In 2016 I had the opportunity to meet my mom and sister in Croatia to meet my family there for the first time and explore the country while learning the language.
If you have any friends or family that are Croatian you know how warm and inviting the people here are. And also how much food, alcohol, and cigarettes (I don’t smoke… normally) were consumed. This was an incredible introduction to a country, people, and way of thinking that was ingrained in much of my childhood by my grandparents, and to learn where many of my own traits come from.
I did also manage to get out for an accidental 18 mile trail run above Opatija along the shoulder of Mount Učka one afternoon while my mom and sister went shopping in a neighboring village. My sister had warned that it would rain—and the downpours are extreme here—but I passed that off as exaggeration and headed out. Within blocks I experienced the most intense rain storm I have ever experienced in my life—I could barely even see the road and trail in front of me. I subsequently got very lost on the many old trails and roads, came across one of the largest fresh piles of bear scat I have ever seen (a day after learning there are grizzlies in the mountains), and then slipped on hundreds-of-years old worn stone steps as I found myself back into town, gashing the back of my head open. The sladoled and pivo never tasted so good.
There was so much to process on this trip—from meeting family and learning to hear and speak the Croatian language (enough to get myself in trouble), to hours long talks over home-made brandy/jet-fuel and cigarettes about the pros/cons of different political systems, and what life is like for people in my generation who lived through a war in our youth. Croatia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world with an incredibly deep history (I have family that live in houses older than the U.S.!). I am always looking forward to getting back because Croatia is somewhere I have not been able to get enough of.