Can you introduce yourself to readers – who you are, where you were born, where you grew up etc?
Michael was born in Sydney, Australia to parents who both emigrated from Croatia in the late 1960’s. I have lived my whole life in the western Sydney suburb of Berala which has a very large Croatian community.
“You cannot walk the streets without bumping into someone and engaging in a conversation about Croatian politics or how the football team will go at the World Cup,” he says.
Where in Croatia do your roots lie?
My parents are both from Karlovac, a city roughly 45 minutes south west of the capital Zagreb. Although they are both from separate villages, they met and married in Australia. I still have a lot of family in Karlovac and visit them often.
Was Croatia a part of your life when you were living abroad?
Croatia has always been a part of my life since I was born. As mentioned previously, the area from Sydney I grew up in has a large Croatian community and my first school friend was a Dalmatinac called Ivan. I was immersed in the Croatian culture as a child by attending parties and weddings and eating lots of Croatian food and cakes. As was generally considered mandatory for all kids with a Croatian background, I attended Saturday school to learn my parent’s native language which has helped me all of these years later when visiting Croatia.
Had you been on holidays to Croatia and what made you decide to move and live in Croatia?
I have been on holidays to Croatia a total of 10 times and recall saying to my relatives that one day I would return to Croatia and stay longer than a few weeks over summer. My wife was born in Hawaii and had never been to Croatia before meeting me, however she heard amazing things about the coast.
Back in 2012, when we were looking at wedding destinations, Croatia was at the top of the list. We decided on Dubrovnik as it was convenient for her family to come from the USA and for my family to come from both Australia and Northern Croatia. After our wedding, we had the opportunity to spend more time travelling around Croatia and my wife quickly fell in love with the food, fashion, people and culture.
This experience led us to launch Uppermoda, a Croatian Fashion and Homewares business. When we started the business, we were generally having meetings over Skype and by phone but we knew one day we would have to come to Croatia to grow the business. We made the decision in 2017 to relocate to Croatia to spend time working on Uppermoda and to meet the right people who can help the business grow and expand into other markets beyond Australia & New Zealand. My wife always had a wish to live in Europe and I always wanted to live in Croatia so it all worked out well in the end when we decided to move to Croatia.
What was the reaction from friends/family etc?
My family were very supportive and love the fact that I am fulfilling something I have always dreamed of. My Australian-Croatian friends are a bit jealous of us at the moment as moving to Croatia is always a topic for discussion at parties and get togethers. My wife’s family were in Croatia for our wedding and completely understand why we have moved here and of course are extremely envious. I imagine it won’t be too long before they contact us for a place to stay in Croatia over summer.
Where are you living and what are you doing for a living?
We are currently living in Karlovac and close to family. We have spent some time renting in Zagreb where my wife was a student at the Filozofski Fakultet and learning Croatian. We expect to do a lot more travelling down the coast once the weather warms up.
We moved to Croatia to work on our fashion and homewares business. Our love for Croatian traditional patterns and fashion began after our wedding in 2013. It took us a little while to fulfil our ambitions but finally in 2016, we began Uppermoda (www.uppermoda.com) Our range of products from kid’s and women’s fashion items to table runners, tablecloths and etno bags are all made in Croatia.
We work with some brilliantly talented Croatian designers and recently we have been designing and co-creating many of our new products which has been a great learning experience. It is so important to us that the products are made in Croatia and are as authentic as possible so being here in Croatia and being so involved in the process has been a positive experience.
We have an online store where you can find our complete range of products for purchase. We also attend events around the world that the Croatian community hold and we will be attending events in the USA and Australia later in 2018. As we are now based in Croatia, we are also looking at ways to setup a pop-up display of our products over summer for those that are visiting from other countries.
What do you like about the lifestyle in Croatia?
There are a number of things we like about the lifestyle here in Croatia. These are:
We love how everything here is done over a coffee. We really love drinking coffee and enjoy that cafes are open and serving coffee until late at night, something that isn’t common in Australia where many cafes close by 4pm after the afternoon work rush.
We also love the attitude that many people we work with here have. Our current favourite saying is “ma nekako ćemo napraviti”. When we come up against a brick wall, Croatians always have an inventive way to get things done.
And finally, that everyone here is proud of their homemade quality products and wants to share it with you. Whether it is some homemade meats to eat, wine to drink or a new product they wish for us to sell on our store, Croatians are so proud of what they make and will always share it with people regardless of whether they are family, friends or just visitors.
How do you chill out?
By drinking coffee of course. Recently, we have also discovered Maksimir Park and enjoy going for walks there on a weekend before going for a coffee. We look forward to doing some hiking soon and exploring some of the tracks that lead up to Sljeme. Also, finding new off the beaten path destinations that are not written about in blogs and on travel websites.
What 3 things do you miss about home?
Our family and friends. We always have Skype and other forms of communication but missing out on some of the family events is difficult.
The variety of food. Back in Australia the quality of Asian food such as Thai or Vietnamese was so easy to find compared to here. The culinary scene is definitely picking up in Croatia and we have a list of new restaurants and cafes that we still have to try.
Mild winters without snow. Although the sight of snow was pretty at first, after 1 week of shovelling snow from the driveway and not being able to drive to certain parts of Croatia, I was finally glad when it all melted away. I will no doubt forget that in a few months and wish for snow when it is hot and over 30c here in Croatia.
What bit of ‘local’ advice would you give to someone visiting Croatia for the first time – what ‘gem’ should they see?
It all really depends on what they are into. I am a bit biased as I have been here so many times so I asked my wife this question. She said without a shadow of a doubt her recommendation to anyone coming to Croatia is to head to Opatija in the Kvarner region. It is not too far from Zagreb and the Lungomare walk along the water from Volosko to Opatija is just amazing.
She also has a list of her favourite coffee shops which she wrote a blog about and can be found on our website. If you like a milky coffee, she has the list of cafes in Zagreb to head to and will be releasing more of the best coffee shops along the coast soon.
Are you happy you moved? Do you plan to stay?
We are extremely happy we made the decision to come here. We have really enjoyed experiencing Croatia in winter but glad it is over and looking forward to summer. Due to the nature of our business, we need to be present at different events to show our products to customers. We will be heading to the USA & Canada in September before flying to Australia in late October to attend some events there. After that, we hope we will be back and can explore more of Croatia. Until then, we have a summer to look forward to.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of moving to Croatia to live?
Be prepared to handle a fair amount of paperwork. We are so used to doing everything online whereas in Croatia we found that we had to go to different departments in person to get things done. It is different to what we are used to but it isn’t as bad as what we had read about.
Keep an open mind and stay positive. Croatians are wonderful people who really care about their cities and country and they will try to make your visit or stay as easy as possible. We have come across so many positive people who have been encouraging and glad that someone is moving back to Croatia rather than leaving for another country.
Avoid coming at the start of winter and plan a trip to a warmer city in January & February. Although there are things to do and cafes are full in Zagreb, walking around & driving in snow is not something we particularly enjoyed. Days are short and it is very cold but I am sure it is better the further south you travel in Croatia.
If you wish to know more about us, you can find our product range at www.uppermoda.com. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram to hear more about us and to stay up to date with events we will be attending and what new products we are releasing.