Dubrovnik, Croatia: Day 2

The next morning, we awoke to grey skies and scattered showers. We made our way early to the cable car, but it was shut down due to high winds. It was suggested that we try back later, as they constantly reassessed weather conditions.

To wait out the drizzly weather and high winds, we checked out the War Photo Limited exhibit. The photography exhibit was very touching, and somber. If I had any criticism of the exhibit, it would be that more floor space was not dedicated to the “post-Yugoslav” conflicts. Being in the area, I thought it was really interesting to look at the photos of Dubrovnik and Croatia under siege, as well as neighboring Bosnia. I wish more of the exhibit showcased the local experience in the 1990s, rather than the Middle Eastern conflicts. Not to discount any of what the exhibit showcased, but seeing more footage, photography, and personal stories of people in the area affected by violence, while seeing how the region has recovered, would have been more impactful, in my humble opinion.

We came back to the cable car a couple of hours later with perfect timing. Within 20 minutes of waiting at the quickly forming line, they opened the cable car. We were in the first two or three cars, but by the time we came back down, the line was wrapped around the corner with over 100 people.

Once we arrived at the top of the cable car, we checked out the scenes of the Old Town from above, but only took a few moments for photos, as the crowds were quickly forming on the platforms. We bought the dual ticket package, which allowed us entrance to Fort Imperial. In the fort was the Museum of Croatian War of Independence, on the 1990s conflict, which helped to fill the gap left by the War Photo exhibit. The museum’s old fort setting was pretty cool, and it was surprisingly not crowded. There were traditional museum exhibits and a few photography displays. The best part for me, however, was the rooftop. The fort does need a little bit of tender love and care, as there was some graffiti, overgrown weeds, and cordoned off areas where stones were falling from the walls. There were warning signs that cautioned visitors to stay away from the walls, as there was risk of falling off. Still, the views from the top were incredible, and arguably better than from the cable car platforms (the angles from the fort allowed for nicer views – and no cable car wires!).

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View from Fort Imperial

We wanted to find a nice dinner spot and see some of the new town, so we hopped into the rental car and drove around. While it was nice to see the sights, that tactic wasn’t particular successful in finding a restaurant. We flipped through some of the free city brochures we had grabbed while sightseeing and decided to check out the Restaurant Konavoski Dvori, which was about 45 minutes away. The drive was incredible, with sea views for the first 10 minutes (don’t fall off the sides!). Then we started seeing the countryside, small villages, and the mountains. The restaurant was set in the middle of the woods, along a river.

dubrovnik_ konavoski.jpgThe restaurant was beautiful, and had several walking paths to stroll around the surrounding areas. Unfortunately, I think the restaurant is more catered to large tour groups, which made me feel like the food was previous prepared and the quality was not up-to-par with the other food experiences we had in Croatia. Keep in mind, though, that we’re vegetarian so that our experiences might not reflect the food quality for carnivores. 🙂

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Konavoski Dvori

We ended back to Dubrovnik in time to rush to the small harbor and watch the crashing waves and sunset on our last night.

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Lokrum from the Old Town
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Dubrovnik, Croatia: Day 1

The first night in Dubrovnik, we explored the Old Town, scoping out potential food joints and getting an idea of where places were situated. Happily, and unlike our first night in Split, we were not drenched by an impromptu rain storm. Early the next morning, we set out to tackle the City Walls before the cruise ship crowds tendered. The walk along the wall was great (and highly, highly recommended). There were some dicey moments there, when I was convinced that some members of the selfie crowd might fall off of the sides while posing. Alas, everyone was safe by the time we circled around.

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Sea views from the City Walls
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View of Dubrovnik’s red rooftops from the City Walls

We grabbed lunch at Bosnian restaurant Taj Mahal. As vegetarians, we definitely enjoyed the grilled vegetables that Bosnian cuisine had to offer (a nice break from the pasta and risotto heavy Dalmatian cuisine). The food was great, and the location was a little less crowded than restaurants on the main boulevard.

Afterward, we meandered over to the docks and bought our tickets to check out the nearby island of Lokrum. And I really mean nearby; less than 15 minutes by boat. Lokrum is touted as an “oasis outside of the city.” I like the outdoors, so why not? The botanical gardens weren’t particularly of note, but I don’t find too much joy in reading signs about plants. There were rabbits and peacocks roaming around (and the rabbits knew to hop over once they heard the sounds of food bags opening. They were conditioned well.) 🙂

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Lokrum greenery

Overall, I enjoyed Lokrum for a break away from the crowds, strolling in the shade among the water, greenery, and town views. Fort Royal offered fantastic views of the sea and the city from afar, although the fort itself was in disrepair. Luckily, I think they’re working on renovating it, but there was a lot of construction ruble strewn about. We found a small hidden, lonely path and it led us right down to the water. My travel buddy was able to take a dip in the Adriatic, while I relaxed on the rocky shore. Bonus: I didn’t see any nudists! Why is it never the attractive people?

Our first full day in Dubrovnik ended with us seeing a show during Dubrovnik’s International Late Summer Festival. The show was hosted at the Rector’s Palace by the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra. The venue was beautiful, with an open air roof. There were no photos allowed, but that directive didn’t stop the hoards of people from holding up large tablets and phones to take video – that took away from the charm a little. Still, the night was warm, the building was beautiful with its stone and column sculptures, and relaxing to Beethoven, Mozart, and Rossini made for a lovely evening.

Border Crossing Frenzy!

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Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina – View from the Stari Most

After much intense deliberation, we decided the best way to see the area was via a rental car. There wasn’t much in the way of consistent bus scheduling (and often times, you have to purchase the tickets in person. I’m too much of a planner to not get slight anxiety at the idea of not having tickets in hand before going on a trip with a somewhat rigid schedule) and lack of consistent train availability. Overall, I’m glad that we decided to rent a car and see the region at our own pace.

On our last morning in Split, we picked up our rental car in the late morning. We decided to take a detour to Mostar on our way to Dubrovnik, as Mostar was one of our “must sees” for the trip. The trip through the Croatian and Bosnian (or, I guess technically  Herzegovinian?) countryside was fantastic. The drives was one of the highlights of the trip, seeing small towns and villages, with minarets and colored domes, while driving through the mountains. Here is the gorgeous view from one of the numerous scenic roadside stops that were available on the drive (and photos don’t do it justice):

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A drive through Croatia

We were only in Mostar for a few hours to grab lunch and see the famous Stari Most (a.k.a. the Old Bridge). The bridge and historic town were nice, albeit a bit crowded. It appeared that some folks were planning to dive from the bridge, but they didn’t end up doing so (at least while we were there!). We checked out the bridge from the river banks, then followed up by walking across. The bridge was definitely super slippery. Luckily, there were ridges along it, or I would have slipped!

From the little I saw of the town, it reminded me a lot of Prizren, Kosovo (the mountains, the river, the stone bridge, the minarets!); Mostar had the benefit of more greenery with a natural river bank.

We enjoyed the views, snapped some photos, and continued onto Dubrovnik. Our visit was quick, and I’m definitely looking forward to returning and seeing more of Mostar, and of Bosnia and Herzegovina in general, in the future.

Let’s recap the day so far: departed Split, entered Bosnia and Herzegovina. Departed Mostar, re-entered Croatia. Re-entered Bosnia (and drove past Neum and along Bosnia’s 12 miles of coastline) before re-entering Croatia. Which is a long winded way to say, “Wow! I’ve never crossed this many borders in a single day in my life.” And probably, never again). A border crossing frenzy.

The drive along the Adriatic Coast was beautiful – the mountainous terrain, the islands dotting the sea… The small towns with their red roofs and harbors. The drive was fantastic and the small towns seemed like the perfect escape to take a quiet and relaxing vacation. Maybe someday!

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Right before sunset, we finally arrived.

Welcome to Dubrovnik!

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Farewell Split!

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Split Pazar

On our last day in Split we decided to stroll around the town and pay a visit to the Split Pazar (also known as the Green Market). Located right outside of the Palace walls, the market had rows of stalls selling food, canned goods (honey!), clothing, accessories, and numerous other knick-knacks. We didn’t buy anything, but we enjoyed looking around and people watching.

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Split at night

While exploring the shopping in the underground market stalls, we found ourselves at the entrance to the Diocletian’s Palace basement halls and decided to check them out. The interior was pretty sparse, with some artifacts and sculptures spread among the rooms. Still, it was pretty cool to see the vast underground area and to imagine what the original palace used to look like. There were some plaques that described the basement excavations, but the overall there was minimal information. I think that perhaps a walking or audio tour would have helped put the network of rooms into context. Also, a photo or traditional museum exhibit would have been a welcome addition – what better location could there be for a museum?

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The Palace underground

Trogir, Croatia

While in Split, we were debating whether to take a day trip to Hvar Island or nearby Trogir. Trogir was the winner, when taking into account that some ferries and catamarans take hours to get to Hvar. Not wanting to be tied down to ferry schedules (and reading about how lovely Trogir is), we decided to opt for Trogir and added Hvar to the list of “Things to See Next Time We’re In Croatia.” (Hopefully my crystal ball shows Croatia in my future.)

trogir_seaside.jpgWe arrived by a regional bus from Split’s bus terminal. The bus was inexpensive and very comfortable, and since it was a regional bus – we were the first stop!

Trogir did not disappoint. Our first stop was a stroll along the Promenade to find a lunch spot. There was no shortage of restaurants; we ended up enjoying risotto and lemonade, enjoying the summer breeze and water views.

After lunch, we continued down the rest of the promenade, stopping at Venetian-built Kamerlengo Castle. The castle was pretty basic , but we still enjoyed it. There wasn’t anything inside of the castle. We climbed and circled around the castle walls, making our way to the top to enjoy the views over the town.

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View from the top of Kamerlengo

For the rest of the day, we spent time exploring the winding town alleys. We found it a welcome reprieve from Split’s bustling town center. We were able to walk most of the town without running into anyone. We checked out boutique stores, food shops, and souvenir stands. Overall, we found the town leisurely, which was lucky for us since we hear that it’s usually much more crowded due to its small size. The threat of rain likely scared others away. 😉

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trogir_alley.jpgWe wanted to take the ferry boat back to Split, however we narrowly missed it (changing seasons and changing ferry schedules!). That would have been a great ride back to town. We could have opted for a taxi, but decided to head back via bus.

Once we returned to the bus station, we selected the next bus back to Split. This bus ended up being one of the local buses (bus number 37). While the bus took double the time (1 hr) compared to our morning regional bus, I enjoyed driving through the parts of Split and its surrounding area that weren’t directly part of the tourist center. Some might describe it as ugly urban sprawl, but I like to see how the locals live (to the extent I possibly can). However, my travel mate could have done without the extra time and numerous stops. 🙂

Split, Croatia: The Mediterranean Flower

I did not have an idea of what exactly to expect from Split. This was one of the first trips that I did not plan an extensive itinerary for, instead opting to see how each day panned out on its own. Split surprised me with how charming and small it felt, even being a relatively large city (the second largest in Croatia).

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The historic center (& the Cathedral of Saint Domnius)

We opted to stay right outside of the Old Town walls, which was a fantastic idea. It meant that we were far enough away from the noise of the crowds, but it was easy to stroll in and out of the town. I expected the Diocletian’s Palace to be an actual palace (see, not a lot of research done on my part), but was surprised (and happy) to find that the lively, historic town center was the Palace. Originally built in the late 3rd to early 4th century, and updated throughout the centuries, the Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I spent most of the time looking up at the old city walls, the numerous flower boxes and painted window shutters, and soaking up the centuries of history. My favorite way to enjoy our evenings was to sit on the Old Town steps while looking up at the lit Cathedral of Saint Domnius, and enjoying gelato.

On our first night, it started storming heavily while we were exploring. Sans an umbrella, we quickly found refuge at Kitchen 5, a self-described Mediterranean/Croatian restaurant. I had an fantastic mushroom risotto and Croatian cheese platter while we waited for the rain to stop.

The following morning,  we wandered down to the palm tree lined Riva promenade. There were some cute juice and food stands, where we opted to grab some mini donuts and scan the dozens of boating trip booths advertising short trips on the water. There were numerous boats where customers could be taken to snorkel, swim, and explore nearby islands and caves. We decided to take a 1.5 hour sightseeing boat tour that took us by Tito’s villa, the Marjan and the Renaissance hermitage caves, and Stadion Poljud. The weather was perfect mid-70s with a nice breeze.

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Riva view from a sightseeing boat.

Later that night, we decided to take a local bus up to the Klis Fortress. This place didn’t show up in my tour book, and we happened upon a description of it online. The bus traveled on insanely windy roads (with road construction, nonetheless!) and some cars had to back up on the mountain to make room for the bus. Our bus driver, who was undoubtedly experienced in navigating the mountain roads multiple times a day, handled it expertly. The bus ride was pretty uneventful, since the local buses ended up not having fully transparent windows. After about half an hour, we were dropped off at the bottom of the fortress.

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Klis Fortress

From the fortress, you could definitely understand why such a structure was built on that exact pass between two mountains. The fortress used to be a royal castle and seat to numerous kings, later becoming a large stronghold during the Ottoman wars (and as a small display revealed, a shooting location for Game of Thrones).

The fortress was undergoing renovations, so there was a lot of construction equipment, power lines, and debris laying around. There was also a small museum and church, but the English signage was a bit lacking. We only saw a handful of folks during our visit; once the fortress is restored, I can imagine it being more of a tourist hot spot. The views from the fortress were stunning, mountains on three sides and the sea straight ahead.

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The view from Klis Fortress.

Note to future travelers: make sure you eat before going to Klis (or bring a snack). There are two “caffe-bars” at the bottom of the fort, but they only serve drinks (who thought of a cafe-bar concept with no food?! Alas, it seemed to be a trend in the region :)) In any case, there is a small market if you’re desperate enough for snacks. We grabbed some cheese and bread while waiting for the bus back into town!