Category Archives: Croatia

The Lessons in Hospitality

Author: Steve

When we left for this trip we knew we would need to work hard at teaching the kids educational facts in each country throughout the year.  It has not been easy for any of us to try and absorb each historical fact (there’s just so much intriguing information out there) especially when you’re traveling each week to a new location.  This blog is helping us reign in our thoughts with what we see and learn each day.  So no complaints, we will stay the course and continue to take in as much information as we can.  However, one powerful lesson we did not count on hitting us so impressively were our lessons in hospitality.

The one area we know for sure we and our kids have already been given a huge lesson in is hospitality.  From our first day in Gelsenkirchen, Germany with Annetta and Werner and how they picked us up from the airport, gave us great meals, let us stay in their lovely home and showed us their region and their lives; our time there was too short with these great people. We never met them before this trip. In Greece our warm Greek family in Paro’s at Hotel Afrodite taught us that it’s about enjoying each other and being happy and not always making that extra buck.  Now to Croatia, our final stay on this leg in Europe, the hospitality we were given was unbelievable.  We will never forget the warm family service we were given at the beautiful Hotel Magdalena in Krapinske Toplice and would stay there again in a heartbeat.  Zlatko and Gorinka our hosts from the same village, were such fun people and allowed us to truly be a part of their family.  From the baptism and how they sat all the Americans in the front row of the church (and they sat behind us), to the huge gift baskets they gave us that were waiting in our hotel room when we arrived, to letting us join them in Brela on their family vacation, and their motto of “when in Croatia you will never be hungry or thirsty” (and we weren’t).  I personally loved my long talks with Zlatko, we talked about everything from Croatian history, how he grew up in former times, our marriages, our kids etc.  I will always cherish my time with him.  I cannot say enough on how humbling it is to have been given such hospitality during the last 2 months.

Annetta and Keegan going at it - they could have played all day

Saying goodbye to our friends at Hotel Magdalena: Marijana and Dubravka (the owner)

Gorinka, Zlatko and Daniel; it doesn't get much better than that

As I sit in our hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa and write this, I am glad to say this lesson in hospitality has put tears in my eyes and I know I can and want to do a better job of giving hospitality at the level that has been given to me and my family.  My kids have seen first hand “the giving” not for any other reason than love – no matter what country you are from, what language you speak, what religion you practice or the color of your skin…we all have more love to give.


Posted by on August 6, 2011 in Croatia


Zagreb, Croatia

Author: Steve

We have a good friend from our hometown that was born in Croatia and her parents still live there.  We also met up with another family on their summer vacation in the village where Toni is from. We were so fortunate to be invited to visit and as Keegan wrote about in his blog we were invited to the wonderful baptism of their very cute daughter, Layla.

We started the weekend by taking a short trip up to the family’s wine vineyard.  Many family’s have small wine vineyards in this village that they work as a hobby. This is a beautiful piece of land that also has a small house with an outhouse, sort of a studio apartment above the wine cellar where the barrels are kept. The views were incredible from all angles.  After a very nice evening drinking some wonderful homegrown white wine a few of us adults went to the village festival (everything is walking distance as Keegan mentioned).  We stayed out probably (ok not probably) a little later than we should have but we had a wonderful time in the big tent listening to live Croatian music and dancing the night away.  It was a fun night with a lot of laughs and catching up with friends.

The view over looking the valley from the wine house in Krapinske Toplice

Amy and Kenda checking out the wine cellar

Zlatko and Gorinka's vineyard

Amy, Kenda and Toni enjoying the wine and the laughs

The Christening was approved by a Christian, a Hindu and a Jew - I think that means good luck for Layla!

The next day our friend’s father, Zlatko, gave the two American families a wonderful tour of the sites in Croatia’s capital; Zagreb.  We visited the church of Saint Mark’s and Trg Bana Jelacica, Zagreb’s main square, just to mention a couple.  We also visited the Trakoscan Castle in northern Croatia.  Zlatko was able to rent a large van from a friend that made it so convenient to have one vehicle for all of us. We had incredible hosts.

In front of the church of Saint Mark's

Coleman, Keegan, Kendal and Brooke enjoying the city view of Zagreb

Atop the Trakoscan Castle.

Zagreb is a wonderful city with not only old, rich history but recent history as well.  The entire country has a population of about 4.5 million.  It is, at this point, still not a member of the EU but it is said to be close to becoming a member country.  Some would love for it to happen sooner than later because it would open the doors to new opportunities and growth however many would rather it not happen for those same reasons.

The recent war in this area is complicated to understand because it has so many factors spanning over such a long period of time.  But the more I read and talk with the locals I realize this was a war in the making that was realized over many centuries of turmoil, with a strong springboard from World War I and II during the reign of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.  After the death of Josip Broz “Tito” (Yugoslavia’s charismatic yet controversial leader) in 1980, economic, political, and religious difficulties started to mount and the federal government began to crumble during this decade. During this time the Kosovo War Crisis occurred as well as the rise of Slobodan Milosevic.  So the area was unsettled all around.  On Easter Sunday, March 31, 1991 the first fatal clashes occurred in the beautiful Plitvice Lakes National Park (we took a day trip and hiked this incredible park-we would recommend this visit) between Croatian and Serbian forces.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park - waterfalls were endless and everywhere

Plitvice Lakes National Park - the water was crystal clear aqua

Plitvice Lakes National Park - this was a slightly overcast day which made it a great day for hiking

And then again during the same year, 1991, the Battle of Vukar took place, which lasted from the middle of August to November 16.  At least 3,000 people were killed and this battle completely destroyed the city of Vukar (the largest complete city destruction since WWII).  On October 1, 1991, the walled-city of Dubrovnik was attacked by the Yugoslav People’s Army, led by Slobodan Milosevic, he declared that Dubrovnik would not be permitted to stay a part of Croatia because it was historically a part of Montenegro.  The casualties of this 7-month conflict were 166 people.  In May 1992, the Croatian Army lifted the siege and liberated Dubrovnik (we also took a day trip to see this amazing city-we would recommend this visit as well).

Dubrovnik - we walked the perimeter of the wall with an audio tour, it was about a 2K walk

The walled city of Dubrovnik - we could have definatly spent more time here

Conflicts continued on a small scale and sporadically in Croatia until 1995.

On August 4, 1995, the Croatian Armed Forces in conjunction with the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina effectively carried out a large-scale military operation known as “Operation Storm”.  They had received strategic instruction from the US based firm, Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI), this engagement was approved by the US Government. This conflict lasted about 4 days with complete victory for the Croatian forces.

The history of this country is so vast and still so fresh that I can’t help but wonder if the younger generations, from all sides, are strong enough to put these differences aside and move forward toward a more peaceful future.


Posted by on August 6, 2011 in Croatia


Brela and Makarska, Croatia

Author: Kendal

While in Croatia we were able to do a mini vacation with our friends to a beach town called Brela.  Brela is a beautiful beach on the coast of Croatia with mountains as a backdrop.  While you swim you look up and see the mountains that often times have clouds that seem to be just sitting on them.  When you look out you see the many small islands off the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia.

The fam on the beach in Brela, Croatia

We started off the day eating in the hotel breakfast area, and playing with Daniel. After the scrumptious breakfast, we all (10 of us including kids) went back to our rooms and got ready for a quick swim in the Adriatic Sea. Only Keegan, Zlatko, and I went swimming, it was really fun once you got used to the cool temperature. The first day it took me forever to get in but by the time we left I would just jump right in.  Sadly, while we were in the water Keegan and I saw a dead bird’s whole body faced down floating! Very sad/creepy. After showering we got dressed and took the acoommm (a car or van in Daniel’s 2 year old language-he’s very cute) to visit one of Gorinka’s friend’s old house in the city of Makarska.  It was close to the top of a mountain and when you looked up into the mountains you saw the really fluffy airy clouds resting there.  This was a very old house that the man and his wife (who had been born there) had done a lot of improvements on, he was very proud and the house was very cool with an awesome view of the sea and the mountains.  They have tons of olive trees on their property and when they harvest them they take them to an olive oil factory in town and have extra virgin olive oil made.  Toni, Mom, and I thought that at any moment the ‘Cullens’ (from the Twilight series) could come flying down running at lightning speed ;).  We then took the big van (acoommm) to the beach of Makarska. The beach was so much more crowded than the one in Brela (our beach). The families split up and explored on our own.  Our family went and had a quick snack and walked around the city, which is a major tourist site. We then met back up with our friends, who had somehow (beyond me) gotten a spot on the busy beach. Keegan went on this fun plaything shown in the pictures below. You paid a fee and were able to climb and jump on the cool stuff in the water.  He jumped on this mat thing, they call it the blob and moved to the end of it and then another boy that he had been talking to (good-looking by the way ;)) jumped on the other end and Keegan went flying!!! He went at LEAST 15-20ft in the air! My stomach went to my throat as I watched him fly through the air. “SH*#*T!!!!!!!!” screamed my very scared mother. People on the beach clapped and cheered.   He was up immediately and laughed it off, but then he didn’t eat that much later . . .  After that very exciting/scary experience we all headed to the acoommm to put our beach stuff back, we then walked to Gorinka’s friends other house for some dinner. When we arrived we were told that we were going to have a traditional Dalmation prepared dinner. So we had appetizers, fish soup, fish (the main dish) they brought out two huge trays of fish — sardines and some other fish they had made, various side dishes and then dessert. It was a very tasty meal!  Our host was a very kind older man and his wife.  The wife made the food and the man made the ladies jewelry as a gift to take with us.  They were necklaces and bracelets made of shells.  After a great evening we said our goodbyes, and headed to the acoommm. When we got back my family stayed in and watched some TV (English with Croatian subtitles) and then very quickly went ‘nitey nite after a long great day.

At the mountain house with the clouds riding up above.

The mountain house had a great deck with grape vines for shade. Bronco (the older gentleman in the back with Gorinka) was our host.

Me, Mom, Toni and Gorinka on one of the decks in the mountain house with the Adriatic Sea and the Brac and Hvar Islands in the background.

Keegan getting ready to reach his spot for his flight.

The busy beach in Makarska - they all got a chance to see Keegan fly!

Our great Dalmation dinner in Makarska

After dinner Bronco gave all the women jewelry he had made.

A couple of side notes on Croatia – I loved being with people we knew.  We went to a restaurant on a mountain (everywhere is on a mountain).   Just outside the door were animals and we fed them some bread (shhhhhhhh….). There was also a playground that we could play on! But it was wet so Keegan dried them off with his butt first ;). Then all four of us (Keegan, Brooke, Coleman, and I) decided to run around the restaurant for some exercise. We all did about 10 times around (estimate) before we had to leave.

Playing with the goats on the mountain restaurant

While in Brela Toni told us how she went there growing up and how she would jump off the rocks.  Well one day she took us to the rocks. Let’s just say that the rocks were much higher than we had anticipated. Toni went first and did a ‘shallow’ dive, HEADFIRST! Very nerve-racking. She is so much fun and she’s crazy brave too. Then it was my turn so I climbed up but it’s much scarier on top than on the bottom. So I waited as some other kids came on a paddle boat, they got very close and if I had jumped I would have landed on them. So this one guy went and then Toni told them to hold off cause my dad and I still had to go. So Dad went first (his friend Dr. Rick gave him a 3 for technique but a 9 for facial expression), and then me, my stomach raced to my mouth the minute I jumped! It was very fun to do it but I’m not going to do that again (maybe).

Keegan, Toni and me in the Adriatic Sea

Toni's brave shallow dive!

My awesome jump!

All and all I think Croatia is a pretty great country to visit but being there with our friends made it a really awesome time!


Posted by on August 3, 2011 in Croatia


A Baptism in Krapinske Toplice, Croatia

Author: Keegan

On Sunday we woke up and went to a baptism for our friend’s baby named Layla.  She is really cute.  The baptism was at a cute little church in their hometown Krapinske Toplice, Croatia.   After the baptism there was a huge party at the Grandparents house, which was in the same town (you walk everywhere). There were at least 60 -70 people there, they used all floors of the house (there were 3 floors)!!  A live group of musicians played music.  People danced, even all of us Americans, we were yelling opah!!  The party lasted all day and into the night.  There was a good amount of Croatian kids at the party and because our friends live in the U.S. there were English-speaking kids there too.  It was a blast!  Then around 4:00 we went back to the hotel and went to the spa on the top floor there was free tea and there were two saunas; a bio sauna and an infrared sauna so after we went in the big hot tub we went in the sauna to dry off.  Friends of the people who had the party own the hotel.  It is known for their therapeutic waters and services.  We were very refreshed! Then we went back to our apartment and changed for round two.  We walked back to the party around 7:00, the musicians were still playing and everything was the same as when we left.  We met this girl named Marta who was from England and speaks English and Croatian.  She was really funny. When it got dark Kendal, Marta, Brooke, Coleman, and me went on the streets and played manhunt!  We got really competitive and the teams were Coleman and I against the girls.  Coleman and I won most of the time.  Then it was time to leave around 10:00!  So then we went to bed and replayed the day in our heads.

                        THE END THE END THE END THE END!!

After mass in the cute church

The live band went all day and all night!

Me and my friends

In the beautiful Villa Magdalena hotel spa overlooking the village

The band moved inside and kept on playing!

The happy family - I told you she was cute!

This is just one table of deserts, my favorite table!

Dad dancing with Gorinka, our awesome hostess!!


Posted by on July 31, 2011 in Croatia