Crazy Englishman from Jelsa is World’s Most Reliable Source of Information on Croatian Destinations
One of the best promoters of Croatian tourism whose blog is the most widely read English-language blog about Croatia has recently moved from Hvar to Varazdin County with his family so he could be closer to the business-oriented capital of Zagreb. His portal Total Hvar now has several destination-themed sister portals, united under one central roof – Total Croatia News, read by many Croats.
It all started over a beer on the pretty main square of Jelsa in 2011. One more disappointed tourist, clutching a copy of ‘Lonely Planet Croatia’ complaining that while the book was good overall, there was very little information about Jelsa to appreciate the town.
“Such a beautiful island, such terrible information.”
It was a sentiment local British resident Paul Bradbury had heard many times before, and this time he resolved to do something about it. A decision was made – to write the first modern guidebook for the island of Hvar. Three months and 220 pages later, the self-published ‘Hvar, An Insider’s Guide’ hit the streets and was warmly received by locals and tourists alike.
As the season ended, a little research showed that there was potential in an online portal for Hvar, bringing the whole island together in a way that the five separate tourist boards (Sucuraj, Jelsa, Vrboska, Stari Grad and Hvar) had not managed. The concept of Total Hvar was born, a website which would embrace more than the beach in summer and private accommodation advertising, but blog daily – 5, 6, 7 times – to show that Hvar was open all year, and it had so much to offer.
Some time later, a Mexican arrived at ‘The Office’ – Café Splendid on the Jelsa square, where much of the blogging was done. Having read so many of the Total Hvar blogs back in Mexico City, he and his fiancée had decided that Jelsa was for them, and did Bradbury have any accommodation recommendations? The Mexicans were happy tenants for 2 years with Bradbury’s punica, before moving to Korcula where they have been living happily for more than three years.
There were blogs, lots of them. More than 9,000 articles just about Hvar. Local tourist boards were not initially interested in supporting the project, and so it was left to visionary private businesses – restaurants, hotels, tourist agencies – to support the fledgling project. Almost six years later, Total Hvar now has sister destination sites, including Total Split, Total Inland Dalmatia, Total Zagreb and Total Dubrovnik, as well as dedicated websites Total Croatia Wine, Total Croatia Cycling and Total Croatia Sailing.
The core site, however, is Total Croatia News, a Google News affiliated site started in 2015, which publishes about 25 articles a day and has had over 80 contributors in its short life, including politicians Jadranka Kosor and Vesna Pusic, entrepreneur Sasa Cvetojevic, and a range of writers from all over Croatia and the diaspora. Recently recommended by both The Guardian and The Sunday Times, Total Croatia News brought The New York Times to meet Hvar’s new mayor Riki Novak recently, to talk about THOSE signs, and is working with The Wall Street Journal currently on a feature for sailing on the Adriatic for Total Croatia Sailing.
“Our philosophy is simple,” says Bradbury, “Just five words. Give People What They Want. People want good, honest and reliable information, delivered in a lively and entertaining way. If that is what we provide them, they come back for more. I have been very surprised and appreciative of the number of Croatians who read TCN on a daily basis, as they feel it is more open and balanced than much of the Croatian media.”
Born in the rain in Manchester in 1969, Bradbury’s move to Europe’s sunniest island in August 2002 was not straightforward. A graduate of Russian and German from Manchester University, his first job was as a male chambermaid in Munich, and other jobs included a laser crystals salesman in Moscow, English and French teacher in Hiroshima, and aid work – lots of aid work. The Ural Mountains, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the immediate aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and the posting which changed his life – Somaliland.
“I had just sold my house in the UK and was watching CNN, and there was an advert. ‘Croatia, the Mediterranean as It Once Was.’ That was it. I was hooked. A Canadian friend told me to come to Sarajevo where she made a list of ten great places to buy on the Adriatic. I wasn’t really listening and when she asked me which one, I closed my eyes and pointed to number 6 – Hvar. It was a place I had never heard of, but it turned out to be the best decision of my life.”
His first three words of Croatian were punomoc, potpis (it sounds funny in English) and hobotnica, his house purchase in Jelsa was hurried and he realised he needed to learn Croatian fast. A fateful visit to the Jelsa library to borrow a children’s book to get started brought him into contact with the captivating blue-eyed assistant librarian. Miranda and Paul now have two daughters, Hannah (10) and Taliah (8). Around town they call him affectionately ‘Ludi Englez’, possibly due to his decision to live in Jelsa all year, but mostly due to his habit of walking around in ‘kratki rukavi’ (short sleeves) all year, including when the bura blows.
And, after 14 years in Paradise, a change last Christmas, as Bradbury and his family relocated to Varazdin County.
“If I thought the Dalmatian dialect was difficult, I was in for a shock – in Varazdin it is impossible.” A change of lifestyle and more business centred in Zagreb were prime motivations, but always with the promise of summers on Hvar.
“Starting Total Croatia News opened my eyes to the real Croatia. I was living in a tourist bubble world of Hvar, without really knowing what is going on in Croatia as a whole. Can you imagine I had never heard the word ‘uhljeb’ before I started with TCN? A whole different Croatia opened up to me. The Jelsa version was much more pleasant, for sure, but the real Croatia is a lot more challenging.
“It has been the most fascinating time of my life in many ways. We are not afraid to (constructively) criticise institutions and give suggestions on how to improve things, but I quickly learned that foreigners with opinions are not welcome, and that the concept of constructive criticism is a very non-Croatian thing. But – and this is what keeps me going – in among all the hate and the death threats (yes those too), every time we raise our head with an opinion, we receive one, two and sometimes more, emails of support from people who have long given up on the system, but want to contribute.
“This is one of the most interesting, and inspiring, aspects of life in Croatia since we moved near to Zagreb. Many of Croatia’s brightest young people are emigrating as they see no opportunity, and we are slowly connecting with them. More interesting has been the developing working relationships of several Zagreb startups who can compete on the global stage, and who have the potential to effect huge online change in Croatia.
“I must admit that I laugh at the whole Uber v Taxi story here. It is a little like Kim banning the Internet in North Korea but having no answer to leaflets being dropped in his country. One of the saddest things about Croatia is that it spends all its energies in the past, while the rest of the world – and technology – is looking to the future. Change is inevitable, and the best approach is to embrace it and hope to get a seat on the train of change. I am proud of these new-found techie friends who have decided to stay in Zagreb when offices in San Francisco await, and that they will allow this fat old Brit to work with them on new and exciting projects which will change the face of Croatia.”
And the future? The Total Croatia brand, which started over a beer with a frustrated tourist less than six years ago, continues to grow. Regular writers are now based in Split, Dubrovnik, Rijeka, Vukovar, Zagreb and Varazdin.
“There is so much potential in Croatia, and we have now built a brand and international reputation to really promote the best things in this country. Slavonia, and all continental Croatia, has so much to offer that tourists never hear about. Kvarner, Northern Dalmatia and even Istria – so many things to be written about and promoted. We launched Total Croatia Sailing this summer, an umbrella to really promote this huge growth potential for nautical tourism in Croatia. If there are local authorities, tourist boards or Croatian tourism businesses who have an interest to promote their destination, please get in touch. Give People What They Want – the more the tourist knows and enjoys about a destination, the more they will spend.