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The Croatia Chronicles: Reconnecting with the Motherland

Kristina and David in Pula (2014)

Among the large number of tourists visiting Croatia this year will be second, third and fourth generation Croatians from all over the world who are looking to discover or reconnect with the ‘homeland’.

One of those is Kristina Pepelko. Kristina is a Croatian-American born in Detroit, Michigan, USA to two Croatian parents who hail from the beautiful, green region of Zagorje.

Together with her husband, David, Kristina has just begun a 48-day trip across seven regions in Croatia which was inspired by a desire to reconnect with the country on their own terms while experiencing new places and meeting new people.

Kristina and David’s wedding in Marija Bistrica (2017) (Photo credit: Vlado Cvirn)

We chatted Kristina about her background and her adventure in reconnecting with Croatia which has just started.

Kristina, can you tell us a bit more about yourself?

Professionally, I am a writer and editor serving nonprofit organizations, small business owners, and entrepreneurs. I am also currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Administration.

Personally, I am a writer through and through and a major fan of Croatia. I have been traveling to the country with my family since I was six years old and spent many summers growing up there among relatives and grandparents. Some of my fondest childhood memories come from my summers in Croatia, and much of my creative writing is rooted in my experiences in the country.

My love for Croatia pushed me to search for teaching work there back in 2012. I lived in Rovinj for a year and taught English to students ranging in age from youth to adult. It was a tiring but ultimately fabulous experience that left me with many more memories and friends. Then, last year in 2017, my husband, David and I exchanged wedding vows and partied hard with friends and family at Bluesun Hotel Kaj in Marija Bistrica. It was a magical night filled happy tears, fun, and amazing, amazing food.

Kristina and David on Lokrum Island (2017)

You spent time in Croatia – apart from family, what are some of the things that draw you back?

What draws me back primarily is the opportunity to spend time with family and friends that I don’t often see. While my immediate family lives in the States, along with some relatives, everyone else is back in Croatia. Over the years, I’ve made a few good friends in Croatia too and it’s always a blast hanging with them and my extended family.

In addition to family and friends, what draws me back is the gorgeous landscape (especially the countryside, although the sea has my heart, too!), the hospitality (and accompanying food that comes in copious quantities), and the chance to slow down my life.

This last reason has become increasingly alluring to me as I’ve gotten older and busier with my U.S-based life that is always go, go, go. The pace of Croatian life in different–it’s slower, but also more deliberate in the quality time spent with family and friends and in enjoying life’s simple pleasures, like a cup of coffee.

What do you miss about Croatia when you are in the States?

What’s not to miss?! I adore so much about Croatia from its food and coastline to its culture and language. But, what I miss most about Croatia is more personal–my friends and family, who have always been there for me.

What are your favorite places to visit in Croatia and why?

Everywhere? I am allowed to say that? Ha!

But seriously–I don’t know if it’s just me, but I have yet to meet a place in Croatia that I don’t like. To me, every village, town, and city has its own special quality and they all enchant me. No place is dull as every place has character and stories. From the green beauty of Gornja Stubica to the romantic charm of Rovinj, there is something intriguing everywhere.

But, if I had to choose some favorites then the best I could do is to narrow down by region and pick Zagorje and Istria. Zagorje will always be number one in my heart because it’s where my family is from and where I spent my summers as a kid. But Istria is an area I grew to know and love as an adult after teaching in Rovinj, and so both regions carry a special significance for me.

Rovinj (Photo: Rovinj Tourist Board)

You have just started a 48-day trip across the country – tell us about that and what you plan to see and do.

Yes! I can’t wait for our trip and to share our experiences with everyone! My husband, David, and I left Detroit on April 28 and arrived in Zagreb the following day on April 29.

The trip, which is actually a road trip across seven regions in Croatia, was inspired by many things–from a mutual friend’s “just do it” attitude around travel to a desire to reconnect with the country on our own terms while experiencing new places and meeting new people.

We have a ton planned, but not so much that we have every single day scheduled out. The purpose of this trip is multi-faceted, but it is still a vacation from our normal life and so we wanted to make sure to have plenty of time to relax and do absolutely nothing.

Aside from relaxation time, we plan to travel around the areas of Zagreb, Slavonia, Zagorje, Lika, Kvarner, Dalmatia, and Istria. In each region, we will explore new places we haven’t yet experienced, such as Vukovar in Slavonia, Imotski in Dalmatia, and Kuterevo Bear Sanctuary in Lika. We will also visit familiar places, like Zagreb and Gornja Stubica since it’s hard to say “no” to them!

Zagreb (Photo credit: Julien Duval/Zagreb Tourist Board)

How did you plan the trip?

Through many revisions! Our trip itinerary was a true labor of love–it went through countless revisions to get it to where it is today. (Everyone is welcome to check out our trip plan here.) What I realized during the planning process was the importance of having a why, especially for long trips. To tame the crazy schedule we initially started out with, I asked myself questions like, “why are you taking this trip?” and “what is your overall mission?” Going back to these grounding questions helped me better conceptualize our trip and make smart decisions about what to keep in and what to (sadly) take out.

What advice would you give someone wanting to plan a trip to Croatia?

Figure out your why! Why do you want to travel to Croatia? Is it to see tons and tons of sights? Is it to relax at the beach? Is it to party? Is it to take a retreat from your normal hustle and bustle? Whatever it is, you need to start there and then build your trip out of your why since it will help dictate what you choose to do.

Beyond your why, consider checking out undervisited areas like Central Istria (Pazin, Kotli, Buzet, etc.) and Central Croatia (Krapina, Trakošćan, Varaždin, etc.). While you won’t find seaside beaches in these areas, you will discover many other wonderful gems!

Kristina and David in Gornja Stubica (2014)

You will be blogging about the trip so people can follow your adventure?

Yes! We welcome anyone and everyone to follow our 48-day road trip across Croatia on my blog, The Croatia Chronicles, and via my travel Instagram. On both platforms, readers will discover helpful travel tips and recommendations in addition to our direct personal experiences of traveling the country, including both joys and challenges. Ultimately, the blog and accompanying Instagram are meant to serve as storytelling platforms–they are my love letter to Croatia.

You have talked about possibly moving to Croatia permanently, what will push you over the line to move?
Ah yes, moving…it is a dream, to move to Croatia! David and I have spoken about it at length, and the biggest barrier for us is jobs, especially for David who has only a very basic knowledge of the Croatian language and who is not a citizen, like me.

I definitely think there are ways we can get creative on the job front, such as seeking out telecommuting positions or craving out our own path if a more traditional job search in Croatia wouldn’t pan out as planned.

But, at the moment, we are looking for some security and stability with our careers and so we would need to have a high level of assurance that we could secure employment in Croatia (namely, jobs we would both enjoy and that would provide us with adequate income) before entertaining an official move.

A move is always on the table though…and so, I have a feeling we’ll manage something one day!

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