Monday, June 2, 2014

Hvala, Croatia!

I'm back from Croatia! What an incredible trip - unlike any others we've taken for so many reasons. A little photo essay is below, and I'll capture my thoughts about the whole experience at the end. Enjoy!

 Zagreb at it's finest. 

It was a brilliant day for exploring the capital city and curing our jetlag. We tromped and stomped all over the city, stretching our legs after being cooped up for 18 hours. We explored churches, bell towers, farmers markets, cemeteries, and made our way into several pubs before collapsing into bed at 9pm in anticipation of our trip south the next day. The hotel (Doubletree Zagreb) was fine, although not exactly close to anything. I can't complain though, hotel points paid for the whole trip and a couple extra steps never hurt anybody! If you find yourself in Zagreb, spend a day and don't plan to spend any more than that. It's a great launching points for several day trips so you could certainly make it home base for a few days, but the city itself is do-able in a day's time. 

On suggestion of the concierge, we stopped in Rastoke on our way to Plitvice National Park. I am so glad he recommended it and that we actually found it in time to stop! It was such a neat little town and a beautiful preview to the national park. There were small water falls, a few paths to walk up and down, and most interesting to me were the women dressed as fairies and serving as tour guides. One of the large waterfalls is named Vilina kosa which translates to "fairy hair" in English, which explains the odd costume. There is a little shop and restaurant, a pub, and a few B&B's in the small town, but if you are heading south from Zagreb it's a 1 hour stop on your way to Plitvice Lakes. Highly recommend!

After visiting Rastoke, I was prepared for a few more waterfalls and lakes at Plitvice National Park. Well, wasn't I surprised with what we saw. I don't know if we actually toured the parks the right way, but it worked for us. We parked at Gate 2 and walked down to catch the boat, which took us over to a landing where there was a little cafe. We grabbed a delicious, quick lunch and enjoyed soaking up the sun and beautiful scenery before taking a 15 minute walk to catch a bus tram and take us back to the parking area. We got sidetracked on our walk and explored a few more of the lakes and trails, but some of the paths were shut down due to flooding. As you can see we got very lucky with the weather - a gorgeous, sunny, perfect day! If I could do it all over again, I would have spent far more time in the National Park, perhaps staying overnight in a B&B nearby. We had to leave at a certain time in order to make it to Split to return our rental car, but I would have loved to spend 2-3 more hours walking around and snapping pictures. The scenery was just so incredible!

We only spent 1 evening in Split, although it's a magical city. The old city is lively and unique, and being there on a Friday night meant there were groups singing on the main street, families out strolling and eating ice cream, and tourists sitting on benches taking in the scenery. We enjoyed a really lovely dinner just a few streets off the water, opting for the classic Croatian seafood dishes - mussels and grilled tuna, plus a Greek salad that I ate the feta and cucumbers out of, Amanda ate the tomatoes, and we fought over the peppers.

We set out bright and early Saturday morning to find our sailing boat for the next 7 days. We were a bit shell-shocked at the size, but decided to make the most of it.

First stop, Omis! At the very, very top you can see a tiny little fortress. Our guide said it was just a quick 20 minute walk up there. She lied. I quit halfway through and am told I didn't miss much. The rest of the town was pretty quiet, and we chose to spend the evening having BBQ and beers on the boat, getting to know our new friends.

Second stop, Makarska. Makarska is a small city on the Adriatic coast, thus one of the places we sailed to that was not an island. They had a nice little beach, a few trails for hiking out to the point overlooking the bay, and some fun shops and treasure troves to explore. We found a nice patio for dinner and enjoyed some Croatian wine as the sun set. This was the place where we were supposed to have a rave in a cave, but since we were there so early in the season, no cave raving for us. Cue the chorus of boo's! That didn't stop us from having a little fun, though! :)

Fourth stop, Hvar. I truly enjoyed Hvar, and while I heard it was a major party destination, we found it to be peaceful, quiet, and expensive. It was hard to find a decent restaurant that was not 150kn (~$30) for an entree. We did a little hiking and exploring, wandered the town and the shops, ate dinner in a little garden restaurant way off the beaten trail, and made it back to our boat in time to completely avoid the rain. Not for long though - the group decided to practically swim to a bar for the evening, an adventure we all survived using piggy back rides, leopard print umbrellas, and bare feet to keep ourselves out of the bay!

Fifth stop, Korcula! As you can see, it was a lot of doom and gloom for our unexpected 2-day stint in Korcula. We were supposed to leave in the morning but due to bad weather we were stuck for a second night. Not the worst place to be stranded, but not our favorite locale either. It was cold and windy, but we made the most of it and explored the old town, drank our share of strong, bitter coffee, and bought a few souvenirs. We also spent a lot of time in our tiny cabin watching episodes of Orphan Black because what else do you do when there's nothing to do?

Our final destination was Dubrovnik, where we spent 2 nights at the Hilton Dubrovnik, a gorgeous property just on the edge of the old town and in a perfect location for enjoying the tremendous views of old walls and medieval fortress. As you can see, we went from pretty depressing, dreary weather in the morning to an absolutely incredible afternoon, which we enjoyed from our patio with music playing and books in hand. Truly, truly the perfect end to an incredible trip!

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