Europe Forums

Post New Topic

Recent Activity

  • Announcement:
  • Recent Spam Attacks
    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
View all Europe activity »
  1. 1 Paris and London Christmas / NY EVE
  2. 2 10 days in Paris and......
  3. 3 Luggage Storage
  4. 4 Where to weekend away from Frankfurt
  5. 5 Mont St. Michel in winter
  6. 6 Honeymoon on a Budget
  7. 7 Summer Travel order
  8. 8 LIsbon
  9. 9 Trip Report The mouse munches her way through far off lands: The Christams Edition
  10. 10 International Flight Question
  11. 11 great hotel and food in Lyon
  12. 12 Which airport for Bellagio?
  13. 13 After Beaune, need suggestions for the next 10 days
  14. 14 Brugge hotel help
  15. 15 Trip Report In Search of Montalbano - the ups and downs of 10 days in Eastern Sicily
  16. 16 Driving from Viena to Frankfurt
  17. 17 Island hopping Croatia - into nature/hiking
  18. 18 Ireland in April-Day trips from Galway base
  19. 19 Another tipping question: concierges
  20. 20 Trip suggestion
  21. 21 Bernese Oberland + Luzern 4 days
  22. 22 Euro Travel & Trivia Quiz #139
  23. 23 Trip Report Back from Paris
  24. 24 Destination from London by train, advice please
  25. 25 Musee Carnavalet closed for now
View next 25 » Back to the top

Trip Report Return to Croatia and Bosnia plus Ljubljana and Kotor

Jump to last reply

Here is a detailed trip report for a trip I took to Croatia and Bosnia, Herzegovina (plus brief stops in Montenegro, Ljubljana, and Amsterdam) in April-May 2015:

http://www.europeinpictures.com/croatia-bosnia-trip-report/

A quick summary: this was my second visit to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and my third (brief) stop in Ljubljana, Slovenia. This was a solo trip, and my focus, as always, was scenic photography. I revisited a few favorite places and saw many new ones, in just over two weeks mostly in a rental car. I started with a rough agenda: fly into Venice, shuttle to Ljubljana, train to Rijeka, Croatia, rent a car in Rijeka, drive down to Montenegro, drive back through Bosnia, and fly out of Zagreb at the end. I didn’t have fixed dates; I booked most of my lodgings as I went along, sometimes booking them the same day via the internet, sometimes driving up to a place without a reservation (relatively easy to do in May).

I did cover a lot of ground in a short time, with many one night stays, but it worked out well for me. I had mostly decent weather - only a few rainy days.

I saw a lot of waterfalls on this trip, in both Croatia and Bosnia.

Final itinerary:

Ljubljana, Slovenia (1 night)
Rovinj, Croatia (2 nights)
Day trips to Pula, Istrian Hill Towns
Lovran, Croatia (1 night)
Stop in Opatija
Zadar, Croatia (1 night)
Stop at Krka National Park, Sibenik
Trogir, Croatia (1 night)
Stop at Kravice Falls, Bosnia
Dubrovnik, Croatia (1 night)
Kotor, Montenegro (1 night)
Trebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina (1 night)
Stop at Blagaj, Konjic
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (3 nights)
Stop at Travnik
Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina (1 night)
Stop at Una National Park, Bihac
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia (1 night)
Samobor, Croatia (1 night)
(fly from Zagreb to Amsterdam)
Amsterdam (1 night)

Again - full trip report with pictures (and videos) here:

http://www.europeinpictures.com/croatia-bosnia-trip-report/

  • Report Abuse

    If you simply want to see the photos without reading the whole trip report, they are posted here, on my website:

    Ljubljana, Slovenia
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG25471,418,1,1,0-slovenia.html

    Lovran, Opatija, Rijeka, Croatia
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG27333,422,1,1,0-croatia.html

    Rovinj, Croatia
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG26848,419,1,1,0-rovinj-croatia.html

    Pula, Croatia
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG26159,420,1,0,0-pula-croatia.html

    Istrian Hill Towns: Buje, Groznjan, Zavrsje, and Motovun
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG27169,421,1,0,0-istria-croatia.html

    Samobor, Croatia
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG32683,428,1,0,0-samobor-croatia.html

    Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG32272,417,1,0,0-croatia.html

    Zadar, Croatia
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG27593,423,1,0,0-zadar-croatia.html

    Krka National Park, Croatia
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG27838,425,1,0,0-krka-croatia.html

    Sibenik, Croatia
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG28056,424,1,0,0-sibenik-croatia.html

    Trogir, Croatia
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG28179,426,1,0,0-trogir-croatia.html

    Dubrovnik, Croatia
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG28718,427,1,0,0-dubrovnik-croatia.html

    Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG29477,429,1,0,0-kotor-montenegro.html

    Trebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG29998,431,1,0,0-trebinje-bosnia.html

    Blagaj, Bosnia and Herzegovina
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG30352,432,1,0,0-bosnia-and-herzegovina.html

    Kravice Falls, Bosnia and Herzegovina
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG28355,432,1,1,0-bosnia-and-herzegovina.html

    Driving from Blagaj to Konjic to Sarajevo
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG30400,432,1,1,0-bosnia-and-herzegovina.html

    Sarajevo
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG30882,433,1,0,0-sarajevo.html

    Travnik, Bosnia and Herzegovina
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG31333,434,1,0,0-travnik-bosnia.html

    Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG31802,435,1,0,0-jajce-bosnia.html

    Una National Park, Bosnia and Herzegovina
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG32086,436,1,0,0-bosnia.html

    Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG32161,436,1,1,0-bosnia.html

    Amsterdam
    http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG32710,437,1,1,0-amsterdam.html

  • Report Abuse

    Getting from Venice to Ljubljana

    The direct Delta flight from Portland to Amsterdam was awesome – about ten hours, on time, only about half full. I had a whole row of four seats to myself, plus AC power! I still couldn't sleep a wink, even though I tried to lay down on the four seats, first time ever!

    My connecting KLM flight from Amsterdam to Venice departed about two hours later. I had about ten Euros with me, but I used the airport ATM in Venice to get more Euros. I had been to Venice three times in the past - I didn't feel the need to go again now.

    From Venice Marco Polo Airport, I expected to take a shuttle directly to Ljubljana using a Slovenian company called DRD that I had used before. Last time, I took a DRD bus – a “real” bus that said “DRD” on the side – from Mestre to Ljubljana. This time, the “bus” was just a guy with an unmarked van and a little paper that said “DRD.” And he didn't even drive into bus/shuttle pick-up area where I was waiting outside the airport – he simply wandered over on foot with a “DRD” sign and asked if we were waiting for DRD? I wasn't the only one waiting for DRD – I had been chatting with two Aussie tourists who were taking it to Ljubljana, too. They had pre-booked tickets. I didn't have a ticket – I had emailed DRD ahead of time and they emailed me back only a few hours prior to departure saying they had an empty seat. I was able to pay in Ljubljana in cash, in Euros.

    The loose nature of DRD's operation was a bit disconcerting, though. I've heard recent accounts of DRD not even showing up at the scheduled departure times. If you use them, remember that they aren't a conventional bus service – you can't simply show up at a bus stop at the scheduled time shown on DRD's website and hope to hop on the bus and go. If they aren't expecting you, they may not even come by at all. You HAVE to contact them ahead of time, either by email or by calling them– or by buying tickets on their website, if you can. I'm not sure I would use DRD again, though – maybe next time I'll try GoOpti, a rival shuttle service that seems well regarded by Slovenes.

    The DRD van ride to Ljubljana was OK, though. It started to rain as we drove – then it started to rain so hard we could barely see out the van windows. Great way to start my trip! I always obsess over the weather and fear lots of rain, having been plagued by it on a few trips. But, what can you do? We got to Ljubljana faster than I expected, despite the rain.

  • Report Abuse

    Ljubljana (1 night)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG25471,418,1,1,0-slovenia.html

    Once the DRD van dropped me at the Ljubljana bus station and I started walking to the hotel, I was thrilled to be back in the town (my third visit), even in the rain. (I should point out that I've had rain for part of every visit I've ever made to Ljubljana.) It's such lovely city – beautiful architecture, charming, like a fairy tale town, including a castle on the hill.

    And I had booked perhaps the best hotel in town: the Union Grand Hotel, which is adjacent to the Preseren Square at the center of town, a perfect spot in Ljubljana. I'm normally quite frugal, but the Union Grand went on sale on Booking.com a week before I arrived for 80 Euros a night – only 9 Euros more than the Slamic B&B I was originally planning to stay (where I'd stayed in 2011) but in a much better location. And it was nice to spend my first night after the long flight in a nice, comfortable hotel.

    As a bonus, not only is the Union Grand perfectly located in Ljubljana, it also offers (most rooms?) postcard views of the castle on the hill. It was a delight staying there, though you might want to keep your windows closed at night to keep out the sound of the church bells. Plus, the rain was stopping by the time I checked in (5PMish), and soon I was able to go walk around without an umbrella.

    The next morning, the sun came out to begin a delightful day of re-exploring one of my favorite European cities. First I hiked up to the castle, though I didn't go inside (seen it in 2009, kind of ho-hum) but the views from the castle grounds are spectacular, so I highly recommend walking up there if you visit (there's also a funicular).

    Then I took what for me has become a kind of tradition: a walk south from Preseren Square along the Ljubljanica river, enjoying the views and various bridges, then turning right at the Gradaščica River, walking through the Trnovo district to the Trnovo Bridge and Trnovo Church, then walking north through the gardens of the Krakovo neighborhood back to the center of town. Later I hiked up to the Tivoli Park (which I'd only seen in the rain previously) to check out the latest outdoor photography exhibit. Because I'd seen Ljubljana before, I could relax and stop and take it all in at my leisure. It's too bad I had only a night in Ljubljana, but I pushed my itinerary to see more new places. I walked up the Ljubljanica River further north than I had before.

    Sadly, my time was short in sunny Ljubljana. Off to see new places! My plan was to take a late afternoon train directly to Rijeka, Croatia and pick up a rental car there to start my trip to Croatia.

  • Report Abuse

    Train to Rijeka

    I bought my train ticket to Rijeka at the Ljubljana train station a few hours before it departed. It wasn't reserved, all second class, so it couldn't sell out, and there was no discount for purchasing in advance (and therefore, no need to). The agents at the train station spoke English.

    The train from Ljubljana to Rijeka (duration of about 2:45) was about what I expected – a clean, modest commuter train. Seats were not reserved, and the train wasn't even half full as far as I could tell. I sat in a compartment with one other person who got off just before we crossed the Croatian border (which still requires passport checks as of April 2015; even though Croatia is now in the EU, it is not yet in the Schengen area). Some of the scenery from the train was beautiful but not unbelievable. You get a nice view of the Kvarner Gulf and Rijeka as the train approaches, though. The train windows opened so I could shoot some pictures out the window.

    I rented my car from a company called Oryx (booked via EconomyCarRentals), which operates in cities all over Croatia and has a pick-up office down by the ferry terminal in Rijeka. It's a bit of a walk from the Rijeka train station down to the Oryx office – took me about 20 minutes. I didn't have lots of luggage, and I am used to dragging my bags this far (at least it was downhill and in good weather). I suppose the average person might have taken a taxi or a bus part way, but I didn't mind the walk. It also gave me a chance to explore the edge of Rijeka as I walked. I felt a tinge of regret about not spending any time in Rijeka beyond picking up a car there – not that it appeared to be a pretty town, but it was a tad intriguing, some of the buildings were interesting, and the water by the port sparkled on this warm afternoon.

    Picking up the car from Oryx in Rijeka was easy after the walk from the train station and took only about 15 minutes (dropping it in Zagreb two weeks later was another story – see below). So I plugged in the Garmin GPS I had brought with me and headed for Rovinj. I made a few wrong turns as I left Rijeka, even with the GPS, as I kind of got my bearings a bit, but driving out of Rijeka was relatively easy; soon I was on the right road heading toward Rovinj. There was almost no traffic at 7PM.

    A note on renting cars in Croatia: Some international rental car companies seem to have restrictions on driving their cars into Bosnia and Montenegro. But smaller, local companies like Oryx and Fleet do allow it, for an extra fee. Oryx charged 31 Euros plus 25% VAT to drive outside the EU – not included in my EconomyCarRentals price even though I had requested a free “cross border card.” Fleet charged 5 Euros per day – capped at ten days – when I checked with them. Some companies may make distinctions about driving the car out of the EU – Croatia is in the EU now, but Bosnia and Montenegro are not. Driving a car from Croatia to Slovenia (in the EU) may be allowed without an extra fee. FYI, if you drive south from Split to Dubrovnik, you ARE driving through a tiny section of Bosnia – the “Neum Corridor” - as you drive south, so you have to consider the cross border issue there. You could skip the Neum corridor by taking a ferry, I guess (would add an hour or two to your drive time). Some car companies make an exception for driving in the Neum Corridor, as obviously many tourists drive their rental cars to Dubrovnik. Check with each each individual car company about their car rental policies – they all seem to be different.

    Also, renting a car in one country and dropping it in another usually incurs a steep drop-off charge. If you are starting off in Slovenia as I was, it's generally easier to find a way to get to Croatia to pick up your car there (and drop it in Croatia too when you're done) – hence the train from Slovenia to Rijeka. If you are considering how to plan a trip between Ljubljana and Rovinj using public transportation to pick up a car in Croatia, you might consider this option that I used then; direct train from Ljubljana to Rijeka (twice a day), pick up a rental car, and drive to Rovinj. Another option I considered was taking a direct bus from Ljubljana to Rovinj, but the bus I looked at taking was over a four hour ride and left early the morning, whereas I preferred taking a train in the afternoon. (I don't care for long bus rides – and love trains.) There is an Oryx office right in Rovinj, which is an option for picking up the car, if you don't mind that long bus ride and/or the timing works better for you or something. And not having a car while you stay in Rovinj means you don't have to worry about parking it – cars are not allowed inside Rovinj's old town where you might prefer to stay. There are fewer car rental options right in Rovinj than in Rijeka – or Pula - however.

  • Report Abuse

    Rovinj (2 nights)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG26848,419,1,1,0-rovinj-croatia.html

    The drive from Rijeka to Rovinj (just over an hour) was via the Ipsilon, a toll road (not always more than two lanes) and an impressive feat of road engineering that provides a relatively flat drive using viaducts over numerous the Istrian hills. It was getting dark, and I saw the sun setting as I drove into Rovinj. I had booked a B&B called Vila Kristina in a neighborhood just outside of the old town (free street parking; old town Rovinj does not allow cars). It turned out to be about 15 minute walk to the old town. It wasn't such a bad walk, but I did it a few times and it became tedious after a few times - though I found that my favorite spot to shoot photos of the old town was through the old harbor boats on the walk into town.

    Even though I was exhausted the evening I arrived in Rovinj (I had arrived in Europe only the day before and was still jet laggs), I met up with Fodorite Rialtogrl, who happened to be in Rovinj and had that night free. I stumbled into the old town and barely managed to find the wine bar where she suggested we meet. We had a nice chat. It's always fun to meet people on these long solo trips.

    After a good night's sleep at the Vila Kristina, I set out to explore Rovinj the next morning. I had been anxiously watching the sometimes rainy weather forecast, hoping for better weather; this first morning was overcast, not ideal photography weather but dry, at least. I scouted for the best photo locations for later with my pocket camera instead of my DSLR, hoping to shoot better shots later.

    But as I strolled along the harbor into the old town, I became enchanted with Rovinj and felt thrilled to be there. It was a quiet, peaceful morning with no one out but fishing boats, seagulls, and cats. I walked first around the outside edge of the town by the water, with the main town rising up above me on a hill, with the Church of St. Euphemia's Venetian bell tower sticking up above me. After walking around Rovinj, I climbed the hill through the narrow streets. The town looks like a postcard from afar but only gets more charming the closer you get. It felt a little like Venice without being in Italy – and without the crowds.

    Rovinj may be touristy at high season – and I saw plenty of the shops and restaurants that cater ed to tourists – but on this April morning it felt like a real town, not a tourist trap. Later in the day I saw some tour groups in town, but they never seemed unbearable. The next morning, May 1 (a national holiday) a local school band performed a concert on one of the main squares, and most of the people watching them seemed to be parents, not tourists.

    By the time I returned to Rovinj that first afternoon after a few hours in Pula (see below), the sun had come out, and I hustled up to Church of St. Euphemia to climb the bell tower and get the best views of Rovinj. I had the top all to myself and took my time snapping photos. As I finally started my climb down, I noticed a little group of kids climbing up, so my timing was perfect.

    I decided to photograph sunset from the harbor south of old town – on the walk from my B&B – then shoot pictures at dusk and night in the old town. The sunset across the harbor into the ocean was gorgeous. Unfortunately, it was the only good sunset I'd see on this entire trip. Thank goodness I'd seen beautiful sunsets on the Adriatic before. I was pleased with some of my night pictures of Rovinj.

    I picked up a take-away pizza from one of the harbor restaurants and ate it back at the B&B.

    On Friday, my morning, the sun was out again, and I shot some final pictures before heading off to visit some Istrian hill towns.

    I absolutely loved Rovinj. It's small and doesn't take much time to explore, but it's a great base for exploring Istria. And it's a delightful place to come back to at night. I'd recommend the Vila Kristina if you have a car and don't mind the 15 minute walk, much of which is pleasant anyway. If you don't have a car, I'd stay somewhere closer to the old town.

  • Report Abuse

    Pula (Day Trip)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG26159,420,1,0,0-pula-croatia.html

    Pula is about a half hour drive from Rovinj – normally pretty simple. As I drove into town, though, the road was closed by police activity. I counted over twenty police cars, sirens blaring, all speeding into Pula ahead of me. What was going on – some sort of terrorist siege? Maybe this was the wrong day to visit Pula! It turned out to be some sort of celebration or event involving the police – I never found out exactly what – but they had all congregated at the Coliseum by the time I finally got there. I parked on the street and set out to walk around for a few hours.

    The main tourist attraction of Pula is the old Roman ruins, especially the Coliseum – which is still in pretty good shape (still used for events and concerts sometimes). I started my tour of Pula at the Coliseum, doing a self-guided tour inside. It's neat, but there's not much to see. It looks perhaps more impressive from afar than close up. I'd seen the Roman Coliseum, so I guess anything else feels less impressive. There were a few relics under the Coliseum that were interesting but I didn't stay long.

    Next I followed the Rick Steves walking tour of Pula, but it was kind of boring. I'd seen the ruins in Rome – so these didn't exactly excite. It rained on and off as I walked. I hadn't expected much of Pula from what I'd read, but I was still a bit disappointed. I had kind of hoped it might surprise me. I saw evidence of charm here and there, but otherwise it felt a big industrial city with a pedestrian area of modern chain stores and tourist shops in the center, mixed in with some old Roman ruins. Pula wasn't awful, but I'd rate it near the bottom of everything else I saw on my trip. In retrospect, I might have enjoyed simply hanging out in Rovinj for a few hours instead – but of course, until you see these things that you've read about for yourself, how do you know?

  • Report Abuse

    Istria Hill Towns (Day Trip)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG27169,421,1,0,0-istria-croatia.html

    I didn't set the day's agenda until just before I checked out of my B&B in Rovinj: I decided to spend the day exploring a few Istrian hill towns, then spend the night in Lovran, near Opatija and Rijeka, the way I'd come, and head on from Lovran the next day.

    The weather was great as I set out from Rovinj but soon the clouds rolled in and, eventually, rain.

    I had planned on visiting only Motovan and Groznjan for sure. But my GPS routed me right through Buje anyway, so I stopped to have a look. Buje is a modern town with a market, bars, cars, etc. It's not exactly charming – but I found an old abandoned church and crumbling cemetery near the top of the hill that were fascinating and fun to photograph. I might have missed them completely had I not gotten out of the car to look around.

    Groznjan was next. I wasn't sure how far I could drive in to town before I had to park the car. I saw other cars parked on the outskirts, maybe 1 kilometer from the center, so that's where I parked too – but the town wasn't that busy, and I could probably have parked a lot closer. Oh, well.

    Despite the drizzle, I managed to explore Groznjan and take some decent pictures. It's a beautiful town – small and intimate, almost fully restored, looking almost movie set-perfect, full of artist galleries, in what looks like a hundreds-of-years-old town. There were plenty of people milling about, but it didn't seem especially touristy. Groznjan was my favorite of the towns I saw.

    Zavrsje was not too far away from Groznjan, so I decided to detour there on the way to Motovun. The town reminded me of what Groznjan may have looked like before it was re-discovered: basically a bombed out shell of a town with a few buildings intact. Some of the buildings have clearly been fixed up and some people live there, but it still felt uninhabited. In contrast to Groznjan, which had a fair number of visotors, there was no one else in in Zavrsje on what was becoming a pretty rainy day. Then again, there were no open galleries or shops in Zavrsje, either. I guess the the town is being restored– someday maybe it will look something like Groznjan does now.

    Finally, I continued to Motovun, the biggest and most well-known of the hill towns. It gets a lot of tourists, even in early May, and there are parking lots well below the top of the hill. You can keep driving up and look for another lot or place to park or take a shuttle bus up to the top. I paid to park at the bottom lot and was told to drive up to the lot at the top. I wound up parking along the road anyway – wasn't sure if paying to park was even required.

    By now it was raining hard enough to require an umbrella and I shifted to using my pocket camera to take pictures.

    Motovun wasn't exactly appealing – until I got to the top. The beautiful courtyard inside the walls is captivating. And the views over the Istrian countryside were wonderful even on this rainy day – they must be spectacular on a clear day. I could see Motovun's charm, but it was also a bit too touristy for my tastes.

    I spent about six hours touring these four towns. I enjoyed them more or less, certainly more than I enjoyed Pula, but I wouldn't call Istria (besides Rovinj) the highlight of my trip.

  • Report Abuse

    Lovran (1 night) + stop in Opatija

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG27333,422,1,1,0-croatia.html

    As I drove from Motovun to Lovran, the rain fell harder and harder until it was pouring again, just like my first night on the way into Ljubljana. I hoped my whole vacation wouldn't be this! (it wasn't.)

    Lovran and Opatija had been on my radar as possible places to stop but never in the “must-see” category. A stop overnight made sense after exploring Istria before heading south. I probably would have picked Opatija, but by the time I decided to stay there and book a hotel online, all the cheap hotels in Optaija were booked, so I booked one in Lovran instead. It didn't seem to matter much – the one thing I really wanted to do was walk along the Lungomare, a kilometers-long seaside promenade connecting the various towns south of Rijeka.

    Because it was raining so hard by the time I arrived in Lovran, it mattered even less which town I stayed in. I braved the rain to walk from my hotel (Hotel Park, right on the main road) to a little pub, brought back a take-out pizza, and called it a night.

    By the next morning, the rain had mostly stopped and I was able to go walk a little into Lovran (for what it is), then walk along the Lungomare, which is lined with beautiful old villas, parks, and trees. Clearly this area is a “summer sea recreation area” though in early May there was no one in the water of course – just a few people out walking. I could imagine how bustling and busy it must be on a warm summer day with people swimming and having fun. Even though it wasn't exactly a nice morning now, still overcast and wet from the rain, I loved my walk along the sea and could have walked much further.

    But I was headed south to Zadar, and I wanted to stop to check out Opatija, too, before leaving the Kvarner Gulf area.

    I parked in the huge main parking garage in the center of Optaija and walked around for an hour. I liked Opatija for what it was. I wouldn't call it...charming exactly, but it was pleasant. It felt a little like Beverly Hills on the ocean, with all of its big fancy villas and swanky hotels. But the view of Optaija and the hills behind it is gorgeous. And the seaside area – along Opatija's section of the Lungomare – is more upscale than that by Lovran.

    Staying over in more modest Lovran was probably more my style than Optaija, however but I'm glad I stopped to to check out Optaija.

    Then I hopped in the car and headed south to Zadar.

  • Report Abuse

    Zadar (1 night)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG27593,423,1,0,0-zadar-croatia.html

    Zadar was one of those places I'd driven past on my 2009 trip without stopping but always wondering what it was like. “'Zadar'...kind of sounds like 'Zagreb,' eh? Ha ha ha.” (Of course, the two cities have little else in common besides the first two letters of their names). I hadn't read a thing about Zadar in 2009 – it's not covered in the Rick Steves book at all. Later I heard some positive reviews of it, and I learned of Alfred Hitchcock's famous pronouncement that the sunset in Zadar was supposedly the “best in the world.” That sounded intriguing. So I decided to check out Zadar this time.

    I considered taking the slower coastal road from Rijeka down to Zadar instead of the fast A1 highway (toll road), but it wasn't a clear, sunny day at the Kvarner Gulf, and I'd heard the scenery along this road was merely OK anyway. I had driven much of the A1 back in 2009 – it's just a freeway, not especially scenic...but it's an easy drive. There were barely any cars on the road in early May. I stopped a few times at rest stops to stretch my legs.

    After about four hours of driving I rolled into Zadar, and the sun was out – maybe I'd get to see Hitchcock's sunset? I let my GPS guide me into the center of town...and almost through a church courtyard! But it guided me close enough to the guest house where I was staying, right at the edge of Zadar's main pedestrian area – a great last-minute find because some sort of “race for the cause” event the next day in town had filled up many of the town's rooms. Parking in this part of Zadar is difficult, it seems, but the guest house owner was willing to give up her spot for me if need be; fortunately, a spot opened up right next to her car – there were literally four parking spots there and I got one of them, just a block or two from the guest house. So we both got great parking spots.

    After checking into my room, I set out to explore Zadar and take pictures in the nice late afternoon light. Zadar has some old Roman ruins at the center –the columns of former Roman buildings are scattered around in what was the Forum – as well as some neat churches. It is a bustling area with shops, restaurants, and museums.

    The bells from the Cathedral can be quite loud!

    The center of Zadar occupies a little peninsula. There are boat docks on the side away from the ocean and on the other side a kind of Riva or promenade where sailboats and speed boats cruise around at leisure. At the northwest corner of the peninsula (the top) are the sea organ – a cool natural musical instrument built right into the promenade, with the wind blowing into the “organ” to make notes – and the “Sun Salutation” - a cheesy-but-fun disc about 20 feet in diameter made up of what look like solar panels. The panels collect energy during the day, and at night they light up in different colors, as people walk on it and pose for selfies. It's a fun tourist attraction (especially for kids) but not the sort of thing most tourists might come to Croatia for.

    But the question was: would I see Hitchcock's sunset? Clouds were rolling in as a hurried through a sit-down meal at a casual Italian restaurant – a break from take-away pizza dinners. I rushed down to the sea organ with my camera gear just as the sun was about to set – I could see it peeking through the clouds, but by the time I had the camera on the tripod, the sun was gone! I hoped the sun might at least peek out again but the clouds didn't cooperate. Too bad I hadn't arrived five minutes earlier, but even then it wouldn't have been the kind of impressive Adriatic sunset I had hoped for.

    The next morning, I did another quick walk around Zadar before heading out. I could see Zadar's obvious appeal, but for some reason I didn't warm to it. The fact that it was busy with visitors for the race and that I didn't see Hitchcock's sunset probably didn't help my impression.

    The guesthouse where I stayed, the Guesthouse Greta, was fantastic for what it was: some no-frills rooms in a modest building, in a terrific location in Zadar (but no noisy as some places in this part of Zadar can be) I had a private bathroom that was actually across the hall – not ideal but at least I was not sharing it. The Greta manager was helpful and has a real “can-do” attitude – as I said above, she managed to find me a great free parking spot.

  • Report Abuse

    Krka National Park (Stop on the way south)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG27838,425,1,0,0-krka-croatia.html

    Driving south from Zadar, I had planned to stop at both Krka National Park and the nearby town of Sibenik, but I didn't have a fixed plan for where to spend the next night. Originally I expected to stay a night at Skradin - one entrance to Krka, to allow an early start in the park - or Sibenik, but that morning in Zadar I decided to try to see both in one day, if possible. I booked a room in Trogir that could be canceled just to have somewhere to land at the end of the day, in case I covered that much ground in one day but thought I might stay elsewhere.

    I had been to Plitvice Lakes National Park on my previous trip to Croatia and had read favorable comparisons of Krka to Plitvice. But they are different kinds of parks. Plitvice is more compact and kind of a big encompassing experience, whereas Krka has more spread out attractions that one can see ala carte. The highlight at Krka is a huge cascading waterfall called Skradinski Buk, and that's what I decided to focus on.

    You can hike to Skradinski Buk from Skradin or take a boat up the river. I arrived from Zadar (about an hour drive south) and parked my car, then caught the next boat at the top of the hour to the falls. The river scenery from the boat is nice – kind of like that scenery from the boats you take at Plitvice. But Skradinski Buk is much bigger and more impressive than anything you see at Plitvice. By the time I arrived there were lots of people already there, and I had to take pictures around them. A few brave souls dared swim below the falls in the chilly May water – unlike at Plitvice, you are allowed to swim at Krka. I'm sure it is mobbed with swimmers in the summer.

    I walked for an hour or two up and around the long falls – you can cross over and walk back down the other side in a loop. I took my time taking pictures, with the sun occasionally popping out. There are also some cool buildings at Krka along the falls such as an old power generating station.

    Skradinski Buk is amazing, but on the whole I liked Plitvice as a park better, and if I had to choose between Krka or Plitvice, I'd choose Plitvice easily. Then again, I didn't see all of Krka. There's also a monastery and some Roman ruins as well as another tall waterfall, but it would have taken a few more hours to get to it all. Maybe had it been a clear sunny day I might have wanted to see more of Krka, but by the time I was finished at Skradinski Buk it was overcast again. So I decided to move on to Sibenik, not far away.

  • Report Abuse

    Sibenik (Stop on the way south)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG28056,424,1,0,0-sibenik-croatia.html

    I didn't know what to expect from Sibenik. It sounded like an interesting, not-very-touristy town with a lot of churches – and I've already seen plenty of of churches in Europe. I've become wary of investing too much time on places that might sound interesting in a travel book or to a traveler who has completely different interests from mine (how do you know?), so I hedged on Sibenik and decided to spend just a few hours there before heading on to Trogir to spend the night. I had the option to stay the night Sibenik anyway if, say, I found it amazing. (I had a place booked in Trogir that I could still cancel at the last minute.)

    I drove the short distance from Skradin into Sibenik, and as I looked for a place to park and got my bearings, I wasn't impressed – at first. The St. James Cathedral certainly catches your eye as you walk or drive along the waterfront area (where I parked – free on Sunday). I walked up the curved steps at the base of the cathedral to Trg Republike Hrvatske and started looking around. The more I walked, the more intrigued I became. Sibenik is kind of a maze of narrow pedestrian streets with lots of steps. In some ways, it reminded me of the maze-like feel of Lucca, Italy (but much smaller) or the steps connecting the streets in Dubrovnik. On this Sunday, few people were out and even fewer tourists. Sibenik feels like an authentic place, not always easy to find on a Dalmatian Coast full of tourist spots.

    Having skipped lunch, I felt the need for another meal and decided on an early dinner (about 5PM). I happened upon an Italian restaurant called Pizzeria Kike in the center of town that looked empty but was in fact open. I sat outside and ordered a “four cheese lasgana” which took about a half hour – a long time for a solo diner who was hungry – but it was worth the wait. The lasagna was fantastic and huge. This was easily the best meal of my trip.

    After dinner I started walking back to my car, wondering whether I ought to try to find a hotel here or push on for Trogir? As much as I was enjoying Sibenik, on a Sunday it was pretty quiet, and there weren't many obvious hotel choices one could just walk up to. So I decided to head on to Trogir – at least I'd get to see one more place.

    But Sibenik was a highlight of my trip. I'd go back in a heartbeat to spend more time, maybe use it as a base to explore more of the area. Zadar is very different so it may not be fair to compare it directly to Sibenik, but I much preferred the feel of Sibenik.

  • Report Abuse

    Trogir (1 night)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG28179,426,1,0,0-trogir-croatia.html

    It was dusk by the time I descended through the mountains off the A1 and into Trogir. It took longer to get there than I'd imagined, with some road construction causing delays. I got to the center of Trogir (right outside the car-free old town) and finally found the hotel I'd booked on Booking.com (“No fee to cancel”) called Aparthotel Bellevue Trogir. I had booked it quickly that morning in Zadar and was disappointed at first that it seemed further from old town as I had thought – it seemed to be in a busy, run-down part of town. But it was getting late – what choice did I have?

    But after I checked in and started walking to the old town, I realized Trogir's old town is really, really small. The reason the hotel looked to be in such a great spot on the map is that it kind of was. I could walk in less than ten minutes over a pedestrian bridge into the heart of old town Trogir.

    This town was definitely more tourist friendly than Sibenik – there were restaurant owners standing at the front of their restaurants impatiently waiting for patrons, but there were few tourists out tonight. Walking outside the town gates toward the water, a live band performed covers of American rock tunes outside by one of the restaurants. Tiki torches were lit up, the night was warm, and palm trees caught the evening lights. This was the first stop in Croatia that made me feel like I was “on vacation.” The scene reminded me slightly of a visit to Hawaii.

    I setup my tripod and walked around taking night pictures for a while. The pictures make Trogir look a lot more amazing than it seemed to me at the time. It is a nice town, a nice place to come back to at night if you've been seeing things by day, but nothing that special. It seemed like a great place to relax and enjoy your vacation – but that wasn't the kind of trip I was on, really.

    In the morning before heading out, I took one more walk around Trogir. Yeah, it's nice, but I'm not sure I'd ever come back.

    I liked Trogir better than Split, which I'd visited in 2009 for few nights. I'd had high expectations of Split as some sort of a cosmopolitan gem in a sea of tourist traps – but it seemed much less exciting than I expected. I didn't expect as much from Trogir, but it met my expectations.

    The Aparthotel Bellevue Trogir was OK – location really was decent (free parking near the hotel in a secured lot), the staff were friendly, and the studio apartment (with kitchenette I never used) was way more than I needed for such a brief stay. The hotel staff had offered me a free snack and a drink at the adjacent restaurant the night I arrived, but I was too busy taking pictures to accept – so when I checked out they offered me a take-away lunch snack of ravioli with powdered sugar – kind of a strange combination that was surprisingly delicious to munch on as I drove south.

  • Report Abuse

    Kravice Falls, Bosnia (Stop on the drive south)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG28355,432,1,1,0-bosnia-and-herzegovina.html

    Headed south for Dubrovnik, I decided to detour into Bosnia and Herzegovina briefly to check out the Kravice waterfall near the Herzegovinan town of Ljubuški . I hadn't even heard of this great waterfall back in 2009; maybe I would have visited then had I known. My GPS didn't have any knowledge of “Kravice Falls” but it did know about the tow of Ljubuški, so I told it to take me there. Once I crossed the border into BiH, the GPS had more trouble with the roads; some roads it wanted me to take simply didn't exist. I would turn instead in the direction I guessed was right and then see if the GPS could figure out where to go next on a real road. I made it to Ljubuški soon enough, then followed signs to Kravice.

    There's a parking area above the waterfalls where tour buses can park, and perhaps everyone parks there in busy times. But in early May, I was able to drive all the way down the narrow road to the falls instead of walking down. (If a car comes the other direction, one of you will have to pull far to the side to let the other pass. No problem if you take it easy.) There's also a small entrance fee at the parking lot; I was able to pay with Croatian Kuna because I didn't have any Bosnian BAM yet. The guy collecting the fee was wearing a Wildwood, New Jersey t-shirt. Since I had been there as a kid, I was excited and asked him about it. He had no clue what or where this “Wildwood” place was – just a shirt to him. He had never been there or to the United States; his cousin gave it to him. But I found it amusing.

    The waterfall itself is beautiful. But if you can drive down like I did, it doesn't take much time to see it. (The walk or drive down from the parking lot didn't look particularly interesting.) There's a little restaurant right down by the falls but I didn't patronize it. I found the most flattering place to photograph the falls may have been above it, from the road driving down.

    If you have time and you love waterfalls, I'd recommend a detour to Kravice Falls. Lots of people go to Krka National Park; you may be one of the rare people who sees Kravice.

  • Report Abuse

    Dubrovnik (1 night)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG28718,427,1,0,0-dubrovnik-croatia.html

    I spent three nights in Dubrovnik in 2009. Although I found it beautiful and truly unique compared to anywhere else I had ever been – and a photographer's delight – I just didn't fall in love with the place for some reason. (Too many cruise ship tourists? Too many sad stray cats? Who knows?) I felt like I'd seen it and had no compelling reason to return. I wasn't sure if I would stop even for a few hours on this trip.

    But Dubrovnik is a logical stopping point on the drive between Trogir and Montenegro. (And you could re-visit worse places for sure.) Nothing else on the map in that area seemed like a compelling place to spend a night. I didn't really want to stay right by Dubrovnik old town, though – didn't want to deal with parking my car there. (Without a car, I would stay by the old town – I did in 2009.) I might have stayed in Catvat, parked the car there, and taken a bus to the old town – but I decided to stay in nearby Lapad instead, because I remembered the easy bus connection from Lapad on my 2009 trip. Picking a cheap hotel in a familiar Lapad seemed easier to me.

    After my detour to Kravice Waterfall (see above), I headed south for Dubrovnik. People rave about the beauty of the coastal drive to Dubrovnik, which I had done in 2009, but I wouldn't call it breathtaking all the way down. There is some great scenery for sure, but I don't consider it the best scenic drive I've ever taken. I didn't find myself stopping to take pictures very often, but there weren't many easy places to stop.

    I found my hotel in Lapad – the slightly run-down Hotel Sumratin – parked my car and headed by bus to Dubrovnik's old town. I walked through the Pile Gate into town, and memories from my previous trip came flooding back. I remembered a beautiful calico kitten I sort of adopted and fed right inside the Pile Gate while I was there – as I walked past the same spot I wondered if she might still be around four years later? That seemed unlikely, and of course, she wasn't there now.

    I walked along the beautiful Stradun – the “main street” of old town Dubrovnik. By now it was late afternoon, and the cruise ship tourists were long gone. I hoped I might take a late panoramic cruise but by 5PM those boat tours had stopped running (in May, anyway). So I simply walked around and re-acquainted myself with Dubrovnik. I found myself enjoying myself here much more than expected. I found my way up to the Buza Bar, checked out the great view, and hoped the clouds wouldn't roll in before sunset.

    I was lucky to enjoy one of my favorite things from 2009 in Dubrovnik: the swarming of swallows through the old town at dusk, hunting for insects.

    Back in 2009, I had found a nice spot above the old town – quite a hike up steps and hills – to photograph Dubrovnik at sunset, with the ocean behind it. I was tempted to find it again, but if the clouds rolled in, would it be worth it? (There's also a funicular now that takes you up the mountain – something not yet running on my previous trip – but the funicular stopped running just after sunset, and I didn't care to hike all the way down at night.) I hesitated, then finally decided to try to hike up and find that spot. I huffed and puffed and hiked up many stairs through neighborhoods, trying to remember – where WAS this spot? I should have left earlier...

    Finally I stopped in the middle of a neighborhood and started taking pictures at the best spot I could find through the trees and houses, as the evening light was pretty good, even though I couldn't actually see the sun through the clouds. I resisted the urge to set up my tripod in someone's driveway. After a bit, I walked up some more – and FINALLY found the spot! It wasn't so perfect anymore – trees grow a lot in four years, it seems, and now some trees were blocking part of the view I had enjoyed in 2009. Oh, well. I still got a few decent pictures from up there.

    I hiked back down, took some night shots along the Stradun, inhaled a few slices of pizza, and headed back out toward to the Pile Gate to find my bus back to Lapad. I passed that spot again where I'd fed that calico kitty – and OH MY GOD there's a calico cat, is that her??? I got only a few pictures of her before she split inside a maze within the town walls.. Later, I compared her markings to some pictures from 2009, and they seemed to match. Calico cats have unique markings, so I'm pretty sure it was the same cat! It's hard to believe she would still be around after so many years and nice to know she survived.

    (Pictures / more about the calico cat: http://www.europeinpictures.com/croatia-bosnia-trip-report/cats-dubrovnik )

  • Report Abuse

    Kotor, Montenegro (1 night)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG29477,429,1,0,0-kotor-montenegro.html

    Driving out of Dubrovnik, I almost missed a turn – I was in the wrong lane – and hit a curb hard with car's the front wheel, bending the rim a little and ruining the alignment. I could drive the car straight at normal speeds, but the steering wheel was turned far to one side while I was driving straight, and a warning light on the dash came on. Fortunately, I would be driving past an Oryx office on the way to Kotor, at Dubrovnik airport. I was able to stop there and switch cars – to a slightly larger car, unfortunately – and lose only about an hour before moving on to Kotor.

    The main border crossing into Montenegro from Dubrovnik probably wasn't busy in early May – sounds like it can get busy in the summer - but I opted to take an alternate crossing anyway, via Konfin, Croatia / Kobila, Montenegro that I'd read about in my Rick Steves book. (Buses cannot use this border crossing, so tour buses can't cause backups here.) There was no one ahead of me as I entered the Croatian checkpoint, but the guard was on a mobile phone call for five minutes and made me wait until he was done. Otherwise, crossing the border was routine. My rental car's green card (insurance card) was checked.

    Montenegro doesn't feel like anything special at first as you drive south through Herceg Novi, but soon after you see the water of the Bay of Kotor, and the scenery becomes spectacular. There is a ferry at Herceg Novi that you can take you across the bay quickly nearly to Kotor, but I wanted to drive clockwise all the way around the bay and take in all of the scenery. I stopped quite a few times for pictures. Soon after Herceg Novi you get to a great viewpoint across from the town of Perast (if you have a long lens, anyway), and you get various viewpoints on the Church of Our Lady On the Rocks on one of the islands as you drive around the bay. The best viewpoints may depend on the light and the time of day. The view of the Church of Our Lady from Perast itself is great, probably best in the morning, if you can get there. The view of the church from near Herceg Novi isn't bad in the late afternoon. Later in the day, I drove back to this viewpoint close to the Golden Hour for better light.

    Perast – which you get to driving clockwise about 20 minutes before you get to Kotor - seemed like an awesome little town. I spent maybe an hour there walking along the waterfront and taking pictures late in the day. It seemed more quiet and peaceful than Kotor, and I'd consider staying there instead of in Kotor if you want a more quiet experience.

    Finally, after my halting drive around the bay, I found my B&B (Vila Panonija) in Dobrota, just to the north of Kotor, checked in, and walked 10-15 minutes into Kotor from there. (Dobrota is a long narrow strip along the bay north of Kotor, kind of a suburb; not everywhere in Dobrota is ideal for walking into Kotor. I would have not wanted to stay anywhere else in Dobrota further north than I was.) I passed through the Kotor walls through one of the town gates and found some take away lunch to eat as I explored. I bought a SIM card for my phone at a T-Mobile store right inside the walls. And I explored the old town.

    Kotor was nice – but compared to Dubrovnik, it is felt a bit of a step down, I'd say. However, I enjoyed walking the walls above Kotor the next morning. “Walking the walls” in Kotor means a steep hike above the town, up many steps, whereas in Dubrovnik you are walking around the town without much climbing. The views from the walls down onto Kotor and the bay are incredible. I hiked first thing in the morning and still had to compete with obnoxious cruise ship tourists who didn't seem to care if someone had just setup a camera on a tripod that they were about to walk in front of. (“Hey, let's pause here for a while.”) The light for taking pictures from the walls above Kotor is most definitely best in the morning; by afternoon you will be shooting into the sun and it will be a lot warmer, too.

    After my walk up the walls, I hiked back to the B&B, checked out, and started a scenic drive up through the mountains to the city of Cetinje via the town of Njeguši (if you use a GPS, it may want to take you to Cetinje along the flat coastal road via Budva). I had read that this curvy mountain drive – 25 switchback turns up the mountain – was incredibly scenic but also a bit scary to drive. The scenery is indeed amazing. At some point you are basically above the high point of the Kotor town walls hike I had done a few hours earlier, but you can also see panoramic views of the bay below. My big disappointment was that some ugly clouds had rolled in, not making it overcast exactly but making my pictures kind of ugly. You would want to do this drive in the morning, too, to get the best light onto the bay so you aren't shooting into the sun.

    But I didn't find the curvy drive all that difficult or scary – I had been prepared myself for something far worse. The road is fine. You just have to take it easy. It's even possible to pull over to take pictures of the breathtaking views, something I did numerous times. Cars and even buses do come down the mountain along the barely two lane road, and it's sometimes hard for two vehicles to pass in opposite directions. More than once, as I was driving up the hill, a bus was driving down. I didn't freak out – the bus drivers were clearly more experienced doing this drive than I was. Once, I let a bus back up (going up hill) maybe 100 meters to a slightly wider part of the road so I would have room to pass him going up. I was never scared. I was patient.

    The last views down on the bay are gone after you pass switchback #25 going up, and as you head toward Njeguši the landscape becomes more rugged and rural. Njeguši is not much of a town to see, but the scenery is interesting. I stopped numerous times to take pictures, sometimes out my car window (there wasn't much traffic mid-day). Once I was taking pictures through the car window and some pedestrians walked by and waved to me, and an old man reached into the car window to shake my hand as he walked past. He said something in his local language that I of course didn't understand, and then he said “Montenegro!” with a friendly smile. I guess he was just welcoming me.

    Eventually I made it to Cetnje and got out to stretch my legs and plot my drive out of Montenegro up to Bosnia. Cetinje has kind of a town center but mid-day it was pretty dead – not much to see as I walked around. I bought some snacks at a local grocery store then moved on.

    I drove back toward the Bay of Kotor via Budva (where I didn't stop – maybe I should have. Something to go back to!) and eventually took the ferry across the bay back to Herceg Novi, then headed north toward Trebinje, BiH.

    As for my brief trip to Montenegro, I loved the scenery of the Bay of Kotor from all vantage points: driving around the bay, walking above the walls of Kotor, and doing the scenic mountain drive above Kotor. It was amazing. I didn't care that much for the city of Kotor itself – it's nice enough but didn't impress me compared to Dubrovnik and other magical places I'd seen. I loved Perast from my brief stop there.

    I was frustrated by the weather, even though I was glad (really glad!) it wasn't raining. The sun was rarely ever out fully, and sometimes I had to wait patiently for the clouds to part just to get a minute of sun to light a beautiful scene I wanted to photograph. Ideally, I would have shot pictures in the morning from three or more separate locations around the Bay of Kotor, but of course it was impossible to be everywhere at once. I had to choose which locations I wanted, with the iffy light there was, in the limited time I had.

    Looking back now, I probably should have spent another night in Montenegro. But I was feeling anxious to get up to Sarajevo, which I thought I might love (I didn't). With 20/20 hindsight, I would have taken a night from Sarajevo and spent a second night somewhere else in Montenegro.

    Vila Panonija in Dobrota/Kotor was nice enough– free parking, helpful staff. Not very busy in early May. The owner emailed me directions to find it including pictures – which would have helped a lot if I hadn't booked it the same morning; I didn't get his email until after I'd arrived. (I still found the place pretty easily on my own.) The only downside to staying here was the walk into Kotor – which wasn't terrible, only 10-15 minutes and something I had expected, but it might be too far for some people.

  • Report Abuse

    Trebinje (1 night)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG29998,431,1,0,0-trebinje-bosnia.html

    As I drove north from Montenegro late in the afternoon, I didn't know which town I'd sleep in that night. I guessed I'd drive as far as I could that evening and stop in either Mostar or Trebinje. I was planning to stop in Blagaj near Mostar either way, but I had visited Mostar before. It's a nice town but I didn't feel a need to return – not even as compelling as my return to Dubrovnik.

    The town of Trebinje was on my radar because it looked to be off the tourist trail – maybe a nice, undisturbed town, a contrast to the ultra-touristy Dubrovnik nearby. And it has a beautiful old stone bridge. Had I not already been to Mostar in 2009, I most certainly would have stopped there instead.

    Driving from Montenegro, I eventually made it into Trebinje not too long before sunset. I found the old Arslanagić Bridge (stone bridge) fairly easily, and I found it while there was some great golden hour light on it. This bridge was originally further from town, but during the Yugoslav years the river was dammed and the bridge flooded; eventually is was dismantled, put aside, then moved and carefully re-assembled in its present location. It seems that moving old bridges is fairly common in Europe; I encountered a similar old bridge like that in the Czech Republic.

    One thing that struck me as I drove around Trebinje was how much less prosperous the town seemed than any I'd seen in Croatia or even Montenegro. It seemed like a fairly poor town, even though, supposedly, it has been one of the more prosperous towns in the country. The neighborhood the area near the bridge seemed run down and a bit sketchy,, almost to the point where I worried about parking my car and walking too far away from it. (But I did and it was fine.)

    Along the Trebišnjica river, as the sun went down and I took my pictures, the frogs in the river made a lot of noise – almost deafening. It was actually pretty cool.

    After taking my pictures, it was almost dark and now a foregone conclusion I'd spend the night in Trebinje instead of driving a few more hours in the dark on to Mostar.

    I had a list of possible Trebinje hotels written down (and I knew the town wasn't busy – travel websites showed that hotels in Trebinje were available and cheap). I typed one of hotel names, the Hotel Platani, into my Garmin GPS and let it guide me to the hotel's parking lot. I thought this hotel was in the old town, but I was so disoriented that I wasn't sure which side of the river the old town was on. I parked my car and inquired about rates at the front desk. The price was pretty cheap (maybe 30 Euros/night), the room looked OK, so I checked in.

    When I got the room key, I noticed it said “Hotel Leotar.” I was at the wrong hotel, on the opposite side of the river!!! (Thanks, Garmin!) But at that point I was too tired to care – how bad could it be? The price was right. And the hotel was along the river, with the old town right across the bridge.

    The Leotar, it turns out, is pretty well regarded and kind of a landmark, an old hotel with a long reputation in Trebinje, but it looked like something ugly out of the Yugoslav era. The hotel was OK but unfortunately, the WiFi was terrible - by far the worst of any place I stayed on my trip, bad even compared to the modest B&Bs and guest houses I'd stayed at. WiFi didn't work in my room at all at the Leotar. It worked in the lobby but was still very slow. Ironically, I found the Leotar's WiFi worked sitting on a wall across the street from the hotel along the river, as I ate some dinner – but not inside my room!!! I needed internet to keep in touch as I traveled, and on this night I had some business that required a good internet connection. Naturally, on the one night I needed it the most on this trip, I had the worst WiFi!!!

    I walked into the old town, found some pizza slices to eat for dinner, then walked back to the Leotar and crashed. The next morning, I did a proper walk around the old town – a pleasant place with wide avenues, a nice town square, restaurants with outdoor seating, etc. It wasn't busy at all the evening or morning I was there but I could imagine this town being full of people at busier times. I bought a cheap SIM card from a no-name mobile store, kind of got it work, then went back to the Leotar and checked out.

    Before leaving Trebinje, I took some more pictures. Right across the street from my hotel, the river is calm and there were gorgeous reflections of the buildings into the water. I also drove up Crkvina Hill to the Hercegovačka Gračanica monastery, a beautiful (relatively new) Serbian Orthodox monastery with an incredible view down on the river valley and Trebinje . Unfortunately, by now the sun that had been out earlier had gone away bringing clouds and threatening rain. The views from this hill are fantastic in the morning, though.

    Trebinje is a nice town – but it's not the kind of place that seems especially charming at night (at least not while I was there). It would make a nice day trip, and it's close to Dubrovnik.

  • Report Abuse

    Driving to Blagaj and Sarajevo

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG30352,432,1,0,0-bosnia-and-herzegovina.html

    I had a list of things I hoped to see on the drive between Trebinje and Sarajevo. One was the Dervish monastery (Tekija) in the town of Blagaj, near Mostar. Another was the stone bridge in the town of Konjic, which is on the main road between Mostar and Sarajevo. And I'd heard that the drive between Mostar and Sarajevo along the Neretva River and Neretva Valley was particularly beautiful. Normally this would be about a four hour drive without stops, but of course I stopped many times.

    For some reason, I had some trouble finding the Tekija once I got near Blagaj. My GPS had no record of it, not surprisingly. I tried to follow signs and made a wrong turn; eventually I got there. I had driven through rain leaving Trebinje, but the sun was out again by the time I got to the monastery. The scene of the monastery next to the base of the cliff is very dramatic, but the monastery itself didn't interest me that much. After exploring it, I sat for a sandwich at a local restaurant then headed off for Sarajevo.

    I craned my neck to try to catch a view of Mostar's famous bridge as I drove the main road through Mostar but couldn't see it. I might have liked to stop for an hour just to walk through town again and see the bridge, but I wanted to push on for Sarajevo.

    Yes, the Neretva Valley is stunning. I could see the train tracks across the river from the highway. I imagine the train ride between Mostar and Sarajevo wouldh ave been amazing, something I kind of wish I could have done. But driving gave me the chance to stop along the way – which was possible to do occasionally whenever there was any sort of dirt shoulder along the road.

    It was sunny most of the way up to Konjic but clouded over by the time I found the old stone bridge (which was re-built in 2009, in the style of a centuries-old bridge that had been there until retreating Germans blew it up in 1945). I hoped for a flattering photo of the bridge lit by the sun and waited for a break in the clouds, but the sky wasn't cooperating. While I waited, some teenagers from a school or community college across the street came up and chatted with me in English. They wanted me to take their pictures in front of the bridge, which seemed kind of silly – they seemed to have smart phones. Were they just messing with me or joking around? One of the young guys then said he ran some sort of tourist camp and tried to interest me in visiting, but I said I wouldn't have time.

    I never really got a satisfying picture of the bridge. Konjic isn't much of a town to speak of but makes a nice break in the drive north to Sarajevo.

    As I got close to Sarajevo, the E73 highway turned into the A1 toll road, something my GPS was unaware of, so it must be a fairly new road. There were two Sarajevo exits off the A1, and I wasn't sure which one to take. I chose wrong and took the second exit west of the city and had to backtrack just to get into town. But once I got off the A1, my GPS found its way again.

  • Report Abuse

    Sarajevo (3 nights)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG30882,433,1,0,0-sarajevo.html

    I had studied maps of Sarajevo, but once I got to town, even with my GPS I had trouble getting my orientation. I couldn't even remember which side if the river the old town was on. I had booked the Hotel Latinski Most (Latin Bridge) which (adjacent to the bridge) should have been easy to find, but of course, my GPS had little info on landmarks in Bosnia. Finally, I parked my car in a lot close to the river (about 70 cents USD an hour) and walked around to try to get my bearings. How hard could the Latin Bridge, Sarajevo's most famous landmark, be to find? I popped into a Residence Inn and asked the English-speaking front desk person for directions, and soon enough I found my hotel.

    I had been pushing pretty hard the last few days, lots of driving. I hadn't spent two nights in the same town since Rovinj, a week ago! So I took the first night pretty easy and parked the car for a few days in Sarajevo. I did a quick walk around the old town Sarajevo, grabbed a quick dinner, then called it a night.

    As you probably know, Sarajevo has a sad and complex history. I had prepared for my visit by reading and watching several items. I highly recommend “The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War” by Tim Butcher, a fascinating book tracing the life of Gavrilo Princip through Austrian-occupied Bosnia and how he came to Sarajevo to take that fatal shot on June 28, 1914, that changed history. Butcher's book also gives some insight into the more recent Bosnian war and modern life in the country.

    I also watched several informative documentaries on YouTube: a great multi-part BBC documentary (produced in the 1990s) called “The Death of Yugoslavia” that covered the Bosnian War and also the whole conflict (prior to Kosovo in the late 1990s). It's a long series to watch, but I enjoyed it. I also found a History Channel piece on the Canadian UN troops who were the first UN peace keepers to enter Sarajevo at the start of the seige. Finally, I watched a great Frontline (PBS) documentary – on YouTube at the time - called “Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo.” This one covered the tragic death of a young couple – one Muslim, one Serbian – who were shot by snipers and died together on a bridge in Sarajevo. It also gave a lot of the human perspective on the war – about the people who lived through the war and the crazy choices they had to make just to survive. If you watch nothing else, watch the Frontline video.

    On my first morning in Sarajevo, I set out to explore the old town properly, following a couple of Rick Steves walking tours as best I could and taking some pictures. At least the weather was nice. I did tons and tons of walking. I walked all the way up Maršala Tita Street to the old Holiday Inn, through “sniper alley.” I looked up into the hills to imagine where the snipers must have been and tried to imagine what living in Sarajevo in 1994 must have been like – I couldn't. In fact, I found it frustrating trying to get a feel for the history of the Siege of Sarajevo. I thought I knew the basic facts of the war and the Siege of Sarajevo pretty well, but making sense of them in context was difficult. I decided to take the “Times of Misfortune” tour from Insider Tours the next day to try to get a better handle on the subject.

    Later in the day I hiked up Kovači Street to the Kovači Martyrs' Memorial Cemetery, one of numerous cemeteries in town that give a poignant reminder of the sad sacrifices of war. Most of the dead here are Muslims.

    Understanding the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand was much easier to grasp, however. Reading “The Trigger” mentioned above helped a lot, of course, but the assassination site was right across the street from my hotel, and I walked past it and over the Latin Bridge numerous times. There is a plaque at the very spot where the assasin stood, but otherwise you'd never now anything special happened on that corner. I was able to stand there and imagine the motorcade coming down the road, stopping at the exact worst spot at wrong time to change the motorcade route, right outside the cafe where Princip happened to be waiting with a gun. This part of my visit was quite satisfying, being able to see the context for this famous event in world history. (There's a tiny museum right on the corner at this very spot, “Sarajevo 1878-1918 Museum,” devoted to Sarajevo in the Austrian years. I visited the museum briefly, doesn't take long.)

    Meanwhile, I wasn't warming to modern Sarajevo. Despite its history, I didn't find the city very pleasant or charming or interesting to photograph. I guess I had expecting something more exotic or mysterious but it seemed much more touristy than I expected. The Ottoman Old town seemed a bit hoaky. There were plenty of restaurants, nice shops, and hookah bars, not of much interest to me. I had given myself plenty of time to extend my stay in Sarajevo if needed – at least two nights maybe three of four. But honestly, I could have left after the second night. I decided to stay a third night only to take the the “Times of Misfortune” walking tour the next morning. I even considered leaving the next day after that tour. Sarajevo wasn't turning out to be a fun place for me.

    I had to switch hotels after the first two nights – the Hotel Latinski Most was booked up. I was able to book a third night at the Old Town Hotel right across the Latin Bridge and leave my car at the same parking spot (so I didn't have to drive for three days). It turns out the two front desk people at the two hotels were friends, even though I found and booked the Old Town Hotel on my own before I even found that out.

    The second morning I did a quick visit out to the Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which I had walked by the previous day while walking out by Sniper Alley and the old Holiday Inn. (Why didn't I visit then? Who knows?) This museum – very modest and dated- now focuses on demonstrating how Sarajevo residents lived and survived during the 1990s Seige. I thought this might help set the context for the “Times of Misfortune” tour. The museum had some neat artifacts from the war. I spend barely a half hour there.

    The “Times of Misfortune” tour was OK. I learned a few things and got to some spots I didn't want to drive to (the tour requires a lot of driving in a van from site to site). We ended at the War Tunnel museum, where you could see how Sarajevans smuggled supplies into the city during the Siege from the airport just to stay alive. (A small part of the tunnel survives and is open. I'm tall and I had to stoop down just to walk through it.) The tour guide was a local guy, a secular Muslim, who had grown up in Sarajevo but was only a young boy during the Siege. He also talked about life in Sarajevo and Bosnia today.

    One upside from the tour was meeting a nice couple from Wisconsin, and by chance they were staying at my hotel. Because I had been traveling solo for so long, it was nice to have some long conversations in English. We all went out for dinner that night, eating at the Pivnica HS at the Sarajevska Brewery, a big beer hall across the river– interesting place. Dinner was OK. I wasn't exactly excited about sampling the local food.

    I left Sarajevo the final morning in a drizzle. My visit was a bit of a disappointment, only because I had had such high expectations. I loved the history, especially the 1914 assassination site, but I found Sarajevo not particularly charming, nor a place I can ever imagine visiting again. Given that it was a three day break from driving after long driving days through Croatia and Montenegro, my time in Sarajevo was ironically the part of my trip during which I felt the most weary. But the history alone does make Sarajevo kind of a “must see” for any sort of history buff.

    I wish I could have understood the Siege of Sarajevo better. I'm well aware that Sarajevo has endured a lot of hardship in the last few decades and still struggles in a rough economy, with high unemployment, so I hate to disparage the city in any way. It seems many people wind up liking Sarajevo better than I did.

    My hotels were both good and well located. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else but near the old town.

  • Report Abuse

    Driving to Travnik

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG31333,434,1,0,0-travnik-bosnia.html

    Leaving Sarajevo, I had three nights remaining before flying from Zagreb back to Amsterdam. I expected to spend one night in the Bosnian town of Jajce. Where to spend the last two nights? The city of Banja Luka was on the driving route from Jajce to Zagreb – I had originally planned to spend the final night there and drive to the Zagreb airport the next morning. But I was sort a day ahead. I didn't feel like spending two nights in Bosnia between Sarajevo and Zagreb.

    Travnik seemed like day stop on the way to Jajce, not an overnight. I considered staying over in Bihac near the Croatian border or even a return to Plitvice Lakes National Park.

    I even flirted with the idea of booking a cheap easyJet flight to Amsterdam out of Split instead of Zagreb and spending the last two nights back on the Dalmatian Coast, just to get some final time by the sea. But that would have required a lot of driving all the way back to where I'd just been. In the end, I decided to stick to my original direction and head for Jacje, with a stop in Travnik.

    I saw lots of minarets sticking up from mosques as I drove toward Travnik and the road signs were mostly in the Roman alphabet – clearly I was still in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is the “Muslim/Croat” part of Bosnia, a leftover government structure from the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords that ended the Bosnian War. Technically, the nation called “Bosnia and Herzegovina” contains two separate states: the Federation mentioned above and the Republic of Srpska, the “Serbian” part of the country. The two entities have separate governments, but there is no straight line dividing one from the other; instead, the Republic is made up of two sections in the northwest and east of Bosnia while the Federation is made up of the southwest part of the country with a big section poking up to Sarajevo. These boundaries mostly reflect the territory held by the Serbs and the Croats/Muslims at the end of the war in 1995. When you drive into the Republic, there is no border crossing but you do see signs announcing that you have entered the Republic of Srpska –you start seeing Serbian Orthodox churches instead of mosques, and road signs are in Cyrillic as well as (usually) Roman.

    I arrived in Travnik soon enough – there wasn't much traffic on the roads on a Sunday. I saw a number of what I believe were Turkish tourists in the town. Travnik was the last Ottoman capitol of Bosnia, so the place has some historical significance to them, I guess. The ruins of the old Ottoman fortress still exist above the town, and you can tour it. I wound up parking at the base of the hill above the fortress near the Plava Voda, a pleasant stream with a few cafes and a modest shops on either side. After exploring the Plava Voda a bit, I hiked up to the fortress. (there's a small entrance fee.) As far as wrecked old fortresses go...this one was great, I guess. For some reason, this stuff doesn't impress me much any more. The views from the fortress down on Travnik and the surrounding hills are terrific, though.

    After Travnik I headed on to Jajce. The scenery along the E661 / M16 highways was gorgeous, with rolling green hills in every direction. One thing you can say about Bosnia and Herzegovina: it's full of beautiful countryside.

  • Report Abuse

    Jajce (1 night)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG31802,435,1,0,0-jajce-bosnia.html

    As soon as I got to Jajce, before I even entered the town, I tried to find the best spots to shoot the Pliva Waterfall that flows below it. There are official, easy “tourist” viewing spots right off the main road a brief walk down from the old town of Jajce, with ample parking for tourists just passing through, but the best viewing/photography spot, really, is across the Vrbas River from Jajce, in a little clearing in the woods.

    (Tip for photographers: You can get to this clearing from the E661/M16 highway – heading toward Banja Luka - directly across the river from Jajce. There's a wide shoulder on the side of the road there where you can safely park a car for a short time. Although you can see the town of Jajce from the road, you can't see the waterfall. But there's an obvious, short trail down into the woods to get to that clearing, which has a great view of the waterfall above the town. The optimal time to shoot pictures from here is probably late morning (at least in May) when the sun would be lighting most of the waterfall without a shadow. I took pictures from here three different times – even at dusk – but didn't want to wait around the following morning until the shadow on the waterfalls had disappeared.)

    After photographing the Pliva Waterfall from every location I could find, I finally drove into the Jajce old town, which is tiny. I had no hotel booked, but I figured I would stay the only real hotel in the center of town, the Hotel Stari Grad. Indeed, Jajce was quiet on this Sunday, and I got a room easily at a good price. Then I hiked up to the Jajce fortress above town. As in Travnik, there isn't much to see besides a wrecked castle, but the views down are fantastic.

    Next I drove out to the Pliva Lakes to find the Pliva Watermills a few kilometers from town (following the road toward Bihać). These watermills are hundreds of years old and were once used to grind grain, using the power of the water. The watermills are located between the two Pliva Lakes in a nice park recreation area. The lake looks to offer boating and other recreational activities. I saw a group of Muslim guys having a picnic or something near the watermills, and some of them were walking around in front of me as I tried to photograph the watermills without people in my shots.

    Jajce is a small town and not touristy at all at least in regards to western tourism. But it's a famous town to Bosnians and considered a gem. (It's also the place where Tito declared the nation of Yugoslavia in 1943.) Jajce doesn't exude a “stay awhile” vibe – it doesn't have a vibrant town square or anything (it seems too small to have a town square), but it is a cute town surrounded by beautiful countryside, and that waterfall below it makes it feel almost unreal.

    The Hotel Stari Grad was comfortable but nothing special – but the location is perfect and you don't have many other choices (perhaps some private lodgings). The shower didn't work right, leaking water everywhere. I noted this to the hotel manager at checkout, and he kind of shrugged – as if all the rooms had some kind of problem like that. (I think he understood my English.) It's Bosnia and Herzegovina, not a wealthy country; some Bosnians who stay there might find the place luxurious. The hotel has a restaurant at the bottom floor (which is also where you check in and enter) that serves breakfast as part of the room rate. I asked for scrambled eggs for breakfast, and the manager, not speaking a lot of English and trying to convey that to the cook, didn't know what I meant. OK, how about “sunnyside up?” He thought for a second, then replied, “Eyes?” Yes, eyes - sure, whatever, just bring me some cooked eggs. It didn't make much difference.

  • Report Abuse

    Una National Park and Bihać (Stops on the drive west)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG32086,436,1,0,0-bosnia.html

    Where to spend my final two nights? Instead of the original plan of driving up to Banja Luka, I decided that night in Jajce to seek out another big waterfall instead, the Štrbački buk in Una National Park near Bihać. Then maybe I'd spend that night in Bihać. Or near Plitvice Lakes. Or maybe I could make it up to Banja Luka after all? I figured I'd drive and see how the next day went and wind up where I wound up. For the final night, I figured I'd probably stay in Samobor, a town near Zagreb.

    Part of the appeal of driving up to Banja Luka was supposed to be the drive up, so I did part of the drive – yes, it was very scenic, overlooking the Vrbas River – then I doubled back and headed toward Bihać. I didn't exactly know how to get to Una National Park, which is a relatively new “park.” The Una River, which runs from Bihać through the park, so I figured the park wouldn't be that hard tofind. Surely my GPS would have no clue how to find this new park. I imagined I could drive toward Bihać and look for signs.

    And I found those signs, eventually, but I didn't drive far enough Bihać. I tried to detour through a narrow country road shown on a Google Map that turned out to go nowhere, so I had to backtrack, wasting about an hour. Finally I saw signs to enter Una National Park and followed them for a while.

    One park entrance had signs directing visitors to Štrbački buk. Once I entered the park there, I found myself on a narrow one lane unpaved road driving for about 8 kilometers. It wasn't busy on the road; when the rare car came the other way, each car simply made way on the sides to allow the other to pass. This was quite a contrast to the well-developed Croatian parks I had visited.

    Finally I got to an official park gate manned by a person and paid a small entrance fee, then drove another two kilometers to a parking area for Štrbački buk. The parking and viewing area for the falls was well developed, with a wooden walkway, steps, railings, etc. Getting there was a little bumpy, though!

    I had seen some impressive waterfalls in Bosnia and Croatia, but Štrbački buk was the first one that took my breath away. The thing was massive and loud - and amazing. I struggled to find the best spot to photograph it without getting all wet or getting water all over my camera lens. Eventually I walked down a ways below the falls.

    Here I ran into a group of guys who saw me with my camera and got all excited – they waved and gestured to me. They looked like a group of Muslims having a prayer meeting or something. They seemed to want me to join them, but I smiled and politely continued on, taking pictures. A few minutes later, one of them came down to show me a picture he'd taken of me on his camera, showing me stooped over my camera and tripod. He seemed to want my approval – was it OK that he had taken my picture? I said sure, why not? Then I realized who these guys were: they were the same guys I'd seen the night before at the Pliva Watermiills in Jajce! They had driven a few hundred kilometers, too, to arrive at the same park. So that's why they so were excited to see me.

    I talked to them some more – a few of them spoke some English. They were from Kuwait – just tourists like me. They asked if I would take a group picture of them, but all of their group weren't there at one time. Some were out wandering around. Then they said they didn't have time – it was time to pray, so I said my goodbyes and headed back to my car. By the time I was leaving, they were back in their van ready to leave, too, but their car had battery died. One of them asked me if I had jumper cables in my rental car, but of course, I didn't. At least they gave me an interesting story!

  • Report Abuse

    On to Bihac – and sleep where?

    After leaving Una National Park – which was quite time consuming, given the long bumpy drive in – I made my way to the town of Bihac, which is close to the Croatian border near Plitvice Lakes National Park. I wondered if Bihac might be an interesting town? A bartender I'd met in Sarajevo said he was from Bihac – and I'd read a few things about it, but I didn't know much else. So I parked my car and decided to check it out. The center of town is tiny – looks like a university town- and seemed like nothing special, so I quickly decided not to stay a night there.

    If not Bihac, where then? Banja Luka was too far – probably 2-3 hours north, and it was getting dark.

    What about Plitvice Lakes? I had been there in 2009 and loved it – but why bother seeing it again? Then again, why not? My one regret about my 2009 visit was that I thought I didn't take very nice pictures – couldn't I do better? And I was now so close...

    So I sat in a park in Bihac and used my phone's Bosnian SIM card as a (slow) WiFi Hotspot, hopped on Booking.com, and looked for cheap lodgings near Plitvice. I found a place that was cheap and not to far from the park and struggled to book it with the slow internet connection. Type in the credit card number...almost there....almost there. Finally I booked the place, noted the address, and figured I would be able to find it pretty easily.

    Then I picked up some take-away food for dinner from a fast food place in town, some chicken fingers at a place that probably caters to university students. I drove out of town and spent my remaining BAM currency putting gas in car (plus gas is cheaper in Bosnia than in Croatia).

    Then I drove to the Croatian border, which took only about five minutes to pass through.

  • Report Abuse

    Plitvice Lakes National Park (1 night)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG32272,417,1,0,0-croatia.html

    I soon made it to Jezerce (the village by Plitvice) and easily found the little B&B, the Villa Lykos, I'd just booked maybe an hour ago. I knocked on the door and the owner greeted me, polite but confused. She wasn't expecting any other guests this evening. I managed to explain that I had just booked it a room. She checked her FAX machine and came back with my booking, just received! She showed me the room.

    I drove to the Hotel Bellevue, one of the park hotels, to use their ATM to get enough Croatian Kuna to pay for the B&B then picked up a pizza to go at the pizza place in town (in the place that rents ski equipment, one of the few actual restaurants in town), then headed back and called it a night.

    The next morning I checked out of the Villa Lykos (great place for the money – cheap, no meals, but I spent less than twelve hours there) and made it to park entrance #2 by 7:30. (The park itself opens at 7am.) Parking is charged per hour but the price is capped after several hours.

    I had hoped to enter the park early to avoid the tour groups. As with my 2009 visit, I started at the Upper Lakes trails near entrance 2. To get into the park, I walked down the hill past the Hotel Bellevue to the boat launch and waited for a boat to take me the short distance across to the main Upper Lakes trails and a bunch of waterfalls. I waited on the empty boat for about ten minutes – I was the only person on it - I guess they wanted to wait for more passengers, but no one else came, so finally they took me across by myself.

    I tried to remember these falls from 2009 – which ones were going to be the best to photograph? I did manage to get some great shots before the big tour groups arrived. I'd seen them last time in October, when the falls weren't running as heavy as they were now after the spring rains. The frogs were loud in places, as they had been in Trebinje. It was a beautiful day to visit the park – clear skies, for a change.

    If I haven't said this yet, let me just repeat: Plitvice Lakes is an amazing park, like nowhere else in the world. It is worth seeing twice. There are dozens (hundreds?) of waterfalls, sometimes at every turn. Not all of them are very big, but together they are magnificent. There are big turquoise-colored lakes full of huge trout. (Fishing is not allowed in the park.) The park is well developed and easy to navigate – there are wooden “boardwalks” taking you through the mud and over water. You don't really have to “hike” much to get around.

    More and more tourists appeared as the morning went on. I talked to a few of them on the trails. Plitvice is very touristy, so a lot of English was spoken. A woman stopped me and asked if I spoke English, so she could ask me a question. (She was from Portland.) Soon I ran into some old friends: the couple I'd met a few nights earlier in Sarajevo. It wasn't a surprise – they had said they would be in the park that day. I ran into them several more times that day on the trails.

    After I finished at the Upper Lakes, I took the boat across to the Lower Lakes (about a 20 minutes across – the boats run only twice an hour). At the Lower Lakes boat launch, there is a snack bar where you can get junk food; I had a burger there for lunch. Then I hiked to see some of the lower lakes falls. What some consider the park's most impressive waterfall - Veliki slap (“The Big Waterfall”) - wasn't my favorite falls in the park. This is a case where I think we have more impressive waterfalls here in Oregon. What makes Plitvice special is not one specific waterfall but the bunches of little falls, the color of the lakes, the whole setting. I will say that the other big falls I'd seen on my trip – like the Skradinski Buk at Krka – are much longer and bigger (cascading) than anything we seem to have in Oregon.

    I was done and out of the park by about 3PM, so I spent almost eight hours there. You could probably do it in five or six hours – I took plenty of time to take pictures. Soon I was headed north to Samobor, about two hours away.

  • Report Abuse

    Samobor (1 night)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG32683,428,1,0,0-samobor-croatia.html

    I headed north toward Zagreb, where I was flying out the following afternoon. I had already visited Zagreb in 2009 and didn't feel a need for a return visit. The little town of Samobor nearby was an easy, low stress choice alternative. I'd heard Samobor was a nice town – why not?

    There are only two hotels in Samobor proper. I pulled up to the cheaper one, the Hotel Lavica, which wasn't busy, and got a cheap room. I decided to shoot for one more Italian dinner and found an Italian restaurant called Pizzeria Napoli about a ten minute walk from the hotel. It gave me a chance to walk through town. The meal was OK – probably better than another take-away pizza. On the walk back stopped at cafe that specializes in kremsnita, a kind of custard cake Samobor is known for (similar to what you find in Bled, Slovenia ), and took a piece back to the hotel for dessert.

    I didn't hang around Samobor long to see much more than the tiny town center where I was staying. I understand locals enjoy hiking in the area, but I of course didn't do any of that. It seems like a cute little town – much less busy than Zagreb for sure.

    With a few hours to kill the final day before my flight out of Zagreb, I attempted to find a well-known cemetery in Zagreb and wander around for a few minutes, but the neighborhood was too busy and I couldn't even find a parking place, so I gave up and headed toward the airport.

    I had to return my rental car to Oryx at the Zagreb airport. Because of my little incident in Dubrovnik that caused me to switch cars, I needed a little extra time at the airport to sign for damages (and later submit a claim to my American Express Premium Rental Car Insurance – as of this writing, they are still trying to resolve my laim, months later). The line at the Oryx desk inside Zagreb airport was 45 minutes long!!! Thank goodness I arrived early. None of the other rental car companies seemed to have anyone waiting.

  • Report Abuse

    Amsterdam (1 night)

    Pictures: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,M25D0IMG32710,437,1,1,0-amsterdam.html

    My KLM flight from Zagreb to Amsterdam was routine.

    I had booked the direct Delta flight home to Portland from Amsterdam, but that required flying back from Zagreb the day before and spending the final night in Amsterdam.

    I'd been to Amsterdam a few times before - I can't say it's my favorite European city, but I didn't mind spending a night there. I stayed at Dorint Hotel near the airport – booked for about $50 on Hotwire. The hotel was modern and beautiful (though generic) and convenient to the airport for my flight out the next morning, but I wanted to wander around Amsterdam on my final night in Europe. That required taking the free airport shuttle back to the airport and taking a train into Amsterdam – then doing the reverse to get home. The shuttle ran past midnight but not very often, so I didn't get back to the hotel until well after midnight. My flight out of Amsterdam left at about 10:30 am so I really didn't have much time at the hotel.

    It was more fun to be back in Amsterdam than I'd imagined. I simply walked from the Centraal Station all the way to Leidseplein. The early evening light was great and I got a few nice pictures. Then I made my way to the Hard Rock Cafe – kind of a hoaky tradition I have of eating there when I find one in Europe. I shot some night pictures of the canals after dinner before catching the train and airport shuttle back to my hotel. Next time, I'd probably pay a bit extra to get a hotel right in Amsterdam so I could have stayed out a little later and just gotten up earlier the next morning to get to the airport.

    My Delta flight home to Portland was great – two empty seats next to me again, very comfortable.

  • Report Abuse

    Afterthoughts

    I had a great trip, but every trip has its ups and downs – no trip is perfect. Rovinj was my favorite “new” place of the trip - just lovely, everything I expected. The Istrian hill towns were OK. I can't find fault with Zadar but still didn't warm to it. Sibenik was much nicer than expected. Trogir was small and relaxing and pretty at night. Samobor was a cute little town and a nice alternative to Zagreb. I loved going back to Ljubljana, Plitvice Lakes, and Dubrovnik.

    The Bay of Kotor is amazing – really worth at least a day trip to see it, I'd say. The city of Kotor itself didn't quite ring my bell but staying there is convenient and practical. The walk above the town up the stairs along the walls is worth it for the view. The mountain drive toward Cetinje was amazingly scenic.

    Bosnia and Herzegovina is full of beautiful countryside and intriguing towns, but I didn't find any of them particularly charming. Jajce was probably the closest. I couldn't imagine spending a lot of time in any of them, really, and I don't have a great desire to go back and see more of Bosnia even though I saw only a few of the towns, but I'm glad I visited. Sarajevo was a disappointment if only because I had such high expectations – the city's history is amazing, almost a must-see, but it felt more touristy than charming or exotic.

    Driving in Bosnia was much easier than expected – the roads were usually good if not great, well marked, lighted tunnels, etc. There was less traffic than I expected. Road signs in Cyrillic (mostly in Republic of Srpska) didn't deter m because there was almost always accompanying Latin text to go with it. Having a GPS helped, even though it was often unhelpful in finding specific destinations and sometimes wrong. I had studied the basic driving routes ahead of time, though, so I wasn't relying on it blindly. I think a smartphone with GPS and a data SIM – very cheap in Bosnia – would be a better way to get more accurate maps and driving information.

    I love the former Yugoslavia and imagine I will go back. I'd love to go back to Rovinj someday if the opportunity presents itself, just as I'd go back to Ljubljana yet again (and see even more of Slovenia). I didn't visit any Croatian islands on this trip (I visited Korcula in 2009) and think a future trip might include a return to Dubrovnik and some of the islands along the Dalmatian Coast plus a return to Montenegro to see more there. I would like to visit other Balkan countries too.

  • Report Abuse

    I enjoyed your trip report immensely. It included the perfect level and type of details for me (where and when to take the best pictures, where you stayed and how close it was to city center, parking and restaurant suggestions, town and site comparisons)and will be so useful as I plan our trip to the same areas in mid-April next year. Thank you for taking the time to create such a detailed and helpful report.

  • Report Abuse

    As always a great report, loved your pictures and all the detail you give. I also love that corner of the world. So fun to read again about the places we've been and discover new spots through your eyes. We're really considering returning to Slovenia next year and combining it with Budapest and maybe Romania although I will miss not going back to Croatia. Would love to go to Dubrovnik and Kotor and now even more so after reading your report.

  • Report Abuse

    "Sarajevo was a disappointment if only because I had such high expectations – the city's history is amazing, almost a must-see, but it felt more touristy than charming or exotic."
    I visited Sarajevo before the war...( 1990)
    it was a good size, modern city of three hundred thousand people.
    Some areas had the " Ottoman " feel, but it was really more of
    Australia- Hungarian and post Secon World War mix of design.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks, CollK! I would love to go back to Slovenia again too (beyond Ljubljana). I've already done a visit once in 2011 but still want to see more of the tiny country. I would love to go back to Budapest, too - last and only visit was in 2005. Back to see more of Montenegro will probably be a future trip, too. But I'm thinking Bulgaria and Romania may be next.

    Danon, I would love to have visited Sarajevo before the war. Lucky you!

  • Report Abuse

    Andrew...I have also been to Mostar when the original bridge still stood,
    and many other parts of former Yugoslavia.
    It was a nice place to visit, people seemed to get along..
    Unfortunately, the fall of communism produced only leaders committed to nationalism
    and break up of the country.



    Since the war , I only visited Zagreb, Split and Trogir.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks for the pictures and for taking the time write a report and to post. We are about to leave on a trip to several of the same places and the timely information is greatly useful and appreciated. I already e-mailed our rent car company to make sure we're cool with border crossings.

  • Report Abuse

    Hi Andrew
    We are a group of 4, planning to do Croatia Slovenia and Montenegro, all in about 8 days.
    We fly into Zagreb go to Slovenia, spend 2 days back into Croatia and last 2 days in Montenegro and fly back. As you have visited this area many times I have two questions:
    1. Is it possible to rent out car from Zagreb airport and drive to Slovenia, finally drop off the car at Splits or just last town in Croatia before entering Montenegro? As I understand from your blog that it is easy to rent a car from Croatia and returning it in Croatia is cheaper.
    2. We want to see visit the islands in Croatia which would you recommend? Is ferrying the car easy or only few ferrys' do that?
    Thanks a lot. RJoshi

  • Report Abuse

    Yes, it's POSSIBLE to fly into Zagreb, rent a car, drive to Slovenia, drive to Montenegro, and return it in Croatia. But in EIGHT DAYS??? You'll spend half of your time in the car. My trip was pretty fast, but not as fast as you propose to go.

    At very minimum, cut out either Slovenia or Montenegro in the short time you have.

    I can't recommend an island - the only one I've been to is Korcula - which was nice, but I have nothing else to compare it to.

  • Report Abuse

    Great trip report Andrew! I'd been looking forward to it. Your fantastic photos have me reminiscing about the places I saw on my trip and have given me ideas about places to see next time! Rovinj might move to the top, with an expanded trip to Slovenia.

    Thanks again for all of the advice you've given me and shared with all of the readers here. There is a wealth of valuable information!

  • Report Abuse

    Hello Andrew, you know me from my current posts on my upcoming trip to Croatia, a party of 5. You've given me some very helpful and thoughtful tips and advice, thank you.
    I found your post tonight, and eagerly read it, thinking ahead of my trip, for you wrote things about Dubrovnik, Krka, Sibenek, Rovinj, Trogir and a lot of other places that are on our itinerary.
    Plus, we've been discussing the rental car.. haven't gotten one yet, but your thread will be helpful. We didn't know who to rent from, someone said why not Avis…
    I will definitely look for your kitty in Dubrovnik, and so will the rest of my group! If I find her, I will take a picture for you, I promise!
    I have a thing for animals, there was the sweetest puppy in Costa Rica that I absolutely fell in love with. She had such a gentle soul, and spoke to me with her eyes, she was unbelievable. My heart breaks every time I think of her. She was very special to me, but I learned it was very difficult to get a dog home from there.. they have to be boarded up and then transported in the belly of a plane in a crate.. it all seemed impossible, so sad.
    -are there stray dogs in Croatia too? Or mostly cats?
    I think I liked that part of your post the most.
    Sounds like you ate a lot of pizza and Italian foods. Are there healthy choices around? I don't eat fish or meat, or a lot of pasta, so I think I may be facing a bit of a struggle, yes?
    And how did you do with the jet lag? We're flying from Boston MA… there's quite a time change. We arrive around 5pm but I think it's 11 am that day. I can't imagine how long it will take before we're all functioning and feel normal?
    Thank you so much for your detailed thread. I will copy the link and suggest that the rest of my group read it before we leave.
    One last question, please tell me how you write your notes so that I can try to do the same. Do you write them on the go, or at the end of the day before you retire for the evening?
    Or do you do some work beforehand, like write in the notebook certain things like your itinerary and names of places you intend to stay at?
    It'll be my first attempt at writing a trip report. I owe it to everyone after all the help I was given.
    Thank you!

  • Report Abuse

    (Thanks, Geenance!)

    Hi teadrinker. I hope you do write a trip report, but I don't recommend mine as a model - it's way too long. Try to write something concise and interesting and also helpful - and include any funny stories. Look at Geenance's report for example.

    I don't take notes as I travel, but I take hundreds of pictures, and they help me remember things about my travels. I do try to write rough drafts of my trip reports soon after the trip is done. I've written the last two trip reports on the long transatlantic flights home, while everything was still fresh in my mind. (Having a laptop and empty seats on the plane helped a great deal.)

    I've been to Europe a few times now, and I usually start on Pacific time (occasionally I stop on the east coast first), so I have to deal with a nine hour time change. I have always followed the strategy of staying up all day the first day and going to bed at the normal night time. No naps. Some people do take naps when they arrive. I guess we all have to try things and see what works! I also try to make my first day pretty active but not complicated. I like to walk anyway, so walking around and exploring on my first day helps me stay awake.

    I used to worry about jet lag more but now I just deal with it. I might be tired the first few days or wake up at weird times in the middle of the night, but I live with it. I'll have time to catch up on sleep when I get home!

    As for food: I posted most of my trip report above but left out an intro section (posted on my website) about how I'm not exactly an adventurous eater - but I guess you figured that out! I'd browse other trip reports and even Trip Advisor for each city to look for recommendations for the types of food you might eat. Yes, there is a lot of Italian food especially in Istria, which was part of Italy until relatively recently (100 years ago), and much of Croatia has a huge Italian influence, anyway.

  • Report Abuse

    Please do look for my calico kitty inside the Pile Gate in Dubrovnik, especially in the evening! I would love a picture if you see her! You might even try to feed her, if that works out for you. (Not sure where you will be staying - I stayed near Pile Gate so I passed by it many times.) If not, you will find plenty of other cats wanting food.

    Yes, there are stray cats in many Croatian towns, especially Dubrovnik. It is sad, but cats can be scrappy and survive (as my calico has proven). Plus, there are cat lovers in Croatia, and people do look out for them. I'm not aware of a big stray dog problem in Croatia - I didn't see any stray dogs on this trip. However, I saw a lot of them in Bosnia, especially Sarajevo - and THAT is heartbreaking. (I forgot to mention that in my trip report.) Dogs should not be wild - they need human care and companionship more than cats do. It's a well known problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But I don't think you will encounter it in Croatia.

    I know of a British woman who was visiting Zagreb recently and fell in love with a stray cat - to the point where she she arranged a foster home for it in Zagreb, filed all the paper work required to adopt it, then finally returned from the UK to take it home! I wish I could have done that with my calico, but of course the logistics are a lot harder when you come from the USA vs. the UK. Good on her for doing that! (She posted about it on the Trip Advisor Croatia forums somewhere.)

  • Report Abuse

    If Avis gives you a decent price and the details work for you, I see no problem renting from them. Just understand the real costs. Remember, you have to drive through a section of Bosnia if you drive south from Split to Dubrovnik (unless you take a ferry). That means technically you are leaving the EU then re-entering it again. Does Avis allow that? Is there an extra cost?

    As you may have read in my report, I used EconomyCarRentals to book my car, and they got me a car with Oryx, a local Croatian company (I think). I am frugal and wound up getting a fantastic rate. I suspect Avis will be higher, but with five people splitting the cost maybe that's not a big deal.

  • Report Abuse

    Andrew, your pix are incredible. We also appreciate all the details you included with your TR. We have so many places on our list of favs. Croatia and Slovenia are two of them. Thanks so much for sharing all that good info!

  • Report Abuse

    Thank you for sharing your observations and experiences of Croatia and Bosnia. I've visited Rovinj, sailed past Sibenek but my favourite town was Skradin. It was small but completely delightful. It felt like an evening in paradise.

  • Report Abuse

    Thank you so much for sharing your report!We are planning a trip to Croatia in early June coming from Amalfi coast in Italy. We'll probably have 5-7 days for Croatia. We definitely want to explore a beach area. What would you recommend visiting in Croatia? What's the best way to get to Croatia from Amalfi coast?

    thank you!
    Love

  • Report Abuse

    Just came upon this Report.

    Very well done and descriptive and loved the pictures.

    Been to Croatia but certainly not to all the places you have.

    Thanks for taking the time to educate us all about Croatia.

  • Report Abuse

    Thank, Percy! I loved Croatia.

    lyubov, I haven't been to Amalfi, but you might look for seasonal flights from Naples or Rome to Dubrovnik. Otherwise, there are ferries to Split and Dubrovnik from the Adriatic side of Italy, but if you can fly directly I'd try that first. You might also look for an exit city as well - how to get home? - if you will finish your trip in Croatia. It's not always easy to get good flight connections from there say back to North America. Zagreb, the capitol city, is the best connected to the rest of Europe but that's not on the coast.

    Typically people do Dubrovnik, Split, and perhaps an island like Hvar or Korcula for a quick visit to the Dalmatian Coast. Plitvice Lakes National Park inland (waterfalls, huge lakes of turquoise-colored water) is amazing but isn't on the coast, either. There isn't much of a wide rail network in Croatia, so if you wanted to do something where you start on the coast and head toward Zagreb to fly out (but stop in say Plitvice which is on the way) you would either be taking buses or renting a car (or hiring a private driver or something). If you just want to stick to the coast, you can get by with ferries/catamarans and good bus connections between Split and Dubrovnik.

57 Replies |Back to top

Sign in to comment.

Advertisement