Wanderlust, discovery and a sense of identity: my thoughts on travelling to Croatia during the pandemic

Hans Christian Anderson once said that “to travel is to live.” I’ve been very fortunate to travel to many different places around the world since early childhood. The anticipation prior to boarding a flight is something that never gets old for me. But there is something special to be said when I go to Croatia where my family is from. There are no words that can fully describe the feeling I have for the country that I love so much. Croatia, a small country of just over 4 million people, lies at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe and boasts a beautiful coastline, national parks and is home to many historical monuments.

Last year, our travel plans were placed on hold due to the pandemic. A part of me died that day in 2020 when we had to cancel our trip to Croatia. We actually had three trips planned for 2020 which all had to be cancelled. I didn’t think anything would be worse than my personal 2019 “annus horribilis” but 2020 ended up taking the cake.

Although travelling with small children can be rather difficult, we still wanted to continue to this beloved tradition to our homeland. We wanted to show our kids where their ancestors are from and to show them an appreciation for the world itself. Fast forward into 2021: my husband and I are next to one another and are staring at Google Flights. We went back and fourth for a few days whether or not to book and then just one day…..

….he hit enter.

We did it! Now what?

Was this the right choice to make?

Too late by this point because we just booked it and there was no looking back.

The following days went by quick. Asides from the usual packing, we also had to organize all our travel documents and COVID-19 requirements to enter Croatia. At the time, either proof of full vaccination or negative antigen test was required to enter the country. Fortunately, in many places in Europe, children under the age of 12 were exempt from such requirements.

We had a connecting flight into Amsterdam and immediately it felt much more relaxed than Ontario. Even in the best of times, the European lifestyle is way more relaxed than North American culture. We had a few hours layover and then we made our way to Split, Croatia and I immediately felt a sense of “coming home.”

Being Croatian-Canadian, I’ve always had a sense of a dual identity. Essentially, my heart has always been split into two: the person born and raised in Canada and the person whose heart belongs in Croatia. Almost a dichotomy in of itself, this is who I am and this is something I fully embrace.

Going to Croatia this year was very important for us. Many of our cultural events here in Canada have been to a halt for most of the pandemic. Croatian folklore was paused (it has since resumed but with COVID protocols); Croatian school was done virtually and a lot of our cultural events were either postponed or conducted over YouTube. The days of 600 people at weddings have downsized considerably due to pandemic restrictions (and I don’t see them coming back anytime soon). Although I can appreciate everyone’s efforts putting together virtual events for the sake of keeping things together, it’s not organic in a sense where you can properly learn and retain language for example. As a result, I started to feel isolated, sad and alone. For that reason, this trip was so important for us and quite frankly for me because I missed so much of this. In 2019 I had a close relative pass away and that sense of grieving lingered around for most of 2020. I didn’t realize how much I missed being around people until we were in Croatia.

With that being said, we spent the majority of our time at our family home in Vodice, Croatia, which is just north of Šibenik, approximately 45 minutes to one hour away from the Split Airport. We spent most days on the beach; the children happily playing with their beach toys and swimming in the waves. We had our routine everyday; breakfast, beach, lunch, dinner and repeat. This was as good as it can get with travelling with kids and this was by far the best trip with them. They loved the beach and they had their spot by the same cafe we went to. They knew which crepe (palačinke) stand to go to.

I developed a new-found appreciation for Debit and Dingač during this trip. We were fortunate to check out some restaurants, both new and old. Some of the restaurants we really enjoyed around Vodice were Strikoman’s Bistro and Karmelski Dvori – Konoba Okit. My husband and I also went back to Pelegrini again in Šibenik for a date night. Following a day trip to Primošten, we took the magistrala all the way up to Konoba Vinko, which is a Michelin Star recognized restaurant in Lozovac, just 15 kilometers away in Šibenik. My youngest son said that was “the best meal he ever had” and he was not kidding! We also had a chance to meet up with a good friend of mine at a newer restaurant called 4 Kantuna in Zadar. We also spent time with our families, did some day trips with the children and I was able to visit my late-uncle’s grave and pay my respects.

Overall, it was so worth it and fortunately we didn’t experience any issues. I don’t think things will change with the pandemic anytime soon and life is way to short to continue putting things on hold. I do not regret going at all; it was the best decision we made for our mental health, especially for the kids who have already given up so much. Travel in of itself is a very valuable education, one that I will always appreciate.

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