After returning from Oktoberfest, we rested a mere two days before jetting off again to Croatia. That’s what I love about being on exchange in Europe: in just a few hours, you can be in a completely different country. And travel is frequent and relatively inexpensive, so it’s completely possible to plan a full trip two days in advance… which is what we did for Croatia 🙂
CROATIA (Hrvatska in the local language)
Amanda, Matt and I visited three cities in four days: Zagreb, Dubrovnik and Split. We essentially only had one afternoon in each city, so it felt very rushed. We also took overnight busses, which made us feel exhausted throughout the trip. I would definitely recommend 2-3 days per city, especially with the coastal cities.
I didn’t know much about Croatia before arriving, so I was very pleasantly surprised by its beautiful landscapes and ocean views. None of us could speak a word of Croatian, but everyone in the service industry could speak English.
- Took a 5-hr bus to Croatia’s capital. We didn’t have much planned, but we heard about the Zagreb Card, which gives discounts to museums, galleries, restaurants, nightlife, shopping, theatre & concert halls, city transport and more. We bought the 24-hour pass at an affordable 60 Croatian Kunas (less than €8).
- Whenever I travel somewhere new, I think about how I would describe the place to somebody who’s never been before. Most European cities that are a mix of old, classical architecture and and modern, contemporary buildings and ideals. However, my first impression of Zagreb was “a mix of run-down and semi-modern”.
- Visited the Croatian History Museum, which always has rotating exhibitions. Currently it was showcasing Croatian involvement in WW1.
- Visited the Museum of Broken Relationships, which displays the stories behind all sorts of breakups, not only between dating couples, but also concerning family members, friends, etc. It was definitely a highlight of our time in Zagreb because of its funny tales and quirky symbolism. Zagreb has tons of museums and galleries, ranging from middle-age paintings to contemporary art to olive oil.
- Walked around the city for a few hours and saw churches, alleyways, etc.
- While waiting for our overnight train to Dubrovnik, we went to a cafe to relax and unwind from the day of sightseeing. I really love the patio culture in Europe: it’s so nice to sit leisurely and sip on some coffee or tea for a few hours. North Americans are always so “go go go”.
- The majority of the reason why we came to Dubrovnik was because this is where they film the scenes set in Kings Landing in Game of Thrones (the popular HBO TV series). It’s a beautiful coastal city on the Adriatic Sea and a big tourist attraction. It was also named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. We also bought a 24-hr Dubrovnik Card for 150 HRK (€19.50 EUR), which gave us free entrance into the City Walls, a transit pass, and discounts at many food joints.
- When you subtract all the tourists, Dubrovnik’s Old Town is like being in a mysterious fantasy land: it feels like it shouldn’t be a real place. Maybe my opinion is primed by the fact that a fictional TV series is filmed there, but the compact wingspan-sized alleyways and picturesque views made me feel like I was in a fabricated world. It’s hard to describe.
- Lunch at one of the many ocean-facing restaurants along the pier, and our first encounter with seafood in Europe! The food came abnormally fast – which made me question its authenticity: was it all freshly prepared that same morning and made to order, or just frozen and bagged like everywhere else? Was the food actually fresh and local, or was it just a tourist grab? I guess I’ll never know. It was pretty tasty, but not amazing like I’d hoped from a coastal city.
- We toured the City Walls, which are considered to be one of the greatest fortification systems in the Middle Ages because it was never breached by a hostile army during that period. Even with the overcast weather, the view was breathtaking!
- Early morning 3.5-hr bus ride to Split, another coastal city and big tourist destination
- Visited Diocletian’s Palace, in the heart of the city. This was where the Roman emperor Diocletian retired in 305 AD. Most of what we could see consisted of a church, a bell tower and an ancient basement.
- We went on a walk, and trekked up several flights of stairs to Vidilica, a picturesque lookout point surrounding a piece of forested land much like Stanley Park in Vancouver. We were going to hike up further, but decided it would take too long for the entire loop given that we only had an afternoon in Split.
- Walked down in search of Bačvice Beach, considered one of the most popular in Split. Our map pointed out that it was labelled a “Blue Flag Beach”. It’s certified, so it must be good, right? When we arrived, it was a bit underwhelming. I had pictured a huge beach stretching for miles and super full of people playing beach volleyball, sun tanning, etc. Well, I learned later that the Blue Flag label concerns strict standards of water quality, environmental education and information, and safety and other services… not so much on the aesthetic aspect. Nonetheless, we were so excited by being beside the ocean (after weeks in the land-locked Austria) that we waded into the water without hesitation. Despite the overcast and “cold” weather (18º C), the water was much warmer than the Pacific Ocean. A real treat for us!
- Ate at Buffet Fife for dinner, traditional food on a budget. Really good value for what we ordered!
- Walked along Trumbićeva Obala, a street consisting mostly of oceanside cafés and restaurants. Had a drink at Brasserie on 7, a really cutely decorated café with white outdoor Christmas lights, pastel blue décor and delicious-looking cakes. Pricey though!
Although our trip was very rushed, we had a wonderful few days in Zagreb, Dubrovnik and Split. Croatia may not be the first on a North American’s list when they travel to Europe, but I’d definitely recommend it among the Eastern European countries, (especially Split as a vacation spot).