Croatia

Written by on July 17, 2012 in Europe, General with 0 Comments

Deborah joined me for the week in Croatia, but we hadn’t done much planning before getting here. I’d been to Croatia 11 years ago, and had loved it, so was happy to be returning.  Dubrovnik is a gorgeous small city set on the azure Adriatic Sea.  My Lonely Planet describes the color of the water in Croatia as “sapphirine”, whatever that means.  I only know that the water here is such an amazing color…sometimes blue, sometimes a deep green, always looking spectacular with the sun shimmering and against the white stone red-roofed towns.

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We rented an apartment in the Lapad area of Dubrovnik, which were a few bus stops away from the old city center.  Our apartment was amazing…I could live there.  We were a 5-minute walk from Copacabana Beach, a cute pebbly cove with a watersports desk and a café to buy drinks or ice cream from, which became a daily ritual. Neither the beach nor the area we were staying in were glamorous at all, but nice and chill, which is just what we needed after going non-stop in Ibiza.   I have contracted what sounds like a horrible smoker’s cough…or a barking seal…one of the two, and was fighting off what seemed to be some sort of chest cold.  I’m writing this a week later and still have the cough.  Too much second hand smoke, I guess.

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We took it easy the first couple days and just hung out at our little beach.  I felt really ill on our second day here, which gave me more than a good excuse to stay in the apartment and watch the Wimbledon final.  It’s always tough trying to watch sporting events in foreign countries, as the commentary is not in English.  And sometimes they don’t even broadcast them, as we’ve encountered the last several Ibiza visits.  Luckily Dubrovnik was broadcasting the tennis, and we had wifi in the apartment, so I found the station playing the Federer final on TV, and then streamed the audio commentary from the Wimbledon website.  Awesome!  What a match!  I love Federer, but was almost pulling for Murray.  His time will come.  What a speech at the end, too!  I was bawling, although that could have been remnants of depression from the after-effects of Ibiza.  Who knows?

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Anyway, we met a hilarious girl on the beach named Leona that was selling a boat tour of the three nearby Elaphiti islands and decided to go on the 3rd day here.  We  visited Korcep and Sipan, 2 tiny islands with fishing villages, and Lopud, where we went for a small hike to the other side of the island to find one of the only sandy beaches in the area, which was gorgeous.  Almost all of the beaches in Croatia seem to be pebbly/rocky.  It’s annoying at first, but Deborah and I decided that the rocky beaches must contribute to how clear and beautiful the water is here.   It also seemed to have magical powers for our skin and hair, as everything seemed a lot softer…especially after taking salt-water showers in Ibiza for a week!

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That same night we went into the Old City for the first time since I’d been here 11 years ago.  The walled city was just as impressive as the last time I was here…and even more magnificent by night after the throngs of cruise ship visitors have left.

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We headed straight to a small bar called Buza, which was through a tiny doorway on the south side of the city wall where you pop your head through and notice a small bar carved into the side of the wall…the perfect spot to watch the sunset.  We ordered a glass of champagne and sat back to enjoy the view.

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It turns out that we caught the first night of a 2 week festival called the Summer Games.  We had noticed a pack of teenage girls on the bus that were all dressed up like they were going to prom. Then we got to town and they were everywhere.  Deborah (who we nicknamed Vixen many years ago for many reasons, but one of which was we didn’t want to deal with introducing ourselves as Debbie and Deborah every time we met someone new) was absolutely fascinated with the “universe of baby Vixen’s wearing micro mini dresses and 6” stripper heels!”  They all seemed to be about 6’ tall, too.  We tried to position ourselves to watch what seemed like an endless parade of 17 yr old girls who looked or were trying hard to look like supermodels, and then the packs of boys following them around.  The scene was hilarious.  We asked around and apparently its some sort of custom for teenage girls to get all decked out for the first night of the festival. We’ve actually noticed a lot of extraordinarily tall people in Croatia.  We were surrounded by 3 guys last night that had to have been 7 feet tall.  All 3 of them! It was kind of crazy.  Anyway, our first night in Dubrovnik was spectacular…the city, gorgeous.

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We finally settled on a place to eat dinner on the water and then walked around the city to see where the action was, and after making several laps through the small town; we ended up at a discothèque called Revelin.  Definitely not Space or Amnesia…or any other decent club in Ibiza, NYC or South Beach, but for Dubrovnik, it was pretty cool.  Too bad it was a gazillion degrees inside and filled with smoke.  I had a coughing fit and had to get out of there.  I was still a little light-headed from Ibiza (now 3 days after the fact), so didn’t want to overdo it.  The music was pretty bad, anyway, so I had no problem walking out of there by 230a…an early night!
With one day left in Dubrovnik, we spent our 4th day being tourists.  We rented audio guides for the hour walk along the top of the city walls.  It was SOOO HOT I think I almost melted up there.  I can’t remember sweating that much ever.
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Luckily I came armed with a spray bottle, lots of cold water and a cool wet bandana for around my neck – old tricks from dealing with Arizona summer heat. So worth it, though, as we had amazing views from every inch of the wall.

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We followed up the walk around the wall with a sunset kayaking tour out to a cave and then around Lokrum, an island just off the coast.  Great exercise, and was nice to get on the water for a different vantage point of the city.  I’d highly recommend to anyone who comes here!!

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We had a nice dinner overlooking the water and old city at Restaurant Orhan, where our waiter didn’t want us to go and kept buying us drinks on the house.  Too bad Vix doesn’t drink, or I might still be there!  Typical Croatian restaurants serve up grilled meats of all kinds, with vegetables and potatoes, although Dubrovnik and the towns on the coast all have wonderful seafood and we ended up eating fish for pretty much every meal.

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Alas, we called it an early night, as we had to catch a ferry to Hvar the next morning. Hvar is an island that took about 7 hours to get to by ferry from Dubrovnik and is said to be the “most luxurious” in Croatia.  A favorite destination for those cruising the Dalmatian islands on yachts and sailboats, and for backpackers alike, it has quite a nightlife scene for such a small place.  It’s no wonder it’s so popular – the island is gorgeous; as are many of the people we ran into there were too.  Almost like a mini-Venice, without the canals, Hvar Town is made up of a small harbor with pedestrian-only white stone/marble pathways and streets.   There are a few dozen restaurants in the harbor and almost as many bars.
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We grabbed sushi next to a cool looking wine bar (where a tranny showed up!?!) and then were told to go to a club called Carpe Diem.  They were playing fun music and the night went fast.  They closed around 230, at which point everyone up for more fun jumps on a water taxi that takes them to another island 15 minutes away to Carpe Diem’s sister club, Carpe Diem Beach.
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What a great concept!  Carpe Diem Beach was a cool chill-out beach bar by day, and turns into an open air club with electronic DJs that play from 2a-sunrise every night.  This was taken at dawn.
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The dancefloor is strewn amongst beautiful trees which provide shading by day, but a cool feeling of dancing in an electronic forest by night, with ocean just 100yds from the dancefloor on either side of the tiny island.  We caught it just after a full moon, so with the moonlight shimmering off the water, it was a gorgeous setting…and a welcome reprieve from smoky indoor spots.  Didn’t hurt that the guy/girl ratio was probably 70/30 either!  We stayed almost til the end and took the boat back as the sun came up, and struggled to find our way back up the windy unmarked streets to the apartment. It seemed so easy coming down the hill, but somehow trying to find our place proved exceedingly difficult at that hour and we were lucky to find a sweet old man walking his dog who pointed us in the right direction.

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We woke up early in the afternoon and decided to head down to the harbor to get advice on what neighboring islands to go visit.  There were numerous water taxis in the harbor, as well as rental boat options, but with just 2 of us, though the water taxi was the best option.  We ended up on a boat that made 2 stops.

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The first one didn’t look so exciting, so we stayed onboard and ended up at Stipanska Island again, as this was where we’d been dancing til dawn at Carpe Diem Beach Club. By day, it is very chill. Almost too much so.  But, it’s a gorgeous spot and we pulled up two chairs on a rocky beach to enjoy the gorgeous afternoon in the sun topping up our tans.

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Both of us are pretty dark right now, as it’s been sunny and around 90-95 degrees on most days.  NICE!  We met a couple American guys who had just come from running with the bulls in Pamplona for San Fermin, and gave them the scoop we’d learned about Hvar and the nightlife so far.  Around 6, we all packed up and took the boat back so we could walk down to Hula Hula, a somewhat rowdy beach bar with slightly more upbeat music where locals and tourist go to watch the sunset.

Croatia17I couldn’t stay, however, as I’d made an appointment to hit with the pro at the tennis center…the first time I’d even found a place to play tennis on the trip.  When I asked him if he knew anyone in any of the places I was going, I was bummed out to learn that tennis is just not that popular and that I was going to have a hard time finding hitting partners…or even tennis clubs for that matter. Boooo!  It was nice to play, but I’m starting to question if it’ll be worth hauling around my gear if there’s no place to play.  I will have more time to research stuff like this in advance now that I’m travelling on my own.  I can’t believe I didn’t find anyone to play with in Dubrovnik!  It’s small, but not that small!

Anyway, Vix was going to stop by tourist information to research our best ferry and/or bus connections back to Dubrovnik for the next day whilst she was on the way back from Hula Hula, but got sidetracked by a gorgeous, hunky Australian guy she’d been flirting with on the ferry a couple days before and was excited to tell me all about their encounter and plans to meet up later that evening when we got back to the apartment.  We didn’t make it out to dinner until 11, so any thoughts of going to ask tourist questions went out the window and instead we had a lovely dinner at RestaurantGariful, right next to Carpe Diem.  It was probably the nicest restaurant we’d eaten at throughout our entire trip, although afer spending so much money on going to play tennis, I wasn’t up for splurging. The tennis experience was quite ridiculous.  The actual “lesson” or hitting time with the pro was only about $25/hour.  But then the courttime was an additional $12.  $37 sounds like a good price, right? Well, turns out that the tennis center is “hard to find”, according to the pro, so he suggested I take a taxi.  Hvar is such a small town, I thought to myself, how expensive could the taxi really be?!? $50!!!  I was so pissed.  So…I had an $87 hitting session.  Horrible!

We had a fun night out, although it was essentially a repeat of the night before.  Carpe Diem early, and then Carpe Diem island late.  Stayed til dawn once again.  Vix met a few young men that night who kept her occupied, and I ended up speaking with a very amusing British guy who was almost too drunk to carry on a conversation.  What friends do for other friends while acting as a wing-man (or wing woman)!  Later in the night I met an interesting American guy who is a Captain in the Army and just back from Afghanistan, now stationed in Germany.  Strange meeting so many Americans here.  I found Vix and we took the sunrise boat back to town, and then hiked up through the streets and found our place on the first try.  Excellent!  That was a first for the couple days we’d been there.

We crashed, setting the alarm early enough so we could check out by 11.  The plan was to have the lady we rented the apartment from drive us down to the bus station.  From there, we’d already scouted a spot we could leave oru luggage and later take a shower, so we’re ready for one more day on the island at the beach…or on another island.  However, the tourist info office informed us that all of the connections for the rest of the day are horrible and that we will need to get on the next bus/ferry combo if we wanted to get back to Dubrovnik tonight.  DOH!
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Dammit-our last day in Hvar disappeared before our eyes and we had less than an hour before we had to catch our bus to Stari Grad (15 minutes), another town in Hvar where we had to catch a ferry to Split (2.5 hours), and then another bus to Dubrovnik (4.5 hours).  Yuck!  Oh well…you gotta do what you gotta do.  I had an inkling thought brewing that I’d actually leave Vix to her own devices and head north for one of many music festivals going on in Croatia this month.  However, I decided that as much as I love Croatia, that it’s time to move on and stick to my original plan to see all of the Balkans.  And, by the time we got to Dubrovnik and checked into the apartment we were renting, it was almost midnight and we were pooped.

Vix left this morning at 4am, and I had to figure out fast what my next move was.  I had to run some errands and return to the first apartment we’d rented where I’d had American Express overnight my new card to, and also hit the bus station to buy my ticket to Mostar for an early Monday morning departure, so I didn’t have to get to the bus station so early.  Mission accomplished.  I had meant to go to the beach today, but I sadly spent about 8 hours in 3 internet cafes yesterday catching up, booking hostel/hotel rooms, and researching my next 2 destinations, Mostar and Sarajevo, Bosnia.  I met two cool American chicas while I was blogging in the “Glam Café” in Dubrovnik who were docked from a Mediterranean cruise ship and became facebook friends.  And I made friends with the Bosnian bartender at a bar called “Oliver Twist”, which conveniently also had free wifi.  At last, I found a pasta/wine bar on the main drag in town, also with wifi, so set up shop at one of the good people-watching spots and I think I’m finally just about caught up. ..at least with Croatia. Woohoo!

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