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Which did I like better – Croatia or Madrid?

Posted on April 12, 2011 at 3:12am Madrid / 9:12pm Cincinnati by Kelly Larbes

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I’ve been back home in Cincinnati now for just over a month and one of the most common questions I hear is whether I liked Croatia or Madrid better. At first I found this question nearly impossible to answer because both are so dear to my heart, but I think I figured it out. If I could only live abroad for a year or two and I had to pick just one, it would be Croatia. And if I had to pick one to live in forever, it would be Madrid.

I’d pick Croatia because it really was a magical place to Jay and I. Split had a charming old town made up mostly of a giant old Roman Palace dating from 305 A.D. The buildings were all made of ancient stone with orange clay roofs. The streets were small and winding and seemed to offer endless new discoveries. We could walk to groceries, shopping, restaurants, parks, the sea, work – almost anything we needed.

Just a 10 minute walk from the center was a large park that offered beautiful views over the old town and the sea. It was full of jogging paths and rocky beaches. I’d run on the paths overlooking the sea a few days a week.

Split has just 220,000 people, but it is the largest Croatian port city, making it easy to get to the islands. There were three island we could get to in less than an hour on a ferry (and the ferry was just a 15 minute walk from our house). It was common to hear, “Oh, we just decided to pop on over to the island of Brac for the afternoon.” I’ll likely never be able to say that again in my life. And the islands were fabulous. They were mostly under-developed. There was pristine nature and crystal clear turquoise water.

For being a fairly small country, Croatia offered an amazing amount of beautiful places to visit. My favorite was the island of Vis because it was the least developed and offered such a variety of beautiful coves and diverse beaches. My second favorite was tie between the two national parks with waterfalls: Plitvice and Krka. Plitvice was a bit more impressive and much more expansive, but Krka was less crowded and we got to swim beneath the falls.

We met wonderful people in Split and not just acquaintances that we will lose track of now that we’re gone. Some are close friends that we’ve already seen since leaving Split. We visited Milda and Mario in Lithuania. And Paula and I vacationed together in Prague. We are looking forward to them visiting us here in the United States.

Sometimes when I think about it, Croatia seems like a little paradise, but then I remember that that it wasn’t. No place is perfect. And as much as I love Croatia, its not the place I would pick to live forever because the business culture and bureaucracy drove me crazy. Magical islands and sparkling turquoise seas can only sustain me for so long.

I get a lot of fulfillment in life from being a designer and helping businesses grow using design, but too much time in Croatia was dedicated to trying to overcome silly Croatian bureaucratic and cultural business obstacles. And this had absolutely nothing to do with internal workings of my company, Elevator. Croatia overall does a poor job at encouraging business growth and entrepreneurial success. The nonsensical constant changing laws and nepotism were never ending. I have seen some of the most intelligent people I know (local Croatians and expats) trying to make a career for themselves only to be spun in circles and spit back out by the bureaucracy. I am confident though that some of these people will succeed. I admire their perseverance.

That was the main reason that I would pick Madrid over Croatia as my preferred place to live forever. Madrid wasn’t quite as enchanting as Croatia, but it was still pretty spectacular. The city offered a never ending stream of exciting things to do, travel was cheap and easy, I loved my job and I got the opportunity to drastically improve my Spanish.

We lived in the center of the city so we could walk to most places and Madrid has one of the largest metro systems in the world so it was easy to get anywhere. Madrid doesn’t have the obvious tourist attractions like some large European cities, but it is a great place to live or visit. It has a very rich culture. There were wonderful museums, lots of parks, and always great events.

Retiro Park is my favorite city park I’ve ever been to because the gardens are beautiful, there are great walking/running paths, the beautiful main pond is fun for row boats, and there are plenty of grassy spots to find your own private corner for a picnic.

Jay and I appreciated the plethora of events that can only happen in a big city, like the free Linkin Park / Katy Perry concert. And being in Madrid for a victorious World Cup was something we’ll never forget.

Madrid also boasted an amazing amount of discount airline routes. We visited the island of Mallorca for less than $25 round trip each and made it to Marrakesh for less than $50 round trip each. Plus there were numerous great day trips we took by train. We were completely spoiled by the amount of wonderful places we got to visit. We wished we were able to snag such great travel deals here in Cincinnati (but we did learn we need to explore our own region more because it has a lot to offer).

I wish I had had more time in Madrid, especially for improving my Spanish and because work was fun too, but I know I should just be thankful for the eight months I had. Jay and I both feel amazingly blessed for the experiences we had the last two years. It surpassed all expectations. But no matter how marvelous Croatia and Madrid were, they were both missing what was most important to us: our families. We also feel pretty blessed to be back in Cincinnati spending time with those we love most.

12 Reader Comments to “Which did I like better – Croatia or Madrid?”

  1. Dad Klocke on April 12, 2011 at 4:41am Split / 10:41pm Cincinnati

    I pick Croatia because I was fortunate enough to see tha beauty of Split, its surounding islands and 2 national parks within several hrs of Split. If you and and Jay did not decide to live oversea, I would have never seen Split in my lifetime. Madrid was great also but during your 2 years oversea, I will remember some other great places we visited as a family: 1- meeting you in Cario, Egypt at the hotel and you having a Mtn Dew for me; 2- meeting you in Athens after I got my billfold stolen and you and Jay notifying the credit cards companies; 3- the sites we saw in Berlin; 4- the cruise in the Black Sea and many more memories but mom and dad are glad that Jay and you are home. I also wish you were still living in some other exciting place somewhere in the world that I could visit you and Jay.

  2. Kelly on April 12, 2011 at 6:05pm Split / 12:05pm Cincinnati

    P.S. I do realize that Croatia is a country and Madrid is a city so the comparison may seem odd, but I chose that type of comparison for 4 reasons:
    1. I feel like many Croatian cities have similar feels, but not so much in Spain. If you went in lived in another city in Spain, Barcelona for example, you could feel like you were in a totally different country.
    2. The population of the community of Madrid is over 6 million and the population for all of Croatia is 4.5 million.
    3. Many people don’t know where Split is.
    4. I identify myself with having lived in Croatia and Madrid.

  3. Nikola on April 12, 2011 at 7:43pm Split / 1:43pm Cincinnati

    That’s right about business and bureaucracy,but I wouldn’t change my Split for any city/country in the world.


  4. Jon on April 12, 2011 at 10:22pm Split / 4:22pm Cincinnati

    From a fellow expat who just missed meeting you in Split, but connected through similar friends, I enjoyed reading another American’s perspectives of your time there. I still hold a very special place for Split in my heart and would move back again if the opportunity is there. Finding those 2 things to “complain” about makes me laugh – because they are so true and there is nothing that is being done about it. However, that sea is intoxicating and the peace of mind that comes from the culture there is something that cannot be replaced. Having lived in Cincinnati (with its beautiful parks) and now living in Lexington (with all the horses) will never replace the memories that you bring home from your journey. Hopefully we’ll one day have a chance to meet and share that Croatian connection.

  5. Adrian on June 22, 2011 at 9:56am Split / 3:56am Cincinnati

    Hi Kelly,

    I’m looking forward to a trip to Split this weekend, and more so after reading you blog.

    I wonder if you’d be able to give me some tips. Is Brac the only island thats an easy day trip? We’re also looking at Krka as Plitvice seems a bit too far and pricey, so what would you say is the best way to get to Krka?

    Many thanks


  6. Kelly Larbes on June 24, 2011 at 5:00am Split / 11:00pm Cincinnati

    Hi Adrian – I hope you have fun in Split. It is a wonderful city. First, see this page for my favorite things to do in Split in one day:

    Both Brac and Solta are easy day trips. Hvar can also be done in a day if you don’t mind starting out early.

    Here you can find ferry schedules: http://www.jadrolinija.hr/

    If you are looking to stay off the beaten track and relax at the beach, I’d take the ferry to Solta and then quickly hop on the bus that meets the ferry to the town of Maslinica. It is a cute bay town with a quiet beach on the opposite side of the bay from where the bus drops you off. There isn’t much there except for the small beach, restaurants and a couple shops and homes.

    If you want more to do, head to Brac. I would rent a car so you can drive around the island to see both Supetar and Bol and a few other tiny towns.

    Hvar has the most touristy stuff to do and is also beautiful.

    Plitvice is great, but I loved Krka just as much because you can swim in the falls. You can catch a bus to Krka or rent a car and drive. If you drive, take the longer coastal highway for at least one way – it is beautiful.

    If you can afford more time, I would go to the island of Vis, but you definitely need 2 – 3 days for that. It was my favorite island. So gorgeous!

    Have fun and please check back to tell me about your trip!

  7. Bluegreen Kirk on July 20, 2011 at 5:39pm Split / 11:39am Cincinnati

    Never been to either so I guess I am kinda of neutral. Heard they both were great places to visit but like you stated visiting is one thing but staying for long periods is another. When you only spend 2-3 days in what could seem like paradise its great you want more. But stay a few months then ask the same person probably get a different response.

  8. Smiljana on August 18, 2011 at 10:54am Split / 4:54am Cincinnati

    Kelly, I’m glad you liked our town and country so much… Also, I’m glad It kind a confirmed an old saying here in Split that it is the most beautiful town in the world (there’s also a famous song on the subject :-)). Also, unfortunately, you are so very, very correct about the main problems encountered when living and working here…Hopefully, time will come when they’ll change and then it will be not only the most beautiful town but the town most beautiful to live in.
    Kindest regards

  9. croatia travel on November 17, 2011 at 12:36am Split / 6:36pm Cincinnati

    Really appreciate you sharing this article post.Much thanks again.

  10. Petra Split on December 5, 2011 at 12:38pm Split / 6:38am Cincinnati

    It is really nice to read such nice review about my city from someone who is not born here. Thanks a lot for promotion of my hometown. Most of your readers probably did not hear about Split and Madrid is well known.
    Hope you will come again here….

  11. wild horses on March 27, 2012 at 12:48pm Split / 6:48am Cincinnati

    You actually compared a city of Madrid with a country of Croatia?

    For example, the biggest city in Croatia is Zagreb, whitch is completely different than Split. It’s not a mediteranian city, it has different mentality, different arhitecture etc.. There are at least differnet 4 regions in Croatia.

    Anyway, I liked your review,


  12. Jesse on July 10, 2012 at 9:11pm Split / 3:11pm Cincinnati

    Hiw can you compare a country to a city?