Zagreb: A cool little city

We have explored a good part of Croatia, taking in all of the coast so we thought it about time to inland to check out Zagreb.  Not sure what to expect we were completely taken with it.  It is a great little city with plenty to do.  We only spent a day there but could easily have spent longer.  We were also foiled by the weather a bit as it rained pretty solidly the whole time.

Zagreb is divided into an upper town (the old town) and the lower town.  Both are different and worth looking through.  We took a private tour in an Imitation Model T Ford.  The driver served as a guide as well and it was a very enjoyable 90 minutes through both the Upper and Lower Towns.  Lots of people stopped to stare and take photos of us!

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The tour took in a number of key sites including St Marks Church, a number of museums, the stone gate and various other buildings of importance.

If you look on Trip Advisor, one of the top things to do in Zagreb is to go to the Museum of Broken Relationships.  As it was pouring with rain we thought it might be worth a look as it is something different.  Everyone else had the same idea so there was a waiting list to get in! We decided to wait and spent about 45 minutes looking at the various exhibits that people have donated.  Unusual content for a museum but interesting nevertheless!

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Despite the rain, we also had a look at the Dolac Market in the centre of town. The market sellers (who are mostly selling fresh produce, cheeses and meats) persevered through the torrential rain and locals were out in small numbers buying their food.  There are also a small number of souvenir stalls selling local items.  If you were looking for picnic items this would be the place to come.

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Zagreb is easy to get around on foot, but Uber is there if you need it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three borders: From Herceg Novi to Starigrad

As we are flying out of Frankfurt we needed to get back up the coast from Montenegro towards Slovenia.  Having already spent a pretty decent amount of time on this coast we decided to travel through pretty quickly.  We had heard nightmare stories about the wait at the Croatian borders and had experienced a reasonably long wait at one of these ourselves.  We needed to get through 3 borders in pretty quick succession so we decided to break it into two.  We decided on travelling from Herceg Novi through to Neum in the first day and then from Neum through to Starigrad for the second day.  This meant that Day 1 had two border crossings and Day 2 had one but we would be there later in the day.

Day 1

We got up ready to leave fairly early (8am) and left Herceg Novi for the border.  Surprisingly it was very quick and there were only 3 cars ahead of us.  The Montenegro agents/police in the booths are usually pretty quick but the Croatian officials generally take a bit longer.  On this occasion, both were pretty quick.

As an aside…If you are driving through Croatia, Bosnia or Montenegro they do seem to want to look at your Green Card (card papers).  Make sure you have them handy with your passport.    If you are wondering what they look like, they are not green and are in a small wallet about the size of your passport.  Your rental or lease company should give them to you on renting the car. Ours did but I didn’t know what it was or what it was for.  On researching going across the border I couldn’t seem to find  any information on the net about this which was slightly stressful.

From here we drove through Dubrovnik, out to the coastal Croatian, Bosnian and Hercegovina border.  Again this was really quick and we found ourselves in Neum much earlier than we had imagined.  After all our planning we could have actually made three borders in one day.

We booked a hotel (the Posejdon Hotel) which was right on the water.  We had a lovely big terrace attached to our room (room was fairly basic but decent) .  Unfortunately the weather turned on us and we had a bit of a storm so enjoying the water wasn’t quite how we anticipated it to be!

Neum is located on a very small piece of coastal land between Dubrovnik and the rest of Croatia. It seems to serve mostly local tourists and people travelling through the two parts of Croatia.  It is worth a stopover (although probably not for more than a day or two) if the weather is good.  It is much cheaper than Croatia but is very small.  The water is the same quality as the beautiful beaches in Croatia.

The next morning we left to cross the final of our three borders.  Again almost no wait and the Croatian border patrol waved us through.  It was almost as if they had had enough of all the summer visitors, it was now September and they couldn’t be bothered!  Great for us.

We drove up north of Split, not far from Zadar to a place called Starigrad.  What a win!  We had a lovely apartment right on the water, with it’s own terrace.  I had a great time jumping off the terrace into the water and generally acting like a 12 year old.

We knew this was our last coastal experience before we headed inland so were gutted when the weather packed up a bit.  Too bad – I swam and jumped  anyway.

In summary, outside of August you could probably easily do the three borders.  Would I risk it in August?  Probably not unless you were happy for a very long hot day.

Dubrovnik… paradise lost

Dubrovnik was on my bucket list.  It was the whole reason we came to Croatia and I have to say I feel a little let down.  The Old Town is truly beautiful and the walls give a stunning view.  Why am I disappointed?  The city is so overwhelmed by tourists (Split was busy but this is next level)  that I think they have got greedy.  It is much more expensive than any other place in Croatia we have been and we have had rude and or indifferent service at restaurants in town.  Our tour guide told us to do everything we want to do this year as next year it will be even more expensive (prices for entry have increased significantly this year).

We spent 5 nights (four days) in Dubrovnik doing the following:

Old Town

There are lots of buildings to look at, the usual walking tours, restaurants and souvenir shops.  We visited a Dali Exhibition,  which had a number of his smaller more minor pieces on display.  We also visited the War Photo exhibition which was very good.  It had photographs from all sides of the Yugoslavian war period.  Many very powerful images and well worth the entry price of 50 Kuna each.

We took two city walking tours, one of which was a historical tour which focussed on the war.  We have taken walking tours from each of the other countries in the conflict that we visited so thought it was good to have a more complete picture.  The tour guide was very balanced and explained some of the areas that were not clear from other tours.  We also took a Game of Thrones tour because … well you have to don’t you!  A decent amount of season 2-6 was filmed here.  Our guide (who was hilarious although not trying to be) explained with photographic examples where things were filmed and how the area was prepared. It was a really good tour and if you are  a GoT fan, one of these tours is really worth doing.

City Walls

Dubrovnik has one of the most beautiful (and restored) city walls we have seen.  The area was bombed in the war but the community has restored the area using the same design and materials.  Apparently the price increased 50% this year so if you are going to Croatia, get here quick!  The view from the walls is truly stunning and was a highlight.  We managed to get up there for sunset which was picturesque.  It is really hot and crowded so get there either in the morning or in the evening.  The latest you can go up is 7pm and they like everyone to come down by 7.30.  The day we went the sun set at about 7.35 and there was no one rushing you down and the bars still served drinks at key viewing points.  You do need at least an hour to get around as it is 2km.

Cable car

The cable car is another opportunity to see the view from above.  It is about 20 Euros to go up.  You can also walk up the hill or get an Uber for much cheaper!  We took the cable car and the views are stunning.  You can grab a drink at the cafe at the top so that you can enjoy the views for a bit longer.

3 Islands Day Cruise

This seems to be a standard tour that lots of boats offer.  It was a nice day out however don’t get too excited by the food offered.  Ours was inedible (the chicken was so hard we could have knocked someone out with it) and the drinks were some very strange tasting fizzy that we tipped out and wine that was like a bad home brew.  The three islands we visited were in the Elafiti archipeligo and included Lopud, Kolocep and Sipan.  Kolocep and  Sipan are cute little islands where you have time to grab a drink or have a swim.  We spent time jumping off piers as it was hot!  You spend quite a bit more time on Lopud as it is famous for its sandy beach.  Our boat docked on the rocky side of the island and you then walk through town, up a hill and grab a golf cart (like a taxi) which takes you to the other side of the island where the sand is.  So… we got there, surveyed the scene, decided it was too crowded, the water didn’t seem as clear and that we preferred the rocky side!  We promptly got back in another golf cart to return us to our rocky beach where we spent the afternoon.  I think we have to hand in our passports… we now prefer the no mess, no sand version of the sea!

Belje Beach Club

We had a spare afternoon so spent time at this beach club which is right at the back of the Old Town.  You do have to pay for loungers and umbrellas and you will need your trusty rock shoes!

Lokrum Island

This was recommended to us by a number of locals and travellers we met on the day tours.  It was one of the highlights!  You pick up a boat to the island at the back of the  Old Town.  The boat goes every half and hour so you can get over or back whenever it suits.  The island has a park like feel with shady trees, great rocks to jump off into the sea, restaurants if you haven’t bought a picnic and even massages if you can afford them.  The picnic area under the trees wasn’t too crowded and had large rabbits and peacocks walking around between people.  There is also a little lake called a Dead Sea which you can swim in.  Overall a nice day out with a picnic.

So my summary about Dubrovnik… I think it is probably not what it was and it has got too big for it’s boots.  Yes it is still visually stunning but I would limit my time there.  The Old Town is picturesque but the crowds, cost and poor service take the shine off this Adriatic jewel.

Split

Split is the larger cousin of Dubrovnik and is really worth a visit.  It is a busy tourist hub but there is plenty to do here for everyone.  We spent 5 nights in Split and while we covered off most things that we wanted to do, you could easily spend more (or less time) adjusting the number of boat trips or museums you wanted to visit.

The Old Town

The old town is centred around the Diocletian Palace which is a large part of the area .  The palace is not a palace as you might imagine rather four grand gates or entry ways and a number of significant buildings.  It is built of marble and Brac stone (local island).  The wider area has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site.

Inside the Old Town is a rabbit warren of narrow streets filled with shops, restaurants, bars and accomodation.  It is easy to while away a day just wandering around looking at things and generally enjoying the area.

We did a city tour with Gecko Walking Tours and found it excellent.  A city walking tour always gives you your bearings and provides explanations about things that you would likely otherwise miss.

Markets

There are a number of markets in and around the Old Town.  There is a small art focussed one at the back of the palace, a food market by the bus station where there is also good Italian clothing (even in bigger sizes!) and swimwear.  Along the Promenade there are a number of market stalls for souvenirs and food items. The food markets are great for stocking up if you are in an apartment with a wonderful array of meats and cheeses.  There is also a market for the sweet tooth just off the waterfront where you can find the most delicious cannelloni and other yumminess!

 

Boat trips

There are many many boats that you can book, each offering slightly different experiences and budgets. We paid a bit more for a large catamaran which provided lunch and free drinks all day (alcohol included!). We stopped off at a number of places including the town of Bol on the island of Brac.  This is where a large amount of the stone used for building, jewellery, pots and other items comes from.  On our trip we went to the top of the hill on the island to get a great view of the coast especially Zlatini Rat or the Golden Horn as it is known.  This was nice to swim in but pretty crowded.  On the way back to Split we stopped in a couple of bays to jump of the boat for a swim.  In my opinion this was the best bit!

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The second trip we did was in a speed boat to Blue Lagoon and Trogir.  This was a different type of trip but still enjoyable.

Some things to note:

Blue Lagoon is beautiful but very crowded and you are taking your life in your hands a bit swimming as it is a boating channel as well.  There is nothing (absolutely nothing!) in the water to see snorkelling.

Trogir is a lovely little town worth a look.

On our trip we spent several hours at the Blue Lagoon moored and only 45 minutes in Trogir.  While it was nice to spend the time at the Blue Lagoon swimming, the time frame was too long as there was nothing to see!

Shopping and restaurants 

Surprisingly there is great shopping in Split.  For clothes, Think Pink offers some classic with an edgy twist type designs which work well in New Zealand, there are great leather handbag shops which are much cheaper than NZ and more shoe shops than even I could manage (ok that bits a lie… I managed!) If you are interested in jewellery there is a traditional jeweller who is a third generation artist who specialises in silver filigree work.

We had nothing but delicious food in the Old Town, some was more expensive than others but if you keep out of the main squares and find little places in the tiny streets, you are probably better off.  You can also find restaurants that cook in the traditional way.  I highly recommend it – you do have book and order at least 3 hours in advance so that they can prepare it.  You might be asked for a deposit.

In the evening the Old Town is lit up in some of the courtyards.  It is pretty nice to have dinner and or drinks in the evening and it has a calm drinking atmosphere even late into the evening.

 

There is lots to do in Split and I think you can easily spend 3 or 4 days here.  We spent two days on boat trips, one day in the old town, a final day where we went to a beach club, shopped and ate!

 

Zadar in 24 hours

We didn’t plan for long in Zadar – just 24 hours.  We think it was probably about the right amount of time so this is what we did.

The old town is worth a walk around, there are lovely old churches, ancient city gates and some nice ruins.  It doesn’t take long to see all the sites in the old town so an hour or two is plenty.

You can also take a row boat from the pier to the mainland or the reverse.  The row boats of Zadar are a bit of an instituation and apparently the oarsmen learnt the trade from their fathers, who had learnt from their fathers.  It is 5 KN per trip (which is very short).  We had took a return trip just to support them.  I think he thought we were a bit mad to do a return trip but once over by the lighthouse we needed to get back!  When it is calm it is a pretty easy job, but by the evening we were there it was rough and big boats were coming through the area so he was really earning his money.

There are plenty of restaurants to enjoy a nice meal and some nice areas that have been turned into cocktail lounges.  We spent time at the Garden Lounge which has big mattresses and pillows to lie down on, while you are sipping your drink. They also make pretty yummy raw cakes (try the chocolate mousse cake).  We had dinner at Restaurant Kornat where we enjoyed their monkfish, truffle and gnocchi dish.

After dinner we walked to the end of the peninsula and had struck a few poses on the Monument of the Sun installation, then sat down on the steps of the sea organ and enjoyed its music (sounds a lot like a whale I think!). It’s a pretty cool area at night with lots of families enjoying the area including some market stalls and street food stands.  Definitely worth a visit.

We had a great time in Zadar.  A good place to spend a day.

Pula to Zadar

We usually try to drive only a couple of hours on a transition day but we decided that in order to maximise our time in Croatia that we would drive a bit further.  So Zadar was the target!

We headed off towards Pazin which has a great zip lining park.  It is only about 45 minutes drive from Pula and provides a good break from driving.  Pazinska jama has  4 zip lines, two short ones and two longer ones.  You get harnessed and helmeted up, attached and off you go.  It is a great activity to zip across the treetops towards the castle.  While we were there, there were a number of families with small children having a go.  They were pretty brave as it is quite high.  A worthwhile experience if you are in the area.

From here we headed down to Rijeka and down the coastal road towards Zadar.  We decided to take the coastal road which took us along all the little beach towns on the coast.  The view is incredible and there are a number of places to stop the car to take a break or take photographs.

This route is really worth taking if you have the time but there are a couple of things to be aware of.

  1. There are a number of toll roads on this route and at each of these the traffic is badly congested.  We had an hour and a half delay from the zip lining to Rijeka which meant that our trip took 6 hours rather than 4.
  2. The roads along the coast have a speed limit of anything between 40 and 70, usually around the 50 mark so it can be slow going.
  3. Take a picnic or similar if you are going to do this in one hit.  It is a beautiful drive but pretty long and slow.

Would we do it again… yes we probably will!  This time we will stay over night in one of the beautiful little villages.

Pula and surrounds

Pula is right at the tip of the Istrian Peninsula and is worth a visit.  It boasts Roman era ruins and is in a great position to hire a boat or take a tour.  Most of the key Istrian attractions are able to be visited within a couple of hours too.

We had three full days in Pula and we decided to spend them in the following way

Day 1

Pula itself.  Sometimes it good to jump on a Hop On Hop Off bus and while this is not one of the better ones (there are only 8 stops and no one gets off!), it was worth doing in lieu of a city tour.  We sat on the bus for the whole run which takes about an hour and felt that we got value for money.  The bus only comes once per hour so this might be why people choose not to get off!

The key highlight for me was the amphitheatre.  One of the great things about it is that they still use it for concerts and other performances.  Unfortunately we missed a concert and a performance of gladiators by a couple of days each.  I think it would be amazing to catch a show or performance here.

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The tickets are about 50KN each and you can rent an audio guide for another 40KN.  The audio guide is worthwhile as there are no signs anywhere explaining anything.

The old town is nice to walk around and we found some tunnels which were created to vacate the whole town in the war.  It is 15 KN to go through and they have some displays in the middle.  We thought it was a great idea to explore them as it was a quick way back to the car and much cooler!

 

 

Day 2: Rovinj

We decided to make a day of it and drove to Rovinj (pronounced Roveen) for the day.  What a lovely little town.  It is poised on the west coast of the peninsula and is filled with interesting cobbled streets and nice beaches.

There are artists who have got little shops tucked away in lanes, hand made goods like soaps and lavender products, cheeses, wines… you name it’s probably here.  I bought a piece of art from an artist who does line drawings in wine.  It was a great conversation piece!

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There is also a fresh food and souvenir market.  It is really a pretty little town.

You can easily enjoy a day here – we did!  Don’t miss a lovely seafood lunch overlooking the water.

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Day 3: Rent a boat

We didn’t have anyone with us who had their skippers licence (a must have in Croatia) so instead of doing a tour we rented a water taxi for a half day.  The driver took us down the coast and we explored all the little inlets along the coast, went swimming in a bay and then went to the blue cave which was stunning.  We took a straight line back at a bit of speed so it was great fun!  Take a packed lunch and some drinks and enjoy.

We even saw a dolphin on the way out of the harbour!