Croatia AKA KING’S LANDING 2
Croatia, Pt. 2
My second time traveling Croatia was a completely different experience from the first. Most notably, I was with friends while we were studying abroad. Because we were just a bunch of students traveling, we were also on a much tighter budget than when I was there with my family. I don’t think I could recommend one way over the other; I believe that I got to know the places I went to with my friends better than when I went with my family, but I got to see more of Croatia when I went with my family.
We decided to go to Croatia as part of a 2 week trip at the end of our semester before we began to go back home to the States. Throughout the semester we had collectively (and sometimes together) visited Ireland, Holland, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, England, and Estonia, so I (having already traveled much more of Europe) put together our itinerary. My friends were excited to go a little more Eastern; their only requirements were that we make it to Berlin and Prague. Since we were on a budget, we needed to plan travels that minimized airfare, and maximized Europe’s train system. I figured we would end in Berlin or Prague, since they were closest to Helsinki for us to fly home, and therefore begin in the Southernmost country in our itinerary, Croatia. In between, we added Slovenia, since it was on our route North. Our itinerary for 15 days of travel cost around $900 (per person), and about half of that was just airfare because we were based in Helsinki. Had we been in mainland Europe it could have been still significantly cheaper.
I really covered Dubrovnik in my last post, but it was like I said earlier, it was a totally different experience this time. We stayed at the Fresh Sheets Hostel in Dubrovnik, which apparently is unfortunately now closed permanently. Since we were there in late April, the high season of tourism hadn’t started, so compared to the summer before the city was significantly emptier (and much cooler, as the heat was scorching over the summer). It was nice to experience it like this, I felt that I got to see the city for what it really is, and explore it a lot more easily.
The first thing we did when we got there was walk the walls of Old Town. You can’t really go to Dubrovnik without doing this. The walls are what really give the city the vibe that it has, and offer sweeping views of the orange, jam-packed rooftops of the buildings that saturate it, as well as the surrounding city and Adriatic Sea. We walked probably every street within the city, climbing all of its steps, and checking out multiple Game of Thrones filming locations (finally I had someone to share my excitement with; my friends are fellow GoT cult members).
Following our initial exploration (well – not mine really) of the city, we went to check out an abandoned hotel just outside of Old Town. This hotel used to be a 5-star hotel, but towards of the end of the Cold War, it was destroyed when Croatia fought for its independence from Yugoslavia. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been to an abandoned place like that, but it is kind of creepy. There was a trespassing notice right at the entrance, which we clearly ignored. Then once inside, everything was tagged with all sorts of graffiti, most notably many swastikas, and other profanity. Some of the walls had bullet holes and were stained with blood, with shattered glass all over the ground. Also there was this private security guard that was shadowing us and looked like Ivan Drago from Rocky IV, who then (not so kindly) asked us to leave when we got deeper into our exploration of the hotel… Scary. BUT the trial by combat between The Mountain and Oberyn Martell was filmed there, which was pretty cool to see.
Our second day in Dubrovnik we did a one day tour out to the city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I had seen a lot of beautiful pictures of the towns bridge and river, and it is only a couple hours out of Dubrovnik. We booked a small private tour out there on Viator. The town is very picturesque, with a few spires from Mosques poking out into the sky throughout it, and views of the bridge from terraced restaurants all over, it was very quaint and picturesque. The food was also great – a lot of meats – and cheap!
On our third day, we decided to take kayaks out from Blackwater Bay (GoT reference, shocker) and take them out on the water around Dubrovnik. We didn’t realize just how tiring this day would be. It was the hottest of our days there, and the trip was not just some casual kayaking, we went along the coast outside of Old Town to a little cove for some cliff jumping, and then from there onto circumvent the entire island of Lokrum (where Qarth was filmed!) before heading back to the bay. Aside from the physical exertion, it was a nice, relaxing day just enjoying the shimmery and crystal clear Adriatic Sea and hidden nooks of the largely untouched Lokrum.
That night one more of our friends arrived to meet up with us, and since we were leaving the following afternoon, I woke up early the next morning to go on a run with her and take her to all of the sights in Dubrovnik. At 6:30 AM, the town is dead asleep. There were maybe 2 people that we encountered on our run, the streets were completely empty and it was completely silent. Rarely do you get an opportunity to explore somewhere in that kind of environment. That was probably one of the more memorable moments of the trip because it was just so unique.
Split and Plitvice, Again
Our next stop in Croatia was in Split. We only went to Split to go to Plitvice National Park, and check out Hvar. But, our time there ended up being so much fun we didn’t even make it to Hvar, and that was thanks to Josko, the man in charge at Split Guesthouse & Hostel. If you go to Split, you absolutely have to stay here. First off, the accommodations are great; warm water, comfortable beds, good location, all you need in a hostel. Second, most importantly, Josko is awesome. He knows where to go and what to do, and he’ll take you there also (and he knows which rules are made to be broken). Last, but certainly not least, is his family. He has two adorable daughters, and his mother make a bomb breakfast. If you don’t know what an Albatross is, you’ll know after staying here.
Josko did us a big favor of driving us out to Plitvice Lakes National Park, where I went in Part 1. Unfortunately, we didn’t get good weather when we were there, but we did get to explore parts of the park that I hadn’t seen the first time, and when its all gushing waterfalls, thats pretty cool. At one point, Josko let me get up close and personal with one of the falls, which normally, during high season there would be absolutely no chance of doing – its technically not allowed, but also not very enforced and without signage.
On our way back from the Lakes, we stopped at this random little place to grab a bite to eat. This random little place happened to have a mini “petting” zoo in the back, housing 2 bears (seemed like Grizzlies to me), and some big deer/elk thing. It was all really cool as the bears just sat there and looked cute, until the deer/elk decided to HOP THE FENCE, at which time everyone screamed and ran away. But, it wasn’t we who were most excited, it was the bears. All of a sudden the bears were tracking the same movements as the deer/elk, and salivating at the mouth. The Winnie the Pooh look vanished, and out came Mr. Revenant. That was certainly quite an exciting experience.
One last stop before returning to the hostel was at this cool mountaintop fort that offered up views of all of Split. I don’t have all that much to say about it except for it was cool to explore these stone fort ruins that were still pretty well kept, with archer positions and dungeons and all.
Shoutout to Josko for showing us a great time.