Our last update was after our first day in Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia and one of my favorite stops thus far. As passionate as I was about Athens and Heraklion (in particular all the ruins and museums), Zagreb was the first city Luke and I toured that felt lived in. Yes, there were plenty of museums and other attractions for tourists, but we saw people working in non-tourism centric jobs, saw a city spring festival filled with locals, and Luke chattered with others in Croatian. When we departed on Sunday, we were sad to be leaving. The next city on our list was Split, a city about mid-way down the coast.
As we were leaving Zagreb, I started looking for our lodging in Split. The way Luke and I have approached this trip was a blend of our two styles of travel – he prefers to go day-to-day, while I like to have the whole trip planned and typed in a formal itinerary. As a compromise, we agreed to book one city ahead of where we were currently located. It made sense until we were planning for Italy (but more on that later).
Because of our “go with the flow” approach, we managed to swing a pretty sweet deal in Split- a four-star hotel built into Diocletian’s Palace for about $50 USD per night. Anyone that has bunked in a Motel 6 stateside will know that is not an arrangement you would find easily. We made it to Split late in the evening, so we ended up wandering the labyrinthine streets feeling tired, cranky, and hungry. All that changed once we found our hotel and they told us we could enjoy a free wine tasting the following day. Which of course was the first thing we did (after hitting snooze until noon).
I will be the first to admit that my wine palate is not uber refined. I can tell differences between the reds and whites, enough to know what I prefer and don’t prefer. I will always gravitate to a Cabernet or a Malbec, I don’t favor tawny sweet wines, and my whites need to be dry. That is the extent of it; so, I wasn’t anticipating much out of the tasting other than free drink and bread. But the minute the second wine, a red from the southern region of Croatia, hit my tongue, Luke and I made startled eye contact. It was transcendental – and of course, neither of us can remember the name.
After starting our day late and a little tipsy, we decided to walk around Diocletian’s Palace. Luke braved climbing to the top of the bell tower in our square, while I made it up one flight of stairs and decided to wait on more solid ground while hyperventilating. We visited the same gelato shop twice within 12 hours and walked along the water, a reoccurring theme of our trip.
Our next stop was Dubrovnik, which could only be accessed via ferry or bus. After our last ferry experience, I was a little hesitant, but we thought it would be lovely to see Hvar along the way and purchased tickets. The sleek catamaran that carried us along was much more like the image I was expecting in Crete. After a four-hour tour, we disembarked outside Dubrovnik’s Old Town and set off to find our apartment within the city walls. After several, several staircases later, we collapsed on our bed.
Once we recovered from the stairs, we decided to tour the city walls. Like most of our ideas, we didn’t really conceptualize how long and expansive the walls were, but two hours later we had completely traversed the city. It was absolutely stunning. One of the things that still amazes me about this trip is the intense blue of the seas. Luke and I have a habit of just standing there and gazing out, talking about sailing and living closer to the coast next year.
Most of Dubrovnik was spent wandering Old Town and sampling food and artwork. Our apartment had different homemade brandies for us to enjoy and a snifter of apricot brandy certain made the stairs a bit more bearable.
Dubrovnik was our last stop in Croatia before moving on to Italy, but to get back to the train line, we needed to return to Split. Since we took the ferry down to Dubrovnik, we opted to take the bus to leave. The course followed the coast of the country, crossing into Bosnia Herzegovina, and depositing us at the Split bus station a few hours later. We took another night in Split to catch the first train to Venice on April 27th. At this point, we were about two weeks into our trip. It was (and is) still a little difficult for us to wrap our heads around how much we have seen in such a short (and long) trip.
I mentioned before that our lodging plan was thrown off a bit by Italy. Croatia and Greece were popular tourist destinations, but we were still early enough in the season that finding a bed was not difficult (or relatively* expensive). When we started scoping out places near Venice, the sticker shock floored us. It didn’t help we were determined to stay as close to the city center as possible so we could walk everywhere. My dad was stationed near Venice and offered the sage advice of staying further away, but we managed to forget that advice as we booked the last room at a hotel in Venzia Mestre. On our last night in Croatia, we booked the last of our hotels for the trip to avoid any more surprises.
In an effort to not turn this into a 3,000+ word jumble of thoughts, places, and food, I will wrap up here; but, I will follow up with a round-up of Italy as we return stateside in a few days!
*On the note of expense, please remember that we scrimped and saved both our incomes for two years to build up savings to spend. In terms of how we were able to pull this off, I will say both of us contributing to savings and subsisting out of a backpack are big factors. If you want some pointers or tips, please feel free to message me!