During the Croatia leg of my month in Europe back in 2011, I spent one gloomy November day in the capital city of Zagreb before heading down to Split and Dubrovnik. Zagreb is a very interesting city, with a mixture of the old and the new; definitely worth a visit.
This was one of the first buildings I saw during my walk into the city: the Art Pavilion in Tomislava Square.
Croatia has some beautiful national parks. Plitvice Lakes is the most famous, but it was too far away for us to visit on our one free day in Split, so we “settled” for Krka National Park; quite a nice consolation prize. If you ever find yourself in the area, it’s well worth a visit. I enjoyed it enough that I chose the falls as my blog’s cover photo.
Split was the most pleasant surprise of my 2011 Eurotrip. Our primary reason for visiting Croatia had been to see Dubrovnik. We knew we would visit other places along the way but did not have anything specific in mind. A friend of my uncle’s recommended Split and when I saw it on the map, it looked like a good halfway point between Zagreb and Dubrovnik, so we booked three nights.
Built in and around the palace of the ancient Roman Emperor Diocletian, Split is one of the most remarkable cities I’ve ever visited. The old palace structure houses everything from apartments to shops and restaurants; the city is completely integrated with the usable parts of the palace. As you walk around the core of Split, inside the ancient Roman palace walls, you are often strolling on the very same roads used by the Romans, still intact and lined with ancient temples and other structures. If have plans to visit Croatia, a stay in Split should definitely be near the top of your list.
This photo was taken as we hiked up Marjan hill, which overlooks the entire city. Prominent features include the palm tree-lined Riva promenade, a great place to sit and have dinner while gazing out at the Adriatic, and the looming bell tower.
In honor of this Sunday’s season premiere of Game of Thrones, here’s a bird’s-eye view of Dubrovnik, a.k.a. King’s Landing. This photo was taken from the top of Srd Hill. To the right of the walled city you can see the fort that figures prominently in many scenes. If you’d like to see more photos related to the TV series, check out Dubrovnik: A Tour of King’s Landing (and other locations).
I took this photo in November during the Croatia leg of my 2011 Eurotrip. This building, located above the main falls at Krka National Park, reminded me of something you might see in a fantasy film, the way it seemed to be one with the land and the water, like something out of Middle Earth.
November 8, 2011: Our final non-travel day in Europe featured summer weather and a cool cable car ride to the top of a mountain to see Dubrovnik in all its glory. But first we visited the impressive Fort Lovrijenac, which sits atop a massive rock looming over the entire city.
Just like the previous day when we walked the city walls, the fort was devoid of crowds (the advantage of being there in November). In fact, we basically had the entire fortress to ourselves, as you can see in the photos below. If you viewed my post about Game of Thrones filming locations, many of these photos will look familiar (click on any image to view a larger version):
The fort is a great place to enjoy spectacular views of the walled city:
After our visit to the fort, we headed to the other end of the city to catch a cable car ride to the top of Srd Hill.
This is where you get the iconic view of Dubrovnik from up high.
Here’s a panorama of the landscape behind Srd Hill:
While up there I visited a war ravaged building called Fort Imperial. Inside is a museum dedicated to the 1990’s Croatian War for Independence. After visiting the museum I walked around the outside of the building where there are signs saying to do so at your own risk, due to the structural damage and leftover debris.
Here are a few more photos from on top of the hill:
After descending Srd Hill, my uncle returned to the hotel while I decided to stay in the city. We agreed to meet up later for dinner. I thought I’d to visit the city aquarium but unfortunately discovered that it was closed. Instead I headed out to the rocks on the shore outside of the city walls. There was not another soul in sight so I was able to sit back and relax as if I had the entire city to myself. I sat beneath the rock in the picture below and gazed out into the sea as the water crashed against the rocks. Simply sublime.
Being alone also allowed me to get a little goofy, as I used the self-timer to snap my traditional Karate Kid photo, which I do on almost every trip:
I then decided to check out a café that serves drinks on the rocks along a different part of the wall. It can be easy to miss if you don’t know to look for it; it’s basically through a little hole in the wall. I had a couple of drinks there and watched the sun set. Here’s a photo of the café taken from up on the wall (it only seems to be open in the early evening):
Later I met up with my uncle and we had our final dinner in Europe at nice a place just outside of town. We then headed back to the hotel to pack for two days of planes, trains, and automobiles until we finally made it back home to New Jersey.
We awoke early the next morning to catch a cab to the bus station, where we hopped on a bus for the four-hour ride back to Split. When we arrived in Split we once again had to fend off all of the people at the train station looking to rent us rooms. We had a long layover before the train to Zagreb was due, so we stored our luggage in lockers and headed into the city. I was glad to be able to pay one final visit to Split; our stay there had been the most pleasant surprise of the entire trip. We had lunch at an outdoor café in the square pictured below, where I had a very tasty pork dish.
The train to Zagreb ran very late, so we didn’t arrive at our hotel until late that night. We had a super early cab ride to the airport the following morning, and thus did not have time to go into the city for dinner; I just had a panini in the train station, then packed for the flight.
From Zagreb we flew to Amsterdam for a 3-hour layover, where they were already celebrating Christmas in early November—there were decorated trees all over the airport. From there it was a long flight back to JFK Airport. I mentioned in Part 1 my desire never to fly out of JFK again, and the return trip only reinforced it. On a good day you could probably drive from JFK to my house in about 90 minutes, but between ridiculously long customs lines, a disorganized shuttle service (which I will also never use again), and bumper-to-bumper traffic on the roads, it took us roughly 7 hours to get home from the time we landed. Finally, we made it to my front door, where I was greeted by my wife and dog after a month apart. It was good to be back home.
And with that, our epic 28-day Eurotrip was over, as is my two-year odyssey of writing this journal. But before signing off I need to give a shout-out to my Uncle Kipp, who made the entire trip possible, first by organizing our group’s two-week stay in beautiful Tuscany that helped me realize my dream of touring Italy, and then by inviting me to accompany him to Switzerland and Croatia after the rest of the group went home. Croatia might never have been on my radar as a place to visit if not for Uncle Kipp, but I’m so glad I went. What an amazing country. The entire trip was an incredible experience that I’ll always cherish. It truly was the trip of a lifetime—lord knows I’ll never be able to take that much time off from work again. 🙂
This installment covers Day 25 of my 2011 trip to Europe…
November 7, 2011: The morning after our introduction to Dubrovnik we were eager to get back into town and head up to the medieval walls that surround the old city–walls so well-preserved that they circle the entire city in one uninterrupted course. First we went down to the hotel restaurant, where I was disappointed to find the servers closing up the buffet 15 minutes before breakfast was scheduled to end. Oh well, that’s what I get for sleeping in.
Following breakfast we headed into the city, bought our tickets, and climbed up to the walls. We had such beautiful weather for early November that I was even able to wear shorts, and the best thing about being there in November was that the walls were practically empty. I’m guessing that Dubrovnik is packed with people during the summer, particularly up on the walls, but we didn’t have to worry about that. We were able to meander at our leisure and take lots of pictures without feeling rushed or bumped along. I was able to get many nice shots that might otherwise have been impossible with larger crowds to navigate.
The views along the walls are spectacular, both looking out to sea and in toward the city. Among the beautiful architecture is also evidence of the devastation from the 1991 Siege of Dubrovnik in the form of ruined buildings (there are even bullet holes still visible in certain buildings). Here are some photos from our walk (click on any image to view a larger version):
If you visit Dubrovnik and do nothing else, spend a day walking the walls, you won’t regret it. And if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, there is the added cool-factor of knowing you are walking in the footsteps of your favorite characters since Dubrovnik is where they film the King’s Landing scenes. If you like the show, you can read more about the various locations used during filming and see related photos at my post: Dubrovnik: A Tour of King’s Landing (and other locations).
We spent most of the day on the walls, though you can do the entire circle much more quickly if you choose (in total it is just over a mile not counting diversions like climbing the Minceta tower). But once you’re up there you will probably wind up staying much longer as we did. I could have spent all day up there just gazing out into the Adriatic and admiring the beauty of the city.
Afterward we had a nice dinner at a restaurant across from Dubrovnik’s entrance overlooking the sea, where I finally found a place in Europe that makes a real Long Island Iced Tea, which I followed up with a Mai Tai. Later that evening we walked around town again hoping to find a jazz club but we did not have any luck, so we settled for sitting at an outdoor café and splitting a bottle of Prosecco while enjoying the night air and the piano music emanating from within. Tomorrow would be our last day in Dubrovnik (and our final non-travel day in Europe), so this was our last night to stay out late and live it up, toasting the end of the adventure we had begun nearly a month ago.
But we still had one more day of fun ahead of us, which will be covered in the next installment. Until then…
This installment covers Day 24 of my 2011 trip to Europe…
November 6, 2011: On our last day in Split we headed down to the bus station to catch an early four-hour ride down to Dubrovnik. The majority of the bus ride took us along the beautiful Croatian coast. The scenery was spectacular and there were plenty of stops along the way so we weren’t cooped up in our bus seats for the entire journey.
Here are some views from the bus. These photos were taken with my cell phone through the window of a moving vehicle, hence the lower quality:
Along the road to Dubrovnik the route actually passes through Bosnia for a brief stretch before resuming in Croatia. When we reached the Bosnian border, officers boarded the bus to view everyone’s passports. We then stopped at a rest area while still in Bosnia, where my uncle nearly got left behind because he was outside messing around with his iPad as the bus was about to leave. The bus driver beeped at him and he finally boarded, but not to worry, I wouldn’t have let the bus take off without him. 🙂
We arrived at the bus station and proceeded to look for a cab to take us to our hotel. When one was not available, we hitched a ride with a private driver who had been parked at the bus stop offering to take people into town for a flat fee. This appears to be a common practice in the area.
We booked a hotel that was about a 15-20 minute walk outside of the old city because when I was researching places to stay, I had read that bedbugs can be a problem in some of the properties in town. I don’t know how true this is, but I didn’t want to take any chances. It was a pretty nice hotel room (probably the best one we stayed in during our entire European trip) with a view of the Adriatic.
After settling in, we left the hotel and walked into town. Here are a couple of views along the route we walked:
Not quite sure where we were going, we wound up taking the long way there, but eventually we came upon the majestic walled city.
We were starving by this point so we decided to grab some dinner. We entered the old city and sat down at one of the first cafes we found on a side street, where we enjoyed a delicious pizza with a spicy salami similar to pepperoni. It was the best pizza I’d had since Venice and I can see why some people think Croatian pizza is even better than Italian.
After dinner we walked around the city as night fell. Here are some photos of Dubrovnik at night.
We then headed home. Most of the 20-minute walk back to the hotel was up a steep hill. We were laboring by the time we got back, and thus decided that for the rest of our stay we would take the bus. We headed to the hotel bar, where I capped the night off with a Croatian beer followed by a delicious mai tai. I then briefly skyped with my wife, during which I time I was able to hear my dog bark for the first time in 3 1/2 weeks, which alone made battling the spotty wi-fi worth it. I then turned in for the evening.
We would spend most of the next day walking the wall that surrounds the old city, which will be covered in the next installment. Until then, here is one more nighttime photo, a long exposure that resulted in a neat fairy tale-ish effect of the water misting over the rocks.
This installment covers Day 23 of my 2011 trip to Europe…
November 5, 2011: After spending a couple of days exploring Split, we decided to take an excursion outside the city. We had wanted to see Croatia’s famous Plitvice Lakes National Park but that would have been a three-hour drive, so we opted for Krka National Park, which was only about two hours away. We booked with a tour company, splurging on a private car and driver, which was a very nice break from all of the public transportation we had been taking for 3+ weeks. We had an entire multi-passenger SUV to ourselves, which made for a relaxing ride without the feeling of being on a tour.
Along the way our driver Ivan stopped at a rest stop/lookout so we could have some tea and enjoy spectacular views of a nearby bridge and the town that would be our ultimate destination.
When we arrived in Skradin we hopped on a boat for a pleasant 30-minute ride downriver to the park, surrounded by gorgeous scenery.
The boat dropped us off at a dock and we entered the park. The falls did not disappoint; they were beautiful to behold. I liked them so much, in fact, that I chose them as the main banner image for this blog.
Here are a couple of panorama shots of the falls:
Later in the day we stopped for lunch and treated Ivan. It wasn’t your typical national park fare; we had a shared dish full of all different kinds of meats, very tasty. After lunch we toured the rest of the loop around the falls. Here are some photos from that part of our day.
At the end of the day I returned to the dock by myself after getting separated from my uncle and Ivan. I was the only person on the dock so it felt like I had the entire river to myself (a major advantage to being in Europe in November is the lack of crowds). I lay down on the dock just staring out at the river accompanied by nothing but the sounds of nature. It was such a peaceful setting; I could practically envision myself as a character in a Mark Twain novel.
The boat picked us up and returned us back to Skradin just in time for sunset.
After leaving the town we detoured to another part of the park in search of another waterfall, but were unsuccessful. We did, however, get a view of Visovac Island, which houses a monastery.
Ivan took us home via a longer route, showing us a different part of the Croatian countryside where the devastation of the last war in that region is still evident. We arrived back in Split late that evening. We didn’t have time to do much, so we returned to our apartment and packed for an early morning bus ride to Dubrovnik, which will be covered in the next installment.
This installment covers Days 21–22 of my 2011 trip to Europe…
November, 2011 – We woke up very early in Zagreb to catch the train down to Split. It was a unique journey. We rode one train for a while, it stopped in the middle of nowhere and everybody on the train transferred to a bus. The bus then took us to a remote train station where we waited for another train to pick us up—this was all part of the one ticket we bought (apparently there was some issue getting a nonstop train, though we were able to on the way back).
In all, it was about a 4- or 5-hour ride, and there was some pretty scenery along the way. The following photos were all taken with my cell phone from a moving train, so they are of lower quality, but still a good representation of the Croatian countryside:
We arrived in Split that afternoon. The moment we stepped off the train we were accosted by people aggressively trying to rent us rooms. We had already reserved a room, so we left the gang of prospective landlords behind and made our way into the city—and an amazing city it is.
Our primary reason for visiting Croatia had been to see Dubrovnik. We knew we would visit other places along the way but did not have anything specific in mind. A friend of my uncle’s recommended Split and when I looked at it on the map, it looked like a good halfway point between Zagreb and Dubrovnik, so I booked us three nights. I’m so glad we decided to stay there because it is truly one of the most remarkable cities I’ve ever visited.
Split is built in and around the palace of the ancient Roman Emperor, Diocletian. The old palace structure houses everything from apartments to shops and restaurants. The city is completely integrated with the usable parts of the palace; I’ve never seen anything like it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
After exiting the train station we headed down to the waterfront and I called the landlord with whom we had arranged a room to let her know we had arrived. She told us to meet her at a church near the waterfront. So we strolled along the water, eventually coming to the main waterfront and getting our first look at the magnificent, palm tree-lined Riva promenade.
We met the landlord and she showed us to our apartment, a tiny upstairs room a little outside of the main city, but still within easy walking distance. After settling in and changing into shorts (the weather was unseasonably gorgeous for early November; it was even warm enough for shorts at night), we headed into the city.
As you walk around the core of Split, inside the ancient Roman palace walls, you are often strolling on the very same roads used by the Romans, still intact and lined with ancient temples and other structures. It was great to take all of this in at our leisure, but part of me wishes we had taken a walking tour with a guide who could have filled us in on the history. I did have a city map with points of interest marked, so that helped.
For our dinner that night we decided to eat in one of the outdoor cafes along the waterfront as the sun set. I don’t recall much about the meal but the view of the Adriatic alone was worth the price of admission.
Later that night we toured the sublevel of the palace. There isn’t a great deal to see down there, and they were prepping for an exhibit so there were a lot of anachronisms such as flat screen televisions, but because the architecture is identical to what the main floor of the palace would have looked like, walking through the sublevel gives you a good idea of what it would have been like to meander through a Roman palace in its prime.
The next day we climbed the Marjan, a hill overlooking the entire city. The hike took a couple of hours with stops for photos of the countryside and some interesting vegetation that reminded me of something out of an Elder Scrolls game. The views along the way and at the top were breathtaking.
After returning from the climb we had some pizza for lunch and then walked around the city some more. Later that night we headed a bit off the beaten path for a nice dinner in a cute restaurant. We also booked an excursion for the following day to nearby Krka National Park to view the beautiful waterfalls, which will be covered in the next segment. In the meantime, here are a few more photos taken at night: