Episode 18

Living in Croatia with Mark Whitfield - Part 3

Published on: 27th August, 2023

Welcome to this final episode of our mini series about life in Croatia through the eyes of another Englishman, Mark Whitfield.

This is the third instalment of a three-part series, where I’ll be finding out about . how difficult it is, or maybe not so, a business in Croatia.

Mark gives some valuable insights into daily life living in the north of Croatia near the small town of Štrigova.

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:


Get full access to 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 An Englishman in the Balkans Blog 🇧🇦 at anenglishmaninthebalkans.com



It's An Englishman in the Balkans. It's the third episode of this mini series about what it's like to live in Croatia as a foreigner and my new best buddy, who I've yet to meet in real life, but he lives in a place called Strigova, which is in the north of Croatia. If you followed the past two episodes, you'll know that Marcus said it's quite an unusual place insofar as the people there think.


They're pretty special as far as Croatians are concerned, and they have their own dialect and everything. That's correct, isn't it, Mark? Yeah, I think they're actually probably, there's probably more humility than you allude to there. But yeah, this is a county where people have a very strong identity that they are Međimurja. Yeah, but I think there's a level of humility that Yorkshiremen like me don't have. Since you mentioned about being a Yorkshireman, as far as being the holistic British nest.


of both of us and you said you have to remember that I'm a Yorkshireman and I come from God's country and I was giggling about that and I like to have really strong tea. Something that we don't get here. Yeah, they sell tea in the stores, but it's all to do with, I don't know, perfume plants and things like that. There's no real strong black tea. So I have to wait for the mules to mule it in over the border for me. And I thought about you last night actually as I was making myself a builder's tea.


and I have a box of Tetlys and do you remember that advert where it says Tetys make tea? I'm sorry about this crap accent. Exactly. Yeah, Međimurjans are really like, would you say they really are, as far as you're concerned, the Yorkshire people of Croatia? It's probably not quite so straightforward. I think, again, sorry about the bells, we shouldn't time these things for 12 noon, David. I think


people from various regions of Croatia probably have a strong identity. I think Dalmatians would say that they have a strong identity. I would say that Istrians would say that they have a strong identity. I think Međimurians do have an identity that's very about Međimurja. I think it's also a kind of underdog mentality to some extent in the greater Croatia because I think there is a sense here, we were out at some friends a few nights ago and they were saying...


feel like they punch above their weight to some extent in that they recognize that maybe they don't have too many politicians down in Zagreb. They tend to come from different regions but not necessarily Međimurja. So I think they feel they represent their county well and I think they do have that identity. But I think probably Dalmatians and Istrians and other counties, Slavonians and so on, would also have an identity as well. In this episode we want to talk about daily life, which when I asked somebody I said,


really interesting because this is a completely different lifestyle and we have a lot in common but there's a lot different as well. I like the bells by the way, I think it's really cool. Just before we started recording this we were just chatting to each other about the weather that we've been experiencing in both our areas recently and for us...


It's been a real pain because it's blowing the trees down, it's upending plants, and it's making life tedious because every morning we wake up, we clean it up, and then the next evening it seems that it comes back again. But I was quite shocked to hear that with your business, it has had a direct impact on your business. Can you tell us a little bit about how these...


I don't know what name we give to these storms anymore, but they seem to be like mini tornadoes, they're like mini squalls from Asia or whatever, but it's had a direct impact on you. Can you tell us a little bit about how it has impacted you? Yeah. So at the moment, the sun's about to break out through the clouds, which is great. We've got a beautiful Međimurian sky today. It's lots of high cloud and sunshine, so we've got a good day today. A few weeks ago, we had that big storm. I think you had a similar storm.


where you are, I would describe it as hurricane winds. I don't, we were woken up at, I don't know, 4.30 in the morning or something, and I opened the front door and I watched the wind. We've got a lot of trees around us. So I watched the wind tossing these trees around and the rain didn't seem to be falling. It just seemed to be turning in circles in the wind. It almost didn't, there's a lot of it, but it didn't seem to be able to get to the ground because the wind was so strong. So I looked, we, Julie and I looked at the wind and the rain and we anticipated that


our tents weren't probably going to look very good after that, which they're very well made tents. We went to one of the higher end type of this kind of bell tent and we staked them down. I didn't just use the pegs that they gave us. I drove like fencing stakes into the ground and tied the ropes to the fencing stakes. So we did everything we could for what would be a strong wind, but we've got four tents. Of those four tents, three of them were damaged or at least blown around.


to such an extent that the water had ingressed. So the tops had been blown off and things like that. And so the water was getting in. So we had wet carpets, got these jute carpets that were soaked. And thankfully the beds had some, like a waterproof cover on, so they were okay. But yeah, just a real mess in three of the four tents. The one tent that survived was dry inside. So that was really great. But the wind, I don't know what we would describe that wind as. And I don't know what the power of that.


than miles per hour or kilometers per hour those winds were, but we live on the edge of a hill and I think we got full force. Although there were plenty of reports of damage around the area too, but the fencing stakes which I drove into the ground and tied the tent to were just snapped like carrots. They're basically anywhere where the fencing post was into the soil, they just snapped at soil level, just pinged them, snapped them in two. It wasn't even that it pulled them out of the ground, it just snapped them. So it was really quite...


traumatic, I suppose you would say to see that. Obviously that just gets you down, doesn't it? That kind of thing. Anyway, we asked a couple of friends, British friends actually, who were in the area, who live in the area too, if they had some time to come and help. And so they did, and it was all hands on deck and we managed to write everything and get things dry over the next three to four days, drying things out, putting the tents back up. We actually tour the tents. We actually took them down completely because, and took them off the bookings because they...


We just felt like this is the kind of summer we seem to be having this strange weather, which we're not used to. And then about, and so we got the two tents looking nice. We had some guests come. They really enjoyed it. Had a great time. Lovely couple and their family. And then just after Bay left, the wind blew again and it wasn't quite so bad. And it was about three o'clock in the afternoon for about an hour. And this was maybe last, not last week, the week before. And we just again, we had to sit it out. It's quite dangerous here.


We're on a hill, there's a lot of thunder and lightning, a lot of trees. You can't really go to fight that kind of wind. So we had to just sit it out and then we went out afterwards and the two tents we'd left up, both had been tossed around again, snakes snapped again and everything. And so it didn't take quite so long. Our daughter was here with her boyfriend. So there were Emma and Duncan and myself went and started getting the tents put back together. Jilly was writing. The swimming pool was full of swaths, sunbeds and blown in and things like this.


We managed to write it and correct it that time. So that was better. In amongst all that, we also, we've got this beautiful barn and the sauna room, sauna slash pool room. We had tiles missing off the rooms and I had to put all those back on. We managed to get everything done. We haven't felt the need to claim from insurance, everything. Thankfully these tents are really high quality so the canvas didn't tear or anything, but it's made us a little bit flat about the summer in this summer compared to like last summer or the summer before, this is our third summer living here.


And this weather is crazy. It's I say to people, I'm sorry, it's our fault. We brought British weather, but actually those winds are worse than just British weather. This is, they were pretty bad. Yeah. Funny you should say that because that's what I got as well. Since you've come here, we've getting all this rain and you've brought all that. It's it. I should laugh at it, but it does get a bit tedious. We were talking as well about things that are typically British and what defines us and I love drinking tea.


I do like coffee. Don't get me wrong. You can't be in the Balkans without coffee. I appreciate that. But I like tea. And I mentioned to you that when I make this strong builder's tea that I like, this is not sponsored or anything, but it's Jet Liz, which is from your part of the world up in Yorkshire. I do believe if I've got it wrong, I'll pay whatever price and prostrate myself. But when I, sometimes I try to fight it, but I get


really nostalgic sometimes, especially when you're watching TV movies. Jack Frost on TV or you're watching Vinnie Jones in a crime film or wherever and you go, oh, I know that place. I know that must be the same with you and Sean Bean, isn't it? But I wish. When you have things like these past days, did you get a feeling like of, wow, if I was home, I would be able to get people to be able to rally around me and help me out?


Are you lucky enough, like I am super lucky enough, to have neighbours that as soon as they realise something's going wrong, they just jump in as you say? Yeah, we actually called on, I think if I'd have called on any of our Croatian friends here they'd have come straight away too. So I don't think this is delineating between a Croatian response or a British response, but we haven't had our friends who live quite close to here, Dave and Jackie, I got in touch with them and then...


There's another couple here, Angie and Howard, who come here for the summers and they live not too far away. And he had his nephew with him, no, his grandson also staying. I just got in touch with them. They were getting in touch with us. How are you doing? It was quite a storm wasn't it? What's going on? And I was just very honest with them. And Julie always tells me I'm too slow to accept help in any form. She said, you just, you should accept. And so actually on this occasion, I was asking for help, never mind accepting it. And they were...


Right. Let me get a shower. I'm straight over or let me just feed the dogs. And then I'm straight over that kind of thing. We were really grateful to, to our friends for responding in that way. And they responded as would have happened in the UK, I think. And yet it meant that we managed to resolve all the issues much more quickly. Still with some days of playing around, drying things out and everything, but we got the major aspects of it sorted one day and then the following day, I think Dave came again the following day just to help us out a little bit.


And we were done. Yeah, no, really appreciative of our friends in the area. These happened to be the British guys that we just called, but I think if we'd have called on any of our Croatian friends, it would have been the same. Yeah. Daily life struggles for us both at this time of year in the Western Balkans. But yeah, let's look at some other things because I know that people are interested in this and something that hit me today was I had a delivery of a new t-shirt, I'll wear it in the future. I've got an Englishman in the Balkans t-shirts.


I ordered them, it's from an American company, but I think that they distribute them from places all over the world, to be honest. And the reason I'm mentioning this is that, oh, this sounds awfully negative, but I don't mean it to sound awfully negative. My batting average on receiving things that I've ordered from abroad, in other words, outside Bosnia and Herzegovina, isn't too great. I'm on a 55% loss rate. A 55% loss rate. That's no good. No, it isn't. And rather...


I don't know how the postman work in Croatia, but this guy is slightly overweight, wears a hugely bright yellow shirt, because yellow is the colour of the postal service. And he's on a moped. I don't know how it bears his weight, but I can tell you one thing, the suspension is taking some hammering. I'm not mentioning his name, so I'm not going to insult him necessarily. Today I actually got my package. I don't know.


You're in the EU. I know that I'm not in the EU, but the thing that always strikes me as being different from what I remember about my previous life in the UK, we never paid for anything that the person that posted it paid the postage and then it would arrive in your door or through your letterbox and it was the end of the story. Right. Today I had to scram around for one Mark 80. What's that? 90 euro cents before he would hand over the package. And then I had to sign and do all that sort of nonsense. And.


When I go to the post office, I get an internal security interrogation. What's inside it? Where's it going? How long have you known these people? Which I find quite an insult actually, especially when I have to turn around and say, I'm sending something to my daughter and she won't never mind, but it was slightly intimate for a guy, not for, and they couldn't understand why she couldn't get this in the States is a postal service. More British, more efficient where you are, cause where I am, it's like touch and go.


I think probably a little better than you've got it, but has many similarities. So I think one of the problems that we've found is, first of all, if you lived in the UK, then you just think everything's like Amazon. And then actually you realize that all these things are not necessarily global. So Amazon in Germany does deliver here, but then they put on quite excessive postage prices. So you might spend 30 euros on something and the postage is an additional 25 euros.


And it's ridiculous. So you do find that you don't do as much mail ordering maybe as you would have done if you live somewhere else, because there just isn't the ways to do it. In terms of getting stuff sent here, Julie, back in Carlisle, where we used to live, there's a little clothes shop that Julie really loves and the woman in there is always really nice. And when we, if we ever go in there, she always makes me a coffee cause she knows I'm going to be a while. It's just one of those kind of nice places and it's got all these kind of linen, linen clothing that Julie loves.


Jillian had been back in the UK and she'd ordered a load of stuff off her, I think, when she was back. Oh no, maybe she'd ordered it via Facebook or whatever. Anyway, this package arrived. And so packages generally do arrive. I think that's the first thing to say. I think we have a higher strike rate than you. Post-Brexit, stuff coming from outside the EU is liable to tax. So we don't tend to get things just being handed over to us. Like you say, there's a kind of, give me the money and I'll give you the parcel. And it was interesting with that parcel.


I don't know, I don't want to, I might be, this might be a bit accusatory now, but the parcel was, let's say the goods in the parcel were worth 80 euros, let's say, I don't know. On the parcel, in just by row, he said something like, I don't know, 22 euros or something, just a figure. I can't remember, 18 or 22 euros or something. And the postman just, because our Croatian is terrible and his English isn't great.


He basically told us we needed to pay this money that was written in biro on the parcel. So we paid the money and left no receipt or anything. And I don't know whether the post just basically comes up the lane, knows that we're British and writes a number on the parcel. It says we have to pay it. Because there's no, I've got no receipt. I've got nothing. I don't know. And I can't work out that you can never work out. We had friends say similar. I'm not sure whether it's a percentage of the value of the goods, but they didn't know the value of the goods. So it's weird. So I think there's a little bit of.


Creative accounting goes on when we do get parcels delivered. I have to say our friends, Dave and Jackie, who I mentioned earlier, who lived just across the way, they go back to the UK quite a lot, they've got dogs and they've got spaniels and they show the dogs and so often they went back to crufts and things like that. So often he'll go back to the UK and then he'll say, is there anything you want? And so we'll get some maybe parcels delivered to the UK and then he'll bring them back with us and he'll bring bacon and Pataks curry paste and


other things like that we might want. So we do minimize the number of parcels that get delivered, but when they do, I think there is some creative accounting. Yeah. Funny you should be talking about Patak's curry paste because we've got that in one of the local stores. Is it Mercator? That's a Croatian brand, I think. Yeah. We've had that. I think Slovenia. I think it's Slovenia. Yeah. Maybe. Yeah. Yeah, it is. Sorry. But years ago, I was looking around.


to have a few little things that I was used to having. And as you say, people used to come along and I used to say, oh, you couldn't smuggle in like a block of English mature cheddar because it wasn't that at all. Now of course, you can buy those products and there's, I can't remember the name, it's not Coleman's, but it's something like that. We started to have British companies selling things like chutney. Years ago, we've got tons of apples here. You'll see when you come to visit.


You can't eat them all. And you certainly can't make all of it in Rakija. So I started making chutney, which they found local people, especially my neighbours, found it was really weird that I wanted to eat like apples and raisins and everything boiled down into this mash and eat cold with cheese. They just thought I was such a philistine, but I enjoyed it. And it was something that made me feel, I don't know, just gave me a little cuddly effect. And now it's available. So slowly I'm being looked after.


But you're right. I would say that 90% of the people that drop by from friends from the UK that come here, and actually we have an apartment upstairs that we rent, but we've had Brits saying, oh, David's a Brit, isn't he? And we answer, yes, he is. Great. We just wanted to know. And I've always said to Tam, why are they asking? That's a bit weird. And when they arrived, the first thing is, got some Marmite. What a way to introduce yourself. Hi, you've never met me, but here's some Marmite.


I'm looking on the other side of my little studio here and there's a can of Guinness. I love Guinness. People think I'm weird. They think it's absolute rubbish. But it's like in Strigova, and I don't know what your nearest bigger town is. Is it Varazdin maybe? Cackavec. Are you able to get some of the things that you've been used to? And if not, have you found anything from Croatian stores that are in somehow a replacement?


Yes. When we think about this, we have to bear in mind that we lived in the Middle East for a good while as well. And in the Middle East, you go in a, you go in a supermarket in Abu Dhabi, for example, and you've got to remember that a supermarket in Abu Dhabi will have meat, let's say Pakistani mutton at a certain price for local Pakistani workers who can't afford more expensive, right through to, I don't know, Brazilian fill at stake. So they, they cater for.


different nationalities and if you look at their aisle of breakfast cereals, they'll have British, American, Australian, European breakfast cereals. So we're used to actually living somewhere where the choice is ridiculous in comparison to the choice that we would have in the UK, never mind here. Here, yeah, the things are limited, but it's really quirky things like, Gilly loves baby sweetcorn and you don't get baby sweetcorn here. So when she goes back to the UK, she always has


You can't get it here. So it's weird that you can't get that. But of course you can get most of the vegetables and fruits that we would get anywhere else, maybe some of the more exotic ones are not available here. We find that Lidl has a mature English cheddar, which is a great place to get your mature English cheddar from. Sometimes they have these British weeks or Irish weeks where you'll get back bacon and so on, but actually we've, we, we've actually found over the time we've been here, there are certain Croatian products which are close to bacon.


For example, I think it's vrat, which means neck of pork. If you slice that thinly and fry it off, it's like back bacon, really. You do find some alternatives, but yeah, little is our saviour when it comes to having products from around the world, but it's definitely more limited. But then of course it means there are other things that you wouldn't get in the UK that you can also try that are much more peculiar and particular to this region. Yeah. Suvi vrat. Nice and thinly sliced.


in the pan and then afterwards fry the eggs in what's left of it. Yeah. I found that to be perfect. So a top tip for anybody that's coming to the Western Balkans, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Suvi Vrat, that's what you want. Just get a lump of it. That's it. Slice it as you like. And it's the nearest thing you're going to get. It's a bacon. Absolutely. Yeah. Okay. My favourite local meal actually is


anything that's cooked under the sac, like under that, the bell that they have. And I think they have the same tradition in Croatia. So I like veal under the sac with these nice potatoes. And we have a really nice local restaurant. You're going to laugh at this because I'm going to ask you if you've had any similar experiences. So I used to be a serviceman in the military and the other year, three of my former colleagues came and they liked their beers and we went to this place.


And I said, can I recommend something? And they went, what is it? And I told them about this really nice local meal. Tamara was with me and she said, she'd never seen me look so shocked in my life because the waiter came over, spoke a little bit of English and said, what would you like? And they said, can we have egg and chips? And to have egg and chips in the Balkans is so unusual. So I had to suffer the indignity. That's ridiculous. Oh me.


they wanted egg and chips and you could see everybody in this restaurant saying French fries and eggs. It was crazy. You've been where you are now for two years plus and you've visited before. What is your favourite meal, your favourite Croatian meal when you go out? Something that really hits the spot and you wouldn't eat it all day every day, but if there was such a thing, what would it be? Yeah. So it's interesting trying local cuisines. If we're at a


Croatian friends and they bring out a meat platter with local meats. The meat always tastes amazing and it's all cured hams of these, you know the type, with bread and so on. And if I try and replicate that, I go to the supermarket and buy the meats from the supermarket and they never taste as good. So I don't know, I need to find these little butchers and places where they buy their local meat because it always tastes better when somebody else has bought it than it does when I


It's, there are clearly some good places to get stuff. So I think sourcing different meats and so on is something that's quite particular and I haven't quite sorted out yet. There's a product here called, I think it's called Slanina or it's spelled Sla-Nin na, I suppose we would say, but it's such Slanina. And I think it's pork fat and it looks white. And it's the kind of thing that growing up on a farm in, in, in the UK, it's the kind of thing you would be used to.


We used to have our chips fried in lard and all that. But I was like pork fat, that sounds a bit weird. And then I had pork fat and it's, if it's done, it's absolutely delicious. And it's usually, if it's got a smoky flavour to it, I really like it on bread. It's beautiful. But if you get it, you go to a restaurant and it's there and I think, oh, I'll get my friend over there with friends. I'll say, oh, try this. It's beautiful. And then they bring out this pork fat that doesn't have that smoky taste. And maybe it's also just come out of the fridge. So it's a bit hard instead of being soft at room temperature. And then I think, oh, that's not so good.


I have these, you have these things where you think you've cracked it and then you realize there's still a lot of nuance in whether something is tasty or not. In terms of, there's a little bistro near us that does pork medallions, I suppose you might call them, in a dill sauce with, with potato and red cabbage. And it's absolutely delicious. And I don't get it anywhere else. And we were there last night, actually, our, our daughter Eleanor's here with us.


And so we went out for dinner last night. We went there and the waitress who is absolutely lovely and always tries to help me practice my Croatian to the point where I'm uncomfortable, which I'm very happy for her to do. She doesn't even need to give me a menu. When I go to the bistro, I always have that. I don't, I've tried everything else on the menu in that place. I've eaten all the kinds of things, but that I love. And it's just cooked beautifully. The flavour, the dill gravy on the pork is beautiful and the mashed potato.


They don't get mashier a lot, but there it's served with mashed potato and the red cabbage. Everything about it is just beautiful. So I really like that. And then there's other, it's a limitation of Croatian cooking is that basically you can get any of those meats within what they call a gypsy sauce or a garlic sauce or a this sauce or that sauce. So it's all the same almost. So it gets a bit samey, but I also have eaten wild boar here, which I really like. And then the other thing is if it's done well, venison stew here is beautiful.


So those are the kind of things when we're eating out that I enjoy, I think. Yeah. I was quite shocked the first time. Not what wasn't the first, maybe the third visit. And when you come, I don't know how we're going to fix all this into a couple of days, but we have a hunter's restaurant and the guy said, would you like some bear? And I went, where'd you get the bear from? And the Bosnian bear is back. It's been back now. I didn't know this. The Bosnian bear has been back about five years.


It left you in the conflict of the 90s, but it's gradually come back. And it's got to the point now where the veterinary service together with the relevant government department has said that they are of such a number now that they're starting to cause, be a pest, if you will, they come into the outskirts of Banja Luka and start to go through the garbage. So there is now a licensing to cull a, not a big number, but a small number of bear and people eat this. Looking at the


backdrop of where you're sat at the moment with those beautiful rolling hills and everything. I don't know what is running around there at night. I don't know if you have the hunters going out at the weekends through there where I am. They do. But when you're talking about the food here, I wouldn't say I feel that it's the samey, but I get what you're saying. There is only a certain number of sources that they have. I think they're very Germanic like that. It's either a zigeuner


anybody that's coming to this region, yeah, once they understand that you like a particular meal, they'll think you're going to stick with that. I actually shocked my waitress when she said, oh, I know what you want. And I said, I don't think you know what I want tonight. She was absolutely shocked that I want to take something else off the menu. So obviously our spreads are marked down as being adventurous. I've been looking at the wines in Bosnia. We have two wine routes, the southern and the northern. The southern one is


I think you alluded to the fact that you've explored a bit of it down in Herzegovina where they have wine and we have a northern wine route up here. But actually where you are, are you in the middle of or on the edge of a significant wine area for Croatia, aren't you? We are right in the middle of it, Jared, in the middle of it. You can only see woodland here, but I can actually sneak in yards from here. We are, I think I've said this in a previous, one of our previous podcasts, I was told by


We have more vineyards per square mile than anywhere else in the world. And it's a significant wine growing region. And the white wines, they all do one red wine, usually a Cabernet Sauvignon in the vineyards here, but the wineries here are very reputable white wines and well-known in Croatia and internationally, although much of the wine stays in Croatia because they don't make enough of it for it to be exported.


There's enough for Croatians to drink and that's pretty much it. It all goes down onto the coast and into Zagreb and he's drunk locally. Now the wine is beautiful and they do a great wine, great varieties that people know things like Sauvignon Blanc, they do a great Sauvignon, the people who are familiar with, but then there's local varieties like Pushy Pelle, which is a beautiful white wine, always in a particular standard bottle. They'll usually do a Riesling, which is often very nice. They'll do.


My favourite is Sylvanat, which is a particular grape. It's very, it's a very meaty, not meaty cause that's, it's not a red wine, but I was saying it's the first time I've tasted white wine that I could say almost tastes full bodied. They usually say that about red wines, don't you? But yeah, no, it's beautiful wine. And then they do a nice semi-sweet kind of wine, Muscat Jutti, which is beautiful. And again, different wineries, obviously of different quality, but we do have some really quality.


growers here and some lovely people. There's a winery out the back of us in Banfi called Kuncic, family's Kuncic. And the son and his, and his wife speak English, but the father, he speaks German and doesn't speak any English and his wife doesn't speak any English, but we rock up and he looks at us and goes, oh, he is the crazy British. And he opens his door for us because they don't really have, they've got wine tasting rooms, but they don't open them.


like three o'clock and stay up until 11 every night or anything like that. You just have to rock up and hope somebody's at home and then they'll open the door for you. But if we go up to the Kuncic guys, they'll, we taste all their, I take friends, we taste all their wines. The wife will bring us cake last time, we actually brought cake for us in the middle of it and we just have a lovely time. The guy there, he was a quite a well-known darts player apparently, because in the winery all around the top are all these darts trophies from like six, 10 to 20 years ago.


where he used to go around Europe playing darts. So there's some real characters as well. We just, we love that. It's great wine in a great locations with great people. We have friends who come from the UK. They can't believe that the wine is amazing wine and they take it back with them if they can. And our guests come from the Netherlands or wherever they go to a local winery, taste the wine, take 12 or 18 bottles back with them as well. So people do really like the wine here.


We give a bottle of the local wine to all of our guests who arrive as a, as part of their welcome pack. And we choose wines from different wine growers around, around the area, just to give a different samples. So yeah, no, we are very fortunate. We live in a fantastic wine growing area and it's changed our way we drink wine. I now can't drink, not become a wine snob, but I just don't like cheap white wine. This is relatively cheap. Of course, this isn't expensive for us to buy.


it's a very high quality. I just don't like low quality wine anymore. You alluded there about the cost of living and I only do it once a day, but I try and keep up to date with what's happening back in the UK and this is cost of living. Although I'm a pensioner, a UK pensioner, not going to give you my age away, but nevertheless, and I was just looking the other day, the pension that I get,


both state and from my military service, which isn't huge. And I wouldn't be able to survive in the UK on it very well. But here, and I know that the country where I am is a lot lower down the scale where you are, but even so with all these international pressures around the world, the cost of living still in the region where we are, both in Croatia and for me here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is nowhere near.


what it is in the UK. And I think people here still have a better quality of life than most people back in the UK. Do you agree or disagree with that? I think we alluded to this in our first podcast. It's almost a conversation that you may as well just not have, because it isn't an argument. I think the cost of living here is definitely less than the cost of living in the UK.


Although people here would say that it's increased dramatically over the last few years and people here do find it hard because they are. Supermarket prices here, as a percentage of your average income here, I would say food here is relatively speaking in that comparison, quite expensive. I think if you look at food here and supermarket prices, it's cheaper than the UK, but then I don't think it's as cheap as it should be in a comparative sense. But, but still.


It's still a lot lower than the UK. But I actually think it's also, I think Croatia has one of the highest, one of the highest percentages of home ownership in Europe, in Croatia, and I bet Bosnia is similar. So people here can afford to have their own home, to maintain their own home, insure their own home, pay the local taxes on their own home. It's a lot of the peripheral things that people pay for in the UK that here is just as no comparison. Council tax in the UK is ridiculous.


You're paying 300 a month or whatever pounds. Oh, I don't know what people pay a lot of money here. 60 euros a year or whatever. So there are some, there are the peripheral things, not just around food, which make it much more expensive in the UK. I think fuel here is around diesel at the moment. The cheaper one is around one 33. Is it already just gone up a little bit in euros? The UK it's way more than that in Germany. It's way more than that. Or at least it was last time I drove through, but


So I think, yeah, there's almost no conversation to be had. Definitely in terms of cost of life here is a lot less. In terms of quality of life, again, not to repeat myself from previous podcasts, the quality of life here. We had a big conversation about this whilst eating pizzas with some Croatian friends a couple of nights ago. They, the quality of life they have here is immeasurable in comparison to, in comparison to the UK. And I think.


Also, there's a recognition here. I was talking to the, we were talking about a couple of nights ago with these Croatian friends and I think they're starting to see Croatians coming home again now. So they've gone to Germany, gone to Austria, gone to Ireland and places, but they're now starting to come home because salaries have started to rise here and cost of life and quality of life are starting to balance out for some Croatians. I'm not saying for all. So I think there is a recognition that people are starting to come back. I don't say in great numbers and obviously lots of people still leave.


You can go to Germany, for example, no offence to Germany, but you can go to Germany and earn a high salary, but it'll cost you a lot to live there. And you get stuck in that kind of typical treadmill of life of high prices, high rent or high mortgage, car loan and so on and no disposable income type thing. And I think here people manage to avoid some of that kind of trap that I think we often fall into in Northern Europe, certainly in the UK. Yeah.


hear people complain about it. But yeah, when you look at what we were used to having back in Britain, it's no comparison. I've been a bit of a naughty boy. I have. But I will shortly, I should have done this a long time ago, but I'm shortly going to surrender my UK driving license to get a local driving license, which apparently is required by law. I don't drive very often, but I feel that I have to.


Mark, are you still allowed to use your English driving, your British driving license, or have you and Gilly had to surrender your driving documentation to get creation driving documentation? And if you have, does that impede on you driving anywhere else? Or does that restrict your ability for freedom of movement? Yeah, it's a good question. I got into trouble with this one, David. I don't know how much I should say. I might incriminate myself, but Gilly and I.


We lived in the middle East for 10 years and like, when we went to Abu Dhabi, for example, we got all our ID cards and everything, and then we got our driving license and there was, we maintained our British driving license and we had our Emirates UAE driving license, no problem. When we came here, first of all, absolutely the same. We need to have the Croatian driving license for us to be able to be, I think you're allowed three months or something, and then you need to have surrendered your, you got your Croatian driving license. And so.


I was a bit surprised when I had to surrender my British license. And I wasn't, I was also a bit uncomfortable. And I felt I don't really want to surrender my British license. But anyway, just before anyone starts worrying about that, basically you just go back on the British web when you go back to the UK, if you want, you can just go back on and they'll find your old license and reissue a new one. It's not like it lapses or anything, but anyway, still you do have to surrender it. So we surrendered it, but I thought I'd be clever. I applied for a new British license saying I'd lost mine in the UK. So.


I thought, and that gets me a British license back. This is where I'm incriminating myself. Anyway, what I hadn't known was they, what the Croatians do, they then send the British license that I surrendered back to UK and they say they've surrendered their British license because now they're using the Croatian license and the DVLA sent back to the Croatians and said, actually they've had another license issued since that one. And so we got a call from the local police where everything is done. It's not cause we're going to arrest us or anything, but


all these things are handled in our local police station. Then we went down and we had to cancel our Croatian license. She said, we've had to cancel your Croatian license because you've got a British one. And we're like, oh, OK. We had to pay to get a Croatian license again and then surrender that second license. And now we're very good people now. And so we only have our Croatian license and not our British one. But it was the one time where I've tried to circumvent the rule a little bit and I got caught. So I won't again. So yeah, you have to surrender your British license. Of course, it's equal. There's no problem. It isn't equal.


The numbers and the letters on the back of a license, they don't go across properly equally. So some of the things that you have in your UK license are not retained in your Croatian license and yet, so you don't have a license in Croatia to do some of the things you had in your previous license. For most of us, it doesn't matter, but I think a guy I know here, I think he had, he could drive a bus on his British license. And when he got his Croatian license, the ability to drive a bus disappeared. Now, of course, if he gets his


British license back if he goes back to the UK then I'm sure the bus will still be on there but not here. I thought that's fine, no problem. Anyway, I went, we obviously living in the Middle East, we travel back there now and again and I was back in Dubai and I got off the airplane and I went to the car hire place to get a car. And I knew Dubai very well so I hadn't booked one previously, I just know I'll go walk along about four of them, find the best price and then book with them. So I got this car all signed, showed him my license, he said Croatian license is accepted.


in the middle in the UAE as a legitimate license, you can't use it. And I was like, that's crazy, but it's true. So it does have its limitations. Not that bothered me because I just take taxes in Dubai anyway. And it's just, it's probably more convenient than about the same price in the end. But yeah, the Croatian license doesn't have the same buying power, let's say, or whatever that is, the British license. Great point. I don't think you've incriminated yourself, but all I'd like to put as a footnote to it. If anybody's thinking of coming.


live in the Western Balkans, as Mark has alluded to, and as I've alluded to as well, do not, top tip, do not try and bluff the local police. They might look scruffy. They might give you the impression that they're not very efficient. But when they pull things out of the drawer and say, what is this? And you go, oops. So it's all like that. We'll finish off with another one of these.


We got to do another one of these chats. Hey, listen, people said to me, I got a comment on Instagram saying, it sounds like you're living a permanent holiday. I disagree with that personally, because I have my ups and downs, but you're living a permanent holiday, David. I'm not, and I'm sure that Mark isn't. And coming onto holidays, we're off to Montenegro. We're going to go there for 10 days. Slightly expensive for us, but nevertheless.


It's somewhere else to go. You are living in a beautiful area of Croatia. You have a business which encourages people to come and have their holiday in this beautiful place where you live. But unless I've got this wrong, Mark and Julie do not do staycations. You've obviously going somewhere else. Where do you like to go when you need to take a break? Yeah. One of the things for us is.


We've got, we do have guests and so our access to some of our facilities are limited when we've got guests, we don't use the facilities, but on a day where we don't have guests, we go and sit by our pool and drink the local wine and ask ourselves, why would we need to go and book a villa with a pool somewhere? We just don't. So we, we have access to the things that you would want on a holiday, actually at home, which is really nice. We sometimes travel to.


We've been back to the Middle East a couple of times because we've got friends there and that's just some, that's keeping connections with people. We go back to the UK, Julie more than me, for family weddings and for different reasons and so on. So that's life and that's okay too. Well, we've done, when we lived in the Middle East, we did a lot of the kind of international stuff like the Maldives and Zanzibar and Thailand and those kinds of things. So we tend, we don't really have any desire to do a lot of long haul.


We've driven down onto, we've done the coast in Croatia, which is really beautiful and to be recommended, but obviously during the summer we have guests, so we don't travel during the summer. So we're looking forward now to some time in the autumn, probably just getting in the car with the dogs and doing some Airbnb-ing around Europe and seeing where we get to, probably around Slovenia where we've been before. Nostalgia for where we used to spend our holidays, probably a crossing to Italy. Venice is only four hours away.


Vienna is only three hours away, Budapest we go there for weekends just because we can, that's less than three hours away. We can be any, we are the epitome of central Europe here. So we, we, the idea of exploring Europe from here rather than feeling like we need to get on a plane and fly 10 hours away because we've spent 10 years in the middle East and traveling around. So it's nice to, we love Europe and it's nice to, it's nice to travel around Europe really. Which is probably not dissimilar to you David going to Montenegro, but


We tend to try and plan things at the shoulders like kind of March, April, May or September, October, November, rather than in the summer, because in the summer we're busy with guests. Two guys in the Balkans. We still have to go on holidays and yeah, it's a different way of doing things. It's funny, David, you keep talking about us being in the Balkans. You had a comment on our first video about whether Croatia is a Balkan country or not, didn't you? Yeah. And then there was another comment from somebody that I, that there was a counter comment.


from somebody that I know who's a journalist in Austria, in Vienna, who, I don't know, this area is like his hobby, it's his passion project, talking about its history and how complicated it is. One of the things I find about, like you said, there's this comment, yeah, okay, fine, people can make their comments, but the people that live here, I know that some Croatians will say they're not Slavs.


Some creations will say they don't live in the Balkans. Who am I to counter that? As I keep saying to anybody, don't involve me in that deep dive stuff because I'm just an immigrant. I know a lot reasonable amount about my own history, but I haven't, no, I can't even scratch the surface of what's happened over the centuries here. But yeah, as far as we're concerned, it's the Western Balkans to us. And that's what we've always been told.


It's not the English making all the decisions in United Kingdom, because it is a United Kingdom and we are British people. When I get some stress about getting it wrong here, I just say, whose government's making this decision? It's the English. I really got that wrong, buddy. It's the British government. What? I think for anybody watching this, if anybody wants to put some nice comments on the blog or on the YouTube, knock yourself out. Keep it polite. But we all have to accept that.


We see things in a different way. Yeah. It made me think David, because I actually, I tried to work out what I thought about that and I agree with you. I don't think it's for me to comment on what's Balkan and what is an identity and so on is something far more complex than I can comment on. But what I would say is I think living here, you do feel very, you are, we're right on the border with Slovenia here and you're only 30 kilometers from Austria. And so I, and having traveled.


in Bosnia and Montenegro and places like that. I would say I don't feel maybe like I'm in the Balkans here, like I would if I was in Mostar or Sarajevo or Banja Luka or something like that. So maybe I don't feel like I'm literally geographically in the Balkans as I would if I was further south or deeply in the Balkans and maybe the Turkish influence further south makes me feel more, it's more Balkan, but that's probably a controversial thing to say as well. But anyway, so.


I don't feel geographically like I'm in the Balkans, but my friends who are Croatians will describe themselves as Balkan. I think they're proud of their Balkan. I can't, we haven't talked about it deeply. When they're talking about cevapi and other kind of stereotypes of Balkan life, they're quite proud of that Balkan. History is the wrong term. Again, I could be controversial. That Balkan identity, they're proud of their Balkan identity. And I suppose what's the alternative for people in Northern Croatia? I suppose they're not probably running.


hard at wanting to be some kind of, have some kind of Austro-Hungarian identity or something like that. Some other historical reference. So I think it's okay to, I'm pretty cool with the idea that my, my Croatian friends really cherish their Balkan identity, even if literally geographically, I don't feel like I'm deep in the Balkans. An offline comment on WhatsApp from somebody that didn't want to put anything on social media, and it made me think and


I must probably should have asked you this offline, but we're going to do it anyway. He said, I think it's really great to see two Brits chatting about all sorts when they're outside the country. More of it, please. And I think there were four or five exclamation marks. Mark, we only said we were going to do three of these. Are you up for an occasional add-on? Why not? We can drink rakija and talk about the state of the...


UK politics or anything to do with Brexit. When you come, I've already spoken to some contacts I've got, and when you were mentioning about slalina and other dried and smoked meats, are you a cheese man as well? Yes. Great. Because your starter for ten when you leave is can you get past the border with what you're going to be given to take back home?


I don't mind that as a challenge. Okay, love from the two of us to the two of you and stay safe and we'll catch you very soon Mark. Thanks David, take care, all the best.

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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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David Pejčinović-Bailey

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