In traveling through the old towns of the Croatian Coast and Venice I realized that they are perfect places for dogs and small children. No cars, trucks or motorcycles to deal with, just pedestrians.
My parents got a Maltese when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade. I named him Snowball. We kept his hair short, not long like the show dogs. He enjoyed a special place in our family until my sister and brother were born. He was 13 by that time so the combination of old age and small children may have explained his less than friendly behavior. Since the neighborhoods we lived in were small we could usually let him outside and count on him to return. One day though he didn’t return and we gave him up for lost or dead. Snowball returned though a few months later. A couple picked him up ignoring his tags that clearly had our address and phone number on it and took him to New York where they named him Murphy. Eventually we got Snowball back although they couple was incredulous that he was ours. Nevermind how he responded to Snowball, not Murphy, and how he perked up when he saw our house.
I’ve always wanted another dog but living in NY discourages me from the idea. I’m allergic to cats and I don’t want a fish or a bird. Wherever I go I notice dogs and that was true in Venice and Croatia so here they are. Not all the pictures are great because I was trying to catch them without their owners noticing or while they were sitting still, which you will see I didn’t always succeed at.
Dubrovnik was the last jewel of our trip through Croatia. Maybe it was the season or the idea of being on vacation but from Istria down the coast to Dubrovnik every city and island we visited was beautiful. We did all the proper tourist things in Dubrovnik: ambled up and down the streets, most importantly the Stradun; walked the top of the city walls (so worth it if you have the patience and compassion for other tourists stopping to take photos unexpectedly); ventured inside St. Blaise Cathedral and the Franciscan monastery with the 3rd oldest pharmacy in Europe dating from 1317; lounged on Banje Beach courtesy our hotel The Pucic Palace; swooped in like a hawk and fought off other eager patrons at Cafe Bar Buza for a picturesque drink or three; rode the cable car for a spectacular sunset view of the city; ate delicious small plates at Lucin Kantun (our best meal in Dubrovnik) and reflected on all that we had seen. We took a flight from Dubrovnik to Venice so I’ve thrown in a few aerial view of the islands. More
From Korcula we took a ferry called the Nona Ana to Polace on the island of Mljet (Mill-yet). The water was just as choppy as the trip from Hvar to Korcula but I took an anti-sickness pill which knocked me out. I was still groggy as we disembarked in Polace and headed to the Hotel Odisej in Pomena. If you look at their website you see a picture of a building in the middle of the lake. I fell victim to the romance of this photo and thought, “Wow! Is that the hotel?” It wasn’t expensive so I booked it. Once we got to the hotel I realized my error. Yes there is a building in the middle of a lake in Mljet but that’s a former monastery and it has nothing to do with the Hotel Odisej. The remnants of Communism were evident as the hotel was adequate yet cold and stark. My next mistake came in choosing a double room. Thinking I had secured a room to accommodate 2 people we got one for four! We had 4 twin size beds. 2 were to one side of the room about 2 feet apart and the other 2 were right next to each other on the other side of the room. Perfect for Mom, Dad and the kids I thought. The best feature of the room was our balcony that overlooked the harbor of Pomena (see photo above.) More
From Hvar we took a bumpy ferry ride to Korcula. It was only one of two times when the waters were rough–the other was from Korcula to Mljet. We arrived in Korcula just before sunset. Our hotel, the Lesic Dimitri Palace was a short walk from the ferry along the water. Korcula was another beautiful town fortified by a stone wall with red tiled roof buildings. There is definitely a pattern in the look of these old Croatian towns.
At check-in there were two other couples ahead of us. When it was our turn, we were told the concierge had overbooked our room and it was no longer available. Huh? Since we had paid for the room in full when we booked they would put us in a house a few streets away. Um, okay, sure. After they collect our passport information we proceed to the house. I had no idea what to expect. We arrived at a stone house that was 4 stories. I was overwhelmed and excited. For one night we would have an entire house, facing the water, all to ourselves. I couldn’t believe it. Because they were so embarassed about overbooking our room, in addition to the house they would also pay for our dinner at the hotel restaurant that night. Okay!
The front door of the house opened into the kitchen. Walking up the spiral stone stairs led to the master bedroom with a bathroom on the second floor. Next was the living room with a small, what looked like working fireplace. The fourth floor had another bedroom and bathroom and finally there was a door to a small terrace on the roof. It was great. More
Hhhhhhhhh-vvvaaarrrrrrrr. A little bit of old town but more beach, which is something I was looking forward to the whole trip. In planning our journey along the Croatian coast I knew we’d only have 2-3 days beach time. I love the idea of plopping on the beach and relaxing for a week. Bf not so much. He likes a little more culture in the mix. I’m amenable to anything, but in seeking out the beach I chose the Amfora Grand Beach Resort in Hvar. Hvar is one of the 1,200 islands in Croatia and is said to be more resort-like and somewhat of a scene, but I wanted to check it out. The pictures of the pool at the Amfora made me imagine lounging by the pool with frozen drinks at hand, more importantly though it advertised the Bonj Beach Club. Lounging and drinks? Yes! With chairs perched on the edge of the water so you could jump right in. The pictures you see of celebs jumping from rocks into the water in the South of France or Spain, that would be me!
So much for my visions of acting like the jet set. After we checked in we walked over to the Bonj Beach Club to reserve a day bed for the next day. I was so thrilled to hear that they would be closed for the next 2 days for a wedding. Ugh. Had I not been able to see how much it matched my fantasies (umbrellas and day beds right on the water! Champagne wishes and caviar dreams!) I wouldn’t have been as upset. I got over it though just as I had many things on the trip. We were still days away from going home but I had realized that traveling to a place you know nothing about, relying on travel books, internet resources and word of mouth, can never prepare you for little things that throw off your plans. I never think things will go perfectly. In traveling to places I’ve never been I keep myself open to the range of possible outcomes–great to bad. More
Continuing on our trip through Croatia we rented a car in Zadar and drove to Split with a brief stop in Sibenik. Driving on the highways in Croatia was not as scary as I thought. I’ve only driven in the U.S. and Barbados so I wasn’t sure what to expect in Croatia but it was smooth. With hardly any traffic it was easy to take in the scenery. We stopped in Sibenik for lunch and to see the Cathedral of St. James. Construction was begun in the early 1400s and completed roughly 40 years later. There are decorative elements of the cathedral such as angels, lions and coats of arms that can also be seen in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and San Marco in Venice. This is great because you can see how the three cities were related and intertwined in so many ways. This is also why my bf decided we should visit Istanbul (December 2011-January 2012, forthcoming!), Venice and Croatia to understand how the people and countries shared culture, food, religion and politics in their early beginnings and now a little bit.
After lunch we walked around the old town of Sibenik. There was a beautiful monastery garden that now has an ice cream shop with tables in the shade. We wandered up to the old fort where you could climb up and have a picturesque view of the town and the sea.
After sweating out all the water, salt and toxins in my body we slid into the car and drove to Split. It wasn’t humid but just hot–90+ plus degrees Farenheit–with the sun beaming down. I love Summer and the sun but walking around in it, slightly dehydrated is never fun.
Split had no street signs which was very frustrating in finding the rental car place. Whenever we asked a local for directions they look at us like we were crazy, like the street didn’t exist or maybe we were foolish for driving around without knowledge of the city. Eventually we found the Dollar Rent A Car and all was okay.
The old town of Split is within the walls of Diocletian’s Palace. It was built-in the late 3rd to early 4th centuries as the Roman emperor’s retirement home. Not bad! It was surreal to walk inside the ruins of this Roman palace with tons of other tourists and see restaurants, bars and shops. Part of me thought we were contributing to its ruin but then I sucked it up and went with the flow. We’re tourists supporting the economy! Woo! Thinking of the history and scope of the Palace, I felt like Indiana Jones walking around and exploring all the streets and former temples. Unfortunately there was no Ark of the Covenant or Holy Grail for me to seek or an opportunity to channel Mola Ram, chant Kali Ma Shakti de and pull out a beating heart. Maybe next time. More
From the Boskinac on Pag Island we went to Zadar. We were there for one night so we made the most of our time and immediately started our walking tour of the city after we checked into Hotel Bastion. One of the highlights of the old town is St. Donat’s Church. It dates from the 8th-9th centuries and was built with columns and other ruins from the Roman forum that was once in Zadar and parts of which can still be seen. The central part of the church is round and was difficult to photograph, not that any photo could do it justice. I’m not so religious but going into churches or cathedrals always gives me pause thinking how the architects, builders, clergy and wealthy donors wanted to inspire the Divine. I felt it as the afternoon sun came into small, high windows near the top of the dome. The best part was seeing the remains of Roman columns as the foundations for the church. Recycling was hip in the 8th century! Ha. More like they were pagan and they’re not here anymore so let’s use it! Funny how people think that way these days still.
There was an archaelogy museum across the way from the church that we zipped through. It was mostly ceramics, stone fragments and fragments of church lintels and columns that they decided to put on view inside rather than out front. Right next to the church was a belltower. More
After gorging ourselves on truffles in Istria it was time for some island hopping. We drove from Motovun to Rijeka. Rijeka is the 3rd largest city in Croatia after Zagreb (the capital) and Split. We parked the car near the ferry landing and looked for lunch. The ferry to Novalja on the island of Pag didn’t leave until 5 so we had plenty of time to look around Rijeka. The website that was instrumental in all the ferry planning was Croatia Ferries.
Near the port we found the fruit, fish, meat and dairy markets.
It would have been fun to buy some things and test them out but we were on the move! For lunch we found a little place called Na Kantunu. They brought out the daily fish selection so we could choose ours: grilled branzino with fried shrimp. When it came out there was a healthy helping of a swiss chard, potato and butter concoction which we deemed the national side dish as it appeared everywhere else we went with varying degrees of butter, smoothness and swiss chard. Every iteration was delicious.
The island of Pag is the 5th largest of the 1,200 or so islands in Croatia. There is a bridge that connects Pag to the mainland but we’ll get to that later. Although we took the ferry into Novalja, very much a beach town, our destination was the Boskinac, hotel/restaurant/winery, a short drive inland. Lonely Planet describes the landscape of Pag as a moonscape, or maybe something out of an Antonioni movie. In a way it is. There were wide swaths of land with no trees just scrubby bushes or shrubs and lots of white rocks. It had not rained in a few months so that may have contributed but there was something beautiful in the desolation.
Boskinac sits on a hill where off in the distance you can see the Adriatic. We couldn’t see the vineyards from the hotel but there were olive trees in sight and the constant chirping of cicadas. I don’t know how you say cicada but my pronunciation, see-kay-duh, is considered off by a certain bf of mine who says, chee-kah-da. Tomato, to-maaahh-toe. We arrived just before dinner so we checked in and ventured out onto the patio for our first al fresco meal of many there.
To drink we had a blend of gegich and sauvingnon blanc that we drank at every meal. It wasn’t too sweet or thin, but pretty perfect. To eat I started with mini maccheroni with baby shrimp and leeks. Bf had cold pea and mint soup. For our mains we had Adriatic tuna 3 ways: seared with some soy, cured and cold over a potato salad and sesame crusted over a red pepper puree (maybe); lamb 6 ways (small portions). Since we were on the fabled island of Pag cheese was a must. Their paški sir (Croatian for cheese from the island of Pag) is most like a pecorino, a hard, sheep’s milk cheese that has a subtle nutty flavor. We had some in Motovun but this was even more layered in its flavor. More
To continue our trip through Venice and Croatia I’m starting with Istria, a peninsula in Northern Croatia that juts out into the Adriatic Sea and borders Italy. Correction! It borders Slovenia, but is just south of Trieste, Italy, a sliver of Slovenia is in between. We took a ferry from Venice to Rovinj. We could have also gone to Pula near the tip of the inverted triangle that is Istria but Rovinj was closer to the interior city of Motovun, the next city we would visit.
Fun fact! Rovinj was originally an island settled by Slavs in the 7th century. Because fishing and maritime trade became the main industries, in 1199 Dubrovnik offered them protection. Yyyyaaaaaaarrrrr! Pirates were a problem so in the 13th century Venice took over those duties, and held on to them until 1797 when the Venetian Republic fell. The influx of immigrants from Bosnia and mainland Croatia forced the development of the city and the island was connected to the mainland in 1763 creating the peninsula it is today. The Italian influence is still present though as most of the towns and cities in Istria have Italian names and people here and there speak it.
We arrived as the sun was setting, about 8:30, into the port of Rovinj. The sparkle of the town lights against the water and boats in the harbor were aaahhh inducing.
We emerged from the ferry for our first of many similar experiences to follow where we arrived at our destination and then had to drag our suitcases over large and small stone streets to our hotel. It didn’t occur to me that we would face this obstacle, and it wasn’t so bad. Although the loud clicking of the suitcase wheels on the stone streets made me feel bad for making so much noise, no one paid attention to us, so it must be a usual thing. Most of the cities we visited in Croatia had historic old towns. Cars, bicycles and motorcycles were nowhere to be seen. How wonderful for small children, dogs and pedestrians in general! Yes you had to watch out for small children and dogs but at least you were able to move slowly, looking up and around without also worrying about getting hit by a car or cyclist. Our hotel had a golf cart but they were only allowed to use it a certain number of times during the day or they would get fined. More
What do those places have in common? They all begin with the letter I and I’ve been lucky enough to visit them all. First up is Italy.
In August my Italian boyfriend and I went on an almost 3 week jaunt through Venice and the Croatian coast. My last trip to Venice I was 17 on an EF tour. My memories of that high school trip are sketchy so this time I saw it with new eyes. I have been moderately aware of the wealth of paintings, sculpture, chuches, architecture and music that exists in Venice but once I began researching our trip I couldn’t wait to be there.
Just so you know the hotels and restaurants I suggest are not for the budget traveler nor are we Russian oil barons or Qatari royalty staying in $5,000/night suites. I suggest things comfortably in between. Sometimes we go for cheaper and slightly more expensive but usually it’s down the middle.
The past few summers we’ve used our generous August vacation time to visit faraway places like Indonesia and India. This summer would be no different. Initially we considered Vietnam but the rainy season and threat of typhoons deterred us so we brainstormed new destinations. I’m a fan of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and happened to see the episode where he visits Croatia. Of course every episode I see makes me want to go immediately to Harbin, China or Provence or wherever he is, but the Croatian Coast looked like the best combination of jaw dropping landscape and delicious food and wine. Croatia won’t become part of the EU until July 2013 so it’s affordable. When we were there $1 was equivalent to about 5.5 Croatian Kuna. There are a range of places to stay from hostels to five star hotels and every mode of transportation is available between cities. Best of all it would be summer and there are 1,200 islands one can visit. More