I am very excited to recap our time in Croatia for you all as we enjoyed our time in this country immensely. I am splitting the post into 2 as it would otherwise be a monster of a post!
Our first stop was in Pula which is in the north of the country along the coast. We stayed at a wonderful AirBnB apartment halfway between the coast and the old town. We spent the first day enjoying the beautiful sunshine and +12 degree weather walking along the coast on a beautiful pedestrian walkway. We sat down and enjoyed the sunset before heading back to the apartment to cook supper.
The next day we headed out to explore a bit of Pula, which is a rather sleepy place in the wintertime. We did have the amphitheater basically to ourselves to admire from the outside, as it was too expensive to go in considering you could see it all from the outside!
Unfortunately, it did rain for the next day and a half so we took the time to re-charge our batteries in the private apartment. As fun and cheap as hostels are, it is important to take a timeout and have your own space periodically while traveling. The rain was a blessing in ways as it forced us to stay inside and relax, as we headed to Italy/Germany from Pula and were non-stop for almost 2 weeks!
From Germany we were awake for an unprecedented 48 hours making our way back to Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia, but we arrived safe and sound to the very homey feeling hostel by the name of Mali Mrak. It is nestled in the suburbs of Zagreb, and is run by Igor who is an absolute fantastic host who is very passionate about his country and went out of his way to accommodate us. The first way he did this was upgrading us for free from a dorm to a private room with the most comfy bed! He said since it is winter it would just be empty so he was more than happy for us to occupy it. Depending on how you look at it it is either a very good or very bad business decision, but for us it was definitely a good one. We were thrilled and thus left good reviews, I am writing this blog post, we tell people to stay there etc. I definitely think it comes back around.
We spent our first day in Zagreb exploring the city and stopping in at the Museum of Broken Relationships. This was a definite highlight of our visit to Zagreb, it is one of the most unique experiences we have had. You can google to find out more about it, but in essence it was started to provide an outlet for people to deal with failed relationships through creation. Each exhibit was an item with a written story explaining its significance. Some explanations were only a word or sentence, others nearly a page. Also included was where the relationship took place and how long it lasted. As you made your way through the exhibits you felt so many emotions, your heart heavy with the sadness in each article donated to the museum. I have never had such a personal experience in a museum, I suppose that is how true lovers of art feel. It was powerful and very thought provoking. A very real reminder to appreciate all the relationships you have in your life (it wasn’t just romantic relationships, also relationships with parents, friends etc). If you are in Zagreb- go to this museum!
To deal with all this emotion we headed to a local brewery called Medvedgrad (half kidding) for lunch and to sample their beer. Both were well worth it! We had two traditional dishes, goulash soup and a specific type of pasta topped with sausage, sour cream and chives. I personally enjoyed the pasta dish a lot, it was very simple and had a lot of flavor. The beer sampler allowed us to try their 6 beers, of which we loved their light beer and one of their darker beers. It was a perfect drowning of our sorrows.
After lunch we continued our walk around Zagreb and ended the day at Amèlie, a cake shop that is rated the #1 thing to do in Zagreb on tripadvisor. This is a well deserved ranking. It is decorated perfectly, I just loved all of the furniture and pictures on the wall. The cakes were out of this world amazing. Both workers said their favorite cake was the brownie, which Chris and I were somewhat hesitant about as we often find super chocolate-y things to be too rich, but decided to try it as if it is both workers say it is their favorite it must be good. It was not at all what we expected it to be. It was not heavy like a cake, nor dense like a brownie. It was a hybrid between a pudding and a fudge consistency, and melt in your mouth heavenly. It was $3 CAD for a slice and worth every penny.
That evening we made carbonara pasta and relaxed after our very full day of exploring.
The next day it was beautifully sunny and warm so we decided to get outside and do some hiking. A kiwi had done a hike a few days earlier and had suggested it, so we headed to catch the trams to make our way to the “mountain.” We killed ourselves laughing when we got off the final tram as our instructions were to head towards the “mountain” to catch the trail, but there was no mountain, just three measly hills. We had no idea which way to go but eventually just tried all options until we found the way. The first half of the hike was a bit of a let down as we were hiking on a logging road with really nothing interesting to see, but it was nice to be outdoors. Half way through it was like a line was drawn and all of a sudden we were immersed in a winter wonderland! It was so bizzare. The trail was a bit difficult to navigate as it was compacted down so much that it was like walking on a sheet of ice, but we kept on. We made it to the top in about an hour and 45 minutes, where we found a ski hill and tons of Croatians cross-country skiing as well. We walked about 2 km down the road to find a restaurant recommended to us by Igor, where we enjoyed a bean and sausage soup with the equivalent of 2 loaves of bread, and 2 beers. Great reward for the hike. We asked the bartender about catching the bus down and were given somewhat vague instructions, so we headed back to the start of the trail to try and figure out the bus. Of course, no body had any answers or even knew where to wait for the bus. By this time it was 3:15 pm and we were concerned about whether or not a bus was even going to show up, and then the risk of having to hike in the dark. We made the decision to book it back down the trail while there was still lots of light. It was a very entertaining “hike” down as it was so icy it felt more like skiing. It took us only 50 minutes to make it all the way to the bottom! We then caught the trams back to the hostel and turned in early for the evening.
Funny story about the tram ride back: we bought tickets for the tram our first day in Zagreb and caught on very quick that nobody validates their tickets like they are suppose to when getting on the tram. We decided to only buy those tickets, not validate them, and plead ignorant if caught. On the tram ride back there was a ticket inspector with a very official badge that demanded to see our tickets. I don’t know if she simply didn’t care they weren’t validated, or didn’t know enough English to fine us for not validating them, but she let us off without an issues. She did fine basically the entire rest of the tram, so we were very lucky!
The next day was Valentine’s Day, which we spent most of relaxing and planning the rest of our time in Croatia, and also part of our Africa leg as one of our flights was pulled so we needed to do a bit of research. That evening we made carbonara pasta, drank champagne, and headed back to Amèlie for a few slices of cake. Valentine’s day isn’t particularly a special occasion for us, but we had a lovely day and spoke often about how lucky we are to be on this amazing adventure together.
The following day we headed to Plitvice Lakes National Park bright and early on the 7:30 am bus. We almost didn’t get on the bus as all the tickets were sold out, but we were the first ones on the platform as the ticket attendant suggested we just go and try to get on, and the bus drivers said no problem just go on the bus and you can buy the tickets on it. Great! We counted ourselves lucky. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a debacle as they over-sold the bus by 1 seat and so one unlucky soul had to stand the 2.5 hours to the park.
We found it hard to find information about the park, how to get there, where to stay etc. Luckily, Igor was wonderul and looked up what time the buses were going, and set us up with a beautiful apartment to stay at. There was numerous buses that were going throughout the day, so it wouldn’t be a problem getting there. In terms of where to stay, 7 minutes walking from the park entrance #1 there is a road called Rastovaca where every single house is advertising rooms for rent. My suggestion if you can’t have your hostel book you somewhere in advance is to just walk down that road and knock on doors until you find a place! We stayed at House Ana which is number 22, and had a beautiful apartment with a kitchen for $22 CAD each. It was so conveinently located, all the apartments listed on hostelworld were super far from the park entrance, so this was perfect. My only suggestion would be to bring groceries with you (which we did) as I have no idea where the closest supermarket would be.
Plitvice Lakes was one of my must-do items for this trip. I can’t remember when I first heard of the park, but ever since I have wanted to go. We were unsure what it would be like to visit in the winter, but it was breathtakingly beautiful and again, there was barely any tourists. We were told that in high season people que in line to make their way down the walkways! It seemed we had the park to ourselves, and the price of admission was 55 kuna whereas in summer it is 180 kuna! Crazy!
What I will say about visiting in the winter is the walk ways are not very well maintained, and considering you are walking along a cliff the icy conditions were not ideal. It felt more like an adventure, but a rather unnecessarily dangerous one. In winter you aren’t suppose to go down into the gorge, they have the walk ways closed off, but everyone goes around them and goes down anyway. It was definitely icy getting down, but very well worth it. You can walk out through the lakes and waterfalls which give incredible views. We spent three hours making our way throughout the parts of the park that were open (there is a large section that is closed in winter, but you see the largest and most impressive waterfalls) before heading back to the apartment to make supper and relax. It was a fantastic day and I am very happy we were able to make it to the park. My only other suggestion to those looking to visit in winter would be to make sure the park will be open when you are looking to go! The week before our visit it was closed completely.
Stay tuned for part 2 of our time in Croatia! Hopefully I will have it up tomorrow.