Croatia – Highlights
A year ago I embarked on my epic 5-week trip to Milan, Croatia, and Paris. It would have an epic five-week SOLO trip to France, but my best friend decided to play “kabab-mein-haddi”/a gooseberry/third-wheel (whatever your drift is) between Paris and me. Nonetheless, the trip was fantastic and so is she, so I’ll let her transgressions slide.
Four weeks before my trip, I asked Sukanya if she wanted to travel with me to Europe and she called rain-check. To be precise, she said, “I don’t have time; I want to save money and focus on getting married in December, Europe doesn’t excite me that much and I would much rather visit these cities in my sixties, blah blah blah.” Me: “Bummer”.
Fast-forward 1 week => disastrous yet successful Schengen visa incident.
Fast-forward another week. Right after I bought my tickets, she called me and asked me to travel with her to Africa in two weeks. Mind you, Ebola was spreading left, right and center just about then. She tried to convince me with catch phrases like “seizing the single life one last time, girls going wild, You can’t do this for me?” and-and “YOLO forget Ebola”. Ok maybe she didn’t use those exact words, but she expressed the same sentiment, all right? 😛
Since I’d already bought RT tickets to Milan, I tried to coax her to travel near/around Europe instead. We brainstormed for offbeat places – Egypt, Morocco, Russia, etc. After virtually traveling around the world in 80mins, we finally settled on *drum roll* Croatia. I had been eyeing the country for a while, and we were both obsessed with GOT, it was a no-brainer.
We spent a week in the country, but it feels like it passed in the blink of an eye. Besides a bus into the Zagreb and a flight out of Split, we made no other plans; we didn’t have any time to make plans. Everything we did was spur of the moment, which was in equal parts liberating and frustrating. Although in retrospect, the frustrating moments make for great stories and even greater laughs. To sum up, Croatia was everything we dreamt it would be, the country was exotic and beautiful, the landscapes and coastline were downright stunning, the people were lovely. (except our tour guide in Zagreb who was a teeny bit rude. But that’s because we were late to her walking tour and on top of that, she spotted me taking a photo of Sukanya under the cherry blossoms while she was waiting for us :P), and the coffee, cheese, and wine were on point. Thank you, Croatia!
We took an overnight bus from Milan to Zagreb and made it to the capital city after a rather interesting border check. We spent two days in the capital city, exploring Upper Town and Lower Town, checking out the vibrant street art scene, and of course stopping every now then to drink excellent Croatian Kava mit Schlag (coffee with milk and whipped cream yes please!) and Croatian wine.
Game of Thrones, Croatia
In a nutshell, Croatian history has been turbulent. In fact, Croatia as a country didn’t exist until two decades ago. Since 1000BC, invading armies have conquered territory only to be kicked out by other armies. Originally the Adriatic/Dalmatian coastline was part of the Roman Empire, and then the Turks took over. Only to be succeeded by the Hungarians, followed by the Venetians, the French, the Italians, and all the way up the Austrians and the Hungarians during WWI. The rest of 20th century was spent being part of Yugoslavia until 1991 when Croatia finally gained independence. Every kingdom and empire wanted(s) a piece of Croatia, including the Lannisters and hungry tourists like you and me today.
Trivia: Dalmatian dogs trace back to the narrow coastal strip called Dalmatia, stretching from north Croatia to Montenegro.
We stayed at Hostel Chic in Zagreb. It was our very first time in a hostel and thankfully we had an excellent experience there. The hostel was inexpensive and neat, close to Old Town and the owners arranged tours for us, despite the offseason challenges. We shared the dorm, some stories, and a few laughs first with a guy from Dubrovnik, who btw had the superpower to sleep through pretty much anything. He was in Zagreb for a science conference and gave us great tips for things to do in Dubrovnik. Two girls from Germany moved into the dorm the second night. I grabbed a Kava with them the next morning. When in Croatia ☺
Plitvice Lakes National Park
On our third day, we took a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park (organized by the hostel), about 3 hours away from Zagreb. We drove past green rolling hills and the lush Croatian countryside and stopped at the adorable village of Rastoke for an hour, strolling past picturesque windmills and small waterfalls, before heading to the park.
The Plitvice Lakes area contains 16 lakes, which flow into one another through a vast canyon, forming hundreds of natural waterfalls. These lakes and waterfalls were this incredible turquoise greenish-blue that you’d see in photos. Sukanya remarked that government conspirators emptied buckets of green and blue paint to make it that color and I was inclined to believe her, it was simply too beautiful to be real.
There were hardly any people in the national park and we took full advantage of that. Photo shoot galore: D
Onwards to Dubrovnik (aka best bus ride of our lives)
The fourth day had us packing our bags and scrambling to catch the train from Zagreb to Split. When we reached, we enjoyed a relaxed lunch in Split and jumped on a bus to Dubrovnik. The bus ride was hands down the best bus ride of our lives (excluding the time the bus driver tried to kill us). After a brief discussion about who would sit in the window seat, we decided to split so neither of us had to compromise. It was a good decision because the Adriatic coastline is ridiculously beautiful. We were always exclaiming how amazing the view was, only to have it turn even more beautiful at the next bend. (Probably irked the entire bus with our constant Oohs and Aahs :P) I sat next to a friendly guy Ljubomir from Montenegro, who was surprised at how much we loved the view. In his opinion, his country’s coastline trumped Croatia’s and he even offered to be our guide when we visited. I doubt that but will take him up on his offer anyway. “We are coming for you Montenegro. “
Window seats trump friendship #sorrynotsorry
On the way, we booked a cozy room through Airbnb outside the Walled City, high up in hills surrounding Dubrovnik. That meant climbing tons of stairs, but like I say, anything for a great view and good company. Our Airbnb host Zoran and his family were incredibly sweet and welcoming and see the view we woke up to every morning. (every = all of two mornings :P)
View during the day 😀
The walled, orange-roofed old city next to the Adriatic was downright majestic and from the minute we stepped foot in the Walled City/Old Town, we were rendered speechless.
The mornings began with us devouring a delightful breakfast prepared by our Airbnb host Zoran’s mom in the terrace.
During the day we explored the walls and alleys of the Old Town with gleeful abandon, basking in the Mediterranean sun and slurping creamy gelatos.
We ended the evenings at Buza Bar, nestled between the rocks on the cliff, watching the sun go down with a cold drink in hand in the company of new friends.
After two blissful days, we reluctantly took the bus back to Split and booked another Airbnb, this time inside the walls of the Diocletian Palace.
Roman emperor Diocletian founded Split in 295AD and built a grand palace, against a backdrop of rugged mountains and views over the azure Adriatic Sea. This so-called “palace” is actually a medieval walled town, with passages and streets around a central square. What’s really fascinating is that locals actually live and work in this palace today. Our cozy Airbnb was pretty cool because one of the walls in the bedroom is/was a part of the actual palace walls, all for a grand price of thirty euros. 😀
We spent two days exploring all that the palace had to offer and spent hours strolling along the beautiful promenade.
Regrets: Croatia’s islands are supposed to breathtaking and, unfortunately, we couldn’t visit even one. Moreover, it was still early spring and too cold for stepping into the water. There is a statue of Grgur Ninski (Gregory of Nin) in Split, who was a badass bishop and fought with the Pope to have the church services held in the national language, and not Latin, which majority of the population didn’t understand. Rubbing his shiny toe is said to bring good luck, and we rubbed it in the hope that we’d be lucky enough to return one day.
Regardless, we had a ball in this beautiful country, and if you are wondering where to go in early summer or fall, I can’t recommend Croatia enough.
Signing off with some dramatic Game of Thrones style photos 😀