Saturday, 12 December 2020

Move Over Istria: Truffle Hunting Now Available in Dalmatia

December 12,  2020 - Once the sole preserve of Istria,  Croatia's truffle hunting options are expanding - first Zagreb and now Dalmatia.

I love the randomness of life in Croatia. 

A wonderful country there the unexpected is always around the corner. 

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An invitation to go truffle hunting in the forests outside Zagreb a few weeks ago piqued my curiosity. Truffles and Zagreb? Really?!?

Oh, yes, but not only that. It seems that Turopolje truffles (the region which includes Velika Gorica by the airport) have long been an established tradition for those in the know - for years, apparently, these Turopolje truffles have been sent to Istria and sold there. In some cases, they have even made their way back to the restaurants of Zagreb via an Istrian detour. 

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My day in the forests of Turopolje was indeed an eye-opener, and you can read about it in Move Over Istria: the Rise of Zagreb Truffle Hunt Tourism.

And the Zagreb truffle story went beyond hunting. The truffles are now being served in dishes in an increasing number of local restaurants and they are inspiring new culinary combinations, two of which TCN featured recently - strukli with truffles and truffle pralines. You can learn more about them and follow the Zagreb truffle story here

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And there the story might have ended had I not been made aware of something that had completely escaped me during my 14 years living in Dalmatia - truffle hunting on the edge of Split. 

I am reliably informed that the best places for truffle hunting in Dalmatia are Dugopolje and parts of Zagora, but there is zero chance of finding them without those specially trained hunting dogs. 

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One small local business offers just that - the complete truffle hunting experience, complete with 4x4 transfers to their secret hunting locations. The Najev family are local Dalmatians in love with their heritage, offering a range of tours in inland Dalmatia, which is one of the most beautiful and undiscovered parts of Croatia in my opinion. Exploring the nature of the region is as exhilarating as the tour itself. Depending on the season, the truffle types to be hunted are the black truffle (Tuber aestivum, Tuber brumale, Tuber melanosporum) and the white truffle (Tuber borchi-bianchetto). At the end of the hunt, there is a truffle-themed tasting of local products. 

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One more authentic experience in Croatia that is not so well-known. Croatia is full of such experiences, and the development of an eco-system supporting and promoting such specialist local tourism will help develop a more diverse and sustainable tourism offer. 

You can learn more about Truffle Hunting in Dalmatia on the official Facebook page

Monday, 16 November 2020

Lastovo is a Hit! Families and Entrepreneurs Want to Live Here

November 16, 2020 – Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, when tourism and business are significantly affected industries, one Croatian island is gaining popularity in both. Lastovo is a hit.

As Slobodna Dalmacija reports, the island of Lastovo is still a corona-free zone, they had a great tourist season this year, and a baby boom. However, as if those were not compelling enough reasons, in the last two months, Lastovo has recorded the interest of several families with children who would like to settle on the island.

And not only families, but on this Dalmatian island, a few hours away from Split by ferry, several entrepreneurs are interested in starting their own business. This story is confirmed to Slobodna Dalmacija by 26-year-old Don Tonći Ante Prizmić whose arrival on the island, in his first parish, coincides with this interesting and unusual phenomenon.

Why do people want to come to Lastovo? Well, the reason is simple. Besides the favorable conditions, the Church on this island continues to lease agricultural land for ten lipas per square meter. The only condition is that you must stay on the island. In the new normal, some see it as a ticket to a better tomorrow.

Because of that, and also because of the church's million square meters of land, the sum of numerous Lastovo fields, and cheap fertile soil – Lastovo is a hit.

"I agree, Lastovo is a hit. And I am so pleasantly surprised that coming to my first parish accompanies me with such good stories," says Don Tonći, continuing with a story about a family from Imotski who first came on vacation on Lastovo, but then fell in love so much that they expressed a desire to move here and engage in agriculture.

"I asked him if he knows how far we are from the mainland and what our ferry lines are. And he said he knows everything, but that they are serious. The only problem is that it is difficult to buy or rent a house on the island due to unresolved property relations. And there are a lot of houses. But they have a solution for that as well. They say they would put a container on the ground first hand. I told them then to come," says don Tonći.

'We wanted to give people a chance'

Other people also called, mostly young families from the area of Kaštela, Split, Dubrovnik, and even from Zagreb. This was followed by several calls from those who would grow lavender, essential plants, produce oils, and open a healthy pharmacy on church land.

Don Tonći opened the door to everyone, happy that on the island from which the youth must move to the mainland to continue their education, the new youth wants to settle. Lastovo, with its 46 green islands and 46 fields, has many church plots where a lot can be grown.

"We are happy that people are calling us and want to come. The price is not commercial because we wanted to allow people to cultivate the land. It began with the blessing of the bishop, and as we now await the new one, we will acquaint him right away with this noble idea. We have vineyards, pastures, fields, forests, all in different sizes. The problem is that they are not in one plot. Some land plots are 20, 50 meters, and more apart. But it is always possible to arrange a lease with one of the owners so that consolidation can be done. This island is beautiful. The truth is, we are a little further from the mainland. To get to Split, you have to get up at three in the morning to catch the ferry. But it has its charms," Don Tonći considers.

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The island of Lastovo / Sara Alduk

Don Tonći is a native of Dubrovnik, and on all of the island, as he jokingly likes to say, he is the only spiritual authority. When he got his first parish, St. Kuzma and Damjan on Lastovo, at first it was a small shock, but he adjusted very quickly. He says that the local people are very open, noble, atypical islanders. They are so strongly attached to each other that an island of 760 inhabitants seems like one big family caring for its members.

"And that's why the interest of those who would like to come here surprised me so pleasantly. I openly showed them what we have – plots of a few hundred to a few thousand square feet, vineyards just waiting for hardworking hands. There are no problems with irrigation either because the dew and nature here do the work themselves. There is a lot of lands, and the locals from Lastovo also rent it. The soil is fertile, soft, well, and gives excellent fruit. We offer you a welcome, so come," says Don Tonći.

Lastovo Statute

Don Stipe Miloš, a former Lastovo priest, explained to Slobodna Dalmacija where the Church got so much land from.

The church land is connected to the Lastovo Statute from the 14th century, according to which each family was obliged to give one-tenth of its annual income to the parish. A third of it went for the needs of the parish, another third as a salary for the pastor. And the third was used for the education of priests. In the 700 years that the Statute has been respected, a lot of lands have accumulated, but also the Lastovo youth has been ordained. And a good part of the estate came through the foundations of fraternities such as Our Lady of the Rosary, the fraternity of St. Anthony, and the fraternity of St. Peter.

To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Monday, 2 November 2020

To the Fields! Dalmatians Answer the Call of the Olive Harvest

November 2, 2020 - It is early November, and Dalmatians are answering the call, wherever they are - back to their roots for the olive harvest. 

About ten years ago, I went to Zagreb to do a presentation to the board of directors of one of the big Koncar companies on the subject of compressed air leakage management (yes, really). The director was a man originally from Jelsa on Hvar, where I was living at the time, and in the small chat before the meeting started, there was inevitably a little discussion about life on the island. 

It was late October, and he informed me that he would be returning to Jelsa the following week to take care of his fields, for this was the season of the olive harvest. 

His colleagues teased him about his island ways, but there was a bond between us. Islanders in the big city, but ones who were quick to drop whatever they were doing in their posh city jobs when the call of the olives came around each year.

I saw the director on the main square in Jelsa the following week. His Zagreb suit had been swapped for Hvar olive harvest overalls. He smiled and waved. 

The bond was strengthened. 

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It took me a long time to understand the cultural and psychological importance of the olive harvest to local people from my foreign viewpoint - years in fact. And yet now I feel sad that I am not answering the call of the olives this year, as I definitely feel it. 

When I first became part of a Dalmatian family some 17 years ago, I really didn't get the obsession with olive oil. It was on EVERYTHING. As an uncultured Manchester boy, olive oil was not something that entered my dinner plate on a regular basis, and if I had consumed more than half a litre of olive oil during the 33 years of my life before Croatia, I would be surprised. But these guys put olive oil liberally on every meal. 

As with most families on Hvar, my in-laws had their own olive grove, some 80 trees in all. In a good year, this was enough to produce over 200 litres of Dalmatian liquid gold - more than enough for the needs of the household, even with its liberal use. It didn't take long for me to get hooked on the Mediterranean Diet, especially with the delicious fare served up by my wife and punica, and olive oil was now an essential part of my life. 

The only problem with having your own family olive oil...  

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... is that someone has to pick the olives. 

For years, I hated it, and I railed against the economics of it all. It would take X people to work Y days to come up with Z litres of oil. Add in the costs of the daily feast for the workers (of which more below), and surely it would be more economical to just buy the stuff from someone else. 

The olive harvest was a major operation within the family, and one which I tried to avoid due to work for several years.  

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But I gradually began to understand that the olive harvest is far more than the oil produced at the end of the picking. It is an essential part of the Dalmatian way of life, and one which has changed little - if at all - in hundreds and even thousands of years. 

No modern gadgets here, no time pressures, and nothing but relaxing nature, and the constant picking, picking, picking. 

Extended family return to help out - either from the mainland or the island itself. Friendships that have been put on hold due to the busy tourist season are rekindled. It is an extremely social event. 

If you want it to be. Or, if you was a complete detox from people and the pressures of modern life, choose a tree on your own in another part of the field. There is no hard and fast rule for olive picking - people do it at their own pace and in their own way.  

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Growing up in Manchester, my connection with nature and the land was tenuous, and my fruit and vegetables grew in supermarkets. One of the things I loved about bringing up young children on a beautiful Dalmatian island was that early bond with nature. And nowhere was the bond stronger than helping out in Grandad's field... 

The olive harvest is above all a family event which brings together different generations of the same family in a very relaxed setting.  

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And there are plenty of opportunities for the little ones to play and explore while contributing to the olive harvest. Tree climbing is always fun, and the lighter and more nimble members of the team are always preferred to get to those harder-to-reach olives.  

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Depending on a number of factors, including the weather and number of pickers, the harvest for our family will take anything from three to eight days. 

The precious olives are collected in containers.  

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At the end of each day, they are taken off to the olive mill close by and pressed.  

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And one of the rewards for all the hard work will be several litres of this nectar, hopefully enough to service our annual needs back home in Varazdin. 

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And one of the other rewards - and a definite highlight - is the daily grill for the workers in the cabin the field. Grilled meat or fish, salad from the field, the family rakija and wine, and plenty of the family olive oil of course. 

Dalmatia at its very finest. 

For the first time in several years, I will not be at the olive harvest this year. School and work commitments took care of that. I am a little sad, as I still feel the bond with my Koncar director, and I definitely feel the calling. 

But then I started to smile inside, as I took my wife to Varazdin Bus Station for the early bus to Zagreb. There, she would meet her sister and older brother, who were both taking time off from their corporate jobs, and they would drive to the island together. Her other brother is already on the island, and the four siblings will be reunited with their parents but without the kids or spouses, for a few days in the field, some 25 years after finishing school and moving on with their lives. 

I can't imagine a similar example of something like this in the UK, and I think it is brilliant. One more example, perhaps, of why the sense of community and family is so strong in Croatia. 

Next year, I will be there. 

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Sunday, 11 October 2020

Istria and Dalmatia Were Favourite Regions for Car Tourists This Summer

October 11, 2020 - The German Auto Club (ADAC) declared Istria and Dalmatia the favourite regions for tourists who traveled by car this summer amid the corona crisis. And not only that, but Croatia is also at the top of the most sought-after countries for holidays together with Germany.

As Jutarnji.hr reports, this data was based on the analysis of 345,547 inquiries for routes, which, due to the specifics of this year, is much less than in previous years, and refers to the period between May and September.

The analysis showed that the largest number of German travelers this year still decided to stay in their own country, which is also the case in normal seasons when a large number of Germans stay in Germany. This year, this is even more pronounced due to all the restrictions around border crossings and travel opportunities in general. As many as 33.3 percent of inquiries for routes referred to Germany, which is more than last year.

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Route statistics 2020: where did the journey go? Numbers in percent / Source: ADAC

 

Italy took second place with 14.9 percent of inquiries and a big drop compared to last year when it had 18.8 percent of all inquiries.

Croatia is in third place with 14.3 percent of inquiries, which is an increase compared to last year when it had 9.6 percent of inquiries, reports ADAC. Interestingly, Spain was not among the top 10 most sought after countries, and last year it was in seventh place.

The most favorite regions of German guests who decided to travel by car were Istria and the Dalmatian coast, and inquiries for holidays on the Italian Lake Garda, which Germans adore, fell sharply. That is why three German provinces benefited – Southern Upper Bavaria/Allgäu, Schleswig-Holstein, and Ostsee/Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Top ten regions in percent / Source: ADAC

 

What ADAC particularly noticed was the fact that camping tourism boomed. Most campers opted for Germany, 35.1 percent of them. Croatia has overtaken Italy in this segment and holds the second place with a 15.4 percent share.

 

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Thursday, 1 October 2020

19 Incredible Dishes: The Best Vegetarian Food In Croatia

October 1, 2020 - Happy International Vegetarian Day! To celebrate, we bring you a list of 19 meat-free snacks and meals that make up the best vegetarian food in Croatia


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Starting a feature of the best vegetarian food in Croatia with a picture that has what looks suspiciously like meat in it comes at the top of a long list of dumb moves made by this writer - vegetarians, please forgive me. It was an impossible picture to find and this Youtube screenshot of a non-vegetarian option was the only one available on open license

Krpice sa zeljem

A lowly peasant dish made from cabbage and pasta, krpice sa zeljem neither sounds too appetising on paper nor looks inviting in its rather bland appearance. But, when you've no money left and need to fill your stomach, this is a great option. It's seasoned simply with salt, pepper and oil. Although most Croatians wouldn't do it, it's nice with butter or a butter and oil mix instead. Always use white pepper, not black, to accompany the salt in this. Some people make it with bits of pork too, like the one we have unfortunately pictured.

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Youtube screenshot © Andreina kuhinja

Granatir / Pašta s krumpirom

Also known as grenadir marš (grenadier march) or pašta s krumpirom (pasta with potatoes), this is a simple dish from Slavonia and is popular in other parts of northern continental Croatia. Onions and potatoes are the exciting ingredients, but the flavour comes from the ground paprika powder so prevalent in Slavonian food. Further away from Slavonia, you might find spring onions added and it seasoned instead with white pepper. You can really imagine the Austro-Hungarian troops of old marching on full stomachs of this cheap dish. Vegetarians fond of this meal might try exchanging the spring onions for leek (poriluk), for a change.

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Vanjkuši are probably the most obscure of all vegetarian food in Croatia so, again, we couldn't find a picture. Their name can be translated as pillows © Jay Mantri

Vanjkuši

Some in Croatia might not have heard of vanjkuši (also known as vankuši or jastuci). They are a distinct speciality of the old region of Moslavina, located to the east of Zagreb. Vanjkuši are not wildly exciting in colour, but these baked pastry rolls filled with egg, cornmeal and cottage cheese are a tasty snack or extravagant side dish, seasoned with salt, white pepper and sometimes butter and/or cream.

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© Nenad Damjanović / Croatian National Tourist Board

Pera

This little-known snack from Vrbovec is a much more authentically-Croatian take on pizza. The thin crust is topped with fresh cow’s cheese, sour cream and egg (sometimes cornmeal too), cooked in a traditional wood-fired oven and then cut into triangles for sharing.

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© Rainbow Pizza

Pizza

Yes, it's Italian. But most of the food on the Croatian menu either comes directly from other nations - Turkey, Bosnia, Hungary, Austria, Greece - or is inspired by them. Pizza is included because it's on sale everywhere in Croatia and almost everyone eats it. Like that other Italian favourite, ice cream/gelato, Croatians are brilliant at making pizza. It is possible to buy inferior pizza in Croatia, but you're not wise to do so - just look a bit harder. There is a great pizza available almost every place you go in Croatia.

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© Bonč

Štrukli

Sometimes štrukli is claimed by Zagreb. But, it's suspiciously close to dishes prepared in both Slovenia and Austria. We prefer to allocate this boiled or baked pie-type dish to Zagorje, the agricultural region over the mountain, north of Zagreb. The land, agriculture, food and recipes of Zagorje inform the capital's cuisine more than anywhere else. Štrukli comes with all manner of fillings, although the most popular (and the best we've tried) comes filled with cheese.

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© BiHVolim

Zeljanica

Zeljanica is burek made with spinach. Except in Bosnia, where burek je samo s' mesom! (burek is only with meat!) There, it is only called zeljanica. Nobody in Zagreb is going to shout at you if you ask for burek with spinach. The spinach is wrapped in rolls of pastry before being cooked, the outside layers baking, the inside layers being steamed. Fans who cook this at home should really try a combination of spinach and feta-like or fresh cheese - it's delicious, but almost never on sale to the public.

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© Kokini recepti

Ćoravi gulaš

A peasant stew translated as blind goulash, this thick and tasty soup-like dish boasts potatoes, onions, carrots, tomatoes, parsley and sometimes peas. It is flavoured with ground paprika, salt, pepper, bay leaves and garlic. Best eaten with artisan or homemade crusty bread, this is a brilliant light lunch or inexpensive evening meal.

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© Maja Danica Pečanić / Croatian National Tourist Board

Fritaja sa šparogama

Asparagus is one of those foods, like sprouts, which you probably avoid as a kid, but can't get enough of when you grow up (after you've lost your extra taste buds). They certainly can't get enough of it in some parts of Istria, where there are festivals dedicated to the delicacy. You're sure to find fritaja sa šparogama on the menu of the best traditional Istrian restaurants during the vegetable's growing season. This egg-based dish also contains onions, olive oil, simple seasoning and often herbs. It's great for breakfast, brunch or lunch, eaten with crusty bread and it's a super treat when served with goats cheese and cold Istrian white wine like malvasia. Yum.

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© V Cirillo

Maneštra

Another dish from Istria, these days this stew-like soup is sometimes flavoured with meats. But in its traditional peasant serving it is a vegetarian favourite, comprised of beans, potatoes and sweet corn and flavoured with garlic and parsley.

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Burek is the most common vegetarian food in Croatia © Nikola Škorić

Sirnica

This is burek with a cheese filling, except in Bosnia where... you know the rest.

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Stews like Đuveđ make up a large percentage of the vegetarian food in Croatia © Rainer Zenz

Đuveđ

Đuveđ, sometimes called Đuvec, is a stew of Turkish descent. Its ingredients vary depending on who's cooking and what's in season, but it's not uncommon to find all of the following in this inviting dish - tomatoes, onions, carrot, courgette, aubergine and rice. Flavour can come from a variety of herbs, including oregano, thyme, rosemary and/or marjoram, depending on the chef and region, also salt, pepper and paprika powder.

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Of all the burek / pies in the list of best vegetarian food in Croatia, Bučnica is perhaps the most extravagant © Bučnica fest

Bučnica

Bučnica is arguably the most extravagant of all the burek/pies as its filling has the greatest number of ingredients. Inside its layers of pastry, you will find pumpkin, fresh cheese, sour cream, eggs, butter, salt and pepper. It's seen more frequently in autumn after pumpkins are harvested.

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© zeevveez

Sataraš

Though small in ingredients and simple to prepare, it's really easy to make a mess of sataraš. For the best results, always cook the ingredients in this order - onions, then peppers, tomatoes towards the end. This light vegetable stew is from Hungary and their best version uses the lightest of fresh peppers and the freshest tomatoes. Garlic is often added. Similar to French ratatouille, in other regions, they add courgettes and chilli powder to the dish. This is essentially simple, inexpensive, peasant food. To ramp it up to gastro-levels, try cooking one or all elements separately and then combining together at the end, like a salad. This works especially well with the peppers. Approaching sataraš in this non-traditional way preserves the individual flavours of each vegetable and stops it turning into a uniformly tasting mush.

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Pasta with truffles, one of the most opulent offerings of vegetarian food in Croatia © Maja Danica Pečanić / Croatian National Tourist Board

Fuži s tartufom

This Istrian pasta dish shines its spotlight on locally-sourced truffles. You can find it made with both the more common black truffles or the rarer (and more expensive) white truffles. If it's made with truffle oil, give it a miss - it's not the real deal. Unusually for a pasta dish, this one often makes use of butter. It adds to the luxuriousness of the taste.

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© Чакаровска

Krumpiruša

You might hear one or two people insist that Croatians don't usually eat meals that include more than one carbohydrate. This small number of people are usually from Zagreb and presumably forgot about krumpiruša (or indeed that many ask for bread to accompany their sarma - which contains rice - and is served atop mashed potato). Krumpiruša is lowly in ingredients, but one of the most satisfying pastries in Croatia. For the best results, again, use white pepper to season if you're making it at home.

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Youtube screenshot © Sašina Kuhinja

Zlevanka

To an outsider, zlevanka sounds like the name of the charming lady who rents you a holiday home in Montenegro. It's actually a speciality sweet pie from northern Croatia (particularly Međimurje), a peasant dish made with eggs, sugar, salt, cornflour, milk, fresh cheese or sour cream, yeast and oil. The cornflour is essential to give it the snack its distinct yellow colour. You might also see it called bazlamača, zlevka or kukuruznjača. Even sweeter versions are available which include apple or poppy seeds.

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© Cyrus Roepers

Gibanica

Popular all over the Balkans, in Turkey, Syria and in German-speaking nations, the origin of gibanica is a fight for some other writer. We're only concerned with the delicious taste of this strudel, which stars egg and cottage cheese. It can be served as a sweet or savoury snack.

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Soparnik is the undisputed king of vegetarian food in Croatia © Marc Rowlands

Soparnik

Profiled recently in a popular TCN feature, soparnik is the king of Croatian snacks. It is the rarest, usually only found in the Dalmatian hinterland behind Omiš. It is also the most authentically-Croatian item of food on this list. Blitva (a hardy, green chard), a little onion and salt are the filling inside this delicate, thin pastry, which is cooked in huge rounds on a traditional wood-fired oven. Delicious olive oil and tiny pieces of garlic are placed on top while it is still warm.

If you want to try some of the best vegetarian food in Croatia, check out this list of vegetarian restaurants

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Friday, 25 September 2020

Over 1,000 Caterers in Dalmatia Closed Businesses for 60 Minutes on Thursday

September 25, 2020 - More than a thousand caterers in Dalmatia stopped serving guests in their facilities for an hour to warn of the difficult situation their businesses are in. The protest began at 11:56 on Thursday afternoon.

HRTurizam reports that as part of the action "4 to 12", Thursday's protest was initiated by the National Association of Caterers and the Split Association of Caterers, though word quickly spread to Zadar, Sibenik, Dubrovnik, and other Dalmatian cities and towns and was a complete success, the organizers said.

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Caterers decided to take action because the coronavirus pandemic endangered the food & beverage industry's survival and the numerous jobs on which tens of thousands of employees and members of their families depend on in Dalmatia alone.

"I am pleased that the caterers responded in such large numbers, but even more pleased that our guests recognized the importance of the action and accepted our reasons as to why we stopped serving them for 60 minutes with understanding. Our demands for measures needed to preserve jobs and prevent the collapse of the economy are clear - suspension of VAT until March 1, 2021, a permanent preferential rate on food - which according to the Food Act, includes food, coffee, beer, juices, water, and wine - of 13% or 10%, access to credit lines of HAMAG BICRO for liquidity and HBOR for investments," said Jelena Tabak from the Split Association of Caterers.

The action is designed as a continuation of the recent action of caterers of Istria and Kvarner with the same goals, only this time it was not called "5 to 12" but "4 to 12" to warn of the fact that time for action of competent institutions is running out and will soon be too late.

Hundreds of restaurants, cafes, and shops closed in Split alone to show their support, and more than two hundred in Zadar and its surroundings. In Zadar and Hvar, only the facilities of local leaders of the Croatian Chamber of Trades and Crafts have been opened.

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Udruženje ugostitelja Split

Caterers emphasized that the season was better than in other Mediterranean countries, but not enough to bridge the gap created by a lockdown in the spring, falling tourist numbers, and the abrupt end of the season due to the closure of other borders.

"We do not ask for any alms, nor do we want other people's money. We are only asking to be allowed to borrow to survive until next season and be relieved of the tax burden to some extent so that we can pay the loan. Several other measures could help us at the local government level, from relieving consumption taxes to reducing concession fees. Still, key measures that will help all caterers - VAT and availability of liquidity and investment funds - must be addressed at the state level," said Jelena Tabak.

A sample survey of almost 500 caterers from all over Croatia found that almost 60% of them recorded a decline in business by more than 50%, and almost 40% face the fact that under these conditions, they will not survive until next season. As many as 80% of employers will be forced to resort to terminating contracts with employees.

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Friday, 18 September 2020

VIDEOS: Amazing New Google Project Shows Croatian Culture to the World

September 18, 2020 - Incredible new video series explore Croatian culture, its natural assets, and the country's rich traditions, a collaboration with Google

Steeped in history and tradition, Croatian culture is incredibly diverse. Recognised as being of high value to the country's appeal and its understanding of itself, many items from this rich heritage appear on the protected UNESCO list.

The Croatian National Tourist Board has teamed up with Google Arts & Culture and partners The Museum of Arts and the Museum of the Sinjska alka to produce an incredible series of videos that explore this cultural heritage.

From arts & crafts to music and dance, natural assets and architecture, the new videos show off the rich menu of traditions assets that make Croatia such an incredible country. With so many items included on the protected UNESCO list, there's always something more you can learn about Croatia, no matter how many times you visit.

Lace-making, costumes of folklore, ancient instruments, time-honoured recipes, beloved festivities and distinct, regional styles of music are just some of the facets of Croatian culture explored in the videos. Now, people from all over the world can explore Croatian culture and heritage before they even arrive. The menu of videos and accompanying media is presented in both English and Croatian.

Some of the videos in the series are not new, but they have been selected by the Croatian National Tourist Board for inclusion as they are the best at showcasing their particular aspect of Croatian culture. Alongside the video presentations, there are a wealth of photographs and informative texts. You can view the whole new collaboration with Google Arts & Culture here

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Thursday, 3 September 2020

Croatia, Full of Poisoned Cats? The Dark Side of Dalmatia's Streets

September 3, 2020 -  “Croatia, Full of Life!” says the national tourist board, but are they aware of all of the poisoned cats? A closer look at the animal issue plaguing Dalmatia's streets.

Street cats have become a symbol of Croatia, and whether you find them fishing on the coast, in bins, or enjoying a bit of ‘fjaka’ on an ancient stone wall, you’ll be hard-pressed to miss one while you're here.

But there is a dark side to our furry friends in Dalmatia, something I could never imagine in a place of so much beauty. Cat poisonings. 

Growing up in California, my family always had cats. Because we lived on acres of citrus and avocado trees, we'd often wake up to litters in our shed or on top of our cars before I was driven to school. While we found homes for some, we raised others and ensured they were part of our family. Some we had for over 15 years, and all had passed before we moved to Croatia. 

Without the responsibility of house pets for the first time in years, the thought of adopting an animal here hardly crossed my mind. And to be honest, I went four years in Split without taking any in. That is, until a kitten drove under our car for 20 minutes before falling out in the middle of the highway, which I heard only thanks to a hunch in my gut that something wasn't right. Suzy drove home with us that day and became my first kitten love in Croatia. Just over two months later, a 3-week old kitten was abandoned by its mother on a rainy Sunday night near my home, and while I tried finding him a forever home, Ziggy became a Rogulj, too. And that’s only the beginning. 

However, it wasn’t until I rescued Ziggy that I became wholly exposed to the depths of the cat community in Split and Dalmatia. While I had friends actively involved on the streets or Facebook, I was often hesitant to join for fear of uncovering its somber side. Part of me enjoyed being blissfully unaware, thinking that the street cats here are healthy, happy, and have homes, as many people want you to believe. Unfortunately, it’s far worse than I’d ever imagined - and for anyone with the slightest bit of compassion, impossible to turn your head. 

Not only do cities seldom help in sponsoring sterilizations for street cats (there are a few exceptions, like Stari Grad, which I will go into later), but many citizens believe that cats are pests, and pests must go before the tourists arrive. This is where the act of poisoning comes in. 

At the beginning of August, Jutarnji List reported on 17 cats that were either poisoned, beaten, or drowned on the island of Hvar in a matter of weeks, terrifying tourists who left their accommodation because they found a dead cat in the courtyard. They added that dog owners were scared to leave their homes, and parents were hesitant to take their children to playgrounds for fear of them coming across traces of poison. The poison used, they said, was potent, and nothing anyone, let alone a cat, should come into contact with. 

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Pexels

Hvar, however, is only one example. Kelly Parslow, an ex-pat who has lived in the village of Osibova on Brac for years, has lost eight cats to poisonings. 

“I believed foolishly that the first time it was an accidental poisoning. I was aware that cats were often poisoned here, and a colony of street cats that I cared for was wiped out by poison a few years before. But I couldn’t believe that my neighbours would deliberately harm MY cats. I was very wrong,” said Parslow. 

Kelly first realized two of her cats went missing while she was caring for another she found foaming at the mouth.

“Both of these cats came to me as unwanted kittens, left at my house during the night by people with unsterilized house cats, who were allowed to roam freely, and ended up pregnant. Before I moved here, the unwanted kittens would be left at the neighbourhood rubbish bins, and kind-hearted locals would feed them until they were inevitably poisoned, to “clean” ahead of the tourist season. Then word spread of the crazy foreigner who loves cats, and soon, the kittens were turning up at my home. I didn’t mind, though. I have enough space at home and in my heart for these poor creatures. I believed they would be safe with me. My home is surrounded by forest and sea. Osibova is a neighbourhood of vikendice and apartmani. I am one of only a few year-round residents. The neighbours who come in summer love my cats. Children often come to feed and play with them. A retired couple even adopted one particularly friendly cat. They were not previously “cat people,” but my sweet girl converted them, and they adore her completely!”

And the poisonings didn’t stop there.

“With the third victim, I realised that this was no accidental poisoning. My cats were deliberately killed. People told me it was probably hunters who leave poison in the forest for reasons I don’t entirely understand. Reports of more poisoned creatures started pouring in. Two puppies, many kune, and even owls. Who knows how many other creatures were carelessly slaughtered. That’s the thing with such a poison. It doesn’t only kill the targeted animal. It passes through the entire food chain, killing big and small creatures and contaminating the environment. It never disappears, it slowly dissipates but not before causing untold damage to the delicate ecosystem,” Kelly said. 

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A week later, she found the fourth victim, Tootsi. 

“He was a refugee from Milna, his clipped ear a sign that he had been one of many cats sterilized in a large ‘Trap Neuter Return’ effort, carried out by volunteers and paid for by the Municipality. He had only one eye, the other most likely shot with an air rifle, in some twisted version of target practice for hunters. Despite all this, he was sweet, friendly, and grateful for my care and affection. I found him under a bush, foaming at the mouth, crying in pain and fear. Again I rushed to the vet, but he was dead by the time I arrived.”

Kelly resolved to building a cat-proof fence on her property to protect her remaining cats, though work cannot begin until after the tourist season as building work is prohibited. 

“At the same time, 2 cats disappeared. I never found their bodies. The death toll stood at 5. I thought that the opening of the tourist season would protect the remaining cats. Surely no one would drop poison around when so many people with young children and dogs were here enjoying their summer holiday! I underestimated the stupidity and savagery of the culprits. 

Last week, I heard that more cats had been poisoned in Osibova. Orphaned kittens were found, some dead, some clinging to life. Three of my cats were missing. 

I searched the neighbourhood for days until I found the body of my beloved Turtle. She crawled under the wooden kučica for cats that I built in my garden. There she died the same painful, terrifying death as the others.”

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Shocked by Kelly's experience, I decided to take a poll of my Facebook friends to see who else has witnessed something similar. The situation in Slatine on Ciovo is no better.

"I would like to draw your attention to Slatine (Ciovo), where such a practice is repeated from year to year, on a much larger scale (although almost unknown to the general public). This year alone, already three times, dozens of cats have been poisoned. Non-selective poisoning, in public places, without warning and notice (and permission), which endangers both children and other pets. The motive is simple, out of season, cats are desirable because they 'control pests and snakes' everyone feeds them and lets them reproduce uncontrollably, and in season, they are 'enemy number 1 because tourists come,' and Slatine residents have no urge to keep the place clean, so cats gather in crowded containers in groups of up to 30," reads one message I received on Facebook. The source added that Slatine is officially part of the City of Split, and the Split district, which makes the story even crazier.

Unfortunately, it is known in the community that the police rarely act on reports of cat poisonings. 

“Cat poisonings are amongst the major issues when it comes to animal welfare in Dalmatia.  These atrocities happen regularly throughout the year, the work of psychopaths who go unpunished, with a big spike during the spring and summer months. The reason is that many accommodation and restaurant owners are convinced they need to 'clean the place of cats' so they don't bother tourists. This makes no sense whatsoever, given that the visitors love cats and seem to show a lot more empathy for them than most locals. Our association has reported dozens of cases to the police, but it is never taken seriously, and often, we are even laughed off. The authorities don't seem to think cats' lives are worth their time and resources,” said Tanja Vukicevic of the Split association Deseti Zivot

Zdravko Podolski, a resident of Vrboska on the island of Hvar, has lost three cats to poisonings, oftentimes with no luck from the police - but that shouldn't discourage people from reporting.

"Always report, to grad/opcina, to police, to komunalno redarstvo, to drustvo za zastitu zivotinja. From the police, insist on a case number. If you have suspicions, share them. Nothing will happen the first few (or even many) times, but you can ask for a report, and you can set the press to ask," he says. Printing out articles in the media about poisonings and placing them in the mailboxes of suspects could work, too. 

Parslow believes that if several people report the same crime, the police can do their job. 

“People say the same thing to me over and over: don’t bother to report it because the police don’t care. This is not true at all. In my experience, the police care a lot and are always sympathetic. They can’t do anything if they don’t know the crimes are happening. By not reporting, people ensure that nothing will continue to happen. I always report to the police and the local municipality, but one report is not enough! If several people report the same crime, then there is more information for the police to work with. That is what happened in this case. The police told me that several other people had reported the same incidents of poisoning. Putting all the reports together gives the police a better picture of what is happening. Every piece of information, however tiny, is a piece of the jigsaw puzzle that can lead to prosecution. 

There are several different routes to prosecution. An autopsy and toxicology analysis can be performed by the police crime laboratory, but it is very expensive, and citizens are usually expected to pay for it themselves. The poison itself is prohibited in Croatia and must be brought in from neighbouring countries with more relaxed laws. Anyone found in possession of the substance can be prosecuted. Offenders can be caught on video surveillance cameras, and some are even stupid enough to brag about their crimes, effectively confessing their guilt. I urge all concerned citizens to report these crimes. It takes a tiny amount of effort, and you might not see results immediately, but it is worth it.”

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Pexels

I was shocked to discover just how many locals are unaware of what to do if they come across poisoned cats. One message last week from a local university student in the Visoka neighborhood of Split is an example.

"Someone in my street is poisoning cats, and I don't know what to do. I'm so sad about it because three already died."

According to Animal Friends in Croatia, if you are to witness an imminent threat to the health and life of an animal and severe abuse of an animal (including all forms of physical abuse), you are to call 192 and request the intervention of the police to prevent further endangerment of the animal and, if it is torture and/or killing the animal, file a criminal report.

A criminal report for abuse and/or killing of an animal should also be submitted by a witness of abuse/killing of an animal or a person who has information about it, in writing to the competent Municipal State Attorney's Office for violation of Article 205 of the Criminal Code. You can read more about it HERE

Last week, a 61-year-old woman on the island of Hvar was caught by police for poisoning four cats. Some justice, finally, has been served.

“The people of Hvar are finally relieved: after a police investigation, the case of poisoning and killing cats, which had been buzzing in the news for days, was resolved. Allegedly, some tourists decided to leave Hvar after they came across the corpse of a cat in the yard of the apartment where they were staying, which horrified them so much that they packed up and left. 

Although several killed cats were found in the town of Hvar in July, in yards and even in a net at sea, Hvar Police Station officers found that a 61-year-old woman from Hvar had killed four cats, which led to a report of the crime of killing or torturing animals. The competent state attorney's office was informed about the completion of the criminal investigation in a special report, as a supplement to the previously submitted criminal reports,” reads Slobodna Dalmacija’s release on the police report.

Killing or torturing animals in Croatia can see you imprisoned for up to a year.

Vivian Grisogono of Eco Hvar, an association helping to improve the health, environment, and conditions for animals on Hvar Island and beyond, suggests a way forward. 

“One has to recognise why there's a problem and the valid reasons why some people object to having cats around their property. And then one can work out solutions, at least to some degree. Firstly, we feel that feeding stations with soil or sand areas for toileting would be a good start. Zagreb apparently has 40 of these. Such feeding points would make it easier to organise the sterilization of strays. Secondly, a satellite shelter (stacionar) would be excellent. One of our members has offered the use of some private land for this purpose, so we are now planning to create a satellite shelter under the aegis of the Animalis Centrum/Zaklada za zaštitu životinja Beštie) shelter in Kaštel Sućurac. It's quite a big undertaking, but is desperately needed.

Getting local authority support for these initiatives, including financial, would be the best possible positive result out of the tragic events of the last few months. Stari Grad, Hvar, and Jelsa have already taken positive action in financing cat sterilizations from their budgets, which was a big step forward, and is due to the initiative of Amanda Blanch and Chris Edwardes, who run the Hidden House Hotel in Stari Grad.

Restaurants and hotels would do well to join in the initiative - it would be good for their image, would help keep local cats under control, and would definitely please the many guests who come here and enjoy having cats around. Also, the cats are, of course, useful in controlling snakes and vermin.”

Amanda Blanch of the Stari Grad Kitten Fund believes we need to use the recent media attention to our advantage to keep the momentum around the issue going.

"There is momentum after the awful killings and torturing of cats in Hvar Town, and finally someone has been arrested. I have never gotten anywhere with the police or authorities on this, but they did finally listen about the Stari Grad Kitten Fund, and after three or more hard years, the mayor did put some money into the sterilization program. It is starting to get traction, and we must keep fighting for change and show people the benefits for them. Tourists prefer not to find dead or dying cats around, and there aren't as many cat feces around our area as the sterilization program worked, as we had fewer cats, mice, and snakes."

While Parslow has grieved eight lives this year, she fears that death could extend beyond cats, and tourism doomed on the island forever. 

“The poison, in this case, is a powerful neurotoxin, which usually kills in minutes. It is extremely dangerous to all life, including humans. I fear that if this is allowed to continue, one day, a small child will be killed. Toddlers explore their world by putting things in their mouths. Imagine if the child of a tourist is poisoned in beautiful Osibova. Tourism would be destroyed here forever. 

People say it’s the older generation who poison cats. They don’t know and can’t afford any other way of controlling the cat population. This is not always the case and certainly not the case here. The culprits are not old, they are not even from Milna. They are property owners who make a lot of money from tourism. They will destroy anything which gets in the way of their profit. They don’t understand that tourists from other countries do care about animal welfare and would be horrified to learn that cats are tortured and killed for their benefit. They don’t care about the very thing which draws those tourists: the incredible natural beauty of this region.”

If you'd like to get involved by helping the animal associations of Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page

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Wednesday, 26 August 2020

No Lockdown For Split-Dalmatia County

ZAGREB, Aug 26, 2020 - Head of the national COVID-19 management team and Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said on Wednesday that the new measures for Split-Dalmatia County, announced by the county's team, would come into force at midnight.

"Split-Dalmatia County has decided to make wearing masks mandatory in bars and restaurants before consuming drinks and food, the number of people at weddings will be limited to 50, wakes are banned, and owners of restaurants are obliged to supervise their facilities more closely. Also, gyms will close, and sports competitions can take place but without spectators," Bozinovic said.

Broken down by counties, the number of new cases of the infection is the highest in Split-Dalmatia County - 136, followed by the City of Zagreb (58), Sibenik-Knin County (33), Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (20), Zagreb County (19), Zadar County (15), Varazdin County (11), Brod-Posavina County (11), while other counties have recorded fewer than 10 new cases.

Asked whether the national COVID-19 response team was considering a complete closure of Split-Dalmatia County, Bozinovic said that was not the case.

"We are not considering that this is the only way to avoid that, and I am convinced there will not be any lockdown. We are keeping the situation under control this way," he said.

Asked about the possibility of the spike in number due to the recent Feast of the Assumption, Bozinovic said that they had assigned local teams to conduct epidemiological surveillance, and they believe the prescribed measures had been implemented.

"Split-Dalmatia County is a hotspot and new measures are being taken there. We will have meetings with others on Thursday, so it is possible that some new measures may be introduced then in some counties," Bozinovic said.

Asked why gyms were closing in Split-Dalmatia County while bars remained open and Masses were allowed, Bozinovic said that the new measures would be in place for 14 days.

He underscored that measures could be dropped or extended. Fines for violating the measures are also possible, he added.

"There is always the possibility of penalizing. We hope there will be no need for that because our intention is that as many people as possible accept the recommendations by the Croatian Public Health Institute. The point is for people to follow the recommendations because then we will achieve the main goal, to reduce the number of new infections and control the situation," he said.

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Friday, 21 August 2020

Analysis by Counties: Dalmatia Eight Times Worse than Istria, Will Regional Measures be Discussed?

August 21, 2020 -  Why does Dalmatia have such poor numbers, much worse than Istria, Primorje, and other tourist regions? A closer look at COVID-19 in Croatia.

Jutarnji List writes that Germany, the country from which the largest number of tourists come to Croatia, decided on Thursday to put two Croatian counties on the red list - Split-Dalmatia and Šibenik-Knin.

These are counties that have an increasing number of infected people from week to week and are the main reason why the whole country has been placed on the red list of other countries that are important to Croatia, such as Italy and Slovenia.

But why does Dalmatia have such bad numbers, many times worse than Istria and Primorje, and also tourist regions in which, in proportion to the number of inhabitants, there are more tourists this year than in the south? The numbers are laid out quite clearly in the Official Croatian COVID-19 weekly report, and illustrated by the table below: 

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In short, experts believe it is a combination of recklessly relaxed and casual behavior of Dalmatians and relatively mild measures and recommendations of the National Headquarters, which has always tried to balance so as not to jeopardize the season.

They wanted to save the tourist season as much as possible, all doors were open, the result was more than 50 percent of revenue last year, which is ultimately extremely good for the state budget, and covers the costs that await us until the end of the year. However, also the fact that in the last 14 days, including Thursday, Croatia had a cumulative 47.2 infected per 100,000 inhabitants. This is a high number that puts Croatia in an unenviable 7th place among EU countries.

We could have expected that the number would increase by reopening, but the other option was quarantine, which in the end would not be good for either the economy or the citizens. Namely, even this restriction on night clubs is not a sufficient obstacle for the spread of the coronavirus,  when a million people from abroad and from the continent come to the Adriatic. The most important thing for them is not the sun and the sea, but socializing, and they will do it either in restaurants or somewhere on the beach.

"Of course, that close contact increases the number of infected people," explains Dr. Krunoslav Capak, director of the Croatian Institute of Public Health. He adds that despite a large number of infected people, most of their contacts are being managed so that newly infected people will arrive from that ‘cluster’ in the coming days, as many have returned to their places of residence.

New possible coronavirus-related measures and strategies will be discussed at the Government's COVID-19 Scientific Council next Tuesday.

Austria, Italy, Slovenia and the UK reacted very quickly to Croatia's large numbers by putting Croatia on the red list, so their citizens are leaving the Adriatic to avoid a 14-day quarantine, and new tourists from those countries will certainly not come this season. Some tourists are being tested for coronavirus in Croatia, so there is currently a real state of siege in public health institutes.

The Zagreb Teaching Institute for Public Health, "Dr. Andrija Štampar", says that in the past few days, they have taken more than 1000 swabs, most of which are Croatian citizens returning to work abroad, but there are also foreigners. The Split institute is also crowded, mainly because hotel houses organize testing for guests. It is estimated that more than 500 citizens are tested daily, of which about fifty are foreigners.

In the last 14 days in Split-Dalmatia County, 79 positives per 100,000 inhabitants were recorded, which is an absolute record since the beginning of the epidemic. That’s the figure until August 17, and it has grown significantly in the past three days.

“Currently, 15 patients with COVID-19 are being treated in our clinic, and two of our patients are on a respirator.

Most of the patients are older than 50 years, but there are also younger ones, but their clinical picture can be said to be moderately severe," says Dr. Ivo Ivic, Head of the Clinic for Infectious Diseases, University Hospital Center Split. He adds that there could be more elderly patients soon, because young people, unfortunately, will surely infect their elderly family members as well.

Split-Dalmatia County is followed by Sibenik-Knin County with 61.91 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, while in Zadar, it was 35.09 cases.

Vukovar-Srijem County, with 68.02 patients per 100,000 inhabitants, is also included in this group of fast-growing corona cases, because according to data, more than half of the positives come from vacations.

At the same time, the three counties of the northern Adriatic are not among those in which tourists and vacations activate the virus. For example, in Istria County in 9 days, there are 9.58 infected per 100,000 inhabitants, or eight times less than in Split-Dalmatia County.

In Primorje-Gorski Kotar, it is 12.67, and in Lika-Senj 22.13 per 100,000 inhabitants, which is a lot for that county, and the reason, according to the numbers, is Zrce. Namely, 159 foreigners who became infected in Croatia were reported to the European EWRS system in just over a month, namely 69 Austrians, 52 Slovenes, 13 Germans, 22 Britons and three Italians. Among the reported infected foreigners, most of them fell ill in Novalja, 71, and Makarska and Split 65.

From these data, it is evident that large gatherings, regardless of whether they are nightclubs, weddings, or birthday parties, are a source of infection for a large number of people. That is why a week ago, the National Civil Protection Headquarters limited the working hours of nightclubs until midnight, and even before the number of those who can stay indoors in those clubs.

However, at that time, there were already too many infections so that this would not drastically affect the overall picture of the coronavirus in Croatia. As expected, many caterers were not pleased. Some even said that these were communist moves, because they were not all the same; some respected the measures already introduced, and they were punished in the same way.

However, after opening nightclubs in the summer, it is evident that the Headquarters will have to weigh the good and bad and learn from this experience to determine what behavior will be allowed during the winter.

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