I just returned from a trip to Croatia, a country I (and likely most Americans) know little about. During my two weeks there, I learned alot about the history of Croatia, and got a decent sense for the country. Here are a few random observations I picked up.
I Started in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Not really known as a tourist destination, but I was pleasantly surprised with how nice it was. Large pedestrian zone in the center of the old town, nice walks in the city and cafes.
Zagreb and Croatia as a whole was pretty inexpensive, so if you are looking to travel in Europe on a tight budget, Croatia would be a great option for you.
Thoughout the various destinations I visited in Croatia I noticed very few Americans. Thats not to say there were not a lot of tourists – there were – tourism is Croatias leading industry. Most the languages I heard from the tourists were British, German and Slavic, which gave it a nice international feel.
If you visit Croatia, consider skipping any city where the cruise ships visit, unless you want to do the sights early or late. When the Cruise ships dock at Dubrovnik and Split, the streets get flooded during the day with people. We started our trip through the town of Dubrovnik around 8am, and were done by 11am. As we left, the crowds where everywhere:
We got out of there quick. There are plenty of great stops where you don’t have to fight the waves of tourists.
Regarding tourism in Croatia, in talking with a few Croatians, I got the impression they are not happy about being a tourism driven economy. It seemed to me that they felt the fall of communism and the resulting Balkan war broke their country. Industries were privatized, and the high paying jobs associated with those jobs are gone. More than one Croatian lamented the outflow of immigration of Croatians to other countries in search of high paying jobs. Granted most the people I interacted with were in the tourism business, so this anecdotal observation may be slanted, but it felt pretty prevelant.
On our way back from Croatia we stayed over a day in London, primarily because it is hard to get direct flights to Croatia. This was my first visit to London, and found it interesting. I was surprised how dirty it was, walking through the streets there was lots of litter and garbage everywhere. I find most European cities to be pretty kept up so that surprised me. Also was surprised about the number of homeless in London. Not as many as in the states, but more than I recall observing anywhere else in Europe. I am not sure what that indicates, other than the problem is not specific to America.
In summary, Croatia is a great place to visit. If you go, take some time to learn about the history of Croatia, Tito and the fall of communism, and the rise of the independent Yugoslavian states. But also enjoy the scenery.