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Croatia in my heart: The small places make it special

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By Ane Strazicic Rodriguez 

Next month, on 3rd of February, the biggest day of the year in Dubrovnik will be marked again when for the 1,050th year in a row, the feast of Saint Blaise (Sveti Vlaho), the patron saint of Dubrovnik, is celebrated. 

The Feast of Saint Blaise is on UNESCO’s list of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage and in Croatia it has lasted continuously from 972 to the present day. It is celebrated throughout the Dubrovnik-Neretva County, which is the territory of the former famous Republic of Dubrovnik.

For the feast of Saint Blaise, on February 3, representatives from all over the county come with church flags and folk costumes in a procession to Stradun, where they will pay homage to their saint, their protector, in front of the church of St. Blaise, pray and be thankful for protection in the past and for the future for themselves and loved ones.

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The Feast of St. Blaise we can rightly say is the Feast of Feasts, and we, the people of Dubrovnik, no matter what part of the world life has taken us to, will worship and celebrate St. Blaise, because for us it means freedom and independence and love for our city of Dubrovnik and the entire Dubrovnik area.

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When you go to Croatia and when you go to Dubrovnik and see all the beauties of the most beautiful city in the Mediterranean, the pearl of the Adriatic, try to see other parts of the famous Republic of Dubrovnik.

When you walk along Stradun, Dubrovnik Walls, enter all the beautiful churches, museums, Rector’s Palace, Sponza, drink coffee in the City Café, swim at Porporela and enjoy cultural events, especially the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, try to stop by the club of Croatian war invalids, talk to these wonderful people who gave everything for the freedom of Croatia, because your every visit and beautiful word is a balm for their wounded heart and tormented soul. 

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When you climb Srđ from which there is a divine view of Dubrovnik, go up to the fortress on Srđ, which was the last line of defence of this beautiful city, and today is the military museum of the Homeland War.

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To truly experience the southern Adriatic and the Dubrovnik area, you have to start from Konavle. The direct air connection between New York and New Jersey and Dubrovnik is fantastic. You will arrive to the airport in Čilipi in Konavle. When you are already in Konavle, start from the beginning of Croatia, swim in Prevlaka, the beautiful Molunat and one of the most beautiful beaches on the Adriatic, Pasjača. 

Visit Sokol Grad – a fortress museum – which protected the Republic of Dubrovnik from enemy attacks. Follow the Paths of Stećak tombstones and the Church of St. Barbara. The Homeland Museum of Konavle with traditional Konavle embroideries and costumes that have been preserved and continued to be made in silk, although everything was burned and destroyed during the Homeland War when Konavle was occupied by Serbian-Montenegrin Chetnik terrorists and the JNA. 

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Enjoy the specialties of Konavle houses, vineyards, the famous Konavle Palace, Koraćeva house and Monković vineyards. Don’t miss the Konavle cellars and wineries that also rose from the ashes after the Homeland War when all the vineyards burned down, including the far-famed Dubrovnik Malvasia, which everyone now produces like Dubrovnik Cellars, Miljas Winery, Crvik Winery, Miličić Winery, Karaman Winery and other Konavle winemakers and which is still one of the most famous wines next to Mali Plavac and Posip, the most famous wine of the Dubrovnik region. And finally, dance the LINĐO and Konavle kolo.

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Do not miss Rijeka Dubrovačka and beautiful small places, Zaton Mali and Veliki, Slano and Trsteno, where there is an Arboretum from the 15th century which has a special place among the old Dubrovnik, Dalmatian and Mediterranean Parks.

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When you come to Ston, a small town known for its salt, oysters and the second largest fortified wall in the world after the Great Wall of China, you came to the beginning of the Pelješac peninsula, which is certainly the kingdom of famous wines, Mali Plavac, Dingac and Postup and Posip.

Proof of this is the fantastic Wine Museum – House of Wine Tradition – House of Wine – Putniković. Famous Wineries – Miloš Winery with wines sold only after 10 years of maturation, EDIVO – Navis Musterium – Wine from the depths of the Adriatic Sea, the famous Matuško cellars and wineries, and especially a tour of Bura – Mrgudić Dingač and Postup, which have long been known to lovers of fine wines in America and the world.

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It was a pleasure to listen to lectures on wine growing on Pelješac peninsula, from the Queen of Dingač Marija Mrgudić, who successfully leads the Wine Empire of Pelješac Dingać with her family. Dingač vines grow on sparse rocky soil at an angle of 60 degrees that descends steeply to the sea on the south side of Pelješac overlooking my home island of Mljet, where there are less than one kilo of ripe sweet, small grains black grapes Dingač and which nowhere else in the world thrives but only here, in this small space.

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Across from Pelješac, where the Pelješac Bridge begins, are many vineyards, including Komarna winery, whose wines are also very popular among wine lovers in America.       

Also, do not miss the nearby island of Korčula, also known for its excellent Grk and Pošip wines, the birthplace of Marco Polo and the late great singer Oliver Dragojević. 

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Sail to the island of Lastovo and dive into the most beautiful depths of the Nature Park of the Lastovo island archipelago Glavati which shares the same distance from Lastovo, Korčula and Mljet and enjoy the underwater world rich in fish and lobsters on the Adriatic. Then complete the cruise of the Dubrovnik Elaphiti islands and finally come to my magical island of Mljet which is home to the oldest water Nature Park in the Mediterranean because you will stay here the most.

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It is a special feeling to come home, sit on the terrace under the pine trees and when Mljet National Park rangers welcome me from the waterfront and ask if I need anything, or from the neighboring Restaurant Pomena. Dubrovnik singer-songwriter sings the famous song Moja Ane broji dane and everyone toasts my arrival. From Restaurant Adriatic comes an octopus under the bell (ispod peke). 

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The view of my small town Pomena, full of yachts and cruisers whose guests enjoy the top Dalmatian delicacies of Pomenarski Konoba and restaurants, is proof that my Mljet is one of the most important tourist destinations.

You can’t be bored on Mljet, this will surely be explained to you by my daughter, Michelle, an American who decided to live on Mljet after studying at RIT. Walking, swimming and cycling or kayaking around the lakes of Mljet is a holiday for the soul.

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Swimming and diving in Odysseus Cave and beautiful beaches, Vale Sutmiholjska, Saplunara and Blace will bring you back to the legends of Odysseus and the Nymph Calypso, St. Paul, Romans and Teuta, Queen of the Illyrians. 

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Enjoy the delicacies of Mljet konobas and restaurants, and try Mljet wines Meleda and Melita Winery of the Hazdovac family and finally go to the magical island of St. Mary, a former Benedictine monastery from the 12th century and you will realize that you are in paradise.

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But most important of all is the mutual cooperation of us emigrants from Mljet and Dubrovnik, which we are very proud of and could serve as an example to Croatian emigrants from other parts of Croatia. We just need to ask ourselves what we can do for our region, how we can promote it or through humanitarian actions help where needed. As our Mljet poet Ivan Bamba Čumbelić says, we emigrants are the best promoters and ambassadors of our beautiful homeland Croatia.

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It is a pleasure to do a feast and gather friends and relatives, enjoy the delicacies and good wines of the Dubrovnik region and have fun with the wonderful Mljet youth from KUD Natko Nodilo.

We should be proud of the safety of Mljet and Dubrovnik-Neretva County, both in terms of fires, crime, and also as it is environmentally healthy and a safe area and therefore this year was one of the most visited counties by foreign tourists, especially Americans who are at the forefront of nautical tourism. 

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Every visit to Croatia is special for us emigrants, and for me this year was extra special. The feeling when I climbed the Pelješac Bridge with my friends is indescribable. It is a feeling of love and belonging to my beautiful country Croatia. This beautiful story from the south of Croatia is part of the congratulations for St. Blaise who watches over and guards over all of us. Long live St. Blaise.

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Documentary ‘Ane Mljećka’

From July 28 to August 8, a documentary with the working title “Ane Mljećka” was shot on Mljet in the production of folk and traditional culture shows of the Culture Program Department of Hrvatska radiotelevizija (HRT).

In the proposal of expert associates Julija Kaleb and Marija Mrgudić to make a film about Ane Strazicic Rodriguez Mljećka, who has lived and worked in America from an early age, and on both sides of the ocean everyone knows her as Ane Mljećka, humanitarian and promoter of Croatia in the world, editor Ljiljana Šišmanović and director Davor Borić recognized a film story of universal value which, portraying one woman and one island and their unbreakable bond, speaks of traditional culture and all the challenges of preserving it in the modern world.

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Ane Mljećka’s personality, her skills and knowledge, culinary skills, enthusiasm and commitment to preserving traditional island values, are the initiators of the action that accompanies Ane Mljećka in her Mljet everyday life during several summer days, and on the eve and during the 41st South Dalmatian regatta where she hosts participants in her komin, under a pine tree in the yard of her parents’ house in Pomena.

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The premiere of the film on HRT is planned for September 2022. The director of photography is Dušan Vugrinec, sound engineer Dario Mačešić, lighting master Damir Staneković, driver Krešo Gršić, assistant director Žaklina Komljen, producer Filip Marešić, screenwriters are Ljiljana Šišmanović and Davor Borić, director is Davor Borić and editor is Ljiljana Šišmanović.

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