We arrived in Zagreb in September 2015 and I thought it would be great if Jaime would somehow sum up his first year in Croatia and share it with you guys. He pretended he was on it, but the year has passed and it seemed the second will pass too. Finally, we sat down and I asked him 15 questions to illustrate what was his first year as a Croatian expat like.
1 What do you like the most about Croatia and your life here?
Croatia is great, there is a lot of interesting things to do and visit, you can not get bored. I love the fact you can go to the mountains or to the coast in the only few hours (in Mexico everything is far), or you can have a great time in one of many Zagreb parks that Zagreb has. If you wish to have just a normal day, you can practice Croatian coffee culture, slow down and grab a drink with a friend.
2. How did you adapt to the Croatian way of life?
I think I’m doing great! Last year I had some issues dealing with the cold weather but this year I’m handling it like a local. The language is still an issue but I understand Croatian much better. From time to time, I even surprise Maja because she did not expect me to understand something. She needs to be careful now!
3. What’s your favorite Croatian food?
Favorite food, hmm that’s a tricky question, I like lots of things, but I will go for Croatian barbecue (roštilj), ćevapi, baby pork (odojak), kobasica, and fritule.
4. What are the biggest differences between Croatia and Mexico?
The language is very different – that’s my biggest problem hahaha. The second thing is the weather, here it can be anywhere from -5 in the winter to +35 during the summer and in Oaxaca it’s always just hot. I saw my first snow here. But in Zagreb, there is no crowds or traffic like in Mexico and the life in much calmer and safer in general.
5. What’s your favorite thing about being an expat in Zagreb?
Favorite thing… I would say it is the opportunity to learn so much about a new culture and practice the traditions completely different to the ones I was used to.
6. And what’s the worst or hardest?
This answer will be relative, since every day we face the new challenges, we overcome it and face the new ones. At the beginning, I thought that the language is crazy but now after a year it is not so scary anymore. Last year I could not bear the cold, but you know what – this year it’s not so bad. I used to miss the spicy food, but I found different sauces and my mother in law started to grown our own chilies. Today’s fear becomes tomorrow’s joy, that’s my new motto.
7. What do you miss the most from Mexico?
I miss my family, friends, tacos and tlayudas.
8. Which custom and habits do you find the most awesome in your new country?
I really like how the people here enjoy outdoors activities and I’m happy because the air is much cleaner than in Mexico City. During different seasons you can find many interesting activities, for example, now you can visit the Christmas markets in Zagreb, during summer you can enjoy the parks or the coast and attend some of many festivals and happenings all around Croatia.
9. And which ones are the most strange or the weirdest?
The weddings are weird. People have their roles, for example, there is a guy waving the national flag and he is often the drunkest person at the party. Also, there is a tradition when the best man needs to “buy” a bride for the groom. As he starts to bid and offer low amounts, all he gets are guys dressed as a bride, as the price gets higher the bridesmaids start to get out until he offers something the bride’s family can’t offer and he finally gets a bride for his best friend.
10. What were your first days in Croatia like?
My first days were full of the excitement, I had so many new things to learn and see. We were visiting many locations, museums, churches, parks, towns, … while we were making sure everything will be ready for the wedding. In the end, I was completely exhausted.
11. How would you sum up your first 6 months here?
Firsts months were like a sugar rush, everything happened so fast. The things started to calm down after the wedding and I could focus on starting my life here. I started to look for a job more seriously because I was bored of being all the time at home. In the meantime, I was studying Croatian and doing exercise, but I wanted a job. Lucky me, I got a good job offer and by February I was working. Unfortunately, I couldn’t start before because I didn’t have my residency permit yet.
12. Describe a funny situation you found yourself in because of the language or cultural differences?
The very first time I went to have a haircut all by myself, I went to a hair salon and I said: “Oprostite, dobra večer, govorim malo hrvatski, ali trebam šišanje, hvala” which means “Sorry, good evening, I speak a little bit of Croatian but I need a haircut, thank you”. The lady who was there started to talk a lot telling me things I didn’t understand so at the end of her talk I just stopped and said: “da ili ne?” (yes or no?). She said ne. So I left and I went to another one and the same story repeated until somebody said yes. The lady asked me which haircut I wanted so I took a photo from my wallet and I showed to her. Then she tried to make conversation but I have no idea what she was talking about hahaha.
13. What do you think, how do the people see you here?
I think that they are still seeing me like an exotic person hahaha, there are not so much Mexicans here. I think around 50 Mexicans are living in Zagreb but I haven’t met them all.
14. What were your first impressions about Zagreb?
When I was in the airplane the first thing I saw was Medvednica, the highest mountain in Zagreb, and I thought it’s great because it is so close to the city. Maybe someday I could go there to run or to ride a bike. Right after we landed to Zagreb, I started to feel weird because everything I saw I couldn’t read or understand hahaha. Also, I got surprised how Croats love to drink coffee, they can spend hours with one cup of coffee, while I drink the same in 10 minutes. Zagreb is a fascinating city and I still have a lot to discover.
15. Which advice would you give to somebody who just came to Croatia?
I did not know this until only a few months back, but it is important. If you like to do the workout in the outdoors, I assume you do not carry anything with you. Well, try to remember to take your ID because if the police ask for your identification, you would get fined with 1000 kunas fee if you do not have it.
Do not get annoyed by the bureaucracy. Every bureaucratic process is long and probably you would need to go to the same office couple of times. Check in advance online what exactly do you need or ask to someone, especially if you do not speak Croatian. You are going to waste less time like this.
But, Croatia is a wonderful place so enjoy it to the maximum. Just be careful of propuh, I heard it can kill you easily! 😉
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Not so long ago, Christmas markets in Vienna and all around Germany were the most popular places to visit during the advent. Then appeared Budapest, Bratislava, Ljubljana… and Zagreb. Since I was a child, there was a small market in the city center, where you could buy Christmas ornaments and winter clothes of all kinds. It was the only place where you could feel the Christmas spirit in the city, besides seeing the lights on the main square and surrounding streets.
Why visit Zagreb in December?
Slowly, year by year Zagreb was getting more and more facilities and it turned into one of the most attractive winter destinations. Last year, Zagreb Christmas market was voted to be the best one in Europe, leaving many much more popular and traditional cities behind. The story of the rise of Advent in Zagreb is quite impressive and the fact it became the most important event in the city says a lot.
You need to experience the special atmosphere Zagreb offers in the time of Advent. It’s streets and squares invite you explore local traditions, sample traditional delicacies and enjoy fun activities everywhere in the city. The city looks classy and elegant, it is lively and joyful.
Read more: Winter activities for couples
When to visit Zagreb Christmas Market?
This winter, Zagreb Christmas Market is going to be the best one and the biggest one yet. From November 26 until January 8, in more than 20 locations around the city, you can enjoy everything Christmas brings: comfort food like sausages and fritule, drink hot mulled wine, heat up dancing and see few concerts and performances, all accompanied by your dear family and friends. This year, Zagreb Christmas Market is so wide and diverse that everybody can find something for themselves.
What is the best way to visit?
Being spread all around the city center, a walking tour around Christmas markets will give you the chance to see many popular locations in Zagreb as well. Last weekend we visited most of the locations in five hours and, even it is doable, I would recommend spreading it in two or three days for the first time visitors. If you are not sure how to plan your visit, what to wear and how long to stay, check out this amazing How to plan your Christmas market trip.
When the most of the events happen?
The most of the concert and performances are happening during the weekends or in the evenings, so the best time to visit is after 7 pm. However, keep in mind the city gets pretty crowded (especially on weekends) and it is hard to find a parking space (extra tip: parking is free on Saturday after 3 pm and Sundays). For most of the popular food stalls, you will need to wait in line too. If you wish to skip the crowds, we advise you to come a bit earlier.
We started our stroll around 4:30 pm, right after it started to get dark. By 8 pm city was already full. We had an opportunity to visit some of the markets, browse their offer and take pictures without many people around. Of course, more people means more fun so make sure to attend some event later on as well.
Read more: Christmas traditions in Croatia
Zagreb Christmas Market Walking Tour
Our walking tour started at the Museum of Arts and Crafts, where we check out the new Nutcracker exhibition. It served as a perfect intro to the Christmas fairy tale and we decided to see the ballet, showing in the nearby National Theatre, soon.
Christmas in the Tunnel
From the Museum we walked up on Frankopanska and Mesnicka street until we reached the newly opened Grič Tunnel. They say there are many tunnels under Zagreb’s Upper Town and this one is the first and only opened for public. It is the newest addition to the Christmas market as well! From December 16 it will be decorated with lights and a perfect venue for creative concerts.
Advent on Stross
A little brother of Summer on Stross, the Christmas market in Zagreb’s most beautiful promenade has a special charm. White wooden chalets decorated with Christmas ornaments, selling traditional foods and drinks as well as souvenirs and music in combination with the best views on Zagreb cannot go wrong.
Concerts on the Gric Meadow
Right behind the Strossmayer promenade and Lotrscak Tower, you can find a small market on Vranycyzany meadow. Being one of the newest additions to the Christmas offer, those two places are ideal for the ones who would like to escape the crowds – at least until the people discovers them. And it will – because some great concerts will be performed right here. It is also said to be the most romantic advent location!
St Mark’s Christmas Tree
The least popular square (a reference to the government buildings) in the city got one of the biggest trees this year. Stop by and take photos of Saint Mark’s church in the even more beautiful setting.
The Courtyards – Winter Edition
One of the most popular summer events got its winter edition! The Upper Town magical courtyards are always a fun place to visit and this advent they became even more magical. It is a unique experience because most of them are normally not open for public – some of the courtyards you can visit this winter are Palace Balbi, Zagreb City Museum, and Palace Amade.
Advent in Klovicevi dvori & Plato Gradec
The free concerts, ice sculptures, and the most attractive selfie location in the whole city. Come and visit the coolest skate rink, workshops and performances for the whole family and stand behind the photo frame. Don’t forget to press the button for the snow to start 🙂
Fuliranje in Tomiceva Street
After having a great time in the Upper Town, we took a funicular back to the downtown. During the advent period, the rides are completely free! After stepping out from the oldest vehicle in town, you will find yourself in Tomiceva street. A few years ago, “fuliranje in Tomiceva” (often wrongly translated like “fooling around” – actually means “flirting” in old city slang) became one of the most popular locations during the advent. Lots of fun and food – this winter in Tomiceva the Croatian celebrity chefs are cooking for you.
Christmas Fairy Tale in the Main Square
City’s main square is a home to the main Christmas tree, a concert venue (the biggest New Year’s concert is hosted here as well), small Christmas market in the western part and various food stalls on the east. Last year, they set up a magical forest decorated with snow, which looked very attractive and it soon became people’s favorite.
The Nativity Scene and Cathedral
In front of the Cathedral, you can experience the real, live nativity scene. If you have some spare time, make sure to pay a visit to the beautiful Cathedral as well.
A Food Heaven in European Square
When you get hungry, you should head to the European square, the only square in the world decorated with the million hearts. In the square filled with more than 30 wooden houses, you will find something for yourself for sure. Many fun concerts, art expositions, and hot mulled wine will heat up your heart in no moment.
Fuliranje in Kurelceva Street
Fuliranje in Tomiceva got a younger brother – disco manifestation in Kurelceva, right next to the European square. We tried some tasty sausages here – Jaime the spicy one and I had a Debrecener sausage. If you are in the mood for other kinds of food, here you can visit our favorite Submarine and try their new Christmas burger.
Zrinjevac is the central point of Christmas market, where everything started and the most visited part of the market. The musical pavilion is a true symbol of Advent, hosting various performances and concerts almost every evening. Here you will take some of the most magical photos of Zagreb Christmas market for sure.
Visit Rudolph in Strossmayer Square
In Zagreb, there is something for every age. Strossmayer’s Square is turned into the North Pole for kids, with interactive workshops, music and stage shows for different ages.
Ice park in Tomislav Square
The biggest hit of Zagreb Christmas Market is for sure the ice park! This huge skate park is probably one of the biggest ones you have ever seen – and certainly the most stunning to skate on. Located right in front of the beautiful Art Pavillion, surrounded by cute wooden houses and the fountain, the skating here definitely will be memorable.
Read more: Salaj’s Family Christmas Fairy Tale
Christmas Markets in Gajeva and Bogoviceva
The markets in the city center are the perfect place to finish your walking tour. Buy handmade Christmas ornaments with Zagreb details and grab the last portion of fritule with sugar before heading home.
If you still have some energy left, you can head to Novi Zagreb. This year’s newest locations are in a new part of the town: the New Advent in the Museum of Contemporary Art and Santa Claus’ Frozen Fairytale in Zagreb Fair are just some of the newest additions.
So, if you have always thought about Croatia like of a country of sea and sun, you might change your mind. Croatia is so much more and the great way to start exploring it is to visit the best Christmas market in Europe – Zagreb Christmas market.
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Last year in September we just arrived in Croatia and we had many other things in mind, so we did not plan any celebration for Mexican Independence Day. This year, however, the situation is completely different! We are on vacation, we have enough free time and we both miss some Mexican food and a few Latin flavors and moves.
Summer decided to stay longer this year and the weather is (was!) still beautiful and we decided to organize a little fiesta in our garden, as well as attend the picnic organized by other Mexicans from Facebook group Mexicanos en Croacia. Here’s how we celebrated Mexican Independence Day in Croatia.
Read more: Viva Mexico! How to celebrate Mexican Independence Day
Mexican fiesta in the garden
While I was making food, Jaime decorated the house and garden with papel picado (my favorite Mexican decoration!) and lights. The tables were covered with colorful tablecloths and big Mexican scarfs and over the door, we hung beautiful handmade carpet, which Jaime’s parents bought last year. Around we have put sombreros, alebrijes, and other Mexican crafts to make everyone feel like they were really in Mexico.
We decided to prepare traditional and tasty food served with colorful salsas and garnishes like corn, cheese, and onions with chilies. Here is the list of dishes and recipes (I will add
more (all) over the time).
- tacos de cochinita pibil, one of the tastiest tacos,
- tacos al pastor, signature tacos of Mexico City,
- tacos de bistec and pollo,
- tacos de carnitas,
- guacamole and tomato salsa, to give the right flavors,
- frijoles refritos, beans dipping salsa,
- rainbow salsa, very attractive and tasty salad, and
- tortilla chips with cheese salsa.
For more inspiration, check out our favorite Mexican cookbooks in English – Tacopedia, and Mexico: The Cookbook. They are both full of fantastic recipes.
To spice the things up, you could take some of the homegrown chili paprikas (my mom is planting them especially for Jaime) and pour it over with tequila, mezcal (Mexican traditional drink, less known internationally than tequila) and margaritas.
Also, mom made the best desert – tres leches cupcakes. After trying (and adoring) her tres leches cake, I knew these cupcakes would be an excellent addition to the party!
The whole evening was wonderful! The weather was just perfect and we enjoyed the night in the garden while people were learning about Jaime’s traditions and enjoyed the food we prepared. It was great to see our friends and colleagues trying out new flavors. We can’t wait to repeat it next year!
Mexican picnic at Bundek lake
Saturday morning we spent in Bundek, enjoying Mexican traditional food with other Mexicans living in Croatia. I had no idea there’s so many of them here, but I’m glad they are and we were able to attend this lovely gathering.
Everybody brought something to eat – we decided on taquitos, onions with chilies and tomato salsa. We tried tacos de tinga (one of Mexican food I prepare the most often), empanaditas with beans, mole, rice and one lady even brought homemade tortillas. Those were the best tortillas I’ve ever tried and they were still warm, yummy!
Jaime enjoyed eating Mexican candies and trying out mezcal with his friend. We also meet many new people and the whole day was a great experience.
However, some poor soul called the police reporting there is hanged Mexican flag and, by Croatian law, one is not allowed to show other countries flags without prior permission. The police came and fined us with 300 kunas, obviously unhappy they needed to do that because we did not do any harm to anyone. We were not loud or unpolite, just the flag was hanging there. Ah.
Luckily, they did not ruin the mood (too much) and we continued to chit chat and play Mexican games. These few days dedicated to Mexico were so heartwarming, spent in a good environment.
We were surrounded by nice people and awesome food – we couldn’t ask for more! Next year we will definitely repeat 🙂
If you are interested how the celebration looks like, check out our post about how to celebrate Mexican Independence Day. You can also learn more about Christmas traditions in Mexico or Day of the Dead festivities.
Get your Mexico Lonely Travel Guide here.
Find your accommodation on Booking.com, or Airbnb (use this link to get 32 EUR off for your first trip!).
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Christmas Traditions in Croatia
Hello, December, the most wonderful month in a year! Even though in Croatia Christmas is celebrated on December 25, preparation for festivities starts several weeks earlier. More particular, holiday season starts with the period of Advent, four Sundays before Christmas.
According to the Christian tradition, it is a time of preparation for Christ’s birth. Four weeks symbolize four millenniums from the foundation of the world to the birth of Jesus Christ. Each Sunday families light candles on Advent wreaths, one by one. Traditionally, the wreath should be made from evergreen springs, but today there are different types. Everybody can buy or make the wreath according to their taste.
Beginning of Advent is the time when Christmas markets appear all around the cities (especially in Zagreb – there is wonderful Advent in Zagreb manifestation), with numerous stands selling Christmas decorations, handmade items, and winter comfort food. You can find different decorations for your house,
You can find different decorations for your house, licitar hearts, nativity scenes and other. Also, you can heat yourself up with scented mulled wine or shots of rakija and try some sausages and fritule (kind of fritters, like little donuts, but better!).
Read more: When did Advent in Zagreb become so awesome?
December 6 is known as Saint Nicholas day (Sveti Nikola). The night before kids and some grown-ups clean their boots and place them next to the window. In the morning, boots are found full of candies and other presents.
But be careful! If you were a bad boy or girl, Sveti Nikola will not visit you. Instead, Krampus (Nikola’s bad companion) will put his switch in your boot. They are always colored in gold or silver and decorated with colorful ribbons and even Christmas bells or other decorations.
On December 13, the day of Saint Lucia (Sveta Lucija), we plant Christmas wheat as a symbol of fertility and new life. You can take a simple plastic plate or any pad you have, fill it with soil or cotton wool and sprinkle the seeds on the top of it. Green shoots of wheat represent the hope in the awakening of nature which will take away the winter in a couple of months and bring the new life.
It is said that density and height of the wheat symbolize how successful will be the upcoming year for you. Right before Christmas, you can cut the wheat a bit to look nicer as well as decorate with a candle and (or) a ribbon (people often use the one colored as Croatian flag). When holidays end, you should give it to birds, do not throw it.
Read more: Best winter activities for couples
Approximately a week before Christmas, we start to bake Christmas cookies and cakes. Croatians are known to always make too much food and a huge variety of it. It would be a shame for the family to have only 2 or 3 types of cakes!
Each Christmas we have at least 10 different types of cookies, cakes, rolls, creme, … All homemade, nothing bought. Some of the traditional cookies would be vanilin kiflice, makovnjača, orahnjača, bajadera, mađarica, čupavci, kuglof, linzer cookies and lots of different vanilla cookies.Nothing says better Christmas is just around the corner than the warm house which smells like cookies.
Read more: Winter Wonderland in Croatia – Salaj’s Family Christmas Fairy Tale
Besides tons of cookies, on Christmas Eve day we usually eat a fish meal (often cod), which is followed by meat meal on Christmas day. Christmas lunch (we don’t eat so many heavy dinners here) often includes turkey with mlinci (purica s mlincima) or some other bird. In that way you leave all the bad for the “old year” behind you, they say.
Typical Christmas dessert would be cake like makovnjača (roll with poppy seeds), orahnjača (Walnut roll) or kuglof. Days between Christmas and New Year’s are filled with similar food as well as sarma (rolled cabbage filled with minced meat) and francuska salata (Russian salad) so it is very common for people to gain weight hehe.
Christmas tree is bought only a few days before Christmas and it is decorated on December 24. Most people still use real trees, some even the ones still alive in the pot. They do not start to sell them until mid-December so it is not possible to put the decorations on before it (as Jaime wants).
Only if you like fake trees. I do not. They don’t make your house smell nice. They do not fall down after I while and you don’t get pine needles stick into your slippers.
It is always a joy to decorate it while mom is finishing the last cakes. House smells like cookies, Christmas songs are playing on a radio and we are putting on gold and red decorations. If you smell your fingers afterward, they will smell like Christmas as well.
Presents are brought on Christmas night while everyone is sleeping by Santa Claus (Djed mraz ili Djed božićnjak) and placed under a decorated tree. Kids are allowed to open them only on Christmas morning. In some parts of the country, kids are told presents are brought by Baby Jesus.
Lots of people attend a night mass to welcome Jesus. Christmas day, as well as St Joseph’s Day (December 26, which is a holiday as well), are usually spent with family, enjoying each other’s company and some good food.
New Year’s Eve, December 31, is a normal working day. When the night falls down, numerous citizens in Croatia are starting to get ready for “craziest night in a year”. Contrary to for example Mexicans, a big number of Croatian people do not welcome new year together with their families. Lots of us go to a party and New Year’s Eve is the biggest party in the country.
When the clock strikes midnight, we congratulate to each other with a kiss and a hug and wish a happy new year. I must say that last 5-6 years I missed a party and stayed at home. This year, I’m looking forward to adapting some of Jaime’s traditions and enjoy the warmth of our home as well.
Read more: Christmas traditions in Mexico
The first day of a new year we have a feast with baby pork, baked potato and Russian salad (odojak s pečenim krumpirom i francuskom salatom). That’s when everybody makes new year’s resolutions, decides to start going to the gym, stop smoking or lose some weight.
The holiday season in Croatia ends with Epiphany (Sveta tri kralja) when all the decorations are taken down and priests visit each house to give their blessings. Families take down Christmas trees as well and they are “traditionally” thrown out on the streets. Christmas vacations for lots of people who enjoyed it since December 24 end. The magic stops suddenly. Until next December!
Sretan Božić svima! (eng. Merry Christmas Everyone!)