This week for our regular feature “more adventures in Croatia” we welcome to our blog Douglas Cavanaugh, an American expat who for the past eighteen years has been living in Rijeka, a northern coastal town and principal seaport in Croatia.
In his spare time over the years, Douglas has written an action/spy/thriller novel set in Bosnia and many parts of Croatia, Dalmatia included, so we were very interested to hear the story of his own adventure in Croatia, and how he came to writing this action-packed book!
Hi Douglas and welcome to our Blog, where are you originally from and how did you end up living in Croatia?
It is a low-key place with endless miles of corn and soy bean fields; very green and hot in the summer, very cold and quiet in the winter. After finishing college, I worked for several years in two rural Iowa communities.
During this time, in the early 1990s, I took advantage of some opportunities to travel abroad. I loved the adventures so much that I decided to try living and working overseas after my final contract expired in 1995.
Through various professional contacts, one thing quickly led to another, and I found a job in my profession in Rijeka in 1996. I thought the whole experience would last a year, perhaps two. That was eighteen years ago and I’m still here.
Why did you choose Croatia rather than moving to another country? Tell us about your connection to Croatia.
I like to say that I didn’t choose Croatia, per se, but Croatia chose me. At the time – late in 1995, the war in the region was not entirely over and the only knowledge I had about Croatia came from the reports I saw on the nationally televised evening news. Like most Americans back then, the break-up of Yugoslavia seemed so confusing that I didn’t invest much time learning about the geography or history of the matter. A professional colleague of mine called me unexpectedly one frigid January evening. The last time I’d heard, he had been working in Italy, but I soon learned that he was living in Zagreb. Through his local contacts, he had a job waiting for me in Rijeka if I wanted it. I didn’t know where Rijeka was, or even what language was spoken in Croatia….
Nevertheless, I made a few phone calls, booked a one-way airline ticket to Ljubljana, and packed my bags. At the end of February 1996, I arrived in Croatia, safe and sound, but wondering what I had gotten myself into. It all happened so fast – it must have been my destiny.
What do you like about Croatia and specifically about your area and your neighborhood? What is there to see and do in your area?
From an activity standpoint, there is a lot to like about living in Croatia. Summers are famously nice and the spring and autumn seasons are enjoyable, too.
The Rijeka/Opatija area is well positioned and offers a lot of adventure within an hour’s drive. It is easy to plan day trips on consecutive weekends and do something different each time. The Kvarner region does have considerably more rain than the Dalmatian coast, however, and that should be factored in to all travel plans.
In the summer, the fabulous beaches at Crikvenica, Baška on the island Krk, and Moščenička Draga are all within easy reach and make excellent daytrips, especially for families with young children.
In the spring and autumn, my family likes to spend time hunting for mushrooms or hiking the mountain trails in Gorksi Kotar. Istria is a short drive away, and long lunches with friends at one of the many family-owned Agro-tourism destinations is a popular weekend choice.
Readers interested in reading additional articles I’ve written on this subject are encouraged to visit the ‘Life in Croatia’ archive article tab listed on the left side menu at www.into-hells-fire.com.
As you’ve been living in Croatia for may years, have you had any experience of buying and renovating property there?
For many outsiders, Croatia is a very alluring country in which to buy a property. A lot of foreigners have moved here since my arrival, and many others are coming to Croatia on a permanent basis each year.
Except for stories others have told me, I have no personal experience of buying property in Croatia. Having said that, I am in contact with several friends, both Croats and other expats, who have gone through the ownership process at various times over the last ten years, or who are currently doing so now. Sadly, it is difficult for me to recall any who have had totally positive experiences from beginning to end. Legal difficulties involving ownership, clean titles, and unethical real estate agents; bad experiences with lawyers and architects, never-ending bureaucracy, and burdensome fees are all complaints I have frequently heard in the past.
That doesn’t even begin to cover troubles with unregulated builders and incompetent contractors who gladly overcharge foreign buyers. I can say that I hear fewer of these types of reports nowadays, but it is still very much a ‘buyer beware’ scenario. Foreign buyers should proceed carefully and do their due diligence before taking the ownership plunge. Before any money changes hands, they should make a valiant effort on their own to learn the answers to important questions they may have about buying and renovating property.
They should not expect hired professionals to know or provide the correct answers to their questions. Every situation will be different, the laws change frequently, and some professionals are better informed than others.
Potential buyers may want to reread the last three sentences because they are very important.
As for renovating, that’s another difficult subject. There are some very talented and qualified ‘majstors’ or craftsmen around if you know where to find them. Unfortunately, it seems they are usually discovered only after less qualified ones have already done inadequate work the first time. The definition of quality workmanship has a broad spectrum with general contractors in Croatia. It isn’t unusual to find yourself paying twice (or more) to get a job done correctly. Because of this fact, I’ve become handier with repairs around the house!
None of this was said to discourage anyone from pursuing their dream of buying and/or renovating a property in Croatia. Moving to Croatia can be a very rewarding experience, and I am proof of that. However, expats or Croats who have lived abroad for many years and are planning to return to Croatia should make the transition with open eyes. They should research the process carefully, and build a solid network of friends and/or family who can steer them in the right direction to avoid unnecessary stress and added expense.
Another author contact of mine, a New Zealander-Croat named Barbara Unković, has written two very entertaining books related to this subject. Any expat who is seriously considering relocating to Croatia would be well served to read about Barbara’s experiences and adventures. Both books can be found in my list of recommended reading on my website bookstore at: http://into-hells-fire.com/category/bookstore.
And tell us how you got into writing? Do you also have a ‘proper’ job?
Writing a book came about as a hobby or more like a personal challenge; a project which I forced myself to finish after having started. It is something I always wanted to do since my teenage years but never found a subject interesting enough to write about while growing up in my home state. I think it was the life-changing event of moving abroad that stimulated a latent desire to pursue such a task.
I work full time as a chiropractor (www.cavanaugh.hr) and have been doing so for almost twenty-five years. So most of my writing is done in short bursts of creativity in my office during my occasional breaks between patients. Completing a novel is one of my life’s achievements I am particularly proud of.
Because of time constraints associated with life (i.e. family, work, and other interests), my novel, Into Hell’s Fire, took eight years to complete from start to finish. Now I am about one third finished with my second book, and ironically, it is set in Iowa.
Tell us about your novel, Into Hell’s Fire, and how is the novel knitted into different areas in Bosnia and Croatia?
Into Hell’s Fire is an action/spy novel that is set in many locations throughout Bosnia (Brćko, Mostar, and Sarajevo) and Croatia (Slavonia, Samobor, Dubrovnik; Korčula, Lošinj, Rijeka and Opatija). It is an entirely fictional tale that takes place at the beginning of the Siege of Sarajevo and during the war around Bosnia and Croatia in 1992.
The story centers around the main character, a multi-lingual, Croatian-American named Lucas Martin, who was born as Luka Martinović in Slavonski Brod before the start of World War II. In the aftermath of WWII, Lucas is relocated to the U.S. early in his life and later serves in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.
In the 1970s, he works for the U.S. government as a security specialist, and later, as a sponsored agent. When war breaks out in the former Yugoslavia, he is brought out of retirement and inserted into Sarajevo to monitor the situation and direct U.S. policy as the fray widens. It isn’t long before he is unwillingly involved in the events going on around him.
Soon he becomes snared in a private war between himself and a profiteering JNA general which can conclude with only one victor. Living up to the hype, the story ends in a dramatic, final showdown.
What inspired you to write this novel?
Well, the earliest memory I have of creating the story came to me while riding on the ferry between Rijeka and Dubrovnik in the summer of 1998. My parents were visiting at the time, and there weren’t many tourists on board. My father and I were drinking beer in the sun on the open deck, and there was a man seated nearby holding an early model mobile phone carrying on numerous conversations in multiple languages.
I heard him speaking at least five languages in a short time without struggling with any of them. How interesting? Who was this man dressed in black leather? Who was he talking to in so many languages? Was he a travel agent? Perhaps.
Was he a member of an IFOR team working for NATO or the U.N.? Maybe. Or possibly he was an agent who had been brought out of retirement who was working for the U.S. government?
After playing with the answers to these questions, all it took was a few more beers, a little bit of day-dreaming, and my first novel, Into Hell’s Fire, was born.
Thank you Douglas for sharing with us and our readers the story of your move to Croatia and your novel. We wish you good luck with your new book and look forward to reading it.
To read original article click here.