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When I booked my trip to Croatia, I wanted to make sure to meet up with relatives on my dad’s side while I was there because I haven’t seen them in over ten years and I was really looking forward to seeing where my relatives lived and where my grandparents, dad and other family members came from before making the trek to Canada.
Before leaving Canada, I had arranged my dates, plans of pickup and transportation with some family that were in Draganić for the summer and they would take me around the villages and play tour guide for me.
On the morning of my journey to Draganić, I picked up some fresh local raspberries, figs and pastries to bring with me as a gift (Croats love to eat and will always appreciate an edible treat as a gift) before heading to Zagreb’s Glavni Kolodvor, which is the main train station in Zagreb to search for my train.
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Once I walked into the train station, I found my track and platform number on the board and walked out to the tracks to find my train. After some mild confusion about the track numbers, I finally found it and boy, was this a locals only train, or what. It was covered in tons of graffiti, no A/C (lucky me) and I’m pretty sure I was the only tourist on board.
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Regardless of the looks of the train, once it started moving, it was efficient and fast…really fast actually! The train ride to Draganići train station from Zagreb was estimated to be a total of 46 minutes and make stops at very small and local train stations along the way. I noticed at the beginning of the trip that the train I was on did not call the stops, or have a screen telling you which station you were approaching next and from where I was sitting on the train, it was difficult to see the station names out of the windows, so luckily I had a screenshot of the station stops, as I had zero internet connectivity at the time, so I was able to determine when I should get off the train.
As the train made its way through the countryside, we passed lush fields dotted with tiny villages, each with their own church or chapel and locals walking along the roadside chatting to each other in the early morning.
I glanced down at my phone quickly to check the station stops and Draganići train station was next. I gathered up my things and made my way to the doors and waited for the train to stop. As I stepped out of the train and onto the smallest platform I’ve ever seen, I looked up and saw “Draganići” on the station and felt a wave of happiness come over me. I finally made it to Draganić, my Croatian family’s roots for the first time ever.
Standing there alone in the middle of nowhere, I took a moment to look up at the clock on the station and noticed that the train had pulled I right on time; 46 minutes, not bad. I realized I had mentioned to my relatives to come get me around 11:30am, so I had almost an hour to kill until they got there, so I decided to walk around the streets a bit and take some photos.
As I walked down one of the main streets, which I would later learn that my grandpa used to walk up and down to get to work for 18 years, I noticed a dilapidated home that looked as if it were crumbling to the ground. I later found out, that the home was actually left in ruins after the war in the 90’s and was caused by bombings. It felt surreal to me to know that I was walking by a bombed out home just steps from where I was. It was definitely an eyeopening moment for me.
After a little stroll around the area, I waited for my relatives in the station’s waiting room, which looked like something that was straight out of a war movie scene. The tiles were chipped, the bench was dented and old and there was one table carved with numerous lovers’ names and dates. Although it wasn’t the prettiest or most comfortable, it was a refuge from the heat and provided a place to stay somewhat cool and relax.
When my relatives pulled in, they hopped out of their car and greeted me ecstatically with hugs, kisses and even more hugs. It was great to see them again and they were very excited that I had made plans during my trip to visit them and they were happy to take me around Draganić and show me everything from years gone by.
Our first stop on my Draganić adventure was stopping of at their house in the village of Mrzljaki. Draganić, which is considered a municipality in Karlovac County, is small and consists of many tiny villages of Lug, Goljak, Mrzljaki, Jazvaci, Darići, Budrovci (where my grandfather is from), Bencetici, Barkovići, Draganići, Lazina, Franetici, Vrbanci, and Vrh. This area is tiny. The combined population was last recorded at approximately 2,950 people with a 97% Croat heritage. That’s about double the amount of people that went to my high school. Wild!
Their house is small, cozy and modest, just enough for two people to live comfortably. A large green yard surrounds the house and four ducks quickly follow each other closely around the property looking for snails to munch on. I step into the kitchen and I am immediately asked if I would like anything to eat. Of course, like in any Croatian household, the answer “no” is not an option; so out comes the platter of meats, cheese, veggies and burek – a popular Balkan snack, which is a spiral puffed pastry usually stuffed with meat, cheese, spinach and even sweet versions stuffed with dark cherries. Along with the food comes old family photos. Some of the photos I’ve seen before, but others I was seeing for the first time. After chowing down and some reminiscing and catching up, we were heading out to Budrovci (where my grandfather is from) to visit the site of their old house where my grandparents and dad lived.
I had already known that the original wooden house where they had lived was torn down because my sister visited just a few days prior and mentioned to it to me. My dad’s cousin was now building a new house on the property with her husband and they were at the site when we pulled up, so I was introduced to them and actually given the grand tour of the new house, which was still under construction.
Next, we were off to visit the church of “Sveti Juraj,” or St. George, which is the church that my grandparents were married in and my dad was baptized in. Perched on top of a hill overlooking the meticulously laid out cemetery and the County of Karlovac in the distance, it was surprisingly calming to walk around the property and learn about how to tell which village the graves’ occupants belonged to just by the family names on them. We even found my dad’s grandfather’s grave among them.
The last part of my day was spent in the village of Vukšin Šipak (where my grandmother is from), which is a settlement in the Jastrebarsko area and literally a stone’s throw away from Draganić. As of 2011, Vukšin Šipak had a grand total population of 310 people. WOW! We went to my grandmother’s sister’s house to visit (I actually saw them in the airport leaving Toronto as well) and of course, eat more food and have a drink. From there, we then went down the street and up the hill to my grandmother’s brother’s house and once again, ate more food and had more drinks. I’m not a wine fan (at all), but I couldn’t say no to them when they poured me a glass; it’s homemade and they are very proud of their wine, so I sucked it up and drank it, even though mine was half mineral water. 😉
After a busy day of visiting family members all over the Draganić area, it was really humbling to see where my family comes from, where they walked, worked and how they lived within the villages. I think it’s really important for everyone to trace our family roots and see where we come from and learn about our heritages more to really appreciate what we have during this day and age. It reminded me of my first trip to Europe when I was 20 years old when I went to Slovenia and stayed with the other half of my family in a tiny village. I’m glad I had the opportunity to do and see both sides because it really makes me appreciate everything so much more.
Have any of you ever visited family in a foreign country? If yes, what was it like? Did you get the full experience of your heritage? If not, would you like to visit the country where your family originates from? Let me know in the comments below! xo