Croatia Phase I

It is August 23rd and I am sitting in our little apartment in Trogir, Croatia (not far from Split) looking out onto the harbor. Today we will board a boat that will take us round to about half a dozen of the Dalmatian Islands (Hvar, Korcula, etc.).  At each island, we will disembark with our bikes and spend the day cycling.  Our friends Susan and James are joining us on this leg, so in addition to watching the boats in the harbor, I’ve also got my eye on the planes flying in from Zadar (it is my job to hold the boat until Susan and James arrive!).

Here is a quick update on where we have been in Croatia thus far:

We started in the quiet border town of Varazdin, the “little Vienna” of Croatia. With its baroque architecture and cobblestoned, pedestrian-only streets, Varazdin is a wonderful welcome mat on Croatia’s front door.  It even has a fairy-tale castle.  But, I will likely remember Varazdin mostly because I had the best cuttlefish stew I have EVER put in my mouth( at Palatin, one of the many wonderful — and incredibly cheap — restaurants in town).

From Varzdin, we headed toward the northern coast, stopping for a poke through Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb.  The left-over Soviet-style buildings were not very pretty, but the historic area downtown was interesting enough for an afternoon stroll.  We had a long lunch (a wonderful plate of grilled sardines and Dalmatian Squid) at Agava, and thanks to our friendly and helpful waiter, we also got a lesson in Croatian wines.  We are now very big fans of the Graševina (AKA Welschtraminer).

The Istrian Peninsula was our first stop on the Croatian coastline (located in the Northern part of Croatia at the head of the Adriatic between the Gulf of Trieste and the Bay of Kvarner).  This part of Croatia is very close to Italy (and once belonged to Italy).  It is well known for food and a rocky coastline snuggled up against the lush Učka mountain range.  We chose the little town of Opatija, which was once the playground of the Hapsburg dynasty and their wealthy friends.  Many of the fabulous summer homes of the rich and famous are now hotels and we stayed in one of the prettiest: the Milenij Sv Jakov.  The hotel is located in the very center of Opatija on the grounds of the 12th century St. Jacob’s church.  St. Jacob is the patron saint of pilgrims and travelers and it is likely built on a much older religious site that was a former shrine to another deity (Apollo or the Liburnian goddess of love, health and fertility, Anzotica).  Whatever its origins, it sits on a beautiful site overlooking the sea and the famous “Girl With a Seagull” sculpture.  Girl With a Seagull was erected in 1891 to watch over the soul of  a famous count who lost his life on the sea close to this spot.

From Opatija, we headed inland again to visit Croatia’s famous national park, Plitvice.  A Unesco World Heritage site, the park is one of the top sites recommended as a Croatia travel destination.  It was, as promised, truly spectacular.  Unfortunately, the crowds were so thick that our day of hiking there was not as enjoyable as we had expected.  If you visit Plitvice, I recommend either going in the off-season or skipping the main attraction — the big waterfall — and taking the longest hiking trail.  The further you get from the main waterfall, the thinner the crowds. [Side note: Unfortunately, we were the victims of our first hotel scam on this trip.  We booked – unknowingly – through a disreputable travel agency in Croatia (Uniline) and to make a long story short, ended up paying for three nights at the Hotel Mirjana Rastake-Slunj and getting only one night’s accommodation due to over-booking. The hotel pointed the finger at the travel agency; the travel agency told us that the hotel was responsible for giving us our money back.  Not surprisingly, neither would issue a refund.  The good news I suppose is that the hotel is not very nice, so we were very ready to move on after one night.]

After two nights near Zagreb watching the incredibly beautiful sunsets, we arrived in Trogir to prepare for our boat trip.  Trogir is a beautiful, walled city with a lovely, but very busy, port.  The crowds here are thick as well, but soon we’ll be on the boat, watching it all from a distance.

More to come…




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