreb certainly beats the early morning catamaran, then the wait for the five-hour bus ride (assuming the motorway at Sveti Rok is open). Just 18 km from Slovenia and both Austria and Hungary accessible within an hour, a whole new world has opened up. But is more than that - the mentality is taking time to adapt to the fact that one can simply jump in the car and go anywhere, rather than first checking the ferry timetable to see what might be possible to plan. And no more pressure to make the last ferry is a rather nice feeling, although I can already imagine how I will enjoy the island lifestyle when I go back this summer.
Again, a lifestyle changer. Several big shopping malls around the centre of town, as well as big-name international stores, combined with entertainment facilities such as a cinema and bowling centre. But these modern additions are contrasted beautifully by the more traditional shopping experience in the picturesque old town of Varazdin. As with the access above, the overwhelming choice is an adrenaline rush which I am sure will wear off soon, but it is very refreshing.
3. The weather
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, I was expecting grey skies, but for the first ten days, nine of them have been as sunny as Dalmatia, although a lot colder. Temperatures of minus 5 are just the start, apparently, and I watch with trepidation at the nightly routine of my experienced neighbours covering their cars and overall oozing experience of winter survival where this Dalmatian virgin will be found wanting. And as I write these words about the sun, I see the first snowfall covering my garden. Time to learn the ancient art of shovelling snow...
4. Traffic lights
Imagine living on an island for years which has no traffic lights. It is quite an odd feeling, and while I have driven a lot on the mainland, one cute quirk about the traffic lights in Varazdin is that they have a useful timer, informing drivers how many seconds remain until the lights change. It has a strangely therapeutic effect, at least on this driver.
For traffic lights on a Dalmatian island, read roundabouts.
6. Driving habits
This has all contributed to a change in the way I drive. With more element of control and rules, as well as the increase in traffic, the more relaxed island driving habits are slowly being erased.
Now for some of the more interesting discoveries.
7. Milk ATMs
Meet the Varazdin cow, the local Mjlekomat, or milkomat, which the kids are already in love with. Simply bring your own empty bottle and fill up to your heart's content. Supplied by a local farm daily, the price of a litre is 5 kuna. There are a lot of such initiatives around at first glance, and I can see that shopping will be a mixture of those shopping malls and relationships with local producers for the freshest local fruit and veg.
Dalmatia is a very friendly place, and its people are very welcoming. Perhaps it is much me, but I found that most socialising was done in cafes and popping into other houses unannounced was not as common. What a difference life up here is. The doorbell is constantly ringing with people introducing themselves, and family members pop out for a bag of sugar of sugar and return three hours later having been dragged into a neighbours house for a coffee (ok, more likely, a gemist). Both styles are equally welcoming, but rather different.
9. Emergency response
When the house Internet stopped working in Jelsa a couple of years ago, we called the company and were told it would take seven days before they could some and take a look. SEVEN! And so, with plunging temperatures last night, it was a little concerning when the electricity in the house suddenly died at 19:00. All the normal checks yielded nothing, and a call to the emergency hotline of the electricity company was made. Just how long would it take them to come out to a village outside Varazdin, and how would we survive the night with no heating?
The response was quite stunning. In just 17 minutes, the engineers were on site, and while they fixed most of the problem (enough to give us some light, power and that essential heating), the same engineer also returned at 08:00 this morning with a missing part to complete the job. Maybe we were just lucky, but it was hugely impressive, as well as a life-saver.
Before moving north, I knew the language would be somewhat different, but I am initially a little disheatened. After spending so many years surrounding by a dialect which seemed to be understand by only the locals, it seems I have replaced it with something exactly the same. So many different words for different things to learn, as well as a rather interesting accent. And now I believe it when Croats tell me that they do not understand their fellow countrymen from other parts of the country. Of course, I should have known it was going to be so after recording this language video with the Professor of the Hvar Dialects and a Varazdin resident a few years ago in Jelsa.
So which is better - life in northern continental Croatia or a Dalmatian island? I think there is no answer to that. They are both great, but very different, and a fine example of the regional diversity which makes Croatia such a fascinating country to live in. And one thing is for sure - I can't wait to relax in that warm sunshine at The Office in Jelsa. Dalmatia is a very special place, and having the opportunity to share it with continental living makes it all the more attractive.