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Trip Report A Month in Croatia

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Just back from a month in Croatia ten days ago. Beautiful country, everywhere we went! I would like to pass along some info that might be helpful to those of you who are anticipating a trip there in the near future. Here is a synopsis with just the pertinent points that may be helpful; may be considered a short trip report. I am tryng to keep this brief so if anyone wants more detail be sure to ask.

Flew into Zagreb, spent 3 days at the Palace Hotel. Highly recommend it; the breakfast buffet is outstanding, rooms very nice and the location ideal. It is on Strossmeyer which has parks all along it for three long blocks, leading to the “cafe streets”,off to the left on the way to Jelacic Square ( Croatian). The cost was reasonable considering all of that: about $120 a night. We were pleased with the ambiance in Zagreb although it does not have the cache of other European capitals. Some of you will appreciate that, some not. We took the Zagreb City Tour (bus) and would not recommend it—boring, and the little bit of recorded commentary was hard to hear and understand. However, we did visit the Zagreb City Museum which we found to be a very complete history of the city and very interesting and definitely worthwhile. Our favorite restaurant was Carpaccio on Tesle, just off one of the “cafe streets”, Preradoviceva. We also stayed at the Palace for two nights at the end of the trip and found another great restaurant, Vinodol. Both were fairly priced costing us $60 to $70 including wine and gratuity. These were splurges, for us. Lunch was at a pizza and pasta place which we cannot remember the name of. It is across from the cathedral up the hill.. Good food and a nice lunch stop.

From Zagreb we rented a car and drove less than an hour to Pansion (or Guesthouse) Pavlin near Samobor; it was out of town a few minutes but entirely delightful, surrounded by their own vineyards, in-house restaurant with what I would consider home-cooking and light, bright, clean rooms. We took our dinner at the guesthouse. Ward tried the area's special apertif, Bermet, and liked it; reminded him slightly of Sherry, but with a citrus twist. The owner's of the pansion make their own from their vineyards and have won awards for it and for their nice light white wine. Samobor is a pleasant town with a river running through it, but one night's stay is enough, in our opinion.

Next we started for Rovinj, got on the wrong road and ended up traversing hairpin curves and little villages for a couple of hours. However, it was beautiful and we eventually found our way to the motorway and got to Rovinj. Parking is difficult in Rovinj and we ended up at the costly public parking place by the sea and the open air market. From there we walked to the harbor where the Porta Antica rental office is and Marino acquainted us with a few things then walked us to our apartment 5 minutes away; “La Carera”. It was up one flight, had two windows in the living area looking out over some rooftops to the harbor. It was clean, roomy and comfortable. We had a separate bedroom which we always prefer. The downside was a very basic kitchenette; really only suitable for heating water for coffee or tea. Or perhaps heating something up on the two burner stove. NO countertop! The apt. is on Carera street which is the main shopping street and just a couple of minutes from the harbor. We spent five days in Rovinj giving us time to do daytrips in Istria if we wanted. Marino had some suggestions for a cheaper place to leave our car.

Rovinj was entirely enjoyable. Places to shop are plentiful and varied and there is always something interesting going on along the long harbor front. Fishing boats coming and going, excursions boats, and individual fisherman plus the opulent yachts. One day there was a wedding celebration right on the harbor, complete with band and about 100 guests! It was a Croatian man and a Serb woman getting married and they bussed in the band and many relatives from Serbia. The streets are fairly level until about two streets off the harbor and then they are all gradually uphill. The walk up to St. Euphemia cathedral was quite steep, but frequent stops at the artists and souvenir displays made it pleasant. Fabulous views from up on the hill!
We can recommend the restaurant, The Dream, which was just off Carera to the right, near the end of the street, if you are walking away from the cathedral. I had chicken fillets on rucola with a wine sauce and Ward had a pasta with a truffle sauce. The soft jazz playing in the background was very relaxing.

Preferring short travel days, we opted to stop near Opatia at Pansion Stanger in Lovran. It was raining so we just drove through some of the streets in Opatia to enjoy the beautiful buildings from the Austro-Hungarian era when this was a very elegant and popular spa town with the wealthy. We highly recommend the Stanger, very nice rooms and restaurant. I believe every room has a view of the Adriatic.

Next day we headed south for Split which was very difficult (for us anyway) to find our way around in a car ,and it turned out to be a disappointment. We can't recommend it if you are short on time, unless you have never seen Roman ruins, in which case you may find it interesting to see Diocletian s Palace. It has been built up so much inside the walls that it is rather hard to imagine it as a palace. We had rented an apartment for four days so we made the most of it, but it is a very busy city with little to recommend it except for half a day a the palace. This is just our opinion of course. I must recommend our apartment though, which was outstanding. It was truly luxurious and lived up to its name Lux Apartment Oasis. It really seemed like an oasis with a beautifully landscaped terrace with gold fish pond and an amazing variety of plants and flowers. There were two seating areas on the terrace with quality outdoor furniture. Inside were two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large LR/DR/ Kitchen area, another sitting room with a computer we could use. Everything was of good quality, including the cooking utensils. There was an underground garage at the several story building. A 15 to 20 minute walk gets you to the ferry departures or the palace. The owner, Zlatko and wife Asfa, live there most of the year, but rent it out during the busy tourist season. They were extremely helpful and gracious.

Typically for us, we elected to only drive halfway to Dubrovnik. We stopped for two nights in a lovely little town on the Adriatic called Drvenik (derv-eh-neek'). Happily we liked the Hotel Bella Vista a lot. It was beautifully decorated, the rooms were nicely appointed. Our balcony, with table and chairs, gave us a sideways view of the sea and at the other side the mountains. The breakfast was nice and varied, but we found the half-board dinner disappointing and went out the second night for pizza. We had a relaxing day and a half there before moving on to Dubrovnik. The scenery on the way was fantastic!

Massive walls, steps, steps, and more steps! Views that just won't quit! That is Dubrovnik! Six days there was probably one or two too many but it was a great place to enjoy anyway. Again, we had an apartment, a disappointment after the luxury in Split. But travel always has its surprises and we make the best of it. We counted 230 steps from our apartment door to the Pile Gate! After the first couple of days we got into a groove going up and it wasn't so bad. We did not gain weight while there!

We walked the wall and it was definitely worth the effort, and of course we had to do the stop at the Buza Bar. Shopping in the town is a delight mostly because there were a mix of high-end stores along with quite a variety of souvenir places. So many restaurants and cafes to choose from. We must recommend one outstanding restaurant, Ragusa 2. It is off the Stradun (now called the Placa by the way) up towards the Buza Gate on the “street of restaurants”, so called. The ambiance was elegant, the food very good and the service friendly and efficient. We had a lovely evening there. Another splurge for us at $60 or so. I could say so much more about Dubrovnik but this is supposed to be a mini-trip report!

One day there we took the day long excursion to Mostar with Atlas. Highly recommend it. Good guide, good driver (did some amazing things with that big bus!), good city guide once we arrived in Mostar. Driving along the coast we soaked up the beauty of the Elaphite Archepelago, then marveled at the mussel and oyster farms near the unusual town of Ston with its incredibly long stone wall (think “China Wall”). After that we came to the Neretna River Delta, a fabulously rich area of agriculture. Amazing to look out over it from a distance and see the verdant fields with such a variety of crops. It seemed to go on forever into the distance. We made two stops on the way for food and drinks, if we wanted, and a WC. The first place was at Neum where one enters Bosnia-Herzogovina. The other stop was at the very small village of Pocitelj where there were some town vendors selling fruits and nuts in paper cones, as well as a souvenir shop with items of a more Eastern twist.

Once we arrived in Mostar our guide turned us over to our “city guide”. We were with him for about two hours as we progressed around to the more interesting parts of the city. The streets there are very uneven, large cobblestones and lots of ups and downs making it difficult to walk at times. I was very glad I wore sneakers-thongs just wouldn't be good! Three of the senior people, and one heavyset lady with bad knees, had to drop out. It was only mid-May but very hot in Mostar. After the tour we were on our own for lunch and wandering around until the bus left at 3:15 for the long drive back to Dubrovnik. Very glad the bus had good air conditioning!

Our next goal after leaving Dubrovnik was to drive to Stradin which is just a short distance beyond Sibenik but not on the coast. It was a nice little town and we really liked the Hotel Stradinski. The restaurant had a lovely terrace where we relaxed and read our books for awhile. Later we enjoyed a nice meal there. The next day we headed for Plitvice Jezera.

It was a pleasant drive with rolling, forested hills green pastures and small farm houses, but longer than we anticipated, about 3 hours in all. We checked into our very nice Hotel PlitvickSedra-nice but not expensive, just a few minutes from the park entrance. Parked the car, bought tickets for the park; they were $11 each, but did not cover the $3 parking as we had read in a guide book. Next was a very long uphill then downhill on rough walkway (I am not complaining, just describing!)--very long. Once down to the lake level we walked another ¼ mile or so to the train (bus) loading area to take it to the Upper Lakes. At that point we found out that there were no trains because they were building a new roadway for them. So, anyone planning to go in the next few months be warned that you will do some heavy duty walking. First you take the boat to the other side of the lake-short trip. Then it was going to be 3 hours walking uphill to get up to the Upper area then back down. Not to mention then walking back up those long, long, stairs to get back to the entrance and car. Frankly, what we saw of the lake and surrounding area from the boat dock did not especially impress us. We may be jaded from seeing so much beautiful scenery in the US and Europe, but that is our opinion. I know I am going to get some flak from this! I admit that part of our problem was the 3 hour drive, then all the walking in the hot weather, and feeling disgruntled and cheated because no one even mentioned the fact that there were no buses before we bought our tickets. We turned around and went back up those steps and left.

Next morning we headed for Zagreb an easy two hour drive. Back to the Palace Hotel and those great breakfasts. We took in some of the things we missed the first time around and revisited a couple of favorite places. Very relaxing and enjoyable way to end our trip.

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