Croatia was a country that has been high on my list ever since my old boss TJ took a trip there in the early days of FlipKey. I knew of its beautiful coast and beaches but not a lot about it’s history or the majesty of the Balkans. After spending three months in the US, we were excited to jump back on a plane headed for a land that we would fall in love with.
Ok, this isn’t the land we fell in love with, but I figured we should mention it since we were able to grab some great coffee and some suspect shut eye. We had opted for the short layover (five hours) rather than the long (25 hours) in Moscow, which meant spending a whole bunch of time in Sheremetyevo Airport. Arriving at 5:30 am, we were exhausted from only having a short restless sleep on the overnight flight. Note to travelers, it’s always better to take a flight that starts in the evening to Europe, where you will be tired on the plane. 5:30am Russia, is 9:30 pm Boston, so it wasn’t even our bedtime when we arrived. After going through customs, I found a cafe that made pour-overs and Danielle hunkered down in a sketchy former smoking lounge another terminal down that now served as a glass box for those wishing to sleep on hard floors under the watchful eyes of every traveler who passed by. But enough of airport adventures, let’s get to the real ones.
We picked up our rental car and headed to our apartment that we had booked just for a night. I’m glad we did this, rather than hitting the road, because we both crashed for a few hours, after our long 24 hours of travel. The one thing of note was that we had a couple of hours to kill as our rental car had an issue/feature, that meant it would start sometimes without any power steering. While waiting to be able to return the car, we read at a nearby cafe and had a chance to witness some pretty great humanity. I’m not sure how it happened, but all of a sudden a woman ran in to the cafe and we realized there was a boy standing out front who had hurt his head. All at once, several people at the cafe jumped in motion to care for this boy. There were three young men chatting on the patio and they went over to see what they could do to help, pulled up a chair from the cafe, sat the boy down and chatted with him, while the waiter brought out a towel and some ice. They woman eventually left, but the young men stayed with the boy, and the wait staff helped until the father came about 30 minutes later. It was pretty cool to see how everyone dropped what they were doing and focused their energies on caring for and comforting a hurt and, most likely, scared kid.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
You can read about all the cool waterfalls we encountered in this incredible national park in Danielle’s post, but if you’re looking for some more pictures of Plitvice and Rastoke, enjoy these!
You can read more about my impressions of Split here. Overall, it is a pretty large city, but the old town is small enough to feel like we knew the area and provided enough stimulation that over ten days we never felt trapped or needing more of something. It also served as a great jumping off point to see some of the wonders that surround the area. Our day trip to Krka National Park and the cities of Šibenik and Trogir was a great, but if weather and timing had cooperated, we would have also loved to take a sailing trip to see some of the nearby islands. The threat of rain and the closing of the famous Blue Cave for a photo shoot on the one good weather day caused us to spend our time and money elsewhere. As I noted in my post, Split is built on top of sulphur vents that give you whiffs of the emanation of a wonderfully pungent rotten egg. That aside, we enjoyed the beauty, the sun, the beaches, and the countryside of this area. We also enjoyed some pretty great restaurants that I would highly recommend:
4soul Coffee Food – I can’t say enough good things about this, so just go to Split already and order the chemex and an espresso for the wait.
Galerija Food – Danielle found this when looking for a good vegetarian-friendly place and it did not disappoint.
Wine and Cheese Bar Paradox – We shared a board of local cheeses from the Island of Pag and a couple of glasses of local Croatian wine.
Luka Ice Cream & Cakes – We enjoyed all the ice cream and bakeries we visited, but this one stood out, partly because it was on our way home most days, but also because it was delicious. Our favorite was the yogurt with lemon and rosemary.
Marcvs Marvlvs – Described as a “library cafe” and set in the former home of this 15th century Croatian poet, the cafe-bar has some good finds we haven’t been used to on our travels (Guiness and Ardbeg scotch) as well as the local rakija.
Danielle wrote up a recap of our visits to the Croatian tourist favorites Hvar and Dubrovnik and I don’t have much to add here. Renting a boat and getting to explore some of the nearby islands was a thrill and there was no better way to spend a rare warm, sunny day.
With a short two-night stay in a hotel, we knew that we wouldn’t be cooking any food here. With those limitations, finding some good places to eat were high on the priority. Having worked for TripAdvisor, I have a bit of a bias, but the reviews are legit and often the best/only way to really research restaurants and hotels in places outside the US. We found two gems:
Peppers Eatery – This place did not disappoint one bit – great drinks and great food (I got zucchini pasta with almond-basil pesto, Danielle scored with the beetroot soup).
Atlantic Kitchen – I splurged a bit and went for seafood extravaganza (prawns, mussels, fish) – well worth it.
Dubrovnik is obviously a tourist place, as it was the place mentioned most often known as we talked with friends about Croatia. I enjoyed exploring the old town. It was by far the largest and most developed medieval town we saw in Europe. As we walk through the streets of all these old towns, I wonder what it must have been like hundreds of years ago to live in these places. Knowing that this town had been bombed extensively just 25 years ago left me impressed with the ability to build it back up and retain a feel that makes it hard to know what is new and what is old. I’d be remiss to leave out mentioning how it was pretty cool to recognize some of the locations that show up in Game of Thrones.
Croatia was beautiful. There is no other way to put it. From the rivers, waterfalls, and lakes to the rocky mountains to the blue, clear waters of the Adriatic Sea, this is a gem of a country. Being able to travel in a country that has remains of life from centuries ago, while still enjoying some of the luxuries of the 21st century. My advice: spend some time in the cities, but rent a car to get out and explore the country – there is a lot more than just the beaches to experience!
Lately we’ve been bad about recording our personal reactions to places we’ve been, but wanted to give you a quick overview of some of our reactions to Croatia:
Danielle: Peppers Eatery
Nate: Wine and Cheese Bar Paradox
Danielle: Renting a boat in Hvar
Nate: Plitvice Lakes
Danielle: Crazy lightening storm while enjoying the wine and cheese at Paradox, Fresh veggies from the market in Split
Nate: Lounging on the boat in Hvar, Drive from Šibenik and Trogir
Who we think would enjoy this country