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Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro Trip Report - very, very long!

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This is a trip report for a trip my wife and I took to Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro for March 6th 2005 through March 18th 2005. It is going to be a pretty long report, so I am going to break it into sections. First I'll give an overview of the trip and some brief impressions of the places we visited. Then I'll give (what I think is) some important information about travel to these countries that I couldn't really find in other resources. Finally I'll explain in detail what we did there. If you have any questions about this trip, please feel free to email me at kmathews@vkmsolutions.com.

Overview
For reference I am 39 and my wife is 41. We have three kids ages 7, 9, and almost 11. We travel without checked luggage. In general we prefer meeting people and understanding cultures more so than sightseeing. We've been to most of Western Europe and some of Central Europe. The total cost for this trip was approximately $3600 (I'll try to give specific details below), and we try to travel cheaply wherever possible. Note that all costs in this report are in USD and include taxes.

Getting there: We've planned this trip for 3yrs. In that time, we've found that it is a PITA to get to Croatia from Midwest America (we live in Cleveland). What has further complicated things is that we have friends in England and like to try and see them, if possible, when we go to Europe. This means a London layover. Recognizing that this was a major impediment to us getting to Croatia, we said screw the friends and just went for the best (which for us means cheapest) way to get there.

Unfortunately in the last 3yrs we've (well, really, I've) become used to a few comforts. One of them is the DVR-like machines in the seats of the "newer" planes...the ones that have a zillion movies and games. That went back to making it complicated again. Long story short, we flew Northwest Air Cleveland (CLE) -> Detroit (DTW) -> Amsterdam (AMS) -> Paris (CDG). From there we flew Croatia Airlines (using a Europe By Air $99 ticket) to Zagreb (ZAG). For the return we flew Dubrovnik (DBV) -> ZAG on Croatia Airlines and then ZAG-CDG on Croatia Airlines again, using the Europe By Air $99 pass. From there we flew CDG->DTW->CLE on Northwest Air. Bottom line, including taxes, we paid about $735 RT. This is about $300-$400 more than we normally pay for tickets to Europe, and it was 4 planes in each direction! But we couldn't find anything with less than 3 planes (and 4 for the return coming from DBV) and the cost was close to $1000 (we were flying on weekends), so we figured we got a good deal. If anyone wants more info on this, please email me.

We loved Northwest Air. Their website was the best I've ever seen for an airline. The planes were amazing - good legroom, comfortable seats, good food, etc. Also, the smoothest check-in procedures I've ever seen. You can actually do everything on their website, or use the kiosks and never see an agent - this includes international flights, not just domestic. Croatia Airlines was great too. Actually, they had the first planes I've flown in where I could stretch my legs out and not touch the seat in front of me (I'm 6'1").

We did have serious problems in CDG in both directions. Going there we had a bomb scare (not their fault, but it just added to everything else and the cops were real jerks about the whole thing) and it seemed like they purposefully hid the Croatian Airlines office (where we had to go for our Europe By Air tickets - see below). Also, it's really like they don't believe in lines there - just mobs of people trying to get through this checkpoint or that.

Then, for the return, they pulled us out of the check-in line to question us about our visit to Croatia. They couldn't understand why someone would visit the country (they kept thinking we were meeting someone). Next, the stupid NWA codeshare partner Air France gave away our seats. It was like the Seinfeld episode about the rental car. They claimed that making a seat reservation (and confirming it) didn't mean anything and that seats weren't really given out until you got a boarding pass. The flight was full, so they tried to put my wife and I in separate single seats. After much arguing they gave us our original seats.

Finally, when they went to board the plane - a fully loaded transcontinental flight - they didn't board by row number or anything logical like that. Once again they proved that they hated lines and just had everyone scramble for the gate. However, it was a trick because the gate didn't lead to the plane, it lead to busses which took you to the plane. So we rushed to get into busses in a completely random order (relative to how we were seated on the plane) and then the busses drove us to the plane where we boarded in what has to be the slowest recorded time ever.

So, other than our time in CDG, the trip was great. The weather was bright and sunny every day except for one and that day was partially sunny. It was cold in Slovenia (in the 30's), but warmed up as we went south. In Dubrovnik it varied between 50 and 70 (although the nights dropped 20+ degrees).

We landed in Zagreb and rented a car to head to Ljubljana in Slovenia. We stayed there for two days, doing a day trip to Bled. From there we went down to Trogir (in Croatia) for a couple of days followed by a couple of days in Hvar. We then went to Dubrovnik for 5 days doing a day trip to Montenegro and another to Korcula.

Slovenia was very pretty and was where we found the best food. The people were very friendly and we found it a great way to start the trip.

Croatia was jaw-droppingly beautiful. I mean by far the most amazing place we have ever seen. It was the first place that looked like the brochures - in fact, it looked better than the brochures. And the Adriatic is simply gorgeous. Blues and Greens like you've never seen in the water before. And very, very, clear. Lastly, Dubrovnik is a real gem of a city. Do you like pigeons? Do you like steps? Then you'll love Dubrovnik! Just kidding, it is a great city (but does have a lot of pigeons and steps).

Montenegro was a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. It looked like Croatia...had the potential of Croatia...but it just didn't live up to it. There was lots of litter and trash around and really ugly construction that marred an otherwise flawless countryside. I don't want to sound overly critical of it...we had a great time there...it just wasn't as pretty as Croatia which was a shame because it could be.

With the exception of our hotel in Ljubljana, everything was very inexpensive. Beer ran from $1.50 to $2.50 for a bottle (a pint would run about $3). Our meals ran about $30 in "sit down" restaurants and $10 -$15 in "fast food" places. Our most expensive food night was in Hvar when we ate in a very nice restaurant (Nostromo) and had several bottles of wine. The total cost was about $50.

Overall this was one of the best, if not the best, of our European trips.

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