American in Croatia
The first two questions nearly everyone asks me are: “Do you like it here?” and “Do you speak Croatian?” We’ve lived here for four years so I guess I like it enough to stay here this long. Do I speak the language? No, I don’t speak it, I BUTCHER it. Croatian is tough but when I put my back into it I get by. More specifically, I understand a majority but struggle to speak. Having a rip-roaring of a 2.5 year old linguist helps on all fronts, that’s for sure. The youngest is almost a year so I feel fortunate that I get the opportunity to learn twice “the way a baby would.” If you hear “This is a strawberry” one hundred billion times and you can’t internalize it, well that’s just concerning. So in short, my Croatian language skills are kind of concerning. And I distinctly lack that, “I’m going to bite your head off accent.” One of the first times I heard my husband talk to his mother via skype, I thought to myself, “Oh w.o.w. that was a horribly argument!” … I later learned they were merely discussing the differences in weather between Opatija and the Pacific Northwest of the States. Ay!
So let’s get down to a few recommendations from a non-local local.
There are a few half-hour trips or half-day trips RIGHT here that are very worth it! It took me two years to make it to the fortified medieval town of Kastav, ooops. And just about as long to visit the hilltop village of Mošćenice, big ooops! I took my mother to Mošćenice less than a week after giving birth to my first child just to get out. Upon returning home she went google crazy researching the charming town because I couldn’t tell her a damn thing about it! It was the dead of winter and still we were totally wooed. Mošćenice is a 20 minute car ride from Opatija. You can even take the 32A bus to Mošćenice Draga (The Bay of Mošćenice which has a good family beach and inlet down, a good nudist beach) and climb some 500 stairs to the village. There are a few cafes and two real restaurants. And if you aren’t planning on doing day trips to Istria, checking out Mošćenice should be high on your list.
Now back to Kastav. Kastav is between Opatija and Rijeka. It’s a real city in comparison to wee Mošćenice and moreover, it’s a real community chalk full of festivals and community oriented events. For example, the Kastav Summer of Culture, Film Festival, Guitar Festival, Blues Fest.) Again, I would still recommend seeing Istria for these charming old towns but if you’re feeling like a switch up from meals in Opatija, go to Kastav. Cobble stone cuteness. A mammoth unfinished church that sings in it’s dilapidated glory. Art galleries a plenty. It’s well worth the short taxi ride.
On to food for the hungry or particular: Goulash or the whole meat and potatoes thing doesn’t woo me so where would I suggest to eat? Tramerka is as good as it gets. It’s one of the only places here that does “gastro” not just “international” with a side of local fish. Tramerka’s dishes aren’t a mountain the size of your head but each item is strategically prepared and immaculately presented. What is more, waiters actually know what they are talking about because they are foodies themselves. They might call themselves a family restaurant but it’s more of a romantic couple’s place. Prices are relatively high for the area but very normal for the average Westerner… maybe $30 a pop. And it’s situated in the back alleys of Volosko (one flight of stairs up from the main harbor) which always makes the time out even more charming.
Another preferred restaurant is also in Volosko. It’s an understated pizza place in the harbor. I’m not under the impression that pizza is the end all and I realize that pizza often happens too often while traveling in Europe because it’s straightforward, economical and usually fast. That said, MoHo does pizza well. (It’s named after Volosko’s famed meteorologist and seismologist Andrej Mohorovičić.) More specifically, they have fun… or get scientific about it. Remember Rotola and you’ll be set. Sushi pizza might be a horribly unappetizing way to explain it (but I love sushi so to me it’s heaven on a platter). Think of rolled pizza (stuffed with peppers, zucchini and a harmonious medley of meats) and it’s topped with local arugula and what…? MUSTARD cream sauce! The best idea ever! I know, it’s sounds peculiar but you’re on vacation right? And aren’t vacations all about experiences. MoHo is 100% family friendly and the most price-friendly eatery in the area.
I am kind of a lush for Pinteresty/Modern cutesy because rarely does it make it’s way to Croatia. Milenij hotels remolded their Continental café and Osteria da Ugo eatery on the main drag in Opatija. It’s basically a one stop shop: a functionally divided café, restaurant, champagne bar, beer bar, chocolate factory, et al. Milenij Hotels stands out with their eye for detail. I appreciate this and thus they get my business.
(For the record, suggestions above are my personal opinions)
Comment below if you have any questions or want to share your experiences as well!
Greetings from sunny Opatija,