6-15 April: Spring Break. Part 2.
Croatia is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. Our week long drive through this very small country took us to beautiful and diverse landscapes, ancients cities, and some of the friendliest people we had met anywhere else in Europe. Everyone we interacted with was very hospitable and was happy to show us their Croatian culture.
Croatia is a very young country, but its culture dates back to the Romans. Many palaces were established by Emperor Diocletian. Control always seemed to be held elsewhere; first by the Ottoman Empire, then the Hapsburg Empire, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and then the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It was only in 1991, during the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, that Croatia declared their independence and fought a brutal war to gain their own republic government. Compared to other formerly Yugoslav countries like Romania and Albania, they seem to be doing amazingly well after such a short time of independence. They have become a very popular vacation destination for Europeans, they have recently built a beautiful highway system, they hold an active part in Mediterranean trade, and they can still encourage their unique culture; yet, their very recent and tough past can still be seen reflected in their eyes. They have had a hard 20 years since independence but what they have now is incredible.
9 April: Monday
The Croatian boarder guard was very daunting as we passed between Hungry and Croatia. They carefully looked at each of our passports and visas and had us open the trunk of the car. We were now stepping out of the EU and into “unknown” territory. The “Republika Hrvatska,” aka Croatia, had a very tight boarder control and, from what I could tell, they were not too eager to open boarders and join the EU.
Our first stop was in the capitol of Zagreb (to the north east). It was just a quick lunch stop where we discovered our staple food for our stay. Beef soup was a beef broth with little noodles and veggies and it was so delicious everywhere we ate it!
Today was long drive to the seacoast. The cross-country trek took us through grassy countryside, snow-capped mountains, miles of tunnels, and finally down winding roads to the seaside. I was amazed how quickly the landscape changed. We stayed in the town of Zadar and slept very well at a little guesthouse an older couple was renting to us.
10 April: Tuesday
We made a quick visit to the ancient town center where we visited ruins, and the water organ (see the video below) and discovered something special. In-&-Out! We had heard fantasy stories of an In-N-Out in Croatia and we were so surprised to happen upon it during our walk through the town. It looked legit at first, until we noticed some changes to the sign. Can you spot the difference? Al was so excited that he ordered us all double-doubles that turned out to be larger than my face and none of us could finish them.
We spent the afternoon at Krka National Park, the little sister of the Plitvice Lakes. Raised wooden paths glided us over the clear blue water, amazing waterfalls, and calcium carbonate deposits. The weather was perfect and I was blown away that such a beautiful place exists. Al was brave enough to take a dip in the one swimming hole, but the water was too cold for us girls.
A little interview with Al before we left the lakes:
11-12 April: Wednesday & Thursday
Tuesday evening we arrived in the town of Split. We made arrangements to rent an apartment for the four of us for less than a hostel. Our apartment was just a block away from Diocletian’s palace (the ruins had been turned into the main shopping area and tourist center) and steps from our favorite restaurant FIFE, where we ate each night. At FIFE, we feasted on seafood risotto, grilled catch of the day, beef soup, and free water. We ate the local cuisine “family style” at this restaurant every night. We met lots of nice people and we sat next to an Italian couple one night and they gave us the food they could not finish! It is perfect for poor and starving college students like us. 😀
We spent these few days soaking up the sun, eating, shopping, and goofing off. We even took a swim in the, still cold, spring, sea. Madi broke off from the group she was traveling with and met up with us in Split on Thursday night and would travel with us for the rest of the trip.
13 April: Friday
Croatia is also called the Dalmatian coast, named for the thousands of small islands that dot the coastline. We decided to take an hour ferry to the island Hvar. The weather was horrible, but I think it was one of the best days of the trip. I think our group and a Japanese-American tour group (led by a cute, 85-year old powerhouse Japanese granny) were the only ones visiting the island that day. The sea was angry and it rained all day, but we still ventured out and enjoyed the view. I even did a watercolor!
The best part was dinner that night. We left our lodging up the hill and ventured into the town. The poked our head into the only restaurant with lights on and it was packed. We were seated quickly by the owner, who was ecstatic to discover that we were from California! He said, “I have a cousin in California! He owns a winery in Pismo Beach!” Again, our world is so small! Alviz served delicious us delicious food. I had cevapcici, ground beef fingers grilled over an open flame and served with a spicy red sauce. So tasty! The owner gave us some desserts to try including an almond semi-freddo that was to die for! Mid-way through the meal, the owner’s buddies (I think most were fishermen) can in to have a drink and they all started singing in Croatian and having a grand old time! It was such a fun atmosphere!
14-15 April: Saturday & Sunday
In the morning, we took the ferry back to Split and began the drive back to Firenze. We spent the night in Rijeka, one of the largest ports in Croatia that had a bustling student nightlife. Dinner was at an Italian restaurant where Al and Madi had the spiciest pizza ever. They were both crying.
We were back in Firenze around 8pm. All exhausted from sitting in the car and traveling. This trip was a nice break from our normally rigid travel schedule.
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I loved Croatia. I would recommend 1000 times over to anyone. The country is so diverse and offers many unique things to see. We were there in the early spring, when the weather is still cold and rainy and I can’t wait to go again some summer when I can enjoy the turquoise water.
Thanks Croatia for the best of times.