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Blissful Airbnbs,Risky Segways,Vegan Tapas: Prague-Hvar-Andalucía-Madrid

Blissful Airbnbs,Risky Segways,Vegan Tapas: Prague-Hvar-Andalucía-Madrid

Old Nov 26th, 2014, 11:53 AM
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Fascinating report, crosscheck. We have not gotten to Prague and continue to include it on the "someday" list, though the more I read, the more I get the feeling that we missed the boat here. It's still a place I'd like to see, but you've also reinforced my sense that the it's gotten overwhelmed by tourism.

Looking forward to more.
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Old Nov 26th, 2014, 12:42 PM
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enjoying your reports.firsttime I visited Prague was in august over 20 years ago and it was crazy busy .I visit at least twice a year now and even in early November on my lasts trip it was pretty busy in the city centre but nowhere like the crowds of August.
Karlstejn is very easy to get to from prague bu yourself and if anyone wants info just ask and I will give you the info.I have actually walked from Karlstejn over the hills via St Johns to Beroun and got the train back to Prague from there.
BTW the Lennon wall was painted over last week by "artists" so you might have been one of the last to see it.i actually saw it just a week before it was repainted.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...e-message.html
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Old Nov 29th, 2014, 11:20 PM
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I'm so very VERY glad I visited Prague some time ago (1995). It was crowded in mid-summer, but bearably so. It sounds awful now, but it also sounds like you and your family found a way to make the best of it - kudos!

And what a great trip report, crosscheck! You are conveying a lot of very helpful information with clarity and humor and just the right amount of detail for my tastes.

I'm looking forward to reading more....
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Old Nov 30th, 2014, 02:11 AM
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hi crosscheck - just found your TR and wanted to follow along because we too have travelled with 20 somethings, and our one and only visit to Prague was about 10 years ago in between Christmas and New year, when it was extremely cold but surprisingly tourist-free. [those two facts may be related, I suppose]. We had a most peculiar hotel [the Central, booked at last minute when I decided on the trip as DH's surprise Christmas present] which we found almost impossible to find our way back to every time we left it - I swear that it moved every time. We also OD'd on dumplings until we found our culinary feet.

So i'm very much enjoying reading about your experiences in Prague in the summer, and look forward to the rest of your adventures - keep it coming.
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Old Nov 30th, 2014, 07:35 AM
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thanks again for your input on SA board.
Europe is my " thing"..... Visited all the locations in your terrific report.
( stayed at Casa
Morisca in Granada several years ago , loved it)
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Old Nov 30th, 2014, 08:58 AM
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taconic, You are lucky you visited Prague back in the day. I think '95 was when they started calling it the Paris of Eastern Europe...and you all know the power of branding. (But our Czech friends were very clear that CZ is NOT Eastern Europe - does 'the Paris of Central Europe' sound less enticing?)

progol, I wouldn't totally blow off Prague. Like other great cities, it became overtouristed for a reason. As the Eagles sang, "Call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye."

unclegus, I'm in awe that you hiked from Karlstejn to Prague. And I'm in shock about the Lennon wall. I guess it will evolve again, but I'm having a hard time processing it. So much of what was graffiti in the 20th century is now bona fide'street art.'

kja, Thanks for the kind words. I can't thank you enough for all the help you provided when planning the Croatia portion of my trip. You were my 24/7 travel therapist, and all of your advice was spot on.

annhig, So glad you're following along, especially honored because you're a Fodors legend. I'm about to head over to your bummeling report (can I use that verb in my next TR?)

danon, Happy to help - I guess SA is my thing. Casa Morisca was my one non-airbnb/booking.com reservation, made the old fashioned way...by phone! It should be cloned, a near ideal guest house.
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Old Nov 30th, 2014, 09:53 AM
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I'm not sure about legend, but feel duly flattered. I graciously permit you to use the word "bummeling" but disclaim all responsibility for the consequences, howsoever caused.
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Old Nov 30th, 2014, 10:08 AM
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Thanks, annhig! Fodors boards should have more disclaimers. Managed to utilize it in my upcoming Split description.
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Old Nov 30th, 2014, 10:10 AM
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SMART WINGS: AN INTELLIGENT CHOICE
It was Mr. Crosscheck’s birthday when we czeched out of our loft. (Sorry about the pun overuse, but my handle on Fodors was crossczech as I did my Prague planning.) Our Airbnb driver took us to PRG for our midday flight to Split, Croatia on SmartWings, a no-frills airline with mixed reviews...which I tried not to read because this was the only flight that worked for our schedule - and such a deal at E38 each.

WARNING FROM THE BOYS: Don’t wait until the last minute and expect to find a gift for your hard-to-please dad in the PRG airport.

CROATIA: THE NEW ITALY? THE NEW GREECE?
We only spent four days in Croatia, but from what we saw, the country is a contender for Europe’s winning combo of seaside fun, nature, history and architecture...and the best seafood on the planet (plus sometimes annoying, over-the-top efficiency). Like Prague, it is far from undiscovered. But it didn’t feel as Disneyish because our fellow tourists were on a whole other level from the package tours we encountered in Prague, an eclectic mix of almost-famous yachters, eco-tourists, perpetual Spring Breakers and stylish backpackers.

NO EARLY FERRY FOR YOU
SpeedyWings could be a better name for our airline. We arrived 30 minutes early, where we were greeted with a warm summer breeze and met by our driver Mario, who would shuttle us to our Hvar-bound boat. We arranged the transfer through Plaza Luxury Suites, the hotel in Split where we would be staying the final night. In keeping with the luxury theme, Mario drove an E Class Mercedes which belonged to the owner of the hotel, a car collector.

All the guidebooks had said it was essential to reserve seats on the 1-hour catamaran to Hvar town to avoid the 2-hour ferry. Because we arrived ahead of schedule, we asked Mario to take us to the ticket office to see if we could exchange our tickets for an earlier boat. He doubted we could…and he was correct. The catamaran agent greeted me with a residual Eastern Bloc attitude. She seemed shocked and horrified that I would want to make a change to my itinerary and told me, “You must travel on the boat you reserved – no exceptions!!” In our brief time in Croatia, we found other examples of this sort of strict rule enforcement. The people were truly lovely, but not models of flexibility.

Mario split, taking the bulk of our luggage to store at the hotel, so we were able to bummel around Split and board the boat with tiny carry-ons. We easily killed 2.5 hours in the Romanesque plazas and palm-lined seaside promenade. Stopped for stellar beer and decent pizzas in an outdoor café (no cheese for Mr. C – this became a go-to option for him).

The catamaran, which held 275 beautiful people, turned out to be packed, so maybe they truly didn’t have room for us on the previous one. It looked as if the entire boat was on its way to a Brazilian photo shoot. Even the backpackers were exotic and stylish.

The first glimpse of Hvar with its medieval red-roof hillsides, clear multi-hued turquoise waters and hundreds of glistening yachts squeezed together along the limestone promenade, gets you in the mood for a magical time in the summertime.

HVAR-FETCHED
We had been hesitant to go to Hvar because a Brit friend called it the upscale party capital of Europe (but was quick to point out that it’s NOT the ‘new Ibiza’ – much classier and star-studded). We had considered other islands instead, but a well-traveled mature adult friend said it was a don’t-miss romantic destination with world-class hikes, extraordinary boating, amazing food, endless fields of lavender and unspoiled goat roads…and the partying was easy to avoid because it happens while grownups sleep.

When one of our sons found out a friend would be there, we became concerned that the boys would find it awkward, torn between the club scene and Bananagrams with the ‘rents. But because Son2 had a student visa which required him to enter Spain from a non-Schengen destination and SmartWings offered great last-minute rates, we didn't have the energy to overthink the choice. Then, when we read the almost comically-awful reviews about the two top hotels in town, we knew an apartment was the way to go. And once more, we struck Airbnb gold...and procured a deep discount for the last-minute booking.

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2306631

AIRBNB KILLS IT AGAIN
We were met in town by our Airbnb host Edi, a mid twenties photographer/anthropologist, my nominee for Mr. Airbnb '14 for his hospitality and attention to detail. He took us to his modern white four-story condo, about a mile out of Hvar town. Our dwelling was a top-floor, 3-bedroom/3 bath penthouse with two huge terraces and Croatia’s best sunset view. Edi had gone out of his way to arrange an extraordinary birthday dinner for Mr. C, but first he and his mom greeted us with homemade cherry grappa, a bottle of wine as a birthday gift, and a welcome-to-the-family attitude. All of our doubts about Hvar dissipated – we had found our summer paradise to chill together as a family.

NEXT: RISKY BOATING
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Old Nov 30th, 2014, 10:51 AM
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Mario split, taking the bulk of our luggage to store at the hotel, so we were able to bummel around Split and board the boat with tiny carry-ons>>

brava, crosscheck. [good job Mario "split" though!] nice report and i love the puns [which my family hate, in the way that only kids can].

the closest we have got to Hvar is dubrovnik 30+ years ago but you are selling the idea to me. That and Airbnb which I have yet to try. i wonder if they have them in Sicily?
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Old Nov 30th, 2014, 10:59 AM
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That condo looks SWEET. I am looking forward to reading about your experiences in beautiful Hvar!
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Old Nov 30th, 2014, 11:09 AM
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Great report, crosscheck. I am especially interested in Andalucia, can't wait for you to get there.

I also thought Prague was very touristy, but it didn't bother me except right around the Old Town area, south of the Astronomical clock and up by the castle. It's pretty easy to get out of the throng; the modern and contemporary museum (Veletrzni Palace) was nearly completely empty in July, and the neighborhood around it just normal people. I wouldn't want to stay right by the clock tower or the Charles Bridge, though. Too crowded for my taste.

Your apartments look terrific!
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Old Dec 2nd, 2014, 02:31 AM
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Loving this and can't wait till you get to Spain!

<<progol, I wouldn't totally blow off Prague. Like other great cities, it became overtouristed for a reason. As the Eagles sang, "Call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.">>

No worries, crosscheck -- it's still on my (very long) list, but perhaps just moved down a notch or two. And you've just reminded me to add Croatia to that list!

Love the puns! Pay no attention to the eye-rollers, just keep them coming!
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Old Dec 3rd, 2014, 12:22 AM
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Progol. if you do decide to go to Prague let me know I can suggest some wonderful places off the tourist radar that are real easy to get to as long as you are prepared to jump on a tram or a bus.
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Old Dec 3rd, 2014, 01:09 AM
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Thanks, unclegus, much appreciated. No trip is planned at the moment, however.

Now back to the main event....
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Old Dec 5th, 2014, 08:42 AM
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annhig, Started your report. Failed the quiz. Otherwise fantastic.

rialto, the condo WAS sweet. Downside: nobody wanted to go out and explore.

Leely, So happy you're here (this isn't as exciting as my African report). Agree that Prague's tourist spots are all in one area and easy to avoid. We did get to see regular people when did the alchemy activity, but I'm sorry we skipped the museum.

progol, Thanks for the gentle nudge.

uncle - Yes, please. Next time we'll jump on many trams/buses.
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Old Dec 5th, 2014, 11:13 AM
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Hi Crosscheck, I just stumbled upon your report - very much enjoying it! We recently had the Prague or not conversation... decided not for now. We have to decide on our next trip soon so we can get ff tickets... a nice dilemma to have.
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Old Dec 5th, 2014, 11:25 AM
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BONUS WORKOUT
If you’re going to rent Edi’s place, you need to be in reasonably good shape. It’s about 15-20 minutes or longer to town, the return is uphill, and you will go several times a day (and it would be tough to rely on taxis in the restricted pedestrian area). But we liked being removed from the action and craved the exercise and the magnificence of the walk. Some of our finest memories of Hvar are strolling/trekking along the seaside promenade, passing the ancient walls and glowing cathedral.

BIRTHDAY DINNER AND BEYOND – TWO TOP MEALS
The non-vegans among us had two of the best seafood meals of our lives in Hvar (and then an even better one near Krka). The first night we were VIP guests at Dva Ribera, a harborside restaurant with a tree growing through it, owned by Edi’s friends. This place is not in the guidebooks, filled with locals, has homemade bread, all in all, a delight. Our fish, which resembled John Dory, was probably caught five minutes before we ate it. It was prepared on a special grill (everything in Croatia seemed to be prepared in ancient ovens, on age-old coals, etc.). The chef also whipped up an impressive farm-to-table veggie/roasted potato platter for Mr. C. And for dessert, he was presented with a complimentary traditional carob birthday cake, which we couldn’t finish, but had again for breakfast the next few days.

The next night we ate at Macondo, arguably Hvar’s best restaurant, in a quasi-cave in a narrow maze of alleyways. This was another rec of Edi’s – they didn’t take reservations after 7:30, but as part of his extra-mile concierge service, had done a dry run for us on another night and said we wouldn’t have to wait very long. We had the langostino (which they called 'prawns'), delicious beyond description - wish we could get some here. I asked the waiter if he knew that Macondo was the name of the town in 100 Years of Solitude, one of my favorite books. He stated the restaurant had, in fact, been named after that fictitious town. For good reason – the whole island of Hvar oozes magical realism.

BOATING FOR DUMMIES
The next morning, Mr. C and I had fun grocery shopping at two modern markets five minutes away. Woke the boys at noon, found a boat rental stand at the small harbor near our condo...and discovered that we shouldn't have lazed around all morning. The boat guy told us that all the boats with skippers were rented out, but he did have one little dingy that would be super easy to navigate through the thousands of little islands off the coast of Hvar. Edi agreed - even though we look like land lubber urbanites, he thought we’d have no trouble with our own boat. <SFX: OMINOUS STING>

All of us had driven boats at some point, but after some recent misadventures in Cape Cod, we should have known better. Suffice it to say we still had a terrific day and ended up swimming and hiking on two idyllic pebble-beach islands with comfy lounge chairs and instagram-worthy views (but can’t tell you the names of our destinations because our map was in Croatian and we were never sure about where we were, even when we had to call for assistance.) We also greatly appreciated the expert help from all the water taxi guys and yacht captains when our boat broke down. A nice adventure, but if you’re the type who gets stressed when you try to parallel park a beat-up motor boat in between rows of gleaming yachts, I would suggest waiting a day and hiring a skipper.

THE SUNSET
I will post photos and you all will agree that we witnessed Europe's Best. Sunset. Ever.

OTHER MEALS
Mr. C found hummus nirvana at Vita Health, a vegan/vegetarian place in the center of the promenade, where we had some good smoothies and light lunches. We also taxied over to Hotel Podstine, which showed up on TA as a vegetarian restaurant, but is not. Good brandy tasting, but otherwise nothing outstanding about the restaurant. The hotel itself is on a good beach, but lacks charm and begs for a renovation.

OUR OWN PEBBLE BEACH
Hvar probably has hundreds of stunning coves surrounded by rock formations, but we laid claim to our own, about a 10-minute walk from our condo, accessible by a hiking path. I think it was called Pokonji Dol. Has two restaurants, canoes, pedal boats, lounge chairs, umbrellas, etc. Our intention was to spend two hours, then rent a convertible and drive around the island. But we ended up chilling there almost all day.

WHAT WE DIDN’T DO
We really needed a lot longer in Hvar – missed the lavender (but I think you need to go in the spring for that), the drive around the island, the villages, seeing Stari Grad, and even climbing St. Nicholas. There was also some decent looking shopping. But the fact that we slowed down and did nothing meant that we entered vacation mode – and we all would gladly go back. Like the Greek islands, you don't need to sightsee because just by being there you soak up the beauty, the history, the poetry. We did see signs of the absolutely insane all-night party scene, much of it off shore on party islands, but if you don’t stay at the hotels on the harbor (would have been an absolute nightmare, even with primo ear plugs) you should be fine.

LAVENDAR OIL NEAR THE FERRY DOCK
Huge crowd pleaser as souvenirs. Buy twice as much as you think you’ll need.

Next: Krka National Park – Lacking in Vowels, but Paradise on Earth
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Old Dec 5th, 2014, 01:56 PM
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thank you, crosscheck, for sharing Hvar with us.

roll on Krka!
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Old Dec 5th, 2014, 02:16 PM
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Lavender season is in July, but in the spring you might get red poppies

I am sure you will be back someday, and at that time you can see some of the rest of the island. Looking forward to the rest.
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