February 12 – 19, 2018
We landed in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, picked up our car and crammed everything in before heading to our Air B&B. We arrived at the address and proceeded to find our accommodations. The address was to the building but not for the actual apartment. Claire and I tried to figure out which apartment it would be, exploring the building’s stairway and trying to send our host messages but when that failed we called. Our host came out to meet us from the building behind the one we were exploring and instructed us to park the car in the courtyard. We opened the double door entrance and Brian drove the car through an opening that wasn’t much wider than the vehicle. Good thing we didn’t rent a van because we would have never fit.
The apartment was our host’s childhood home and had been unoccupied for five years. He had recently moved back to Zagreb and had been updating it. The flat was a two bedroom with bath and dry sauna, an amenity not often found in such a place. We were tired from our long day of travel and after relaxing in the sauna went to bed. In the morning we walked to a trendy cafe a few blocks from the apartment to have breakfast before traveling west. The cafe decor was artful with watering can lights and theatre seats, part of the floor was covered with small styrofoam balls (we couldn’t figure out why), the bar was decorated with coffee cups and saucers, and a display table in the front window had been decorated for Valentine’s Day. Breakfast was delicious and Francesca enjoyed munching off of everyones plate. Her favorite was Brian’s pancakes smothered with white chocolate and blueberries.
To Plitvice National Park…
After breakfast we headed back to our Tetris packed car and headed southwest two hours to Plitvice National Park to see the cascading waterfall and tiered pools. The park is one of Croatia’s top sights to see during any season. The recent snow fall added to the parks beauty, the trees and rocks still had snow covering them. Although the park is open all year around there is little done to its trails in the winter. The pathway had not been plowed but packed from the footsteps of all the visitors and the warm winter weather which caused the snow pack to turn to ice, making it difficult to walk. Our steps had to be careful and calculated to avoid slipping and falling.
The outlooks along the cliffside allowed for breathtaking views of the tiered pools. We attempted to descend to the network of bridges that crossed the largest pool but the pathway was very steep and icy so we decided it would not safe to carry Francesca down. However, Brain did investigate a cave where he found a bat covered in ice crystals. We only explored a small portion of the park in the couple hours we were there, it was difficult to hold Francesca while navigating the slippery walkways. Since the temperature was around freezing it was quite cold so we decided to skip the boat ride and head to Zadar. Before we piled back in the car we had a snowball fight and stopped in the little cafe for drinks and pastries.
Ancient city of Zadar, Croatia…
In Zadar we found our Air B&B, it was a short walk to the Old City center and meters away from the beach. The apartment was in a perfect location, only downfall was it didn’t have a living room but since we were there for only two nights it didn’t matter to much. After we settled in, we walked along the waters edge toward the city center. The fortified walls of the city were beautifully lit, boats floated on the still water in the marina near the southern entrance of the ancient city. We walked through the stone archway into its beautiful marble streets. Bakeries, cafes, restaurant and shops line the narrow streets. Centuries of history in this mesmerizing city, so many people have strolled it’s streets gazing upon it’s beauty.
Winter time is off season for Croatia and with that come many benefits as well as down falls. The streets are less crowded, the prices often cheaper however shops and restaurant are often closed. Several restaurants we were interested in dining at were shut for the season so our options were limited. We did find one open that was on our list. Bruschetta, a cozy restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine with fabulous ambiance and great service, mid-range in price which after Switzerland seemed inexpensive. We had a lovely dinner together and little Francesca made it through her meal before felling a sleep. As we were finishing dinner the rain became heavy, there was no way we were going to walk home. Luckily, Uber works in Zadar so we arranged a ride that was there in minutes and raced to the car as the lighting strike in the sky above and the thunder rumbled around us.
The next morning we roamed the streets of Zadar sampling tasty pastries and playing with Francesca in the ruins in the center of town. We walked along the boardwalk next to the Adriatic Sea watching the sail boats glide across the water. Making our way to Zadar’s famous Sea Organ, along the waterway metal pipes had been installed in the boardwalk and as the waves rolled in striking the opening of the pipes a song filled the air. We sat for awhile listening to the music, entranced by the motion in the sea and song of the organ. Francesca ran around finding rocks to toss into the water, smiling, laughing and amusing herself by chasing the seagulls. It was a beautiful sunny day with clear blue skies and warmer then it had been on our entire trip, we had been looking forward to temperate climate of the Mediterranean.
Afternoon in Nin, Croatia…
After a little afternoon nap we hopped in the car and traveled a bit north to Nin, the oldest city in Croatia. This tiny town is an island linked by two stone bridges with evidence of being occupied for more than 10,000 years. There wasn’t much going on in the town, all the restaurants were closed. We were about the only people roaming the streets. The ancient town had kept many of it’s stone walls and building intact, some patched with new stone replicating the old masonry. Some areas were a meld of old and new houses, a unique blend of architecture. As we meandered through the maze of streets there was still evidence of recent wars, buildings abandoned and falling to ruin while some being cared for and rebuilt stone by stone. The tales that would be told if the stones could talk; a hundred centuries have passed and this town still thrives.
On the way home we made a pit stop for petrol…oh, I mean diesel. If your not careful you can get confused. The pump’s colors are reversed from the standard in the US. So if you are traveling abroad and driving about, make sure you don’t just grab the nozzle and start pumping. As the car was filling we explored the gas station. I always love seeing what snacks are found in foreign convenient stores. Here we discover prosciutto flavored potatoes chips as well as chicken drums shaped and flavored corn puffs. Neither of them tasted great but Francesca seemed to like them. We bought a couple beers and drank them as we perused the store. There was even a smoking bar/coffee shop next door. Yes smoking inside is still a thing in other parts of the world. Once we were friends with the clerks, had made a few jokes about the performance enhancement pills on the counter, and got a great pizza recommendation we were on our way.
Storming the gates of King’s Landing…
The next day brought about a road trip south, across the Bosnian border and then back into southern Croatia as we made our way to Dubrovnik. Or King’s Landing for you Game of Thrones fans. The broader crossing went rather smoothly they questioned us about where we were headed and whether or not we when transporting cigarettes across the border. We made our way to our Air B&B which was located on the mountain side over looking the city. The flat was a beautiful three bedroom with magnificent views of the Adriatic Sea and old town. We settled in and watched the sunset over Dubrovnik from the balcony. Then strolled down the winding street through the Gate of Buža on the north side of the city to explore and find a spot for dinner.
We had seen a billboard earlier that day for a place called Taj Mahal which served Bosnian cuisine, we had joked about it’s Indian name but when we asked our host about places to eat she recommended it so we searched the maze of streets for the establishment. We found the small restaurant with six tables in the middle of the city. We ordered an array of dishes and were impressed by each of them. Our favorite was a delicious veal and chicken soup that left you wanting more. We had an amazing dinner then head back to the house exiting through the Gate of Ploče on the east side of the city. As we made our way out of the walled city Claire noticed that we were walking down the street where Cersei’s walk of atonement was filmed and began chanting “Shame, shame, shame.” It would be a phrase that would be called out several times during our stay in Dubrovnik.
I awoke with the sunrise to captured the beauty of the morning light as it shined upon the medieval town. After breakfast we planned to make our way to the marina in hopes to find a ferry that would take us to Otok Lokrum, the island where the iron throne of King’s Landing stands. Unfortunately, since it was off-season there was no ferries transporting guest. Instead we made our way across the city where we paid a small fee to stroll along the walls. We climbed the steep stairwell to the walkway that surrounds the ancient city. We explored every nook and cranny climbing to the top of the outpost and on the outer most edge of the fortress. As we strolled the perimeter mesmerized by both the sea and maze of the inner city I couldn’t help but notice the growth the city had undergone since the last time I was here. I had visited Dubrovnik in 2008 and at that time it was still very evident that there had been a war in recent years. However, as I gazed upon the city from above it was difficult to tell that this ancient settlement had experienced the plethora of hardships it has seen over the centuries.
A bit of history on this lovely municipality. Dubrovnik was placed on UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979. The city’s rich history and culture can be traced back to the 7th century. In Dubrovnik’s early years the city was a refuge for coastal residents fleeing from barbarians and from it’s onset has been protected by defensive walls. Due to it’s coastal position the city thrived from trade networks both maritime and continental extending from Italy to the Balkans. Through the centuries the city had experienced many hardships including catastrophic earthquakes and numerous wars that had destroyed its buildings. Over the years it had been governed by the Republic of Ragusa, Kingdom of Italy, the Habsburg Empire, The Kingdom of Yugoslavia and been occupied by Napoleon”s forces as well as Italian and German forces during WWII. In 1991 Dubrovnik was attacked by Serbian nationals who bombarded the city with heavy artillery destroying two thirds of the buildings in the Old City. Since then the city has been reconstructed adhering to UNESCO guidelines.
About half way around our walk on the fortified walls we grabbed a beer at a little shop on the eastern side of the city. The excursion took us about three hours to complete. There wasn’t very many tourist so it was peaceful and calm which was great for Francesca because she could roam freely and explore on her own. Afterwards, we made our way out of the Gate of Pile on the west side to a restaurant that was situated on the waterfront. The view was amazing and the weather was perfect to dine on the terrace. After lunch were continued to walk the streets of old town Dubrovnik. We played with the street cats and chased the birds. Brain would pick Francesca up and hold her like she was flying running around after the pigeons circling the water fountain saying “get the birds.” She giggled and laughed and didn’t want to stop. “Get the birdies” would be the new phrase she would say every time we came across birds on the ground. Late in the day we made our way back to the flat to watch sunset from our balcony.
Day trip to Kotor, Montnegro…
The next morning we took a day trip to Montenegro and the ancient city of Kotor. The drive took a couple hours around the Bay of Kotor. The dramatic landscape offer views of jetting mountainsides next to clam blue water, a breathtaking site to see. In the water stands a chapel built on a manmade island formed over the years by sailors depositing rocks in the water. This tradition started in 1452 when two sailors discovered an icon of Madonna and Child in a shallow part of the Bay. Believing the find to be a miracle and a sign from the divine the sailors pledged an oath to honor the icon with a worthy sanctuary. It became a ritual for the sailors to drop stones in the water before setting sail asking the Virgin Mother to bring them home safely. Overtime the islet grew and a chapel was built on the rock foundation to this day sailors still partake in this ceremony before setting sail.
Once we rounded the bay we made our way to the walled city of Kotor that dates back to 600BC. Old town is small with a few streets winding around the ancient buildings when you enter there is a large beautiful promenade where people can gather for a bite to eat. Kotor’s stone walls are surround by a mote on three sides as the city is situated at the base of the mountain next to the bay and it’s fortified wall extended high on the mountainside. We decided to climb the 1355 steps up the steep and rocky path to the top. A hike that is recommended but be prepared with proper shoes, provisions and be cautious of the weather. Even in the cool month of February the sun’s rays were intense and there is no shade to protect you from the elements.
Daniel carried Francesca most of the way up the mountainside which added to the hike’s intensity. She would climb small sections of the rocky pathway until she started calling out, “Mommy I stuck. Hold you me, please!” It’s during these types of excursions we wish we had a baby hiking carrier with us because there is no way a stroller was making it to the top. At the summit the view was spectacular and well worth the climb, there are ruins of the Castle of San Giovanni and the old Kotor Fortress that you can explore. The hike took us a couple hours and we rested for a bit at the top as we looked out upon the bay surround by the glorious mountains of Montenegro. We could only imagine how hard it must have been to have built these structures so many centuries ago with primitive tools.
After our descent into the city we stopped for a bite to eat at a small pizzeria. The restaurant consisted of two rooms; the kitchen area had been modified to allow for service to street and to house the wood fire ovens. The dining area had been left with an old romantic feel and visible stone walls which were a perfect example of how the buildings were constructed centuries ago. From the 13th through 16th centuries most of Kotor had been rebuilt either from occupation of the Venetians or due to two major earthquakes in 1500s that destroyed two thirds of all the buildings. These factors have shaped Kotor’s unique architecture; there is no street with uniform breadth, height of floors across buildings are not equal, the squares are asymmetrical and no building is absolutely vertical. Making Kotor an extraordinary site to see.
Remaining day in Dubrovnik…
Our final day in Dubrovnik we enjoyed a drink on the terrace of the outer city walls which was accessed through an opening on the northeast side of the city. We wandered through the maze of street to locate the lookout point that we had seen from our walk around the city walls. The view was amazing and as we gazed out at the sea we spotted some dolphins in the water below. We spent the remaining of the day window shopping, walking through the squares and playing on the beach. Brian showed us his rock skipping skills while Francesca played in the shallow water. Our final night out we ended up going back to Taj Mahal for dinner since the three other restaurants we wanted to eat at were closed. We enjoyed it as much as the first time and were not disappointed that we had returned.
That evening from our balcony we looked out at the romantically lit town of Dubrovnik, we could hear music in the air from a performance taking place in old town. We enjoyed the warm breeze and the tempered weather once more for our last evening. The days had past quickly and in the morning we were headed to Split for an overnight stay before making our way back to Zagreb. We had enjoyed our time in the ancient walled cities of Croatia and would recommend a visit to this beautiful country should you get the opportunity.
Short stay in Split…
Our time in Split was very limited. The drive from Dubrovnik took about four hours so we arrived around 2pm. Our Air B&B was a cozy one bedroom with loft that artfully decorated and a few minute walk from old town and the marina. From the balcony we had a view of the ship sailing in to port. We had lunch in a beautiful restaurant in the town square and walked along the promenade until Francesca needed a bathroom break. Unfortunately it started raining so there wasn’t much we could do outside since we didn’t want Francesca out in the cold wet weather. We all cuddled up in the apartment and watched a movie until the rain passed. Later that evening we made our way to a cute little gourmet burger bar on the waterfront. Although we didn’t get to see much of Split we enjoyed our last night in Croatia with our friends. In the morning we would return to Zagreb where Brain and Claire would catch an airplane back to the States and we would be on our next adventure.
The last two months we had spent with Brian and Claire. They had opened their home and their hearts allowing our family to be apart of theirs. We had helped them prepare for their wedding and we’re grateful to accompany them on their honeymoon. We did not know when we would all be together again but knew, without a doubt, our time spent together was special and unforgettable. We would look forward to seeing them again when we return to the United States.