Episode 11

Living in Croatia with Mark Whitfield - Part 1

Published on: 8th July, 2023

Welcome to this edition of "An Englishman in the Balkans," where I am starting a micro-series about life in Croatia through the eyes of another Englishman, Mark Whitfield.

This is the first instalment of a three-part series, where I’ll be finding out about . Marks decision to make Croatia his new home, learning about the intricacies of setting up a business in Croatia, with some valuable insights and practical tips, and hearing Marks anecdotes from his first two years as a business owner.

You can find out more about Mark's Glamping business in Štrigova Croatia HERE.

I hope that this micro-series will give let you experience another aspect of life for “foreigners” who choose to make this region their home.

Thank you for being a part of our podcasting community, and we look forward to bringing you more exciting content in the future.

You can support my work, by maybe leaving a Tip or by becoming a member of our podcast family at:


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An Englishman in the Balkans with a very special episode. In fact, it's the first of three episodes that I'm going to be doing with Mark or Mark's going to be doing with me. It doesn't matter. We're going to be doing it with each other in the nicest possible way. We're going to find out a lot more about Mark and his wife and what they're doing and why I have now referred to him as an Englishman in Croatia.


But there's so much to tell in this story that when we were chatting before we started this episode, we decided that really we should break it into three parts. So our mini-series over the next three episodes will be, how come an Englishman arrives in Croatia and does something quite unique? Then we're going to talk about what it's like.


to set up a business in Croatia because there may be people both watching and listening to this that have thought, why don't we go and do something in Croatia? And the natural response to that I think normally is, that's all going to be too difficult. We'll find out whether that is difficult or not and maybe some tips and tricks on how to overcome it. And in the third episode, anecdotes about what it's like to live in Croatia and it's going to be fun. That one's going to be really fun. They're all going to be fun.


That was going to be equally fun because I'm sure there are a lot of similarities. Right. You've heard enough about me, but Mark Whitfield has been in Croatia for, I think two years or maybe more, as I normally say, the most simplest and what people say is an idiotic question. I always think is the best. So who is Mark Whitfield? Yeah. I am. Thank you for this opportunity, David. It's a real pleasure to spend some time with you.


I'm a guy from the north of England. I was brought up on a farm in the Yorkshire Dales, left school at 15, and then went back to college and university and so on later in life, and eventually became a teacher and then into education management. And ended up in the Middle East for a good while working in education. I'm married to Gilly. We have two daughters who are 32 and 30, Ellie and Emma. They live in Manchester.


And we now live in, we now, my wife and I now live in Croatia. Of all the places to be, why Croatia? You've traveled, you've seen a fair bit outside the United Kingdom. Croatia normally hits people's minds as being the place these days where you get reasonably priced Adriatic holidays. But I don't think there are too many, I might be wrong, you might tell me, foreigners, if I put it that way, that really explore


inland and you are inland aren't you? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Why Croatia? There are a few of us here, a few foreigners, but not many. We live around an hour north of, an hour and 15 minutes north of Zagreb, right on the Croatian-Slovenian border. This setting behind me is the village called Strigova and it's the last village before you go over into Slovenia and we absolutely love it here. So we considered the coast, but the coast is a place that's very busy in the summer and very


We wanted to live in Europe after being in the Middle East. We always knew that. And we wanted somewhere that had that kind of 365 days a year living, if you will. We didn't want to be somewhere that's empty in the winter and then really busy in the summer. So this area of Croatia was perfect for us. It's very central. If central Europe is anywhere, it's around here. We can be anywhere quite easily and quite readily. As we ended our time in the Middle East, we knew that we would be living somewhere in Europe. That was always gonna be


our ambition and we'd looked all over. We'd spent much of our early years as a married couple with our young children traveling in Europe as you do with a camp, with a tent going to campsites and we tended to go east rather than west if you will. We weren't really Spain and Portugal type people, we did quite a bit in France but we tended to come this way and we spent actually quite a lot of our holidays camping in Slovenia actually. It's ironic that we now live in Croatia but that's another matter.


tal note of that. That was in:


And so when we were seriously looking for somewhere to settle, that came back to mind. And so I started looking in this area. One of the really fortunate things about looking was there was a British guy actually living in Virajdin, which is about 25 minutes south of here, married to a Croatian. And he was running a little website called Rural Property Croatia, which doesn't run anymore, he's retired. But he was doing a business for people like us. He was helping us find these kinds of places.


I think without Paul doing his job, we wouldn't be here. No, would a few other people that we know in this area. He was doing a real service and it's a shame that he's not doing it anymore because there is a lot of potential in this area. So that was the start of the journey for this area of Croatia, but I always take it back to two other things in my childhood. One was as a boy, probably of 10 or 11 years old, I used to sit and listen to the radio at night trying to tune into.


strange radio stations that no one else probably listened to. I used to listen to Radio Moscow. Remember this is in the 70s and probably early, early 80s. I used to listen to Radio Moscow, which was this kind of propaganda service for the Soviet government. And I used to listen to the one in East Germany. I used to listen to something called Radio Free Albania, which I think was similar for Albania. They were all English language propaganda stations. And I just had this fascination for what was going on behind the wall, if you will, or behind the curtain, the Iron Curtain.


Obviously, Yugoslavia was never literally part of the Iron Curtain thing, but that whole notion of what was happening in the east of Europe fascinated me. And that was coupled with, I grew up in a church attending home, so my parents were Methodists and we used to have these missionaries come and tell us about smuggling Bibles into East Berlin and things like that. I was never that bothered about the Bible, but I was really fascinated by these stories of you might say, derring-do.


And it was again, it was feeding my fascination for what I saw as the East. So I think I've had it since I was a small boy really. And then obviously history for me, my own living history is Soviet, East-West relations, full of the Berlin Wall. And then unfortunately the Yugoslav War, the Home War as they call it in Croatia. And as you obviously in Bosnia, you're in an area that experienced some terrible things during that really difficult period.


was something that continued my fascination to some extent, although I was one of these plenty of people have said to us, Croatia isn't that war torn, you'll have had this in Bosnia. Of course, that's just a silly thing to say. And it's a beautiful country with wonderful people that's done an amazing job of recovering from something that happened in the last kind of 30 years or whatever. And it certainly doesn't define Croatia as a nation in the way.


It doesn't define Bosnia or Serbia Montenegro anywhere else really. But yeah, so probably from a very young boy, had a fascination for this area or this region, if you will, going east of Europe, that interest revived about 10 years ago and then we started looking and then just to finish that little story, I suppose we bought some land, not too far away from here. We thought we'll build on a piece of land, which we were going to do. And then actually this property became available and it was just too good to.


It was too good to not purchase. It's a beautiful location in a, just on the edge of a lovely living village, which we really love. And we've still got the land if anyone wants to buy a part of Croatia, there's a piece of land there that they could have. So we've still got the land, but it's lying dormant at the moment. This is our home. I remember as well, many years ago, listening on Valve radios to what was then offshore pirate radio in England.


There were always these markers on the dial and I got very nostalgic the other week by going out to a coffee bar here, which I'll take you to as and when you come down. It's the restaurant Slap, the waterfall restaurant just outside Banja Luka where the guy there collects valve radios. I've never seen the collection of it in my life before. And I thought very much of you after we first spoke offline as it were.


was a mark on it that said Ljubljana and I too used to listen to these sounds coming in and out, the static and everything like that. So when I came to Bosnia, I had a certain feeling and I wonder what it was like for you. Those perceptions of what was on the other side of not here, obviously in the form of the Slavia, not behind the wall, but certainly strong socialism,


which we both had never been exposed to. I certainly hadn't been exposed to it. So when you came to Croatia and you actually see it for what it is, what was your feeling from thinking, I'm not too far away from Ljubljana, from Slovenia, and what I used to listen to and the history that I studied. When you arrived in the reality where there is no war, like you and I both get asked all the time, it gets boring now, but you have to cope with it.


What was it like when you finally put the boots on terra firma and you're looking around and over your shoulder there, there is this quaint church. It's quintessentially rural Balkanism, isn't it? Really? We have two here. Two churches. One of the, I think, a fairly rare sight actually are those two churches.


So what was it been like from those perceptions as a younger man, listening to things and now living in that perception that you had? I think the perception changes over the years, doesn't it? I suppose why was I fascinated by those early delves into those kind of propaganda radio stations and so on? Because I was, maybe it was because I was somebody who was always interested in the other side of the story. And I think I still am to some extent that kind of person. And I think it was...


One of the fascinating things when we started traveling to this region on holiday, we used to love it. We used to drive to Slovenia and we'd drive for two weeks around Slovenia and never see another British car. And it's not that I'm anti my own country, but I just liked being somewhere where you didn't encounter a kind of British expat community. So that was always interesting for us. And the other thing about about traveling to Slovenia was it was the start of.


that looking at it physically from another perspective. So if you drive over the Versic Pass, for example, which takes you from Transcagora over to Bovets, the Socha River is beautiful. I don't know where they've ever been there, David, but it's just, the river is the same color as some of those lakes you get in Bosnia that I know I visited and are beautiful, that rich green, bluey green color. So the Socha River is beautiful. And as you go over the Versic Pass to come down into Bovets and into the Socha Valley, you pass a Russian,


a Russian church and I think graveyard there as well is with the church, maybe slightly separate. But it's from the First World War and you realise that you're looking at a war from a different front, which I think is you start to see something different and then we went rafting down the Socha River, which is obviously an exciting trip. But at the same time, the guy who took us, and our girls were only small at the time, but...


oslav war, obviously post the:


So you're hearing this, you're hearing a narrative of today. You're hearing what people are feeling like living here. That was in Slovenia. And at the same time, you're discovering a different history. And I think I would say complimenting that were regular trips to Budapest, Krakow. We took our girls when they were very small to Auschwitz and Berkinau and our friends were like, you're crazy. Why do you take your kids to something that's so sad? You take them to something like that because it's more important than taking them to Disneyland. Although my kids at the time.


may have disagreed with us. So as I worked in education, I used to do Erasmus exchange, I used to organize Erasmus exchanges. And so again, just my natural leaning towards the East meant that I was arranging for me to be able to travel and work in Budapest for short periods or Krakow places in what is central Europe, what was then felt was the East of Europe. So I think my understanding of this world that I now live in was probably not, there wasn't a kind of jumping in at the deep end.


It was formed over those years. And then living in the Middle East, you meet everyone in the Middle East. There's expats from everywhere. So you, if you've got any stereotypes about different people or cultures, then you know, living in the Middle East is a good place to break those down. So when we came here, I don't think there was too much shock for us. The biggest shock here is that people here say, how on earth did two British people come and live in Mejimoria, which is the area.


no one would do that, why would you do that? And it's a bit of a shock for Croatians to hear that we're here rather than a shock for us to be here. We found the people here very warm, very friendly, very supportive, right from as we were searching. And we had to narrow down the geography of where we were going to live. And eventually we found this part of Mejimoria, which is Gorne Mejimoria, upper Mejimoria. And some people describe it and call it little Switzerland.


It's a kind of certain area of the county that's just beautiful. A lot of the people from around here for years have traveled to Austria and Germany to work. And so on. It's only 30 kilometers from here to Austria, just through the narrowest part of Slovenia. So it's very well kept. It's the houses are well looked after. There are parts of Croatia, which are less developed. So the people here are quite forward thinking.


although they might not see themselves as that. So we settled really nicely and easily. I liked the way that you were describing people being amazed at why you have ended up where you have ended up and why would you ever want to come here because there's nothing here. I'm assuming that's what they're saying because I experienced that, yeah, at least twice or two or three times a week somebody is saying when they realize who I am, why did you come here? Of all the places you've come here and


I think I've got some ready-made answers to that, which is this is where I feel my happiest and I actually like the way of life here. And I try to explain to them that where they live for me, and it isn't my own realization with all the dysfunctionality that I have to live in, I still feel that this is a really good place to be. And it seems that you have the same view.


How do you respond briefly to somebody when you're walking outside your coffee bar or you're going to the apotheke, you're going to the chemist or whatever and somebody says, Britt, why here? What is your answer that rolls off your tongue or do you have to stand and go, oh my God, here we go again? My first answer is why not here? That's my first answer and it's a little bit of a probably a delaying tactic because I really don't know.


what to tell them. It's interesting when I'm somewhere where my Croatian isn't good enough to get by, I remember one guy pointing at the car and saying, your wife is from Croatia, you know? And I'm like, no, I'm sorry. She's also English. And I think Croatians are quite used to a trailing spouse, if you will. So there'll be a Croatian woman whose husband, there's a guy who lives down in Cakovac here. He's a Brit and he met his Croatian wife in Los Angeles. I think they both lived and worked and now they've come back.


and they're bringing their kids up in Croatia. So there are people like him, like you with Tamra. I don't, Gillian, I have both Northern UK people we happen to be here on our own. I think my answer is not understood, but I think so number one, flippantly, I will say why not. Number two, I will always say that we were always destined to, I think, live in Europe rather than going back to the UK for reasons related to weather and potentially politics, I suppose, with Brexit and so on.


There was all kinds of reasons why we would probably always want to live in Europe. And then we were open to wherever in Europe, really. I was always probably going to try and go as far East as I could before Julie said that's too far East. And we found, I think the Goldilocks spot, if you will, in terms of the place to live. Europe is another aspect that we were always going to live in Europe. I think the other thing I think I learn, I think we've learned this. And I think I've learned it over the two years that we've been here. There's lots to love about the lifestyle here.


And I'm talking about the quality of life rather than any notion of how much money you've got or what kind of car you've got or any of those kinds of things. Now maybe Bosnia is similar, I think, because there's lots of people who have left Bosnia to go and have a better life in Germany and so on. And it's happened here. And people here suffer from those friends of theirs that now live in Germany and drive an Audi and have a big house and then come back here every summer and tell their friends how wonderful it is and how well off they are. And it makes those here feel, I think.


belittled by that to some extent or lessened by that. But I tell them that in terms of having a quality life, there is nowhere like this, maybe Bosnia. The people here still live by the rhythm of nature almost. The bells go at six o'clock here and basically wake the village up and say, go to work. And seven a.m. is rush hour here, not nine a.m. or whatever it is in the UK, eight or nine a.m. People are finishing by two, because then they go home and they work in their...


I'm being slightly stereotypical. I know this is not, I know this is even dying, but this, the idea of people still grow their own vegetables, still raise a few chickens or a pig or a cow. They've got their own crop of corn or just some of that connection to nature. I think it is really nice for me coming from a farming background. And I actually, what I do, to be honest with you, David, I describe it as a progressive society because of that. They see it as something that means they're 30 years behind all these progressive societies in North and Europe.


But I actually see these as things that many Northern Europeans would love to go back to. Where life was a little bit simpler, where family was just as important as it is here, where your connection to nature is still quite strong, where the rhythm of life goes with the rhythm of nature, like you and your making sausages or baking rackia or bottling your peppers and things that I've enjoyed watching on your videos over the last five or six years, whatever.


They're all part of the rhythm of the nature of life in this region. And I love that. We've lost it in, I think most of the kind of Northern European countries. Yeah, I was certainly agree. Do you think that you've actually started in the two years that you've been where you've been, where you are now, are you getting into the, do you feel the start of that rhythm taking over in your life? Slowly. I think we, we talk about this a lot. Actually, we talk about feeling like it's okay not to do something.


not to be busy all the time. We've lived a pretty busy life over the last 20 years. So having feeling like you've got time is something that is very much a Croatian thing, very much a Balkan thing anyway. For example, I went to get my car serviced at Inverazdin and a friend of mine, Marco said, we'll meet for coffee. So he came and picked me up from the car place and we just parked and we walked to a coffee shop. We had a coffee.


He called a couple of friends, these friends came to visit him. We drank coffee. We then walked from that coffee shop to another coffee shop. We had all the time between me dropping the car from picking it up. It was about three and a half hours. And we just drank coffee for three and a half hours. And he was used to it. He's a relaxed guy. He's a night, he works a night shift. So this was during the day and this was spending time with his friends, spending time with other friends coming to the coffee shop. I think as it got towards about 11 o'clock, we probably had a beer as well. But.


I was almost getting anxiety from doing nothing. You can't, I was like, I can't just sit and do nothing. But we are learning and it's taking time. We are learning to do less. And we are learning that it's okay. I think in Dalmatia, I think they call it pomelo, means take it easy, a different pace. So we're learning to have that. And actually that kind of Protestant work ethic in me.


is that you should be working hard all the time and striving and busy and busy. And actually it's great to get rid of some of that. It's great for your stress levels. Although I'm not sure drinking as much coffee as we do is good for your stress levels. Yeah, and Bosnia, the word that they use because of the Turkish influence here, strong Turkish influence for 500 years nearly, they have the word shape. You have your shape and shape is like...


kicking back, but it's kicking back on steroids. You know what I mean? As far as a Northern European is concerned. And I think for me, after all the years I've been here, I still have the, when I'm doing nothing for the day, why should I be doing anything? There's no reason David calmed down and I'm talking to myself. I still get those guilt feelings. And when I express that, everybody around me says, you're gloop, you're stupid. Why?


Just don't do anything. Put your legs up on the sofa, enjoy the sun. And I still, yeah, I am getting used to it, but it is taking a bit of time. As far as being where you are in this small community, can you just describe your local town or your local large village over your shoulder where those two quaint churches are? What exactly have you got?


as the infrastructure to support you. I lived in a, before I came to Bosnia and Herzegovina, I was living in a village in South Oxfordshire, which I thought was small, which was 6,000 people. My municipality here has got 6,500 people, so goodness knows what, and we had everything in that village. I now live in a village and we don't have, we have a kiosk, what else do we have? We have a small half container.


which is a ladies hairdressing salon. What else have we got? Somewhere where you can buy plants, flowers to go to the graveyard. What else? That's about it. So what have you got? You look over the shoulder and you think, ah, what's behind those, those vines that you're sat in front of. So what have you got? What have you actually downsized from the Middle East? And it is an interesting downsize. So we, we live, living in the Middle East is a very kind of anybody who's done it knows it's a


We had a great time. This is not a negative on living in Abu Dhabi or Bahrain or the place we live. But there's a certain amount of fakery to that. Not that the people are fake or anything. I'm not making any judgement. It's the mall, it's air conditioning, the weather extremes mean that it controls your life. Bahrain is a little bit more earthy than Abu Dhabi. But when we came here, one of the things we were coming for is this greenery, this natural environment. And again, the only experience we've got is what we've got here.


And I've spoken to other Croatians who say, Mark, if you go to Slavonia, or if you go to other parts of Croatia, outside of Međimorje, and especially this part of Međimorje, it's not like this. So I accept that it's a limited view, but we've got two churches, one of which, the pink one here, is a working church, very much part of the community. The vicar lives just there. You can see the top of his roof of his house, just here. The other church is a church that's, it's not used. The bells still ring every now and again, but it's not used,


very interesting frescoes by an Italian artist. And so people visit for that. Up on the hill up here, there's a viewing tower that looks down over the whole area. This is the highest point in Mecimoria. And there's a wine bar up there where you can buy local wine. Apparently Strigova has got more vineyards per square mile than anywhere else in the world. So it's got lots of small vineyards. The wine producers are incredibly


productive and popular, but they're not big. So they always, all their wine, their wine rarely leaves Croatia. It's beautiful, white wines, some red, but mostly white wines and it's wonderful. So we're surrounded by vineyards and wineries where you can go and taste the wine and so on. And that's a really nice part of living here. But infrastructure wise, we have a restaurant in the village, just a minute away from the church. We've got four coffee bars.


And you know what I mean by that? Coffee and beer and water, pretty much what the... And Sedvita, I don't know whether you have that where you are, are in, there's four coffee bars. There are three supermarkets, one of which a Consum opened in the last year. So we've actually increased the number of supermarkets in the last year. We have a hair salon, a frisersky. We have a post office. We have a dentist. We have a doctor's. We have a petrol station. What am I missing?


zing and probably only two or:


So maybe that's why we have such good service, but it's a, it's definitely what you would call a living village. I'm going to be doing a podcast in the not too distant future, talking about healthcare in Bosnia and Herzegovina and especially in the Northern part. My story, maybe lots of people don't, but I had a serious break of my ankle some time ago and I was exposed to what I thought was going to be very backward, very primitive.


healthcare and found the whole experience totally, it shocked me. It was that good. I'm not going to give you any spoilers, but the other person I'm talking to gave birth here. She's also a foreigner. And I think that would be a very good topic for people to learn a little bit more of the backstory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. But how have you found being a rural person now in Croatia? I'm a rural person in a neighboring country.


whilst they are similar, there are differences between Croatia and Bosnia has governor. Have you had reason to use the health service? And if so, what has your experience been? Because when people think about where they're going to move, I don't think, maybe I'm wrong, but that's on the back seat. They want to think about what their property is going to be like and all the rest. These other things, healthcare seem to creep out of the woodwork. You never really.


planned for it and then something happens like me, I broke my leg and then it's, oh now what do I do? Have you got any experiences of that in Croatia? Here during the kind of, we bought the place during the Covid pandemic so we had to, we were living in Bahrain and we had to buy it all via power of attorney from Bahrain because we couldn't travel here but when we actually moved here in July 21 it was still around towards the tail end of, there were still restrictions and there was still need to go and have a booster job if you were going to have a job.


and we were going to have a jab because it's the only way we could travel. So our first experience was going for a booster jab for COVID, which was just very easy. You just go to the local hospital and there was COVID tests as well. You just went to the local hospital. None of that kind of privatization of it in the UK, where everybody's mates seem to be making millions from setting up COVID test centers on industrial parks and things. It was all part of the local hospital we paid. And so at least I suppose the money was going to the local hospital. So that was our first experience.


We got residency here and as when you get residency here, you have to pay a kind of national insurance type deal to get access to the healthcare. It's not expensive. And we've got that and it's interesting. Again, this is just comparing to the UK rather than comparing to the Middle East where we had private healthcare and everything's paid for it. It's all very swish and everything in places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but we were given a list of doctors and we said we were told we could choose one. Didn't really matter somewhere in Mejumoria.


We could choose a doctor. So we asked a friend of ours and she said the doctor in Strigover is a young man well-liked. So we said, we'll sign up with a local doctor then, that's no problem. So we had to fill in a form, took it down there, signed up with the doctor. Now, of course, we don't want to be in a situation where we need the doctor. But I think it was last, in the winter sometime, I started to get this sore throat and it got into my chest and I was thinking, I'm the kind of person who never goes to the doctor. And I just thought...


If this becomes pneumonia or something, I'm in trouble. I could be in trouble. And I just, I thought I need to get it checked out. Now this is of course, when you're hearing on the news that if you call a doctor in the UK, you can't get a reply. And if you do your appointments either by telephone or in three weeks time, I just walked down into the village. I can see the doctors from the other side of the house. I just walked down into the village, went in and the young lady receptionist in the doctors speaks great English.


And I said, I've just got this, gave my symptoms. I'm just not, I think I'd need to make an appointment. She said, hang on a minute. And she said, just wait five minutes. And the patient came out from our doctor. I walked in, it looked at it. He said, Mark, you're just going to have to, he's again, great English. She said, you're just going to have to let it work its way through. You don't need anything. It's fine. I said, great. That's all I needed to know. And I walked out. And what more could you want? In Chackavets, there's a big hospital, which friends of ours have had to access for various things and I've always seen to have had good service.


including one friend who had some quite serious stuff going on and seemed like you felt like the service was great. The other thing I like about here is if you, there is a private healthcare service here that is affordable to people like me. So I accept that some Croatians would see 200 euros for an ultrasound to be way too expensive for them. And I understand that we had a reason to require a little bit of care. And we just went to the private clinic and paid.


what was next at 150 euros or something. Whereas in the UK, it probably in a couple of thousand. And I think that's a problem for the UK because people who could afford to access private healthcare in the UK can't because it's so out of reach. Whereas here, you've got the standard of healthcare is pretty good anyway. We've never had a problem with it, but actually not far above in terms of affordability. You've got private healthcare, it's not out of reach. So that's really helpful as well. Having that private healthcare, if you can afford it and if you...


I suppose if we use the private healthcare, it's not placing us as a burden on the public system, which we have, of course, are also paying for and which we would use normally. But if you just want something that's defined and quick and you feel like you can afford it, then private healthcare isn't silly either in terms of price. No, for me, it's been well within budget, although people say you're living in a country that has got a lower standard of living to the UK, which is true.


I have my UK state pension and I also have a very small military pension. People think military pensions are large, but the reality is it's not. I couldn't live in the UK with a reasonable life. I'd have to be working even now, but here I can and I feel very grateful for that. But even so, with Croatia, which is a good few notches up on the quality of life from where I am.


Do you, I sometimes get this feeling that crazily that I'm better off, not financially, but I'm a lot better off in many other ways here than I would be back in the United Kingdom. Do you feel that at all? Or do you, or do you feel that sometimes there's a, oh, I wish I was back in, in the UK? I have no desire to be back in the UK. We have our two daughters and we miss them obviously. And but there's a Ryanair flight from Zagreb, which is only an hour and a quarter away.


from Mazargreb to Manchester, so it's not difficult for us to get back to the UK should we wish to. No, I... In terms of quality of life, there's no comparison. The weather here is better. We enjoy the food. There are certain things we miss, but not really. We miss variety in the restaurants. You can't go down to our local Indian takeaway here, but it doesn't mean the food's bad here. You just don't have the same choice. So no, I think there are lots of reasons why we feel living here is...


e on a thousand pounds, maybe:


Now, and that we don't skimp on our living either, and we eat lots of nice food and so on. But so of course you couldn't live on that kind of money in the UK. It would be crazy to try. So yeah, definitely the quality of life here is better than in the UK, without a doubt. I'm not going to give any secrets away now. And we're going to talk about the negative sides, because there will be a few negative sides in episode three. But you're not on holiday. You have a business. And as I alluded to in the lead up that


We're going to talk in the next episode about what it's like in the Western Balkans, because I think the bureaucracy of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular are similar. So it's going to be interesting as we go through that. But you have a business and a very unusual business, I think, and I've talked to a lot of people that I mix with and I've been showing them your website and your Instagram channel and everything.


Well, who's an Englishman doing this? And I said, yes. So you are in the glamping business. The, I think glamping is a combination of glamour and camping, which when I sat down and after we talked offline and I thought, hang on, I'm trying to get a line of logical thought between running a glamping business and having been a teacher, the academia of it. Yeah, I get that.


being out and doing glamping, I get that, but how did this come together? And we'll talk about it in the next episode, but how exciting or how terrifying has it been to set that sort of business up in this wonderful area surrounded by vineyards where you are? It's a really good question. And I think this part of me wants to say that if you knew what you know, now you ask yourself the question, would you have done it again? And


When you think about the money we've invested or looking at it from any angle, you could very easily say you'd have been better off not doing it. You could easily say that if all it does is cost you 12,000 pounds a year to live there anyway, why would you invest a load of money in something and then have to re get a return on that? We'll talk about the technicalities of opening a business and running a business, but I would, so just very generally, we knew this was always a lifestyle business.


It was never a business to make a million or anything. We're not interested. It was always a lifestyle business. We wanted to do something that connected us with the community. We know that Croatia is becoming known as a place for digital nomads to come and work and that's great. And there are lots of people doing lots of interesting things in Croatia. For us, we wanted something that connected us with that community down behind us. As soon as you start opening a business like this here, you get noticed.


We've been on TV, we've been in the newspapers, you can Google us and find articles and films. We've got people coming and filming tomorrow again from a local newspaper. They just have that, why on earth? Why would you do this? That's the questions and the same answers come. For us, it was connecting us to the community. It was giving us something to keep us busy. It was doing something very different from what we've done before. We've built relationships with the local mayor in the town, the local tourism. When we're in the town, I went to buy some.


bedding plants for some pots we've got near the swimming pool. And the lady I was buying them off who spoke English said, Oh, I saw you on TV. She knew who we were. It's just, she doesn't even live here from somewhere else. So we've, it's really probably more than we feel comfortable with. Actually we've become a little bit known, not famous, just known. And we're not that bothered about that really, but we are interested in being connected to the local community. So having the business has done that for us. We think this is a beautiful part of the world.


We've had people from Netherlands, Belgium, around Croatia, UK, Slovenia, and no one comes and says, why on earth do you live here? We've had people come and say, are you selling this place? Cause we'd love it. The type of these passionate travelers who come and find this little pocket of beauty and love it. So yeah, all sorts of really positive reasons for doing it. We were happy to invest a certain amount of money in it, which is what we've done.


And we just keep working hard to try and make it successful. And the downside is people don't know what glamping is. And when you come to, especially locally, and you come to stay in a glamping tent, you're actually, it's like a five-star hotel in one of those tents. You've seen the, you've seen the pictures. Julie dresses them beautifully and there's the pool and there's a beautiful kitchen in the barn and it's not camping by any means. But.


I think there's a more utilitarian mindset maybe amongst a lot of Croatians, which is that if you go away you get a bed for the night, and nor is it just a bed for the night, it's an experience. Waking up with the birds singing or the church bells ringing, it's more than a bed for the night. And I think there is quite a utilitarian attitude in Croatia to being if you go away for a bed for the night, and actually what we think we're selling is an experience. So it'll take some time, but we've got time, we're in no hurry.


Of all the guests that you've had at the moment, and you were eluding there, there's people from the Netherlands and outside Croatia, and you've actually had Croatians yourself. I know that when I speak to people from the country that I'm in, whilst they will take breaks within their own country, mainly because they can't afford to go where they want to go, even going to the Croatian coast for a Bosnian, it's expensive, but it's...


It's no cigar when it goes to Paris, they simply cannot afford that. And they, and when they're in their own country, they can be, I think, overly critical of the wonders and the beauty and the experience that they have on their doorstep. Do you find that with Croatians as well? That why do I want to go and glam when, what is this? Because Balkan people to me are conservative with a small C. Is that the same where you were? I think.


probably similar to what you're in Bosnia and that is the Croatians all even around here they talk about they either talk about going to the coast depends on their language English language because I hear it in English or going to the sea if they're going to the sea you know exactly what they mean there's this exodus to the coast which is something which is absolutely in the Croatian psyche and for good reason you've been you I've seen you I've seen your vodcasts from there it's beautiful the Croatian coastline is beautiful


70s and 80s, you go tours did such a good trade in the UK selling people those holidays down into Yugoslavia And it was that meant the coast didn't it really didn't mean much else a little bit of Slovenia, but mostly it was the coast there's a complete psyche about going to the coast and We are this area is waking up as a tourist destination but it's not a mass tourist destination and Probably won't be for a long time, but I think there is a recognition of a I think we do


We are part of that kind of get back to nature type vibe that is taking root in, in Croatia, as well as around the world. And I think people come here and they can have wifi and everything. I'm not saying it isn't a modern experience, but they can also just. Chill and have time. And we've had couple, there was a couple, lovely couple came from Netherlands last year for a week. And they had all kinds of plans to do all kinds of things. Honestly, they hardly moved from the place because they just wound down and rested. And.


So we feel like we're offering something that's quite special. I think the area offers something quite special. So we just sell that. But yeah, Croatians generally speaking, we'll come here for an experience and enjoy it, but the coast is in their mindset. It's the coast is strong as a holiday destination for Croatians. It's it certainly is, but I got the feeling and I was talking to Tamra about it. And she said, do you think Mark's a trailblazer when it comes?


doing things different because within the region they seem to look at what somebody else does. For example, we're glamping in Croatia, it would be the Brits doing it, we've got to watch him for a few years, see if he fails and if he doesn't, man, we're jumping on that train, we're jumping on that train and hopefully we'll keep up with him. Is that a fair assumption? I think there could be a bit of that, yeah. I think there could be. I don't think...


I think that's one of the things like earlier when I said, if we'd know what we knew now, would we still do it? I think we still would, but we'd probably not be so romantic about how we thought the build it and they will come type thing. And we've done pretty good social media. We've got pretty good exposure. We've got a fairly decent website. We've got our own booking system, all that kind of stuff. We've done everything that we think we can do bar throwing thousands and thousands at marketing for example, but we've done everything. We do it all ourselves. I wrote the website. I would just do it ourselves.


And we've done everything pretty much, but I think we were naive. I think we thought that means that people would just go, wow, that looks amazing. Let's go and experience it. I don't think we're there yet. I think it will come. And I think as it comes, yeah, Croatians, there will be Croatians who have this idea. You can go glamping on the coast, but again, glamping is an interesting term. For us, it's about being in the national natural environment. So we've got tents and they're beautiful and everything. But then if you go to some places on the coast, the glamping, they're actually just caravans without wheels and they've.


made them look like a kind of cabin type thing. It's got air con inside and very small bedroom and a galley kitchen type thing. That's not glamping. It's just being marketed as glamping. So it's a kind of confused market as well, I think, but we're the only one in this area doing it. And there's a fairly, there's a developing holiday home offer here. That's got some fairly low budget apartment type stuff available, but then it's also got some quite nice high end.


holiday homes with a swimming pool and so on, but not that many. We've got a pool, we've got a sauna, got the kind of things that people enjoy. So yeah, maybe people will follow us. We'll see in a couple of years, I think. We'll talk more about the business in episode two and dig deeper into that. But I was just thinking to myself about what you said earlier about prior to coming here and being in the past in environments where there were these


British ex-pat seen like I am, I like to keep away from it. And then you mentioned about how Jilly's doing a lot. She dresses your, the accommodation that you offer beautifully and everything. But people miss things like they miss coffee mornings. They miss going to the pub and stuff. Things that we would say would be quintessentially English or British. And there you are.


5 minutes walk from the village.


Does what the village in the region, your near region, offer you compensate for that? Or do you and Gilly sometimes think, oh, I just wish we could have a dinner party like we used to have with the food that we used to have? Do you have those moments? Yeah, I think living as an expat in the Middle East, you get used to this. There's thousand basically, I don't know, 70% of Abu Dhabi, I think, are expats who live there.


And that's Indian, Bangladeshi, Southeast Asian, as well as Americans, Brits and Canadians and so on. So you, we're just used to being part of an expat community, but we never re we made friends in that community. We never really did the whole big groups of expat things, but here we have a few friends around who are Brits, who are the only other Brits and they're lovely people. So we get on well with them and that's very fortunate. And so we meet up with them now and again, and we have dinner with them and we do things like that. We've also made friends with.


Croatians. It's a nice story actually. We've been here maybe a week and we went to a restaurant down in Čakovič. It's a grill, barbecue grill type restaurant. Lovely place. And the waiter, young guy came and saw her English and said, oh, we just moved here and we're living in Strigo. And he said, oh, my parents have got a place in Banfi, which is just up behind here, a small sort of hamlet really we would call it.


He went off and got our drinks and came back and he said, we've, I've spoken to my mum and dad, after you've had dinner here, you're going to see them. And like, where would that happen? So we, Vlad and Nina live just up behind us here and we met them and they're a lovely couple. We had drinks with them and we went the next night as well. And so we've been really welcomed and we've got other good Croatian friends. We're going to a Croatian wedding this summer with our friends, Marco and Ivana, which we're really looking forward to. But our Croatian is so terrible.


And language learning is a, is not something I'm good at and we haven't spent enough time doing it. And it's our one Achilles heel and one area where we feel like we've failed ourselves as much as failed Croatia. Mixing isn't that easy. And also Croatia is not a closed community, but people have their lives and life goes on, doesn't it? Without these two Brits moving into the area. So life for people goes on. I think I don't, I'm not as probably impacted as Gillie is.


I think for Gilly, she got used to in ex-pat life and even before we moved away from the UK, having that circle of female friends, the girls go out for, I'm sure Tamara does it, goes out for drinks with the girls, goes out and has a coffee with the girls, goes to whatever. That kind of thing that I think is really important for some people, especially women maybe, I don't know. But it's not something that bothers me. But for Gilly, she misses that, so she doesn't have that. And yeah, obviously missing the kids as well. So.


Julie sometimes will fly back to Manchester for a week. She did a couple of weeks ago without me and spend a lot of time with our two daughters and catch up with a few friends and things and feeds that need for that kind of tribe, I suppose you might say, that she doesn't get here. But we accept she doesn't get it here to some extent. We don't try and overforce that. That's just the nature of being here. And we find ways to manage it. And she's found, I think she's found a Pilates class in.


Chaka Vets to go to, which that's something she always did when we were abroad and she enjoys. So she'll start going to that and that'll get her into another group of probably predominantly women. And you just work around it. You don't, there's no point worrying about it. You just manage it. You are incredibly passionate about what you're doing. And you can see that from the way that you are at the moment and the way that you're talking. We're going to round off. We've been doing this nearly an hour. Do you know that?


barely scratched the surface, but it does. But in the next episode, I think we're going to dive deeper into what it's like for you having, whether you've had a massive bureaucratic nightmare in setting this up, the setbacks that you've had, ways of doing things that you most probably never thought you would do that. We'll be looking at this in episode two. And for people that are watching the video version of this.


You're going to see that maybe the setting might change and the reason being for that, so that when you watch these and we're going to wait a few weeks till we publish these so that you can binge watch it, you can go from episode to episode. Mark and I, as I said, decided that we should do this in bite-sized chunks. I know an hour is hardly a bite size, but it's bite-sized chunks so that you can dip in and out of whatever you want. So the next time...


you both hear us or see us, we might sound that we're in a different place, you might see the background being in a different place. It might not be the church, so don't get worried about that. But finally, for this episode, Mark, how is the season going for you? I know that your business season runs, I think, correct me if I'm wrong, May to September. We've not had the usual Western Balkan season. We've been going from


dry to wet to dry to wet, which we've never experienced in years. And you heard me saying, uh, when we've chatted privately that the rackier this year, if we get even 200 liters, that's going to be like amazing. We normally make a lot more than that. So where you are, is the season going well, or are you marginally disappointed because of the weather? Last, we opened last year and we'll talk more about this next time, but.


Last year we got open for like the middle of July. So we only had the rest of July and then August and a little bit into September, but then September was wet last year. And so September was pretty much dead. So basically we had six weeks and in that six weeks, we were 70% occupied, which we felt was really good first time out. This year has been quieter than we would have hoped. But like you said, the winter was wetter than the winter before.


March and April were like, it was like being back in the UK. It was crazy. And so our, that time where you're hoping that people are feeling like they want to go and try something like this, I think that spoiled it. And then to be honest, it's great today. It's about 20 degrees. Yesterday it was around 28, 30, but we haven't had those long periods of settled hot weather that we had last year or in our first year when we came. So I think the unsettled weather hasn't helped us.


I think the cost of living in Croatia has really put people under a little bit this year. I think the change to the euro and then inflation has made that difficult. We're in contact with other people who run glamping businesses and it's quiet for them too. So I think it's a quiet year, probably something to do with cost of living, probably something to do with the weather. But we're not going to worry too much about that. We keep everywhere beautiful. We've got some people coming in relatively soon to stay. So we're ready for them to come.


Yeah, we just talk about me being positive or enthusiastic. We just remain pretty steadfast in positive about it. And we expect July and August to be relatively busy, I think. But the season probably isn't going to be as long as we hoped it would be. My fingers are crossed for you. I think that's it. I think that's it for this episode. I'm really looking forward to when we record the next one, because yeah, we can, I'm not saying it's going to be a serious episode, but I think it will be because


It's if you want to come to the Western Balkans, we're going to look at Croatia being like the study, if you will, the case study to find out what it's like. Once the glamour of it all is sunk in that, oh, I'm in a different country and I want to start a business. What it's like here for those of you that are thinking of coming to the Western Balkans, I think it's going to be a must listen to episode if nothing else.


You'll get the reality check, but I think the bonus on offer will be some tips and tricks, although Mark might not say they're tips and tricks, but I think when you learn from other people's experiences, it will either make you say, no, I ain't going to do it or yeah, I'm going to do it. You didn't have any people to give you tips and tricks, did you? You, this is a school of hard knocks. Yeah, to some extent, but I think what we did have were, and we'll talk about this next time we had some amazing advocates who.


Local Croatian, our architect in particular, Jasmina and her husband and a few other people, a little teasing. The moment we actually got the license, the lady, the lovely lady in the local tourism office in Cakovac, in the in the, yeah, she cried and she cried because she was just so passionate about helping us do this thing that no one else had ever done before. And because they'd never done it before, they didn't know how to deal with us. But her,


the license she literally just cried because it was so emotional for us. When you've got that level of support around you, you can be flying by the seat of your pants but you can get there.

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About the Podcast

An Englishman in the Balkans
Find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina
Encouraging people to find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"Welcome to "An Englishman in the Balkans" podcast, hosted by David Pejčinović-Bailey.
In this podcast, you'll get a unique look at life in Bosnia and Herzegovina through the eyes of an immigrant. Each episode, David shares his experiences living in this often misunderstood country, and introduces you to some of the interesting people he's met along the way.
From exploring the rich culture and history, to discussing the challenges and joys of immigrating to a new country, this podcast offers a thoughtful and engaging look at life in the Balkans.
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About your host

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David Pejčinović-Bailey

I am a podcaster, living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and sharing my experiences of living in this often misunderstood country.