Croatia

September 30, 2007 at 6:58 pm | Posted in Croatia | 1 Comment

August 26 – September 8 14 days.

The six hour train ride to Zagreb from Budapest turned out to be easy. We sat in a six seat compartment with two other adults so Peter and I were a bit worried about how we would be able to keep the boys calm and engaged in such small quarters, however, some snacks, homework, ipods and some conversation about the passing scenery helped pass the time. We arrived in Zagreb at the train station and this was our first time having to figure out where we were going to sleep. We called a few places listed in our guidebook and, surprisingly, they were booked or expensive. We didn’t want to stay outside of the center because we were only staying one night and wanted to walk to all of the nearby sites. We settled on a Sheraton. It was luxury compared to the prior two places. We didn’t feel we had earned luxury yet, but, we indulged anyway. We gathered up our packs and walked the 5 blocks to the hotel. Zagreb has a tourist center and we were pleasantly surprised on how European it was and appealing. We strolled up a pedestrian street and had a fantastic meal recommended in a guidebook.

We rented a car and headed north to a scenic town recommended in our guidebook. We easily took to the highway and followed the winding roads to Kumrovec. There was a open air museum of village life in the early days complete with thatched roof home, vibrant gardens and farms. The villages were reminiscent of Tuscany with clustered houses surrounding a main church on the crest of the hill and cascades of olives and grapes linking one town to another. Street signs were scant but we made our way through across the region taking it all in. The hills were so serpentine that we needed to stop and relieve a bout of car sickness with some fresh air beneath the trees while picnicking on grapes, apricots, yogurt and popcorn from a local market.

While the boys slept, we hauled down the highway towards the region of Istria. With no place to stay, we pulled in around 6:00pm and went to the Tourist Information Office which specialized in apartments. Within 5 minutes, we had an apartment, dropped off our bags and after some sign language with the owner, we made our way to a promenade that followed the coastline towards the resort town of Opatija. We had a lovely dinner while listening to a Croatian jazz quartet singing american tunes. The color of the water and the dusk sky were merged and enveloped the restaurant. We walked about a mile home along the same promenade. We hung our laundry outside one of the festoons of clotheslines that decorate all of the towns but suffocated a bit indoors as it was not until a few days later that we learned that the strange looking rectangle near the ceiling was an air conditioner and it wasn’t until a few days after that we realized that you don’t turn it on by trying to reach the buttons with a broom handle. All air conditioners are controlled with a come with a remote in your room.Istria turned out to be wonderful. We left our first apartment the next day and headed down the coast towards Pula at the southern tip of the penninsula. Pula had fantastic examples of roman ruins including a nearly intact amphitheater. The boys were fascinated by tales of gladiators unlucky criminals and explanations as to why a life sentence in jail is much nicer than having to face the lions. After exploring the medieval streets, we headed to lovely Rovinj – Laura’s favorite.

After stopping by a bat cave and a lonely church who’s claim to fame was that it contained six mummified christians (we serve the needs of all passengers), we arrived in Rovijn. Our route was dictated by what sounded nice in the guidebooks but the guidebooks never really prepare you for how lovely someplace is in real life. Unfortunately, everyone else thought so, too, and it was hard to find a place. This time we could not find the the tourist office but, we got lucky by being persistant with someone with some knowledge who took pity on us (Laura always brought one of the boys when asking for hotel availability) and found a hotel within walking distince to the town. The town kept unfolding as turned every corner until it opened up to a stunning harbor with cafes, umbrellas, lights, music, stars, strolling couples, bicycles, boats and food cooking. Overlooking the harbor was the belltower and church and the medieval town bathed in moonlight. We couldn’t believe that this part of the world was not more known to us before now but it was certainly known to a variety of European vacationers because the place was bustling – in a good and lively way. We felt like we had just crashed a private party and we felt very welcomed. The next two days we explored the hilltowns on our way to Plitvice National Park. It took most of the day to drive there so the ipods came in handy and we stopped to write our postcards and do schoolwork at a local village. There are three major hotels in the park and we must have got the last room because we paid for it! But, it was a big room with a lovely room and the boys were excited to have so much space to move all of the furniture around and create a fort and a restaurant before bedtime. The next morning we headed out for a 5 mile hike along the aquamarine-colored lakes that gradually cascade down a staircase of rock creating hundreds of waterfalls. You walk along boardwalks the whole way with your mouth agape at the beauty of it all. We took a truck to the highest end (we got to sit in the cab with the truck driver) and walked all day. There were lots of people but most were doing an abbreviated walk. We couldn’t believe how may folks were in heels “hiking” the boardwalks. The Europeans always look good. We were sure we were the only Americans for 300 miles around because we hadn’t run into any yet in Croatia.The boys found walking sticks at the beginning of the hike and they ended up keeping the walking sticks from August 31 until September 21. These sticks went in taxis, buses, hotels, restaurants, and ferries. The went from Croatia, through Greece and Turkey. They were practically like pets to us towards the end when we couldn’t take them on the plane. There were tears everywhere and it was too late to check them since our plane was already boarding when they were confiscated at the x-ray machine. We told the boys that they will go back into the earth and will probably reappear within something else they find along their adventure (Oliver is convinced that a wooden top he bought in Turkey is made from his walking stick, so everyone is happy again).

We visited Trogir, Split and the islands of Hvar and Korcula then onto famous Dubrovnik over the next week. We ended up spending 14 days in Croatia because we loved it and we had our own wheels for most of the time and were wanting to explore every nook and cranny. We dropped the car in Split and took ferries to the islands. Trogir and Split were focused on the castles and walled palaces while Hvar and Korcula were about being laid back and sitting at cafes most of the day, mailing packages, swimming, and this is where we got some good internet cafe time. It was in Korcula that we met up with some folks from an english-speaking country for the first time since we left. We chatted with them until we got our fill while the boys turned the deck furniture into a fort and took turns balancing ashtrays on the empty umbrella stand (they still haven’t touched their toys).

In Croatia, and other places, when you arrive somewhere (port, train station, bus station), folks are clambering at the end of the gangplank waving signs advertising rooms – “cheap”, “pretty”, “water views”, “close to town”, “free shuttle”. In Dubrovnik we decided to give it a whirl (prior to this we called places in our book or booked through an agency). This 70 year old woman was tenacious enough to gain my attention and showed me pictures of her place. We followed her for about 5 blocks (she spoke some english) and we kept asking “Is it close yet”, “Is it private?” (she didn’t understand the word private), “4 beds, right?”, “300 kuna, right”. We finally got to the apartment which was homely but clean (sort of) and decorated as typical Croatian city dwellers decorate. We said, “O.K” (who’s going to walk back to the port now with all of our packs) and then a young couple come walking out of one of the bedrooms (it was a 3 bedroom). We said, “Who are you?” He said, “We are renting one of the bedrooms.” Interesting that she didn’t understand the word private. In the end, they were a nice couple and they were leaving in the morning. We never even saw them after that and each bedroom had a lock. We used the suprise to negotiate a better deal and learned going forward that you must learn these words when you get to a country: Hello, Thank you and Private. The place was cheap and the boys had fun playing with the salad spinner in the sink in the kitchenette and they used other kitchen utensils to whip us up some bottlecap soup with fresh bottlecaps collected along our trails which had been safely stored in their pockets. Yum.

Everything about Croatia was satisfying to all of us: the coastal towns, the hiking, the white limestone coast set against the blue Adriatic, the bat caves, the mummies, the ferries, the wine, the castles, the pizza and the cobblestone pathways and the natural beauty. We were all truly sad to leave and we highly recommend Croatia as a family destination. The boys were most impacted by the roman ruins of Pula and Plitvice National Park. The walled city of Dubrovnik would impress anyone despite the crowds. They were also impressed by all of the fruit that grows in people’s backyards that we would buy at the fruit store in Marblehead including kiwi, pomegranates, limes and figs.

We booked our ferry tickets to get to Greece and left Dubrovnik after lunch to begin our next adventure.

(click photo for slideshow)

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  1. We are loving the vicarious traveling we are doing with you. Thank you for keeping us updated and for providing fantastic pictures. xxoo from the Kennedy Family


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