Tag Archives: Croatia

sunday lunch

Not bad, right? It was raining yesterday — but Aki was intent on grilling up some swordfish steaks and making a Dalmatian meal (his region of Croatia, that is – not the spotted dog). :) And who was I to get in the way of a man on a mission?! Aki and I may be very different people…but OH, we come together to eat.Dalmatian Cuisine, CroatiaThree minutes on each side, a brush of olive oil, lemon and herbs — VOILA! At Aki’s first bite he pronounced “I feel like I’m home in Dalmatia.” And then he started sharing memories of his grandfather grilling fresh fish all the time for the family. It was something he hadn’t thought about for a long, long time…

Food does that. And when you can’t travel….EAT. ;)

The pa amb tomàquet (bread with tomato) was a little throw back to my days living in Barcelona. Rubbing a fresh tomato on bread with a little salt and olive oil is a very typical way to eat bread in the Catalonian region of Spain. So simple, so good. (And in this case, we needed a little bit of RED on the plate, ha). I think that’s a Korean thing. My mother (who is Korean) wouldn’t say, “I think we’re missing salt in this dish.” She’d say, “I think we’re missing some red.” :) A meal isn’t complete unless it’s colorful!

Blitva is the most typical side dish on any menu in Dalmatia, Croatia. It’s boiled potatoes and swiss chard with olive oil and garlic. I’m not typically a big fan of boiled vegetables, but oh man, Blitva is so good. Actually, come to think of it, Koreans make a boiled spinach dish with sesame oil and garlic which is DELISH. There are exceptions to every rule, aren’t there.

Last weekend Aki made Mussels Buzarra, another typical dish from his region of Dalmatia (with white wine, garlic, parsley, and olive oil). he’s been feeling a little sentimental for home after spending so much time in Croatia this summer.my toddler likes to eat :)We are happy to help alleviate the homesickness any way we can — especially if that means eating mussels and grilled fish every weekend! ;)

Aki calls it “gradelama kontra nostalgije” which means “grilling as a remedy for nostalgia.” I like it. That’s a cause I can get behind.

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22 months: let’s do this!

Oh Mateo. Dear Mateo. You’re almost TWO years old. Yep, THIS week! What?!

That means we’re behind on these monthly posts. We better catch up! At the time, I remember thinking that there was so much  to share. Gah, it makes me wish I took notes. It’s amazing how quickly it all becomes a big blur!

Thank goodness for my trusty camera. NOW I remember why this post never got written. We were busy. Your 22nd month was your busiest travel month yet.toddler travel in EuropeYou were in three countries (Croatia, Austria, and Italy). Four countries if you count driving through Slovenia (both on the way to Austria & again on the way to Italy). You traveled by car, by speedboat, by ferry, by water taxi, by city metro, tram, and by bus.  Funny that I titled your 21 month post: “you little traveler.” OH MAN,  then I better say — 22 months: you seasoned traveler! So without further ado: a little peek into the life of Mateo. June 16-July 15!

toddler travels in Europe: 22 month memories & milestonesYou really are a great traveler. PHEW! So many more adventures ahead, Mister! Hopefully some that you’ll actually remember, ha. Even if you don’t remember it all, I will. I promise you had a ton of fun. That’s for sure.

Kiddo, you’re not even two yet. But soon! ;)

Feel free to look back! Mateo at: 21 month, 20 months, and 19 months.

if Mateo had a blog

Mateo is a passionate toddler and it’s taking him places. Yep, he’s taken up a new job of sorts and he’s quite  serious about it. What’s the gig? Mateo is taking on the world, one playground at a time. It’s (truly) important to him to really experience  the local play offerings in every city (or neighborhood) we visit. He also finds it to be a great way to mingle with local children and feel like a local himself. ;)

So far, he’s tested  the lovely parks of Croatia, and numerous throughout Austria, and Italy. Not to mention (!) making sure that little jungle gyms at rest stops along the expressways get their due attention.

He has high hopes to expand his work beyond North America and Europe. We’ll see, Mateo. We’ll see.

Of course he’s been too busy playing  to blog and pass on proper reviews, so I thought I’d just give you all a highlight. This playground in Dubrovnik, Croatia was awesome.dubrovnik fun for kidsSeriously, how amazing is that backdrop for a play lot?! This place had it going on.toddler playground in dubrovnikAki and I had been to Dubrovnik together back in 2009 as newlyweds. It’s a gorgeous city on the sea with incredible history, but WHOA, it took Mateo coming along to find this jewel. ;) Somehow we TOTALLY missed this playground back then. OH, maybe ’cause we were too busy drinking leisurely glasses wine. We were so boring back then. ;)

First off, let me just tell you how cool the entrance is. It’s a tiny unassuming passageway built into the old city walls. It makes you feel like you’ve discovered a secret. All the local kids know what’s up though. Adults have to duck, the shorties march right in. So yeah, the playground is built right into the outside of the city’s ancient walls. A-W-E-S-O-M-E-pants. Dubrovnik is known for its medieval walls. In fact, it’s among the 10 best medieval walled cities in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.park entrance dubrovnik wallskids in dubrovniktoddler favorite in dubrovnikThere isn’t a playground this kid sees that he doesn’t want to experience, but I’m with you Mateo…this one was pretty special.toddler in dubrovnik, croatiaIn other news, little Mateo is already working on another column: international beaches. This kid! So focused at such a young age. I hope to help him pursue his passions in ANY way that I can! ;) ha


Hope you have a weekend of play ahead! We’ve got lots of organizing and de-cluttering around here, but also some fun social plans. And you KNOW, Mateo will make sure we get outside and play! :)

We’ve learned some things. I think Mateo would have been much happier in Venice (that post) last year if we had just lead him to a playground. You live and you learn. ;)

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wild Croatia: a snapshot from the road

27There’s a lot that I like about Croatia.

Croatia is: clear sea, islands, mountains, and so, so much history. But when I’m asked to describe Croatia, what comes to mind is that it’s WILD and RAW. The beauty of Croatia is in its nature which feels completely untamed.

During our summer over there  we took quite a few road trips. It’s a shame that I can’t bottle up that experience because some of the most beautiful sights were from my passenger seat window. I wish I could share THAT, but it’s not so easy (and the photos are never quite as beautiful) when you use your camera on the expressway. ya know?

And really, even when I have my camera ready, it usually goes something like “WHOA, look at that!” (Zooom, zoom), and all the magic is in the rear view already. For example: all the cool ancient fortresses or churches I saw way up on hills.

Even still, I thought I’d share my attempts. Some of you have bugged me that I haven’t really backed up enough to give you a real impression of Croatia, and it’s true. Over the next however-long-it-takes-me, I want to remedy that.

I took these photos (from the car) on our first road trip to Dubrovnik at the end of May. We almost didn’t take this trip because the forecast looked dark and RAINY. SO glad we took a chance. We hit some light rain at the beginning but the sun was SHINING before long.1 European road trip 3 4 road trip through Croatia 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Croatian road trip with toddler 19 21 22 23 24 25mussel traps croatia26 28 3029 31 32 33 34 35 36 384239 40 41

Of course the whole point was to get to Dubrovnik, which I’ll share in time. Dubrovnik is a lovely, lovely city. Really. And the road to get there isn’t half bad either!

We’ve been getting lots of questions about Croatia as well as requests for recommendations on places to visit. I’m hoping to work on a post just for you guys, but until then please join our FACEBOOK page if you want chat. I’m there! :)

Chicago bound! We’ll miss you Croatia! xo

munich-layoverTHOSE GUYS! ^^ I dashed to grab the camera when I saw these two, haha.

Five hours to kill in Munich, Germany — next plane we board will take us HOME!

Yep, it’s that time already. We’re homeward bound. One flight down, one more to go.

Truth be told, we’re all very ready to get back to “life as usual,” but it’s bittersweet. We’ll miss you Croatia!

Where did the time go?! 71 days living out of suitcases, stays in 3 countries, and 9 cities. Next stop: CHICAGO!

Somehow I’ll sort through all of our photos. Blogging on the road didn’t go quite as smoothly as I planned…OH, I have lots more to share — and we’ll get there. We will.

cuz and cuz

cousins in summer croatiaTwo American boys hanging out in their fathers’ homeland. :) These two cousins (Tristan, 3 on the verge of turning 4) and Mateo (1 on the verge of turning two) are living it up in Croatia with their Croatian cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents this summer.

Tristan has always called Mateo “cuz” and just today, Mateo started calling Tristan “cuz” right back.

In any given moment, you’ll usually  find these two running, screaming, kicking something, pushing each other, looking for bugs, fighting over cars or LAUGHING…but I caught this ^^ still moment and I can’t help but smile. :) Love it.

Seriously though, how handsome are these two?! (About as handsome as they are trouble). ;)cuz-runningcuz-running-2

If you follow HENNA BLOSSOM on facebook, you’ve already seen those two in action. Remember this photo? :) And if you aren’t already part of our facebook page, GO ON. Join us of course.

it’s good to just be hanging out

popcorn in Split, CroatiaThree generations of men hanging out on the front stoop, sharing a bowl of popcorn. :) There are some more “posed” shots but I kinda like the casualness of this moment. The fact is, it’s special for these guys to just be hanging out, doing nothing special but being together. :)

Aki moved to the U.S. when he was 18 years old to go to university. A year later, he got his brother Dario to join him. Neither planned on staying longterm. Life! Skip forward over a decade later and they are both married to American women and raising kids in Chicago (Aki and me) and Florida (Dario and my sister-in-law, Melissa). The distance between Chicago and their town in Florida is big enough (17 hour drive) but then add that their sister, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandmother, and parents are all in Croatia, oh my. Family is a big deal for those two. Having everyone together is pretty sweet.

Last week Dario and Melissa arrived with their two cuties, Tristan and Adriana. We’re all going to be together in Split for the next month. Next week Aki and Dario’s sister Žeki will be back again for a visit (she and her husband Danijel live in the Istrian region of Croatia) with their two littles, Natan and Domagoj.

Know what that means??? The FIVE cousins will be together all at once for the FIRST TIME EVER. This family has five grandkids under 4 years of age! I know two grandparents who are going to be VERY happy. :)

By the way, there’s a little story behind that bowl of popcorn the boys are sharing. Before the men came outside, it was just me hanging out with Mateo and Tristan who were running around and being goofy. A neighbor thought they were being so cute, she made a bowl of popcorn and brought it out to them. I agree, they’re pretty cute. :)

As a sidenote: Oh man, do you know how hard it is to get five people, especially two little ones into a photo?? Tristan wanted to look for bugs (that’s his thing) and Mateo just wanted to eat his popcorn in peace. I think I’ll have to make a special post just to show the outtakes! :) Funny thing, the photo I ended up loving was this candid moment.

CHEERS! to family!

Did you MISS me?

Pretty sure  you have your own busy life to mind to, but I’ve missed you (whether you noticed or not!). And I really have been feeling bad about being so quiet over here. I can do better. I’ve been taking notes in my head of all the little things I want to tell you!

We’re still in Split, Croatia. Although if you follow us on facebook you know we ducked out to Dubrovnik (what a beauty!) for the weekend. We’re coming up on two weeks away from home. Still two more months until we return to Chicago, but we’re noticing how fast the time is flying already.cousins-yellow-beachWe have a pretty regular daily routine now. Mornings together, then lunch at Aki’s parents (Mateo’s baka & dida), nap time for Mateo at our apartment and then Aki starts his work day. Mateo and I spend the afternoon with his cousins and aunt (they’re visiting from the gorgeous Istrian region of Croatia), then dinner and bed. Rinse, repeat. The truth is, day to day life isn’t any more exciting or interesting than being at home. Just a bit less space, a bit less babysitting, and a bit less clothing options. Jealous? :)

Still, whenever you are away from home, and in my case, away from your “comfort zone” it makes you notice new things. There are new thoughts, new reflections, new challenges, new tastes, new entertainment, new scenery (I never get sick of it!), new language, and sure, new annoyances.

Problem is, OH MAN, I’m so tired all the time. I should have so much to share but when Mateo is napping or sleeping, I find myself doing the same.

I need to get over it and make the time. At home I thrive on my creativity and getting things done, but I’ve been a bit lazy here. There really is something to talking out loud (or typing) that makes the daily nothings add up to something. Yes, daily-life is just daily-life no matter where you are but it’s still worth paying attention to. One thing that we have been enjoying is a bit more family.

Our little family of three is together so much more. Mateo doesn’t have a babysitter, Aki doesn’t have an office, so we are together. A lot. Luckily,we like that (most of the time). And really, one of the biggest reasons that we are here is to be with family. It’s been so great to see Mateo bonding with his cousins and aunt Žeki. He asks for Žeki and Baka (grandma) all the time and gives them biiiiig hugs (he gives the best hugs). :) Whenever I see that, I think “THIS is why we’re here.”

cousins-bondingMateo is really bonding with his cousin, Natan who is seven months his senior.

Yesterday I was watching them and thought, you know, two pre-verbal (or at least two not yet fully verbal) toddlers aren’t so different than any other two (open) people of different cultures (and languages) bonding. Yesterday I watched them with a HUGE smile on my face. It got me thinking. I guess some things are just universal and don’t require words. You know, like laughing, art, group sports (so I hear), and well, drinks!

Yesterday the boys drew pictures together with colored markers [ART], played “crazy ball” (essentially throwing balls, kicking balls, yelling, and running in circles like mad men) [SPORT & LAUGHING], and after all the intense activity both gulped down big glasses of water [DRINKS]. ;) As usual, Mateo takes it to the next level. After his first gulp, he put his glass out to his cousin, Natan and said “CHEERS.” They clinked glasses and laughed. How ridiculously cute is that?!! Moments like that I wish my eyes could take video. Yes, it was that moment where I was thinking, YEP, these toddlers know how it’s done. Who needs to share the same language? Some things are universal, No words required.

cousins-trucksApparently cars are a big deal as well…

this is how we stroll: Split, Croatia style

Split, Croatia at Night: Traveling in Europe with a Toddler

So here’s the thing. Toddlers go to sleep between 7:30 and 8:00 pm. At least this one does. At home, that’s a beautiful thing. At home that leaves hours of evening free-time. Hours of necessary decompression (from toddler) time laid out on the sofa. ;) But when you’re away  from home, the sofa is just so much less attractive.

It’s hard to stay inside on these warm nights when you know that the cafes are buzzing, the sea is so calm, and candles are flickering on restaurant tables.

So we don’t stay in.

We’ve learned from traveling, that the stroller is our friend. Strollers are beds on wheels.

Our strategy is to take a quiet route in the evening and put Mateo to sleep. From there we either continue walking (I can’t get enough!), grab a drink, or even have a meal at a quiet restaurant. If we go to a restaurant we just choose a table that has an easy (roll away) escape route in case Mateo stirs.

We’ll see if the same strategy will work this year. Last year in Croatia we only had one dinner cut short, and maybe a handful of times where one of us had to take a quick shhhhh-ing round with the stroller for a minute or five. Of course there was that one day in Venice, Italy where the stroller strategy was a complete no-go. Not bad stats overall though!

This year we’re lucky. My sister will be joining us in a month (hello babysitter), and as soon as Mateo adjusts, his grandparents have volunteered to watch him every once in awhile at night as well (when we’re in Split).

Last night we put Mateo to sleep in the stroller and had a really lovely walk by the sea and through old town. Like I said, I can’t get enough. It always amazes me that Aki grew up steps from the Adriatic Sea and all of this HISTORY. Split is built around the walls of an old Roman palace!

At home, we always opt for a babysitter. But it’s nice to know that (although we have to be flexible), we aren’t prisoners to the toddler schedule. It’s just good to know!

Guys, I have more photos but Mateo is jumping on me yelling “outside, outside, goooooo!” (literally). So, we’re going to go outside.

Let’s catch up later! xo

PS  Did you know we’re on facebook now? We are! Come hang out! If you aren’t already following our facebook page, go on and “like” us. (please and thank you). :)

coffee and trucks: just an ordinary day in Croatia

happy toddler - day 2 Split, Croatia : summer in EuropeDay two and we’re settling in. Right now Aki’s working, Mateo’s napping, I’m blogging. We’re figuring out a routine. We’re going to try to spend the morning/early afternoons out and about together, and our late afternoons taking care of “normal life in a different place.”walking-to-gingolaThis morning we hung out at a local café which caters to families. They have a little play lot and lots of toys for the kiddos to explore and well, essentially leave their parents BE. :) I immediately noticed a few things that I found interesting. Little things that made the experience a bit of a cultural study.

In Chicago we have a variety of adorable kiddie cafés. Same idea: happy, distracted kids equal happy (more relaxed) parents. These types of places also fulfill city kids’ need for free range play. The difference is that in Chicago, all of the kiddie cafés/play places cost $12 to walk in and the whole environment and experience is set-up for the children. That’s the point, right?

In contrast, this café was definitely geared toward parents. There is nothing on the menu for a child; the offerings include a variety of coffee drinks and alcohol (like any cafe around). The café is for adults. The toys are for the kids.coffee & espresso in Split, Croatia: play cafeI find differences like this really interesting. Subtle differences which speak to a cultural variance. I rather like the idea of catering to families as “adults with children.” That’s what we are, right? So often in the U.S., once you become a parent, you are no longer an “adult,” you are now a “parent.” New category. I think you can wear both hats at the same time.gingola-play-cafeAnother difference is that this play space is not slick, bright, “safe,” or sterile. Quite honestly I’m guessing that there would be about 37 health and safety violations if the same space existed in Chicago. But maybe  Americans could benefit from relaxing a little bit. ;)

Funnily enough, in our family, Aki (the Croatian national) is the hyper-vigilant “American” parent and me (the American national), I’m of the “he’ll figure it out” and “a few bumps and bruises are no big deal” philosophy. Okay, I know I am generalizing. Yes, there are something like 105 million American families, so of course “the American parent” spans the entire map. yep, yep.

Today is just an ordinary day. But it made me think about why it’s so important to travel. It’s not always about seeing amazing things. Sometimes it’s just about seeing a different perspective or a different version of ordinary. This is why I try to experience the local “daily life” when I travel. The simple activity of having a coffee at a local café can make you stop and consider the different ways in which we think and live. There is always a benefit to that.gingola-rocksgingola-playgingola-shoesgingola-cargingola-smileI know Mateo had a great time (while building his immune system, ha kidding) and Aki and I absolutely enjoyed our coffee and espresso with cream in peace. Best of all, the café is just a street over. Trucks, gravel, and coffee is a formula that works for us. We definitely plan to be regulars.croatia-day-2-editAnd in other news, Mateo fell down today and yelled, “Opaaa!” haha, looks like he’s feeling his Croatian roots and already becoming a local. ;)


It’s Friday, right? Yeah, pretty sure it is.