Mark Thomas - The editor and big chief of The Dubrovnik Times. Born in the UK he has been living and working in Dubrovnik since 1998, yes he is one of the rare “old hands.” A unique insight into both British and Croatian life and culture, Mark is often known as just “Englez” or Englishman. He is a traveller, a current affairs freak and a huge AFC Wimbledon fan.
When I was sixteen, I spent my first Christmas away from home. It was dreadful. – It was dreadful despite the fact that I was being spoiled and pampered by a wonderful family in Arkansas (no - not the Clintons; their close friends, though – which made the experience all the more interesting, but I was a sulking teenager away from home, so I barely noticed the blessings of the fantastic privilege). I couldn’t help it: in the midst of the cheerful, pompous, lavish and rushed manner of American Christmas, I wept after the tenderness, the quiet and the romantic snow-powdered skyline of Prague, my grandmother’s cookies and the sugar-glazed embrace of my harmonic home.
In twenty years, things have changed. My grandmother died. My parents divorced. The Czech way of celebrating Christmas made a huge leap in development, being now almost on par with the rush and opulence of American annual holiday variety show. Hillary Clinton lost the election. And most importantly, I became a mother of two adorable kids, so the location of Christmas became vastly irrelevant to me – as long as the two little girls are happy. Oh: and my husband, of course.
Now, the difference between my husband and me is that he didn’t spend his first Christmas away from home at sixteen, but at thirty-six. I have rarely seen anyone suffer as much as Tonći during his first Christmas in Prague. At the time I thought he was overdoing it a bit: like, crying after some outdated Christmas traditions of a place called Župa Dubrovačka? What traditions do you have in mind? He couldn’t tell. It felt as if he still believed that it was baby Jesus who left presents under the Christmas tree, and I was the lucky one to tell him the truth.
The truth about the location of Christmas, however, exists. And it’s this: if you had to choose between Arkansas, Prague and Dubrovnik, choose Dubrovnik – at least once in a lifetime. Relocate your family over here for the few days. It is incredibly worth it. It is worth it even if at 1 am on Christmas Eve, there is an earthquake that scares the hell out of you and you must tell your mother (who came all the way from Prague to experience Dalmatia at Christmas) that it was only a huge truck that just passed under your windows. It is worth it even if the bura blows your hat off and makes your hairdo look like Bridget Jones’ after she lost her scarf in the convertible. It is worth it even if you will most likely be up all night – and the following night, too. (Unless you are like me and will spend the two cherished hours of sleep stealing left-over advent calendar chocolates, watching your family sleep and, well - watching Love, actually.)
There are three conditions that will make your Christmas in Dubrovnik especially memorable:
1) Being married to a local accordionist, who is required to spend Christmas Eve day dragging all his family and about two dozen other people from house to house and singing Dalmatian carols. By the fifth stop, you will have inevitably memorized the text of Dobra večer, mi kucamo and developed a sophisticated palate for tasting prikle, the fried raisin dough balls. You will be invited in by another charming housewife, who doesn’t mind she had to stay at home all day: the world comes to her. Every hour, there is another gang of kolendari – carol singers – her doorstep. They have a drink, two quick spoonfuls of Christmas delicacies, sing three more songs, and off they go – to another destination, where they need to hear Dobra večer, mi kucamo. As midnight approaches, the apartments and houses get more and more crammed, noisy, chaotic and jolly, in order to jump in cars and hurry to the midnight mass, shush!, sink (or nap) in the holy quiet for an hour, and then get back home and start the true festivities – the fasting is over, youpee!, it is the time of sarme – delicious minced meat wrapped in leafs of sour cabbage, baked pork and lamb and veal, and cakes.
2) Knowing the best cooks in the region, such as teta Evica of Donji Brgat or teta Zdenka of Mandaljena. Tasting their bakalar na bijelo (codfish in mashed potatoes) or octopus salad will make you wonder where in the hell have you been on all your previous Christmases. What were you thinking you were eating. Humph. The cooking housewives of Župa Dubrovačka are a well preserved jewel, which, if you are the lucky eater, sparkles best during Christmas.
3) Being blessed with sunshine, warmth and tranquil air, the rare winter combination in Dubrovnik. At daytime you may stroll around Stradun in your short sleeves (laughing at all the local people who boil in fur coats and hats, because nothing will stop them to wear the best of their winter wardrobe on the one occasion of the year when they are likely to meet everyone they know at one place!). In the evening, though, you will thankfully put on every clothes you own, plus those you got to borrow, and you might still be cold. Remedy: drink rakija and lean to whatever heating appliance you find. (Before they realized I was just trying to get warm, my family thought I was some strange kind of a dancing worshiper – as I hopped with my arms raised towards the air-conditioner turned on “heat”).
Even if you don’t fulfil the above conditions, don’t worry. There is more: Dubrovnik is just the right size to stroll around the entire town on foot and explore the (surprising) wealth of events and activities of the Winter Festival (you can ice-skate at an empty ring!). Also, there are very few tourists, so you can easily rent apartments that would otherwise be booked out, and even get a reasonable price. Plus, you can walk around the city-walls and not meet a soul (or, similar, swim in the sea).
Happy 2017! (You can make Christmas in Dubrovnik one of your New Year’s resolutions.)
Blanka Pavlovic a.k.a. the Adriatic Bride is a Czech writer. She studied law (Prague) and creative writing (Oxford). As a lawyer, she specialized in international human rights law, first working for the European Court of Human Rights, then for a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. She wrote five books, among them Total Balkans, The Handbook of the Adriatic Bride or The Return of the Adriatic Bride. She now lives with her family between Dubrovnik and Donji Brgat. More information and English translations of her work are available through www.blankacechova.com.
The respected travel publication, Conde Nast Traveler, has placed Dubrovnik on their list of the fifty most beautiful places in Europe.
- It may be one of the smaller continents, but what Europe lacks in size, it makes up for in style: staggering alpine views, fields of lavender and vine, limestone cliffs, and art and architecture threatening to upstage some of nature's finest – writes Conde Nast about this list.
While watching the photo gallery it's hard to stay indifferent. Don't miss breathtaking views in the top 50 most beautiful places in Europe article.
The Croatian shipbuilding industry has been struggling with the situation on the world market for years, however, only good news are spreading from Croatian shipyards.
On the 29th of December the largest shipyard in Croatia ''3.Maj'' from Rijeka launched a 24,900-ton bulk carrier which was built for the Algoma Central Corporation shipping company from Canada.
This is the first in a series of five self-unloading bulk carriers for the Canadian client. The vessel is 198 metres long and 23 metres wide, whilst the keel for the ship's construction was laid by the end of 2015.
The vessel is the fourth launched bulk carrier this year which was designed for sailing the lakes. It will be equipped in the ''3.Maj'' shipyard and is expected to be delivered in May next year.
The construction of another vessel of the same series is to start after recent launching of the first bulk carrier for the Canadian client. The second one is expected to be launched also in May 2017.
Apart from the series of bulk carriers, a vessel for car transportation is being built on the neighbouring slipway which is to set sails in the summer of 2017.
The ''3.Maj'' shipyard is a member of the Uljanik Group and its book of orders is full until the end of 2018.
If you decided to spend New Year's in Dubrovnik you will surely have a good time. Programme starts today, December 30 and will continue until the night of Sunday, January 1st.
8 pm in front of the Church of St. Blaise
Concert: Petar Graso and Opca Opasnost
Concert: Vocal group Ragusa
11:55 am in front of the Church of St. Blaise
Traditional carols and greeting the mayor Andro Vlahusic
Folklore ensemble Lindo, Libertas Choir, Dubrovnik Brass Band
Cocktail in front of the City Cafe
Children's New Year's Eve - Dance Studio Lazareti and Jole
6 pm – 1 am
Dubrovnik rock New Year's Eve in Lapad Bay
New Year programme – Doris Dragovic, Jole, DJ Kameny
New Year's concert with oysters and champagne
Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra
conductor Noam Zur, soprano Valentina Fijacko Kobic and tenor Domagoj Dorotic
New Year’s Race
In front of the Church of St. Blaise
The concert of vocal groups at Stradun
Vocal groups Iskon and Cambi
Festive stands in the Old City of Dubrovnik will have special working time during these days. Those that send food and drinks will work from 9 am on Saturday with no limits during the biggest night of the year. On first of January, they will work from 11 am until midnight.
On New Year's Eve traffic on urban and suburban routes will be significantly enhanced.
On Saturday, December 31, after 5 pm buses are free on all the local routes and will be regularly charged on January 1 from 6 am. Lines 1A, 4 and 6 will operate with the last departure at 4 am and lines 1B, 3 and 8 will circulate with the last departure at 3:35 am from Pile.
BETTER LEAVE YOUR CAR AT HOME
Within the organization of the New Year Celebration, there will be valid ban on traffic in the area around the historic center of the city in a time of 8 pm December 31 to 5 am on January 1. Prohibition of traffic for cars is valid for the streets: Zagrebacka, Petar Kresimir IV., Frana Supila, behind the City of Dubrovnik and the Branitelja Dubrovnika. For vehicles of public transport, buses travel agencies, emergency vehicles and vehicles with a special permit ban doesn’t count. Parking in the Dubrovnik port will be free from 7 pm on December 31 until 7 am on January 1.
On the occasion of the third New Year's street race "DuRun10k" in the City of Dubrovnik and the streets Frana Supila, Petar Kresimir IV and on the connecting road beyond the City, from 1:45 pm to 3:45 pm there will be valid prohibition of operation of the vehicles in these streets.
There will be temporary traffic regulations so all the drivers should behave in accordance with the set traffic regulation, and have understanding and patience in all aspects of this race requires.
According to the Department of Trade of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK) Croatian citizens spent almost half a billion Kunas more during the Christmas week this year than in the same period last year.
By the 20th of December the consumption in Croatia reached 10,2 billion Kunas, however, these figures are expected to be even higher after a detailed analysis of the consumption in the Christmas week and in the last week of December when most people usually receive their Christmas bonuses.
''The largest part of the holiday budget is usually spent on toys, clothing and footwear, cosmetics and electronic devices, whilst every third Kuna is spent on food and beverages'', said Tomislava Ravlic, the assistant director of the HGK Trade Department adding that the consumption this year increased due to the payment rise in 2015 and increased consumer optimism.
It is interesting to note that the growth consumption of alcohol has been recorded in the category of food and beverages in December which only indicates that Croatian citizens, in accordance with their tradition, prefer to relax and have some fun during the festive season.
This year's consumption will surely be ''pushed'' even more with seasonal sales that have already begun and will last for two months.
Many celebrities have visited Croatia this year, but only one of them has visited the country as a guest of Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.
The former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and the president of the Kasparov Chess Foudation Adriatic and the chess grandmaster Zlatko Klaric met with the Croatian Prime Minister on the 28th of December in Zagreb.
They discussed the development of chess in the Republic of Croatia and the project ''Chess in Schools'' which enables students to learn playing chess according to the Kasparov Chess Foudation (KCF) model. The model is already applied in several countries and it is currently the best program in the world for learning chess.
According to a statement of the Public Relations Office of the Government of the Republic of Croatia, on this occasion the Prime Minister Plenkovic supported a simultaneous chess exhibition promoting the project ''Chess in Schools''. Among other guests, Janica Kostelic, the former Alpine skiing champion and the head of the State Office for Sports also attended the event.
Founded by the World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov, the KCF’s mission is to bring many educational benefits of chess to children worldwide by providing a complete chess curriculum and enrichment programs. The Foundation promotes the study of chess as a cognitive learning tool in curricular classes and after-school programs for elementary, middle and high schools, both in the public and private school sectors. The not-for-profit Foundation also organizes regional, national, and worldwide tournaments, programs for talented students, and promotional chess events.
Strong northern wind, called ''bura'', caused a lot of trouble in Dubrovnik. It didn't just bring cold, it also made damage around the city – many tree branches fell off and all the stuff that weren't fixated good were flying around.
One of the biggest things that was damaged is the biggest Christmas present, decoration that was completely smashed by the strong wind. It was one of the hot spots for people to take photos and it's really sad that now it's in pieces.
I am a bit tired of the festivities. Celebrating Christmas holidays in Dubrovnik is a marathon, not a sprint… and I dislike running in general. Croatians tend to take things to the extreme and this is especially evident when we celebrate something. This means there is plenty of protocol to go through every year in the second half of December and it involves meeting friends and relatives, getting dressed up, buying presents, going to church and so on. And then, there is food. Oh, my God, so much food. Anyone who knows me just a bit knows I enjoy food and all aspects of it. I love making it, eating it, learning about it, and I have even based my own business partly on the importance of food in local culture. I am a foodie through and through, and a sugar junkie to boot. However, even I can’t cope with the sheer amount of food being thrown at me during the holidays, regardless of how delicious it is. Generally, most of us in Dubrovnik live close to our families and if not, we tend to visit during the holidays. This means, we spend few days around Christmas surrounded by our parents or even grandparents who were raised in a more traditional society where this holiday is one of those occasions that involves cooking your butt off and making a feast for anyone who will visit. There needs to be plenty food left over as well, otherwise, how will you know for sure if you've made enough? Maybe your guests left feeling hungry! The horror!
What I am trying to say is, I'm going on a diet after New Year's, so my readers can brace themselves for a string of depressing texts that I am likely to produce in the grumpy, sugarless state I am going to be in. Speaking of the New Year's festivities, what are your plans? Do you hate this question by now? I am usually a fairly organised man and like making plans ahead of time, but this year I have decided to take the route many of my friends did and simply don't bother with New Year's celebration plans. So, I haven't made any and it's already 29th of December. I am truly living on the edge. In all seriousness, this year's celebrations are not really exciting me, not (just) because I am a joyless Scrooge, but simply because I have an active social life and don’t crave any more partying or going out. This year especially has been marked by plenty of socializing with all manner of interesting people. For a closet introvert like me, there was borderline too much human contact in 2016 and I am very happy because of it.
Yes, I am going to end the year and this last text of the 2016 on a happy note. Talk about subverting expectations. This year has been very tricky worldwide and plenty of people are looking forward to it ending. In my life there has been ups and downs, but 2016 was nowhere near as bad as some of the years of my life (2012, I'm looking at you). It wasn't spectacularly good either, but if I need to take something positive away from it, it's all the people in my life because of which I can only think back fondly on the past 12 months. I have been blessed to be able to spend time with my friends and family, I had plenty of fun, enjoyed good food and wine, broadened my horizons and gained new insights. My wife and I are building our dream business and as hard as that is, it fills me with joy as it gives my life purpose and takes me one step closer to my dream of being my own boss (I hate authority figures) and having a business I believe in. With all this going on, I am also happy for being able to have this little corner of the web to share my thoughts with all of you out there reading my ramblings. Thank you for that. Time is our most precious commodity and for you to be spending yours reading my texts is a big compliment and fills me with pride.
So, boys and ghouls, from the bottom of my heart, happy holidays and all the best in the upcoming year. Let’s make it a good one!
Bozidar Jukic, AKA The Restless Native, is a Dubrovnik local with too many interests to name them all, with writing being at the very top of the list. He is a lover of good food, music and film, and a firm believer in the healing power of laughter. His professional orientation is towards tourism and travel so it comes as no surprise he spends most of his time alongside Mrs. Jukic running their own local tour company. Their goal is helping travellers from all over the world get a more intimate experience of Dubrovnik and what it has to offer. To find out more about their work, visit their website or Facebook page.
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