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Trip Report Trip Report / Tips for Croatia (Venice to Dubrovnik)

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Hi -
This forum was of great help when I was planning my trip, so I'd like to pass along some quick tips for future travelers. If you have questions, I'll check back now and then for the next few weeks while things are fresh on my mind. (BTW, if anyone knows how to get an automatic email when someone posts to a thread, let me know...)

Background: Our itinerary is a bit rushed at the beginning because 1) some folks in our group wanted to see Venice and 2) we needed to get to Split by a certain date to meet up with my parents. We were also 7 adults (3 of us are couples) + 1 baby, so we probably moved a bit more slowly than others (had to work around naps, finding restaurants to seat our group, etc.).

Itinerary: Everyone agreed that it was a really nice mix of different sized cities, cultures, hiking, and beach time. I wouldn't recommend the pace at the beginning (1 night per town) if you're traveling w/a toddler unless you have helping hands like we did. I'd also add in at least a day at the end b/c that last day was hard on our drivers...so my notes below. If we had more time, we would also have gone to Slovenia (Lake Bled, etc.).
-Venice 1 night: toured city by night and during the next day, then ferried to Rovinj at 5pm (add a time here if you want to see more of Venice, but a night was good enough to get a taste if you're short on time)
-Rovinj 1 night: toured city by night and during the next day, then rented car and drove to Plitvice in the evening with a light dinner while on the road (add a day here if you want to drive around the Istrian Peninsula...most of the towns are pretty similar though)
-Plitvice 1 night: hiked in the morning, then drove to Split after lunch (perfect, all we needed)
-Split 2 nights: (we liked Split, but mostly b/c we had a great place to stay and found the best restaurant of our trip there)
- Split Day 1: took a break (you could drive 30 min to see Trogir, but it was raining and everyone wanted to relax)
- Split Day 2: walked around Palace the next day. Mid-morning ferry to Hvar.
-Hvar Town 2 nights: (there's one area w/a young Brits on Spring Break type atmosphere, but there rest of the areas are more chill and our apartment was centrally located, but somehow very quiet)
- Hvar Day 1: walked around town, relaxed
- Hvar Day 2: morning ferry to Korcula, then caught quick ferry to Pelješac Peninsula, then drove to Dubrovnik
-Dubrovnik 2 nights: (It's gorgeous, but the least favorite of our trip...the people were colder and seemed to be tired of tourists. For us, the local people are a big part of why we travel, so we were ready to leave after 2 days.)
- Dubrovnik Day 1: relaxed and walked around town
- Dubrovnik Day 2: walked city walls in the morning

Details/tips on ferries, lodging, etc. to follow!

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    Venice: We landed around 2pm and left the next day at 5pm. You could spend a week exploring all the nooks and crannies, but if you're on a tight itinerary and in the area, it's worth it even for a day. The city is just magical.

    We stayed in this apartment in the

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    oops, accidentally hit "submit"...

    Ca' Leonessa apartment: http://www.caleonessa.com. It's in the Dorsoduro neighborhood which is more residential, but is still in the tour books as a place to check out. It gets its share of tourist traffic, but it isn't overwhelming. The local restaurants are more reasonably priced than in the tourist center and the kitchen is very well equipped. It's a lovely 20 minute walk from St. Mark's square. At this point in our trip, we were 5 adults and 1 baby...there was plenty of room for everyone. Jon, the owner, is organized and easy going.

    Venezia Lines (ferry to Croatia): I didn't book our tickets until a few days before the trip and they were sold out of the standard seats. Given how packed VIP was, we may have gotten some of the last seats. This is late August, so don't delay! Book online! Check in at the San Basilio terminal is similar to an airport - you show your passports, check your bags, go through metal detectors, and get your carry-ons scanned. BTW, I don't, however, recall having to take off my shoes or have special treatment for liquids or laptops. After that, it's outside, up the ladder, and onto the boat.

    Seating is first come, first served. Standard seats are on the first floor. We went down a few times because the baby wanted to climb the stairs and I recall that it was pretty loud (due to the engine). It looked like airplane seating, only less cramped. There were maybe about 6 rows deep on average depending on where you sat. Upstairs in the VIP section there were some lounge seats with tables and a small section with more airplane-style seating. I'd say it was worth it to get VIP, BUT you can decide once you board. They made an announcement that anyone could go up to check it out and pay an extra 7 euros for the seats.

    Aside from better seating, more open space, and less noise, there isn't any other difference. Everything else is the same...everyone shares the same mediocre food bar downstairs (so pack a snack!).

    Arrival in Venice: Just a word about this... Because we were 7 people, we took a water taxi. It was 130 euros...ouch. You pay in the airport and they give you a ticket. You then walk about 5-10 minutes dragging your luggage to the dock and give your ticket to a guy organizing all the boats. If we were fewer people (and didn't have a baby with us), I would take the Alilaguna. It was 16 euros one way per person and while it make more stops and takes longer, there are "views" the entire way so it doesn't feel like you're taking forever to get there.

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    I should also mention that our water taxi wasn't one of the "nice" ones. It was a big worn and white plastic instead of the dark wood. Our driver was also strange and seemed to be asking other drivers for directions. He pulled up to the wrong stop to let us off and luckily we realized it's not where we were supposed to be dropped for our apartment. The Alilaguna boats are a mix of bigger versions of the water taxis and larger barge-like boats. The Alilaguna pier is just a few yards past the water taxis at the airport.

    OK, I think those are all the tips I would've wanted to know about before our Venice trip. I'll post next on Croatia!

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    Rovinj, Croatia: Our favorite town in Croatia. The people are friendly, it's small and manageable, quaint and clean, and we liked our lodging (I find that lodging goes a long way in determining how much we like a place).

    When we got off the ferry and started walking up the long pier, we walked into a very festive atmosphere. There was a band playing music on a stage, picnic tables lining the pier, and a seafood kitchen setup outdoors by the water. It was a Wednesday night and I think they only do this on Wednesday and Sundays.

    After checking into our hotel, we ended up eating here because it was so quick, cheap, and fun. There were only a few items on the menu: marinated sardines (or anchovies...can't remember, but they were just OK...a little sweet and mushy for our tastes), fried sardines (we loved them), and fried calamari (also great). You could also get beer, water, bread, etc. You stand in line to order and pay, and then get a ticket to pick up your order at the next booth. The line moves quickly and we had our food within 5 minutes. Sometimes you just want a quick meal...

    We stayed in Casa Montalbano, a 2 bedroom apartment owned by Casa Garzotto. Based on my correspondence with the hotel, I hadn't expected anyone to meet us. In fact, I almost walked past the bellboy holding a paper with my name written in very faint lettering. It was a good thing he was there to lead us to the apartments because even though it's super close to the pier (maybe 1-2 city blocks worth of walking), there were many twists and turns to get there.

    The apartment was great though. Once inside, the 2 bedrooms are up two separate sets of very narrow stairs. So while the bedrooms don't have doors, you have your own space. They're also in a great location. They are right next to the hotel's restaurant and in the middle of it all...so a little noisy due to pedestrians in the street, but we all slept fine. There was no wifi with the hotel, but we managed to jump on some open networks if we sat on just the right stair step. The folks running the hotel are also super friendly. My parents stayed with them a while back and also said they were extremely kind. If you arrive by car, they'll go meet you outside the city walls.

    Our other meal in town was at Scuba. It's right by the ferry pier and the hotel recommended them. We thought they were fine. It wasn't amazing, but not bad either. A little pricey and not super-friendly (hard to be compared to the Garzotto staff!), but just fine. The gelato stand across from Scuba was tasty.

    At night, the streets are lively and everyone is out walking along the harbor. In the day, the walk up to the church is worth it for the views.

    We also went to the farmer's market to stock up on snacks. A very kind older woman (she had really short, gray hair) had a fruit stand towards the back on the right. She didn't mind at all that our baby went up and started eating dates out of her bins. In fact, she thought it was hilarious and started stuffing dates into the baby's pockets and wanted us to take them for free. All of her produce was delicious and she was very generous with the samples and helping to pick out the best fruit.

    Also, Rovinj is super tiny. I was thinking we'd need to take a taxi to the rental car agency (Oryx) based on the distance on the map, but it was only a 10-15 minute walk along the harbor.

    We rented with AutoEurope and got a great rate (much lower than other quotes from Avis, etc.). Their website is a little tricky if you have a different dropoff location because you have to happen to match the pick up location with the dropoff location of the same vendor or it will tell you there's nothing available. This is tricky if you're dropping off at non-airport locations because there are several possible combinations of city locations. The folks at the 800 number in the states are always helpful though. The folks at Oryx for both the pick up in Rovinj and the dropoff in Dubrovnik were a little shady, but that's not AutoEurope's fault.

    Also, you hear that Rovinj feels like Venice...but I didn't think so at all. It's hilly, there are no canals, the people are completely different. Sure it was Venetian at one point and the architecture is similar, but that's about it IMO.

    My parents visited Porec and Pula on a separate visit and enjoyed them. Their advice was that if you're super short on time, just see Rovinj. Porec was similar to Rovinj and Pula is worth it only if you really want to see the amphitheater.

    So, off we go to Plitvice!

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    Btw, I'm in Greece now and my laptop has died so I'm typing on my phone - typos and run-on sentences may appear more often from here on out.

    Also, we just took a Blue Star ferry trip from
    Santorini to Naxos. They're suppose to be the best in Greece and we were amazed by the facilities. The interior is like a Westin Hotel with gleaming floors, nice lounge furniture, a reception desk, cafes, and helpful attendants. We were dreading ferries after taking the Venezia Lines catamaran from Venice and the Jadrolinjia ferries in Croatia...so if you're used to Greece ferries...lower your expectations!

    I also wanted to note that our water taxi ride was from the airport to Ca' Rezzonico and I believe the distance, number of passengers, and luggage (we had 5 carry-ons) are part of the fare calculus, so you may get a lower quote. If you aren't in a hurry though and don't have a baby or other constraints, I'd highly recommend the Alilaguna instead. Think of it as a tour cruise and take advantage of the stops at each station to orient yourself to the city. They also have a fantastic map of the city at the ticket booth.

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    Ok, so on to Plitvice National Park...

    First a word about driving in Croatia. The highways in Croatia are really easy to navigate and feel brand new. I've driven a lot in various cities in the US...these roads are better than most I've seen in the states. So, if you're worried about driving in Croatia, I think you'll be fine except for Dubrovnik (madhouse that required quite a bit of concentration) and if you enter the "old towns" of some cities (narrow lanes, lots of pedestrians). Like most European highways, stay in the slow lane except to pass. People were flying past us and we were going a bit over the speed limit ourselves.

    Also, a GPS is really helpful. If still get a map to double check it though. Ours led us astray at least twice. We had the Garmin with us mainly because the chip with all of Europe's maps on it was only $80 and if we used PUR iPhones (we use the TomTom app), it was $70 for

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    Greece and another $70 for Croatia. Our rental car also came with the option of wifi for a daily fee, but we declined it (though it would've been handy a few times).

    So because we were 5 people and a baby, and the bus to Plitvice sounded iffy, we decided to rent in Rovinj and drive it. Everything was fine at first. Opatija was a nice stopping point as it's maybe 2.5 hours away. We picked it also after reading about it in the Rick Steves travel guide. After that, I would highly recommend putting "Otocac" into your GPS as ours started us on what might have been a shortcut through small country roads. It was dark by then and we likely missed a turn because the pavement stopped and we were now driving on a one-lane rocky path. Not fun after reading about the minefields. We managed to get both cars turned around and called the hotel for help. We were told to go to Otacac before exiting the expressway. Once we did that the signage was fine and we found our hotel without issue.

    We stayed at Hotel Plitvice and it was better than expected based on what I'd read online. The best part is that it's right in the park (maybe a 10 min walk to the entrance 2 ticket counter) and parking is free for guests. They sold out when my parents visited, so book early. They stayed at a sobe nearby and didn't really like it - no Internet despite advertising that they had it, not much for breakfast, and inconvenient...there's not much in the area beside the park, so might as well stay closeby.

    We had one superior double and one standard triple. They were right next to each other and the rooms were huge for European standards. Wifi worked well and the breakfast was hearty with lots of options.

    One complaint is that the A/C wasn't working well for either of our rooms so we ended up opening the windows. That worked fine for us, but FYI in case you like the room to be cold while you sleep.

    Check out was at noon and we could do a late checkout due to the hotel being fully booked the next day. And since we didn't finish breakfast until about 9am we decided to go ahead and check out even though we were hoping to shower after the hike.

    It felt like our luggage would be safe in the car. My parents and other friends who've hike there also said they felt fine leaving their luggage in the parking lot. In general, Croatia just feels safe.

    It was a good thing that we checked out because we tool our time hiking. I don't think it matters which section you hike first, but I'd maybe time it so that you're in the shade most of the time. We hiked the lower lakes first and saved the upper lakes for the end because the Rick Steves book had said the bottom half of the upper lakes were the best. We all liked the lower lakes better. The upper lakes are less open and haveore vegetation while the bottom has wide open sections of the lake. Personal preference, I guess.

    There are two boats that you can take to get between the two parts of the lake. You'll see on the map that's on the back of your ticket. One ride is short and one is long. They'll stamp your ticket after you take the long ride so you cannot retake that one. However, there's a tram that runs between Entrance 1 (lower lake) and Entrance 2 that you can take instead.

    We had some nice cold beers while waiting at Entrance 1 for the tram back up and a pretty decent lunch at the cafe by Entrance 2 (roasted chicken quarters with salad). If recommend the lunch there if you're going to hit the road afterwards. It's a pleasant setting, fast counter service, and the restrooms nearby are clean (in fact, Croatia has the cleanest public restrooms I've ever seen...there was even a self-cleaning one in our Opatija parking lot!).

    I would say that Plitvice is a must-see in Croatia. They've done a superb job of perserving it (though I wish you could swim in the lower lake at the end of all of those waterfalls...it wouldn't detract from the clarity of the other water, but I don't know what's downstream from there). You could do a fast easy hike around in 2 hours but I think we took about 3 hours with lots of stops.

    Next stop is Split...

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    Wow, what a small world! We must have stayed in the Montalbano apartment in Rovinj right after you did!

    Really liking your trip report so far, vmonk. We covered some of the same ground as you, and I'm in the process of writing/posting our TR right now.

    P.S. I agree 100% that Plitvice is a "must-see". We couldn't stop snapping pix.

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    There was no wifi with the hotel, but we managed to jump on some open networks if we sat on just the right stair step.

    Ha! That was me--through trial and error, I found that if I sat on the second step of the staircase leading up to the bedroom on the second level, I could pick up the restaurant's wifi fairly reliably (I asked for and was given the password since it is owned by the hotel). If I was on the couch, it was pretty spotty. I also resorted to sitting at an outside table at the restaurant a few times (when it wasn't busy), but not sure the staff liked that too well :)

    Nice report!

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    Funny, we must have been on the same step!  I think there was an open wireless signal as well if you couldn't get to the hotel signal. My brother also got signal on the steps of the doorway on the other side of the restaurant. It was late and the shops were closing, so no one seemed to mind.

    So on to Split - this was an easy drive and our GPS got us there just fine. We headed back out toward the main expressway from Plitvice and then followed signs to Split.

    We had to pick my parents up at the Split airport and that was a little hairy because the intersection on the smaller crossroad by the airport didn't have a traffic light.  We had to be careful with timing to cross and a ton of others were trying to take lefts at the same intersection.

    The airport is nice and new feeling. It's small, too. My parents were waiting right in front of the sliding doors when I walked in. They have the curb side access restricted to taxis and buses so we had to go into the parking lot and walk across. There are ramps for luggage and it's right across the drop off lanes, so no biggie. The first 15 min of parking is free, too.

    In Split, I debated on whether or not to stay in the old town and palace walls. Given that we'd done so in Rovinj and were going to do so again in Hvar, and because we were now 7 adults and 1 baby, and given the cost of the hotels in the palace...we decided to rent a house that's about a 10 minute walk from the palace. We're very happy with our decision. We were starting to tire of tourist centers and crowds and it gave us a taste of normal residential life in Croatia. Our lodging was also fantastic with an excellent kitchen, rooftop deck, and parking for both cars right in the driveway. It was raining during our stay so we didn't go to Trogir as planned, but it would've been an easy daytrip with the cars right there and not having to navigate the twisty streets in the center.  We were also due for some laundry and downtime, so all the amenities with TV, Internet and computer, washer/dryer, and bathtubs were coming at a great time.

    It was far enough out that it was completely quiet at night. During the day, you could hear what sounded like parties in the surrounding houses to watch the soccer games. Inside the house though, everything is completely soundproofed. To go into town, it was an easy 10 min walk.

    Finally, the rental was well-priced and the owner, Gordan, is fantastic.  He's easy going and organized, and very helpful with maps and orienting you to the city/neighborhood.  

    http://www.booking.com/hotel/hr/villa-marjan.en.html

    http://www.tripadvisor.in/Hotel_Review-g295370-d1465314-Reviews-Villa_Marjan-Split_Split_Dalmatia_County_Dalmatia.html

    We weren't expecting to like Split as the reviews were so mixed. However, we enjoyed it just fine.  We had out best meal in Croatia here. It was a recommendation from Gordan and within the palace walls.  Trattoria Bajamonte. The grilled seafood platter for two (though it easily fed three of us), was particularly good).

    http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g295370-d1516366-Reviews-Trattoria_Bajamonte-Split_Split_Dalmatia_County_Dalmatia.html

    Walking along the Riva, which is pretty short, especially compared to the Rovinj boardwalk, is nice during the day and after dinner.  We never made it to the fish market, but smelled it walking by later in the evening. :P  Per Gordan, it's best to go well before noon, though some guidebooks also said they start discounting fish around noon. 

    Next we go on the ferry to Hvar. The ferry process was super confusing while I was planning, so I'll try to provide some tips on it specifically in the next post!  

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    So on to Hvar...

    While in Split, we bought our car ferry tickets on Saturday, Sept 1 to go to Hvar on Sunday, Sept 2 and to Korcula on Tuesday, Sept 4. So, it was only one day early. Luckily Jadrolinija's schedules in person matched their schedules online (http://www.jadrolinija.hr/default.aspx?dpid=1522), so our planning worked out. You can buy tickets at the booth right in front of the palace...but if you want the Korcula tickets, they'll send you down to the docks at the main office (red roofed building by all the boats). They ask for names, genders of the passengers. For the Korcula ferry, they needed car make/model/license...I didn't have it on me, so I just took my best guess (which was WAY off) and she said it was fine and we could finish the check in in Hvar before our Korcula ferry.

    You buy your ticket for the DAY of travel, but not for the TIME. You can go on any boat that day and there were several from Split to Hvar. The ferry office told us to get our cars in line about 45 minutes to 1 hour before departure. If you miss a boat, you just go on the next one (if there are any) that day or you can change your ticket. My friends who went in June were told to get there 2 hours early and said the lines were filled up even then. Gordan told us some house guests were told to get there 3 hours early and still almost didn't get on.

    You leave your car parked in line and can then go and wander. However, boarding starts 30 minutes prior. Some people weren't back by then, so we just drove around their cars when loading. This is actually a pretty stressful process. The folks loading the cars are barking orders at the drivers who are trying to get their cars into tight parking spaces while others who have already parked (or passengers getting out of cars that are about to park) are trying to dodge the cars. And you have to make sure the driver has their ticket and all the passengers walking on have theirs, so people are trying to sort that out while they exit their cars. A complete mess, but somehow everyone gets their car in. It doesn't really matter what order you board though because they start new rows once one gets full and you car may end up being the last in a row.

    The ferry from Split was relatively spacious, but spots still fill up, especially if you want to sit inside or in the covered areas. It's all first come, first served for foot passengers. Food on the ferry (aside from bottled water and beers) wasn't great, so bring your own if you're picky. The ride wasn't bad though and we got to Stari Grad in Hvar right on schedule.

    The water in Stari Grad is beautiful, despite all the ferries. A bus was there meeting foot passengers. We drove over to the super market across the way to stock up and then headed into Hvar Town.

    We stayed at Apartment Ukic. http://www.hvar-apartments-center.com It's in the Rick Steves book. They charge by the person, so we didn't get any cost savings there, but it's in a great location. You let Lidiya know which ferry and what car(s) you're driving and her mother Ivana meets you at the Hvar Town bus stop. She then showed us to a parking lot (really just a fenced in rocky patch of grass by the bus stop) and we parked our cars. It's a 5 minute walk to the apartment from there. The place is basic, especially compared to Gordan's place in Split, but still functional. Two bedrooms share an interior courtyard and the third bedroom is accessed by walking through that courtyard space and up a flight of stairs. There's also a shared roof top deck, but it wasn't that pleasant (view of the rooftops, plastic seating, and uneven concrete...they could do so much more with the space!). Each bedroom has a kitchenette. The location is fantastic though. You are just 2 flights of stairs above the main square, and yet it's perfectly quiet at night. (There are church bells that go off at 6am though...and they are loud!) You come out right next to the outdoor market and grocery store.

    Hvar is beautiful and I'm glad we chose it over Korcula just because Korcula (as someone mentioned on this forum) is really more of a mini-Dubrovnik with it's wall (although much quieter). Hvar changes things up a bit and there was plenty for the various people in our group to do. When we were there, there was one section of maybe a dozen bars and clubs that felt like Spring Break for British youth. The main square is great for little kids running around without having to worry about traffic. Walking around the harbor is also nice in the day and night. There is a quieter jazz club between the main square and the loud clubs...a little bit up the hill. There are also some quieter and hip bars along the steps leading up from the far left corner of the square (if you are looking at the church with your back to the water).

    We took a peek into the Franciscan monastery, but unfortunately weren't there for any music events. It seemed that concerts were on Wednesdays and Sundays and I did see a website for something like the Hvar Summer Concert Schedule, but cannot locate the site now. They had a grand piano setup on the stage ready to go... We didn't make it to the nunnery, but the lace exhibit sounded interesting.

    There were few things I didn't love about Hvar, though the good outweighs the bad. In Rovinj, we had the friendly woman stuffing our pockets with dates. Here the produce stands were less friendly and prices weren't always marked. The fish in the market, even early in the morning, wasn't that fresh looking (I guess the good stuff goes to the restaurants). A lot of the restaurants have scantily dressed girls standing out front trying to get you to eat at the restaurant. We thought it was odd and one place we went to (on a local's suggestion) was packed and certainly didn't need to employ those techniques.

    The restaurant, btw, was Kod Kapetana. It was OK. The Split meal was MUCH better and MUCH cheaper. The service was good and friendly, though.
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g303808-d2213416-Reviews-Kod_Kapetana-Hvar_Hvar_Island_Split_Dalmatia_County_Dalmatia.html We decided to cook for our next meal given the prices and OK food.

    The beaches were also just OK. The water is super, super clear, so that's nice, but both that we tried within walking distance (one in front of the monastery and the other further down in the next bend) were tiny, packed with people, and full of sharp rocks. If you have tender feet, you'll definitely need your flipflops or water shoes here. There is a very nice gentleman who operates some kiosks right by the beach in front of the monastery. You can get water socks for about $10 and we bought some nice hats from him for about $10-15 each. I actually brought water shoes, but flip flops would have been fine because the waves weren't big.

    Two days were nice on Hvar and if we had a third, then we would have probably driven to explore other parts of the island. We didn't really need the car though, except that it made it easier to travel w/the baby and luggage - it still would have been manageable by bus though. We also opted to keep the cars because we wanted to drive down the Peljesac Peninsula to get to Dubrovnik. If I had it to do over again though, I think I would have left the cars in Split and just skipped the Peninsula and ferried into Dubrovnik instead. More on that later though.

    I'm also glad we got a place with a/c. We needed it for the babies naps during the daytime and it kept her asleep in the mornings when the bells went off b/c our windows were closed. It was relatively cool at night, so you may not need it if you don't need your room cold. We'd also read about mosquitos...I got maybe one bite, so they weren't a problem for me...and I hate mosquitos!

    Up next is our longest day ever...we knew it was going to be bad, but there wasn't a good way around it...

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    Back home with a repaired laptop, so hopefully fewer typos/auto-corrects, but means I'm back in the real world again, so I'm going to rush through before I forget everything!

    I'll put headings on everything in this section so you can skip to the parts that pertain to you.


    TAKING THE CAR FERRY FROM HVAR TO KORCULA:
    We'd timed it so that we could take the car ferry from Hvar to Korcula (only on Tuesdays and, I think, Saturdays) and then drive down the Pelješac peninsula to get to Dubrovnik. The ferry that arrived was much more crowded and much less comfortable than the one we took Sunday, so I'm not sure what's worse...the ferry ride or the drive. I *think* I'd lean towards just taking a passenger ferry instead of doing our drive...just because it's easier. It's cheaper, too.

    So...let's get on with the day... The 20 minute drive from Hvar Town to Stari Grad was easy. The line for the Korcula ferries is on the far right, on the other side of the median. There's a good cafe with wifi (if you buy a coffee) and outdoor seating, so it was a pleasant wait.

    The ferry arrived and it was the usual chaos of cars driving off out of their tight parking spaces, pedestrians trying to find their transportation, and new passengers and cars trying to get on. Once on, we found that it was absolutely packed with passengers from Split. We tried going to the restaurant to see if we could sit there if we had a meal. The gentleman there was very rude and said to come back at noon. We were a party of 8 and there was no way we were going to find seats together...I'm not sure there were even 2 seats together.

    We went to the reception to see if we could book a cabin. That gentleman was much more helpful and said to go back and tell the restaurant that he said we could sit there. So back we go, and now the waiter is throwing a fit while another waiter removes place settings from one of the center tables for us. Soon enough other passengers with no where to sit start trickling in, as directed by the receptionist.

    We notice there's a couple who've been granted a seat by the window and have menus, but the rest of us have to wait for some reason. It's a long ride and eventually we are able to dine. The food was surprisingly decent. The restrooms were not.


    TAKING THE FERRY FROM KORCULA (DOMINCE) TO OREBIC:
    In Korcula, more madness as cars begin filing out...except there are passengers bound for Dubrovnik who did not realize they also needed to be in their cars as they are blocking the Korcula-bound car. So, there's lots of shouting and public broadcasting of license plates and eventually everyone gets off. We manage to flag down our driver and head straight for the ferry to Orebic (we don't have a lot of time as our cars are due in Dubrovnik at 6:30pm).

    We have to ask for directions to the terminal, but once there, it's much easier compared to the other car ferries. You buy your tickets before boarding and then drive right on. It's an easy and beautiful 20 minute or so ride to the mainland.


    THE PELJESAC PENINSULA:
    The Pelješac is pretty with lots of curvy roads along the mountains overlooking the ocean. We aren't loving the rocky beaches, so we don't mind just looking at them from the car. We stop by the Grgich winery for a quick tasting (very simple setup - nothing fancy, no view or seating) and then continue on to Ston. The baby has fallen asleep so we just step out to snap a picture and continue on to Mali Ston.

    We were excited about the oysters in Mali Ston and the Kapetanova Kuća restaurant. Again, our meal in Split was much better (and probably half the price).


    RENTING FROM ORYX (WITH OR WITHOUT AUTOEUROPE):
    The meal also took so long that we were now going to be late for our car rental drop-off. I'd been told by AutoEurope that it would be fine and we could just drop it off at the airport before midnight. Well, that turns out to be untrue. I call the Oryx office ("Zagrebačka b.b." location) as a courtesy. He said to call back after he talks to the airport. I call back and he said they need the cars, so he will wait for us.

    We drop everyone and the bags off at Pile Gate and head try to find the car rental office. What should have been a 5-10 minute drive takes us 40 minutes as we drive in circles. The car rental guy had said to use "Zagrebačka b.b." in the GPS, but it wasn't coming up. The police officer I spoke to also had no idea where the Oryx office was, but tried to give directions. We eventually spot the Oryx sign (if you go, it turns out that Zagrebačka b.b. is the only public parking lot in the town center, so look for the public parking garage signage once you're on that street).

    The rest of our night gets shady starting here. There's a young guy working at Oryx and when we get there, he's off dropping off a car. We find him and he lets us into the parking lot, but then asks us to go get gas. We hadn't been able to find a gas station (and we started looking after the peninsula), but he directs us to one. So we go get gas, after all, we feel bad that we're late. Then we go up and he says that we should get charged another day, but instead we can pay 35 euros as a late fee. If we charged it, it'll be 60 euros (or something like that). This is all done very slickly and driving in Dubrovnik (let alone the day of ferries and the curvy peninsula road) have completely exhausted. We start to pay cash, but don't have enough, so we need to charge it. He's already hit print on the receipts though and said we paid cash, so we need to go to the ATM to get cash, or he'll accept kunas. We give him the cash and then head back to pick up our family who have been waiting with the bags for probably an hour now. I look at the receipts later that night and there's no mention of our "penalty" fee. Oh well.


    FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF DUBROVNIK:
    It is simply gorgeous and feels a bit like Disneyland - everything is shiny, well-lit, and well-preserved. The town walls and buildings feel like a movie set. We enter Pile Gate and, luckily, there's a ramp for those of us with wheeled luggage. However, the people are a big mix of tourist-weary/cold and friendly/helpful.

    The Stradun (main pedestrian street) is lively and still full of people (it's about 9pm). I've heard that you don't want to be in this city during high season and when there are cruise ships in town...and I can see why. It's already hard enough for us to walk down and it's shoulder season.

    The distances are pretty short compared to what I expected from the map. It's easy to wheel our luggage on the streets and the steps from the Stradun up to the next block aren't bad. In fact, I think I only recall a few steps and the rest of it is more of an incline. It's the ones from that next street up to the subsequent streets until you reach the Ploce Gate that are all steps.

    Also, there are groups of girls sashaying up and down the Stradun with their arms linked and dressed in matching high heels, short cutoff jean shorts, and tight baby tees. They're out every night and I'm guessing it's all for the same club. I don't recall seeing them in front of restaurants, like in Hvar, though. I also saw some Dominican friars dressed in their white robes...that made for an interested juxtaposition.

    Overall, it's nice to end our Croatia trip here...it seems like the highlight of the vacation.


    STAYING IN DUBROVNIK AT LA MAISON DE LORA (AKA RAGUSA'S APARTMENTS LA FAMIGLIA):
    In Dubrovnik, we are staying at an apartment a block above the Stradun. Isabelle with Butterfly Services was great about helping us with the reservation, but once there, we are essentially in the hands of the apartment managers.

    http://www.butterflyservices.hr/en/holiday_rentals/rentals/view_apartment/1

    http://www.dubrovnik-apartments.com/la_famiglia.htm

    We are supposed to go to the Ragusa 2 restaurant and either Lora or her staff will help us (actually the instructions are to go to Restaurant Lora, but it's actually called Ragusa 2). When we arrive, I find a waiter and let them know we're here for the apartment. Aside from one very friendly waiter, the rest of the waitstaff is strangely cold. They just sort of stare and then someone gets on the phone. Anyhow, this very tall guy with long and wavy blond hair leads us to an apartment. It's a tight squeeze between diners out on the sidewalk and we lug our luggage (and I'm packing my baby) up a circular staircase and two more flights of stairs. We're sweating at the top and I see that it's not at all the same as the place in the website. We all file back down, including me with the baby on my back and my senior citizen parents, and the waiter seems completely unfazed. No apology, no help with bags, nothing. Then a girl arrives and I later figure out that she's from the apartment management company. She apologized and explains that the guy wasn't supposed to take us to this one and she had told him to wait for her to arrive. We are about to head out of the lobby when an older man comes in and starts yelling at her...to the point that she's about to cry. We don't understand Croatian and aren't sure who he is - is he trying to get us to stay in this cheaper apartment, maybe? We eventually see him out monitoring the diners, and think maybe we were crossing through his restaurant to get to the apartment. Again, there's eight of us with luggage, so it's not easy.

    We eventually get to our apartment. It's got enough space for all of us and is nice, but it is above an (mostly empty) bar that is BLASTING music. On top of that, one of the bedrooms requires you to leave your window open in order for the a/c unit's exhaust pipe to hang out the window. So that bedroom won't get as cool and will hear all the street noise. Good thing we brought ear plugs! It means it'll be quiet, though you can still feel the walls shaking from the bass!


    EATING IN DUBROVNIK (PIZZA):
    The girl from the apartment management group is helpful in recommending a pizza place so we can bring some back and just relax. She said it's the best pizza in the city and I believe her...we loved every bite! The waiter is super friendly and helpful in recommending his favorite pizzas.
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g295371-d1139416-Reviews-Oliva_Pizzeria-Dubrovnik_Dubrovnik_Neretva_County_Dalmatia.html

    We pick up some beers and wine from a convenience store on the Stradun and head home to decompress.

    Next up are tips and recommendations from our next two days in Dubrovnik...

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    Did you go to the Buza Bar. We went to both and that was great. We also swam in the beach just south of the wall and that was great too. We did the same trip, bet we went to Lake Bled and flew in and out of Venice. We are thinking of a trip next year, possibly Greece. Do you recommend Greece?

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    Hey James_P, I went to Buza II and part of our group went to both Buza Bars I and II. I found it really difficult at Buza II to get in the water, especially with a toddler, so we just hung out on the rocks and let an occasional wave splash onto us. In fact, I found it hard to even get down to the water with the flights of steep, uneven steps. By the time we made it the baby really wanted to get down and it was late in the afternoon, so we decided to stay put. It was pretty crowded on the rocks, but a big group was leaving, so it was fine after that. The few who were in the water said it was tricky to get out...you need to get a firm foothold and then wait for a wave to push you up onto the rocks so you can climb out. There was no way I was going to attempt that with a baby! We managed to secure a little spot on the rocks right by the water. One our way back up there was tons of trash (empty cups, etc.) tucked into corners of the rocks...I'm assuming it got picked up by the waitstaff after hours, but didn't see any waitstaff serving anyone down by the water.

    We went back up to the seating area to grab drinks and watch the sunset. It would have been a lot more impactful if we'd had a seat in the first row, but instead we were along the back wall as that was the only place that could accommodate our party of four.

    The rest of the group that went to both Buza Bars I and II said they liked I better (which, BTW, is different from the opinion in the Rick Steves book). They said the stairs were much easier, there were more open spaces, and maybe 4-5 handrails set up around the rocks to help people in and out of the water. They said Buza II was too crowded when they went and it was too hard to get into the water.


    ***
    As for Greece, yes, I would recommend it. The people were very warm and friendly, we found quite a few sandy beaches (our personal preference), and the prices were great! Croatia (especially Dubrovnik) was more expensive than we expected.

    There's also something for everyone in Greece - archeological sites, cultural immersion, and beautiful scenery.

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    So to wrap up this report...and apologize again for all the typos and grammar mistakes...I'm really hurrying through this before I forget and because I've got work to do!

    THE WALL
    We hiked the wall as that's the must-see attraction. It was worth every moment. Lots of beautiful views into the town, above the rooftops, and down to the water.

    One group went in the morning around 9am and liked it because it wasn't too hot or crowded yet - however it was still quite a sweaty hike. We went around 10am and it was fine because it was a cloudy day. In fact, a cold front was blowing in towards the end, so even though we were hot, it wasn't as bad as a noon hike could have been. The other group went in the evening. No one really ran into any major tour groups, but when we were finishing our hike, there was a long line to get in and lots of tour groups were starting to gather at Pile Gate.

    It's a little over a mile long and took us about 2.5 hours going at a leisurely pace and stopping for photos. Bring water and sun protection. There are a few cafes with shade along the way. It's probably everyone's favorite thing about the city. My senior citizen parents had no problems with it (though they're in pretty good shape) and I hiked it with my baby in a baby carrier. Just try not to get stuck behind a large tour group as some parts are narrow and it could be hard to pass them if you're wanting to go faster.

    That's really all the touristy stuff we did besides the Buza Bars mentioned above. No kayaking, no gondola ride, no musical events...we just relaxed, ate, and strolled the rest of the time.

    FOOD:
    We ate at Komenice which is in the square near the farmer's market and the Konzum supermarket. It was pretty simple and decent food - fried anchovies, raw oysters, etc. The service was fine, too. There was a table setup with menus by the fountain and that's where the line is as well. It moved pretty quickly.
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g295371-d1101077-Reviews-Kamenice-Dubrovnik_Dubrovnik_Neretva_County_Dalmatia.html

    We also ate at Oliva's Pizza again - they have a pizza by the slice window that's handy for snacks. Very tasty stuff.

    Best Gelato Ever (IMO) - if you like dark, almost bitter chocolate, there is a place with a delicious dark chocolate gelato on the Stradun. It's on north side of the street (further from the water) on the end near the bell tower (opposite end from Pile Gate). If you start walking towards Pile Gate from the bell tower, I'd estimate it will be about 1/5 of the way down on your right. The signs with the names for each flavor are stuck into the gelato itself on little stands and it was a black sign with yellow bars on the edges that said "Extra Dark." The gelato looks almost black. My sister got the Stracciatella and had been sampling gelato almost daily on our trip and said it was the best gelato she'd had the entire trip.


    AIRPORT
    We had people leaving on four different flights. One took the airport bus run by Atlas Travel. To get the schedule, you can go down to the Atlas Travel office that's by Pile Gate. When walking away from the city from the Pile Gate, walk past the fountain to the war memorial (black, electronic, & rectangular monument) and turn left to go down the stairs. You'll see the schedule on a stand in the office (it changes with the flight schedules). You can pick up from the main bus station, but the stop by the gondola is walking distance from old town. I think the times listed are for the main bus station and then add maybe 5-10 min to estimate when they'd get to the second stop above old town (but maybe not - check with them). Anyhow, there are a lot more stairs up to Ploce Gate than there are down to Pile Gate, but still manageable. Once out of the city walls, go up to the main road and turn right. You'll see the bus stop on the right hand side of the road and the gondola is right behind it. The bus is 35 kn or 5 euros and was a piece of cake - they put your luggage in the bottom and you climb aboard to go directly to the airport.

    The rest of us took taxis arranged by Isabelle with Butterfly Services. She was great in helping us book one for a 5:30am taxi ride and to find a taxi with a carseat. We could be sure we were getting into the right car because she'd emailed us the make, model, color, and license plate information. They met us by the war memorial near Pile Gate. Again, it was an easy drive to the airport and we were there in about 30 minutes and 35 euros, if I recall correctly. There were plenty of taxis at the stand when we left around 2pm, so you could probably negotiate something lower. However, with a 5:30am pickup and a baby seat, we felt more comfortable with the reservation.


    TRAVEL SUPPORT
    I'd also like to mention that Isabelle with Butterfly services reached out to me about this post. They work very hard to maintain their service levels and she said she has reached out to the Maison de Lora owners to let them know about the check-in experience. They don't manage that particular apartment (which is very nice), but they advertise for them as the apartment meets their standards. She said they care not only about the accommodation, but about the hospitality of the hosts, so she wanted to make sure the manager was aware of the incident. I think it was mainly a miscommunication, but it's definitely not how anyone (travelers or agency employees) want to end a long day!

    So, I was already impressed with Butterfly Services before the trip, but now even more so! She also mentioned that they have a physical office near Pile Gate - Isabelle was so helpful with trip planning that I would have gone by to say "hi" had I known they were right there!

    Hope this helps future travelers and thanks to all the past Fodorites for helping me figure out this trip!

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    Did you go up mountain above Dubruvnik to the museum regarding the 90's war?The guy who owned the B&B we stayed in took us up there in his car as he does for all his guests and told us his experiences in the war. This was also the best picture taking spot. We have the pic on our wall.

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    Hey James_P, We did not, but my friends who went liked it...especially because one of them is interested in all things history/military. I think it would have been interesting to hear more perspectives about the war. It blows my mind that it happened so recently and people were sheltering behind walls built hundreds of years ago. I would have liked to have seen Lake Bled in Slovenia as well. We lost a little steam towards the end - traveling with a toddler took it out of us. :P

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    This is a great, great report, one of the best I have ever read. It is extremely informative, and it shows a real, intelligent personality coming through.

    I have been to all the places you mention except Korcula and would make a few comments.

    (1) we needed air conditioning in October; I can't imagine what wonky a/c in August must have been like.
    (2) I really liked starting at the upper lake in Pitlivice with a break for food in the middle after the boat ride. The down side is that you go downhill for a long time, then you have to climb like hell to get out of the gorge.
    (3) I live on Nantucket here in the US, and the ferry from Split to Hvar was just like being at home, with the same madness getting on and off, but with the addition of heavy smoking on board.
    (4) We are a tourist economy here, and I do know that the last weeks before Labor Day are a real test of patience and good will.

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    Thanks for the trip report and especially the very helpful tips! We're going to visit a friend who lives near Split in September or October, and we might just adopt your itinerary! We'll likely fly into and out of Venice.

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    This was such an informative report, totally awesome! I am headed to Croatia in May and you have shared a lot of excellent, helpful tips that will help with my planning!
    Thanks!

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    I somehow missed this wonderful trip report until just now - thanks so much for posting! It sounds like you and your family handled some very stressful moments with grace and ended up with good memories -- so glad to hear that!

    I thoroughly agree with your observation that Venice and Rovinj are quite different. The only "real" similarity IMHO is the design of the church tower.

    I also noted that you selected Hvar Town over Korcula Town in part because you had read that Korcula is a "mini-Dubrovnik." FWIW to any subsequent readers of this post, I disagree. Like Dubrovnik, Korcula is walled, but I didn't find that a compelling similarity. Unlike Dubrovnik, which has a stunning array of Renaissance architecture, Korcula has mostly medieval architecture. For me, that made them seem very different.

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