Recharging on the Island of Vitality

Lošinj is an island of amazing colors, sights and sounds. Never and nowhere on the Croatian coast have I experienced such blues of the sea and greens of the pine trees or heard such loud chirps of the crickets.

I am very biased, mind you. Lošinj island holds a very special place in my heart, since it was there that I spent a wonderful summer with dear friends and my now-husband-and-father-of-my-son-and-also-dad-of-my-dog. We were in our early 20s, drove around the island in a tiny car, listened loudly to great music, not minding the perilous narrow roads of the island, swam in the cristal blue sea and explored the island’s coves and small beaches sheltered by pine trees. We went for night swims in Čikat, had drinks on the beach and looked at the stars… we were very young, very carefree and it was all very romantic.

This time, my visit to Lošinj was somewhat different. The car was bigger, the music was still loud, the sea still cristal blue and the crickets still so loud it took some time to get used to the everpresent sound, but the company was different. We all went together – for the first time – Teo, Oliver, Frida and myself, for a three-day weekend getaway. For both of our kids (yes, I consider my dog my child, and I know that every dog-owner out there understands that) this was the first time travelling to an island, on a ferry (or boat of any kind) and it was also the first time any of us would stay in a mobile home.

The ferry was a hit and the ride from Valbiska on the island of Krk to Merag on the island of Cres was a pleasant half-hour experience. Oliver was quite impressed by the size of the “ship” and the amount of cars that a ferry can fit. We looked at the seagulls flying around the ferry and tried to spot dolphins. Frida seemed somewhat confused with all the new smells and sounds, but she was very well behaved and the ride was very enjoyable.

After getting off the ferry on the island of Cres, a 45-minute drive across the island awaited before we would reach our destination, Camp Rapoća near the town of Nerezine on Lošinj. In ancient times, Cres and Lošinj were actually one big island, until the channel of Osor was excavated during the Roman period in order to shorten the path to the open sea. Today, you cross from one island to the other through a small bridge in the town of Osor. Both islands belong the the so-called Cres-Lošinj archipelago in the Kvarner Gulf, and they are, in a way, similar in their vegetation and atmosphere. You feel instantly that you are in a different, unique place, so different from other places in Kvarner.

We were situated in Camping Rapoća near the town of Nerezine and our stay there in the sleepy pre-tourist, mid-Covid season was all we needed: no crowds, no noise, just beautiful pine trees above us and pebble beaches and the sound of waves a few steps from our mobile home. The mobile home turned out to be a really great accomodation option for our family as it gave us all the privacy, comfort and the combination of indoor/outdoor space that the young ones needed. The home was surprisingly spacious (it was a two-bedroom mobile home with a well-equipped kitchen-dining room and all the amenities one needs) and had a lovely terrace and a shaded parking spot for our car. Oliver and Frida loved the fact that they could chase each other and run in and out of the mobile home and Teo and I were relaxed because we didn’t have to worry about crowds or cars. A grocery store was just a short walk away, in the centre of Nerezine, and we quickly got used to its very strange working hours. Now I think about it, the few hours it was opened in the afternoon was quite in accord with the sleepy, relaxed atmosphere of a town which seemed almost deserted, part from friendly neighbours chatting over the fences of their gardens.

Since it was a chilly weekend and we had no intention of swimming, we spent our weekend driving around Lošinj and enjoying its charming towns and wonderful nature. Lošinj has a well-earned reputation of “the Island of Vitality”. Thanks to its mild climate, supreme air quality and rich biodiversity and the widespread pines and medicinal herbs, health tourism has been an important staple of its history for over 100 years.

The two main towns on the island are Veli Lošinj (translated: “big” Lošinj) and Mali Lošinj (translated: “small” Lošinj). Mali Lošinj is actually larger than Veli Lošinj, so you can only imagine how confusing this was to learn and memorize in our Geography classes in Croatian elementary school. Mali Lošinj is the largest settlement on the island, a lovely Mediterranean town with a nice waterfront ideal for long breezy walks and plenty of cafes and restaurants. The jewel of Mali Lošinj is Museum of Apoxyomenos situated in a restored palace in the town centre: the museum is dedicated to an antique bronze statue Apoxyomenos, dating from 2nd or 1st century B.C., whose name originates from the Greek term for an “athlete that is cleaning his body from oil, sweat and sand after exercise of competition”. The statue was discovered in 1997 by a Belgian tourist at the bottom of the sea where it was located for almost 2 millenia. Lošinj’s Apoxyomenos is very well preserved and, due to its importance and quality, it was exhibited in some of the most important museums in the world, such as the Louvre, British Museum and J.P.Getty Museum, after finally returning home where the entire museum was built to honor this great piece of art. To my great disappointment, the museum was closed due to the pandemics at the time of our visit and the exploration of the award-winning museum and its star still remains on my to-do list.

Veli Lošinj (remember, the smaller of the two towns), situated on the southeastside of Lošinj island, is a picture-perfect place, ideal for taking long walks and discovering narrow streets with beautiful villas and kept gardens. In the past, Veli Lošinj was larger than Mali Lošinj, but the latter one grew more rapidly so the situation changed, although the original names remained.

We visited both towns, as well as the forest park Čikat, the place of the wonderful vacation mentioned earlier in this text. What was then a relatively “normal” bay rich in pine forests and perfectly clean water is now a very exclusive part of the island, full of villas and extremely expensive, luxurious hotels. Still, the beautiful walking paths remains relatively intact, the air still smells magical, some gorgeus children parks have been built and the locals can still find their own piece of paradise during the summer in its many hidden beaches.

Oliver and Frida ran around exploring narrow streets of the towns, flowers and pebbles, while Teo and me enjoyed the peace and the quiet, the beautiful sights, sounds and smells that the island offered. It was such a lovely, much-needed weekend break on a really gorgeous island.

On our last day, while driving to Merag where the ferry harbour is located, we stopped in the town of Cres on the island of Cres and explored its historical landmarks, narrow streets and lovely squares.

One of the highlights of the trip, at least in Oliver’s eyes, were the sheep which could be found all around the island of Cres. Getting close to any type of animal is always such an exciting thing for him and he loved the chance of seeing them so up and close. Frida was also interested in meeting the sheep, but unfortunately we left her in the car (we were frightened she might get a bit too excited and bark or try to chase them). Our rude actions were met with loud barks and howls, letting us know that she was not satisfied with how we decided to finish our otherwise lovely island weekend.

What we’ve learned about traveling with a baby from our first weekend getaway together

I’ve been dreaming about traveling with my child since the first moment I learned I was pregnant. To show him all the places where my parents used to take me, ones where I spent my childhood, to take weekend breaks to locations close to our home town just for a change of scenery, to visit my favourite European destinations and see them through his eyes,… to discover the world together.

The first “bigger” trip for our newly broadened family was planned for spring of 2020. We wanted to drive to Tuscany with our son and our dog, but unfortunately, the pandemic got in our way and we had to not only abandon our plan but also become painfully aware of all restrictions and complications any traveling plans we could come up with would face.

If the year 2020 taught us anything, it is that everything is ever changing and that we should take any chance we get to spend time together as a family. That’s why our decision of having a weekend getaway in Umag, Istria, was made very quickly and spontaneously, fueled by a desperate need to just – go– somewhere. 

Since we didn’t spend a lot of time planning the getaway, we thought of only a short list of items that needed to be checked:

  • A place that is not too far away, so that we can travel to the destination (at least partly) while Oliver is sleeping
  • A place where we didn’t have to take care of the food and cleaning up
  • A place that is close to the sea, with the beach easilly accesible on foot
  • A place that is children-friendly: honestly, I’ve only started to discover the offer of kid-friendly hotels and resorts in Croatia and am only beginning to realize what that even means
  • A place that is not too expensive – because when is that NOT important?

The Istrian resort town of Umag, located on the western coast of the peninsula, and its Hotel Sol Garden checked all of these items. Istria is always our joker card whenever we need to get away for a few days – near so that we don’t have to spend too much time traveling to our destination and it has everything we need – nice beaches, good hotels catering to all kinds of needs, good food and picturesque historical towns that are little gems of character and beauty. Since our plan to visit Tuscany fell apart, this was as close as we could come to that kind of atmosphere. 

Umag is only a very pleasent and pictoresque two-hour drive away from Rijeka. Sol Garden is a complex consisting of a hotel, depandanses and other forms of accommodation. The hotel itself is large, has several pools of different depths, an aquapark for children, animation programs for kids of different ages, a playroom for younger children, a wellness area, gym and many other services. We opted for a semi-board offer in the hotel and the buffet-style meals were tasty and there was a great variety of options.

The beachfront is very close to the hotel, there is a walkabout shaded by tall pine trees running along the entire coastline, it has bike lanes and is stroller friendly. When it comes to the beaches, you can choose from sandy beaches (Oliver wasn’t a fan, and neither were we), concrete parts and pebbled beaches (which were our choice), all in the range of a 15 minute walk.    

This trip was a test in more than one ways.

A test of how well our son will react to sleeping in an unknown environment, spending longer periods of time in hot and sunny weather and in the sea, and of how complicated, difficult and exhausting it would be for us to travel with a small child. And I have to happily conclude that we all passed the test with flying colours. We know that we have an uncomplicated, easily adaptable child, but Oliver made us even happier and prouder with how he reacted to the change in scenery. He loved swimming and collecting pebbles on the beach, didn’t mind the heat very much, slept “like a baby” in his travel cot, ate whatever was offered to him and enjoyed it, swam in the pools, played in the room and on the balcony with his toys and seemed genuinely interested in what was going on around him. We as parents took it very well as well, and even though many parents told us that when you travel with kids, you return home even more exhausted than you were when you left, we actually did manage to relax, enjoy ourselves and recharge our batteries during our short but sweet trip to Umag.

It was not an exotic, life-altering trip to the end of the world, mind you. The idea was, after all, to keep things as simple as possible, but nevertheless, it was a very educational experience. What I needed to realize, as a traveller usually obsessed with planning and attempting to avoid surprises at all cost, was that there is no need to worry about traveling with a child, that such a trip can – and ought to – be a relaxing, laid back one and – what makes me very happy – that I can now start to plan longer and more elaborate family trips.

For this first test of multi-day traveling with Oliver, Frida stayed in Rijeka with her “uncle”, which means that our next challenge will be traveling with both Oliver AND Frida. This endeavour will probably require a bit more manouvering and flexibility, but we are ready to meet that challenge – as soon as possible!

Rijeka – European Capital of Culture 2020

What an important year for my beloved hometown! In 2020, Rijeka shares the title of European Capital of Culture with Galway and is getting ready for its grand entrance onto the European cultural stage. And the symbolic grand opening of the programme is only a day away – on 1 February.

It is ridiculous how exciting it all is.

The city is finishing up with its makeover and sprucing up for its grand opening day which will mark the beginning of Rijeka 2020 programme. For the last year, some very important building projects have been under way, most prominently, the development of the new museum quarter in the ex-factory complex Rikard Benčić. Its historic building are being given a new life with relocation of a new Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (which was opened in 2017) and work is also in progress in relocating Rijeka’s City Museum, Library and Children’s House in the same complex and opening this year. A very controversial project of turning Tito’s ship Galeb into a floating museum is also one of the cornerstones of Rijeka 2020 project, and other building projects include development of Ri-Hub and renovation of Exportdrvo building. New infrastructure is maybe the most visible aspect of the project, and the physicality of new buildings and institutions which will remain for years to come might turn out to be the greatest legacy of Rijeka’s title, but the European Capital of Culture project is much more than just infrastructure and the number and scope of programmes, initiatives, exhibitions, interventions and events that Rijeka will offer in 2020 is just amazing.

unnamed

And it all begins in only two days! The date 1 February 2020 will serve as a symbolic start of Rijeka 2020 programme and the opening day promises to be  super eventful with all of its activities, concerts, performances, shows, tours and pop-up events fit for such a big day. It will be a day to remember and, personally, I am just so excited and already super proud of my hometown. Rijeka, forever so unique, so different, so full of attitude – so deserves to be in the European cultural spotlight this year. It deserves to tell its story of art, culture, history and life in its own way. It deserves to be heard of, visited and experienced. And more than anything else, its people deserve a year of cultural abundance, heightened spirit and celebration.

The overall effect, and worth, in a way, of the European Capital of Culture title will only be visible after the end of the project, but many things have already became apparent about Rijeka and its people, even in this preparatory period:

Rijeka is young and fresh

Rijeka strives on its young people (and those who feel young), fresh ideas and unburdened perception of the world and life. Many activities of Rijeka 2020 project were developed by young people, for the younger generation and for all those people who are, regardless of their age, ready to see the city, experience its culture and evaluate its history and traditions from a different perspective. Freshness and willingness to experiment are visible in many aspects of Rijeka 2020 project even now, before it all even officially started – in the visual design of the project, promo videos made in order to promote the project, choice of activities and people invited to participate in creation of the programme, interventions and provocative actions announced to take place in the city during this year.  Some traditionalists among the public see such approach as a token of “lesser” culture and a way of useless spending, weighing culture only by a number of museums and grand exhibitions. I hope that the project, through its success, will make those people understand how important it is to challenge traditional notions of culture and art and, hopefully, make them reconsider their opinions.

Promo-film-Rijeka-foto-B.-Vukosav-2

Not all of us are as liberal and open-minded as we like to think

Open-mindedness is a trait that the people of Rijeka pride themselves most with. Unfortunately, a project of such great scope such as Rijeka 2020 might show that we are less liberal, accepting and open than we think. Ever since Rijeka got its ECOC title, there is a tiring amount of comments on social networks and on the streets and even vandalism performed by the narrow-minded, petty, angry people of our city. Those people are negative about everything: the city, its leaders, their decisions, the money being spent on culture, even the slightly progressive or controversial aspects of Rijeka 2020 programme… While I still believe such people are in the minority, I honestly hope that they will be able to see things from a different perspective, relax and spread less anger and hate. If not… well, then I hope that this year in Rijeka blows their mind and at least gives them something to be shocked about.

Promo-film-Rijeka-foto-B.-Vukosav-5

Rijeka still stands strong with her willingness to provoke and challenge

In direct opposition to the previous point, some of the activities and events that will take place as a part of Rijeka 2020 programme show that the force of provocation is strong in us. Rijeka is such a wonderfully rebelious town. Its people have that fight within them and this really is the only place in Croatia where some of the art installations and interventions planned as a part of the ECOC programme could ever happen. I can’t wait for the drama, Negative Nancies, watch and weep!

Promo-film-Rijeka-foto-B.-Vukosav-1

Rijeka’s neighborhoods have a strong sense of community and belonging

Rijeka is definitely different from the rest of Croatia, but preparatory activities for Rijeka 2020 showed that there are even smaller units of the city that foster a strong sense of individuality and community. It is great to see that Rijeka’s neighborhoods gathered and developed initiatives with the aim of improving the quality of life and through it, manifested how unique different parts of the town are. Maybe this will turn out to be the best heritage of Rijeka 2020 when all is said and done – people working with their neigbours and fostering the sense of belonging.

Rijeka-2020.-luka-razlicitosti_article_full

 

Whether you like cultural programmes and activities that await Rijeka this year or you think they are worthless and a wrong way to spend money, the wonderful shift already happened. For months now, people of our city discuss culture and Rijeka 2020 programmes in their everyday conversations, on buses, in shops, on social networks, in public and in private, and that is so important: we communicate, discuss, share opinions, accept other interpretations, change our mind. We are motivated to learn more, to give arguments, to try to see things from other perspectives. It helps us grow, evolve and get to know each other better. It is a wonderful thing to see and hear how culture has become a hot topic in Rijeka and how people openly state their opinions that were before kept private. Through culture, we learn so much about ourselves and each other, and I bet this year will be an educational one for Rijeka. My dear city, I am holding my fingers crossed for you and for us and am so looking forward to seeing what this year of culture will bring.

The opening day is just hours away – we will be there, rain or sun, and we will show everyone what we are made of. Let the show begin!

Mošćenice: a dreamy hilltop village above the Kvarner bay

To drive up the road to the village of Mošćenice after the busy seaside resorts of Opatija, Medveja, Lovran or Volosko, is to enter an entirely different world. Not only that you rise above the murmur and traffic of these tourist-oriented towns, up to the hill where the air is fresher, the atmosphere quieter and the views of the Kvarner bay drop-dead gorgeous, but you also enter a place that feels almost enchanted. Continue reading “Mošćenice: a dreamy hilltop village above the Kvarner bay”

Holiday Magic at Trsat Castle

Like every year, Christmas has arrived to my beloved Rijeka. Unlike every year, however, one of Rijeka’s main touristic sights, the Trsat Castle, this year got a new sparkly holiday makeover and brought even more holiday cheer to people of Rijeka and their visitors. Yesterday I got the chance to visit the Trsat castle in the evening and was completely stunned by how fairy-tale like it looks! Continue reading “Holiday Magic at Trsat Castle”

Zagreb Christmas Market

Another year is coming to an end and we are enjoying December, a festive, feel-good month in which we reminisce about the year and make plans for the new one. December is also a time for one of my favourite experiences – visiting Christmas markets nearby with the people who are near and dear to me. And after several years of traveling to Austria in pursuit for the ultimate, most festive Christmas market experience, this year our travels didn’t take us far at all and the choice fell on a one-day visit to Zagreb.
Continue reading “Zagreb Christmas Market”

Holiday Season in Rijeka and Graz

With the arrival of the holiday season, the mood instantly changes. It becomes more elevated, more nervous at times because there is so many things to do, so many presents to buy, cakes and cookies to bake and visits to plan, but also more cheerful as you keep hearing holiday songs on the radio and you see the towns put on their most festive apparel and are full of lights, decorations and smell of mulled wine.

Continue reading “Holiday Season in Rijeka and Graz”

Searching for tranquility in Istria

High summer temperatures that we were experiencing in Croatia for the last couple of weeks caused a general mobilization of the locals trying to escape the heat of the asphalt and replace it with the breezy air of the beach or a shaded, cooler air of the mountain areas nearby. My boyfriend and I decided to visit Istria for a week and to spend our days alternating between the beach and lazy explorations of small towns and villages of the peninsula. Continue reading “Searching for tranquility in Istria”

A Four-Star Trakošćan Experience

With a literal translation of “beyond the mountain”, Zagorje is a cultural-historical region in the north-west part of Croatia. It is an area of great natural beauty, scattered with hills and small villages situated on their slopes, and famous for its spa resorts, authentic villages and the gastronomy. Continue reading “A Four-Star Trakošćan Experience”