Croatia is happy memories. It's family. It's home.
Here's a look at my Croatia, starting with my birthplace.
Bakar is a tiny, tiny shipping town along the northern coast, very close to the city of Rijeka. In my head, Bakar is a more residential, more rugged Rovinj. This is where my mom was born and raised, where my parents met and married, and where my brother and I were born. It's where my brother went to kindergarten and where my 2-year-old self would take daily walks with my aunt to the local bakery. She'd stock me up with enough fresh-baked pastries to last a toddler the entire week and then we'd go home and play until my parents got off work.
I don't remember much of our life in Bakar, but this is the closest to "home" I feel when we visit Croatia.
I always say (and probably have on this blog before) that Smiljan (in Lika) is the birthplace of the world's two smartest men: Nikola Tesla...and my dad. Actually, Tesla's childhood home and current museum is literally a stone's throw from where my dad grew up and where my uncle still lives. Most people know Lika for Plitvice National Park. I know it as a place where I ran like a madman through wide-open fields as a kid; a place where rolling hills, babbling brooks and forested mountains hold all kinds of delicious treasures.
I often imagine my dad as a young boy, helping tend the family farm. Watching over his horses. Finding the kind of boyhood trouble that you can only find in a place as beautiful and wild as Smiljan. Smiljan is a farming village and therefore is full of people that we Americans would refer to as "salt of the earth" - hardworking, genuine, no bullshit.
Most of our family is dispersed between Croatia and Germany but we were lucky enough to grow up with one set of aunt/uncle and cousins nearby in Arizona: my dad's sister and her family. Our cousins are actually more like siblings to us and my aunt and uncle on this side like extended parents. These days, they all live elsewhere on the East Coast. But my aunt and uncle own a vacation home near the town of Crikvenica, which has become like our home-away-from-home.
The times when we're all there together are the best times. We spend our days between the beach and their patio - eating, reading and napping, mostly. Besides laughing with my aunts, one of my favorite things to do here is watch them do crosswords. I have an uncle who also lives close by and so we often have coffee dates with him or he'll whip up massive, all-day feasts.
It's always the most laid-back part of our vacation and I never feel like we get enough time here to just...be family.
PHOTOS BY: Stjepan Alaupovic