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Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro Trip Report - very, very long!

Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro Trip Report - very, very long!

Mar 20th, 2005, 04:59 PM
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Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro Trip Report - very, very long!

This is a trip report for a trip my wife and I took to Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro for March 6th 2005 through March 18th 2005. It is going to be a pretty long report, so I am going to break it into sections. First I'll give an overview of the trip and some brief impressions of the places we visited. Then I'll give (what I think is) some important information about travel to these countries that I couldn't really find in other resources. Finally I'll explain in detail what we did there. If you have any questions about this trip, please feel free to email me at [email protected].

For reference I am 39 and my wife is 41. We have three kids ages 7, 9, and almost 11. We travel without checked luggage. In general we prefer meeting people and understanding cultures more so than sightseeing. We've been to most of Western Europe and some of Central Europe. The total cost for this trip was approximately $3600 (I'll try to give specific details below), and we try to travel cheaply wherever possible. Note that all costs in this report are in USD and include taxes.

Getting there: We've planned this trip for 3yrs. In that time, we've found that it is a PITA to get to Croatia from Midwest America (we live in Cleveland). What has further complicated things is that we have friends in England and like to try and see them, if possible, when we go to Europe. This means a London layover. Recognizing that this was a major impediment to us getting to Croatia, we said screw the friends and just went for the best (which for us means cheapest) way to get there.

Unfortunately in the last 3yrs we've (well, really, I've) become used to a few comforts. One of them is the DVR-like machines in the seats of the "newer" planes...the ones that have a zillion movies and games. That went back to making it complicated again. Long story short, we flew Northwest Air Cleveland (CLE) -> Detroit (DTW) -> Amsterdam (AMS) -> Paris (CDG). From there we flew Croatia Airlines (using a Europe By Air $99 ticket) to Zagreb (ZAG). For the return we flew Dubrovnik (DBV) -> ZAG on Croatia Airlines and then ZAG-CDG on Croatia Airlines again, using the Europe By Air $99 pass. From there we flew CDG->DTW->CLE on Northwest Air. Bottom line, including taxes, we paid about $735 RT. This is about $300-$400 more than we normally pay for tickets to Europe, and it was 4 planes in each direction! But we couldn't find anything with less than 3 planes (and 4 for the return coming from DBV) and the cost was close to $1000 (we were flying on weekends), so we figured we got a good deal. If anyone wants more info on this, please email me.

We loved Northwest Air. Their website was the best I've ever seen for an airline. The planes were amazing - good legroom, comfortable seats, good food, etc. Also, the smoothest check-in procedures I've ever seen. You can actually do everything on their website, or use the kiosks and never see an agent - this includes international flights, not just domestic. Croatia Airlines was great too. Actually, they had the first planes I've flown in where I could stretch my legs out and not touch the seat in front of me (I'm 6'1").

We did have serious problems in CDG in both directions. Going there we had a bomb scare (not their fault, but it just added to everything else and the cops were real jerks about the whole thing) and it seemed like they purposefully hid the Croatian Airlines office (where we had to go for our Europe By Air tickets - see below). Also, it's really like they don't believe in lines there - just mobs of people trying to get through this checkpoint or that.

Then, for the return, they pulled us out of the check-in line to question us about our visit to Croatia. They couldn't understand why someone would visit the country (they kept thinking we were meeting someone). Next, the stupid NWA codeshare partner Air France gave away our seats. It was like the Seinfeld episode about the rental car. They claimed that making a seat reservation (and confirming it) didn't mean anything and that seats weren't really given out until you got a boarding pass. The flight was full, so they tried to put my wife and I in separate single seats. After much arguing they gave us our original seats.

Finally, when they went to board the plane - a fully loaded transcontinental flight - they didn't board by row number or anything logical like that. Once again they proved that they hated lines and just had everyone scramble for the gate. However, it was a trick because the gate didn't lead to the plane, it lead to busses which took you to the plane. So we rushed to get into busses in a completely random order (relative to how we were seated on the plane) and then the busses drove us to the plane where we boarded in what has to be the slowest recorded time ever.

So, other than our time in CDG, the trip was great. The weather was bright and sunny every day except for one and that day was partially sunny. It was cold in Slovenia (in the 30's), but warmed up as we went south. In Dubrovnik it varied between 50 and 70 (although the nights dropped 20+ degrees).

We landed in Zagreb and rented a car to head to Ljubljana in Slovenia. We stayed there for two days, doing a day trip to Bled. From there we went down to Trogir (in Croatia) for a couple of days followed by a couple of days in Hvar. We then went to Dubrovnik for 5 days doing a day trip to Montenegro and another to Korcula.

Slovenia was very pretty and was where we found the best food. The people were very friendly and we found it a great way to start the trip.

Croatia was jaw-droppingly beautiful. I mean by far the most amazing place we have ever seen. It was the first place that looked like the brochures - in fact, it looked better than the brochures. And the Adriatic is simply gorgeous. Blues and Greens like you've never seen in the water before. And very, very, clear. Lastly, Dubrovnik is a real gem of a city. Do you like pigeons? Do you like steps? Then you'll love Dubrovnik! Just kidding, it is a great city (but does have a lot of pigeons and steps).

Montenegro was a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. It looked like Croatia...had the potential of Croatia...but it just didn't live up to it. There was lots of litter and trash around and really ugly construction that marred an otherwise flawless countryside. I don't want to sound overly critical of it...we had a great time there...it just wasn't as pretty as Croatia which was a shame because it could be.

With the exception of our hotel in Ljubljana, everything was very inexpensive. Beer ran from $1.50 to $2.50 for a bottle (a pint would run about $3). Our meals ran about $30 in "sit down" restaurants and $10 -$15 in "fast food" places. Our most expensive food night was in Hvar when we ate in a very nice restaurant (Nostromo) and had several bottles of wine. The total cost was about $50.

Overall this was one of the best, if not the best, of our European trips.
alyssamma is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 05:00 PM
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We landed in Zagreb and rented a car to head to Ljubljana in Slovenia. We stayed there for two days, doing a day trip to Bled. From there we went down to
Trogir (in Croatia) for a couple of days followed by a couple of days in Hvar. We then went to Dubrovnik for 5 days doing a day trip to Montenegro and
another to Korcula.

Slovenia was very pretty and was where we found the best food. The people were very friendly and we found it a great way to start the trip.

Croatia was jaw-droppingly beautiful. I mean by far the most amazing place we have ever seen. It was the first place that looked like the brochures - in
fact, it looked better than the brochures. And the Adriatic is simply gorgeous. Blues and Greens like you've never seen in the water before. And very,
very, clear. Lastly, Dubrovnik is a real gem of a city. Do you like pigeons? Do you like steps? Then you'll love Dubrovnik! Just kidding, it is a great
city (but does have a lot of pigeons and steps).

Montenegro was a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. It looked like Croatia...had the potential of Croatia...but it just didn't live up
to it. There was lots of litter and trash around and really ugly construction that marred an otherwise flawless countryside. I don't want to sound overly
critical of it...we had a great time there...it just wasn't as pretty as Croatia which was a shame because it could be.

With the exception of our hotel in Ljubljana, everything was very inexpensive. Beer ran from $1.50 to $2.50 for a bottle (a pint would run about $3). Our
meals ran about $30 in "sit down" restaurants and $10 -$15 in "fast food" places. Our most expensive food night was in Hvar when we ate in a very nice
restaurant (Nostromo) and had several bottles of wine. The total cost was about $50.

Overall this was one of the best, if not the best, of our European trips.
alyssamma is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 05:01 PM
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Important Information
This is a collection of things I found out (some the hard way) that I couldn't find previously anywhere else.

- Europe By Air (http://europebyair.com/eba/English_us/default.jsp). We were really, really, disappointed with them. The way they work is that you pay $99
+ airport taxes for point-to-point tickets from/to various cities in Europe. You fly on the local carriers. For example, when we flew CDG->ZAG, we paid
Europe By Air $99 and flew on Croatia Airlines. What they actually give you is a voucher that you must redeem for a ticket and pay the airport taxes at
whatever airport you are departing from. In concept it is good, and the vouchers can actually be used for any date within a 6mo period, not just the date
you have the reservations for, so if you need to be flexible, this is great. However, in reality it is a little difficult. To start with, we called them
four times and got four different answers on actually how to use the tickets. Some agents even told us they were real tickets and could just get on the
planes with them (once we got boarding passes). This is totally incorrect and you'll waste a lot of time standing in the wrong line if you attempt this.
Then there are the airport taxes. Of course Europe By Air won't tell you what they are, but they indicate they are between $10 and $30...ours were $55
(CDG->ZAG) and $40 (ZAG-CDG). I guess a few years ago when the dollar was stronger, this was true, but today it no longer is. This turned a $198 RT CDG->
ZAG ticket into $293. For that cost we could have skipped Europe By Air and booked with Croatia Airlines directly and skipped all of the Europe By Air
hassles (although there would have been some others...). Also, even the people at the airport don't seem to know what the taxes are. At CDG the guy we paid
was sitting in a small office about the size of a closet and had to call around to find out what the taxes were. In ZAG, the lady is writing numbers down
on a piece of paper and adding them by hand. I guess there might be something I'm missing, but I don't understand why someone just can't look something up
in a computer and get a price. Finally, finding the place to redeem the vouchers into tickets is a journey unto itself. You need to go to the local
carrier's office and, at least, in CDG, it is about as far away from everything as it can be (and no one seemed to know exactly where it was). It was truly
like they tried to hide it. All of this means that if you are tight on time when connecting, this is not a good option for you. Anyway, YMMV.

- Lots of people land in Zagreb and drive to Ljubljana. This is what we did and this is where we made a very stupid mistake. Croatia uses Kuna (HRK) and
Slovenia uses Tolars (SIT). Both, however, will take Euros. We decided to skip getting any HRK since we were headed to Slovenia and planned to stop in
Ljubljana and get some SIT from an ATM. However, before we could enter Slovenia we hit a Croatian tollbooth. We also hit two Slovenian tollbooths before
coming to a town big enough to have an ATM. Luckily they accepted USD, but at a crazy exchange rate. Anyway, the lesson is always have local currency and
try to have a few Euros for travel anywhere in Europe.
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Mar 20th, 2005, 05:02 PM
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- Auto Europe. We've used them several times for rental cars. In each case they have had the cheapest rates and we've had exceptional service with them.
They are, essentially, a broker for the larger agencies so, you might be driving Avis, Hertz, etc. We rented an automatic for 3 days, pickup at ZAG airport
and drop off at the Split (SPU) airport and paid $153 + about $25 pickup fee that we had to pay locally. One of the great things about them is that they
guarantee their rates in USD so if the dollar drops more, you don't get screwed. Actually, this happened to us in Ireland, and we had to pay about an extra
$20 on a rental locally. We just called Auto Europe when we got home and they immediately credited our credit card. Also, they run a lot of specials that
give you things like cell phones to use while you are in Europe. Anyway, I just wanted to note that they are a good company to use.

- Many people do day trips to Montenegro or to Bosnia/Herzegovina. Note that they use Euros as the local currency here, and ATMs are plentiful. Also, if
you drive yourself there (Montenegro) instead of taking a tour, note that there are a lot of speed traps and, apparently, the police target foreigners and
make you pay "fines" on the spot.

- In Croatia, if you take the bus from Trogir to Split to catch the ferry, everyone will tell you it is bus #37. However, this bus drops you off far from
the ferry and you'll need to take another bus to get to the port. The reality is that you can take any Split-going bus other than bus #37 to get to the
ferry. These busses are starting from the north and will be originating from places like Zadar. You still catch them at the Trogir bus station, but across
the parking lot (you'll see a small bus stop shelter there) instead of the normal platforms. These busses will drop you off at the ferries.

- If you drop a car off in the Split Airport, there isn't really a rental car return area. Instead you go into the parking lot (taking a ticket and
everything) and pull the car up near the terminal (it's a really small airport). Then you go inside and just give the keys to the car guy. Also, we didn't
get a receipt for returning the car - the car guy said there was nothing to give us. However, we stopped at the agency in ZAG on our way back and got a
receipt saying we had returned the car.

- If you take a ferry in Split, there are lots of places to buy tickets...many far away from each other. Essentially, you buy the tickets where you take
the ferry. In many cases this is not in the main ferry offices. Actually, this is just for Jadrolinija...others might be different. Bottom line, when we
got our tickets for the ferry to Hvar, it was about a half-mile from the main offices.

- Also, be careful reading the ferry schedules for overnight ferries. We thought there was a ferry leaving from Hvar going to Dubrovnik on Monday, but
actually it left Rijeka on Monday and left Hvar on Tuesday because it was an overnight ferry.

- Definitely rent a scooter on Hvar. We used Luka rentals, but there are others. Their shop will probably be closed if you go off-season, but just call
their cell phone number and they'll be there in a few minutes. We actually had the tourist office call for us (but be careful because they close at 1pm).
They originally wanted to charge us 200 HRK for a full day rental, but went down to 150 HRK (about $27). You don't need to worry about filling up the gas
tank as they will do it for you (and charge you the normal gas station prices). Unless you have ridden a scooter before, I recommend getting just one and
sharing - they are a little tricky to navigate. Also, make sure whoever is driving is not afraid of heights (more info below in the detailed section).

- In Dubrovnik, there are lots of shops that do not take credit cards - and some have really expensive items. For example, a jewelry store that had items
for thousands of HRK only took cash. Also, lots of stores that do take credit cards only take Diner's Club or American Express.
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Mar 20th, 2005, 05:03 PM
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Detailed Information
Below is a detailed description of exactly what we did on our trip. It is long, but hopefully not too boring...

3/7 - Ljubljana, Slovenia
As noted above we had four planes to take to get to Zagreb. We landed around 2pm and decided to redeem the Europe By Air vouchers for our return trip to Paris at that point so we wouldn't need to worry about it later. Also, we needed to buy tickets to fly from Dubrovnik to Zagreb for the morning of our return flight home. We did both, got our rental car, and hit the road headed to Ljubljana.

Other than the tollbooths noted above, the ride to Ljubljana was pretty uneventful and we arrived a little after 5pm. Our approach to hotels is always to just get into a city and find a place to stay rather than to make reservations beforehand. This works out well and we usually get really good deals. However, for the first time in all of our travels to Europe, Ljubljana stumped us. We drove around for two hours and the only places to stay for under $100/night were not close to the old town and didn't seem all that clean. We couldn't find any pensions/B&Bs/etc., just hotels, and they were all expensive. Eventually since it was getting late, we went back to a place we saw earlier - Hotel Ston (the Elephant as the locals call it). It is one of the best hotels and the city and is directly next to the pedestrian walkway that leads to the Triple Bridge (which leads to the Old Town). We ended up paying about $150/night (including breakfast and parking). For comparison, we ended up paying about $35/night in Dubrovnik.

Anyway, we were tired and it was late and we really needed a hotel so we took it. We freshened up quickly and went out to explore the Old Town. One of the things I should note about Ljubljana is that most things are much smaller than you would think they would be. For example, the river that runs through the city is very narrow...a fraction of the size of the rivers running through most cities. Correspondingly the bridges that span them are small too. So, when you see the Triple Bridge or the Dragon Bridge, they are really tiny.

Another thing that is small is the market in the old town. Tiny Trogir had a market just as big if not bigger.

However, none of that takes away from Ljubljana's charm. The Old Town in particular has many interesting shops and bars and we checked a few out later that night. When doing so we found, and fell in love with, Katakombe Konoba (Catacomb Inn). It is a place frequented by music students. When we came in there was a birthday celebration going on for one of them. As everyone was quite friendly (and spoke English) we joined in on the celebration. Soon we persuaded them to take out their instruments (classical) and play some songs for us. Many drinks later we had heard everything from the Slovenian National Anthem to Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The main bartender there was a young lady named Maja (if you ever go there ask for "Maja the Bee") and she was incredible. She was a language major, with English being one of the languages she studied, so she probably spoke it better than I did. She was great in telling us about Slovenia in general and recommending some places to go to in Bled (the town that she grew up in). She was also great about having me try every local drink (beer, wine and liquor) made in Slovenia. Slovenian alcohol must be good, though, because I had no hangover the next day!
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Mar 20th, 2005, 05:04 PM
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3/8 - Ljubljana and Bled, Slovenia
We had intended to wake up early the next day and explore the Old Town in the daylight before heading to Bled. However, since we stayed out so late at Katakombe (and we were severely jet-lagged), we didn't get out of the hotel before noon. So we headed directly to Bled. Once there we walked around the town (which is pretty) and then around the lake (which is even prettier). The lake was mostly frozen and we could see footsteps of people who had braved the ice all around it. The walk is a little long...maybe 3-4 miles, so make sure you are up to walking before doing it.

We ate at a restaurant named Pri Planincu (it is near the main bus station). Maja had recommended it to us. Just ask one of the locals where it is. This was perhaps the best meal we had on the trip. Huge portions, great atmosphere, and cheap (I can't remember exact prices but we spent about $30 for the meal, including appetizers and drinks).

Afterwards my wife went and found a desert named Kremsnita (again recommended by Maja). It is pretty common in both Slovenia and Croatia and consists of layers of crème between some pastries. She loved it and had it several times on the trip.

On our way back to Ljubljana we tried to stop at a little town called Begunje (you'll see signs for it...it is just a little ways from Bled). One of the music students had recommended it to us as it has a music museum (next to a restaurant named Avsenik). However, when we got there it had closed (because of our late start), but it looked nice from the outside! Regardless, if you are interested in local music I would recommend stopping here.

That night we went back to Katakombe, but didn't stay long. We were still sleepy and were pretty full from the dinner in Bled. So, we turned in (relatively) early and got up the next day and explored the town. As I mentioned above, it is charming, but we were not overly impressed with anything. We didn't see the castle, however.

In Summary
We found Slovenia pretty nice, although we only saw a small portion of it. The food was incredible (especially the cheese) and we ate a lot of it. Seriously, we probably ate food for 4 days even though we only stayed there for 2!. The people were great - some of the nicest we've met. There did seem to be a slight identity crisis, though. Lots of things - food, architecture, styles in general seemed to be "borrowed" from neighboring countries. This isn't a negative, though, because (for example) like I said the food was some of the best we've had. Nothing wrong with borrowing, especially if you improve upon it! Bottom line, Slovenia was fun and I would recommend it as a quick side trip to a trip to Croatia.
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Mar 20th, 2005, 05:04 PM
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3/9 - Trogir, Croatia
We settled in for a long drive down the coast to Trogir. The drive was pretty easy and by the time we got to Trogir, it was just getting dark. We headed for the Old Town. There is a turn going to one of the gates. If you keep going straight, you'll hit the bus station. By taking the turn, you'll head directly into the Old Town. Since you can't drive there, the road splits again. The left turn heads across a bridge and into Ciovo (an island off the coast of Trogir). The right turn leads down a very narrow road with paid parking. However, there are hotels down here and they'll validate your parking. This is a good place to stay as the backs of these places open into the Old Town.

We turned down here and found a hotel called Hotel Pasike (www.hotelpasike.com). This was the nicest hotel we stayed at the entire trip (including the overpriced Hotel Slon in Ljubljana). We paid about $70/night (including breakfast and validated parking, credit cards accepted). Pasike is more of a Bed and Breakfast than a hotel. It started as a restaurant and they've just added (last summer) a hotel. Technically, the hotel is inside of the Old Town. Staying at the hotel gives you a 10% discount on the restaurant. It is stunningly decorated and the women that run it are amazingly friendly. One gave me the entire history of Trogir (she used to be a teacher). BTW, the hotel has a satellite TV with about 200 channels.

We freshened up and headed out to the Old Town. I immediately fell in love with it. It's one of the best, if not the best, that I've ever seen. It has a certain vibe that I can't describe but fills you with an energy that's just...

Anyway, the Old Town is like a maze...but it is pretty small so you can't get lost. Just keep walking and you'll reach one of the exits. However, the best part of the Old Town is the part that borders the water (technically the Adriatic I think) and overlooks Ciovo. This is where we got our first glimpse at Croatian beauty. It is simply gorgeous.

We strolled around the Old Town hopping in and out of bars. There we saw the strangest thing we've ever seen before. The most culturally "wrong" thing ever. Something that will haunt my dreams for the rest of my life. Croatians put catsup on pizza. They just squirt it on the top like it was a hamburger or hotdog. And sometimes they put mayo on too.

Anyway, in an attempt to get that image out of our minds, we crossed the bridge to Ciovo and found a small local bar. It is populated by the local fisherman and was owned by a fisherman who had recently died in a boating accident. There we got introduced to Dalmatian singing sensation Oliver. He's incredibly popular there and actually doesn't sound too bad. It sounds Italian and is kind of like the music you would expect to hear from a singer headlining at Las Vegas.

We made friends with some local fishermen there and they serenaded my wife. They were pretty drunk, thought, so didn't sound too good, but it was the thought that counted! We also met a Belgium who now lived in Naples, and a German who now lives in Mostar (Bosnia/Herzegovina) with his girlfriend (who is from Bosnia/Herzegovina). They all work for a Norwegian company (including the girlfriend) and meet often in Trogir. It was a mini-UN! I learned from them that people from "B and H" (as they like to call it) don't like being referred to as simply Bosnian (i.e., dropping the Herzegovina).

The bartender was nice enough to keep the bar open way past closing time (several hours past) since we were from out of town. I spent the time drinking and she and my wife spent the time going over photos of their kids. By the time we got back to the hotel we were pretty tired!
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Mar 20th, 2005, 05:04 PM
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3/10 - Trogir, Croatia
The next morning we had to return the rental car at the Split airport. The airport is actually pretty close to Trogir. See above in the "Important" section for some info about dropping off cars here. After that, we caught the bus back to Trogir. We then decided to explore the town during the daytime.

One of the interesting things in Croatia are the Caffe (Coffee) bars all over the place. These are bars that also server coffee, cocoa, sodas, etc. They are populated with kids as well as adults and sometimes families come in to spend some time. Many have chairs outside to people watch and those that don't have seats by the windows to do the same. They really are friendly places.

We spent the day just strolling around, people watching, taking photos, and hopping in and out of Caffe bars. We also walked across the street from the Old Town to the market. It was pretty cool and surprisingly big for a city of Trogir's size.

That night we ate dinner in the hotel restaurant and discovered an interesting Croatian fact. The food in restaurants is just average. With one notable exception in Dubrovnik (and that was a Chinese restaurant!) every restaurant we ate at just had ok food. It was a let down after the great food we had in Slovenia.
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Mar 20th, 2005, 05:05 PM
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3/11 - Hvar, Croatia
We took the bus (not #37...see the Important section above) to Split to catch the ferry to Hvar (see the Important section above for some extra info on this). We had a little bit of time before the ferry came so we explored Split some. We saw the Palace and walked around a huge market. I got a cheeseburger there that was actually pretty good (not a restaurant!). They have this huge roll...maybe 7" or 8" in diameter and put a bunch of cheese on it. Then they microwave it while cooking a giant hamburger. The cheese all turns to goo and the resulting sandwich is really good. It was $3.

All in all we spent maybe two hours exploring Split and for what we like, that was enough. Seeing the Palace and walking around the market are both fun activities and can be easily done while waiting for a ferry.

The ferry ride was quick (50min) and dropped us off in Hvar Town. Wow. Once again, Croatia just upped the ante on beauty. I've never seen anything like Hvar Town...it was amazing. Words really can't describe it, so I'll just tell you to go and see it for yourself.

Getting off the ferry we walked into the town to find a place to sleep. We found a small Pension that was actually closed but the owners decided to open it for us. It was pretty amazing. There was a small fountain with turtles, dogs running around, and a yard with five (!) donkeys. And it was laid out like a Mexican Hacienda. The cost was about $37/night (no breakfast included).

Hvar Town has a giant square that opens onto the Adriatic. Bars surround the square and have places to sit outside for people watching, which we did. Other than the bars, things were mostly closed. Kids ran around in the square playing and the whole scene was picturesque. There was one kid in particular, he was only about two, who ran around like he owned the place. I think his mother owned a shop behind the square, but was no place to be seen. Instead, it seemed like the entire town owned him. He ran into the different shops on the square and as people walked by they would pick him up and play with him. Some would carry him for a while, others would buy him things like ice cream. It was pretty amazing to watch.

There is a path that winds around the island and after a while of sitting in the square we decided to take it. Again, I know I keep talking about it, but it really was just so pretty. The Adriatic was on one side with small islands dotting the horizon and the other side was a forest with cactus (!) and palm trees.

Eventually we headed back to the square where we got a little worried...no place to eat was open! Luckily they opened once it got dark. Again, nothing special food-wise, but we did meet a really cool couple. The man was Slovenian and the woman was American and they both lived in Tokyo. He was a photographer and she was a travel writer. A Japanese company paid them to travel around the world and take photos. They had been pretty much everywhere. Talk about your dream job...
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Mar 20th, 2005, 05:08 PM
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3/12 - Hvar, Croatia
The next day we decided to rent a scooter (see the above Important section for some info on this). We were originally going to get two (one each), but the guy felt nervous about renting to women! It seems that one had recently had an accident on one of his scooters. So, he rented to me and suggested my wife simply ride on the back. The really funny thing is that my wife used to race motorbikes while I've never been on a two-wheel vehicle in my life other than a bicycle and that was close to 30 years ago!

Anyway, it turned out for the best as you'll soon see. The man gave us a map and suggested that we take the old road to Stari Grad and from there head out as far as we want onto the island. Coming back we should take the new road from Stari Grad back to Hvar Town. It sounded great and we decided to take his advice.

Riding the scooter was pretty easy...eventually! It took me about 15min of driving before I got the hang of it. Even then, turning corners was a little hard. But once we got on the old road...

Let me put it this way. At this point we were pretty tired of each day seeing something prettier than the day before. I mean we'd readjust our expectations and think to ourselves, "ok, this is what beauty is," and then Croatia would just up and slap us in the face and let us know that it wasn't done amazing us yet.

The old road to Hvar was like nothing we had seen before in our lives. It goes high into the mountains and you can see the entire island on both sides. However, if you are afraid of heights it can be scary. The roads don't have guardrails and they simple drop off hundreds of feet. It didn't bother me (although I am afraid of heights) but it petrified my wife. There is no way she would have been able to drive the scooter there so it is good that the rental guy didn't want to rent to her!

But the views... It actually made me weep for Ireland. We went there in November and had decided that was the prettiest place we had been. But it only held the title for a few short months before Croatia loudly declared that in the looks department, Ireland was its bitch.

We rode to Stari Grad, passing through several small towns, ate lunch and walked around. From there we headed on to Jelsa. Stari Grad was more asleep than Hvar Town and Jelsa didn't have a pulse. Both were pretty but neither had the charm of Hvar Town. From Jelsa we headed back to Stari Grad and then back to Hvar Town, taking the new rode, and were treated to a whole new set of amazing views.

We came back and hung out in the square. Once there we saw some people that we recognized from a few days ago trying to get their bicycles on the ferry (they were not able to and had to take a different ferry). It turned out they were Swiss and were bicycling from Switzerland to China (Tibet) over the next 7 months. We ended up going out to dinner with them and the couple (photographer/writer) we had met the night before. Again, the food was average but the vast quantities of wine we had made up for it! BTW, this was the night where we spent the most money mentioned above in the Overview section.

We had seen signs up for a concert that night with a Rock and Blues band so we decided to head over and check it out. It was in a small building in the middle of the woods and was pretty cool. The band was about as good as you'd expect a local band playing in the off-season to be, but the place was crowded with people of all ages from teens to late middle age and everyone was having a good time. The band played songs from groups like The Police (Walking on the Moon was their big hit).

I met a local singer there who gave me a necklace that had been given to him by some fans from one of the small towns on the island. It was one of those moments where two drunk guys instantly bond over something small and insignificant that neither can remember. I didn't even know he was "famous" until one of the other people at the concert came up and asked me if I knew who I was talking with.

We had to catch an early ferry the next morning and it was already very late and I was pretty drunk so we decided to turn in and say goodbye to Hvar.
alyssamma is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 05:09 PM
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3/13 - Dubrovnik, Croatia
Originally we were supposed to leave Hvar Town and head to Stari Grad and then, the following day, catch the ferry to Dubrovnik. But, since I can't read a simple ferry schedule (see above in the Important section), there wasn't one leaving when we thought it was. Also, our scooter ride the day before told us that Stari Grad wasn't our type of town, so we decided to take the ferry back to Split and catch a bus down to Dubrovnik.

By this time we were expecting Croatia to treat us to another day of stunning beauty and we were not disappointed. The bus ride down the Dalmatian coast was simply magnificent. There were only two other people on the bus, so we felt like we were being personally chauffeured through this amazing landscape.

We had a brief stop in Bosnia/Herzegovina to use the bathroom and stop for refreshments (B and H has a tiny slice sticking though the Croatian coastline). Of course you need to show passports here so make sure you don't check them with your luggage in the bottom of the bus.

From there we headed into Dubrovnik. The bus actually drops you off a couple of miles from the Old Town and when you get out you are assaulted by people asking you if you need a hotel. This happens other places too, but I didn't mention it because we virtually always say no to these people. However, here we needed to get to the Old Town and one guy had his place that overlooked it (it was across the street from it). He had pictures of his place and we needed a ride, so we said ok to him. It turned out to be the best decision we made all trip.

His name was Ivo Gugic (mobile number 091-517-06-93) and his place was his actual house. He has two young daughters and a son. Along with his wife, they all share the apartment in which they rent rooms out. We've never stayed in a place like this before, although we were told it is quite common in Dubrovnik. It felt just like we were renting a bedroom in a house, which is exactly what it was (note that we had a bathroom/shower in the bedroom). It gave us a look into a Croatian family's life...we saw the girls doing homework, the wife cooking, etc. By the end of our stay, we were friends with all of them.

On top of this it turned out that Ivo did day trips. He showed us pictures of previous trips he had done and we signed up for two - Montenegro and Korcula. The cost of the room was $35/night and we paid about $270 for the two trips (and this turned out to be worth every penny).

We freshened up and headed into the Old Town. Dubrovnik is very pretty and very unique. Much like Venice, it is a city constructed unlike any other. The main street (Stradun) that runs through the city is simply gorgeous, and at night the city is lit up like no other I've seen before.

Still, with all of this, Dubrovnik didn't impress us. It didn't have the "magic" of Trogir or the charm of Hvar. Food and drink was more expensive than what we had seen elsewhere (but still inexpensive overall). Also, the restaurants had pictures of their food (a turnoff for me) and people out trying to get you to come into their places to eat (even more of a turnoff). And there were a lot of pigeons and stairs!

All of this would change in time, though, and the city would grow on us over the next few days. I still wouldn't call it my favorite Croatian city (Trogir or Hvar Town would hold that title), but it was a pretty cool city.

For the rest of the night we just walked around and explored a little. Just before turning in we stopped at a "convenient" store to get some soda and chips for the room. While there, someone overheard us talking in English and asked if we were from America. It turned out to be a guy named Ryan (who was also from Ohio). He had moved to Dubrovnik from America two months ago to be with his girlfriend. He runs a website for backpackers in Europe called http://onesummerineurope.com. He got a law degree and took some time off to backpack through Europe. The trip changed his life and he gave up law. Along the way he kept a blog and a young lady from Dubrovnik, Maris, happened to read it. Long story short, they met in London and, eventually, things became serious. Ryan was jonesing for someone to speak English with, so we talked with him for a while and then said goodbye.
alyssamma is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 05:10 PM
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3/14 - Dubrovnik, Croatia
Originally, while planning this trip, we had wanted to go to Montenegro. Everyone had said that Atlas tours was the way to go, but they didn't start running tours until after we would have left. We had resigned ourselves to not going, so were delighted when we found out that Ivo ran tours. It turned out to be much better than any "organized" tour could have been because it was totally personalized. We got to go where we wanted, stay as long as we wanted, and stop along the way whenever we wanted to take pictures. Also, Ivo knew the entire area and told us about everything as we were driving.

There was an Englishman staying in Ivo's apartment with us and he went on the tour too. At first we were a little worried because we didn't know what type of person he would be, but it turned out to be great. He was really easy going and enjoyed stopping lots of places and exploring as much as we did.

A few comments about Montenegro. First we were surprised to find out that they use Cyrillic letters, although they share the same spoken language as Croatia (signs use both alphabets, seemingly at random). Second we were surprised to find out that it was almost as beautiful as Croatia. As mentioned above, there was a lot of litter and ugly construction that took away from the scenery. Also the islands that are visible from all along the Dalmatian coast were missing. Still, it was very beautiful and we were able to see our first Fjord! Lastly, there is a tunnel you go through on the way to Budva (I think). Somehow, water is always dripping from the ceiling. Actually, I shouldn't say dripping, I should say pouring. It's like going through a rainstorm and the locals call it a "car wash".

Ivo took us first to a (relatively) new town called Igalo. This town was on the Adriatic and was pretty. From there we went to Perast, which was an old town also on the Adriatic. This was very pretty and charming. Next on the itinerary was Kotor. This was probably the best of the cities we visited. The Old Town was amazing. Other than Trogir, the best we saw on the trip. And there is an old fort on a hill next to the Old Town. Climbing up here gives some amazing views. You can go part way up for free and get great pictures, or pay one euro and go all the way to the top (it is a pretty long climb, though!).

After Kotor we headed to Budva. This was, unfortunately, a let down. Other than a very nice Caffe bar on the beach with a great view of the Adriatic, it was pretty blah. If you are making your own trip, I would recommend skipping Budva.

Last on the list was Hercig Novi. This town was great...next to Kotor the best we saw. There is a nice square you can sit in and sip drinks or you can walk down (a lot of steps!) to the ocean where there is a nice walkway with lots of shops and bars.

After Hercig Novi we headed home. It was a long day - we got up at 9am and it was after 6pm by the time we were back in Dubrovnik. It was already one of our better days on the trip, but it was about to become the best. When we got back to Ivo's apartment, he had his wife cook dinner for us! Seasoned fish (small, maybe 6" fish) for my wife and the Englishman and pork cutlets with an egg for me (I don't eat fish). Sides were peas, potatoes, and bread. And, to top it off, Ivo shared some of his homemade wine with us. It was surreal. We were sitting in this small Croatian kitchen eating this wonderful meal (which was the best meal we ate in Croatia) while Ivo's girls were running around and his son was sitting there watching TV. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.
alyssamma is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 05:10 PM
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3/15 - Dubrovnik, Croatia
We were really tired from our trip to Montenegro so decided to just take it easy for this day. We went to the tourist info place and got a map of the city with landmarks/things to see pointed out. We visited a few and decided to leave the rest for our last day. We then set out to do some serious walking around the city. See, Dubrovnik is like a big English Muffin - lots of nooks and crannies. It really is pretty cool - shops and bars are tucked away in little corners and alleyways. There are a lot of paths to the sea and many secluded spots to just be alone and stare out into the beautiful Adriatic. There are also lots of non-secluded spots to do the same. And this is certainly a worthwhile thing to do as the views are spectacular.

It was while exploring that Dubrovnik started to grow on us. Slowly it worked its tendrils into us and we really started to like it. Other than walking around we just sat at Caffe bars in the Stadun and people watched. We actually ran into Ryan again and this time we arranged to meet for drinks the next day. Otherwise, nothing much happened and we turned in early.
alyssamma is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 05:11 PM
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3/16 - Dubrovnik, Croatia
We had originally planned to rent a car and drive ourselves to Korcula. But that quickly changed when we found out Ivo could take us. We left again at 9am and our first stop was at Mali Ston (little Ston). Mali Ston was quiet and charming...we found it quite pretty.

From there we headed to Ston. We stopped at a Caffe bar for a quick drink and viewed the wall. Ston has the second largest wall in the world, the Great Wall of China being the first. You can climb and walk the wall, but we declined. At that point, we had seen so many steps on the trip that we were starting to go crazy from them!

From Ston we made a quick detour into Dingac. Supposedly really, really, good wine comes from here. But this was just a quick stop and from there we headed directly to Orebic to catch the ferry to Korcula. We had a short wait so we explored the town some and walked around the port area. Once again, very pretty. I don't think I could ever get tired of gazing at the Adriatic.

Once we caught the ferry it was a quick ride (10-15min) to Korcula. Korcula was gorgeous. Everything was pretty much closed down so we just explored Korcula Town (the old part) and stopped at a Caffe bar for a drink. Of course, we also saw where Marco Polo was born...

From Korcula we took the ferry back to Orebic and headed back to Dubrovnik. We stopped at Trpanj along the way and got a surprise. We passed a few guys bicycling up the hill and realized they were the Swiss guys we had met on Hvar. We actually ended up seeing them again on our last night in Dubrovnik. Small country!

Anyway, Trpanj was an interesting stop, but not nearly as pretty as the other towns we stopped at.

Our last stop was at Mali Zaton, a small shop right on the water. It was very pretty, but at that point we were pretty tired (it was almost 5pm) and we were ready to get back to our room.

That night we called Ryan and met him and his girlfriend, Maris, for drinks. We stayed out late and had a pretty good time.
alyssamma is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 05:12 PM
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3/17 - Dubrovnik, Croatia
Our last day. Originally we were going to sleep in Cavtat since it was close to the airport and we had an early flight the next day. However, we were enjoying ourselves so much that we decided to spend an extra day here and have Ivo drive us to the airport.

We slept in and decided just to finish walking around/sightseeing. We did the City Walls and here I got my payback for the scooter ride in Hvar. I was terrified for 90% of the trip while my wife enjoyed the whole thing. The few views I did manage to see were pretty cool and my wife assured me that the rest were awesome also.

We decided to catch the sunset so walked out the Pile gate and up the big hill. Surprisingly we found benches at a perfect spot and watched a beautiful (of course) sunset. On our way back, we found a Chinese restaurant that had incredible food (it is on the road leading out of the Pile gate). I actually wish we had found it earlier as the food was so good I wanted to eat there again. Dinner, drinks and appetizers were $30.

After that, sadly, we retired to pack and prepared to get up early for our 6:40am flight back to Zagreb.

In Summary
What else can I say about Croatia that I haven't already? I will mention that the people here seem more proud of their history and culture than any others we've met. The country is very pretty (did I say that already?). And there are a lot of pigeons and steps in Dubrovnik. We took close to 300 pictures on this trip. For comparison, we took about 100 in Ireland and normally take 20-30! All in all, like I said in the beginning, this was one of the best, if not the best, European trips we've had.

If you are still reading at this point, please stop. The report is over!

alyssamma is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 05:31 PM
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Ireland is Croatia's bitch? Now that's a first! Not sure I would say that, but Croatia is really special. Glad you had such a good trip.

I hope you'll post some of your pictures.
Grasshopper is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 05:59 PM
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Wonderful report - I love how you have passed along so much very practical info! I had considered using Europe by Air, but did not realize the hoops tha needed to be jumped through. I can evaluate it a bit more carefully now.
HappyCheesehead is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 06:09 PM
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Wow, great report. And very charmingly written. I love it!

Last year around this time I was trying desperately to figure out how to get to Croatia in July without a million flights and a million dollars. Said to myself, "For this much trouble I might as well go to Africa." (And a lightbulb went off above my head. BTW, Africa was amazing.) So thanks for clarifying the flight stuff; I will have to look into Europe By Air.

Glad you had such a good time! And thank you for the trip report.

Welcome home.
Leely is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 06:56 PM
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Thank you very much. Great report. We travel in the same manner. Just is in the middle of planning a trip to Croatia in Sept/Oct.
allanc is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 10:16 PM
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That was a very enjoyable report,brought back many happy memories my Hubby & I both in our 70s took 2 years ago .we flew into londom & flew Ryanair to Trieste then bussed down to Croatia .we also took a 7 day yacht cruise round the Islands I totally agree with you about the clarity of the sea .
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