Collapsable buggies, a thousand ‘essential’ toys, and the countless changes of clothes packed “just in case”. Travelling as a young family can seem daunting and unmanageable, but ask Kathrin and Chingun (mum and dad of 3), and they’ll tell you that the many things that clutter up the car are just a small part of a much bigger, and brighter picture.
“Children are so curious – they make the best travel buddies in the world” says dad of three, Chingun, as he’s sat, drenched in the soft evening light, and draped happily over the wicker swing chair in the back porch of the villa his family have booked for the next five days.
“If you let it, their curiosity unlocks a world of new experiences and introduces you to new people and new places.”
It’s no coincidence then that the Chingunjav family have chosen Split – the heart of the Dalmatia region, which boasts spectacular coastal views and over 1,000 islands and reefs, just asking to be explored – as the base for their first holiday in nearly two years.
“It’s very important to us that our kids are open and get to know other cultures,” Kathrin tells us as she watches her three daughters – Gundi aged 9; Sunji aged 6 and Bubu aged 3 – braving those first steps into a rippling surf on a small stretch of beach near old-town Šibenik.
The German-Mongolian family of five spent the morning winding their way around the city’s quaint and crooked streets. They clamber up steps to get a new view of the ocean and then get lost before ending up at an ice cream street vendor. From there, the quintet head to the local fish market to pick out the evening food. Mum and dad are buzzing from stall to stall, overwhelmed with the specimens of seafood on offer that were caught fresh that morning. For middle daughter, Sunji, 6, it’s the chance to come face to face with some wholly new sounds and, to be perfectly honest, smells. Well, it is a fish market.
When the dinner menu was agreed, they hopped back in the car and headed to the coast for a well deserved swim and a chance to cool off, stopping off at home to put the fish in the fridge.
The beach they found is a small pebble cove hidden up in the northern tip of the Dalmatia Coastline. Host, Maro, told them it was a 20 minute drive from the family in the mountains overlooking the small harbour village of Rognoznica.
What they quickly realised is that in Split, everything you need is either 20 minutes away, or more than 20 minutes away. That’s as specific as it gets. But the Chingunjavs came here to explore and when the roadside is pristine ocean views peppered with untamed dusty bushland, you don’t really mind taking a little longer to get where you’re going.
And for the Chingunjavs, holidays are for going where they’ve never gone and for doing what they’ve never done.
“It’s important that they are sometimes brave and try things that we don’t have at home. We don’t want them to have any reservations towards anything ‘foreign’…”
When they arrive at their new home, the family’s host, Jakov, tells them about the Jugo; a strong wind that trails up from the sea in the south, and when it blows, the whole region gets a little…wild.
The girls look at their mum and dad, wide eyes searching for the tell tale signs that they’re not being told the absolute truth.
“It’s a real thing.” Yakov says, letting the smile that was lingering at the corner of his mouth break and spread across his tanned face. “The rains come, and people make…’bold’ decisions. When it’s here, the Government is actually suspended to protect against the unpredictable effects of the Yugo’s visit.”
On the evening of the third day, after a morning spent exploring the coastline and discovering hidden rock pools beneath abandoned lighthouses, it was the youngest Chingunjav, three year old “Baby Boss” Bubu, who embraced the spirit of the Jugo.
Eldest daughter, Gundi, and middle daughter, Sunji, waiting expectantly in the pool, clapping, arms outstretched towards Bubu who was stood at the poolside, grinning, defiant and determined.
Kathrin and Chingun watched and waited, their breath caught in their mouths, and their smiles hovering at breaking point.
“She would never have gone into the pool without mum or dad before … she was scared that we’d let her go.” Kathrin whispers, eyes fixed on Bubu.
Then, with arms out to her side, and two cheering sisters in front of her, Bubu jumped forward and plunged into the water, head dipping all the way under for a split second before she re-emerged, water dripping from her face, revealing a proud grin.
For the next 10 minutes, Bubu is in and out of the water at least a dozen times. Any nerves she might’ve had have evaporated, and have been replaced by the sense of achievement.
“The kids are just so free…they accepted the house as if it was our own. It’s astonishing that this moment is happening right now,” Chingun says. “It shows how comfortable they are here and how much fun they’re having here.”
Later the following evening, after spending the morning exploring Krka National Park and watching Bubu swim away from them (but not too far) at Skradinski Buk – a spectacular, two-tiered natural waterfall – Chingun and Kathrin are reflecting on their first family holiday in nearly two years and how much the girls have grown.
“This holiday was an opportunity for us to finally spend some time together. We just want the kids to be on tour again. To get that feeling and to start having those new experiences. But it’s us who keep ticking-off these moments in their development; from their first steps to jumping into the water…and now Bubu’s swimming all by herself” muses Chingun softly, rubbing his head like he’s trying to make sense of it. “These moments are super cool, and we know they’re going to ask ‘Daddy, when will we come and do this again?’ – we know they’re going to bug us for another trip, but that’s fine by us.”
Kathrin sits there beaming with the warm smile the whole family wears so naturally. She agrees.