Sunday, 8 January 2023

Advent in Zagreb 2022: A Video Snapshot

January 8, 2023 - Advent in Zagreb 2022 has come to an end. How was it for you? A video snapshot. 

And you thought Croatian tourism was all about the coast in the summer? Come visit the Croatian capital of Zagreb in December, as hundreds of thousands of others do, to experience one of the best Christmas markets in Europe (and voted the best three years in a row from 2016-18).

It is a remarkable story of a small event which was first branded as Advent in Zagreb in 2010, at a time of year when tourism in Croatia was almost non-existent. And yet, within just 6 years, it was voted the Best Christmas Market in Europe on the European Best Destinations website, a feat Advent in Zagreb repeated for two more years. You can read more about the event’s sensational success in From Zero to European Champion: a History of Advent in Zagreb.

The pandemic put global tourism on hold in 2020 and severely limited it in 2021, but while many destinations put their Advents on hold, Zagreb chose to continue the tradition through those difficult years, albeit in a reduced, online and hybrid format.

But in 2022, Advent was back to its pre-pandemic best in Zagreb, with the iconic skating rink on Tomislav Square perhaps the symbol of that. Take a video tour below and see why Croatia away from the beach and summer has plenty of other attractions.

Learn more from the official Advent in Zagreb website from the Zagreb Tourist Board.

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What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Paul Bradbury Croatia & Balkan Expert YouTube channel.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners is now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

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Sunday, 8 January 2023

5 Things I Advise New Arrivals Moving to Croatia

January 8, 2023 - Thinking of moving to Croatia? Looking for a little advice from a foreigner who has been here for 20 years? Five things I advise new arrivals coming to live in Croatia.

Croatia is a wonderful place to live, although it is certainly not easy. Having lived here for 20 years, I have made all the mistakes possible - and more - and have been very frustrated by a number of things.

In order to lessen the pain for those coming after more with plans of living in Croatia, here are 5 things I advise people to take into consideration when moving to Croatia, in order to have a better experience. Want to learn more about the realities of living in this flawed but majestic country? Our new book, Croatia, a Survival Guide for Foreigners is now available on Amazon.

And there is a little bonus at the end as well, if - like me - you happen to be a beer drinker.

Many thanks for all your support on my little YouTuber journey so far. I have to admit it is a lot of fun, and I do feel humbled by the level of interest, subscriptions, and comments. Keep them coming. If you have not seen the channel yet, it is called Paul Bradbury Croatia Expert, and we will be posting two videos a week minimum, covering all aspects of life as a foreigner in Croatia, after my last fabulous 20 years here. You can subscribe here

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What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Paul Bradbury Croatia & Balkan Expert YouTube channel.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners is now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

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Saturday, 7 January 2023

FIFA Gives Robert Ljubičić Green Light to Play for Croatia

January 7, 2023 - FIFA has given Robert Ljubičić the green light to change his football citizenship. The 23-year-old Dinamo Zagreb midfielder can now play for the Croatia national team!

In November 2022, Robert Ljubičić decided that he wanted to represent the national team of Croatia in the future, after which the process began with FIFA to change his football citizenship from Austrian to Croatian. After months-long efforts, Ljubičić can play for Croatia! 

Ljubičić started his senior career at St. Pölten, after which he played for Rapid Wein and came to Dinamo Zagreb in the summer of 2022.

"We are happy with the decision that Robert can play for the Croatia national team, and we believe that it will strengthen Zlatko Dalić's squad. I thank the management of GNK Dinamo, led by president Vlatka Peras, for supporting Robert and HNS in this process, as well as our technical director Pletikosa and the Federation's administration, who once again did a superb job in communicating with the player and with FIFA. Of course, I am most pleased that Robert and his family chose to play for Croatia, which confirms how strong the cult of our national team is and how much patriotism our people raise their children with abroad. It's up to Robert to impress the coach with his games, and I welcome him to the Croatian football family," said HNS president Marijan Kustić.

"It was not easy to make such a decision considering that I grew up in Austria, where I also developed in football, for which Austria, my coaches, and clubs have my utmost gratitude and respect. However, Croatia is in my blood, it is my family, and I felt a strong desire to represent Croatia as my homeland. I thank HNS and Dinamo for supporting my family and me during this process, and I will continue to work hard to earn a call-up to one of the best national teams in the world, which would fulfill my football dream," said Robert Ljubičić.

"First of all, thank you to Robert and his family for the pleasant communication. Robert proved to be a very serious and intelligent young man who made a decision that made us happy - that he wanted to play for Croatia. I'm glad we formally made it possible and thus got a quality candidate for the national team. Now it is up to Robert to earn coach Dalić's trust with his games. Of course, we in the Federation believe that he can contribute to the national team with his football skills," said the technical director of the Croatia A and U-21 national teams, Stipe Pletikosa.

Source: HNS

To follow the latest sports news in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Saturday, 7 January 2023

Cars Croatia Loved Most in 2022 - Premium Models Did Surprisingly Well

January 7, 2023 - According to data from Promocija plus for 2022, last year was not brilliant for the automotive industry in Croatia. Check out which cars Croatia loved the most in 2022, with a few surprises making the list.

As Poslovni / Večernji write, only 44,088 new passenger cars were sold in Croatia, 1,201 less than in 2021, when 45,289 newly registered cars arrived on the roads.

Last year, Covid-19 did not shake the world or Croatia, so the 2.65 percent lower sales are not due to the pandemic but the halt in the production and deliveries of cars.

It should also be noted that some cars have been sold but have not yet been delivered to customers, so they do not show up in these statistics. The last month of the year with 2,703 cars sold was the second weakest in 2022, just behind November, which recorded only 2,698 newly registered cars.

All brands faced problems, although some more than others. Volkswagen retained the first place, which it has strongly defended for years, selling 5,288 new cars last year. This result allowed them to occupy 11.99 percent of the Croatian market.

In second place is the Czech brand from the same German Group, Škoda, with a total of 4,506 cars sold (10.22 percent of the market). It's no secret that Škoda's strength is supported by the police, to whose ranks more than 500 Octavias were delivered last year, but ordinary customers have also recognised the good value for money for years. The third place in terms of sales in Croatia was taken by Kia, whose cars 3,413 of Croatian customers decided to buy (7.74 percent market share).

Next in the Croatian top 10 are Opel (3291 cars, 7.46% of the market), Dacia (3217, 7.30%), Toyota (2938, 6.66%), Renault (2612, 5.92%), Hyundai (2314, 5.25%), Suzuki (1785, 4.05%) and Peugeot (1636, 3.71%).

Interestingly, there are even three premium brands in the top 15 - Audi in 12th place with 1,578 newly registered units, followed by Mercedes with 1,208 vehicles and BMW in 15th place with 1,156 units newly registered last year.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated Lifestyle section.

Saturday, 7 January 2023

Omis Bridge Soon to Reach Final Phase, Completing the Impressive Project

January 7, 2023 - After the magnificent feat of modern infrastructure that is the Peljesac bridge, Croatia is soon to join another two pieces of its land with a new impressive, incredibly complex construction, the Omis Bridge, hanging 70 metres above this beautiful karst river Cetina.

As Slobodna Dalmacija writes, at the end of January, we will witness the historic joining of the most impressive bridge over the Cetina river; at 70 metres above sea level, the two ends of the bridge that now "stick out" from the gorge. It will connect the portals of the access tunnels "Omis" and "Komorjak."

The last "push" of the bridge section, 12 metres long, is still missing. The section will complete the crossing over the canyon of the karst beauty above Omis, in a visible length of 152 meters, while 30 meters of supports on both sides are "hidden" in the tunnels.

"On the Cetina bridge, there is only one section left of about 12 metres. The last push is expected at the end of January", Hrvatske Ceste (HC) revealed. They are the investor for the Omis bypass, as part of which the bridge is being built, all so that soon we can finally utilise the long-awaited fast, modern road Split-Omis.

Slobodna Dalmacija was curious and asked the investors why the parts of the bridge are not at the same height, because the difference of almost two metres between the eastern and western parts is visible to the naked eye, even from a greater distance.

"It is true that the currently constructed parts of the Omis bridge are not at the same height. Due to the variable height of the cross-section of the bridge, the structure also moves vertically during each push.

After the final phase, both sides will be at the same height so that they can be connected and the entire structure can finally be fixed on the bearings," Hrvatske Ceste specified.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated Travel section.

Saturday, 7 January 2023

Euro Croatia: Initial Phase of Transition is Progressing Well, States EC

January 7, 2023 - Euro Croatia: almost a week after Croatia's entry into the euro area, the transition to the euro is progressing well in the initial phase, according to a survey by the European Commission (EC), the executive body of the EU, which assesses this event as an important turning point for Croatia, the euro area and the entire union.

As 24Sata writes, they report that the majority of cash payments (51%) in euros in stores were made on January 5.

"In the majority of transactions, as many as 93%, the change was returned to consumers exclusively in euros, 35% of the surveyed Croatian citizens stated that they only carry euro banknotes, and 36% of them only euro coins", according to a survey carried out by the EC representative office in Croatia.

According to the Eurobarometer survey, on January 5, six percent of the 199 respondents had Croatian kunas in their wallets, five percent mostly kunas, 19 mostly euros, 35 had only euros, 27 percent had half kunas and half euros, and eight percent had no banknotes.

The withdrawal of kuna banknotes and coins from circulation began in December 2022, and by December 31, 55% of kuna banknotes and a third of kuna coins had already been withdrawn from circulation.

The EC states that the Croatian retail sector copes well with the transition process and the parallel use of two currencies.

"No major problems with waiting in lines or problems with the cash registers were reported. Conversion at ATMs also takes place smoothly, with 70% of all ATMs in Croatia already distributing euro banknotes from the first hour of the new year. The commission pointed out that the number and scope of withdrawals remained at levels comparable to those before the transition to the euro".

The commission stated that it will continue to monitor Croatia's transition to the euro and will continue to measure the experience of Croatian citizens in connection with the transition to the European currency in the coming weeks.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated Lifestyle section.

Saturday, 7 January 2023

Croatian Dialects World Cup Final: Hvar v Forests of Zagorje

January 7, 2023 - Croatian is a logical language, but it is the Croatian dialects that will kill you. How many of you can understand these dialect experts from Hvar and a forest in Zagorje?

As per my YouTube video a few weeks ago, I still maintain that Croatian is a logical language, but those je*eni dialects... 

It is almost a decade since Professor Frank John Dubokovich, Guardian of the Hvar Dialects, stormed the Internet with his iconic Dalmatian Grunt. The Professor's ensuing niche series on Hvar dialects brought him a cult following of (mostly young, attractive, and female) dedicated followers. But the power of his message inspired others.

None more so that Grgo Petrov, who was so taken by the Professor's Dalmatian Grunt that he changed his university course and went on to dedicate himself to capturing Croatian dialects all over the country, as well as branching out with a whole range of dialect ideas and services. A little more about Grgo's dialect efforts (which are quite phenomenal) below, but here is the email he sent me to explain how the Professor had changed his life all those years ago.

Hey Paul!

We haven't met in person but you've had a huge influence on me and what I have been doing the last couple of years. It took me a long time to finally contact you haha.

I want to thank you for the Hvar Dialect Lessons you started posting on YouTube 5-6 years ago. I was in shock, just like the rest of my friends from Zagreb and the area. It was super entertaining but also educational. It made me think (and the rest of us) how our authentic local heritage was fading away. General unawareness of this local universe we have across Croatia.

What happened next is I started recording the "kajkavski lessons of Marija Bistrica" on YouTube with my local native speaker...in the end, I spent most of my University along with my Master's project all about preserving and promoting local dialects and values in Croatia.

I graduated as a visual communications designer, so I wrote and illustrated a tale in Kajkavski idiom, then posters and picture books for children... Following that, I started recording other people along the coast. Just last year spent two weeks on Dugi Otok island recording the locals' stories and their dialects. The project started connecting the locals across Croatia, raising awareness. Schools and parents are calling me for the presentations... it's just crazy.

And all of it kind of started when I saw the first "Hvar Dialect Lesson" you posted. 

Cheers from Zagreb!

You can check out some of Grgo's dialect videos on his channel above - they are excellent. 

We both thought the unthinkable - what about bringing the  Professor to Zagreb to meet Grgo to do a special lesson, perhaps with one of Grgo's own dialect specialist. Someone like the lovely Martina, who Grgo literally discovered living in a forest (ok, in a village in a forest) in Zagorje. 

Below is the result - and I am genuinely interested to hear how many Croats can understand the dialects spoken by Martina and the Professor.

 

You can see the rest of the Professor's iconic language series on the dedicated TCN YouTube playlist.  

And now a little more about Grgo and his projects. If you would like to cooperate with him, you can reach him via his graphic design website.  

Documented short interviews of Čakavski and Kajkavski dialects ... around the coast, islands, and Zagorje...mostly me asking questions in standard, them answering) ... I used to do research on the local dialect, talk to the linguists and local enthusiasts who connected me with interesting local speakers ... camera into my backpack and off we go!

Imbra Houstovnjak - kajkavski fantasy book and a master project at the School of Design, ZG ... the one I hope to publish this year as a bilingual edition...here's the original PDF available for reading. The goal was to give the Kaj-Croats a story in their mother tongue due to lack of the same, and connect the regions as, despite the differences, all of them can understand it. (Got positive feedback from a few schools in Zagorje that children read it with delight)

Imbra Houstovnjak across Croatia (same story in different dialect)

Imbra Houstovnjak Animated Audio book (first part) - a 5-minute video on YouTube with text, illustrations and narration by Martina Premor (the girl with Šumski dijalekt)

Priča o jednom Kaju (A story of Kaj) - illustrated educational picture book about the history and use of Kajkavski language in Northern Croatia. Teamwork with Croatian linguist Bojana Schubert from Ludbreg - approved by the Ministry of Education for the elementary schools. Published last year.

Croatian local Identity through original souvenirs - illustrated and designed popular merch with some of the local Zagreb, Kajkavski and Čakavski phrases with the help of local community...  the webshop and the whole project is partially incognito as it's slowly developing in the background (working on packaging and finding local stores).

Moj prvi abecedar - a first Kajkavski illustrated alphabet for children with words from various dialects. Student project. Also in the line for funding hahaha (but Imbra Houstovnjak is a priority)

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What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Paul Bradbury Croatia & Balkan Expert YouTube channel.

Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners is now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

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Croatia National Tourist Board Finally Adopts Some of My Ideas

January 6, 2023 - Croatia National Tourist Board Director Kristjan Stanicic gives a wide-ranging interview on the direction of Croatian tourism - with some ideas sounding rather familiar... 

My lawyer thinks I am a little strange, but I am really excited about next week. 

For, more than 2.5 years after I got the first lawsuit of my life for an article I did not write, on a portal I do not own, which quoted me (nobody else got sued, there was no request for retraction, and the article is still live in its original format - you can read it here) - and after quite the journey, which you can read about in my mini-blog series, Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit, the judge has announced that there will be a verdict next week in the case. 

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On Friday the 13th, that luckiest of dates. 

What could possibly go wrong?

I actually don't even mind if I lose at this point. It has been a lot of fun so far, and even if I do lose in Croatia, where justice has a more arbitrary feel, I am 200% confident that the European Courts in Strasbourg will be able to smell a SLAPP lawsuit from some distance. That will probably occur in the year 2063, if any of us are still alive, and if the Croatian National Tourist Board wants to continue until then, then so be it. 

I will confess that I have been impressed by the amount of paperwork the case has produced, and what level of lengths the prosecution legal team has gone to, in order to press their case, including impressive screenshots of my Facebook page to prove to whomever it mattered how unpopular I was. One folder with my name on it had so much paper in it that I wondered how many trees in the Amazon had been sacrificed for it. 

But one thing was clear - they were taking a LOT of interest in my words, which some might find intimidating, but I am actually encouraged. For it seems that by reading some of my thoughts, they are actually starting to implement some of my ideas, while at the same time suing me. Quite special

And then I came across this quite extraordinary interview of self-congatulation by the Director of the national tourist board the other day, the man whose organisation is suing me, and a man I have never met (this despite us both giving evidence in a courtoom for over 2 hours with only 6 people in the room). Lots of new initiatives, some of them very familiar. 

It is also an interview with some quite astonishing assertions, which goes some way, perhaps, to show why the national tourist board is so disconnected from the realities of tourism today. Let's put in the word 'allegedly' and 'at least in my opinion', just in case someone wants to take exception to my sentence and send me another blue letter.  

Back in June 2019, less than a year after the 2018 World Cup, I wrote an editorial called Branding Croatia for the Future: 5 Gifts and Trends to Focus On, which provoked a lot of discussion. Looking at Croatia through my foreign non-tourist-expert eyes, it seemed that Croatia was missing a trick or five. The article began:

It is seven years since the late Anthony Bourdain told the world about Croatia and its 'world-class food, world-class wine, world-class cheese.' Seven years later, Dalmatia still has no wine road, and gourmet tourism - despite its huge potential - is bringing in peanuts compared to destinations with much less to offer. 

And it is almost a year since probably the greatest gift of all time, much more even than Game of Thrones, as the tiny country which dared to dream won tens of millions of hearts during the World Cup and its aftermath. It was left to a small country with no football pedigree whatsoever that has never even been to the World Cup, to take advantage. Visit Rwanda's innovative partnership with Premier League giants Arsenal will include, among other things, exposure on the Arsenal shirt more than 35 million times a day. 

The fact that tiny Rwanda, a country I used to live in and know well, managed to take advantage of the football opportunity at a time when Croatia's footballing status was at an all-time high after the heroics in Russia, was particularly galling. If ever there was an opportunity to build on sporting success, this was it. And yet, it was Rwanda who made the moves, as you can read about in Lessons from Rwanda: Promoting Tourism Through Football, African-Style

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Looking at Google Trends for information about interest in Croatia, especially with the hindsight of data from the 2022 World Cup and, to a lesser extent, the 2021 Euro Championships, it does not take a genius to see where the main interest and promotion opportunity for Croatia came from, as I wrote in November, 2018 in Where is Croatia? Why Football and Tourism Should Be Branded Together.

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Interest in Croatia was insane, with Mediatoolkit reporting at the time of more than 60 BILLION mentions of the tiny country that dared to dream. And, as you can see from the Google Trends chart above, then everything died until the footballers came back to play in another tournament, as I wrote in Remember the World Cup? Google Trends on How Croatia Took Advantage (Not) in July, 2019. 

Time passed, as it does in Croatia. The footballing heroics were once again repeated, with Croatia once again coming home with a World Cup medal, this time from Qatar. More than 4 years after this - and after missing the golden opportunity of 2018 and Moscow, this week's interview in Novi List went like this:

How much did this World Cup do for tourism?

We will see the first results when we complete some more analyses. However, the fact is that this World Cup contributed a lot to increasing the visibility of Croatia again. I will remind you that when we won silver in Russia in 2018, Croatia jumped from 32nd to 27th place within a month or two.

We stopped measuring the showing of our famous video with Luka Modrić and other athletes, there were over 80 million views. Football is the most watched, the most important secondary thing in the world, it has a huge impact on recognition, visibility, strengthening the strength of the tourist country's brand.

So, to be clear - Croatia jumped from 32 to 27 based on the success of the football team. If the team had gone out in the first round, then presumably that would not have happened. Would that success have happened without the tourist board, who had nothing to do with it? Absolutely. 

Secondly, it is interesting to note that the tourist board is waiting to complete analysis on this year's World Cup. Did they do any analysis in 2018? If yes, were there any conclusions, and then any concrete actions?

The promotional video mentioned I know very well (I am the author of The Tiny Country that Dared to Dream text) and I interviewed the agency who made it in The Story Behind Croatia's Award-Winning World Cup Promo Video by BBDO

 

Although the video has only had 1.1 million views on YouTube, it has been watched, according to the director, more than 80 million times - you can see it below. Interestingly, as with almost all national tourist board videos, comments are turned off so there is no opportunity for would-be tourists to engage. And with no link to any website, nowhere for viewers to go if they want to know more. Basic stuff. 

But it is great to see the esteemed director talking about strengthening the brand through sport. Is there something concrete to this, or does it just mean applauding the sports stars who do the tourist board's work pro bono?

One of the other five gifts I mentioned in that 2019 editorial was medical tourism, where Croatia competes on the global stage in several areas, including St Catherine's Specialty Hospital, one of the Leading Hospitals of the World, and the first in Europe to offer pharmacogenetic testing, in partnership with Mayo Clinic. On the subject of health tourism:

As far as health tourism is concerned, Opatija is number 1 in that tradition and in everything that has been done. The Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster is doing a very good job and when we connect all these destinations we can seriously talk about year-round tourism.

It is great that the esteemed director recognises the work of the Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster, he is not alone. 

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At the 2019 International Medical Travel Journal Awads conference in Berlin, where Ognjen Bagatin was named owner of the best international cosmetic surgery clinic in the world, a conference that was attended by the national tourist boards of most attending countries. Croatia was represented by just 5 people, two from Bagatin, two from the Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster, and one fat blogger with two lawsuits hanging over him. That Kvarner has a bigger brand than Croatia for medical tourism in the industry is beyond question. Here is what branding expert Iland Geva said in a TCN interview at the recent Crikvenica International Health Tourism conference - organised by Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster.

You are a global branding expert. Tell us about the branding of Croatia as a medical tourism destination. It almost seems that the organizers of CIHT, the Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster, has a bigger brand in the industry than Croatia itself.

Shall I be politically correct, or truthful? Yes, the Kvarner cluster is doing a better job than the rest of the country. Enough said.

So while it is great to cheer Modric and Kvarner, as well as finally recognise the opportunity, are there any concrete steps apart from cheering? 

Digital Nomads is a topic I have been writing on since May 2019, and one which made my life of 5 in that Branding Croatia editorial. My last ever meeting with the national tourist board, in March 2020, including a proposal to turn Trogir into Croatia's first nomad-friendly town. While they liked the idea, the national tourist board declined, stating that there was a tax issue with nomads which meant that they could not support the proposal. 

After I then introduced the concept to Jan de Jong and worked with him to make the nomad visa a reality, and after co-organising the first digital nomad in conference in Croatia in October, 2020, Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads, followed by the Dubrovnik Digital Nomads in Residence Program and Zagreb Digital Nomad Week, it was great (and I mean that sincerely) to see the Croatian National Tourist Board announce a partnership with the fabulous Digital Nomad Association Croatia. The lawsuits were the elephant in the room, particularly at the last nomad conference I was involved in organising  - Work. Place. Culture. in Dubrovnik. There was a wonderful situation where CNTB sponsored the opening evening, which resulted in the Head of CNTB Global PR greeting me and others as the evening's host, before flying back to Zagreb the next morrning to testify against me in court.

I wish both parties a successful partnership in this exciting opportunity for Croatia - the latest gift. 

But this is the Kingdom of Accidental Tourism (applauding the likes of Modric and co is a case in point), and two parts of this epic interview really made me smile. 

In fact, this had me falling out of my chair:

One of those contents that we may already be a little bored with, but it is certainly golf. In no way to break the deadlock, we are aware that, for example, the south of Portugal and Spain are working on golf during the winter season. Climatically, we are very similar.

We are similar, but with the difference that there are very mild winters, which means that you can play golf all year round. We can use it in some southern destinations, islands, even Istria. But nothing happens overnight. There is a lot of talk about golf, it has been worked on for many years.

There is a lot of talk about golf, it has been worked on for many years!?! Long-time followers of TCN may be familiar with the quite exceptional efforts from our tourism gurus in promoting golf. Who else remembers the legendary Jack Nicklaus and the 200 million euro signature course in Istria in 2006, complete with personal welcome from the then Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader (Whatever Happened to Jack Nicklaus' Croatian Golf Course, Approved by PM Sanader?)? Hopefully the first permit will be coming soon.

There is a lot of talk about golf, it has been worked on for many years. If memory serves me well, golf became a cornerstone of the strategic tourist direction as far back as 1998. What I do know is that in the 7-year strategic plan from 2013-2020 for Croatian tourism, the plan was to build no less than THIRTY golf courses in Croatia. Number of golf courses started in that time (or since) - zero. Indeed, the only developments in the golf scene during the last decade that I can see are a lawsuit of half a billion dollars against the Republic of Croatia from an Israeli investor over a golf course which will not be above Dubrovnik, and the Croatian National Tourist Board somehow promoting an 18-hole golf course located in central Zagreb, until I politely pointed it out in Tourism Quiz of the Summer: How Many Golf Courses Will Croatia Have Next Week? 

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(Screenshot from www.croatia.hr promotion of the Dolina Kardinala gold course... in Central Zagreb!)

The golf course in question is actually a short drive out of the capital. 

Or was... 

No longer in function, it seems to me to be something of a symbol of the Croatian golf initiative which 'has been worked on for many years.' Take a look at the ghost town of one of the few (four) golf courses in the country, despite a quarter of a century of official efforts to bring all these wondrous golf courses to Croatia.

And while we are on the subject of the 2013-2020 strategic plan for Croatian tourism which delivered only a fraction of what was promised, has anyone seen the plan for 2021-2027?

Not yet, as it is not yet finalised. And so the Kingdom of Accidental Tourism has been floating without a strategy for three years now. 

Has anyone noticed?

My other favourite part of the interview was the self-congatulations on the success of a tourism initiative which has been panned by many in the industry, who refuse to take part in it - Croatian Tourism Month. According to the esteemed Director:

Are there any packages being prepared that would facilitate the arrival of our tourists to the Adriatic?

We expanded the Croatian Tourism Week to the Croatian Tourism Month and I must say that we have had excellent results in the past two years. We are already thinking about changing the dates, of course we will do an analysis and survey in the tourism sector itself. We see that our summer season is moving more and more into autumn and that our capacities are well filled in October as well. I don't want to prejudge some new terms, we will of course communicate that in time, but this action showed good potential and the result we achieved.

Another thing we tried to do through our promotional activities is to relativize rural areas. For two years, we had the campaign "Experience locals, discover rural Croatia" and I must say that even today we have calls in HTZ of thanks from small renters, OPGs, people whom our tourists and visitors have discovered in the past two years and who now and return.

I am not sure if he really meant relativise rural areas, or revitalise, but the thing that made me snort with this answer - and I have seen it a lot - is how a project is deemed successful just because the esteemed Director declares it so. 

Croatian Tourism Week and Croatian Tourism Month were great ideas, so poorly executed and at completely the wrong time of year for continental tourism that very few tourism businesses signed up. 

This is the same project, remember, where the only food to buy in several counties was popcorn at a 35% discount last year -  Gourmet Croatia: 35% Off Popcorn the Only Offer in Kingdom of Accidental Tourism.

They must have sold a lot of popcorn, as this 'successful' project was back in 2022, but with even less on offer - Ajme Meni! Shocking Truth of Amazing Official 'Croatian Tourism Month' Project.

And don't get me started on the promo video which included a Norwegian train... 

So yes, quite a success and lots to look forward to. Let's hope the sportsmen continue to overachieve, the Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster to fly the medical tourism flag, and for SLAPP lawsuits to silence curious writers who have the audacity to question the official narrative.

At least the digital nomad initiative seems to be moving in the right direction finally.

Friday the 13th, The Verdict, a new chapter in my Croatian journey. Vindication of free speech or the start of the long journey to Strasbourg. Whichever it is to be, you will hear about it on TCN first. 

If you want to get up to speed with the cases of the only blogger/journalist to be sued by the Croatian National Tourism Board in 2020, scroll down to the bottom for Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit, now in its fourth calendar year.  

You can read the full interview with the Croatian National Tourist Board Director in Novi List here.

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What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning - Business and Dalmatia.

Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the Paul Bradbury Croatia & Balkan Expert YouTube channel.

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Friday, 6 January 2023

The Feast of the Three Kings or the Holiday of Epiphany in Croatia

January 6, 2023 - In Christianity, today marks the Feast of the Holy Three Kings or Epiphany. Traditionally, the holiday of Epiphany in Croatia marks the end of the Christmas season. Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar are kings, or wise men, who, according to the Gospel came to worship Jesus Christ after his birth in Bethlehem. Religious or not, most Croatian people will mark the holiday by undressing their Christmas trees and houses of all the festive ornaments. 

Gold, frankincense and myrrh

HRT presents. The Greek word "magoi", meaning wise men, scholars, star readers, magicians, etc., denotes the wise men in the text of the Gospel, who most likely originate from Persia. These people knew how to decipher the secrets of human wisdom and see signs in nature. They were looking for the truth about themselves and the universe. They left their homes and possessions and set off on a journey to Bethlehem.

In the Christian tradition, theologians from the third century, Origen and Tertullian, contributed to the creation of today's image of the "three kings". Origen is credited with interpreting the three gifts symbolically: gold pointing to Jesus' kingship, frankincense to his divinity, and myrrh to his death.

Tertullian turned the wise men into kings referring to the biblical texts of Isaiah and the Psalms. In the Middle Ages, an Italian artist made a mosaic of three kings and placed the names above each figure: Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. According to this painter, Gaspar means a man from the area of the Caspian Sea, Melchior means king of light, and Balthasar means "the lord protects the king".

Representatives of the then known world - Asia, Africa and Europe

It is unknown who saw the three kings as representatives of the three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. That is why one of the three kings is depicted as a black man in the paintings, which is usually interpreted as a message that all countries and the entire world should worship Jesus as the Christ.

Since the Middle Ages, the three kings have generally been depicted in such a way that one of them is an old man, the second is a middle-aged man, and the third is a young man, which is believed to be a motif used to emphasize that all people, from children to the elderly, need to recognise Jesus as their Lord and God.

According to Matthew's Gospel, the wise men, following the star of Bethlehem, came from the east to Jerusalem to worship Christ. They were received in Jerusalem by King Herod, who wanted to trick them into telling him the place where Jesus was born, so that he could kill him.

When they found Jesus, Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar presented him with three gifts: frankincense for a God, gold for a king, and noble ointment - myrrh for a man. Then God commanded them not to return to Herod, so they returned to their country by another route.

The three kings are representatives of the pagan nations, whom God called into his kingdom by announcing the birth of the Savior, the Lord. According to tradition, after the death of the three kings, their relics were taken to Constantinople, and after they were found by St. Helena, were transferred to Milan, and then to the cathedral in the German city of Cologne, where they remain.

Melchior is the patron saint of travellers and World Youth Day, and Balthasar is the patron saint of people with epilepsy.

Epiphany

Epiphany is a Christian holiday that celebrates the revelation of God to humanity in human form, in the person of Jesus Christ.

The first mention of the Epiphany is found in the text of Clement of Alexandria at the turn of the 2nd to the 3rd century, and the first mention as an official church holiday is known from the middle of the 4th century.

At the end of the 4th century, the holiday of Christmas was introduced from the West to the East, so the Epiphany lost its meaning as a holiday in which all the events related to Jesus' birth and hidden life up to baptism are celebrated, but it still remains the holiday of God's epiphany, in which the trip of the Three Wise Men is mentioned.

After the Second Vatican Council, the end of the Christmas season is marked on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, and on that Sunday the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated.

The baptism of Jesus and the miracle at the Wedding at Cana of Galilee, where Jesus, at the beginning of his public activity, announces himself as the one who has the power to turn water into wine, indirectly heralds the establishment of the Eucharist.

Blessing of Water and "Križec"

Among Croatian Catholics, the custom of blessing water on the feast of the Epiphany has developed, which is then used to bless houses and families.

In northwestern Croatia, 'križec' was the term used for the blessing of houses. For that occasion, the whole family would be together, and the house would be well cleaned so that they would be ready to welcome the priest. The priest would bless the house and all the household members, and would regularly be treated to food and drink and given gifts. Though this tradition is somewhat tuned down these days, many Catholic families in Croatia still welcome their local priests around this time to bless their households.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated Lifestyle section.

Friday, 6 January 2023

A Week in Croatian Politics - Schengen, Euros, and Shallower Pockets

January the 6th, 2023 - This week in Croatian politics, we've once again been dominated by headlines (both good and bad) about the introduction of the euro in Croatia, the country's accession to the Schengen passport-free zone, and price hikes.

Croatia finally joins Schengen

After being a member of the European Union (EU) since July 2013, Croatia has now finally taken a step into much deeper integration by joining the passport-free Schengen zone, the largest such zone on the planet, which enables the totally free movement of over 400 million people. The move will facilitate the ease of travel into and out of Croatia though land borders, with airports set to follow in March. The scenes we've all unfortunately become familiar with of endless queues at the Slovenian border to enter the country each summer, sometimes going on for hours on end, are now a thing of the past. With the opening of the Peljesac bridge back in July 2022 also, very similar queues at Neum (neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina's only small piece of coastline) were also resigned to the history books.

Croatian Schengen accession was long awaited, and a nail-biting decision process saw the southeastern European nation readily accepted, while two other candidates, Romania and Bulgaria, still have to wait. For a nation which relies extremely heavily on tourism and for which tourism is its strongest economic branch by far, passport-free entry from the rest of the Schengen zone will be of an enormous benefit, as for a great many people, Croatia is a country one can drive to without much of an issue. The same can be said of air traffic, which will (as mentioned above) begin following the new Schengen rules in March, by which planes coming into the country from other Schengen member states will be treated as domestic flights.

Businesses and particularly Croatian exporters have made no effort to hide their elation with Schengen membership, as it is something the latter in particular have been hoping and pushing for for many years now.

Croatia joins the Eurozone and officially adopts the euro as its currency

The big news doesn't end with joining Schengen, with the country also joining the Eurozone on the very same day (the 1st of January, 2023). No country has ever successfully joined both of these EU zones on the very same date before, and Croatia has had a lot of adjusting to do despite having a long time to prepare for the changes to both border and monetary policies. The scrapping of the kuna, which has been Croatia's official currency since May 1994, and the adoption of the bloc's single currency, has been a mixed bag for most of the population. While many are thrilled about further EU integration and no longer being victims of exchange rate fluctuations, others are mouring the loss of Croatia's control over its own monetary policy (despite the fact that the kuna has been stable and also tied to the euro in many ways for years), and are worried that prices will quickly start shooting up for all kinds of goods and services.

While people scramble to use the last of their kuna and annoying little lipa coins given the fact that kuna cash can still be spent across the country until the 15th of this month, change will only be returned in euro banknotes and coins. Introducing the brand new currency during inflation which is still spiralling is far from ideal, and many price hikes which we've seen since the introduction of the euro have unfortunately been the result of not only a new currency, but the difficult economic situation we're still finding ourselves in during the post-pandemic, raging Russia-Ukraine war period.

Many forget that the reason there was no referendum on joining the Eurozone or not was because it was signed and sealed and agreed when the country joined the EU. Unlike nations which had been founding members or were very old members, such as the United Kingdom, which could freely opt out of ever adopting the euro, it was part of the deal for Croatia and as such the referendum on joining was also the referendum on adopting the bloc's currency.

Some have raised their prices, and the government is on their case

Keen eyes have been observing the prices in the first week of euro adoption, with some going up and some staying as they were. Certain goods and services are slightly more expensive than they were in the pre-euro era, while others, such as the prices for tickets issued by Croatian Railways (HZ), have remained the same as they were when they were being expressed solely in kuna.

Plenkovic has even been threatening stores and the government has thought up the idea of creating a so-called ''black list'' of companies which have increased their prices following Eurozone accession, which some have referred to as a stupid and useless idea. The government has openly stated that it will not the body to drag prices back to what they should be, but that it will do everything in its power to force the businesses trying to cheat the situation for a euro or two more to do it themselves. Measures to tackle these abuses have been outlined here.

It's more than safe to say that people are rightfully feeling betrayed after months and months of being told by the powers that be that any prices increases will be temporary and minimal. You can read more on price increases and so-called ''price rounding'' by clicking here.

 

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated politics section and keep an eye out for our Week in Croatian Politics articles which are published every Friday.

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