This is from Pat:
One thing I like about our tour company,
Outdoor Adventure Travel (OAT), is that they include slices of everyday life in the countries they visit. Usually this comes in the way of home-hosted meals.
David and I are touring in the Balkan Countries, and our trip included an overnight stay at a small working farm in Karanac, a remote village in Eastern Croatia. As we traveled through the countryside to Karanac, which is north of Sarajevo and the
now-Serbian-dominated part of Bosnia, we viewed numerous homes that had been damaged in the war. Many had been abandoned.
But it became very different as we crossed into Croatia and arrived at a small farm, where owners Denis, his wife, Goca, and son, Steven, greeted us warmly. We were met with a welcome drink they called plum brandy (known alternatively as moonshine or slivovitz) and homemade donuts. The donuts were warm and wonderful with
homemade preserves on top. The moonshine was mostly left in the glasses. Everywhere we travel we are greeted with the local version of this moonshine made with whatever fruit is readily available, pears,
cherries, honey, apples etc. The only version we found drinkable was the one made with honey.
Our rooms at this small working farm were in converted, renovated stables — no hay included. Each was well-equipped and had a bathroom and shower. David was down with some kind of a stomach bug so we put him to bed for the evening. The group headed off on foot to a local restaurant for food and music. The village was beautiful and clean with colorful houses most decorated with rolled-on stencil designs.
What we learned in these “touch-of-life” visits:
— We ate lots of what they call “grandma cooking,” which includes stuffed peppers and cabbage and mashed potatoes. If Grandma is your host she isn’t happy until you have eaten more than enough.
— Meats and other dishes are often flavored with an abundance of paprika powder (sweet or hot) made from local peppers. Peppers are called paprika as well as the powder we call paprika . . . confusing
— Many people outside the cities have family gardens where they have
fruit trees, raise vegetables, chickens, geese and sometimes turkeys. The often use this to barter or sell at local market to receive cheese and milk from neighbor farms. The farms are neat and tidy. We saw no garbage or trash lying around. I am not sure what they do with their trash in the countryside.
— At Breakfast you usually are offered smoked meat, something like prosciuto, soft mild cheeses, tomatoes, cucumbers and local breads. In our farm stay our hostess had us help to make a deep-fried, puffy bread called longosh for our breakfast — eaten with homemade jams and jellies. And as our guide Djuka would say: “And that is the way how we do it.”
— We spoke to one small dairy farmer who complained about how
difficult it is to do business with the many inspections and regulations imposed by the European Union. She and her husband have about 20 milk cows and are struggling to survive as a small dairy, and the impression we got is that the husband’s outside work as a veterinarian and hers as a greeter and tour guide were helping make ends meet. Asked why she continues, she said she likes it in her community, is close to her parents, her children get a good education. It reminded me a little of the people we met in Sarajevo who said times were better under the “Old Yugoslovia” and Tito’s rule. I think this is part of the transition of
the economy. In Zagreb we heard that Tito is not always revered. In fact, the president had his bust removed from it’s official placement and sent to the village where he was born. Our guide clarified that rule under Tito was “communism lite.”
The historic parts of the trip are interesting of course, but these added visits to the homes of middle-class people really make it valuable for me.