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A scoop of Croatia, a handful of Bosnia, and a pinch of Montenegro - a trip report

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Mar 25th, 2008, 06:30 AM
  #1
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A scoop of Croatia, a handful of Bosnia, and a pinch of Montenegro - a trip report

This was the recipe for an amazing trip – 10 days traveling thru Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. I’ll try to organize my report so that it is most helpful for those planning trips and also enjoyable for those who have been to these wonderful places. I’ll start with the logistics first and then move on to the actual trip.

The Planning

First, I need to thank all of those Fodorites that have been to Croatia and wrote trip reports about it – that was our inspiration for this trip so THANK YOU. My husband what like “where the heck are we going??” at first, but the more we researched it the more excited he got. Even now that we are back, people are still asking “why did you go to Croatia?” and saying things like “that wouldn’t be my first choice.” It actually got so annoying that we dreaded telling people where we were going. But, now that we are back and they have all seen the pictures they understand.

We booked our flights 9 months prior. They were pretty pricey ($850 each) but didn’t seem too bad considering it’s a more remote destination. Besides using this forum for ideas, we also bought Rick Steve’s Croatia/Slovenia book. I know a lot of people don’t care for him, but I like his candid reviews of places and also his lodging and restaurant suggestions.

The Itinerary

Dubrovnik (Villa Ragusa – 3 nights w/ day trip to Montenegro
Korcula Island (Villa Depolo – 2 nights (too car ferry from Orebic on Peljesac Peninsula)
Plitvice Lakes (Knezevic Guest House – 2 nights (took car ferry from Vela Luka on Korcula to Split and made quick stops in Split and Trogir)
Sarajevo (Guest House Halvat – 1 night (stopped in Mostar and Medjugorje on the way back to Dubrovnik)
Dubrovnik – 2 nights


The Packing

Much to the surprise of our friends, we were able to pack everything in carry-on luggage. We each took a 21” roller and a small tote. I bought enough liquids for 10 days and managed to fit them into 2 quart-sized ziplocs. Bed, Bath, & Beyond has a great travel section by the way. The weather forecast looked pretty grim for this trip so we packed mostly long sleeves that we could layer, as well as rain jackets, and 2 pairs of shoes each. Surprisingly, I only had to re-wear a few things. It’s amazing how much you can fit when you roll everything up really small.

The Driving

We rented a car thru Economy Car Rentals www.economycarrentals.com since they had, by far, the best rates. Luckily, my husband can drive a manual as it was much cheaper (around $300 for 7 days). We ended up getting upgraded to a bigger car for the same price which was nice. It was a bright (and I mean bright) blue Skoda. I should mention that gas was ridiculously expensive. We thought we were paying a lot in the US, but we calculated it to be about $10 per gallon over there!

The driving in Croatia was fairly easy for the most part. The coastal road from Dubrovnik was beautiful to drive along, and the A-1 highway from Split going North was wonderful. The roads in Bosnia are very different. Driving from Plitvice Lakes to Sarajevo took almost 6 hours, and it was entirely on a two-lane road until we got just outside of Sarajevo where it looks like they are building a new highway. I found it interesting in both countries that the road signs rarely refer to the road you are on. Instead, they use the city names for directions. This was confusing at first since we got directions from Via Michelin www.viamichelin.co.uk, and they used road numbers and names. It was much better once we got a great map.

Driving in the cities was a bit (okay a lot) stressful. We got a little turned around leaving Dubrovnik, and Split was just a nightmare…mostly because we didn’t have a good map. We thought Split was the worst we would see until we got to Sarajevo. It was snowing when we got there, and we went in circles looking for our guest house. I couldn’t believe we returned the rental car without a scratch on it!

At least my husband now knows why I always say we could never be on the Amazing Race because of the driving. He is an aggressive driver, and I am a backseat driver so that is the makings of a very bad combination, although I am sure it would be great for ratings!

Stay tuned for our arrival in Dubrovnik….
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Mar 25th, 2008, 07:28 AM
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sessa:

so happy that you ventured forth to the former Yugoslavia...I, for one, fully understand the comments your friends and family made when you announced where you were going. Can you imagine back in the 70's and 80's, during and just after Tito-time? We got a lot of pinched eyebrows and blank stares each time we went.

The roads, all of them, were disastrous then,,,all two laners, ill-repair,but very little traffic, and potholes everywhere. Crossing the border from Austria was a nightmare each time, and once crossing from Trieste there was a three hour roadblock, paper-check situation.

As you've seen, all of that has changed dramatically. Please continue your report..I'm sure many of those Fodorites who are contemplating a trip will be reading closely.

(LOL on your Amazing Race remarks...wife and I chuckle about that non-possibility every time we go anywhere)

stu t.
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Mar 25th, 2008, 08:23 AM
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sessa, I'm looking forward to the rest of your report. We leave for 16 days in Croatia on 4/20.
We'e been getting the same response from people when we tell them where we are going....first a questioning look and "where?" then "why."
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Mar 25th, 2008, 08:50 AM
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Seesa, eagerly awaiting your report, we travel to Croatia in September. We too have gotten the "looks", Croatia? Why? Isn't it dangerous? Our research so far has us very excited for this trip-the countryside looks breathtaking, food looks yummy and I suspect we will find some great local goods to bring home for gifts. Looking forward also to your info on the ferries and thoughts on Korcula and Split. Shirley
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Mar 25th, 2008, 09:16 AM
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Sessa - I am excited about your travels! Thanks for sharing - I look forward to lots more detail.

Did you find 10 days to be enough? You'll just have to return some day to visit Istria.

My husband and I, too, were questioned about our choice the first time we went as well. "Why Croatia?" And then you cannot possibly describe in words how fantastic it is - it is better than what one can verbalize.

We have not spent much time in Bosnia so I await to hear about that, too. We are going to spend three weeks in Bosnia and return to Croatia again on our next trip.
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Mar 25th, 2008, 09:54 AM
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Great report so far - I too have discovered the beauty and charm of Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro. I have been there twice and am returning for a third trip 4/11, so I am anxiously awaiting the rest of your report.
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Mar 25th, 2008, 10:49 AM
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I am glad we aren't the only ones who received the comments and funny looks about our destination choice.

travel2live2 - We did find 10 days to be enough, but we also like to stay on the move when traveling. We were worried we were cramming in too much, but it worked out great. I would have liked to spend another night in Sarajevo, but the one night we spent there was totally worth it. I was bummed to have to miss Istria, but at least it gives us an excuse to go back and maybe combine with Slovenia!
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Mar 25th, 2008, 11:01 AM
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Dubrovnik

After an uneventful flight (thank goodness!) and a really boring 5 ˝ hour layover in London Gatwick, we finally arrived in Dubrovnik around 3pm on a Thursday. The weather was beautiful…much better than we had anticipated! We walked off the plane, breezed thru passport control, and Pero from Villa Ragusa was waiting for us as planned. The drive to the Old Town took less than 30 minutes, during which Pero engaged us in some very nice conversation about the history of Dubrovnik and also about America. This would be the first of many conversations we would have with locals about the poor state of the American economy and the election coverage.

We arrived at the Old Town and were in our room by 4pm. It was a quick walk from the Buza gate to the sobe - literally a left, a right, and then down some stairs. We had requested the top room since Rick Steves described it as having a great view, and boy did it! We could see over the rooftops and all the way out to the sea. The room was very spacious and comfortable, and we thought it was a great deal for 50 euro/night. The only drawback which started to wear on us, especially my husband, was the shower. Because the room was on top, it had a slanted ceiling and there was no way to stand up in the shower without hitting your head. My husband must have hit his head three times at least, but it was worth the pain for the view!

Pero gave us some maps, marked some good restaurants, and he was out as quickly as we had arrived. After showering up it was time to hit the town while the weather was nice. We walked up and down the Stradun and then looked for a place to have dinner. We decided upon Arsenal Wine Bar for its view of the Old Port, and Pero said they had pretty good food. I was glad I had read the thread on Croatian wines before we left so that I knew, or at least sort of knew, what to order – “two glasses of Plavac please.” It was great wine, probably my favorite on the whole trip. What I found interesting throughout this trip is that the restaurant menus just list the type of wine and not the winery. It made the decision easy, but you never really knew what you were drinking…except the times we ordered a bottle…and that was often! Time to order food….good thing the menu had English translation. I decided on the cuttlefish risotto, and husband had the shrimp skewers. I have to say the food was just okay. I was not as big a fan of the black risotto as I had hoped (I gave it another chance in Korcula), and husband’s dish was okay but he had to peel all 30 shrimp which was hilarious. Got some great gelato after dinner from a place on the Stradun and then hit the sack early. I have to mention that I was so excited to find an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 on the TV that evening with Croatian subtitles!

We slept great and woke up the next morning excited to see the sun shining again. What luck! The original forecast had rain predicted for every single day of our trip so we considered this great weather a blessing. Had a quick breakfast at Dubrava Bistro where there were tons of locals already enjoying the morning. After that we set off for the Pile Gate to start our walk around the walls. I think it was about 50 kuna each, and I personally think they should charge more because the views are worth it We headed counter-clockwise and took our time strolling and taking pictures…lots of amazing pictures. We were very excited to see Buza Bar from above as we had heard so much about it. We noted the location as we wanted to go there later that day.

The weather was so gorgeous that we sat out on the Old Port and read for a little while before deciding that it didn’t matter what time it was at home because it was 3:30pm in Croatia and that meant it was time to start happy hour! So we headed over to Buza Bar and were excited to find them open. We had worried that they might be closed in the off season, but there were already two small groups of people enjoying the view. We decided on our drink selection and then were told they were out of everything except one type of beer and one type of wine. No problem, an Ojusko and a Malvazija it is! The view was amazing…and it was still amazing 3 hours later as the sun was setting. I think the owner was there (at least he looked like the owner), and we were there so long they started bringing us drinks on the house. At one point I knocked over my wine trying to take a picture (okay, maybe I was slightly buzzed, too..he he), and the very nice waitress brought me a new one! We finally asked for our check, and they told us to please stay and have one more round on the house. Are you kidding me? We love Croatia, and it’s only our 2nd day!! We do finally get around to leaving because we are absolutely starving, and we give the waitress a giant tip for all of the free drinks. She looks stunned, and I could see that she asked the owner something so I sure hope we did not offend her.

Anyway, it’s time for dinner and what is better after lots of drinking than pizza? Mea Culpa it is! We ordered the “quattro formaggio” (4 cheese) pizza. It was giant, and we ate every bite. Time for bed because tomorrow we go to Montenegro for the day…
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Mar 25th, 2008, 11:17 AM
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Welcome back Sessa! I too got those "why would you go to Croatia" looks, and still get them when I mention that I have been. Usually, though, it only takes my sending a link to our pictures for them to figure it out. It amazes me that people still think that its a scary, war-torn country. I took a class on women in conflict recently and we discussed the Bosnian War; everyone assumed that it would be a dark, gloomy place full of dilapited buildings. If only they knew....

I can't wait to read the rest!!

Tracy
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Mar 25th, 2008, 11:24 AM
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Sessa,
This is a great trip report! I can't wait to read more. I am getting so excited to go to Croatia...we leave on April 28th, so it's just around the corner.

And yes, usually we get strange looks and are asked "why" whenever we tell someone where we're going on our honeymoon.
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Mar 25th, 2008, 11:47 AM
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Loving this report! I'm counting the days until I will be sitting at the Buza Bar watching the sun set.
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Mar 25th, 2008, 11:51 AM
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Barb, as usual I am envious that you are returning. We tried to get FF tickets to Croatia for next month but unfortunately both directions would come with an unwanted overnight in London. If I had more time this would be fine, but as I only have a week of vacation time I didn't want to spend two of those nights in London. So we are headed back to Germany instead. Are you still thinking about moving there?

Tracy
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Mar 25th, 2008, 12:03 PM
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Sessa,
I know gasoline prices are high compared to US prices,but they are not yet equivalent $10.00 a gallon.

Prices for regular gas are running at about 8 Kuna/liter,which translates to about $6.65 per US gallon.

BTW there is a station down the coast from me in California on HWY 1 that is currently selling gasoline at $5.40 a gallon
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Mar 25th, 2008, 12:16 PM
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Tracy, lots will depend on how this trip goes
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Mar 25th, 2008, 12:35 PM
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lovejoy - You're right, it was $7/ gallon in Croatia (8.5 kuna per liter)..which is still more than double what we pay at home. It was in Bosnia where we paid $10/gallon b/c the place we stopped in a remote town just across the border was in Euro, and you can imagine with the exchange rate...

And, yikes, I will not complain about gas prices in GA with what you are paying in CA!

We spent $165 on gas which was equivalent to half the cost of our rental car. But, as the Visa commerical says, the memories are priceless!
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Mar 25th, 2008, 12:44 PM
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Sessa...

LOVING your report. I was in Croatia 2 years ago and have strong desire to return...hmmmm...maybe in 2009!

I also stayed at Villa Ragusa and thought it was a great deal...Pero was a terrific host!

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Mar 25th, 2008, 02:35 PM
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Great report! Can't wait for the next installment!
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Mar 25th, 2008, 03:24 PM
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tcreath- did you give any thought to using the FF to get to Germany and then flying Euro airline to Dubrovnik or Split?

Sessa, I have been reading Croatia trip reports for several years here. It is what brought me to Fodors in the first place. And BARB, your name sounds familiar and I'm thinking maybe one of your earlier trip reports is what I first read on this site!!!

I want to go because my maternal great-grandparents were born in Karlovac. I believe I probably still have relatives there that I don't know about. I'd love to find them. Someone sent me the link to the Croatian phonebook and there appear to be dozens and dozens of people there with my great-grandparents surname.

I WILL get there one day, but probably not til the Euro-Dollar ratio gets better.

In the meantime, I will live vicarioiusly through your trip report! So, please keep it comin'!

Paula
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Mar 25th, 2008, 06:35 PM
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I forgot to add that after dinner at Mea Culpa we decided to have a drink at Gil’s. We had passed by earlier in the day, and it looked like a cool place. It is a cool place and I loved the interior, but it is also a VERY expensive place. There were $8,000 bottles of wine on the menu! I ordered the cheapest glass of wine on the menu…which was not cheap and not good because it was like a white zinfandel (eww). There were a few large parties in there having dinner, and the meals looked like that commercial they’ve been running on TV where the couple goes out for a fancy dinner and the portions looks like space food. Anyway, the food could be wonderful, but it just didn’t seem like our kind of place…and we consider ourselves to be foodies.

Montenegro

We decided to do a day trip to Montenegro via rental car. We picked up the car at the H&M Rental office in downtown Dubrovnik. The first few minutes in the rental car were a bit stressful. We knew where we needed to go, but the road signs and especially our fellow drivers took some getting used to. After navigating our way to the upper road we were on our way. It was an overcast day so the views back on Dubrovnik were not as great as we had hoped. It didn’t take very long to get to the border, but once there it took almost an hour to get thru. There was a long line of cars, and for some reason it took forever for each car in front of us to get the okay to enter. But once we got to the front we were waved thru in less than 3 minutes after they checked our passports and the green card for the rental car.

We just followed the signs to Kotor and made our way around the winding roads along the bay. The scenery was just gorgeous, and we pulled over several times to take pictures. We arrived in Kotor and found a place to park. I was thankful we had brought Rick Steves’ book along because he gave tips of where to park. Traffic was crazy because it was a Saturday, and there was a market going on in front of the Old Town gates. With our car securely parked we stood admiring the walls above the city for some time and then went inside. Kotor is such a neat city and so ancient, and there was a lot going on that day in the Old Town. We just walked aimlessly thru the streets for a while and decided to find a place to eat lunch. We settled on La Pasteria (another Rick Steves’ suggestion) that is right across from St. Tryphon’s cathedral. We both ordered pasta dishes for lunch which were very good. Luckily, we had gotten some Euros in Dubrovnik because our credit card didn’t work at this place for some reason (no other problems on the trip).

After lunch we continued our drive down to Budva. The weather cleared as we approached the coast so we were once again pleasantly surprised with the weather. Somehow we missed the turnoff for the Old Town so we continued on to Sveti Stefan which was not much further. We decided not to turn around and try to get back to Budva because it was so congested and didn’t really seem all that appealing. Sveti Stefan is just a resort peninsula, and since it is closed in the off-season we could just admire it from above. The view was great, and it looks like it’s probably really cool to take a tour. So, satisfied with our trip to Montenegro we decided to head back to Dubrovnik. I was very glad that we knew about the ferry shortcut from Lepetani across the Bay of Kotor to Kamenari because that cut down on a lot of driving time. The ferry ride was about 4 Euro and took 6 minutes (yes, I was a nerd and timed it because the guidebook specified 4 minutes which I thought was funny).

In retrospect, while we enjoyed the Bay of Kotor I don’t think the extended drive to Budva and Sveti Stefan was really worth it. The Bay is beautiful, but Montenegro as a whole was not as exciting as I expected. Then again, I am not sure what I expected it to be like, but it was much more run down and congested that I thought. And had I read the intro to Montenegro more closely in our guidebook I would have been more prepared for that. I guess I had the impression in my head from the scene in James Bond Casino Royale. Now I know that movie wasn’t even filmed in Montenegro, but it set my expectations much higher. Altogether, though, I am so glad we went because the scenery was so unique and beautiful.

We returned to Dubrovnik and luckily found a place to park in the lot that Pero had shown us just outside the Buza Gate. The self-pay machine was extremely confusing, and there was no one around to ask so we interpreted it as best we could. And, unfortunately, the next morning we found out that we interpreted it wrong…we had a 100 kuna parking ticket waiting for us. Oops! We asked when we returned the car later that week how to pay the ticket. It was very easy and we settled it at a bank in the Old Town.

Anyway, with the car parked for the night we were free to go have our daily cocktail. This time we went to Poliskar. Its location on the Old Port is great, and we sat outside and enjoyed the view. It is beautiful how they light up the Old Town at night. We were too tired from the driving to think very hard about a dinner place so we went back to Mea Culpa and got a pizza to go. Clearly, Mea Culpa was a hit with my husband who is a pizza connoisseur. This time we ordered the pizza with ham, bacon, and gorgonzola. It was so good, but we didn’t finish it all this time. Oh, and we noticed when we got home that they didn’t cut the pizza at all so since we didn’t have any silverware back at our room we just dug in with our hands. It was pretty comical…and messy, but it’s amazing what you’ll do when you’re starving. Tonight’s English TV movie was “Love Actually” one of my favorite movies. We started watching that as we discussed our plans for getting to Korcula Island the next day…




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Mar 25th, 2008, 07:17 PM
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Sessa...

I had the same feeling with Montenegro. I'm glad I went and thought the Bay of Kotor amazing. We did get to see Sveti Stefan and it was beautiful, but after a day in Montenegro I was happy to be back in Dubrovnik!
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