I’ve recently become obsessed with Croatia.
If this strikes you as peculiar, it strikes me as peculiar-er. I’ve never been there (or anywhere else in Europe, for that matter). I may have Croatian blood; though it’s generally been acknowledged in my family that my ancestors came from Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland, they’re all pretty much a stone’s throw away. Metaphorically speaking, of course, unless you have terrific arm strength. But I had a friend who is heavily into genealogy research my background once and when my relatives were emigrating to New Jersey, they listed Austria-Hungary as their birthplace on the ship’s manifest. Which, as you can clearly see on the map below, does in fact include Croatia.
So, I’m descended from somewhere in that general vicinity of Eastern Europe, anyway. It’s never been 100 percent clear where, exactly, we hail from. But that’s still not why I have a sudden interest in Croatia. Up until recently, my only impression of the place was that it kinda looks like an alligator with its jaws open, ready to swallow Bosnia and Herzegovina whole.
I blame my newfound obsession with the country on my treadmill. Or more accurately, iFit.
When I bought the treadmill last September, it came with a free one-year subscription to iFit, an interactive fitness platform that includes virtual workouts from across the globe. Over the past seven months, I have traveled the world from the comfort of my fake wood-paneled basement (hey, I was socially distancing before it became trendy!), visiting exotic locales such as Bolivia, Thailand, Antarctica, China, Easter Island, Costa Rica, and the aforementioned Croatia. I have climbed Mount Fuji, explored the ancient pyramids of Giza, wandered the bustling streets of Istanbul, and explored the Taj Mahal. It’s pretty cool!
Each workout series is guided by a personal fitness trainer. Now, if I’m being totally honest here, some of the instructors are, for lack of a better few words, hot AF. The folks at iFit are no dummies. They know that sex sells, and in this case, it’s selling me onto the treadmill at an ungodly hour before work. Instructors like Kelsey (aka Miss Croatia) are a great motivator to get moving.
But a funny thing happened while working out to this particular Adriatic Sea Intervals series. I actually peeled my eyes off the trainer for a change and started paying attention to the scenery, and learned in the process that Croatia is quite beautiful.
One of the workouts takes you through Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where visitors traverse a wooden boardwalk that winds its way over a series of lakes, right at the base of numerous cascading waterfalls.
I mean, that’s gorgeous, right?!
Even the cities are eye-popping, buildings with red-tiled roofs perched on hillsides that overlook the blue-green waters of the Adriatic.
And the cuisine? Yes, please. How can you go wrong with pork or goulash? Clams, pasta, mushroom soup, flatbread? Seafood risotto? How about Zagrebački odrezak, fried veal cutlets stuffed with ham and cheese?! (That’s a rhetorical question. You can’t.)
These workouts have stirred up a fierce sort of wanderlust within my soul. I’ve always said if (and when) I ever make it to Europe, I don’t want to go someplace obvious, like London or Paris or Rome. Take me to Prague or Budapest instead. I’m now adding places in Croatia, cities like Zagreb and Split and Dubrovnik, to that list. Pretty sure I can convince Tara to be my plus one.
Seems like a nice goal for a post-COVID life.