At long last, the time had come to pack away our jeans, sweaters, and raincoats and bring out sandals, shorts, and tees for our adventures in Croatia. This meant that the time had also come to join up with Karen, Tyson’s mom, who would be traveling with us for the next month. Having landed in Zadar late in the night, we anxiously awaited Karen’s arrival the following day – and, after a slight blip in locating our seaside AirBnB in Diklo, arrive she did – in an unmistakeable yellow and grey Citroen rent-a-car. It was a collectively happy reunion, as Karen had been touring Spain for one month prior; thus we all felt glad to see loved ones so far from home. First on the docket was a venture into the old town of Zadar, where we listened to the sea organ, walked across the Greeting to the Sun, and explored the open food markets, tasting tayberries and currants along the way.
In a place as beautiful and as low-key as Zadar, it was easy to settle into vacation mode over the next week. With the added luxury of having a personal vehicle at our disposal, we enjoyed the Adriatic Sea from our very doorstep. The water was the clearest we’d ever seen, and there was little saltiness to the smell or feel of it either. As it happens, our favorite ‘beach’ spot became the concrete walkway fifty meters away from our apartment, where we could bring out our homemade slush and bask in the heat for hours on end.
Another pastime of ours was to take relaxed walks through the Diklo neighborhood – it soon became sport to see how many varieties of fruits and vegetables we could find growing in the local backyards. There were plenty of fig and olive trees (and grapevines used as patio coverage!), but we did spot pomegranates, peaches and kiwi among the usual warm-weather medley of plums, apples, and oranges. We also frequented many supermarkets for groceries, where the low costs were a significant revelation. It turns out that Karen and Tyson both share quite the passion for deal hunting – now I know where he gets it from!
Besides relaxing, some excursions of note included a boat tour to Kornati National Park, a hike through the Plitvice Lakes, and a swim below the Krka Waterfalls. The first of these adventures was recommended to us by our AirBnB host, and though the two-and-a-half hour boat ride to the island and back again had become a little monotonous by the end, we passed the time chatting with three friendly Americans along the way. It was certainly exciting to pass between the stark islands alongside a myriad of other boats and ships, to see the barren cliffs from the sea, and to swim in the salt lake at Telašćica surrounded by striking scenery. When we stopped to get ice cream at a small fishing village, a highly entertaining server with showbiz-worthy antics handed me a rather impressive cone called “Facebook” at no extra cost (ten gold stars if you figure out why the ice cream’s named Facebook… See the photo below for your hint!)
Hiking the crisp blue pools and endless tropical waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park made it hard to imagine that there could be anything more beautiful in the world. Opting to tackle the longest trek round the whole park, there was only one mishap to speak of during our six-hour hike. Somehow, somewhere along the winding trails, I was separated from Tyson and Karen. Since I’m a little prone to trigger-happy photography (and I was determined to capture a close-up of those cheeky indigo dragonflies), I’d assumed I was lagging well behind the pair; and so on I kept walking, figuring that I was bound to meet up with them just around the next bend. But as I kept turning corner after corner without so much as a glimpse of them, I knew that we’d lost one another.
I then spent forty-five minutes backtracking and running ahead and waiting at crowded junctions, wondering what on earth I could do besides what I was doing to find them again. We were hours into a hike on water-level walkways hardly wide enough to walk shoulder-to-shoulder, surrounded by hundreds of milling tourists and without a speck of cell service to boot. Luckily, just as the situation was starting to seem a little less harmless than I’d thought, Tyson and Karen came running down the path toward me. I guess they’d figured I’d gotten lost (though really, for once in my directionally-impaired life I wasn’t technically lost), or that I’d fallen into a lake or broken my ankle, and they’d been running the opposite direction in search of me as well. Thankfully, everyone was in fine shape, and together we continued to have an incredibly magical experience at Plitvice.
Traveling onward from Zadar to Split, we made a pit stop at the Krka Waterfalls. While we found Plitvice more impressive overall, Krka was beautiful in its own respect. The added perk here was being able to swim in the last pool below the large series of falls. After gamboling about in the blue waters, we just missed the hourly return journey by boat that would have taken us back to the parking lot; so we decided to jog back along the roadside, beating the time it would have taken to wait for it instead. This yielded some lovely views of the lake and its hills as well as our day’s worth of exercise.
In Split, we explored the old town and climbed St. Dominus’ bell tower for a scenic view of the city, though the staircase was not for the acrophobic. There were many old and majestic buildings with cobbled alleyways to admire, a Dalmatian acapella group to serenade us in the square, and of course, an ice cream to be had for our wanderings along the way. The next day we drove to Trogir, stopping at the top of a hill to catch a sweeping view of the bay before heading to a rocky beach where we spent our day lounging about in true holiday style.
With our short stay in Split at an end, we headed for Dubrovnik on Tyson’s 24th birthday. After breezing along the highway, we came to the Bosnian border that intersects a small portion of Croatia and spent our fifteen minutes of fame snacking on pastries in Bosnia’s only coastal town. From then on, the road became a twisting coastal route that had Karen a little white-knuckled by the end of the drive. Safely arriving in Mokošica, we were treated to homemade pizza by our next AirBnB host and, after a short rest, drove into Dubrovnik to see the Old Town. I’m sure anyone would be excited to spot the dramatic fortress coming into view; fans of Game of Thrones even more so, as it’s where scenes of King’s Landing are filmed. In any case, the Old Town is certainly a spectacular sight to behold.
Inside the impressive walls we walked the narrow side streets, climbing and descending more stairs than we could count. Taking in all that the Old Town had to offer, we decided to try for supper nearer the city center. We then had a lovely stroll down a broad pedestrian street where there were plenty of scrawny street kitties to befriend before deciding to eat at Mama Mia’s for our first restaurant meal in Croatia. The waiter brought us welcome drinks and, after a hearty dinner of tuna steak, ćevapi sausages, and three-cheese lasagna, gave us a discounted “birthday” rate. The evening was rounded off with a stunning view of the sea and outlying island hills, bathed in the purple and peach and gold of dusk as we drove across the Franjo Tudjman Bridge. From our apartment’s deck we watched the sun descend beyond the bay and bid goodnight to a wonderful day in Dubrovnik.
The next day we drove beyond Dubrovnik to the beach at Kupari. Immediately we noticed the many abandoned hotel-style buildings, dilapidated and haunting, with crumbling interiors and exteriors that had been visibly shelled. With the help of Professor Google, we learned that these buildings had been a former luxury resort for the Yugoslavian military and that an attack had indeed gone on there. Somewhat reluctantly, I followed Karen and Tyson through the structures until curiosity was sated. (Seriously though, click the link. It’s got some pretty neat pictures). Then came the beach itself. This beach in particular became an evident frontrunner due to its crystal clear waters and finely pebbled shores – thus eliminating the holidayer’s classic sandy-where-the-sun-don’t-shine problem – complete with rinsing shower, public bathrooms, and beach bar all in relative seclusion. Once we’d had our fill of swimming and sunbathing, it was off to the supermarket before we could prepare a delicious meal of fishy mystery-meat (turns out, it was catfish!) and creamy pesto noodles at our apartment in the evening.
If you can believe it, on our second-to-last day in Croatia, our host Gordana offered to take us boating with her family to the Elaphiti Islands for an entire afternoon. The small skiff was surprisingly comfortable considering six adults and two children were aboard, and thanks to my friend Ginger Gravol, the seabound journey through the summer sun was quite enjoyable. Anchoring in the bay of Lopud island’s Sunj beach, we three Schartners swam a respectable distance through clear and cool waters to the shores, happily collapsing into the hot sands to warm ourselves up. Then, once Gordana had whipped up a heaping veggie-and-meat fry in the boat’s own kitchen, we swam again to a large outcropping of rocks that form a shallow cave. Here we ogled at red urchins and mauve sea moss and milky-looking stalactites before it was time for the return journey home.
Our last day was marked by another pleasant afternoon at Kupari beach and by our search for the best view of Dubrovnik’s Old Town from the hills above. Though Karen was leery of the cliffside drive up the mountain, Tyson and I coaxed and coached her through it, and I must say, even as an inherently nervous passenger, that she did a stand-up job. Eventually we made it up to Bosanka, nearly to the crest of the hill where the cable car station stood, and I think it’s safe to say that this spectacular viewpoint did not disappoint. It was a bittersweet moment, as this would be one of our last glimpses of Dubrovnik before leaving Croatia behind the next day. I should mention that the beer-battered catfish and fried rice that chefs Mr. And Ms. Schartner prepared that evening were also to die for – though sadly, my only claim to fame is as their meager Sue-chef. Insert winky face here.
And so our Croatian experience came to an end. We’d definitely had the best type of holiday: an authentic getaway vacation filled with ease and relaxation. We always felt safe and comfortable at every turn, and with easily drivable roads and beautiful scenery it was a pleasure to explore the spectacular sights at our own leisure, enjoying each other’s company and that wonderfully shining sun. Hvala, Croatia! Until we meet again.
From my wandering heart to yours,