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Ingredients for a unique digital nomad story: sustainability, simmering stews, and Split!

Nikolina Kukoč

Nikolina Kukoč

26.10.2021.

They jokingly introduce themselves to people as “Boomer & Zoomer”. However, Barbara and Marques are so much more than that. This lovely pair of digital nomads arrived in Split at the beginning of September, knocking down many stereotypes in the process: from intergenerational relationships to the perceived age of someone who is a digital nomad and anything in between.

The reason they chose a digital nomad lifestyle is pretty simple: for Barbara it was time for retirement and chasing the dream of writing her cookbook and Marques, being an online entrepreneur, wanted to explore the agriculture and future of sustainability in Croatia. This idea to change their lifestyle was partly influenced by the pandemic situation the world found itself in. As was the case with many of us, we suddenly had to reevaluate our lives, so it is no wonder that those who were in the position to make lifestyle changes also got brave enough to make them happen.

Being a teacher in the pandemic times, Barbara came to a realization: “It was time for retirement. I knew I was not serving my students with meaning and purpose by remote learning. I thought about how much I have wanted to return to Croatia and knowing I could retire was the game changer for me.” At the same time, for Marques, this was a set of circumstances that brought new opportunities: “For me, it was more of an opportunity to explore the world and deepen my love for archeology.”

Aside from archeology, Marques is extremely passionate about sustainability and preserving our planet, which was very evident from our chat about agriculture and his interest in the local startups that operate in that particular field.

Barbara intertwines those interests with her passion for food: “How it is resourced, how it is prepared, what makes it a tradition, and how to continue that traditional recipe healthily. I began with a vision to explore how social and economic trends impact what we cook and eat and this became more like a compilation of stories. The stories are the real heart of the work and with each new recipe, I am searching for the story behind it – making the people that prepare it come to life on the pages.”

Life took Barbara and Marques from Scranton, where both of them were born, via New York City, and finally landed them here in Split. We were curious about their plans and asked them when they are going to move on to another location, and got an unexpected response right off the bat:

“We hope we will never have to leave!”

To our delight, Barbara and Marques told us they like it here a lot, so their general plan is to try and stay here because Croatia does offer a variety of different long-term residence permits, besides the famous digital nomad visa. No matter how long they end up staying – and we sincerely hope their wishes do come true and they stay for a while – Split is going to be their home, as well as their base for exploring the rest of Croatia.

Both of them are particularly interested in archeological ruins, museums, as well as learning more about the geographical microclimates that allow food to be grown and/or prepared regionally. Considering Croatia has an abundance of different terrains and climates to explore, and is rich with history from Roman ruins to Art Nouveau buildings, they have plenty of things on their bucket list.

Taking into account their interest in all things food, sustainability, and architecture, we decided to join Barbara and Marques for a stroll through Split’s city center and also stop to do some grocery shopping at the open-air market known here in Split as Pazar. It was interesting to witness this everyday errand of many of Split’s citizens through a new perspective.

Even though seeing them shop for groceries at Pazar they are at ease and almost seem as if they were locals – Barbara rocks the little self-made dictionary for this purpose and manages to get everything she and Marques need just fine – you might wonder how two New Yorkers chose Split in the first place: “We traveled here back in 2012, visiting Krka National Park, Split, and Dubrovnik.

We fell in love with the people, architecture, climate, and food. It was a journey to return, but here we are!”

This journey to return to Split was indeed something: “We have been preparing for over a year and began minimizing the material things in our lives. We knew we would be selling everything and traveling light. We had a gigantic yard sale and sold the car in the process! Everything else was donated. We did hire professional help – an attorney here in Split. She is an absolute rockstar and is helping us navigate the final part of the journey: the bureaucracy.”

Speaking of bureaucracy, we had to touch upon this topic in more detail, so we asked Barbara and Marques if they have any tips and tricks they would like to share regarding the application process for Croatia’s digital nomad visa for US citizens: “Once you complete the FBI background check, send it off to the State Department in Washington, D.C. for the apostille. This took three weeks, so make sure to plan ahead. In comparison to other countries offering similar permits to US citizens, Croatia offers a clear, concise format to follow to prepare your documentation. It is straightforward and sensible.”

In addition to advice on the digital nomad residence permit, Barbara and Marques already got to enjoy many things Split has to offer, so we asked them about their everyday favorites: “I have not yet found a cup of coffee I did not love! We frequent the Green House located just outside of The Works co-working space for coffee, lunch, and even dinner! We found Pimpinella during our first week here and we cannot wait to go back. It is just incredible! We are living very close to Šug restaurant which also has an amazing menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Other restaurants we enjoyed were Fig and Veg in the Diocletian’s Palace. I do cook at home frequently, but we will certainly be adding to this list in the future!”

Barbara shared with us that she is really good at researching: “For me, it was a labor of love to complete the research. It also allowed Marques and me to work on it, plan, and complete a long to-do list together to reach our goals.” Aside from the internet as their primary source of information in the form of Google search and various Facebook communities for digital nomads and expats in Split, The Works coworking staff, where Barbara goes frequently to work on her cookbook, has been extremely helpful with tips and advice.

And while Split’s digital nomads might ask us locals about practical things regarding life in Split, we locals always like to ask about their point of view on life here: “The immediate impression is the pace of life. Coming from NYC, where everyone is in a hurry, every minute of every day, it is palpable to come here and find serenity and peace. It takes a bit to adjust to this slowing down.

The climate here is appealing and the scenery is breathtaking!

From the moment you can see Split when the plane is landing until you arrive in the city, you just cannot stop looking at everything. Notably, each neighborhood has every convenience you would ever need. Once you frequent a store, bakery, or restaurant, it is as if you have always been their customer, and you are greeted with sincere welcomes. In the month we have been living here, we feel surrounded by nature, clean air – compared to NYC, it is immediately noticeable – great drinkable water, local produce, and food that tastes like it is supposed to and is available in season. That is such an important concept in our global economy.”

For locals, this outlook on life in Split that Barbara and Marques have can be eye-opening indeed. We are all sometimes guilty of “the grass is greener on the other side” syndrome. So having this perspective on our hometown and country of origin is something we should think about the next time we get that urge to complain and compare.

As for any last tips for fellow nomads, this is what our awesome duo had to say: “It is important to be yourself, be genuine. Try to speak the language. People are patient with you if you try. Come as a global citizen. Leave the designer labels and US sports branding at home. Keep it real and your new life will unfold in ways you never imagined.

Speaking of keeping it real: that is the way here. There is no fake greeting, no airs of importance, no arrogance. It is all about being open. Anyone who is thinking about seeking a remote lifestyle, regardless of age, should consider becoming a global citizen and begin their journeys in Croatia. Do not let age be the reason you say that you cannot consider this lifestyle.

Come here with an open mind and open heart – and the magic will begin!”

Photos by: Bruno Dubravec

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About author:

Nikolina Kukoč

Researching is woven into my DNA, but I'm a musician at heart. Interested in too many things and always curious. Forever in love with Split and enchanted by people who teach me new things. When I'm not writing about Split's tech community, you will find me somewhere in nature, in the theatre, or with my head stuck in a book. I do my best to live by the verse from the opera "Fedora" by Umberto Giordano: "Love forbids you not to love."

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