I have been privileged to have gone on quite a few vacations over the course of my life and have been to many different places all over the world…
When I was younger, being entertained and doing everything a country had to offer was what I sought. But as I have aged and hopefully matured, I have been desiring a different type of vacation. What I seek now is firstly to rest, but more importantly to experience the people and culture of new and different places. My idea of a vacation changed because of one experience I had in Croatia.
In 2019 my parents came to visit our family, but mostly the grandchildren, and we wanted to go away together. We decided on spending 4 days in Stražeman, Slavonia, and 6 days in Rabac, Istria. We had a friend in Stražeman, and we wanted to visit him and explore what Slavonia has to offer. Needless to say it was an incredibly good idea.
We arrived in Stražeman and were greeted by our friend with shots of rakija. A good start so far! After an amazing lunch of local foods and wines as well as good conversation, a neighbour came to visit who owns a pig farm. On his farm is a particular kind of pig that looks like a sheep, called mangalica. We were invited there to see the pigs and our two young sons got a ride on his tractor, which was their first tractor ride. He showed us his land and animals, shared his story, and then treated us to homemade špek and rakija (bacon and spirits). We were welcomed and treated as friends by the family, practicing our limited Croatian and experiencing the lives and hospitality of the local people, rather than simply observing.
The remaining 3 days were designated for sightseeing, but again we were blessed to experience this as guests rather than tourists. Our friend organised personal tours in three churches and a museum, guided by friends and locals who took the time to know us and share their stories, as well as the rich heritage of the places we saw. We toured the church of Shrine in Voćin, a place destroyed by war and fire 3 times and then rebuilt. The Church of Saint Therese of Avila and it’s treasures, where we also toured the museum of local religious art and relics. And finally the Church of Saint Lawrence, which survived war and desecration to be restored.
Sightseeing also included relaxation, as we went to the nature park of Papuk, a place of quiet and peace surrounded by forest, mountain trails, and waterfalls. Our friend had arranged a tour of Krauthaker Wine Estate as well, where Mr. Krauthaker shared his wines and the history of his estate. Needless to say we bought a few boxes of his wine!
But the highlight of our experience was sharing in the imendan (naming day) celebration of our friend with the local community. We were welcomed by the people, sharing in their local food and drinks, and experiencing traditional music and singing long into the night.
While we afterwards spent time in Rabac as tourists, enjoying the beach and seeing many sights including the Pula Arena, what made this my favourite vacation is those 4 days in Stražeman. There we were treated as guests and friends, practicing our Croatian, and actually getting to know the people there. We were welcomed and treated as part of the family – completely different from being tourists. And it has forever changed how I want to experience vacation.