Pula

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After about 10 hours on various buses we finally arrived in Stoja, a little residential peninsula about a mile from the centre of Pula. Stepping off that bus and feeling the sun on us again was certainly a good feeling, and almost made up for how weary we were feeling at this point! The apartment we were staying in was pretty tiny, but with huge gardens, a welcoming host (as seems to be the rule in Croatia!) and only a minute walk from the sea. Glad to be back in the sunshine, our first port of call was to go for a stroll along the beach, exploring the area a bit, before heading across the road to a lovely little restaurant called Gina, where we had some delicious Istrian food and once again too much Rakia.

The next day the weather was glorious, and we walked into the centre of Pula to visit the Amphitheatre and see a bit of the old town. The amphitheatre itself was really impressive and amazingly well preserved, but unfortunately the rest of Pula was a bit of a let down. The city has quite an industrial feel to it, and outside of the old town there didn’t seem to be much worth doing or seeing. We had a couple of pretty chilled out days, seeing the more notable stuff in Pula, being lazy on the beach, eating the endless supply of pomegranates we had been given along the way and drinking far too much kruskovac and cocktails.

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We also discovered what was probably the best restaurant of the whole trip, a little pizzeria called Jupiter. The first time we went we had pizza, which honestly isn’t one of my favourite foods normally but this was damn good. The staff were really friendly, it was incredibly cheap and the food was so amazing that we went back again on our last night. We ordered from the main menu rather than having pizza again, but not expecting much because of the price and the fact that it was a pizza restaurant, but the food we had that night was easily the best meal we had the whole time we were in Croatia.

On our final day we hired some bikes and cycled down to Kamenjak National Park on the southern most peninsula of Istria. It was good to be back on a bike and to do some proper exercise, as well as being a great way to see some more of the country, although I would advice against cycling through the rocky park on a road bike with no suspension! By the time we got there it had unfortunately clouded over a bit, and with it now being October all the cafes, bars and activities were closed for the season. Overall this seemed to be the general feeling I got with Pula, that maybe we were just there too late in the year, but it just seemed to be missing something that we’d found in the other places we had visited.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes

I think I’ve been putting this post off a bit cause it was such a huge disappointment. The original reason I had wanted to come to Croatia was to visit the Plitvice Lakes National Park. I’m sure we’ve all seen photos of it – sprawling turquoise lakes criss-crossed by wooden walkways and overlooked by breathtaking waterfalls – and although it was October it still should have been fairly warm & clear, with the trees changing to lovely Autumny colours. Because it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere and there wasn’t anywhere within driving distance where we could stay and make a day trip, we were spending the night there between Zadar and Pula. Unfortunately this meant that we only had one chance to go and were praying the weather would be good.

We left Zadar early in the morning and already it was promising to be a lovely hot sunny day. But as we headed further inland and into the mountains, the cloud started to build up. Personally speaking at least, with this change in weather my mood went from excited to downright sulky. By the time we reached the lakes we were in thick fog. Not only that, it was so cold we could see our breath – and we were in no way prepared for any sort of cold weather. With our spirits, along with our summer shoes, slightly dampened, we decided to visit the park anyway rather than hold out for the next morning.

I’m not going to lie, it was a rather miserable experience and I left feeling like one day I will have to come back, but it seems that because of it’s location it is very susceptible to bad weather. Towards the end of the day the fog did clear a bit and we got to see some of the waterfalls, but there was one rather creepy moment when we were on a boat crossing a lake and could barely even see the water around us.

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Freezing

We walked back to our B&B through a dark foggy forest known for it’s bears which only added to the days events. But when we arrived we were greeted with a roaring fire, warm showers and a delicious home cooked meal. I’m pretty sure the trout I had had been swimming round the lakes that same morning! Aside from a lovely German couple, who were utterly shocked at my choice of (now ruined) shoes for walking around the lakes, we were the only ones staying there and it was nice to have a little TLC!

We left early the next morning but the fog was still out in full force so I’m glad we hadn’t chanced it! The rest of the day was spent on various buses, and 9 hours later, with a 2 hour wait in Karlovac, something I would 100% not advise anyone to do, we eventually arrived in Pula with the past 24 hours feeling more like a week and very glad to be back in the sun.

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A very welcome sight in Pula!

Zadar


As much as I didn’t want to leave Split, we had a lot of other places to go. So rather hideously early the next morning (this was becoming a pattern) we caught the bus to Zadar. Naturally we got lost trying to find our apartment mostly due to construction work which meant that the street next to ours had become a large hole in the ground, and by the time we arrived I admit I was a little cranky. We had a quick look round the old town then decided as we were both exhausted to just cook dinner and have a night in, which was exactly what we both needed.


The next day we took the bus back towards Split to visit Krka national park. Because of heavy rainfall we weren’t able to swim in the waterfalls, which was a disappointment, but nonetheless we had a great time exploring the park, which is just beautiful. The bad part came when we tried to head back to Zadar and found out that because it was the off-season there weren’t any buses. This resulted in a rather expensive taxi journey and new bus tickets, but it also showed us again how friendly and willing to help everyone is. While it was an inconvenience we made it back eventually, and with one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen as the backdrop to our long bus journey.


Waterfalls at Krka National Park


Our last day in Zadar we spent actually seeing the city, which admittedly was all you really needed as it’s quite small and hasn’t got much to offer. We visited a couple of churches (there are 34 in the old city alone), although i got chucked out of the cathedral for wearing a skirt that was apparently too short, but the highlight of Zadar was without a doubt what is apparently the best ice cream in Croatia. And after sampling each city’s so far I wholeheartedly agree!


The Church of St Donat


That evening we also headed back to the sea front to see the Sun Salutation lit up. It’s also next to the Sea Organ, which is built into the harbour wall and the waves, wind, and passing boats alter the sounds it makes. It’s quite strange at first but we sat on the steps to watch the sunset and after a while it starts to become quite relaxing. Once it was dark, the Sun Salutation, circles of LED covered solar panels which create enough energy to power the entire harbour front lighting, lit up and started a series of light shows which go on until sunrise. The whole thing is pretty difficult to describe – it really is one of these things that you really need to see and hear to capture the unique atmosphere of it.


The Sea Organ

Split

Split

Although much longer than necessary, the bus journey to Split was probably one of the most scenic of my life, sticking to the coastal road and offering wonderful views of the Adriatic, the famous islands and cute little coastal towns. After getting out of the touristy port, finding where I was staying and taking in the city for a couple of hours, I was pretty much decided that this was my favourite place so far. Nowhere near as touristy as Dubrovnik but still with the same charm, plus the gorgeous Riva and just a more genuine feel to the place.

Split

On my first full day, and my last day of being on my own, I explored the narrow streets of Diocletian’s Palace – reminding me a little bit of a smaller version of Dubrovnik’s old city, the ‘palace’ is actually a walled off part of the city. On the one hand it is a series of stunning Roman ruins – based around the central Peristil, just off of which lie the Cathedral of St Dominius, the Temple of Jupiter complete with Egyptian sphinxes, and the Palace’s underground network of cellars, to name just a few. On each of the Palace’s four walls is an ornate gate, named Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron. And yet amongst this striking architecture, life goes on as normal. Split is the shopping capital of Croatia and there is no shortage of designer shops, bars and restaurants nestled into the Palace walls. I decided to take advantage of this and do a bit of shopping, figuring it was best to get that out of the way before I had male company. In the afternoon I headed down to the very central Bačvice beach, which I have to admit was a bit of a disappointment as it seemed a bit dirty and seedy. But a beach is a beach and after lying in the sun for a few hours I was feeling very relaxed. As the day drew to a close I sat on the harbour wall with a mojito and watched the sun set which was pretty spectacular.

Split Split

The next morning I met Alex at the bus stop, checking out the ‘green’ market on the way there where I picked up some fresh food and where you can find just about anything. After showing him the basic sights of Split we decided to walk out to Marjan, where we discovered the much nicer Kasuni beach. The water was pretty cold but we still managed to swim! For dinner that evening we braved the famous black risotto (which I actually enjoyed, though I wouldn’t recommend eating it on a date cause it stains pretty much everything black!) and of course had to get some ice cream, although it wasn’t nearly as good as Dubrovnik’s. Always keen to try local things we also headed to a little bar in the middle of Palace where we tried about half a dozen flavours of rakija. All in all a pretty good day.

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At the Peristil

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Black squid ink risotto

The next morning we had planned on visiting either Hvar or Brač, which after a late night drinking probably wasn’t the best idea, and as it’s the off season the number of ferries is reduced. We missed the one to Hvar so headed out to Brač instead. I don’t think either of us actualy realised how big these islands are, and after docking in the main town of Supetar we didn’t really know where to start. In the end we opted to check out the famous Zlatni Rat beach near Bol, on the opposite side of the island. After contemplating renting a car, and talking Alex out of hiring a dune buggy, this meant another hour long bus ride. While it was lovely, the views were stunning and we both had some much needed time lying in the sun and swimming, I’m not sure it was really worth the 2 hours to get there and we maybe should have planned it a little better! Regardless of the long journey, as we sat and watched the sun set from the ferry heading back over I found myself wishing we could spend a lot longer in Split as it really is an amazing place.

Brač

Brač

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik
So after getting of to a bit of a rocky start, both figuratively and literally , I arrived in Dubrovnik and quickly settled into the laid back, chilled out Adriatic lifestyle that seems to be the essence of this city. Which luckily is just what I needed after the last minute stress over coming out here on my own, followed by the most turbulent flight of my life – think being stuck on a roller-coaster for half an hour and you’re almost there; people were crying, I felt airsick for the first time and the whole plane applauded the pilot when he eventually managed to land – and inevitably managed to get lost trying to find the guesthouse where I was staying. But I made it in the end.



The logical place to begin on my first day in Dubrovnik seemed the Old City, or Stari Grad. On the bus from the airport we of course passed by the outer walls, but that in no way prepared me for the size and beauty of the place once you step through the Pile Gate. Its marble streets, monuments, churches & palaces seemingly at every turn are simply breathtaking, even when overrun with tourists. After wandering the main streets and exploring a few of the smaller side streets, I found a quiet restaurant a bit away from most of the hustle and bustle to have lunch at. Admittedly I still wasn’t expecting much as food in touristy areas usually disappoints, but the salad of copun and seasonal fruit & veg I had was surprisingly good. After lunch I walked along the walls, which again offered spectacular views, something I quickly learnt was true for most places here.

Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik


Having got talking to one of the tour operators outside the tourist information centre, I had booked a kayaking & snorkelling trip for Wednesday afternoon. This took us around the whole of the Old City, over to Lokrum Island, and then to a little cave beach where we stopped for food, swimming & snorkelling. It was great to see the city from the sea and the water is surprisingly clear and clean considering it’s a city with such a busy port. The whole thing was great anyway, though old habits die hard and I once again failed to wear sun cream while kayaking – something I always do and always regret the next day – which I should have remembered after getting the worst sunburn of my life in 2008 after kayaking down the Loire.


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Kicking back in a kayak


After a fairly tiring day I decided to treat myself to dinner at a restaurant. I’m now getting quite used to this dining alone thing! On a recommendation from my trusty Lonely Planet guidebook and TripAdvisor, I decided to check out Taj Mahal, which deceptively is not Indian but Bosnian cuisine. I went for the pljeskavica, almost like a burger but unmistakably Eastern European, and it did not disappoint.


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Thursday’s weather forecast promised heavy rain and thunder storms, and I woke up to the sound of rain hammering down outside and a slight chill in the air. I also woke up to find myself alone in the guesthouse as everyone else had left earlier that morning, so feeling a bit lonely I was just catching up on The Great British Bake Off and drinking tea (typical brit abroad) when the owner’s mum came to clean the other rooms and brought me homemade cake and juice. This little pick me up coincided with the sun coming out, so I headed into town, though still wary of the thunder storm that was supposed to happen that afternoon. But as the skies cleared and at a comfortable 25•c, it became clear that black jeans & an umbrella were perhaps not the best choice for today.


I had planned on using this day of bad weather for more cultural, indoorsy things, and although the weather had improved I didn’t want to miss out on them, so I visited the Rector’s Palace, which like everything else in this city was stunning inside, and with my 25 kuna student entry (sometimes looking young has it’s benefits!) allowing me free entry to some of the other museums, I also went to the Dubrovnik Natural Science Museum, which was deserted and a little underwhelming – but hey it was free.


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Homemade breakfast
Dubrovnik
The Rector’s Palace
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Wee selfie inside the Palace


Being unable to resist the sun for too long though, I sat down at a cafe and caught up on some reading and people watching, which mostly involved watching the Game of Thrones crew setting up for filming, which had started the day before. I actually wandered onto one of the sets earlier on and while I’m not that into the show I admit it was pretty cool, as was seeing a scene being shot the night before when I was out for dinner. After my fair share of museums I headed down to the harbour to book my bus ticket to Mostar, and also to see the area which of course was also lovely.


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Wandering through the Game of Thrones set


On my last day I decided to visit Lokrum Island, which I hadn’t originally planned on but our little kayak jaunt out there made me want to see it. The boat journey over was cheap & quick but the second you arrive it’s as if you’ve been transported miles away from the busy Dubrovnik streets. Peacocks & rabbits meander around you and the whole place is just wonderfully tranquil, and at least when I arrived, almost deserted of people. After some sunbathing and lunch at the dead lake, which I had to defend from hungry peacocks, I explored the monastery, olive grove, path of paradise and the old fort which offers fantastic views back to the mainland. I then proceeded to get lost and spent a good hour walking around almost the entire island completely alone. Coming back to civilisation I found a nice flat rock to sunbathe, read, and generally listen to the calm of the sea, for a couple hours before catching the boat back. All in all a pretty perfect day, which of course I had to finish with some of Dubrovnik’s finest ice cream (my new addiction) – at 10 kuna for a scoop bigger than my fist, dozens of delicious flavours & very friendly staff who definitely remembered me from the day before, it’s hard to resist!


Dubrovnik
Lokrum Island
Dubrovnik
Making friends with the wildlife
Dubrovnik
Gorgeous sunset on my last night

Croatia tomorrow!

So with 8 hours until my flight a few last minute changes have had to be made. Finally got everything booked a couple of days ago and my route will no longer include Rijeka but will have a brief stopover in Karlovac instead. As the ferry to Italy is no longer running (great forward planning here), we will be going overland instead and hopefully spending an afternoon in Trieste as well.

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Also as of a few hours ago I’ll be spending my first week in Croatia on my own. While I’m used to travelling on my own I’m still kind of getting my head around the idea as it’s quite last minute! But hopefully it will give me more time for writing, and although I’ll only have my phone with me I will try and keep this updated as I go.

Vidimo se kasnije!