this was one of those trips that snuck up on us. it was an unseasonably warm last day of march when philip and i sat outside and, on a whim, booked our trip to croatia. we'd been talking about doing a trip for months [it was partly to celebrate my 30th birthday in february] but couldn't pull the trigger on where to go.
and then we kind of just forgot about the trip after those tickets were booked. things came up, from very big to very little and this vacation seemed like the last thing on our minds. . .
t u e s d a y / / t r a v e l d a y
. . .so when the few days before the trip finally arrived, it was a whirlwind of getting ready. before we knew it, we were heading upstairs on a 747 to jet off to split via frankfurt. upgrading to business class with our miles was completely worth it. we hardly felt jet lagged at all when we finally landed in split on wednesday afternoon. the split airport was teensy but we grabbed a bottle of water and headed out to start our vacation.
w e d n e s d a y / / d a y 1
because we rented an airbnb for the very first time in split and we did pretty much ZERO research on how to get around via public transport, we hopped in a cab and took it to our apartment in the middle of the old town. i had looked around for hotels but hadn't really found anything worthwhile at our price point, and by doing an airbnb in split we were able to save enough to splurge a little on our hotel in dubrovnik.
we met our hosts and settled into our digs, cleaning up a little from the long flight. the apartment, we quickly learned, was perfectly located. we were just a short walk to the riva, diocletan's palace, and a bit of a longer walk to the beach but still a walk nonetheless. we walked down the riva first, the waterfront promenade filled with cafes and shops, taking in the sea air and the scenery. it's impossible not to stumble right into diocletian's palace from the riva, which we did happily. we opted not to take the palace's cellars, but did pay to visit the cathedral of st. dominus. the cathedral was small, as was the crpyt, and i would probably skip it next time around. after all of the cathedrals in france, italy and the czech republic we've seen it was a little unimpressive. our stroll continued through the old town and palace, wandering through narodni trg, before jetlag and hunger started to really catch up with us.
after consulting our map and guide book [rick steve's croatia & slovenia] we settled on trattoria bajamont for dinner. it was just what we were looking for: authentic, home-cooked croatian food at a little table for two on a quiet side street in old town. we shared the stuffed calamari, stuffed clams and scampi risotto with prawns. the prawns were probably the best i've had in my life, and the risotto was the best of the trip for me without a doubt.
we had just enough room for something sweet -- and our airbnb hosts had shared their favorite place for ice cream. we walked straight there after dinner. luka had a short line, but it moved quickly and proved to be worth it. the ice cream flavors were all in croatian [duh] so we kind of guessed with the help of the drawings next to each flavor label. i ended up with lavender [grown in abundance in croatia] and philip had the 'american cookie,' which was basically cookies and cream.
after the ice cream we collapsed into our bed back at the apartment, ready to sleep in and start our vacation right.
t h u r s d a y / / d a y 2
after a so-so night's of sleep in our apartment [one of the drawbacks of airbnbs], we got a late start on the day. usually i like to get up and go-go-go when i'm in a new place, but since this was our first big trip without a little one, we took advantage of the empty apartment and quiet bed to get some rest until the sun and city beckoned us. by the time we finally headed out it was nearly time for lunch, so after wandering around the old city for a bit, we chose pizzeria portas near the golden gate for lunch. the courtyard where we ate was lovely, quiet and perfectly shaded. the pizza was ok -- not the best we would have on the trip but certainly not the worst pizza i've had.
the thing about split is that it's very small. we quickly learned that we had pretty much seen all the major sights the day before when we wandered through the palace. we kicked around the idea of taking the ferry out to hvar at the last minute, but all the ferries were booked for the day. if that's your plan, definitely book ahead of time! the one thing we hadn't seen yet that we wanted to was the beach -- which was a perfect way to kill the afternoon. after gathering up our beach things and purchasing a lovely towel with a map of croatia on it from a street vendor, we headed to bacvice, the closest beach to the city center. the water was beautifully clear, crisp, and cool. it wasn't a terribly hot day, but we walked in as far as we could anyway and enjoyed the scenery from the water. the cool thing about bacvice was that you could rent chairs if you wanted, or you could just drop your stuff and head on in on the beach, or you could sit on the concrete ledge and take a ladder down into the deeper part of the beach. ahhmazing. i've never seen swim ladders that go own into the water right off the city.
once the sun started to dip and the guy manning the beach chairs was packing up for the day, we got out of the water and wandered over to a little strip of cafes that overlooked the beach. we settled on pizzeria karaka, where we sipped some cold drinks until we were ready for dinner. it was about a 20 minute walk back to the apartment, where we cleaned ourselves up and headed back out for some fresh seafood. there were a couple of local places, called konobas, that philip had read about. but unfortunately for us, reservations were strongly recommended and they were all booked up for the night. i was ready to eat immediately, so we wandered around until we found a recommended restaurant that had tables.
luckily for us, bajamonti [not the same as the restaurant where we had eaten the night before] had empty tables. it ended up being the best meal i had in croatia by a long shot -- and one of the best views around, too. i started with homemade pasta with scallops and prawns, then had a main course of crispy grilled sea bass. without a doubt the best fish i've had in my life. after dinner we walked back to luka -- because why the hell not? -- and tried new flavors that were just as delicious as the night before.
f r i d a y / / m a k a r s k a r i v i e r a
after looking into the various ways to get into dubrovnik or split [very long boat ride or a very shady plane ride] i suggested we rent a car and drive. we rented our car through hertz, which was located within walking distance of our apartment, and they were very accommodating for a one-way rental to dubrovnik. it turns out that it was the best decision that we made in croatia. we were out of things to do in split and ready to head south, so we arranged to pick up our rental car early, checked out of our airbnb and hit the road by 10am.
we wisely chose to take the 8 south, which winds right along the adriatic. the route was between 3 1/2 - 4 hours, much longer than the inland route on the highway, but we didn't care. we had the whole day to make it to dubrovnik. the car provided us with stunning views, the opportunity to go as slowly as we wanted to take enjoy the water or go off track, and the chance to stop as many times as we want. there were plenty of pull off spots for photos or just to stop and pick your jaw up off the floor of the car.
our first stop was baska voda, which we picked for no particular reason. there were load of little towns that were situated right on the water and looked perfectly picturesque, but we were hungry and ready to stretch as we headed into baska voda. we parked the car in the city 'center,' which was really just a small marina and a grouping of restaurants. again, for no particular reason, we wandered into bracera one for lunch. the beach was right across the street from us, where we could see small groups of tourists sunning themselves and splashing in the water. lunch was lovely -- more fresh prawns and risotto -- but the scenery alone was reason enough to stop in baska voda.
after filling our bellies with fresh seafood once again, we hit the road for a few more hours. the longer, scenic route takes you through bosnia and herzegovinia -- just through the resort town of neum -- very briefly. make sure to have your passports with you. by the time we got back into croatia, there was only about an hour left until we reached dubrovnik. philip had heard of somewhere just outside dubrovink that was known for their mussels and oysters, so after some quick flipping through our guide book we pulled off towards mali ston. mali ston is right next to ston, which is known for it's 'great walls of croatia.' you can see the walls and walk some of them from mali ston as well. ston is larger, but it's mali ston that's known for it's food -- which is what we were interested in.
our guide book raved about a little restaurant called kapetanova kuca, which apparently boasted a local 'celebrity' chef. that was all the convincing we needed to check it out and snagged ourselves a seat on the patio. since it was really our second lunch [or first dinnder?] we went a little light. we sampled some oysters, both fresh and fried, and mussels, both steamed and in a soup. while both were fantastic, we agreed we'd had better both out in boston and in seattle. i guess we've visited some places with great shellfish. we walked off our mid-day meal by climbing the stairs up to see the wall and the view they provided.
after our brief stop in mali ston, we got back in the car once more for the last short leg of our trip to dubrovnik . . .
. . . to be continued with my travelogue for dubrovnik!