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Posts tagged ‘Croatia’

Europe comes to an end

We’ve now been away a total of 201 days, 177 days have been spent in Europe,

We’ve been from London to Turkey
(not New York to Rio, like Peter Allen ☺).

We’ve covered 14 countries; some we just passed through, others we explored in detail.

England / France / Italy / Serbia / Croatia / Bulgaria / Turkey / Greece / Montenegro / Slovenia / Austria / Switzerland / Germany / Spain

A few of the highights:

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Driven over 20,000km, no parking tickets or speeding fines (we know of). No car accidents – just 1 flat tyre.

Nothing lost, nothing broken and the worst illness was a stomach bug for a few days.

Cheapest accommodation: €15 a night on Leros
Most expensive: €160 a night in Paris

CPI (Coffee Price Index): most expensive €4.50 in Venice, the cheapest €0.50 in Berane, Montenegro

WCP (Wine Consumption Price): most expensive was £9 for a glass of champagne in London, the Cheapest in France (of course), €4 a bottle.

Best meal:  Hard to say, we’ve had so many; from eating a home cooked meal with the family in Guzelyurt, to fine dining at Le Gabriel in Bordeaux, enjoying the local Fête’s in France or simply cooking with fresh ingredients from the markets. I don’t think we’ve had a bad meal.

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We’ve met some wonderful people along the way. The added pleasure and delight, has been those friends and family who joined us; whether it be for a dinner, a weekend or a few weeks: Ross and Kate, Katrina, Helen and Rod, Bruce, Penny, Dale, Leeanne, Elisa and Ian, our Niece Claire and my sister Jane.

As well as visiting and enjoying the generous hospitality of the Ryan’s in Switzerland, Andrea and Margit (her Mum) in Austria, and the Brown’s in London.

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So far, the Callander capers have been amazing.

Best of all, we are still talking to each other…..most of the time!!

We still like each other!

We still like each other!

Zagreb

Croatia’s capital is often overlooked on the tourist route; most people limit their travels to the Croatian coastline and islands.  As far as beautiful cities in this part of the world go, it’s overshadowed by neighbouring Slovenia’s capital – Ljubljana.

Nonetheless, we decided to give Zagreb a visit and we are pleasantly surprised by what we discovered.  Yes, you do need to limit your exploration to the historic parts of town.

Ignore the ugly socialist architecture surrounding the city and you will find an inner sanctuary with charming buildings designed with Austro-Hungarian influence.  Trams run through the centre, down wide promenading streets with ornate buildings, surrounded by lush public gardens.  This is a city that has lived through grand times and deserves a better reputation.

We lucked-out, finding Rose &  Margaret Apartments in the center of town.  We stayed in a stylish studio for three nights at a reasonable price.

My first objective during our visit was a haircut. I,who has religiously been for a cut & colour every 6 weeks, has subjected my hair to sun, salt and cheap shampoo for the last 4 months.

I am also trying to convince myself that my hair is going ‘blond’ from all the sun and salt, rather than ‘reality grey’. What were previous blonde highlights are now more like streaks of silver.  At this rate, I could be totally grey by the time I get home!  Sorry Suzanne (my hairdresser in Melbourne), you’re going to have a big job on your hands when I return.

I’ve given up on trying to keep the grey at bay, but a trim to rid me of split ends and tidy it up would be ideal. Picking a salon is based on one that looks reasonable and can speak some english.

Having someone wash your hair and massage your scalp, is one of life’s little pleasures. After a conditioning treatment, cut and blow dry, for AUS$40, my hair feels in a much healthier state. That’s no doubt the cheapest haircut I’ve had in a long time. Still trying to convince myself it’s blonde!

Sporting my new ‘do’, we head off to explore the city. Don steers us towards a brewery for a local beer tasting and then we go in search of a boutique wine bar that I had read about. Sherry’s Coffee & wine Lab, served an excellent selection of wines, accompanied by a fabulous tasting plate of prosciutto carved fresh off the bone, with olives and cheese. We also sampled their excellent coffee, something this part of the world lacks a lot of.

The public squares, of which there are plenty, are lined with cafés and bars.  People watching is an offical pastime in Zagreb.  Even though it’s summer and we are told many leave the city, it’s still a buzz with people filling the numerous street places to drink, eat and watch.

One of the things that struck us about Zagreb is the number of book and CD shops. We are seeing a massive decline in both, with major retailers around the world closing their doors, yet there is a bookstore on every block and CD stores to match. The other dominating retailers are shoes, there are shoe shops everywhere.

Saturday: the centre of town turns into a lively market. It’s a sensory overload; a colourful array of fruit and vegetables accompanied by the delicate smells of freshly cut flowers greet us.

Walk down stairs and you are met with the pungent smell of maturing cheeses and fresh meats. There is also a seafood market with a vast array of water dwelling creatures, some I didn’t even recognise.

The experience conjures up a menu of delicious dishes, inspiring my imagination to cook a gastronomical feast with all the fresh ingredients available. Alas, the inspiration did not turn into a meal!

We throw ourselves into Zagreb nightlife on Saturday night. Joining the throngs of people sitting, sipping and seducing (I needed another word that started with s), along the café/bar lined promenades. We prop ourselves on a bar stool and people watch for a while.

Zagreb/Croatia is a bit of a paradox; this is a country with an unemployment rate of around 18%, the average income is equivalent to A$12k per year, yet there are plenty of people of all ages, out and about spending money.

Retail does not seem to be suffering. Prices are reasonable with the CPI (cappuccino price index for those who have forgotten) between AUS$2-$3, the WCC (wine consumption cost) at AUS$3-4 a glass.

All in all, Zagreb was well worth a visit.

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Plitvice Lakes

This is one of the most magnificent natural sites we have seen and an impressive, well organised national park.

We arrived in the late afternoon. The weather is good, but the forecast for tomorrow is not.  We decide to see as much as we can today.  A shuttle takes us to the top of the upper lake system and it’s a fairly easy 2 hour ramble back down.  

A wooden footbridge allows you to navigate around and across the twelve turquoise lakes.   The water is an amazing colour, so clear you can see the abundance of fish happily swimming in each of the lakes.

As you descend, the lakes cascade down through the valley.  Natural dams have formed as a result of the rich minerals, resulting in waterfalls.  The water gushing through the rock face, rather than over it.

The next day the rain came in, which is unfortunate as we could have spent at least another day exploring the lower system.

It is definitely on the ‘revisit list’.

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Hvar & Trogir

Hvar

We thought our ferry days were over, but here we are again, island hopping!  We couldn’t visit Croatia without checking out at least one island, so Hvar is it.

Brač and Vis both come recommended and we would have liked to visit these, however, taking a car proved difficult as it seemed we couldn’t go direct from one island to the next, as we always needed to go back to the mainland.  Oh well, there is always next year!

We take the ferry from Drvenik (mainland) to Sucuraj (Hvar) on the eastern tip of the island and we drive up the spine. There are a few spots along the way, but we have decided to base our selves in, or near, the main town, also called Hvar.

This town is renowned for being a party town.  On first sight, that’s exactly what it looks like.  There isn’t much of a beach and what there is, is crowded, mostly with 20 somethings snoozing off the night before.

About 5km back down the road we had passed Milna and we decide to go back for a closer look.   We instantly like it; it’s a quiet little beach spot with a few restaurants. Just the place to relax for a couple of days.

Moli Onte apartments  are above the family run restaurant.  Mum, Dobrilla, makes us immediately feel at home with her family.  She also has relatives in Nunawadding (Victoria) and can proudly tell us, the postcode is 3131!  Its a clean and basic set-up – Bedroom with own bathroom (of course) and much appreciated air-conditioning.  We also have use of a shared kitchen.  Our room opens onto a large balcony with wonderful views over the water.

Of course, we dine at Moli Onte and the fresh seafood is superb.  You know its fresh, because you can watch it swim around just before you eat it!   We start chatting to the table next to us: Mitch and Mike, a father and son from Sandringham – the world is a small place.

Our original plan to stay three nights stretched from four and then to five.  I am still surprised that we can so easily fill in our days on the beach reading books, swimming and the occasional nap!

Hvar town was also a surprisingly a gorgeous  town, one of the nicest we have been to.   We ignore the doof doof sounds pounding out of the bars (even in the early afternoon) and step into the cobblestone back streets, where we discover a well preserved old town oozing with wine bars, restaurant and chic boutiques.  We stumbled across Hedonist Wine and Tapas bar.  We have a glass and a nibble and are convinced we need to come back, so we do.  The tapas lunch, which includes 5 choices each and two glasses of wine, was well worth the trip.

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Split

The return ferry is from Stari Grad, Hvar to Split, perhaps we didn’t do the city justice, but our first impressions told us not to stay long.  The main feature of the town is the Diocletian Palace. This is not a palace in regular terms, more an old town.   It’s marble streets and imposing Roman ruins are well worth the stop (I’m starting to sound like a Michelin Guide; yes, I’d give it ☆☆☆).  We have lunch and walk around, then keep on going up the coast.

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Trogir

Settled in the 7th Century, its a medieval town (of course, it has a wall around it).  The town is built on a small islet nestled between Ciovo Island and the mainland, a bridge adjoins the three.  The port side promenade is lined with bars and cafes so you can sit and admire the luxury yachts moored alongside.

The seaside resorts on Ciovo are crowded.  Croatia is becoming a more popular tourist destination, particularly with Italians and Slovenians, not to forget the Germans who are prolific travelers and big naturist (so I am told).  

We spend two nights here, exploring the medieval town and cooling off in the channel between the island and mainland.

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Dubrovnik Croatia

You can’t help but be impressed by the old walled city of Dubrovnik.

You wouldn’t know it, but the city fell victim to extensive shelling during the 1991-92 battle for independence and was significantly damaged.  Its restoration is a credit to the Croatians.

The one downside to visiting Dubrovnik is the number of tourists.  We are running into peak season now and are seeing an increase in people (just like us) touring, but this is magnified three-fold when you add in cruise ship tourists.   Dubrovnik is a very popular cruise port, with up to 10 or more ships a day.

They (the cruise ship tourist) swarm upon a destination;  like a flock of sheep obediently following its shepherd. In this case the shepherd is easily identifiable from the coloured flag they hold up high, marching onward.

So, to avoid the swarms we have a few tactics of our own.  Firstly, wait until they leave and enjoy the city in the evening.  The added benefit of this is that it will also be cooler.  We’ve found accommodation for the night at Astrid Apartments, just up the hill overlooking the old town.

It’s €70 a night, which is a little over our budget, but we’ve quickly worked out that this is an expensive city.  It has air-conditioning (it’s really hot) and parking.

About 6pm we stroll down to the renaissance gate of the old city.  The Adriatic backdrop glistens with the afternoon sun (remember, it doesn’t get dark until well after 8pm).  Already the city is relaxing from the crowds of the day.  It’s still busy, but these visitors, like us, are in less of a hurry to explore the marble streets and discover nooks and alleys behind the Stradun, which is the impressive main street that runs the length of the town featuring baroque architecture.

We find Dalmatino, a restaurant tucked away in a side alley and enjoy a sumptuous dinner.

A highlight of the city is the surrounding walls, which have protected it for more than five centuries.  They are recognised as one of the finest examples in the world.

A ‘must do’ is to walk the walls and this is when our second tactic to avoiding the crowds comes in: be up early before the day trippers arrive.  The next morning, we are one of the first on the wall at 8am.  Walking the 2kms  of wall, provides wonderful views of the city and sea.

For all those Game of Thrones fans, Dubrovnik is used as one of the set locations.

Looking across city of Dubrovnik

Looking across city of Dubrovnik

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