Travel Notes: Croatia

I consistently have this problem:  I discover a place I want to travel to and I fixate on it.  Usually the place is largely undiscovered, the likes of which I don't feel there are a lot of on earth that a woman can go to alone.  And travel companions are sparse.  So I go about my days, then word spreads, it catches on and I grow ever increasingly impatient and annoyed that I have not yet been there, though I've been touting its beauty before it became something.  

Such is the story of Jackie and Croatia.  Croatia, specifically the Dalmatian coast, made it onto my target travel list about five years ago.  Ok, in all fairness, it's popularity had already begun but, you knew few people who had been there.  Now, everyone and their mother has been (in Europe anyway).  Which in some ways is good and in some ways very bad...why?  Because now everyone and their mother has an opinion on what to do for a week in Croatia.  And for a person who is indecisive, this is a crippling amount of advice.  The weeks leading up to the trip were filled with self doubt, rexamination, CJ reiterating what she had memorized from devouring the ENTIRE Lonely Planet guide on Croatia and impromptu conferences with work colleagues who had been there.  We booked and rebooked hotels on different islands.  We examined any and all ferry schedules.  I'm pretty sure if you want to go to Croatia, you should hire us as your consultants.  We know it all.


In early September, I gathered six amazing women for an adventure on the Dalmatian Coast.  They arrived from San Francisco, Colorado, London and Paris and brought with them all the things that make me love them.  But enough of that, you want to hear what we did and what to do/not to do.





Itinerary:


Split - One day here is ample time to see what needs to be seen.  The main attraction is Diocletian's palace.  The cool thing is the city is actually built within the old palace, whose walls remain in tact.  There are a few beaches around but nothing that compares to what you'll see elsewhere.  We also climbed the Marjan Stairs (Marjanske Skale) for a beautiful view of Split.









Hvar - Hvar is charming.  We stayed closer to the port, but there are places to stay all along the coast.  Rumor is the party is here, but we missed it by staying on a Monday and Tuesday night in low season.  You'll find some nice resorts here if you're keen for that kind of experience.  We spent our day in the Pakleni Islands which is a short, cheap water taxi ride that takes you to some more secluded beaches where you can get nake-y if you want to.  If not, you can watch old men be nake-y and arranging themselves to be tanning every nook and cranny.  Sounds tempting, no?  We saw lots of old nooks and crannies on this trip.


Korcula - The plan for Korcula was ultimate relaxation.  We found an apartment in Lombarda, outside of Korcula Town, in a secluded cove.  We rode bikes through the vineyards to the beach one day and the next, we kayaked across blue waters speckled with little rock islands to another beach.  Lombarda has sandy beaches, a rare find in Dalmatia.  We only saw Korcula town by night but it had a magical feeling.  Turns out my friend Nick met our friend Zoran (our hotel's owner) just a few days later...the world is small.




Dubrovnik - The crew of ladies was gathered and in full force for the final leg of the vacation.  So Kristen could get a taste of the islands, we took a day trip to beautiful Mljet - an island that is covered largely by a state park and just gorgeous.  We hiked up to the two lakes within the park, creatively named Big Lake and Small Lake.  Big lake has an island in the middle with an old monastery on it.  It never ceases to amaze me where people decide to build a church.  You can also do a wreck dive on Mljet but we didn't have time.

Our next full day was spent exploring Dubrovnik.  It's nestled in old city walls, which you can walk along around the city, catching views of Dalmatian rooftops and blue ocean stretching for miles.  Unfortunately, most of the city was bombed during the Yugoslavian war in the early 90s.  There are even YouTube videos of the bombings, which I find amazing because YouTube wasn't around then.  But it's been restored in precise detail and is a historical relic that is pretty magical.







Highlights:
  • I loved the rocky coastline and the beaches with boulders.  There is something rugged and primal about it.  It was like being in Jurassic Park.  Not sure if that sells you, but it was something to see.
  • Getting hit on by boys not yet of American drinking age.  I'll list it as a highlight since I'm 30.  (Though strangely it made me feel 30.)
  • Walking the Dubrovnik city walls.  It was so cool.
  • Jumping into the ocean at sunset at Buza bar.  It was one of the moments where you confirm that your life is awesome.


Memorable Eats:
  • I'm not a big sea food fan.  Therefore, my good meals numbered only a few and were limited to Dubrovnik for me.  My favorite was Taj Mahal, a poorly named Serbian restaurant.  :)  We had a feast of meat and veggies that is sort of indescribable - you'll be happy, just go.
  • Italian is also really popular.  Venice is just across the sea from Dubrovnik and the Italian influence is strong.  Our final night we had a 5 cheese gnochhi that arrived bubbling at the table.  Fantastically yummy - but can't remember the name!  (So much for my travel writing career.)

What I brought back:
  • Nothing.  But some nice things to bring back would have been olive oil, dalmatian ham, CJ got an awesome pair of handmade leather sandals (which are serving her well sitting at my apartment, where she forgot them).  Coral jewelry is also very big here and there were some beautiful pieces.

If I had to do it over again:
  • Do it on a boat.  You'll spend more time relaxing and get to go off the beaten path.
  • If you don't do it on a boat, spend time discovering one or two islands.  I would not do more than 3 places in a week if you really want to feel relaxed.  Our pace was manageable but we consistently had to keep our eye on the time to get everything done, make ferries, etc.  That is not my preferred way to vacation.  Also it was hard to go beyond the close, touristy areas.  Stay longer, see more.
  • Seeing the Moreška, a traditional sword dance.  What is that you ask?  Dating back hundreds of years, the Moreška is an elaborate production involving two groups of dancers, engaging in a mock battle over the fate of a veiled young woman.  It's only done in Korcula, one little teeny tiny island on earth and we were on that teeny tiny island.  Ladies, how did we miss this?  Although after seeing this video of it, it likely would be more entertaining if CJ and I had tried to do the Moreška for the group.

Favorite words:
Who knew Polish could ever be so handy?  Croatian was another happy surprise - I could actually understand and communicate at times.  But mainly it just sounded like funny Polish to me.  We only picked up a few words.   Thank you = "hvala".  Everybody spoke English.  Except our Croatian grandparents in Korcula - grandma did a lot of gesturing and between that and my Croatian-Polish understanding, we had a nice time with her.  But she made bad wine.

Things to Watch Out For:

  • I didn't see any crazy tourist traps besides the obvious.  Water marked up 300%  (just go to a local grocery store) and crappy food at restaurants because they turn around only tourists.  Watch out for the usual stuff and try to negotiate a bit, though I would say this only worked half of the time.
  • Ferry schedules.  Researching these online proves difficult but once you're onsite it's easy.  Nevertheless certain islands, especially in low season only do certain days so you might have to plan around that.  Also some of the other, non hub islands only have tours going out on certain days.
  • When the cruise boats come into port in Dubrovnik.  The city is teeming with people - try to plan around them to avoid the crowd when you want to explore the city walls.
  • Croatian men.  They lie.  Had we not verified their false tales of beautiful places, we would've ended up on the middle of Korcula, in the search of secret ponds where Jennifer Anniston goes to get fish pedicures.  I mean, who makes that up?

More Croatia fun below.

Comments

  1. excellent report J-thang! I want to go back immediately!!!

    p.s. you forgot the advice that Croatian men get exasperated with pushy Americans trying to negotiate very easily so to just keep trying!

    ReplyDelete
  2. You just might have a career as a travel writer. Love the Jackie humor.

    ReplyDelete

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