On hearing cicadas, most Czechs recall Croatia. Last summer, around 1 000 000 Czechs travelled there to enjoy summer vacation. In other words, one tenth of all citizens of the Czech Republic including newborns and the elderly crossed the Croatian border during the high tourist season. I asked Goran, who has worked in tourism here on Rab Island in Croatia for 15 years, which nationality of tourists he considers the most numerous, in Goran's words the most "populated".
"Well, here on island Rab, the most populated people are now Czechs, Slovenian people, German people yes but not so many like the other years, and maybe Italian people, and I think that's it."
If someone in the Czech Republic says that he goes to the seaside in summer and he doesn't specify it any further, it is generally understood he means the Croatian seaside. The reasons for such high popularity of Croatia among Czechs are manifold. Eva is from Prague, and has come here for a two-week trip with a special physical exercise programme.
"I have two friends, and they took me with them, that was the first reason. Other was the nature near us, the Croatian mentality, and also price is of course nice."
Karolina studies Croatian linguistics, culture and history at Charles University in Prague, and she currently works as a delegate for one travel agency on Rab Island.
"There are many types of beaches. You can have a sand beach, and a few meters further there is a stone beach. And I would say that the sea is the purest in Europe if not in the whole world, so that's the other reason, and the Czech people can appreciate that. But there is another important thing and that is the Czech tradition of coming to Croatia for holidays, which has roots in let's say the 20s or 30s of the last century. So the Czechs were in reality the first tourists in this area."
A typical Czech child might not have seen the pond system in South Bohemia, which is a unique natural monument, but he or she has very much likely bathed in the Adriatic Sea in Croatia.
Karolina has been coming to Croatia for about 23 years. Moreover, her mother, like her, was a tour guide specialized in Croatia, and her grandfather even opened a travel agency focused on that country in 1990, after the Velvet Revolution. So although Karolina has no Croatian genes, she considers Croatia her second homeland.
"There is one similar thing for us, we are all Slavs. But Czechs are Central European and Croatians are Mediterranean people. So they are open to a different, let's say, geographical zone than we are. I would say their approach to life is different from the Czech point of view. There is one brief sentence, but a very important one for Croatians, and every Czech who is used to coming to Croatia knows it. It goes Nema problema, which means No problem. Croatians use it very often, and they don't just use it as we could perhaps think, but they think it and they do it, they live it. So it's the attitude to life that is different."
Croatian and Czech are Slavic languages, and they have some similar words. Although it might be occasionally helpful, the tongues are not mutually comprehensible. Croatians, who work in tourism, usually know a few words of Czech, and they understand Czechs better than the other way around. Goran again.
"I don't understand so many Czechs, may be a little. Some words are equal. But I can only say that from my experience, it's not a very big number of Czech tourists, who speak some foreign language. So, that might be a little problem with the Czech tourists. I can try to find some language between Croatian and Czech, but it's hard. They are not equal languages."
Despite the friendliness of Croats, reasonable prices and the enormous historical wealth of the country, a vast majority of Czech tourists take advantage only of the beauties of the sea and adjoining resorts. Czechs, who travel extensively all over the world, are not interested in Croatian history and culture, as Karolina explains.
"There is a huge heritage that people don't know, and they are not even interested. But I would say they are not interested because they don't receive good information about other things that are here around."
A lot of fascinating historical sites in Croatia are actually not taken care of, and thus they are not presented in the usual tourist manner. On one hand the result of such an approach is an authentic experience while visiting such places. But the downside is low interest from tourists, who could bring money needed for the cultivation of these sites.
"I would mention the capital Zagreb, which is not visited by normal tourists who go for holiday to sea; it's not visited by them at all. Coming down from Zagreb, there is a sea area, which is very rich in ancient monuments, as for example an ancient theatre in Pula. Then there is the second biggest city in Croatia, Split, and a few kilometres from Split there is an ancient centre Solin, which would be something like Pompeii for Italians. Continuing in the direction to South, there is a pearl of the Adriatic area Dubrovnik, a city of Renaissance, an independent city in the past, independent even on Italian or Venetian power, so very important for Croatian history in the whole context."
Rab Island alone offers a historical city with remnants of an ancient temple, a wreck of a military ship form World War II, which is visible from the sea surface and which is five kilometres from the island, and completely untouched complexes of Tito's detention camps on the nearby island of Goli Otok.
Yet, the reputation of Czech tourists is surprisingly positive, as Goran explains.
"The Czech people are very simple people. The German and Italian people always need something extra, but about Czechs I can say they are simple. They aren't destroyers, and I didn't see so many drunk Czechoslovaks."
Croatia is a country that Czech people love. During the war with Serbia in the 1990s, tourism in Croatia suffered a downturn. Nowadays, Croatian seashore helps Czechs restore their physical and mental condition, and Czech money helps Croatians to restore their post-war economy.
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