Croatia

Hi everyone!  I apologize for the delay.  I’ve been enjoying time with family and friends and have fallen behind with the blogging.  I still have 2 more country recaps to fill you in on from Hoch’s and my world travel adventure.  Today’s post is on Croatia.  Croatia is a beautiful country with a lot to see.  It is actually pretty expensive, especially along the coast since it is a popular summer destination.  We thought it would be cheaper since we were visiting in November, but it was still pretty pricey.  We only had time for 6 days here and had some bad luck with rainy weather, but still thoroughly enjoyed our time here.

Dubrovnik:

Dubrovnik was our first stop in Croatia.  We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in the Old City.  The Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is really, really beautiful.  We walked through and enjoyed getting lost in the city, along with walking along the old walls to see the views of the Adriatic Sea.  Some scenes from the HBO Series Game of Thrones were filmed here and we did some research in advance to find out which scenes were filmed where as we walked through the city.  Though it was the off season, there were still a decent number of tourists walking about during the day (from cruise ships) and at night it was pretty dead.  Since the weather was a bit crappy, we ended up watching a few episodes of GOT while in town (almost caught up!).  I did like Dubrovnik, but it definitely felt like a big tourist attraction.  It lacked any local cultural interaction besides when we rode a local bus to the main bus station (a lot of older folks take public transit) and of course seeing the amazing Romanesque architecture.  I am sure if we had more time to explore the rest of the city (outside of the Old City), we would’ve enjoyed it a bit more.

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A shot of the Old City from Fort Lovrijenac

Split:

We took our last long bus ride of the 6 month journey between Dubrovnik and Split. Hoch – the drive itself is probably less than 4 but there were 4 border control points as we had to go through Bosnia. Dubrovnik is not connected by land to the rest of Croatia. Of course it was a beautiful day to be stuck on a bus.  We arrived and checked into our hostel which was located in the fortress like center known as Diocletian’s Palace.  The ancient palace was built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the 5th century.  After the Romans abandoned the site, it remained empty for many centuries.  In the 7th century nearby residents fled to the walled palace in an effort to escape invading Croats.  It has since been occupied, with residents building their homes and businesses within the palace basement and inside its city walls.  Today several restaurants, shops, and some homes still remain inside the city walls.

Some photos from inside the walls:

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Roman Ruins left standing
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One of 12 Black Granite Sphinx imported from Egypt at the time of construction.
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Inside the Temple of Jupiter (a Roman God), constructed as part of the palace.
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Outside of the Cathedral of St. Domnius (left) and the Bell Tower (right).  The cathedral is octagonal-shaped.
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Bell Tower
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Stairs inside the Bell Tower.  I was a little nervous walking up them!

Some views from the top of the Bell Tower:

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Just outside of the walls is a large statue of Gregorius of Nin.  He was a 10th century Croatian bishop who strongly opposed the Pope and introduced the national language in the religious services.  Until that time, services were only held in Latin and were not understandable to the majority of the population.  Supposedly rubbing his big toe brings good luck and guarantees that you’ll return to Split.

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Me rubbing his big toe

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As you may be able to tell (based on the number of photos and their descriptions), I found Split more interesting than Dubrovnik.  I really liked the Roman feel and though it is still a touristy spot, it did not have a complete tourist attraction feel to it.  And as always, I love getting lost in windy streets of cute cities and this is a great city for that!

On our last night in Split, we decided to have a fancy seafood dinner.  We tried a little bit of everything and washed it all down with a bottle of wine.  And it was delicious.

(Hover or click the images for a brief description)

And of course the morning we leave Split, the sky looks like this:

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Gotta love our luck with the weather!

Plitvice Lakes National Park:

Our last planned stop in Croatia is its capital Zagreb.  But we decided that we wanted to check out the Plitvice Lakes National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, on the way.  We were looking at different ways to get there and decided to just rent a car so we could go at our own pace instead of rely on a bus schedule and deal with putting our bags in lockers etc.  The park is located about halfway to Zagreb and the main event is a series of stepped down lakes and waterfalls.  The water is a lovely, transparent, turquoise color.  You can walk along different paths both above and on the water.  There are two main levels of lakes and unfortunately for us, the water levels were high and the upper levels were closed for the day.  We still enjoyed walking around the lower levels (just inches above the already high water) and taking in all the views.

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Beautiful day for a drive (much better than being on a bus!)

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Just gorgeous
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The path above the water

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Even though we only spent a couple of hours there, it was well worth it.  Cities are nice and all, but nature is really where it’s at. 🙂

Zagreb: 

We arrived to Zagreb around dinner time and were starving (lunch was pretty much just a snack).  We dropped the rental car off, checked into our hostel, and headed to a popular area to eat dinner.  Our hostel was located a little bit away from the main square and at first, I thought Zagreb reminded me of Belgrade.  The buildings seemed gray and cold.  But once we hit the main area, I could quickly tell that I was wrong and it was nothing like Belgrade.  The buildings were colorful and warm.  Considering it was a week night, there were quite a few people out and about.  We ended up having a couple of after dinner drinks on the main bar street once we were full and satisfied.

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Beers and Rakija

The following day, we joined an 11am city walking tour.  The tour guide was very good; we enjoyed the tour and learned quite a bit about the city.  It is a quirky city and there were a bunch of fun facts that made it more interesting to me.

No one knows where the name Zagreb comes from but originally there were 2 different settlements on 2 hills separated by a creek.  One settlement was called Gradec and the other Kaptol.  Both cities are now part of the old town of Zagreb.  After both settlements were combined, the creek was eventually covered in the late 1800s and now forms part of the sewer system.

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Main Square Buildings
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City view from the Gradec side looking towards the Kaptol side
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The gas lanterns of Old Town are manually turned on and off every evening and morning by gas light men.  There are over 200 gas lanterns total.  It is a 150 year old tradition that continues to this day!

Zagreb is also one of several European cities that participates in The White Night Festival which includes musical performances, dance, street art, installations and other acts. A famous French street artist painted both of the following:

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Whale Mural painted during White Night Festival 2015
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Sea Turtle 3-D mural: Just painted in October of this year!

St. Mark’s Church, the highlight of the Gradec side of the old town:

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The colorful tiles on the roof are really neat. (Pic from later in the day)

As part of the tour, we stopped outside of Lotrscak Tower which is located at the southern gate of the Gradec city wall.  It was originally a bell tower and would signal the closing of the gates at the end of the day.  In the 19th century a cannon was placed at the top and fired each day at noon to signal the city church’s bell ringers.  Today the tradition is continued and a cannon fired every day at noon (obvi no cannon ball tho).  They even keep a facebook account in which they post “bum” (Croatian for boom) each day at noon. H – it’s actually hilarious.

We eventually made our way to the Kaptol side of town where the Zagreb Cathedral is the highlight.  Obviously the right tower is being renovated and does not look like that all the time.  It was a little misleading at night though (Hoch may or may not have commented on it without realizing).

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Fun Fact: Those chandeliers are from the Golden Nugget, Las Vegas

After the walking tour, we decided to check out one of the tour guides recommended restaurants to try a traditional dish native to Zagreb called Struckli.  It is a very decadent and indulgent cheese dish.  Hoch tried one with truffle, while I stuck with traditional.  They were good, but a little too much.  I would’ve been happy to split one along with eating something not so rich. H – I was perfectly fine with having one to myself.

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That evening, we went to check out the Museum of Broken Relationships.  People from around the world donate any mementos or reminders that remain after a relationship goes sour.  Some are sweet, sad, and others are really messed up.  And not all relationships are with significant others, some are broken relationships with family members and friends.  It was yet another quirky thing to see in this quirky city.

One of many sad stories:

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“He gave Snoopy to me on my 17th birthday.  We had fallen in love six months before, on October 5, 1981.  30 years later, we have three sons, a house etc.  He fell in love with another woman and he chose her… He broke my heart.  He said that for 30 years he hadn’t loved me at all.  I just don’t understand.”

That night we had beers and dinner at another recommended restaurant.  We tried another local dish, cevapcici.  It was similar to other meat dishes that we’ve tried in the Balkans and a nice way to spend our last night in Central Europe.

How I feel about Zagreb:

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Croatia was great and I already know I would like to come back one day to see more of what the country has to offer and experience nicer weather. Now really sure when that will happen, but you never know!

Per usual, more photos are located here:

Croatia 2016 Album

The next post from me will be on our last stop, Iceland! 🙂

Until then,

Kimberly

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