Croatia

Situated at the crossroads of Central Europe, Southeast Europe and the Mediterranean, Croatia is the 24th largest and the 26th most populous country in Europe. Having approximately 800 000 residents, Zagreb is the capital and the largest Croatian city. Other larger cities include Osijek in the eastern region of Slavonia, Rijeka in the western region of Kvarner and Split in the southern region of Dalmatia (for those wondering – yes, that's what the breed of dog featured in the movie 101 Dalmatians is named after). On the other hand, the city of Hum in the westernmost region of Istria, a hometown to as few as 23 people, is the Guinness World Record holder for the smallest city in the world.

Despite the country's small size, the tourism industry is anything but. In fact, over 14 million people visited Croatia in 2013 only, outnumbering the locals by a factor of three. Most of them visited the 1800 km long coast or one of the 1246 islands that are scattered across the Adriatic Sea, hoping to make the most out of the average 2600 hours of sunshine per year. Areas specially protected due to their unspoiled natural beauty include 8 national parks, 11 nature parks and 2 strict reserves, while 7 sites have been marked by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Two of those sites, namely the Old City of Dubrovnik and the Palace of Diocletian in Split, were even used as filming locations for the popular TV series Game of Thrones.

Being constantly exposed to such beauty can surely be inspiring and some notable Croats have put a lot of effort into making the world a better place. Leopold Ružička and Vladimir Prelog were awarded Nobel prizes for their groundbreaking research in chemistry, Andrija Mohorovičić was one of the founders of modern seismology and the 18th century polymath Ruđer Bošković produced a precursor of modern atomic theory. Today, the largest Croatian research institute is named after him. Croats can be credited with the discovery of a widely used antibiotic azithromycin, the invention of a mechanical pen and the pioneering work in the development of parachutes, torpedoes and dactyloscopy. It is interesting to note that neckties, worn by millions of people every day, are thought to have originated from the scarves of 17th century Croatian soldiers. The Croatian village of Smiljan is the birthplace of Nikola Tesla, the electricity pioneer and a great inventor. His old house and its surroundings have been converted into a memorial complex, well worth visiting.

When they are not working (and sometimes even when they are), Croats like to meet up with friends and have long chats over a cup of coffee or a bottle of beer. In 2010, Croatia was the 14th country in the world by beer consumption per capita, with 10 bottles of its most popular beer Ožujsko being consumed every second. If you consider trying something stronger, you should definitely go for rakija, traditional liqueurs that are made almost out of everything, with plums (šljivovica), pears (kruškovača) and grapes (lozovača) being the most common of flavours. Although all of these spirits are mass produced, it is not uncommon for Croats to distill these drinks themselves at home – perhaps the reason why they can be very strong.

As of 2013, Croatia is the member of European Union. You should, however, note that we still use kuna (HRK) as the official currency (the word kuna in Croatian means marten, since in medieval trading marten pelts were used as units of value). But don't worry – the exchange offices can be found around almost every corner. The same goes for shops, some of which are open even on Sundays. If you plan to take some extra time to explore Croatia, you should know that it is generally a very safe place, with low crime rates and very good road infrastructure. The communication with locals shouldn't be a problem either, since a 2009 survey showed that 78\% percent of Croats claim the knowledge of at least one foreign language – most often English. Welcome and enjoy Croatia!

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