Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Every Yacht Charter Must End

Trip date: May 2019

Day 6 of our chartered cruise; we left Hvar under sunny blue skies, for the island of Vis. This was after truffled scrambled eggs and mimosas of course! Our destination was about 2 hours away and the weather was perfect to hoist the sails and let the wind carry us along.

This was the first time we had been able to actually sail for any real amount of time. It was great! You could see Roko visibly relax in the warm weather, it had been stressful for him to have a charter in not great weather. And he was tired of being cold!
We sailed into a small, pretty cove on the other side of Vis and anchored to a buoy. It was quiet and warm and we sunbathed on the trampoline with glasses of chilled white wine and snacks of local cheese. My plan to swim changed when I dipped a toe in the water, but we had a great time lounging in the sun.

There is mooring in both Vis town and in Kut, which is just a mile down the shore. Roko decided that the chop would be a bit less in Kut and glided the Sundance into another front row spot. Kut is also the oldest town on the island, having been built by the Venetians in the 17th century, and is super cute with just a few restaurants and a grocery.

Aaron and I left to explore the waterfront in the brilliant sunshine; it was just a 20 minutes walk to Vis. The town may look familiar to some as it was the portrayed as the Greek village in Mama Mia II.  We didn't sing or dance but we did stop and enjoy an Aperol Spritz while taking in the gorgeous day and checking out the yachts in the marina.

We continued our walk out to the Prirova peninsula where we visited the 16th century church of St Jeronim (also in MMII) and it's scenic cemetery that gives all residents wonderful views of the sea. 

We made our way back to Kut and had a little happy hour with a view of our yacht before heading out to dinner. It had been a lovely and relaxing day in the sun!

Roko arranged our evening excursion to a winery and restaurant called Roki's. They had a van pick the 3 of us up and drive the 15 minutes inland where we were greeted warmly, as Roko knows them personally. The specialty here, besides the wine, is peka which is a dish of meat and vegetables, cooked "under the bell" or under a lid. It's a dish you need to order in advance as it takes a while.

Peka is also a very traditional dish, made in homes across the country, and served for family meals. The most common meats are veal, lamb, or octopus. We had ordered both a lamb and a vegetable peka and were shown the outdoor grill where the dishes were being cooked by covering the lids with hot coals. 

Having checked on our peka, we had a quick visit to the winery before being sat for dinner. The dining room is casual, with wooden tables and checkered table clothes, very cozy. We had an appetizer of cured anchovies, tuna, olives, and a tuna paté. Then the vegetable and lamb pekas. Entirely too much food! 

Aaron thought the lamb was too greasy, but I thought it was great. The potatoes on the bottom soaked up the juice and were delicious. As we found in Hvar, everything in Vis was cash only!

The next morning we sailed 2 ½ hours to the island of Solta, our 4th and last island of our charter. Roko gave us two different options on where to moor, one was supposed to be great for swimming, but the weather was calling for rain so we opted for the more sheltered marina at Maslinica.
It was a pretty rough sail over; Aaron and I opted to stay inside at the kitchen table for the first time. We had wi-fi onboard the Sundance so we spent the morning catching up on emails and doing some research for the nights we would spend in Split when our cruise was over. It was steadily raining with no signs of letting up when we arrived in the tiny harbor. In fact we watched an outdoor wedding take place, everyone with their umbrellas up, from the shelter of our yacht.
We tried to brave the weather, and set out for a little walk around the harbor. It was very wet!! And we were the only people out. We made a quick loop and headed back for lunch onboard the catamaran and an afternoon of cards and dominos. At least we had plenty of time to pack :/

We chose Sampjer Restaurant for our last dinner with Roko. A van picked us and some others up at a specified location at the marina. The restaurant sits at the top of a hill, with lovely views of the surrounding islands. We even caught a bit of sunset.
Dinner and service were good and it was nice to have them drive us up and down since it was chilly out. We were a bit sad that this was the end of our trip, even if the weather hadn't always cooperated, as it had been a blast.

We sailed into Split the next morning, for an 8:30am disembarkment. Many charters come back and spend the last night in the Split marina but Aaron and I were going to be staying in the city for a couple of days so we talked them into doing a morning drop off.

Roko made a quick stop to gas Sundance up for the next charter. Then we put the buoys out one last time (Aaron and my official job during the charter), tipped Roko, and said our final goodbye. Sail Croatia arranged a transfer for us to our hotels in Split. And with that we were back to land. 

All photos from the Dalmatian Coast cruise here.


Other posts from this trip:



Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Yachties in Hvar

Trip date: May 2019

While Aaron and I were "stuck" in Milna, we did a bit of shopping from the local vendors set up along the marina. I tasted some very interesting rakija, fruit brandy made in all sorts of flavors. Aaron bought the richest, most flavorful honey I've had in a long time, perfect for his tea and on my toast. And we bought a jar of sliced black truffles suspended in local olive oil. Aaron made soft scrambled eggs with truffles every day we were onboard the Sundance after these were acquired. Heaven!
4th day at sea, with breakfast finished, dishes put away and secured, we set off on a gorgeous morning for the posh resort town of Hvar. It was a 2 ½ hour sail to our next port; very relaxing to read our books and watch the pretty scenery from the table and bench seats on the stern of the catamaran.

As we neared the marina there was quite a lot of boat traffic, and Roko did a great job avoiding the boats crossing right in front of us. We were 2 weeks before the official season but Hvar was already busy.

Roko had suggested that we moor across the bay on Palmižana Island and use the water taxi to come and go to Hvar. We would be staying for 2 nights. But Aaron and I had our hearts set on staying in the ritzy harbor so our captain called ahead and got us a prime spot in the marina; we were front and center to all the action.

It was very choppy as we stepped off Sundance, but the day was a brilliant blue and we had plans to explore, so we didn't think much of it. It was time for lunch and we set off through the windy pedestrian-only streets to find the restaurant Macondo. We were here for Gregada, the local specialty,  fish stew made with whitefish, potatoes, olive oil, and parsley. It is served for 2 but could have fed 3 easily. It was one of the most delicious things we ate on our cruise!
After lunch we walked up to the castle and took in the amazing views of the harbor, the islands, the pretty red roofed buildings, and even our yacht! We spent the afternoon just wandering around the town, making our way back down the hill and around to the other side of the harbor. It was so pretty, and a tad busy with tourists, I couldn't imagine it in the high season.
On Roko's advice we walked to the end of the village and found Hula Hula bar perched on the water's edge. However you wanted to enjoy your drink seaside, they had it; tables/chairs, bar/bar stools, beach loungers, or warm flat rocks.

As we walked back to the boat, we were both pretty taken with the beauty of Hvar. We stopped at another beach club for more views and made our plans for the evening. We decided to stay onboard Sundance, have a few martinis, get a take-out pizza, and spend the night playing cards and people watching.

The marina was so rough, when we got back to the boat I had to call Roko to come and help me cross the gangplank! He loved that! haha! We realized we had made the wrong decision to stay in Hvar as the chop continued throughout the evening and during the night. We should have listened to Roko! We enjoyed the beautiful night onboard, but we would change our situation in the morning!

It was another gloriously gorgeous day the next morning. Roko was very happy to be told he had been right, and we sailed 20 minutes across the bay to Palmižana Island. The marina in the protected harbor there was like glass. Ahhhhh, no more rough chop!

As Roko cleaned the boat up, Aaron and I took a short hike to the other side of the island and settled into lounge chairs at the beach. For 100Ku each (~$14) we had our chairs for the entire day.
For lunch we met Roko at Toto's which is has an expansive patio that is right above the beach. Food, views, wine, and company were all top notch! As we finished our meal a huge rain storm came out of nowhere! We took shelter at a covered table that a friend of Roko's had, and were treated to some rakija shots. Soon the storm passed and Aaron and I resumed our beach lounging.

That evening we caught the water taxi over to Hvar. I think it was about $7 round trip, skippers ride for free. Aaron had heard about a restaurant that is in an abandoned village just outside Hvar Town and had Roko call for reservations.

Once in Hvar, Roko spoke to a taxi driver and explained where we wanted to go. We hopped in and headed into the surrounding hills in search of our destination. The village of Malo Grablje has been uninhabited since the 1960's. Everyone, including some buried folks, were relocated to Milna as they felt it was a nicer place to live. No one sold their homes, they just left the stone buildings and walked away.

The restaurant Stori Komin is run by Berti Tudor, the grandson of the first person to relocate away from the village, in the old house he use to live in. There are only a handful of tables, all outside on a covered terrace with gorgeous views of the surrounding hills.
The specialty here is grilled meats, and we requested the mix grill of lamb, beef, and vegetables. We had some local cheeses, anchovies, and olives to start. It is very rustic, very good, and we all loved it. Even Roko who hadn't been before and was very doubtful.

They called us a taxi when we were done and Aaron and I just made the last water taxi back to Palmižana. Roko stayed to hang with friends in town. It was such a fun night, and Hvar is such a beautiful spot. One thing to know on Hvar is that pretty much everything is cash only. Even nicer restaurants. And we didn't see that many ATMs so come prepared!

We were so happy the sun had finally come out and it looked like the nice weather was going to continue. In the morning we were off for another island!

All photos from the Dalmatian Coast cruise here.

Other posts from this trip:




Monday, February 10, 2020

Dalmatian Coast Yachties

Trip date: May 2019

I was on my way to Split to meet my friend Aaron and board our 40' chartered catamaran for a week sailing through the Croatian Islands. To say I was excited was an understatement! But it wasn't all smooth sailing to start.

Our catamaran Sundance was chartered from Sail Croatia and originally we had 3 of the 4 cabins filled, which left 1 for the captain. Sadly one of my friends had to cancel just weeks before the trip due to a family emergency so it was Aaron, our captain Roko, and myself. The yacht was quite roomy and our luggage had a cabin of its own.

I had read Aaron's arrival time at the Split airport wrong and he ended up having to wait for over an hour for me to drive in from the Plitviče Lakes. We finally connected with our transfer driver, found the crew at the ACI Marina in Split, and left around 3pm for Milna on the island of Brač. Unfortunately we had very bad weather, rain and wind, so it was a good thing that our first sail was a short one. We had an excellent spot at the marina in Milna and settled in.

First up, grocery shopping at the tiny little market right on the waterfront. Next up, Aperol Spritz to encourage sunnier skies. We had a good dinner that evening at Palma, our captain's pick, of grilled fish with truffle ravioli. And finished the night with some drinks back on the boat.

We awoke the next morning to find that the weather was going to be keeping us, and all the other yachts, in Milna for another night. It wasn't raining but the surf was just too rough. Milna is very cute but also very small so we took Roko's recommendation and rented a car to explore the island. He had it delivered to the marina and drove us all around for the day.

We started at Galicija restaurant for a lunch of grilled lamb and roast potatoes, simple yet delicious. Then we headed over the island to the Museum of Olive Oil. Cute but nothing worth going out of your way for. Roko drove us to the very top of the island, normally the site for amazing views, but we were completely socked in with clouds. We headed to the cute town of Bol for a wine tasting at Stina Vina, which was great! And finally stopped to view Golden Horn beach, which changes its shape depending on the surf, before heading back across the island to Milna. It was a fun day and we were happy to get to explore the island.

And when we got back to the Sundance, there was some sunshine just in time for happy hour drinks on board! We took advantage of the nice weather and had an absolutely delicious pizza outside on the waterfront at Pizzeria Villa for dinner. We'd talk about this perfect pie a few times along the way!

The next morning the weather had cleared so we set sail for Starigrad on the island of Hvar. It was a lovely 2 ½ hour sail with mimosas in hand. We arrived at the marina just in time for lunch, so Aaron and I went off to grab a bite and explore.

My fried squid, salad, and rosé, with views of the water made for a very good lunch at Simple Cafe. Afterward we wandered the narrow stone allys and did a little shopping. Za Pod Zub deli was a great stop for buying an assortment of local cheeses, meats, and olives for aperos back on the boat. They also sell some very cute gift items.

The day had been warm but cloudy, but now the sun came out. So we headed back to the boat, made up some drinks, and relaxed on the trampoline while watching the sunset.
On these chartered yachts the skipper expects to be fed breakfast and lunch onboard; we purchased groceries and told Roko to help himself to whatever he wanted. It's customary to invite your skipper out for dinner or to pay for them to go out. Roko had friends in each port so sometimes he dined with us, and other times he went on his own. On this night he was meeting friends but he recommended we try Batana for dinner that night and called to make us reservations.

Aaron and I split a steak and an order of truffle pasta; both were excellent! I'd highly recommend this cute spot if you find yourself in Starigrad!

Nightcaps and gin rummy were had sitting outside on the stern of our boat. Ah, that yachting life!

The next morning we would sail into Hvar town!

All photos from the Dalmatian Coast cruise here.


Other posts from this trip:


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Hiking the Plitviče Lakes

Trip date: May 2019

From Zagreb I had a ~2 hour drive to the Plitviče Lakes National Park. The drive was easy, but once I turned off the freeway and was driving through the country, I encountered multiple snakes sidewinding across the road!

I was super excited to be spending such a beautiful day hiking through the 16-terraced lakes of this reserve. My plan had been to arrive and be hiking by 11am, grab a bite at one of the park's snack stands, and be done by the time the park closed at 6pm.

But when I arrived I found out that the park had recently implemented an advance online ticket sale system. I didn't have a ticket and it was too late to buy one online. So after standing in a ridiculously long line, trying to figure out if I was queued to buy a ticket, I finally learned that only 600 people are allowed in the park per hour. Tickets are sold for each hour, an hour before entry, for however many spots remain. I got in line at noon and was finally able to buy a ticket at 1pm for a 2pm entrance. During the hour I had to wait I grabbed some cevapcici, fries, and a radler.
I had read about the park and its stunning lakes, connected by walkways that passed over the clear blue waters, but was still completely stunned by the beauty when I finally was able to enter.

I chose to hike route C from Entrance 1, which would allow me to explore both the lower and upper lakes. The lower section was very crowded in places, I can't imagine how it was before they started limiting the number of visitors.

The weather changed just as I was completing the bottom 4 lakes, which helped to clear out some people. Luckily I had an umbrella in my backpack as it really started to pour! I waited for the boat that would take me up to the continuation of the C trail on the upper lakes, and before too long the sun was back out.


There is 2-way traffic on most of the paths, which are usually butted up against a lake or a waterfall, so it was frustrating to have people stopping to take selfies, or just walking 2 or 3 across. But once I got to the upper lakes the number of people dropped significantly and I found myself completely on my own many times. It was amazing!

You are just surrounded by water! Lakes, streams, waterfalls, springs... and it is crystal clear. Absolutely gorgeous! Even the forest is an amazing color of green. I just loved this hike.

I finished C Trail in two hours 45 minutes, ending at the bus pick up. It was another 15 min hike to Entrance 1 after the drop-off at Entrance 2. I was tired and ready for a shower and a cool beverage! It had been a spectacular day even with the hiccup that morning with the ticketing.
It was a quick drive to Hotel Degenija where I had a nice big room with a comfortable bed. The hotel is on a huge property with rolling grass lawns, a small orchard, and full-size outdoor swimming pool. I ordered a drink by the pool before moving inside for dinner at their Plum Café, which was fine but nothing to go out of your way for.
The next morning I had breakfast at the hotel, which was a good buffet selection of meats, cheese, breads, and eggs. Then I loaded my little rental car up and hit the road for Split; I was meeting my friend Aaron for a one-week yacht charter through the Dalmatian Islands. I was beyond excited!!!

All Plitviče photos here.


Other posts from this trip:

Every Yacht Charter Must End

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

24 Hours Zagreb

Trip date: May 2019

After an absolutely lovely four days in Slovenia, I drove across the border into Croatia and the capital city of Zagreb. There was a short wait at the crossing, and I had forgotten my passport in the trunk of my rental car so I was very popular with the cars behind me, but there were no complications crossing in.

Zagreb is a big city compared to the quaintness of Slovenia, it was a little bit of a shock as I drove through traffic. When I saw the entrance to the 95 year old Esplanade Hotel I was happy to pull into the driveway and hand my keys to the valet to take care of. The hotel was built in 1925 for the passengers of the Orient Express and has seen hundreds of celebrity guests over the years, including Josephine Baker, Elizabeth Taylor, Tina Turner, Hillary Clinton... and me! :)

My room was absolutely gorgeous, with a huge king sized bed, luxurious bedding, a dressing area, and big bathroom complete with soaking tub and separate shower.

It was late in the afternoon and I only had one night in the city so I set off to explore. Zagreb is very easy to walk around, as long as you are staying near the main sites. I followed the self-guided walking tour in my guide book and had a great stroll around.
First up was the beautiful cathedral and the nearby Dolac Market. The church was open, but unfortunately I missed the market by about an hour. I continued on to the adorable and touristy Tkalčlćeva Street, a social hub with tons of bars, restaurants and shops.

I chose one of the cafes with outdoor seating and wifi and had a glass of wine. It was absolutely gorgeous out!

I was heading towards St. Mark's Square when a jewelry store window display caught my eye. I went inside and asked about the gold ring I had seen. Turns out the shop, called Lapidarium, sells items from local jewelers and the man helping me was the designer. I loved it and wore it out!

St. Mark's is perhaps the most famous of all the buildings in Zagreb. The square is also the center of Croatia's government and when I walked up there was a military procession being rehearsed. I wasn't able to find out more than there was a parade coming up to commemorate the end of a war or battle but it was fun to watch their practice.

The church was closed for a wedding so I headed to the funicular (I had taken the stairs up the hill) and once at the bottom, strolled back to my hotel. It's really a lovely city, filled with flower stalls, beautiful buildings, and lots of outdoor cafés/bars.

I got cleaned up for dinner, had a drink on the terrace of the Esplanade and then called an Uber to take me to the 1 star Noel. This is Zagreb's only Michelin starred restaurant; atmosphere and service were wonderful.

My 4-course meal was $73, another $39 for wine pairings. A steal! I was also served a trio of amuse, bread with 3 kinds of butter (1 had prosciutto in it!), and a nice petit four dessert. I wasn't a fan of their special risotto; it was pureed together with green peas and favas. The flavor and color were great but the texture turned me off. The tuna sashimi trio and the duck were both fantastic though. I had a great time here! Definitely would recommend.
Nightcaps were had at Esplanade 1925, the hotel's cocktail bar. It was fine but unfortunately the bar was crowded with some Americans from Texas talking politics. Loudly and drunkenly. Not my scene.

I had a wonderful breakfast in the hotel's fancy dining room the next morning. The buffet was huge and then you also ordered a dish off the menu. Entirely too much food but I was setting out for a day of hiking so I felt justified!

It was just an overnight but I found Zagreb lovely and I was happy to have visited.

All Zagreb photos here.


Other posts from this trip:


Every Yacht Charter Must End

Trip date: May 2019 Day 6 of our chartered cruise; we left Hvar under sunny blue skies, for the island of Vis. This was after truffled s...

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