Raspberries

Zagreb, Croatia

We woke in Zadar early enough that we could grab the car, roll the bags out of the walled city, and hit the road for Plitvice. Today would be a long one:  four hours in the car, enough time to explore Plitvice National Park, and checking in to our hotel and exploring Zagreb before dark. Breakfast at the hotel was nice, though I was seated near the kitchen and could hear a baby crying the whole time–seemed odd to have a baby in the kitchen. John asked for “Orange Juice” and the gal brought him “Olive Oil.” She was so embarrassed until we managed to communicate how impressed we were with the English she had.

The road to Plitvice was beautiful. It reminded me a bit of the Mogollon Rim. I was reading from the guide book about the best way to tour the falls, and we quickly parked the car and ran down to catch a shuttle to the top. We arrived just as a tram was leaving, so we ended up wasting 20 minutes waiting for the next one to leave. Once we were dropped off, we followed the raised wooden pathways. The park includes a series of 16 lakes that cascade down an area of 8 km and are separated by natural dams of travertine (the same material that gives Havasupai Falls its brilliant shade). The stunning pools looked so inviting that we would have loved to take a dip, but this is a UNESCO World Heritage site so no swimming allowed.

We spent about 3 hours touring the falls then found out we were hungry! So we stopped at a roadside hotel/restaurant called Restoran Degenija where we had a filling meal and prepared for our drive into Zagreb.

Once in Zagreb, we found our hotel, Hotel President Pantovcak, which I had really been looking forward to since it looked so pretty online and was highly rated on TripAdvisor. The staff was so friendly and our room was super nice. We enjoyed a welcome drink on the house, then walked down into Zagreb old town to see what was going on. It is really a beautiful city. It reminded me of Prague with its narrow curving streets and street car tracks. One thing I noticed was that all of the women were so smartly dressed with great shoes, purses, and “outfits.” But the men. Oh boy. Let’s just say they clearly are not trying. Lots of T-shirts and cargo shorts and flip flops. John and I had so much fun at a cafe watching the couples go by.

For dinner, we wanted to try Trilogija but we didn’t have reservations. Lucky for us we were early enough to get a table. What a fun dinner! We were feeling indecisive so we let the waiter bring us whatever he liked. It was a yummy meal.

We were tired, but made sure to stop at the Museum of Broken Relationships. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect, and were pleasantly surprised by the exhibits: art and narratives describing how relationships ended. I was especially moved by the “Parents” room, where people described losing their parents to suicide or death.

Okay. That’s about a day. We were done. Se we wandered back up the hill to the hotel and fell fast asleep.


Zadar, Croatia

We started our morning with a light breakfast at the hotel–it was perhaps the most difficult one we had of the stay so I won’t name the hotel. But there was only a small amount and variety of food tucked into a corner and we had to beg a grumpy person to make us a spot of coffee (no I don’t mean pot I mean spot). Anyway, we were ready to get on the road.

And I’m so happy we did, because our visit to Krka National Park was truly amazing. What a beautiful location and a very special natural wonder. We got there around 10 am and I’m glad we weren’t any later because soon after we hiked down the steep path to the viewing area, the tour buses started coming. We did have to do some serious elbowing to get our best pics.

When I posted a few pictures to social media, Facebook told me that my former student Sydni had just been at Krka the day before! She was studying in Florence and was in Croatia for the weekend. I was sorry to miss her, but we typed back and forth a bit about the falls before both moving on with our travels.

From Krka we took a very scenic drive to the town of Zadar, another coastal walled city. I was kind of getting walled citied out, since this was our fourth on the trip. But Zadar was really spectacular and had some features I adored. First, we checked into our hotel which was BANGING. Art Hotel Kalelarga was one of our most expensive on the trip so I had high expectations, and they were met. What a beautiful room with muted and high design touches. Comfortable bed, lots of space, and a huge fruit bowl greeting us.

From there we went to lunch at Pet Bunara–it was a really lovely and delicious meal and that’s good because we worked up an appetite hiking those falls. After lunch we took a well-needed nap, then we toured around Zadar. My favorite spot was right along the coast–we enjoyed a lovely stroll along the Paseo Maritimo, and the best part was listening to the Sea Organ singing. What a fanciful design–a series of steps down to the water. I’ll let Wikipedia say it for me because it’s hard to describe: “Concealed under these steps, which both protect and invite, is a system of polyethylene tubes and a resonating cavity that turns the site into a large musical instrument, played by the wind and the sea.” It was so relaxing and refreshing to sit and listen to the music. Brilliant idea and I’m so glad I saw it. There is also a display that uses solar panels to collect sunlight during the day, that then turns into kind of a disco ball at night. We didn’t figure out what it was until later, and we didn’t get to see the disco ball effect.

We continued our stroll towards the restaurant when we passed a really cute bar that stretched out across the front of the harbor. It turned out to be The Garden Zadar, and we decided to enter to have a sundowner. The garden was full of lounger beds and chairs and we enjoyed watching the sun go down while enjoying a drink.

Then we moved on to the restaurant we had chosen Restaurant Kastel. We had a delicious dinner then headed back to get another good sleep.


Trogir, Croatia

We had such a wonderful night’s sleep–we could hear the waves lapping the shore and feel the cool breeze off the water. We went to have our breakfast on the patio and I was just so sad to have to leave the hotel! I really loved staying at Hotel Bellevue and I can’t recommend it highly enough. But soon it was time to hit the road. We decided we’d head into Split for lunch then make our way over to our hotel in Trogir, another walled city along the coast.

There is a small section of coast that belongs to Bosnia, and this time when we passed through Neum we stopped and had a beer. It’s a really beautiful town with great views of water and islands. Neum cuts Croatia into two non-contiguous parts, a boundary I was surprised to learn dates back to a treaty in 1699. The Croatian government would like to build a bridge to by-pass the area to avoid the double border crossing, though for us the entry and re-entry was easy enough.

The not-so-easy part was still to come. Getting into Split was tough. It’s a big port city and the traffic was snarly. Then we couldn’t find parking. So by the time we did finally settle in for lunch at Konoba Marjan, John was so tired of driving. Then, what was supposed to be a half hour drive to Trogir took 2 hours due to construction. Add to that our location of the hotel in the walled city with no parking in sight, by the time we were checked in and ready to tour John was really over it. We made the best of it though and found an amazing restaurant, Konoba TRS, that featured John’s favorite meal of the trip.

I have to admit that I really, really wanted to go to Korcula, which was also on the list of European gems that we consulted in making our decision to go to Kotor. But we had a tight itinerary and so decided to stay on the mainland. Reflecting on that decision, I would have skipped Split and Trogir and headed to Korcula. Also, since we were driving a lot I would have chosen a hotel with parking outside the city walls (I was so spoiled by Hotel Bellevue.) Lessons learned.

We still had a wonderful day, and went to sleep looking forward to our hike the next day.

 


Dubrovnik, Croatia

Here is another part of the trip that went off without a hitch. I use Expedia a lot–I just graduated to an Expedia+ account. But when I booked the Enterprise rental car through Expedia for 11 days for $487.09 I was pretty sure there was going to be some problem. In March we rented a car for 10 days in Hawaii and it was a true beater and cost $751.15. So really, Europe, I thought–how are you going to give me a better car and a better deal?

We arrived at the airport and had a short wait in line, then walked out to pick up the vehicle. Oh my gosh. What an adorable, clean, brand new, 4-door Audi A1. Color me surprised. The only small problem was that the hatch was just a touch too tiny for our two 22″ rollers and small back packs. We had hoped to be able to put everything away out of sight. We threw our backpacks into the back seat instead. We got in, set the GPS to the ferry dock in Ancona, and hit the road.

The drive from Venice to Bologna looked like Ohio. Maybe I always think that. Rows of corn, farmhouses. The only thing missing, said John, were the evangelical “Jesus Saves” billboards. Perhaps in the land of the Pope there’s no need to advertise. We were making great time so we decided to stop for lunch by the sea.

Before leaving the states I pre-ordered an 800 MB data plan on AT&T for my iPhone (it was worth every penny of the $120), so I hopped onto my TripAdvisor app and found a restaurant I wanted to try, Ristorante Guido, and we headed into a town. While we navigated into a parking spot, I was salivating over the delicious looking photos of innovative dishes. But when we walked up, the restaurant was closed. We never found out why, since it said they were usually open for lunch. We wandered in through the town and found a sidewalk cafe off the grid. At first I was disappointed we weren’t getting our fancy gourmet seaside meal. However, I’m so glad we had the experience of eating at a little local joint. And when I reflect, this yummy meal was one of the most delicious of the trip. It confirmed my suspicion that it is hard to find a bad meal in Italy.

We arrived at the ferry dock and this was the part John was most nervous about. I had booked our passage on directferry.com. Would the line, SNAV, really have our reservation? Would we get a hassle over passports? Or about bringing a rental car on board? The answer was yes, no, no. It was efficient, easy, exciting, fun, and gorgeous! I really loved the ferry ride and spent much of it on deck taking pictures. We had a great night’s sleep and woke up in view of land. Finally! After so many years, I was finally in Croatia!

We first commented on how rugged the landscape was. How would we possibly get down the coast from Split to Dubrovnik? It was all steep mountains and craggy bays. We started out on the coastal road, found an ATM to get some Kuna, (the second of three currencies for the trip), and finally we stopped in the little seaside town of Omis for some breakfast. We parked along a river where about 50 cars were lined up.

What an adorable town! We wandered around, looked at the market, then had a delicious coffee and a cheese and cherry pastry. By the time we got back, only one other car was left and an officer was giving it a ticket! We started running towards our car to move it before he got to it, but he screamed at us so we got out our International Driver’s Licenses and he wrote us up for $100, which he said would be only $50 if we paid him right now in cash. This happens routinely when we travel in Mexico but we didn’t expect it to happen in Europe. I was disappointed that our first interaction was a bribe from a grumpy police officer.

We shook it off and found the freeway and headed south. This drive took about 4 hours. Finally we got straight to Hotel Bellevue, which I had chosen because it had a forward design, free parking, and gorgeous views. Our room was not ready, so we walked into the Old Town and had a fun lunch at Dalmatino Konoba. We really enjoyed all of our food. We had the octopus salad, the mussels, and the squid ink risotto. Perfect amount for two people and we enjoyed sharing the flavors. This was our first experience with a phenomenon we had been warned about–the harried Croatian waiter. Ours was flying solo but really moved fast! The slow service had nothing to do with attitude, as I had read it might. The waiter was friendly and kind, just terribly over-worked. Later we found it to be common to keep restaurants under-staffed.

After lunch we walked back to the hotel (about 1.5 K from the walled city) and got to our room, which had an amazing view and was large, perfectly appointed, and comfortable. We spent a little time at the private beach and in the hot tub. After a bit more rest it was time for dinner. John chose Otto Taverna, and I’m glad he did. It was a delicious meal, though again the staff was running around like mad. I had fun listening to the French family sitting next to us complaining about the service, the wine glasses (they brought white wine glasses to serve with red wine) and the medium-well steak (I like it bleu too!). We caught a cab back to the hotel and fell straight to sleep.