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view of houses from atop the city wall
Dubrovnik, Croatia; Aug 31, 2005

the low down

What we did: We arrived in Zagreb (the capital) by train and spent a few days there. Then we left Croatia briefly and visited Ljubljiana, Slovenia, also by train (see previous section). After arriving back in Zagreb we took an overnight train to Split, stayed a few days, and then headed out to the islands (see below). Then we bussed down the coast, stopping for a night here and night there, and finished up in Dubrovnik.

Overall: This country is beautiful. Zagreb is a charming capital city, busting with interesting architecture. And if you’re a water person or are into sailing, then Croatia has lots to offer: an incredibly beautiful coast, warm water, and plenty of beaches and islands to explore. It’s no wonder the Italians descend on it in high season. We didn’t go inland for hiking this time, but we’ve seen pictures and heard a lot about Croatia’s lush interior, so there’s plenty more to this country than we managed on this visit. All the locals we spoke with said that this is their biggest year for tourists since the end of the war.

the shoreline at Komiza (on Vis Island)

Essentials: If you’re coming during high-season, make sure you pack your own sunblock; a bottle can cost as much as $40US. Bathing suits are also in high-demand this time of year so there aren’t many to choose from during the peak months.

Accomodations: Even in peak season we were able to find a room without reservations. However, most of the best oceanfront rooms are reserved in advance.

Food: Well... the food around the country is mediocre at best. It draws upon the cuisines of many of their neighboring countries. We were consistently disappointed when eating in restaurants and cafes. Of special note were the breads and pastries… the stuff we sampled was not very interesting. That said, we were given (on multiple occasions) the yummiest figs we’ve ever tasted!

People: Generally very friendly. Most locals we met did not speak English and a good many of the people renting rooms spoke Italian or German. We’ve read in many places that the Croatians can be mean to tourists. While we’re sure that this happens (as does in most countries that become quickly popular), we didn’t experience this; the vast majority of our interactions were very pleasant and friendly.

the old city wall in Split

Standard of Living: It’s good, but not great. Life hasn’t been the same for Croatians since the war. We’ve heard from locals that things are getting better, especially with the rise in tourism.

Exchange rate: $1 USD = 6 Kuna

Daily budget: During the high-season the cost of housing and food in some areas is more expensive than Italy. Outside the tourist areas, goods/housing is cheaper but definitely not cheap. An apartment/room for two cost us about 300 Kuna per night ($50 USD) while a roasted chicken at the grocery store is about 30 Kuna and a meal at a pizzeria is about $15-$20 US. Many places will charge 30% more if you stay less than 3 nights.

What's fabulous: All of the coastline and islands! The islands all have different personalities and attractions. Some are very crowded and have a see-and-be-seen feel while others are secluded locals-only types. They’re both fun, and worth visiting. Zagreb, the inland capital, is also a wonderful city, easy to explore, and beautiful.

Weather: During high-season it’s perfect (in our opinion): sunny, hot and dry during the day and cool and dry at night.

Getting around: There are convenient trains from outside the county to Zagreb, and it’s also an easy train ride from Zagreb to the coast. Then you can take a multitude of buses up and down the coast, but it’s a long north-south journey and traveling between the larger cities takes several hours. Taking the ferry to nearby islands is easy, but you may have to plan ahead since ferries to the less frequented islands sometimes run only once or twice a week. Once you have arrived in a city or town, you can pretty much manage on foot.

Having an apartment: It’s especially convenient here because food isn’t cheap and it’s not that good. Being able to cook for yourself is a big bonus. Also, this country doesn’t eat more than a croissant and coffee for breakfast so if you want to eat breakfast you’ll have to make it yourself or pay a lot for an English breakfast.

Specific places we visited/things we did:
 
Tkalciceva Street in Zagreb

- Zagreb: Many people say it’s just like a small Vienna, which isn’t especially helpful if you’ve never been to Vienna. But based on the that description, Vienna must be really nice. This is one of the nicest capital cities we’ve visited, with especially beautiful architecture. As a bonus, it’s small enough to explore on foot, which is great.

- Split: Thhe major launching point to the islands. We stayed for a couple of days, but if we were to do it again, we probably wouldn’t bother. It makes more sense to either spend more time in Zagreb or simply jump out to the islands right away. There’s nothing wrong with Split, but it simply wasn’t as interesting to us, and it was pretty darn crowded with tourists. Ironically, it was one of the most difficult places for us to find a satisfactory room.

- Jelsa (on Hvar Island): Two towns east of the hustle and bustle of Hvar Town, it’s a small village with lots of beauty. We spent a few days here completely relaxed, sitting by the sea, soaking in the positive ions, and pondering whether we should sell all our possessions and buy a little shack here to live and fish. One of our favorite places.

the harbar in Hvar Town

- Hvar Town (on Hvar Island): A cosmopolitan (at least relatively) resort city that is frequented by movie stars and many, many beautiful Italians. It’s the kind of place that stomps on a limited-wardrobe-traveler’s self-esteem. Life centers around the restaurants and cafes in the square next to the harbor, and the nearby beaches. In high-season it is bursting at the seams. No reservations were possible. Even though the rest of Croatia might be pouring rain, Hvar has some sort of wind pattern that keeps it sunny.

- Komiza (on Vis Island): Vis Island is more difficult to get to so it’s much less touristed than the other big islands. Komiza is a pleasant and very small town that’s compact and quiet. Its center is just a strip of harbor surrounded by some very small rock beaches. Even though it’s high season there are lots of rooms available. There’s one hotel on the beach, but we just stayed in a private rental with a kitchenette.

- Vis Town (on Vis Island): Vis Town is a bigger than Komiza, with more tourists, but still not very crowded. There are more rooms for rent, but ours was farther from the town center than the one we found in Komiza. We had a lot of fun renting a tiny boat and exploring the nearby coast and small islands, but all in all we probably liked Komiza better because it was very homey and intimate.

- Brela: A small town on the northern border of what is considered the “Makarska Riviera.” It’s not as crowded and developed as Makarska and we think it’s much nicer. The beach is long and skinny, and runs all along the bay. The bus that goes down the coast drops you off on the main road and then it’s about a 15 minute steep descent to town. There isn’t anyone touting at the bus station (in fact, there’s not really a station at all for the bus that we took, though there is a small one in town where buses to nearby towns stop) and it’s not really a place set up for the backpacking type yet. Most owners and pensions do not want to rent to you unless you are staying for a week. We witnessed some of the most beautiful pink, blue and purple sunsets we’ve ever seen.

- Dubrovnik: The city on a hill. A very, very, very steep hill that requires one to climb many, many, many stairs. It was 519 stairs (not steps!) from our guest house down to the area of restaurants/grocery. Walking the city walls is nice. Life is centered all around the Old Town. We took a day trip Lokrum, a sharp-rocked beach in a nature preserve. Although the city was nice we didn’t feel that we needed to spend much time here. Lokrum isn’t that nice compared to the other islands we visited; it’s mostly set up as a day trip for Dubrovnik tourists, though we did stumble upon a nude beach if that’s your thing.

- Lokrum: A tiny island off the cost of Dubrovnik (10 minute ferry ride). We spent most of our half-day here wandering around trying to find a good beach. The place seems somewhat magical, partially because it's like a little fairyland, but mostly because it seems like whatever path we took, we seemed to arrive right back at the nudist beach (which is supposed to be the difficult one to find). Don't ask how we managed to get lost on the smallest island in the world, but we did. All in all, we think you can probably skip this one if you've visited some of the other Croatian islands.

Check out the croatia gallery for pix of all the above!

   
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