17 days in Croatia and Slovenia


Sep 7th, 2014, 09:31 AM
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17 days in Croatia and Slovenia

This is a much belated post.

I spent 17 days in Croatia, with the last 3 days in Slovenia, in late May/June. I didn't have the time to report on this, due to a manic work schedule upon my return.

I just want to point out some highlights in our trip, and some things I learned, in case they are helpful

1) Absolutely loved Split. Many people skip over this town or just use it to pass through. I'd recommend staying there a couple nights. It's refreshing after being in touristy old towns with expensive and similar menus everywhere , to be in a town with a bit more selection, great outdoor markets, etc. We ate at a konobas in the Varos district 3 times while in Split and they were 3 of the best meals we had the whole trip as far as good quality, better prices, and more variety (lots of grilled veggies, and even barbecued frog legs!). Very nice after all the high end and somewhat bland spots in Dubrovnik.

2) I couldn't drink the house wines anywhere. To get a wine that I could palate, I had to order a $30-$40 bottle from Istria which seems to be the only area not so hot and humid, that the wines can actually maintain a bit of acidity in freshness. I found a couple better bargains at the grocery store after much trial and error and found that we really preferred to go get a btl from the store and drink in apt vs buying the $30-$40 btl of white wine at the restaurant. We found a decent white from Slavonia that we bought for around $12 in the grocery store, and would stock this in our apt as much as possible. We had to be careful to buy the freshest vintage though as many shops had old vintages on the shelves and white wines from this kind of climate really do not taste well with age.
Mostly we drank beer or liquor. And I've been in the wine industry for 12 years and drink wine pretty much every day, so It's a strange thing for me to drink only beer or liquor. But I knew going into the vacation it wasn't going to be about food and wine for me, it was about scenery!

3) LOVED Dubrovnik. 'Pearl of the Adriatic' is really a perfect way to describe it. We just missed the peak tourist season, but even when we were there (late May) there were huge cruiseships that pulled up and filled the entire town with throngs of tour groups. I'd suggest going off-season, and getting up early in the AM. I got my best walks and photos in, before 9am. My jet lag had me up at 5am the first few mornings and in fact, that was the best time I spent- winding through the quaint old town tiny passageways and memorizing the cafes and restaurants I'd come back to later. DO make sure to make time to walk around the wall.
Food was largely mediocre and overpriced here but we did have a nice meal at the Bosnian place Taj Majal that we really enjoyed, one evening.

Near Dubrovnik:

We rented a car and drove around the Pljet peninsula and Ston/Mali-Ston (area known for it's oysters) one day. We were taken to a house (by a restaurant owner we met in Dubrovnik: Goron from Fish called Wanda) that apparently was also a restaurant but had no sign or name and ate a 7 course seafood menu, cooked by course, as the seafood was brought out of the water next to our table. It was a 3.5 hour lunch as they had 1 person cooking, and were using a small residential stove. Possibly the BEST black squid ink risotto I've had in my life (and I lived in Italy!), amazing squid, oysters, mussels, sardines, and fish stew. We paid $40/person. SO MUCH better than anything we could possibly have gotten in Dubrovnik.
after lunch we tried our hand at some wine tasting, but disliked the wines so much we gave up on stopping at wineries and just enjoyed the beautiful drive. We stopped at the Wall in Ston, and walked around the ramparts. If we'd had more time we could have walked up the stairs and around the wall all the way to Mali-Ston! Very very cool. Also there are salt fields across the road from here which have an interesting history.

4) We had planned to go to Plitvice Natl Park and according to all of my updated travel books there should have been multiple buses and trains from Split. Not the case. We showed up at 11am in Split and there were no more buses that day. The train was out of order. It was also apparently a 5-6 hour drive which my books had failed to convey. I was REALLY disappointed as I wanted to see some natural wonders and some parks and hike a bit on the trip, but the friend I was traveling with decided we should just stay another night in Split since transportation was such a pain. So we ate our way through Split, did the tours of the old town, were serenaded by the tenors in the square, and found a great little wine shop where the owner let us use his wifi and helped make phone calls for us. He also had the best wine selection I'd seen thus far in Croatia. I'll have to look up the name of the wine bar but the owner's name is Egor, and it's in the old town section with no traffic, just next to a cafe.
One of the best parts of our stay in Split was the cute little apartment we got, perfectly located in the tiny 'old town centre'. This is the no traffic, polished white stone streets area just steps away from the main centre with Diocletian's palace and the big outdoor market. I found the apt on airbnb. The host , Josip, was a very sweet man, the place was clean and perfect and a great price( about $50/night and it had a room with 2 beds, a nice little kitchenette and bathroom and wifi):
We wished we could have spent more time in this apt and neighborhood.

5) Hvar: I had misgivings about this island as it is publicized as being the 'party' island and we in fact were on a ferry full of spring breakish type American college students on the way over. However, once arriving, we could not deny the fact that this was one of the most beautiful towns and places we had seen. The old ramparts at the top overlooking the city were wonderful to explore, and gorgeous seen lit up at night. The old town had a thousand different winding staircases and small streets to walk down.
The food was our least favorite in the country as it was all touristy, and very similar. We didn't find great quality or value here, but we knew this going into it. We did take a half day trip over to Stari-Grad by bus one day and found a great fresh fish/seafood feast at a lovely spot there that was recommended to us by our local boat driver the day before, Eremitaz. He said he couldn't afford to go out to eat seafood in Hvar. He had to go to Stari-Grad. For about $20/person we had a big platter with 3 different grilled fishes, some squid, roasted potatoes and veggies. Plenty of food and less than 1/2 the price we would have paid in Hvar.
On the subject of boat drivers: We hired a guy named Tony (very very tall guy with dark skin and long dark hair very surfer dude type vibe) to drive us around the nearby lagoons, caves, and beaches for the day. It was our big splurge for the trip and cost us about $220 total for the entire day. We paid to have the speed boat all to ourselves and stop when/where we wanted. We hit a few very cool small beaches, one nude beach, the green lagoon, the blue lagoon (absolutely breathtaking) and stopped at one of the small islands for lunch. I wish I could remember which one, but we had been drinking wine on the boat. We had a fabulous meal of greasy lamb, grilled potatoes with olive oil and a big salad. Much better than anything we found in Hvar. The highlight of this day was the blue lagoon, and the trip itself during which we got to cruise around the ocean watching all of the islands pass by, and then coming back into Hvar at the end of the day by boat was very cool. If we had to do it again, we thought we might hire a sailboat and share it with a few other traveers the next time, as it's slower paced and more relaxing.

The Tenors:
One of the best experiences I had on this trip, was going to a night concert, in the old cathedral in Hvar. It was an outdoor ampitheatre type space, and we listed to the absolutely amazing Hvar Tenor group for about 2.5 hours. I admit, I didn't know how long we'd find this interesting, but their voices, the music and the setting were so magical, even my friend and I, in our 30's, and not being on a romantic vacation, got misty eyed, and were spell bound the entire time. If I were to have a 'sounds of Croatia' soundtrack, this is what I would put on it.

Next up came Zagreb and Llubljana. Will post on those later
Brooke_Herron is offline  
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Sep 7th, 2014, 10:11 AM
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It's great that you enjoyed Split. Some people do. I was there two nights, and I didn't like it much. Didn't hate it, but wouldn't go back, personally. Perhaps you were there at a better time. I was there in mid-October, mid-week, and the town seemed pretty dead.

There are no trains to Plitvice, only buses. I drove to Plitvice (from Zagreb), but if I were going to take public transportation from Split to Plitvice, I'd check schedules first on the internet and then directly at the bus station (if I had the opportunity), the day before departure, to confirm the real departure times (and do I need to buy tickets in advance?). I wouldn't rely on even the most recent travel book for bus departure information.
Andrew is online now  
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Sep 7th, 2014, 06:02 PM
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Thank you for posting Brooke! We are going in October so I am really enjoying and appreciating your trip report. Waiting for more!
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Sep 7th, 2014, 10:47 PM
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Thanks for checking back in! I'm glad you enjoyed your trip.

I, too, thoroughly enjoyed a dinner at Eremitaz in Stari Grad -- one of my favorite meals in Croatia.
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Sep 10th, 2014, 11:15 AM
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Thanks for the report. Interesting opinions about Split (split opinions), I haven't been there but hancied going there. Looking forward to the Slovenia report.
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Sep 29th, 2014, 12:12 PM
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thanks for posting...we are considering a week long trip in April...your thoughts on the main points of int is helpful
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Sep 29th, 2014, 01:28 PM
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Great report and tips. Thanks for posting.
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Oct 6th, 2014, 02:40 PM
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Update: Zagreb was a fantastic city. I'm really glad we chose to end the trip here, vs start the trip here. It doesn't feel as ....'Croatian' as the rest of the places we visited. Much more multicultural and European. Exactly what we wanted/needed after 2 weeks of islands, Dalmatian cuisine (fairly the same everywhere), pure Croatian dream locations, and touristed spots. We absolutely loved the picturesque villages and those were our highlights of the country as far as memories but we were really excited and glad to be in a city at the end, where we could find other types of ethnic cuisine, buy things at better prices, meet people who do not survive on tourism alone, etc etc. We met folks from around the world, while frequenting wine bars, and restaurants. There was an outdoor music festival starting when we arrived in early July which kept the squares packed of throngs of people, and the weather was quite hot.

We enjoyed just walking around, seeing the different squares, eating some light non -Croatian food, and visiting the churches,etc.

The highlight for me in Zagreb was, to my surprise, The Naive Art Museum. I tend to lean more towards outdoor activities, and beautiful outdoor and architectural sites when I travel, than to art museums (a year in Italy and visits to every museum in the country cured me of my love for visiting too many museums), but the description of this unique period in art history (the Naive art movement) peaked my interest and I'm really glad I went because I absolutely loved the art, and the fact that I learned about something so different that I'd never heard of

The walk to the museum takes you past St Mark's church, another really unique sight. I hadn't seen anything like it in Croatia, and this again was a welcome surprise at the end of our trip. There are also some great vistas of the city on the way to the museum and it takes you into some winding upward streets that have some cool little spots that feel less trafficked.

The cathedral (of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) closer to the center is also very picturesque. At this point in our trip we had seen so many cathedrals and climbed so many bell towers our joke was 'hey I really want to climb another bell tower, let's find one!' so when we reached Zagreb, we simply packed a bottle of the nice Istrian Malvasia we had become partial to, and took it to drink on the benches outside the cathedral while we partook of it's shade. It was a nice way to experience it without having to tour it

We like the Opera House in the very center park (near the train station) best, architecturally and found a great gelato place nearby with lines down the street we figured must be the best, but I forget the name. My friend left a few days earlier than I (about 12 days in) and I went on to take the train from Zagreb to Lllubljana in Slovenia for a couple of days.

Although I can't say anything really exciting about Llubljana It was an incredibly picturesque town, with a gorgeous castle and lovely cobbled streets winding alongside a center moat. I was a bit weary of walking all day in the heat and looking at castles at this time, so I spent some time befriending a local wine bar/shop owner and his friends, and spent a day lazing around drinking wine, and then taking a break to go run in the evening when it got cooler, getting a massage (at the first hotel I'd been at on this trip),etc. The highlight of my trip to Llubljana, was the half day trip I took to Lake Bled (one of most beautiful scenes I've seen in my life) on the bus. I walked down to the train station got a train there. Got off the bus, hiked up to the Castle, from which the views of Lake Bled and the little castle in the middle of the Lake are spectacular and then, feeling a bit sad that I wasn't here with my romantic partner(like everyone else visiting and taking their pictures of each other) I ate lunch down at one of the spots in town overlooking the lake (grilled calamari, a green salad, and some Slovenian white table wine which was markedly better than Croatian white table wine).

This concluded my trip. The next morning I caught the 1.5 hour train back to Zagreb, took a $5 taxi ride from the bus station to the train station and then took the $2 tram from the train station to the airport buses. $10 airport bus to the airport and I was off on my way home!
I'd like to caution that if you are going to the airport in Zagreb you should be aware that there is almost literally nothing there. Just a waiting room for all the flights. No shopping or restaurants. This doesn't really bother me normally, but on this particular day I actually went so early to the airport I regretted not having stopped and had a nice lunch somewhere first with the extra time and my last Croatian money. I didn't realize how small and easy the airport would be to get to/through
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Oct 6th, 2014, 04:50 PM
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I, too, really enjoyed Zagreb and found the contrast of its Austro-Hungarian heritage to that of other parts of Croatia (with italian or Ottoman or Venician or other influences in various proportions) interesting. It isn't everyone's cup of tea, though, so I'm glad you found it to your liking.
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Oct 6th, 2014, 07:28 PM
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