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Trip Report Annie's fantastic, and surprisingly economical, trip to Croatia and beyond.

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Firstly, let me thank Tracy, Sessa, Barb and others for giving DH and I the courage to travel to Croatia in the off-season. Due to divergent work schedules, March & April are the only months DH & I can actually travel together. Secondly, while I have posted before, this is my first trip report....please be kind! If you are expecting fantastic photos, precise foodie details, or elaborate historical explanations, please look elsewhere....I just don't have those skills. What I do have is a down-to-earth tale of two middle-aged wanders who had a plan, albiet rough, and decided to head off the beaten track as much as possible while staying in some fantastic places. Sometimes this worked wonderfully well, others times...well, it left something to be desired.

So, the rough specifics. We were gone for 4.5 weeks and started in Zagreb, and then off to Mostar, Dubrovnik, Montenegro, Korcula, Trogir, Plitvice, Rovinj, Opatija, Venice, Mont. St. Michel, Bayeaux, and Paris in that order. We stayed in a combination of hotels, B&B's and apartments, trying to book places with at least 3 stars. Our average cost for lodging was $85.00 -- we had hoped to stay under $100.00 and were very surprised to see our final total come in at this number. Our total transportation, with 12 day car rental in Croatia and 7 days in France, train to Venice, flight to Paris, vaporetto tickets and various other costs, came to $750.00. We used points for our international flights, so that was basically free.

Off-season notes: it wasn't warm every single day, but then it wasn't freezing the whole time either. Except for one harrowing day trying to find our way through a snowstorm on slippery mountain backroads to Plitvice (the highway was closed due to the Bora), we never saw snow. The only place that crowds were a problem was in Paris; we managed to hit the free Sunday as well as a huge marathon weekend. While we love Paris, I found that I don't love it when I have to jostle for space on the subway. We had a little trouble finding open restaurants in a few places, Korcula & Plitvice specifically, but since we're not foodies, we found enough to keep us going. And the best part of all about off-season travel, we didn't see a single cruise ship docking anywhere!

Notes about getting lost: it happens. Especially when you have a husband who prides himself on finding the narrowest, most remote roads around....if there's a pull-off that looks halfway navigable, that's where we go. We love to travel this way, not because we're afraid of the highways, but because it's a great way to see the true heart of a country. Seeing Croatia this way was invaluable because we realized more than ever the true price of peace. It was both heartbreaking and exhilarating to see a country trying to knit itself back together while travelling down roads through areas that weren't listed in any travel guides. Could I tell you exactly where we went? No, but I can say, try it and don't worry about getting lost. Eventually you will get where you need to be and you will remember the journey forever.

So much for my long-winded introduction...I guess I should start with the actual trip now.

ZAGREB -- OR THIS IS REALLY AN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT?

The usual long flight, no sleep, feeling rough and getting off the plane into what we both think is a really small airport. We use the ATM, go outside, I think we could throw a football from here to the plane, and find a bus that takes us to the train station in Zagreb. Now what? Oh, there's the tram, get on and then get off at the wrong stop. Lots of walking and finally two blocks away we realize where we are and trudge to the Best Western Hotel Astoria (88E and one of our higher end stays). No time for a nap, we are only here for one night, and we want to make the most of each moment.

We drop off our bags, get info from the desk and head to the TI which instructs us to take a walk through the Upper & Lower towns. Great route, wonderful views, fantastic bustling square. We feel bad we missed the market, but we walk all around imagining the whole scene. We stop for a glass of wine and sit outside to drink it. After a half an hour of strange looks from everyone, we realize it's because we're the only ones sitting outside and we're not as bundled up as everyone else -- that's when we figure out that we're 60 degrees warmer than home!

Zagreb is a great city for walking. There are beautiful parks, lovely squares, and we have far too little time here. We scope out a good place for dining, the one place recommended by both the TI and the desk clerk, make a reservation, and then head back to the hotel to change. Since much of that day is conducted in a jet-lag haze, I can't remember exactly where it was, just that it was subsequently reviewed in NYT and was great. Meat on a spit and a neat barrel ceiling, with a waiter who was both patient and kind to us obviously foggy-minded oldsters, resulted in a lovely evening of relaxing before heading off to Mostar.

We get up very early the next morning since we want to be at the car rental office when it opens. An absolutely lovely and scrumptious spread for breakfast! But hey, what's this lunchmeat doing here at the breakfast bar? (Unfortunately, that wasn't the last time we saw that lunchmeat.) We were the only ones at the buffet at this hour and the wait staff seems somewhat shy to talk to us in English. We look out and notice it's pouring rain. No walking now, we'll have to call a taxi. After the long ride, we thank heavens for the rain because it would have taken us forever to walk that distance. Note to self: Zagreb has some very long blocks. We pick up our car after the clerk assures us that we do not need to have any additional paperwork or charges to go to Montenegro. What? Well, we decide to deal with it if it comes up, which thankfully, it never did.

Finally we are on the road, and even though it is morning rush hour, we're headed in the right direction...OUT of Zagreb.

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