TLDR; September was so dense with activity that it had to be made into 3 parts. This is part 2, Croatia. In Croatia, we explored Plitvice National Park, visited Nikola Tesla’s birthplace, stayed in Zadar near the Sea Organ, visited Split and Dubrovnik (drove through Bosnia and Herzegovina), then visited Krka National Park (I liked it better than Plitvice) and Zagreb. The service and general attitude that we experienced in Croatia varied wildly.
The cheeses here are almost exclusively classified by animal (cow, sheep, or goat) and that’s it. “What kind of cheese is this?”… “Cow”.
Beef seems to be a term for a combination of meats. The chicken dishes are consistently excellent.
If you don’t turn on the water heater in the bathroom, you will have a frigid shower.
The Croatian word for waterfall is “slap,” which I find amusing.
English is spoken in most places.
Yarn and mustard are scarce, and doors lock with an actual key from the inside.
Figs, olives, and pomegranates are abundant. The figs are delightful!
A cafe latte and cafe macchiato are made with different ratios than in the US. You need to ask for a “bijela kava” for a rough cafe latte equivalent, and a good bijela kava is delicious.
Service quality/attitude vary tremendously, ranging from servers/people who seemed to be having very bad days to the sweetest waitress ever.
Restaurants are open late, about 1/3 of businesses only accept cash, you cannot turn right on red, many parking spots are on curbs or in tight spaces, Apple/Google can have difficulty locating specific restaurants, and cigarette smoke is prevalent (even allowed inside some restaurants).
To get from Austria to Croatia, we took a ~7 hour train from Salzburg, through Slovenia, to Zagreb, Croatia. It is humorous that we needed to clear immigration in Slovenia aboard our train before entering Croatia, but not before entering Austria or the Netherlands. That means that we only have passport stamps for Frankfurt and Slovenia, but collectively we spent only about 30 hours in those two countries combined. That’s the way the Shengen countries roll. Fun fact: Even though Croatia is part of the European Union, it is not in the Shengen area, which means that the days that we spent in Croatia do not count towards our 90 day Shengen tourist visa limit. This is one loophole that could allow you to stay in Europe well beyond 90 days without needing a special visa. Neat.
We rented a car in Zagreb and immediately drove for ~3 hours to Plitvice National Park (pronounced “Plit-viss-uh”). Plitvice was our initial inspiration for going to Croatia. Even though we were visiting during a season with less water than normal, it was still pretty nice. We walked a record number of steps(~28,000 steps) because the park is huge. We visited 2 days in a row so the snobby photographer in me could get “good light” in the best places. Understanding how to work with light is probably the most important part of photography.
At Plitvice National Park, on the first day, we arrived about 1030am and found that the park was already uncomfortably crowded. The paths and boardwalks are narrow so people usually walked in single file lines on either side. Then, at the best spots, hordes of people clog the area. I couldn’t enjoy the park or stop for a photo without instantly generating a grumpy line. Chinda has far more tolerance for that kind of situation. Thankfully, after 4pm, most people were gone and we could stay until 7pm. On the 2nd day, we were literally the first two people into the park (at 7am) and we were able to soak in the beauty without the smokers, screaming children, and masses of humans. Around noon, I twisted my ankle in a hole on the boardwalk, which ended the day. My ankle mostly recovered after a few days of minimal walking.
From Plitvice, we went to Smiljan to visit Nikola Tesla’s birthplace. It was about a three hour detour, but was well worth it. Ironically, there were no Tesla car charges and the wifi didn’t work. Nevertheless, it was fun to see the prolific inventor’s house.
Next, we went to Zadar. This town was not originally on za-radar, but it was recommended by Croatian friends. Zadar is a small coastal city with old polished stone walkways within a fortified wall. You can see most of city in a few hours, and it is delightful. After we arrived, we parked, and went directly to the Sea Organ. The sea organ (instrument, not body part) is a giant musical installation in the seawall that responds to waves by generating organ sounds. The bigger the wave, the more intense the sound. In general, it sounded like an out of tune 1st grade band practice or like a cat that fell on a church organ. We both loved it, and it enhanced the already stellar sunset experience. On a side note, we loved our lodging in part because it had a washing machine and a grape-covered pergola outside of our small patio.
From Zadar, we drove to Split. Split was our favorite city in Croatia, overall. One person described Dubrovnik as the blonde bombshell, but Split is the woman you marry. Our experience lined up with that. Split is on the coast and has quite a bit of history along with all of the modern amenities. It reminds me of a grander version of Zadar. The coast has a Rodeo Drive feel, but 50 meters into the city it feels hundreds of years old. There are even authentic Egyptian Sphinxes adorning the side of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Diocletian’s Palace. Game of Thrones was filmed here (a little) and in Dubrovnik (many scenes) which means the tourist population has exploded. Neither of us have seen a single episode yet, but it was still fun to go to a few of the filming locations. Side note: We usually stay in frugal accommodation, but we did splurge and spend one night in the Cornaro Resort. It was an ideal location to rejuvenate. Jyn is still referring to it as “the best hotel in Croatia.”
Dubrovnik was our next destination, or so we thought. We had to make a detour to swap our rental car due to a faulty brake sensor that was audibly torturing Chinda with a loud beep every minute or two. Then, we drove through about 9km of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Part of Bosnia and Herzegovina cuts entirely through Croatia to the coast. Of all countries with coastlines, theirs is the second shortest (behind Monaco). We crossed the borders without any initial complications (those came later). After another hour of driving, we reached Dubrovnik. Our first impression of Dubrovnik began the moment that we pulled off the main road. Since most of the city is built on steep hills, the road we needed to take was very narrow and so steep that we couldn’t see down it until the entire car was on the down slope. The width of the road for two way traffic was comical. It wasn’t too much wider than our car. In some locations of the neighborhood, the corners of the buildings were intentionally trimmed off to allow a few more inches of room (we needed it). After surviving the unofficial Dubrovnik driving test, we reached our little lodging and decided not to move the car until we were leaving town. On the bright side, the terrace that overlooked the city was covered in kiwi vines (yes, kiwis grow on vines and require both male and female plants to make fruits). I know, mind blown.
Dubrovnik is considered the “pearl of the Adriatic,” and the prices reflect that. Life in Dubrovnik is about twice the cost of the rest of Croatia. What people don’t mention often is that Dubrovnik is a city with many stray cats. Every 5 minutes, we probably saw a different cat. In our opinion, it was the most beautiful city that we visited in Croatia, but it also had the most tourists of any city thus far. It was crowded for most of the day and night. We walked a couple miles from the old city to St. Jakov’s beach, which turned out to be a peaceful escape. Relatively few people were there, and there was a stellar view from the small beach. Another quiet and less touristy spot we found was on an old city pier just outside the Dubrovnik southern city wall.
Re the previously mentioned complications regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina: after doing some travel research, we discovered that Italy would not let us in without quarantine because we had recently passed through Bosnia (we didn’t even stop the car). Sigh. This is one of the main reasons why we are going to Spain after Croatia. Alas.
Krka is a national park that is generally regarded as the “little brother” to Plitvice National Park. They are similar, but in the conditions that we saw both parks, I preferred Krka. Jyn is less certain because it wasn’t an apple to apples comparison. Krka felt like a condensed version of Plitvice with more beauty and more water in a smaller area. Plus, there were far fewer people. Unlike Plitvice, you are allowed to swim in some areas in Krka. Even though we didn’t get to see the entire park, we managed to get to Roski Slap right after sunset. Everyone kept warning us “it’s very small.” The Roski Slap waterfall itself wasn’t the highlight of that area for us. The restaurant built over small flowing streams next to Roski Slap was the surprise highlight. You could eat in, over, or beside the flowing water. This is also where we were convinced that cheese is classified by animal. “What kind of cheese is this?” “Cow.”
Our last stop was Zagreb. Zagreb is the capital and areas just outside the center have quite a bit of graffiti. However, some of the painting around the city are art. For example, you can visit many old water pumps that have been painted by a movement called “Pimp My Pump.” It is a fun and unique game to find all of the painted pumps around the city. By this point, we needed to catch up on our virtual lives, update our trip plans, make reservations, and work on photo editing/organization. We were fortunate to stumble upon our favorite coffee house in Europe so far, called “Quahwa.” Not only is their coffee is excellent, the space itself is large and comfortable with electrical outlets, fast WiFi, very friendly staff, and about as far away from cigarette smoke as we can get. Highly recommended. After being virtually responsible, we walked through the city and stopped by the Museum of Broken Relationships (collection of sentimental items with stories that were donated after the relationship ended. Some hilarious. Some tragic. Well worth it.), saw St. Mark’s Church (the tower where a cannon fires at noon every day), and visited the Dolac market. We had a nice time in Croatia and will probably return at some point.
Croatia was full of unexpected surprises. Most of them were great. We could have done without the large unidentified insect (looked like a small furry churro) in the rural hotel, the garden troll neighbor in Zagreb, and the rental car issue, but that is all part of the journey. Up next is one of our favorite cities and countries, Barthelona in Thpain (intentional thpelling). iHasta pronto!