Wednesday, 26 January 2022

OLT Osijek to Transform: Museums, Sport Incubator, Olympic Swimming Pool

January the 26th, 2022 - Eastern Croatia is often (very wrongly) overlooked, and the City of Osijek is one town that is making a stand in several ways when it comes to turning its image around. The old OLT Osijek is set to undergo a transformation, with a unique sport incubator, museums and even an Olympic swimming pool thrown in.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Suzana Varosanec writes, the praiseworthy revitalisation project of the OLT Osijek area, one of the largest projects being implemented in Osijek-Baranja County and in the City of Osijek, is still waiting for its visible construction phase to begin. It will most likely two more years before a large area in the very heart of Osijek is turned into a large construction site.

Therefore, the focus is on key activities that will enable this in connection with the development of the Urban Development Plan, which will be a prerequisite for defining the content in this area, which is the responsibility of the City of Osijek.

As part of the project entitled "The preparatory documentation for the strategic project for the revitalisation of the brownfield OLT Osijek area" in the amount of 2,777,500 kuna, and co-financed by the European Union (EU), conservation documentation also needs to be prepared.

The urban plan

This is the basis for the preparation of the urban-conservation base, which should be incorporated into the necessary spatial planning documentation. Conservation documentation, in addition to the catalog of all buildings, also includes various studies of research works and recordings of the existing condition for the buildings - these are the foundry with a lathe, an office, an administrative building, a tool shop and a water tower.

According to a request from Osijek-Baranja County, after the Urban Development Plan is drawn up and made, the project documentation will need to be prepared, and according to county prefect Ivan Anusic, they want to revive the OLT Osijek space which is located almost right in the city centre.

"In the immediate vicinity of the University Campus, OLT Osijek will receive additional support in terms of the scientific work needing to be done because our plan is to create a Science Research Centre, then a sports incubator where experts will work with children from an early age to guide them to the sport that suits them best, both according to their individual physical predispositions and according to their personal affinities.

There will also be support for the families of young athletes, as we've repeatedly witnessed that the top athletes we can truly be proud of in this county are the product of our own efforts and work, as well as family sacrifice. Our goal is to institutionalise this type of support,'' Anusic pointed out.

According to him, the construction of an Olympic swimming pool, which the City of Osijek currently lacks, is planned along with a number of halls, while the sport incubator will be the first of its kind in the wider area, so the new purpose of OLT Osijek will be of great importance for all of Eastern Croatia.

"It's also known that Osijek has a long tradition on the cultural scene, but in recent years there has been a lack of space for the development of alternative types of art. The plan also includes museums, an amphitheatre and various other content that will be generated in the time ahead as something which is necessary to improve the economic, scientific, social and cultural development of the city and the wider county,'' said County Prefect Anusic.

One of the basic preconditions for the realisation of all of this is the gift contract concluded last week between the state and this county for very valuable property that previously became the property of the state through their purchase in the bankruptcy of Osijek's failed metal company.

This is an area which boasts an ​​abandoned and unused industrial complex, spanning a total area of ​​59,046 m2, and the plan is to be implemented over several phases of design and construction. The first stage of project implementation refers to the economic content, which consists of several components, while the second stage of the project is related to incentive housing for 1,600 inhabitants, or 380 apartments in total.

For more, check out Made in Croatia.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Hidden Village of Progress: Ivankovo - Great Example of Slavonia Full of Life

January 25, 2022 - There are many obstacles the Slavonia region faced in the last two decades, but one of the most prominent ones is the emigration of young people who do not see a future for them here. However, one particular village in the eastern interfluve of the Drava and Sava rivers in Vukovar-Srijem County stood out from the rest. Meet Ivankovo.

Ivankovo is located in Vukovar-Srijem County, west of the historical city of Vinkovci, along a busy road that has passed through that area since prehistoric times. The design reminds of a typical traditional Slavonian village; the houses are located on long narrow plots, built on a regulation line, and the background is used for agricultural purposes. In addition, there are villages Prkovci and Retkovci, which are also part of the Ivankovo Municipality. Furthermore, its geographical and traffic location connects cities like Đakovo, Osijek, Vinkovci, Vukovar. Also, the motorway A3 Bregana - Lipovac, industrial track, airport Klisa, the port of Vukovar, and neighbouring municipalities Vođinci, Stari Mikanovci, Andrijaševci, Cerna, and Jarmina. Historically, the municipality of Ivankovo was always highly populated (unusual for villages in Eastern Croatia) with, according to the 2011 census, 6,194 residents in Ivankovo, 1,263 residents in village Retkovci and 549 residents in Prkovci. However, the 2021 census showed that the emigration of people, especially young people, did not bypass Ivankovo. Only Vukovar-Srijem County has 19 percent fewer people than ten years prior, with just Ivankovo losing 1,091 residents. These devastating numbers only show how much this part of the country suffered since the Homeland War, and the possible potential Eastern Croatia can offer was neglected for decades. Recently, however, things started to change.

Croatia joined the European Union on the 1st of July 2013 and opened its borders to new opportunities, which was partly a curse if we consider the emigration, but Euro funds all of a sudden became available and small communities and districts like Ivankovo saw the opportunity to use its resources to develop their infrastructure. After the change of the government in 2017, hard work needed to begin. One of the first obstacles elected officials had to face were decrepit institution buildings (school, kindergarten, fire station), sacral objects, financial transactions pointlessly directed at projects that did not make any sense, engaging locals in public events, and keeping young residents and their potential families in the district of Ivankovo. This was only a drop in the ocean, but with the available European funds and fixes in municipalities' budgets, projects of developing neglected villages finally started.

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foto: Facebook/Ivankovo.info

The first big project happened at the Industrial Zone Ivankovo, which was, after many years, finally put into function and allowed local entrepreneurs to invest and develop their own establishments. This encouraged employment, of which 70 percent needed to be from the Municipality of Ivankovo. 

Local utilities also needed a massive upgrade, so a communal society was formed and today employs 26 people from the Municipality, who take care of the village’s environment every day.  Public spaces like children’s playgrounds, parks, and other areas were built and renovated. Furthermore, part of the Revitalization plan included planting 300 trees across the Municipality. The roads have been renovated, built where needed, and the sewer system finally connected with households across the villages of Ivankovo, Prkovci, and Retkovci. Waste management is still a huge problem across Croatia but the local government of Ivankovo, with the help of EU funds, enabled the construction of a recycling yard which highlights the need for sorting and recycling the waste.   gospodarska_zona.jpg

Industrial Zone Ivankovo, foto: Facebook/Marko Miličević - načelnik Općine Ivankovo

Social incentives: co-financing the purchase of houses for young families, infant benefits, free preschool educations, new kindergarten buildings, free student transportation, student scholarships, and other perks of the demographic policy all came into fruition since 2017, and it helped residents of Ivankovo immensely.  

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Newly Built Kindergarten Ivankovo, foto: Facebook/Dječji vrtić IvankovoStara_općina.jpg

Renovated old government building, foto: Facebook/Marko Miličević - načelnik Općine Ivankovo

This is only a drop in the ocean that shows if people put in a little effort and genuinely care about the development of the community in which they reside, Slavonia can truly be better. When asked about these achievements and progress the Municipality went through the last few years, Mayor Marko Miličević says that “this is only the beginning. It was hard, we had to fix a lot of issues that were rooted here for years, but with the help of my colleagues and finding resources to finance our goals of development of this region, we started something that we can only continue to build on.”

He continues: “The most important part was listening to people, getting to know them again and recognizing their needs because before they weren’t being listened to.”

Plans seem ambitious as well: “This Municipality has so much potential and highly educated people, with more than 100 faculty students every year who are studying economics, IT, electrical engineering and computing, food technology, medicine, etc., which are all the fields that are the future of this country.” he says.

Furthermore: “We have numerous development projects in works that we want to be finished in the next few years: further development of Entrepreneurial Zone Ivankovo, a tourist, sports and recreation center, a retirement home, catering and tourist zone, etc.

Mayor Miličević ends on a hopeful note: “We have achieved the future of development in the Municipality of Ivankovo, and we plan to continue it.”
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 Winter Joys During Christmas Holidays, foto: Facebook/Marko Miličević - načelnik Općine Ivankovo

Sports recreation, social events, concerts, the inclusion of young people in said events, and more only shows that the district of Ivankovo finally livened up and restored a little bit of life that resided here 30 - 40 years ago. Multiple “parasites” wormed themselves in the core of Slavonia and slowly but surely exhausted the region to the limit. People settled for what was enough for them, for what was given to them, and some of them left because they couldn’t see their future here. Generations of high schoolers heard every day that there isn’t a place for them here in Slavonia, that there are many people like them who never found themselves here and had to leave because of it, and that they need to leave as well. 

The hope for Slavonians has been stepped on for years, but the current changes slowly every day. Osijek started it, Vukovar and Vinkovci are following it. Still, a village like Ivankovo can only be an example of how much power its residents have and use their potential to make, how one former foreign politician said, Slavonia great again.

For more, check out our dedicatedlifestyle section.

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Improving Croatian Tourism: 8 Key TCN Areas of Focus for 2022

December 23, 2021 - 2022 will be a year of change for tourism in Croatia. An overview of 8 key areas TCN will be focusing its efforts on improving Croatian tourism in 2022.

2021 has been a great year at TCN, as we diversified from a news portal into some other projects. There is such potential in so many areas in this country that I am constantly surprised at how few people I see exploring the opportunities. I know a few people who laughed when a certain Dutch expat announced he was going to grow tomatoes in northern Croatia, but having seen the project develop at first hand, it is heartening to see that such ideal dreams of Jan de Jong, Jerko Trogrlic and the team at CROP Hrvatska will become a reality. 

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(The Slavonian Wannabe Tomato Growers Convention with CROP Hrvatksa, Osijek, December 2021)

And once it starts, the floodgates could open. Contrary to the general media portrayal, I genuinely think that this is an incredibly exciting time to be alive in Croatia. And I leave 2021 and enter 2022 with perhaps more energy, optimism and determination than ever before since I moved here permanently back in 2003. 

Of course, Jan is a much more successful businessman than I could ever hope to be, and so my main focus in 2022 will be to develop the eco-system of sustainable tourism all over the country, 12 months a year, rather than watch the current lazy status quo which is slowly destroying Croatia's Adriatic jewels. 

It has been another completely random 12 months at TCN. Just as I never expected to be named International Medical Travel Journalist of the Year in Malaysia a year ago, so too I did not expect to be giving a keynote speech at Digital Nomad Week based out of Bali on VIP Day almost exactly a year later - you can see the first presentation of our new CROMADS platform during my online presentation above.

2021 was a year of awards and lawsuits for TCN. A total of 11 international awards for projects that we were partners in, and an impressive 3 lawsuits, the first in my life (I don't count the one publicly announced in 2018 by Mayor of Jelsa, Niksa Peronja, as it never arrived). Seven awards for the Total Croatia Travel INFO Viber community, delivered in partnership with Manjgura and Mediacor (including 3 at the Polaris Awards in London), 2 for Zagreb Digital Nomad Week with Saltwater Nomads and Zagreb Tourist Board, and 2 for Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence program with Saltwater Nomads, City of Dubrovnik and Dubrovnik Tourist Board. 

But as nice as it was to win the awards, it was actually the lawsuits which gave me the inspiration for a new direction for TCN. If our constructive criticism was not only read by the Kings of Accidental Tourism, but bothered them so much that they were prepared to sue me for 100,000 kuna, perhaps I had a voice that was being heard further than I had imagined.  

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I am certainly very grateful to the Kings for the lawsuits. Apart from being described by one journalist as the biggest PR own goal in the history of the Croatian National Tourist Board, it was also the best free promotion TCN has ever had (thank you!), as a staggering 16,000 people took part in an online poll by Index.hr after the story hit all the major news networks. 

If the Kings were that sensitive to a few words, what might happen if we publicly started pushing a few initiatives via TCN to see what stuck, and what progress we could make? The lawsuits will be entering their third calendar year next month, and you can follow progress every step of the way in our Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit feature, which will probably go on for years until we win in the European courts in Strasbourg. TCN promo budget 2022 - 2026 - tick.  

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But it seems more and more people are recognising TCN and the various initiatives we are pushing to celebrate the little guy and connect the eco-system outside the crumbling walls of the Mighty State of Uhljebistan. It was an honour earlier this week, for example, to receive an invitation from His Excellency Raj Srivastava, Indian Ambassador to Croatia to the launch of the India-Croatia Startup Bridge. Even more so when the Ambassador told me he was a TCN reader and that some of our articles celebrating Croatian startups influenced his thinking on this initiative. It is a great initiative, and I look forward to TCN reporting on various successes.

Rather than just reporting on the news and blogging about the latest lawsuit postponement by the Kings (Read more in Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit: 50 Lawyers, No Secretary, No Hearing), I started to think about ways that TCN could advocate for positive change in some targeted niches. Although I am not a tourism expert, I am getting to know Croatian tourism very well and travel extensively. Meeting so many people from all walks of life has helped me form a few conclusions on how we could improve a few things. 

As we take a break for Christmas (TCN will be offline from midnight tonight until December 28), here are 8 key areas we will be focusing on in 2022, in addition to delivering you your daily Croatian news in English. 

Split Winter Tourism Roundtable

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After posting a few TCN articles on the potential of Split winter tourism and questions why we no longer have much, some of the private Split tourism operators came up with a suggestion that TCN host a winter tourism roundtable, inviting all key stakeholders (including the Mayor of Split, Split Dalmatia County, regional and city tourist board director, Split Airport, State Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, GMs of Split's 5-star hotels, representatives from the restaurant, hotel, hostel and MICE sectors, and tourism consultants) to have an open exchange of ideas in search of a way forward. 

Not only did everyone invited come, but they all engaged and left an excellent lunch at CHOPS Grill with the desire to try. We meet again in January. Special thanks to Jasmina Kruscic, Jelena Tabak, Mare Mustapic, Daniela Rogulj, Mario Seric and MIchael Freer for pushing this initiative. Let's see 2022 deliver the first results.  You can read more in Reflections on the First TCN Split Winter Tourism Roundtable

Vukovar Card and Vukovar 365, Full of Life

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How many of you have been to Vukovar on any other date than November 18?

Having been to Vukovar Remembrance Day in 2019 and 2021, as well as several other visits, I came up with a suggestion called the Vukovar Card, a chance for people who change their Facebook status every November 18 for a day to do something more concrete (Vukovar Card: Support Local Economy Rather than Temporary Facebook Status). I was very grateful for the positive reaction and support of regional tourist board directors Ivana Juric and Rujana Busic Srpak, who devised a Vukovar Card 7-day itinerary through the magic of Vukovar Srijem and Osijek Baranja Counties. I sent this to Minister of Tourism Nikolina Brnjac and State Secretary Tonci Glavina with a request for a meeting to develop the concept. 

That meeting will take place on January 10 at the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, and I was encouraged by Tonci's positive initial feedback at the Split winter tourism roundtable.  

If you are interested to know more about the new Vukovar and the people and businesses framing a brighter future, follow the TCN series, Vukovar 365, Full of Life, with new TCN writer Katarina Andjelkovic from Vukovar.

Digital Nomads

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The growth of the Croatian digital nomad story has been one of the highlights of my year. So much positive energy, innovative ideas, fabulous people and unforgettable experiences - it has been a privilege to be part of the journey. Working with Jan de Jong, Saltwater Nomads, the Digital Nomad Association, the Digital Nomads Croatia Facebook group,  Swanky Travel, Zagreb Tourist Board, the City of Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik Tourist Board, Doma Zagreb Aparthotel, and others has been one of the undoubted highlights of 2021. Zagreb Digital Nomad Week & Ambassador Program and Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence program complemented Jan's visa initiative and has helped put Croatia well and truly on the digital nomad map.

2022 will be more of the same... and more. Exciting initiatives in both Zagreb and Dubrovnik will be announced in early 2022, and if we can dot the Is and cross the Ts on a couple of other projects, things could get very interesting. It seems that next year will have me travelling internationally to promote the Croatian digital nomad story, with Digital Nomad Festival in Turkey in May, and Digital Nomad Summit in Bali in September already in the diary.  

Medical tourism and digital nomads

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2022 will see the 10th anniversary of my favourite conference in Croatia, the annual Crikvenica International Health Tourism conference in Crikvenica. CIHT has been good to me over the years, giving me my first exposure to the global medical tourism community (and leading to those awards in Malaysia). The pioneering work of Ognjen Bagatin and the Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster have placed Croatia firmly on the medical tourism map, and after the major blip that is the pandemic, it is time to renew efforts. You can read a report on CIHT 2021 in Kvarner Full of Health Tourism Opportunity, as CIHT 2021 Shines.

A major new medical tourism opportunity has presented itself since 2019, one which I will be pushing hard - digital nomads. Rather than having to work hard to attract foreign patients to come to Croatia for treatment, why not instead spend less energy informing all the nomads who are already here how Croatian medical tourism can fix their medical issues at a fraction of the price back home. No need to travel, for they are already here. 

The potential of the Kvarner region for health tourism is huge, and there is a much underutilised airport on Krk, Rijeka Airport. An issue I will also discuss with Minister Brnjac on January 10, as she is a transport expert.  

Spreading the Truth about Slavonia, Full of Life

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The biggest surprise of 2021 for me was not only how full of life Slavonia is, but how ignorant the rest of Croatia is about what is really out east in their own country. I was shocked at how few of my Zagreb friends who are among the 200,000 Croats who go skiing abroad each year had ever been to Slavonia and the East. With such little local knowledge, how can we expect tourists to know?

Lots of activity coming next year on this, including a fun survey on the streets of Zagreb to highlight the gap in knowledge. Here are two questions from the survey to get you in the mood. How many of you can answer both:

1. What is the main town in Baranja?

2. Can you name three famous buildings in eastern Croatia, not including the Vukovar Water Tower? 

Want a taster of what you are missing? Read more in Time to Tell the Truth about Slavonia Full of Life

Danube Drone Days

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What happens when you meet an English businessman over breakfast at your hotel in Osijek in November?

Sometimes it leads to a night of sushi and gin in the company of the CEO or Orqa, three drone geeks, and a plan to promote Slavonia and the Danube with some of the best drone pilots in the world. 

 I love the concept of Danube Drone Days, and I am looking forward to working with these two geeks above to make it a reality.  

CROMADS

Our new baby. What more can I say, but watch the official promo vid above, and check out www.cromads.com after Christmas for more. This is going to be fun.  

Total Croatia Travel Portal

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2021 also saw TCN launch its sister site, Total Croatia, a multi-lingual tourism information platform answering the questions people are asking. Launching in May, I was perhaps a little ambitious wanting to be the leading portal by the summer, but we are working hard behind the scenes to make sure Total Croatia's first full year in 2022 will be a big one. You can check it out here

And that - more or less - is that. If you are interested in getting involved to build the eco-system outside the crumbling walls of the Mighty State of Uhljebistan, drop me a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject TCN 2022, explaining how you can help and what you can offer. 

Enough from my side, except to thank you all for your company, interest and support in 2021. We have a great readership, and I even enjoy the contributions of the trolls these days. 

Things are starting to move slowly but surely. The default negative mindset is being challenged by new ideas and shoots of positivity. Croatia is a great country with a really bright future once we overhaul the current system. 

And you will be able to read all about it on TCN in 2022. 

Cheers!

TCN will be offline from midnight tonight until December 28. Merry Christmas to All. 

 

Friday, 10 December 2021

Osijek Christmas Tram Is the Brightest Tram in Croatia

December 10, 2021 - The Osijek Christmas tram ride is a unique Advent experience in the Slavonian metropolis. This year, there are two appropriately decorated trams on the regular line that you can catch every day and experience an unforgettable Advent ride through the city on the Drava, which began in 2011.

Recognizable, traditional, the brightest tram in Croatia, the Osijek Christmas tram is visited by almost 15,000 people in the season, and this year it shone in full glory, reports Turističke Priče.

You can find the schedule of the holiday tram at this LINK.

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Photo: Osijek Tourist Board/Facebook

The size of a city is not defined by the number of kilometers or the number of inhabitants but is measured by the size of the heart, the strength of the spirit, the kindness of the people. Osijek has long been said to be a "city made to measure" and is big enough to fulfill your needs, desires, dreams and small enough to feel safe, comfortable, and intimate. Big enough to organize the longest walk around the city, small enough to adapt the concept of the Advent celebration to the current situation in a short time.

The senses conceived their Advent through the concept "it is not standing but moving, and it is not a place but a journey". Advent, conceived as a movement around holiday-decorated locations, revived Osijek, showed the character and spirit of Osijek, and revived memories of other times when daily walks and full streets were the main motives for good fun in Osijek for all generations.

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Photo: Osijek Tourist Board/Facebook

And the only real success of Advent is happy and smiling people.  Positive emotions, sparkle in the eyes, gratitude, togetherness, which is not lacking in the Slavonian metropolis, which lives 354 days a year with full lungs.

If you want to learn more about the breathtaking capital of Slavonia, be sure to check Total Croatia's Osijek in a Page here.

For more on travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Vukovar Card: 7-Day Tour to Enrich Eastern Croatia Understanding

December 9, 2021 -  What if it was possible to support Vukovar economically rather than just emotionally, while having an incredible discovery of eastern Croatia. Meet the proposed Vukovar Card and itinerary. 

The idea is simple, and it puts money into the Vukovar economy, allows Croatians from all over the country and the diaspora to have a direct connection and contribution to the Vukovar today, as well as having one of the most incredible weeks of discovery of a part of Croatia that few know about in details. Here is a detailed look at my recent 6-day trip to eastern Croatia in November. It was one of the best weeks of my 18 years in Croatia.

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I presented the concept of the Vukovar Card recently in Vukovar Card: Support Local Economy Rather than Temporary Facebook Status.

The concept is simple.

Vukovar is a very emotive issue for all Croatians after the events of 1991, and November 18 sees an outpouring of emotion each year, as Facebook statuses are changed to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. 

While emotion and remembrance are appreciated in Vukovar, there is zero economic impact for a region which is suffering economically more than the rest of Croatia. 

Many Croatians have never been east and have little knowledge of the magic they are missing out on. 

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The Vukovar Card provides a partial solution to that. 

Once in a lifetime, rather than heading to the beach for that 2-3 week holiday, take 7 days to head on east instead. Go and meet the people of Vukovar, drink in their cafes, eat in their restaurants, and enjoy a fabulous 7-day tour of eastern Croatia that will literally blow your mind and wonder how you have been missing out on all this for so long. 

Once you take the tour, you receive the proposed Vukovar Card. It is proposed that the Vukovar Card is like a loyalty card (a little like the ill-fated Cro Card). Hotels, restaurants and bar owners on the coast, can all play their part to boost the Vukovar economy by offering a 10% discount on selected services by bearers of the Vukovar Card. 

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Nothing more complicated than that. 

I pitched the idea to the two regional tourist board directors, Ivana Juric of Osijek-Baranja County, and Rujana Busic Srpak of Vukovar Srijem County, and they were both supportive of the concept. I asked them to prepare a sample 7-day itinerary that would show that, far from being charity, the Vukovar Card was actually a great way to stimulate tourism in the east and give participants a genuinely amazing tourism experience. I told them that if they came up with the itinerary, I would make an appointment to present the concept to Minister of Tourism and Sports, Nikolina Brnjac, to see if we could get national support for the initiative. 

This is what Ivana and Rujana put together.  I am emailing Minister Brnjac later today. 

Proposal for visiting Croatian Danube region: Srijem and Slavonia and Baranja

Day 1

08.00 – departure from Zagreb

10.30 – Syrmian breakfast, restaurant Aquarius, Bošnjaci

11.30 – visit brandy tasting room Matkova pecara, Bošnjaci (announcement required)

Option: Forestry Museum in Bošnjaci

12.30 – visit to Gradište, Snašini kućari – tour of the estate, presentation of old crafts and traditional architecture (announcement required)

lunch

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14.00 – visit to Otok, Bio-ecological centre Virovi: walk on the educational trail, kayaking, canoeing, cycling

16.00 – Nijemci, ride on the tourist boat Sv. Katarina from the centre of Nijemci according to the desired direction (reservation required)

18.00 – Vinkovci, tour: Vinkovci Town Museum, Birth house of Ivan Kozarac, overnight stay

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Day 2

09.00 – visit to Vukovar

09.30 – Tour of the Eltz castle

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10.30 – War hospital museum

11.30 – Franciscan museum

12.30 – Ride on the Danube

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13.30 - Lunch, recommendation: „Lola“

14.30 – 16.30 – Afternoon city tour: Zadruga Vrhunsko vukovarsko, Vukovarsko pivo, Street art

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16.30 – Vučedol Culture Museum

17.30 – Tour of the Memorial house Ovčara

18.00 – Departure to Ilok

19.00 – dinner

20.00 – Tour and tasting: Wineries/Vinarija: Ivan Čobanković, Papak

Ilok, overnight stay 

Day 3

09.00 - A tour of the medieval core of Ilok: the church of St. Ivana Kapistran with the monastery, Ilok Interpretation Center, Ilok City Museum

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11.00 - Tour of Ilok cellars: tasting

12.30 – Lunch, recommendation restaurant of the hotel Dunav

14.00 – Principovac

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Departure to Osijek-Baranja County 

NOTE: the program is proposed in a way to visit the key attractions and experiences of Vukovar - Srijem County in 3 days. The proposed facilities can be visited for a longer, more relaxed period of time, according to the choice of the traveller.

Day 4.

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16.00 Arrival in Osijek, check in Hotel Osijek 4* / Guesthouse Maksimilian 3* / Hotel Boutique Tvrđa 4* / Hostel Stara Pekara (or other)

17.30 Sightseeing of the city centre: discovering Picasso along the most beautiful river promenade in Croatia, Bridge of Youth, finding traces of Freemasonry and tour of Co- Cathedral; local craft beer tasting (Von Becker’s, Runda, Beertija, Gajba, etc.)

20.00 Dinner Crna svinja (meat), Čepin / Slavonska kuća (traditional), Osijek / Lumiere

(international, city center), Osijek / Hotel Osijek – Zimska luka restaurant (international,

city center), Osijek / Čingi lingi (traditional), Baranja-Bilje / or other 

Day 5.

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8.30 Breakfast

10.00 Kopački rit Nature Park – Heart of the Danube, boat ride, interpretation centre or

boardwalk stroll, https://pp-kopacki-rit.hr/index-en.html

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11.00 Tikveš castle sightseeing

12.00 Visit to Asztalos Art Ceramic Atelier, Suza; option: workshop can be arranged

https://www.facebook.com/Asztalos-Keramika-113478782041244/

12.30 Discovering the typical style old wine cellars in Zmajevac village

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Wine tasting and lunch, Josić winery, http://josic.hr

14.00 Batina Battle Memorial Complex / WW II - Red Army

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Batina

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Sightseeing point over the Danube and three countries - Croatia, Serbia, Hungary

15:00 OPG Matijević family farm in Suza village, tasting of local products with PGI certificate, http://www.kulen-matijevic.hr/

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15.45   Belje wine road in the Bansko brdo hill, rolling wine yards and the breath-taking views of southern Baranja and Osijek in the background

16.30 Arrival to Osijek, break

19.00 Sightseeing of the Tvrđa, old town

Other options for Baranja:

  • Village “museum” - Ulica zaboravljenog vremena / Street of forgotten time, Karanac

https://www.baranjska-kuca.com/

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  • Lunch in Baranjska kuća in Karanac (traditional), https://www.baranjska-kuca.com/
  • Lunch in Hotel Lug (top chef), https://hotellug.hr/
  • Vinarium Borarium, Zmajevac – collection of Baranja’s wine history
  • Guided hiking on Bansko brdo with “Landranje team”

(https://www.facebook.com/LandranjeBaranjom/)

  • Discovering Zlatna Greda, the forest lodge with adrenalin park and picnic site in the nature park Kopački rit, http://zlatna-greda.org/en/

Day 6.

Erdut-Aljmaš-Dalj area:

8.30 Breakfast

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Milutin Milanković Cultural and Scientific center, http://www.milutin-milankovic.com/

10.30 One of the family run boutique wineries / Antunović – Dalj (https://vina-antunovic.hr/?lang=en) , Brzica – Erdut (https://www.brzica.com/), Magistra – Erdut (https://www.facebook.com/Vina-Magistra-286222865311970, Siber – Erdut (https://vinasiber.com/), Danubio (https://www.danubio.hr/, offers accommodation), Janečić (https://vinarija-janecic.hr/)…

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12.00 Visit to Erdut vineyards / Erdutski vinogradi, historic wine estate

https://www.erdutski-vinogradi.hr/index.php/en/

Visit to Erdut tower

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Lunch – OPG Etno kuća Stari dud / Zlatica Blagojević

https://www.facebook.com/etnokuca.staridud.1

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Visit to Aljmaš – pilgrimage site, Lady of Shelter, Marian shrine since 1704 

Return to Osijek, free time

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Day 7.

Đakovo:

Breakfast

9.30 State stud farm Đakovo – Ivandvor, http://ergela-djakovo.hr/en/about-us/ivandvor-2/

10.30 Visiting sacral cultural heritage - Cathedral of St.Peter 

http://tzdjakovo.eu/index.php/en/znamenitosti/muzeji/item/34-st-peter-s-cathedral?rid=175

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State stud farm Đakovo – the stallion station, http://ergela-djakovo.hr/en/about-us/stallion_station/ 

Lunch, departure

Optional: visit to Wine cellar of Đakovo-Osijek Archdiocese and to family-owned wineries in Trnava and Mandićevac wine area surrounding Đakovo (fantastic views!). In case of visit during spring and summer we recommend also visit to Borovik lake.

I have personal and recent experience of just how amazing eastern Croatia is on a 6-day tour. Learn more in Time to Tell the Truth about Slavonia Full of Life.

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Gov't Continues to Strongly Support Slavonia, Says PM

ZAGREB, 2 Dec 2021 - The eastern city of Osijek marked its day on Thursday with a special City Council session at which Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said the government would continue to strongly support the region of Slavonia, Baranja, and Srijem through the policy launched five years ago.

He said that five years ago the government concluded that it was necessary to immediately do the utmost for the region's welfare and that that was the backbone of the policy for a region that was devastated by the Greater Serbia military aggression and which suffered major economic and population problems.

"We felt it was time to offer a strong hand of support to Osijek and Slavonia from the national level, and after five years of that policy, the results can be seen. It's visible that that policy was the right one and useful for citizens in all Slavonia counties, notably in Osijek-Baranja County, which is the engine of the modern development of all Slavonia."

Plenković recalled the many investment projects financed by the government and the EU.

They are all messages that we wish to make Osijek a real regional center of eastern Slavonia, a center of the academic community, culture, the economy, and modern technologies which will attract young people, he said.

He recalled that during the pandemic, government measures helped to save 17,000 jobs in Osijek, with 2,800 companies receiving HRK 242.3 million for wages in the private sector.

Plenković also said that Croatia's entry into the euro area would bring further investment.

Mayor: Biggest budget ever for the continuation of economic growth

Osijek Mayor Ivan Radić (HDZ) said the City Council recently adopted the biggest budget in the city's history, HRK 1.08 billion, and that it would facilitate the continuation of economic growth and development, the strengthening of the pre-school and school education system, the maintenance of the local infrastructure, and care for the most vulnerable groups.

He said a good absorption of national and EU funds was a priority for the realization of city projects, adding that funds from the National Recovery and Resilience Plan would also be tapped.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 2 December 2021

PHOTOS: Spectacular Kaleidoscope Lights of Osijek City Day and Advent 2021

December 02, 2021 – A spectacular light show exploded across Ante Starčević square in Osijek this evening, welcoming hundreds of visitors to Osijek City Day and to the opening of Osijek Advent 2021. Among those gathered to witness the colourful display was the Croatian Prime Minister, Andrej Plenković.

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In recent times, Osijek's Ante Starčević square has seldom looked so thrilling. It is a wide and open city square - the only place in Osijek where the city tram lines all meet. Except for one modern sculpture and a statue of Ante Starčević, the square is floored with featureless concrete. The fine facades of surrounding Austro-Hungarian buildings have seen better years. In many instances, these historic frontages are cheapened by gaudy branded signage and advertisements.

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But, tonight, all the unsightly modern scars were hidden as an ocean of patterns and colours danced across the square. Children skipped along new pathways created by the brilliant lights' design. Now in its third year, these bright embellishments are part of the Kaleidoscope Festival of Lights. The arrival of its magical scenes heralds not only the start of this year's Osijek Advent but also marks Osijek City Day 2021.

Osijek City Day - 2 December

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People have lived on this part of the Drava river for millennia. But, quite often, the modern life of Osijek city is only viewed as having begun after the Ottomans were removed by the Battle of Mohács. From 1687, Osijek and the eastern part of Croatia were part of the Habsburg Empire. But, Osijek remained close to the border of the new encroachment on Ottoman territory. Defensive fortresses were built along this line of defence, in Stara Gradiška, Osijek and Slavonski Brod in Slavonia and in Petrovaradin in Syrmia/Srem (Serbia).

Today, Osijek's fortress - Tvrđa – contains the largest collection of Baroque buildings in Croatia. It is a fantastic and picturesque location. There, Osijek's old city walls spectacularly overlook the Drava river. But, back when the city's defence was all-important, these walls made it difficult for Osijek to expand. Progress and growth proved impossible to hinder and, with the threat of the Ottomans becoming ever smaller, the population of Osijek simply began to settle outside the walls of Tvrđa. Indeed, today, residents of the city regard Osijek as having three centres – Lower Town, Tvrđa and Upper Town aka Ante Starčević square.

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At the beginning of the 18th century, separate magistrates resided over Osijek's Lower and Upper Towns, effectively marking them as independent city municipalities. In order to gain status as a free and royal city, local authorities were eventually persuaded to unify the different municipalities on 2 December 1786. Since then, 2 December has been celebrated as Osijek City Day.

Kaleidoscope Festival of Light and Osijek Advent 2021

lampice47.jpg© TZ Grad Osijek

The incredible light show on Ante Starčević square is just one part of an Advent manifestation that, like the city itself, stretches long down the side of the Drava river.

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The first candle of Advent 2021 was lit by the Archbishop of Đakovo-Osijek Đuro Hranić on Sunday 28 November. Osijek City Day celebrations are the second key milestone of the Christmas holiday season. City-wide Christmas lights were formally turned on today at the Croatian National Theatre Osijek.

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Osijek Advent 2021 includes the return of the Kaleidoscope Festival of Light and Osijek Advent Tram - which is visited by almost 15,000 people each season. Christmas lights extend down European Avenue, passing some of the city's most grandiose Austro-Hungarian architecture. Thereafter, the trail comes 'off road' and takes you through the trees of King Tomislav Park. Next, Tvrđa assumes the focal point of Advent, with a Winter Lookout on the roof of the Cultural Centre, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Sokol ice rink and the tallest Ferris Wheel in Croatia being key highlights.

grada2.jpgPhoto from Osijek Advent 2020 © TZ Grad Osijek

If you want to read more about Osijek, see the Total Croatia guide here. And, if you want to keep up with news from Osijek, bookmark Total Croatia News's Osijek pages here

grada.jpgPhoto from Osijek Advent 2020 © TZ Grad Osijek

Thursday, 2 December 2021

IBTM Barcelona: Great Interest in Slavonia as an Incentive Destination

December 2, 2021 - The Croatian National Tourist Board is presenting the Croatian tourist offer as part of the IBTM Barcelona, which has been held until today. Exceptional interest during the event was expressed for Slavonia as an incentive destination that represents something different on the market.

After last year's online edition, the fair is being held in person again this year, so numerous meetings of domestic and foreign partners from the business travel segment have been held, reports Turističke Priče. Namely, in addition to the Croatian Tourist Board as the main exhibitor, seven co-exhibitors present their offer at the fair, including the congress offices of Zagreb, Dubrovnik, and Opatija and Valamar, Liburnia Hotels & Villas, Le meridien Lav Split, and Spektar putovanja.

According to the first feedback from the IBTM Barcelona, many partners from the Polish and Ukrainian markets are interested in creating additional offers with Croatian destinations in the business travel segment, while Turkish partners are announcing great interest in Advent programs in our country. Also, exceptional interest during the stock exchange was expressed for Slavonia as an incentive destination that represents something new, different on the market, and which is adorned with a very rich and authentic offer.

Croatian partners, who have already received concrete inquiries for 2022, are also satisfied with the performance on the event, during which the main advantages of Croatia, as business tourism destinations, could be quality infrastructure, proximity, and accessibility; historical heritage, nature, top eno-gastronomy, etc.

Let us add that this event presents more than 3,000 destinations and providers, who have the opportunity for business meetings with more than 15,000 professionals from the business travel industry. The IBTM Barcelona congress, along with the IMEX Frankfurt, are the most important events of its type in Europe and the world.

If you want to learn more about Osijek, Vukovar, Vinkovci, Đakovo, Baranja, Slavonski Brod, and other magical destinations in Slavonia, be sure to check all the full detailed guides at Total Croatia here.

For more on travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Happy Birthday Osijek: Time to Tell the Truth about Slavonia Full of Life

December 2, 2021 - Happy Birthday to Osijek! Enough of Zagreb ignoring eastern Croatia, it is time to tell the world the truth about Slavonia Full of Life. 

One of the many paradoxes of this wonderful country - for me at least - is the relationship Zagreb and the rest of the country has with Slavonia and eastern Croatia (for ease of reading purposes, I will use Slavonia to refer to Osijek - Baranja, and Vukovar - Srijem counties in this article).

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Every November 18, Facebook profile photos all over the country and the diaspora are changed to remember and honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice on the anniversary of the fall of Vukovar. All the politicians and thousands of Croats from all over the country head to the Hero City to pay their respects. It is an intense and emotional day, one which I documented in 2019 in Vukovar Remembrance Day Through the Eyes of a Foreign Resident.

But come November 19 and Vukovar - and the east - is forgotten for another 364 days until November 18 comes around again. 

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Despite bearing the brunt of the Serb onslaught in the Homeland War, and despite so many promises from politicians over the years, it seems to me that Slavonia has been treated like an embarrassing handicapped cousin that is best kept out of the limelight and gently ignored. Acknowledged only when necessary. 

And not just by the politicians. 

I have been genuinely shocked at how few of my Croatian friends have ever been to Slavonia, including those among the 200,000 Croats who go skiing abroad each year (the point here is not about skiing, but having the income to travel). And I am even more shocked at how little many of them know about eastern Croatia. Simple questions such as...

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What is the capital of Baranja?

Can you name three famous buildings in eastern Croatia, not including the  Vukovar Water Tower?

Where is the cradle of Indo-European civilisation?

Which Croatian wine was served at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, as well as the weddings of Princes Willliam and Harry?

... have been met with largely blank stares when I asked friends in Zagreb. 

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Slavonia is portrayed in the media as a sad place of mass emigration, struggling to move on from the war, where good news rarely exists. For many Croats, the whole of eastern Croatia is a blur associated with the aftermath  of war, emigration, and economic stagnation.  

Next week, during my panel discussion, Storytelling and the Nomad Movement, at Digital Nomad Week based out of Bali, I will be announcing the launch of our new CROMADS platform, which connects Croatia's limitless authentic experiences to digital nomads and tourists, all over Croatia, 12 months a year. As part of the preparations for the CROMADS platform, I took Steve Tsentserensky to eastern Croatia for a 6-day tour of Croatia's two most easternmost counties. 

Steve is a very talented American writer and videographer who was one of the first to receive the Croatian digital nomad permit. His promotion of Croatia has been relentless ever since, including this viral video on the digital nomad lifestyle in Croatia on CNBC News, which has already attracted over 300,000 views.  He has also just been announced as the Zagreb Special Guest Digital Nomad Ambassador for 2021. Steve had absolutely no clue about eastern Croatia and so was in a similar position as many locals here in Croatia. 

I contacted the tourist board directors of Osijek-Baranja and Vukovar-Srijem counties, Ivana Juric and Rujana Busic Srpak, and explained the mission to film the very best of the east for CROMADS. They kindly agreed to organise a 6-day itinerary for us. Steve will have a video report of the trip, including some truly epic drone footage, later in the month. But as today is Osijek's special day, let's take a tour of Slavonia Full of Life, the reality. 

Day 1 - Zagreb to Ilok

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06:13 Zagreb, Day One. 6 days, 1 Yank, 1 camera. The mission - to discover if there is life in Eastern Croatia in November. #Ajmo Slavonia, make me proud and show us what you've got. With Steve Tsentserensky #CROMADS

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Our first stop was the easternmost point of Croatia, which is actually closer to Zagreb than Split. Ilocki Podrum and its phenomenal vineyards are the gateway to Western Europe in Ilok. And where else in the world can you hold three bottles of the same wine what was served at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, as well as the weddings of both Prince William and Prince Harry? Learn more about the magic of Ilocki Podrum in this TCN visit a couple of years ago.

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The place to stay is the magnificent Principovac Estate, which is perched on a hill and overlooking the endless vineyards. 

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And there was just enough time after an excellent wine sampling to brush up on my golfing skills before dark. 

Day 2 - Vucedol, Ovcara, Vukovar, Otocki Virovi and Vinkovci

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Did you know that the cradle of Indo-European civilisation was in eastern Croatia, and that there is an award-winning museum built into the location? Learn more about incredible Vucedol on this TCN 2019 visit

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Very close by and a much more recent memorial at Ovcara, to the victims of the 1991 massacre of around 260 patients of the Vukovar Hospital, who were transported to Ovcara once Vukovar was conquered, tortured and murdered. The bullets in the floor are but one poignant reminder.  

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The Vukovar Water Tower is a national symbol of resistance and pride. While the exterior remains untouched, the interior has been renovated, and the viewing point at the top is a popular attraction, as well as giving outstanding views of the city, the Danube and across to Vojvodina in Serbia.  

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A vegetarian when the Slavonian diet would allow it, Asian vegetable wok noodles were a pleasant surprise for Steve at the outstanding Lola in the centre of Vukovar. 

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And then for something completely different - a journey into the classroom back in nature, as we headed into the forest to the recently opened Otocki Virovi Bio-ecological education centre. Amazing carbon-neutral hotel, wellness and conference facility in the middle of the forest. I will be returning with the TCN crew for a teambuilding weekend in Spring. 

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You don't see many public telephones in Croatia these days, but here is one in Vinkovci, the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe, dating back some 8,300 years. Learn more in Vinkovci: 10 Things to Know about Europe's Oldest Town.

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Home to the oldest calendar in Europe, whose symbols adorn the main pedestrian street. Nice shot, Stevie T!

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And far from being dead, Vinkovci was full of life at the rockabilly bar Hang Loose that night. 

Day 3 - Vukovar Remembrance Day and Foreign Veterans BBQ at The White Boar

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November 18 is Vukovar Remembrance Day, now a national holiday. Some 50,000 people turned up for the 30th anniversary of the fall of Vukovar. 

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We inadvertently found ourselves on national television as we filmed. You can learn more about this very emotional and intense day in Vukovar Remembrance Day Through the Eyes of a Foreign Resident

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There is a very special event each year on November 18, as all the foreign veterans who fought for Croatia gather to remember and to catch up. 

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The barbecue is hosted each year by Vinkovci Yorkshireman Steve Gaunt, from his English pub, The White Boar, which is literally in a field in the middle of nowhere.

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From a portrait of Queen Elizabeth on the wall to veterans in uniform, Steve's face was priceless. He later described it as 'the most far-out bar experience of my life.' 

Fortunately, we had the good sense to leave early, as things got a little lively later on as the veterans retured for the night and the kids took over, as Steve's public information film showed (1 minute and worth watching to the end).  

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No tour of Slavonia would be complete without a visit to the man who has done more for tourism in Slavonia than the rest of us combined, and it was great to spend the night at the home of Goran Rihelj and his lovely wife, Mirjam. Great kulen! 

Day 4 - Dalj, Erdut and Osijek

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By now, the regional press had picked up the story of our visit, and the fact that I had invited anyone who wanted to meet and discuss tourism and our new CROMADS project to come to Pivnica Runda in Osijek.  

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But first we had to survive Day 4, which began in Dalj at the incredible Milutin Malinkovic Birthplace Museum.

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Dalj seemed to be full of secrets, with the Jasna Antunovic Winery next up. Jasna was not only apparently the first female-owned winery in Croatia, but also the 2017 Decanter winner of the best white wine in continental Croatia. 

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Some claim it is the largest wine barrel in the world in continuous use, over in Erdut. While I cannot confirm that, it would take me a day or two to work my way through the 75,000 litres of Grasevina contained therein.

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And for a winery with a water view, you could do worse than Ivo Brzica on the banks of the Danube. Among his several excellent wines, what I believe to be the only Vranac produced in Croatia. 

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Where else to go for a spot of lunch than the epic OPG Ethno Kuca Stari Dud?

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Unusual church fan? Head to Aljmas. 

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But Osijek was calling and after a fantastic walking tour of the town, I had to get to Pivnica Runda for 19:00. Would anyone show up, or would I be Billy No Mates?

They came.

They were magnificent.

Such passion, such ideas, such creativity. So Slavonia Full of Life. 

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All hosted by the King of Fun.  

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One immediate consequence of one conversation that evening was a very pleasant coffee with the parents (and dog Mali) or Osijek-born tennis star, Donna Vekic, at The Westin in Zagreb a few days later. A rather fabulous exchange of ideas, and it was very encouraging to learn the Vekic vision and investment plans for Osijek 

The walk home to the fortress was a little hazy, but Facebook confirms that the streets of Osijek were very much full of life way past midnight. 

In November.  

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And when you have old town accommodation of the quality of Maksimilian, you know your stay in Osijek will be perfect.

Day 5 - Baranja

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Day 5 - Baranja, and the perfect start with one of my all-time heroes, the legend that is Mario Romulic and his quite incredible Magical Forest project

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Always a strong vegetarian offer at the Romulic kitchen table.  

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Kopacki Rit Nature Park, one of the most important wetlands in Europe. Learn more in the TC Kopacki Rit in a Page guide.

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Every dirt track in Baranja seems to lead to its own story. 30 years ago, Tito's former villa in Tikves hosted the final meeting between Milosevic and Tudjman in April 1991. Next year, the villa reopens as a presentation and education centre.

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Day 5 was significant as it was the first day of the tour where we somehow managed to avoid alcohol until after midday. 

And then... Belje.

The Belje vineyards went on for days, with grapes left on the vines by the viewing point, so that visitors could sample them. 

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All this wine was making us hungry. Next stop, one of the finest institutions in all Croatia - Baranjska Kuca in Karanac.  

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A little slice of Slavonia Full of Life, Baranja style. 

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Two of the most dangerous men on the planet, with one of the best tour agencies, Kulen Travel.  

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As far as war memorials go, Batina is right up there with the very best, overlooking the Danube, Hungary and Serbia.  

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But Baranja was not finished with us yet. 

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There was one more stop before we could return to Osijek.  

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And yes, another example of Slavonia Full of Life, the wonderful Josic wine tasting experience in Zmajevac. 

And then the Osijek fun began...

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Over breakfast that morning, a British businessman told us about a great new Asian and sushi place that had opened in the old town. We agreed to meet for dinner at Franz Koch, especially as he promised to bring his business partner, the legend that is Srdjan Kovacevic of Orqa. 

Together with Steve, they all droned on about drones until I asked how we could put their drone technology and contacts with the best drone pilots in the world to good use to promote tourism in Slavonia.

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Two gin and tonics later, and the concept of Danube Drone Days, with the world's leading drone pilots coming to Osijek, was born. 

Stay tuned.   

Slavonia Full of Life, the nighttime edition. 

Day 6 - Vukovar and Djakovo

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Our final day, and another rollercoaster. We changed the schedule to go back to Vukovar, as we needed to video the hospital museum for our CROMADS project, something that was clearly impossible on November 18, due to all the dignitaries from Zagreb.  

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The other reason to return to Vukovar was to offer this young lady a part-time job with CROMADS. Katarina was our excellent guide, and she will be helping us build the eco-system of excellence in eastern Croatia. Her first task as TCN was an interview - The Realities of Life as a Vukovar Tour Guide.

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There was just one stop between us and Zagreb, and it was another mind-blower - Djakovo. When Queen Elizabeth II visited the Lipizzaner Stud Farm back in 1972, Tito apparently built an asphalt road, so the locals were very happy. No such luck with my visit, but we had a ton of fun.

Djakovo Cathedral by Steve Tsntserensky, with a little help from a drone. 

One of the dangerous chaps from Kulen Travel stood between us and freedom.

"We just have one more surprise for you," said Domagoj over lunch. 

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Ah, yes, an excellent lunch at Bistro Loora, which was packed, with not a seat available.  

And the surprise?

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What else but a Slavonian picnic? 

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And some quite extraordinary craft gin in an orchard with a magnificent cathedral view.  

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Steve and I compared before and after photographs.  

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And as I dropped Steve back to where it all began in central Zagreb, I could not help wonder why we don't hear about any of this. 

Slavonia was beyond magnificent. Osijek was MUCH more alive than Split or any other city on the Adriatic coast in November. 

This region is FABULOUS and much closer to Zagreb than Dalmatia, and yet very few people I know have actually visited. 

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It is time to change that and to Make Osijek Great Again. 

I genuinely think we will not have to try too hard. 

So happy birthday Osijek, and may you celebrate your day in style. 

My birthday wish for you is that Zagreb lets you breathe, celebrates your magnificence, and starts to put meaningful investment your way to accelerate the process of growth. 

My heartfelt thanks to the many of you who contributed what was arguably one of the best weeks of my 18 years in Croatia. 

In Slavonia.

In November. 

I tried to put my finger on what it was that that made the Slavonian experience so exceptional, apart from the people, and I think it is this:

Nobody who makes the effort to visit Slavonia ever comes home disappointed. 

Friday, 26 November 2021

Extreme Rakija: 10 Unusual Uses of Slavonia's Favourite Friend

November 26, 2021 - I am still recovering from my body being marinated in rakija on last week's tour of Slavonia. But rakija is not just for drinking. Ten things and uses you need to know about the culture of extreme rakija.  

As part of my detox, I posted on Facebook a few days ago, asking people to name their most unusual usage of this very fabric of Slavonian society, as well as their most (un)memorable moment. Here are three of the many answers.

My great grandma used to slather rakija on her entire body every morning (like someone less extreme would put on body lotion). I don't think she's ever had a cold in her life.My great grandma used to slather rakija on her entire body every morning (like someone less extreme would put on body lotion). I don't think she's ever had a cold in her life.

Use it for hair massage. It runs blood circulation so fast that you will have long hair overnight after massage. (Editor's note - I tried this but the bald patch is still there.)

In Croatia there is a famous cocktail called dum-dum vodka. Mix vodka and sprite, cover the glass with your hand and hit the table a few times. When we ran out of vodka, we decided to go for dum-dum rakija and use the motorbike helmet on my head instead of the table. Numerous dum-dum-dum's followed after that. That was a shaky experience!

There was clearly an article to be written, but not only is my time very limited at the moment due to last week, but also why reinvent the wheel when there are experts with time on their hands. 

I decided to contact one of the most dangerous and entertaining men I have met in Croatia - last week's guide, Domagoj Butkovic of the outstanding Kulen Travel. 

Rakija - nectar of the Gods. Universal medicine. Tradition deeply rooted in history. When in Croatia - you can run but you can't hide from Rakija. And don't you dare to refuse one when offered, because you will be forever marked.

This 40% alcohol fruit distillate is a solution to many problems. Plum, pear, apple, quince, apricot, you name it we have it! A good old saying goes: A psychiatrist can help, but rakija is less expensive. 

Let's go together through some unusual uses of this God given liquid.

1. The way to prove who is the boss 

The easiest way to tell who's the head of the household is to just look at rakija production. If more plums from the orchard go for marmalade, the lady is in charge. If more plums go for rakija, the man is in charge. 

2. Cleaning

Sunday family lunch is prepared and your kitchen floor is full of greasy stains? Don't worry, rakija is here to save the day! Sweep the floor with rakija and make those tiles shine once again! 

3. Numbing the pain

Probably the most famous use of rakija is to numb the pain. No matter if it is toothache, headache or heartache, rakija will make all the problems go away. Doctors suggest taking a shot 3 times a day, every 8 hours.

4. Antifreeze

It's a cold winter day and your car ran out of antifreeze. How many times have you found yourself in this situation? Take a sip of rakija, pour the rest of the bottle in your car and watch it defrost.

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5. Rakija-powered Tomos

Believe it or not, legend has it that the famous motorcycle Tomos can run on rakija. The only trouble is a liter of rakija is far more expensive than a liter of gasoline, but maybe not for too long.

6. Lowering the body temperature

Smell of rakija reminds us of being sick. When we were kids, our grandmas were the ones taking care of us, and grandmas know best. Socks and scarves dipped into rakia and then worn are the best way to lower your temperature.

7. Disinfection

In this day and age we all know how important disinfectants are. Spray rakija on your hands and all the unwanted germs and bacteria will be gone in the blink of an eye. Take a shot after to do the same with your throat. 

8. Good luck charm

After a baby is born, a bottle of rakija is buried underground. This rakija is to stay buried until the event of a great meaning - usually wedding. Opening that bottle of rakija and serving it to guests means good luck.

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(TCN in familiar Slavonian drinking pose with Kulen Travel's Domagoj Butkovic and Stanko Skrobo at the phenomenal Baranjska Kuca in Karanac)

9. Better than a contract

When you buy something, settle a deal or get a job, you are supposed to have a rakija with everyone who you meet shortly after. This tradition is called aldumash and it is here to make sure your new contract is going to last.

10. Skin cleaning

A well hidden secret from many of us is that rakija can be used to clean the skin of your face. It's not as strong as medical alcohol and it does have antioxidants and vitamins which are good for your skin. You might smell funny, but you will look nice!  

Looking for more extreme rakija insights? Check out the TC Rakija, Disconnecting People guide

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