Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Travel Notes - Croatia

To celebrate our younger daughter finishing high school and because our kids are going to be scattered around the world in a few months, we decided to spend 3 weeks as a family traveling through the Balkans.

Here are some details about our drive down the coast of Croatia. Stunningly beautiful, if you get the chance to visit, take advantage of it. See part 1 about Venice here.

We picked up a rental car in Umag after taking a train from Venice to Trieste and then a shuttle from there through Slovenia into Croatia. It would have been far easier to take a ferry directly from Venice to Croatia, but I'm not a big boat person. Also, renting a car through more than one country was prohibitively expensive. I've had good luck with Sixt rentals in a few places in Europe. Umag is a cool little beach town.

We spent one night in Pula, where we hiked up to some ruins and saw the Roman amphitheater. No tour, just a walk around. We then drove to Zadar and spent two nights there. You can drive from Pula to Zadar via the highway or on a little road that hugs the coastline - do the latter. It's about a 4 hour drive with stunning views of mountains and beaches and lots of places to stop for a break and food. Also lots of places to stop to jump in the ocean. June in Croatia is nice and hot so the ocean is perfectly cold.

Our Airbnb in Zadar was a bit outside of the old city so we didn't see much of Zadar. Instead, we planned it so that we could take most of a day to see the Plitvička Jezera National Park which was pretty incredible. Very worth the beautiful drive through the Croatian countryside. There are a few circuit hikes with some combination of lake crossings via boats you can choose from in Plitvička so do a little bit of planning before you get there. There are a few restaurants in the park so you can grab lunch and coffee there. The water falls are incredible but you can't swim in them although you can at the Krka National Park though but we didn't make it there.

After Zadar, we spent one night in Sibenik which also turned out to be a favorite. Sibenik is an old stone city on the beach that's been inhabited since around 1066. The King Kreshmir Heritage hotel is an amazing property. The property is brand new with an incredible staff and each room has a toilet/bidet combination. No cars in the old city of Sibenik so we had to hoof our luggage up lots of stairs. This was a common theme for us though this whole trip - it's a long story. Sibenik also has a quaint aquarium that takes about an hour to go through.

We got some recommendations for our trip from Paula, a Croatian friend of one of our kids and although we couldn't do everything on the list, the ones we did were awesome. One of the best tips was dinner at Baćulov dvor, a historic farmhouse where the owners give you a tour of the property and treat you to a traditional Croatian dinner. Really incredible experience including trying to find it, seeing houses that are centuries old and the great food. Paula arranged this for us - she's an up and coming travel professional so ping if interested.

Next was two nights in Trogir, another car-less, old stone European city. Trogir has 2300 years of continuous urban tradition and is busy with tourism. During our stay here, Deanna and I took a boat [boat count is 7 in 8 days at this point] to Split for an afternoon while our kids went to a local beach. We stayed in an apartment in a guest house in the center of the city - sort of like a budget hotel - and our host was named Diyanna.

Split was packed with tourists but worth it and one of our best decisions was taking the boat instead of driving. It is a large city so you might not want to deal with the traffic. Seeing the remnants of Diocletian's Palace is definitely worth it, especially the basement - pay the roughly $7 to get in. It will give you a nice break from the heat too.

Our final city was Dubrovnik and it was just as beautiful. We instead should have spent more time here as well. A huge walled city with lots inside and just as much outside the walls. We had a good amount of trouble finding our Airbnb here, it was just off one of the main roads but to actually get to it, we had to weave through a neighborhood as well as squeeze the rental car down a walled road with our mirrors in. Spend a whole day here if you can. The Dubrovnik airport is 20 minutes outside of the city and we flew from here to Athens.

Croatia is unbelievably beautiful - really stunning. It reminded me a lot of Iceland - that touch of wild with water, islands, mountains and rock, all tumbled close together. Granted, we didn't make it very inland in Croatia and all of the places we went were tourist attractions. But what we saw was fantastic and I would easily go back. The people were overly hospitable, there was lots of history we didn't even know about and so many old European cities. And believe it or not, we've never seen an episode of Game of Thrones but we saw a lot of the sights.

We definitely could and should have slowed the pace down of this, except there was so much to see. Paula told us in advance that Croatians don't serve coffee to go, instead Croatians choose to sit and enjoy coffee together over conversations. Next time, we get more coffee and slow it down.

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