Croatia AKA KING’S LANDING
Croatia, Pt. 1
My first time to Croatia was in the summer of 2014, when I traveled there with my family. I was immediately predisposed to liking it, because I had recently become a big Game of Thrones fan. For those of you that are fans, most (if not all) King’s Landing scenes are shot in Dubrovnik. After having visited though, it became one of my favorite countries in Europe. Disclaimer: Like the Yosemite post, this was before my photography phase and my D800, so don’t expect great things (from Part 1).
One of the first things we did in Croatia was go to Plitvice National Park. I had seen pictures of the park on the internet, and had to go see it for myself. Hands down, probably top 5 most beautiful natural scenes I have witnessed. I’m not even sure how to begin describing it, it’s just so surreal and needs to be seen in person. During summer, it is hot and sunny and there is just water flowing literally everywhere, pouring into massive, pristine aqua or blue or green colored pools and at every turn there is yet another pool or another fall and they get bigger and bigger and seeing it all and taking it all in just really feels exactly like this run-on sentence that I’m typing where it’s almost like you forget to breathe because its just so breathtaking and truly unbelievable.
From Plitvice we made our way over to Dubrovnik, which I was obviously most excited for. Dubrovnik might be one of the coolest cities in the world. Old Town, which is the walled city, remains seemingly untouched by the modernization of the world. One of the first things that we did was a Game of Thrones tour of the city. In the high season of tourism, and now because of the show’s popularity, guides stand around the city ready to take tourists (now many of whom visit just because of GoT) to all the shooting locations in Dubrovnik. Remember Joffrey’s fortress, where he tried to drown the drunk? Got (no pun intended) to go inside and check it out. The peoples’ attack on Joffrey? That spot too. Blackwater Bay? Yup. And even the top of the steps from which Cersei had her pretty extreme walk of shame. We got lucky with our tour guide, too. Nobody else in my family watched GoT at the time, but our tour guide also served as a general guide of the city, giving us much of its history; its beginnings, the walls, its resilience, its restoration, etc.
A lot of Croatia is also made up of different islands. In fact, a lot of people that travel to Croatia do so on a boat so that they can island hop and get a taste of all that it has to offer. The most famous islands are Vis, Hvar, and Korcula, each for different things. We did quick pit stops in Vis and Hvar, but spent the most time in Korcula.
Typically, Vis is visited in part to explore the Blue Cave, which seems very beautiful. For us, it was just a pit stop, so we didn’t get to do that. In Vis, my dad and I actually got to do a little bit of early morning scuba diving, one of my favorite activities. We went out and dove a shipwreck of an old German boat back from World War II. The visibility wasn’t great, but the boat was absolutely enormous. It extended far beyond what I could see in the water, and it was actually a little bit intimidating; there’s definitely something eerie about diving shipwrecks, not being able to know what might be inside of them, what happened to them, all that kind of stuff. I had never done a wreck dive like that before though, so it was pretty cool.
Hvar is probably best known for its nightlife in the summer, though I didn’t get to experience that either since we just went for a few hours for dinner. Regardless, the main town in Hvar is lovely, with a nice open square and some high-walled pebble-stone side streets lined with local shops (tourist traps) offering all sorts of Croatian trinkets.
I’m not really sure what Korcula is most famous for, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was for it being the birthplace of famed explorer and pool game, Marco Polo. They actually have a really well done little museum that takes you through the life history of Marco Polo, I wish I’d paid more attention so I could go into it here. Guess you’ll just have to visit yourself! Of these 3 islands, Korcula was my favorite. The ambiance and vibe felt almost nostalgic, not that I had ever really experienced the culture or lifestyle there before, but there was just something warm about the place – a thirst and admiration for life, perhaps.
The island that was my absolute favorite, though, was Mljet. And no, I didn’t spell that wrong. I’m not sure if Mljet is a very popular island when traveling Croatia, but it definitely should be. We rented bikes and biked pretty much the entire island. The bike path goes around an entire lake (or inlet of the ocean, really) within the island and arrives at the coast where the ocean and “lake” meet. The entire route is filled with stunning views, and circumvents a monastery that is actually on its own mini island within the island. We parked our bikes at one spot, walked down to the water, and actually swam over to the Monastery. The water was gorgeous, the weather was perfect, it was a great day. Then when we got to the coast, the ocean was pretty dramatic, splashing thunderously against the rocks, and soaking us because of the strong winds that blew the splashes in our faces. It was impossible not to spend a good amount of time there just taking it all in.
Getting to explore Croatia like we did was a treat, and it was so beautiful that I had to take my friends there just 8 months later. But, while we were there, we also did two small trips from Dubrovnik, to Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The former was a luxury experience that I will always remember, and can’t wait to treat myself to again when I am much older. The latter, on the other hand, was nothing like my dad promised it would be!
We drove to Montenegro from Croatia through extremely scenic mountain passes and mountainsides ridden with turquoise lakes and flora galore. If you asked my dad he would say I wouldn’t even remember because I was playing Pokemon with my brother in the car, but its impossible not to remember the small towns on the water and the views we had for hours on the road. On the way to Sveti Stefan, we took an afternoon trip to Kotor, Montenegro for lunch and to hike to its mountaintop fortress that overlooked the bay. The hike was much steeper and much more difficult than it looked, but the views were definitely worth it. Even more worth it was that it made arriving at Sveti Stefan that much better. Sveti Stefan is a resort in Montenegro that took over an old little fisherman’s island-town. The entire island is the resort, with large villas scattered throughout, a church, rooftop restaurants, and cliffside pools overlooking the ocean. It is truly one of the most serene and luxurious places I have had the pleasure of staying in. All we needed to do was relax for a couple days, and relax we did.
Our trip to Bosnia, though, was the opposite. My family is very active, if it hasn’t come across through my posts or personal interests by now. No matter the type of vacation we go on, tropical island or urban city, we need to throw in some kind of adventurous activity at some point. My dad stumbled upon the Tara River in Bosnia. When he showed us pictures, it looked beautiful, and he wanted us to go river rafting there. Awesome. But not. When we arrived, the weather was almost rainy, so the emerald color of the water and vibrant green of the mosses and plants that surrounded it were nonexistent when we rafted. Not only that, getting there was a GIANT detour, hours of driving to the middle of nowhere, and staying in these little huts crawling with all sorts of insects (I HATE SPIDERS I COULDNT SLEEP) with the people who ran the company: drunk Eastern Europeans, who, not to stereotype or generalize, but from past experiences and history, are not the safest bunch. On our drive to the river, we got in a car accident. The rapids on the river were barely class 3, mostly class 2, which is not exciting stuff. My dad got food poisoning also our second (and last) night there, so he spent all night curled up on the bathroom floor. By the way the bathrooms were outhouses. Lots of creepy crawlers. And cold. And wet. All I really have to say about that whole experience is, well, I got a funny story out of it.