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Earlier in the year, we had planned to launch a summer series about travel in Croatia. Who knew our lives could change so drastically and so quickly? Although Croatia is open and welcoming guests ‘on paper,’ there are restrictions both in Croatia and in the countries where you would need to connect from the US that will make travel more difficult. Not impossible, just more difficult. I also thought this would be the time when hotel and restaurant prices would take deep dives to attract the few tourists who would still venture here, but some experts are saying that prices are expected to stay at pre-corona levels. 

I once chose a place to visit in France just by looking at one photo. It looked like a magical place, quintessentially French, a street I could imagine walking with my dog. It took us a year and a half with five European countries in between, but my compass was set. I pre-rented a little dog-friendly apartment for a month, on the edge of the old town center—and when we arrived, we instantly fell in love. After only a week, I contacted the owner to extend our stay an additional month. I had planned to travel around the region, but we loved this little city’s outdoor markets, cafés, and energy so much that we didn’t want to leave. Today it is one of my favorite places on the planet.

At DOMA Trading, we are a family of travelers, and we want to encourage you to find your favorite places too. We hope our pages about Croatia will allow you a little getaway from the comfort of your armchair—maybe you too will find that spot that you just have to see for yourself. We have tried to show you how Croatia’s regions are so varied, not only in history but also in outlook. Read our articles on the artisans whose work we feature, to meet some wonderful local people; who knows, some day you too might meet them in person and be invited to chat over coffee. Our pages on traditional crafts will give you ideas of what local treasures you can bring back as souvenirs. And until you can come here yourself, shop our store to support these artisans, and bring a little bit of Croatia home to your friends and family. All our products are handmade or designed in Croatia by local artisans, purchased up front at fair prices determined by the artisans, and pre-shipped to the US before they show up on our site—so there is no worry about border delays or customs.

So use your armchair as your magic carpet to explore the humble pages of our website, and learn a little more about regions and towns you might not have thought of for your next adventure. We’re adding more all the time, so come back often. Croatia will still be here when travel eases up again, waiting to greet you with open arms.

Since mid-March, public spaces and gatherings in all of Croatia have been restricted by signs, warnings, and possible fines. Croatia locked down fast and strong, and presumably as a result, the effects of the virus have not been as prevalent here as they have for many of our European neighbors.

On April 27, the Croatian government started a 3-week plan to ease restrictions. Some important changes went into effect today, including reopening some schools, allowing intercity transportation, some ambiguous language on crossing borders, and the reopening of coffee bars, cafés, and restaurants (with required distancing and hygiene measures). In anticipation, there has been a welcome rush of activity during the past couple weeks as café and restaurant owners power-wash their terraces, paint trim, wash windows, and set out tables and chairs.

According to Glas Hrvatske (“Voice of Croatia”), the Croatian coffee company Franck conducted a survey at the beginning of May and found that “the things Croatians miss the most during the lockdown…are spending time with friends and family (78%), followed by trips and travel (48%) and drinking coffee in cafes (44%).” For anyone who has spent some time here, this comes as no surprise. Café culture is an essential part of Croatian life. 

And so today is a big day in Croatia. More and more neighbors, friends, and families have been out walking and enjoying healthy time in the fresh air. Music is in the air once again. Energy is returning to the streets. We’re not out of the woods yet, but at least we can feel hopeful that we will return to the relaxed, outdoor Mediterranean lifestyle we love. 

It is difficult to be separated from those you love, especially now, with so much uncertainty revolving around the COVID-19 situation. So living in Croatia myself, and separated from my family in America, I’d like to share just a few personal perceptions with the hope they will help someone feel a little closer to their friends or family here in Croatia.

1 ) So far so good.

The consensus seems to be that the government is ahead of the curve and making good decisions to slow the spread of the virus. In fact the Oxford University tracker has ranked Croatia the best in the world in terms of government response in proportion to number of cases. As of this writing, our borders and non-essential businesses are locked down, with provisions for trade and a continued supply of food and necessities. The supermarkets are staying stocked, and we’re hoping the farmers’ markets can reopen soon so we can support our local family farms.

2) We have healthcare!

People seem confident in the healthcare system, and there’s a lot to be said for that. I’m regularly asked, “I’ve heard that some people in America don’t have health insurance or can’t afford healthcare—is that really true?” It’s reassuring that access to healthcare seems to be the norm here.

3) This is not our Mediterranean lifestyle.

Things definitely look different. People say we have learned a frightening lesson from our neighbor Italy. The streets are awfully quiet, and most people are staying home instead of enjoying our normal relaxed, outdoor lifestyle. When we go out, most people now wear masks, and the workers I’ve seen wear both gloves and masks. 

4) Croatians without coffee bars?

Croatia is known for its coffee culture, and coffee bars and kavanas that would normally be filled with happy voices are now empty. These places where friends meet, current events are debated, gossip is traded, and business is conducted are closed. It is difficult to so suddenly lose this important part of Croatian life.

5) A word from a loved one can go a long way.

I think isolation is even more distressing for naturally social Croatians than it may be for those used to American culture. Grandparents are separated from grandchildren, and friends from friends. Families have already been disconnected over recent years because of the economy, leaving many older people alone without their natural support system. This is a great time to strengthen your connections, even if from a distance. Wouldn’t your dear relative love a thought from faraway relatives, whether a quick email or postcard, just to say, “We’re thinking about you”? (If you need help getting started, check out our “Postcards to Croatia” post.)

6) This is a good time to pray.

This event will have a lasting negative impact on Croatia’s already-struggling economy. Over the last decade, Croatia has been suffering from an economic emigration in which hundreds of thousands have left for other countries to find jobs. Now with businesses required to close, and a very weak e-commerce framework, many people have suddenly been laid off and many businesses say they are not financially strong enough to last a month or more. In addition, tourism is a strong segment of the national economy, which will suffer if businesses can’t reopen and tourists can’t return to the coast this summer. We pray that all the businesses and workers will weather this crisis and that the coming summer will again provide enough work for the Croatian people to get through the rest of the year.

7) There are ways to keep yourself up to date.

Things here change daily, as in the rest of the world. But there are some helpful online resources to keep residents and diaspora informed. Here are some websites for current news that I’ve found helpful: Koronavirus.hr is the Croatian government’s official site for information on the virus (the right side of the menu bar allows you to select Croatian or English language); Glas Hrvatske (“Voice of Croatia”) is a Croatian state radio service whose Croatian-language website also includes some English content, current audio news, and online radio programming; and a site for general English-language news from Croatia is Total Croatia, which includes a menu item specifically featuring the diaspora.

We hope you and your loved ones stay safe and well, and that this time apart eventually brings us all closer together.