Itinerary and Planning the Trip
My trip to Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina - and Paris at the end! - in September-October 2009 was a solo trip, primarily for scenic photography.
Just to establish what kind of traveler I am, I don't particularly care for museums (though I force myself to go to them sometimes), but I love cities and prefer using public transit when possible. When I visit a city, I enjoy just walking around and taking pictures, soaking in the vibe, and people watching. I also don't drink (so no wine) and am not exactly a restaurateur - I tend to eat most of my meals as casual as possible: self-service places, take-aways, pizza, even (shudder!) McDonalds at the end in Paris. I don't enjoy dining alone at a restaurant in Europe where service is intentionally relaxed whereas I'm usually just hungry and want to eat ASAP and then go back to my hotel and crash. I still eat at sit-down restaurants now and then when I travel - sometimes it's hard to find anything better.
I began my first trip to Italy in 2007 in Venice and headed south from there. I've had Slovenia and Croatia on my radar for future trips, and somehow I've always assumed I'd start a trip to the Balkans with a return to Venice. So that was the rough basis for planning this trip. From there I constructed the most logical itinerary that included the major cities: Dubrovnik, Ljubljana, and Venice were the top three spots for me. I considered a whole bunch of different scenarios, really, such as starting in Dubrovnik and going counter-clockwise back to Italy. But I also wanted to pin my trip on convenient direct flights between my home airport in Portland, Oregon, and Europe, hoping to avoid troublesome connections in the domestic US. My only choice for direct Portland to Europe flights was a Delta flight to Amsterdam. Flying to Croatia from the states is not always easy without numerous stops and connections, anyway. Eventually I decided to start in Italy (Amsterdam to Milan), work my way up to Venice, go clockwise/east by land to Slovenia and Croatia, then fly back to western Europe for a few nights from Croatia before heading home.
As I continued to plan, I expanded the Croatia portion and added Mostar, BiH. I wound up with three weeks total, starting end of September in Milan:
Fly into Milan
Milan, Italy - 1 night
Train to Parma
Parma - 1 night
Train to Venice
Venice - 3 nights
including a day trip to Verona
Bus (from Meste) to Ljubljana
Ljubljana, Slovenia - 2 nights
Train to Zagreb
Zagreb, Croatia - 2 nights
Pick up rental car in Zagreb
Drive to Plitvice Lakes
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia - 1 night
Drive to Baska Voda
Baska Voda (Makarska), Croatia - 1 night
Drive to Mostar
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina - 1 night
Drive to Dubrovnik
Drop rental car in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik, Croatia - 3 nights
Bus (with ferry) to island of Korcula
Korcula, Croatia - 2 nights
Catamaran to Split
Split, Croatia - 2 nights
Fly to Paris (Croatia Airlines)
Paris - 2 nights
Some people roll their eyes when you mention "Rick Steves," but I've used his books as guides for several European trips, and I really like his style and take on things. (I don't always agree with him, but at least he gives you a subjective point of view - I know where he's coming from.) I used his Croatia/Slovenia book as my primary trip planning resource, and that was the only guidebook I took with me to Europe (other than pages copied from a few other books, for Italy). Of course, I used Fodor's and Trip Advisor exhaustively to get questions answered about all kinds of things.
I am not really a "hostel" person and prefer the privacy of a hotel, but on this trip I went for a few sobe (private rooms) and even a hostel (private room) in Ljubljana. I also used Starwood hotel points in Milan, Zagreb, and Paris to book hotels and save money. I used booking.com for a few places and also the hostel booking websites hostelbookers.com and hostelworld.com for sobe. I booked most of the lodgings ahead of time but booked a few (Korcula, Split) while I was traveling, since I wanted the flexibility to change if needed late in the trip. I used Cross-Pollinate.com to book an apartment in Venice where I'd stayed previously in 2007.
Techy Notes: Because the primary purpose of my trip was (digital) photography, I traveled with a nice (Canon 5D digital SLR with assorted lenses), and a "pocket camera," a Canon Elph SD880. (A light pocket camera good for self-portraits and also occasional video, not to mention I could take walks once in a while without the SLR always hanging around my neck.) And because I need regular internet access for my business and want to process my photos daily, I needed a laptop of some sort. I wound up buying an Acer 11.6" netbook (full size laptop keyboard) into which I was able to stuff a 500GB hard drive. I brought along a second 500GB drive as a backup. This way, I had plenty of space for pictures, and I would always have a backup. (I wound up shooting about 110GB worth of pictures - about 7500 total - and videos in three weeks.) Hard drives can and do fail all the time, so you HAVE to have backups.
I also hoped on this trip to pack as lightly as possible. I set what seemed like an impossible goal for me: travel with carry-ons only. I'd NEVER done that before, since I've always got a computer, tripod, and camera and lenses with me! But with a netbook and a newly-purchased light tripod, I was able to get everything into two new bags: a carry-on that expanded to the approximate maximum size specified for carry-ons on the average airline website (they all differ slightly) and a smaller carry-one camera bag that I called my "personal item." Having only carry-ons allowed me great freedom in not needing to worry about losing bags or waiting around for them after flights, of course, but also forced me to pack lightly(!), making it much easier to get around, especially without a car most of the time. You really don't need three weeks worth of clean clothes for a three-week trip, do you? Of course not!
Many parts to follow, stay tuned!
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Parma, Venice, Ljubljana, Croatia, Mostar, and Paris, Fall 2009 + photos!
Itinerary and Planning the Trip