Sunday, May 31, 2020

Trogir; So Nice, Went Twice

Trip date: June 2019

My 3-week Balkan trip was coming to an end as I drove from Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina to Trogir, Croatia for one last night. This time I reviewed the Google Map route and stuck to the main highway. It was an easy 3-hour drive to the Split Airport where I dropped my rental car.

Aaron had had great luck with Ubers in Croatia so my plan had been to use one from the airport to Trogir. Unfortunately I had 3 separate requests cancel so I finally had to grab a taxi for 100 Kuna.

Trogir has a lovely old town with a fantastic pedestrian-only center. The small harbor is filled with yachts and outdoor cafes are busy with locals and tourists.

I knew all of this because Aaron and I had taken a day trip to the cute town when we were staying in nearby Split. We caught a bus from the main station and in 30-minutes were walking around beautiful Trogir.

We wandered the narrow cobblestone streets until we came out to the promenade. It was a short walk to the old fort where we walked the walls and climbed the crumbling tower for wonderful views of the city and the sea. 

After an Aperol Spritz break at a waterfront café, we explored the cathedral, which has some very impressive cases of silver and gold relics. The bell tower is a great way to get both your steps and your views of the Adriatic. 

As the old town is small, we saw a lot on our day trip, and it was easy to catch the bus back to Split. 

Trogir is actually closer to the airport than Split, which made it a better choice for my overnight since I had an early flight the next day. And since I had already explored, I had my last evening in Croatia free to relax and enjoy the scenery. 

The taxi dropped me at the small bridge on the border of the pedestrian only area and I had a short walk to the XII Century Heritage Hotel. I had used some of my Alaska Air miles for a big beautiful room with a view of the sea (did you know you could use miles for hotels?). The hotel doesn't have a lift but the front desk had someone take my bags up the 4 flights of stairs. Lifesaver!!

After getting cleaned up I headed down to the café Amfora which sits right in front of the hotel and had a glass of the local white wine while people watching. It was a stunner of an evening!

I was really looking forward to dinner at Trs, which had been recommended and I'd walked past while in town with Aaron. But I hadn't made reservations for their beautiful terrace and it was completely full. I decided to take a seat inside. The food was great but the ambiance was just ok. Make a ressie here if you are in town!

On my way back to my hotel I stopped for a scoop of the most delicious fig ice cream. My first meal of this trip in Slovenia had figs in it, so it seemed fitting for my last bite.

I also had one last local brandy at the café before heading to bed. As I do!

My flight the next morning was ridiculously early, so the front desk had arranged for a taxi to be at the fort, where the pedestrian area ends, at 5:30am. The desk clerk checked me out and then retrieved my luggage for me so  I wouldn't have to lug it down the stairs. He even walked me to the taxi to make sure they were there as there wouldn't be others queued so early in the morning. 

I HATE EARLY MORNINGS! But walking thru the sleeping town was beautiful.

It took 10-minutes to get to the airport, I was there 1 ½ hours early and not one single thing was open. I could have slept another 30 minutes easily. 

It was a long day of travel home as there isn't really a direct flight out of Split. I flew Croatian Air to Zagreb where I had a short layover, just enough time to do some duty free shopping in the very nice airport. Then I flew on to Paris to catch my Icelandair flight. 

I had used miles to fly Saga Class, which was much more comfortable than coach, but also added another stop in Iceland. I popped into the lounge for a quick bite and a glass of champagne. Icelandair is in tiny concourse at CDG with no Duty Free so I missed out on buying some of my normal treats. 

The layover in KEF was very quick, just enough time for a latte. And then I was on my final leg home. Saga Class doesn't have layflat beds, but the food and drink are very good, the gintonic menu is fun, and there is much more room to relax. 

So after 21+ days, 3 countries, numerous twisty roads, a private yacht, countless truffles, and four final flights I arrived back in Seattle.

This was such an epic trip, so many adventures and some bucket list moments! I loved all of it (but especially Slovenia! Shhh, don't tell Croatia and Bosnia i Herzegovina!) 

All photos from Trogir, Croatia here.

Other posts from this trip:

Monday, May 25, 2020

24 Hours in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Trip date: June 2019

After four wonderful days exploring Dubrovnik, it was time to move along to my next destination and 49th country; Bosnia and Herzegovina. I had arranged for Hertz to deliver a car to my hotel and planned to be in Mostar by lunch time.

I had a lovely last breakfast at the Hilton, checked out of my pretty room, and sat in the lounge to wait for my car. TWO HOURS LATER... There was some type of accident on the road to or from the airport where the car was coming from.

The staff at the Hilton went out of their way by calling regularly for ETA updates, and even sending me some delicious cookies and tea while I waited. In the end, Hertz upgraded my car to a cute little Alfa Romeo and waived the fees that I would have incurred driving into Bosnia.

It was an absolutely stunning day for my 2 ½ hour drive. I was using Google maps and hadn't really looked carefully at the route it was sending me down (just like when I drove to Kobarid, Slovenia) so after passing the beautiful coast, when my directions had me turn off onto a dirt road and head up a mountain I just followed along.

It was just me, a few snakes in the road, some random beehives, and finally a border crossing that was closed and for military use only. One day I will learn my lesson.

I turned around, got back on the highway, and found the real border crossing. Most sites warned of 30+ minute waits, but I was through in 5. At least one thing went smoothly! I stopped at a bakery in the first town I drove thru and bought some flaky, meat filled pastry called burek for the drive; I had missed lunch! When I purchased the pastry I explained that I had just come from Croatia and didn't have any Bosnian currency on me yet. She laughed and said that she would happily take *any* currency! Also since most residents in the south are actually Croats and are fine taking Kuna.

Google soon had me back on one-track roads, through war torn hills, with hardly any other people around. Adventure!
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all scary! I did pass some lovely churches, drove through valleys filled with wildflowers, and got out of my car to take in the scenery of a very large lake (although there were signs warning not to hike because of possible landmines).

I arrived in Mostar around 4:30pm and found my way to my hotel, The Muslibegovic House. The hotel is also a museum and has been in the same family for 9 generations. The 18th-century house retains original decor and furniture in the traditional Bosnian-Ottoman style. I was shown to my room which was outfitted beautifully, although the bathroom was in desperate need for an update.
The hotel also has no lift and it was about 100F in Mostar that day. The thought of hauling my luggage up the hot stairwell did nothing for me so after moving my car to their free and secure parking lot, I grabbed a few things from my suitcase and stuck them in a tote, took a cold beer which was offered to me at the reception desk, and chilled out in my room for a bit while looking over the map of the town.

After I freshened up I headed out to explore. It was definitely a bit shocking to walk past buildings that are abandoned and crumbling from being shelled. Mostar was the site of very heavy fighting during the war in the 1990's and although a lot has been rebuilt, there are still very obvious reminders of the war.

Mostar is historically the capital of Herzegovina, which is the southern area of the country. The architecture is a mix of large Soviet looking cement buildings, medieval stone-walled ones, Mosques and Catholic churches. It makes for very interesting scenery.

It's just a 10 minute walk from the hotel to the famed Stari Most (Old Bridge) and the Old Town. Most of the streets are very large cobblestone (not safe for wedges!) and on this Saturday afternoon the tourists, which descend in large busses for the day, still clogged the streets. Shops sold typical tourist chachkis as well as antique looking tea sets, servingware and lamps.
Walking across Stari Most gives you an amazing view of the Old Town, sprawling both sides of the river, and the stunning blue waters of the river Neretva.

Three men stood perched on the top of the bridge, encouraging the tourists to give them money for their promised jump into the river. This tradition has been going on for over 450 years and was a rite of passage for boys. Now it seems like more of a money making situation as I watched the same 3 divers tease the tourists with many false starts. My guess is there is an hourly goal they collect before jumping.

It's still fun, and after I crossed the bridge I wandered the old stone streets down to the riverbank for a better view and to see if one of them would finally jump. He did.
The heat was finally subsiding so I went in search of a glass of wine with a view. Most of the restaurants that line the banks will only let you sit if you order a meal, but I finally found one that let me order a couple of glasses of the local white wine Žilavka and relax.

The crowds thin drastically as the day turns to evening. It was noticeably less crowded as I made my way to TimaIrma for dinner. This traditional grilled meat restaurant has been family owned for 30 years and is very popular. I had a bit of a wait but once the host (owner?) found out I was solo she grabbed an unused seat from a neighboring table and found a nook for me outside on the patio.
Ćevapi, mixed grill meats, is considered the national dish of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It's served with flat bread, local cheese, salad, and cream cheese. I ordered the dish for one and it was HUGE! I also ordered a glass of wine which came in a little minis bottle. The owner shoved a second in my purse "for later" she said with a laugh! Dessert of baklava was also delicious (and another gratis from the owner). Excellent food and wonderful people, highly recommend!

Walking back after dinner, the streets were much quieter. This is a big reason I like to stay the night in day-tripper towns. It's a much different atmosphere after hours!

The next morning I had breakfast at the hotel in a beautiful outdoor space. I had signed up for a tour of the museum with a few other guests afterward. It's a great peek inside the lives of the Muslibegović family and how things have changed over the years for their home. They take you through personal rooms as well as common spaces and explain the significance of the residential architecture of Ottoman-era Herzegovina.
I was really happy to have stayed there as it was a such a unique experience! I checked out but left my bags with the front desk so I could explore the town a bit more. The hotel takes cash only and my room was 120 Marks.

It was another hot day, 98F this time, as I set out on a little walk around. I found Mostar to be such a strange place, the juxtaposition of war torn buildings next to pretty cobbled streets lined with tourists.

The beloved bridge, built by the Ottomans in 1566, was destroyed November 9, 1993 by the Croatian Army. Many civilians lost their lives during this period of heavy fighting also. It's sobering to see the rows of headstones, all with the same dates.
I walked back over the bridge and found a little cafe (Muslim owned so coffee/soda only) with a view of the bridge jumpers. Sunday seemed to be much quieter than Saturday and the jumpers didn't try for tips long before plunging into the river below.
Lunch in the shaded garden setting of Sadrvan, another traditional restaurant in the Old Town, was recommended to me. I had a smaller version of the local cevapi, this one served with fries, which was very good. And really, the patio here is lovely! And then it was time for me to pick up my luggage and get on the road.
This was a very interesting stop for me. I would have loved to get up to Sarajevo also but my timing didn't allow for it. I never felt unsafe here, I felt confused though. The war was hard for me to understand while it was going on and is still hard for me to grasp fully. The people of Mostar were so friendly and welcoming, you almost forget about the atrocities that they dealt with.

If you are driving in Bosnia and Herzegovina it is best to keep your car lights on, make sure your rental has a green card for cross border travel, and don't speed. You don't need a visa. It's also best not to go hiking without a guide because of the possibility of leftover landmines in the country.

All photos from Mostar here.

Other posts from this trip:
Trogir; So Nice, Went Twice

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Lokrum Day Trip

Trip date: June 2019

Since I had researched the number of cruise ships in Dubrovnik for each day of my stay, I knew that on this particular day there would be 4 ships docked, with a potential for almost 12,000 passengers descending on the town. I was not interested in sticking around for that!

It was also a gloriously hot and sunny day, so I loaded up my daypack, walked to the Old Town Port, and caught a little boat for the 10 minute crossing to Lokrum Island. Boats run about every 30 minutes and cost 150Kn each way, cash only.

Lokrum was settled by Benedictine monks in 915AD. Legend has it that Richard the Lionheart was shipwrecked here in 1192. In the 1860's a summer home was built for Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico and in Game of Thrones, it was the location for the city of Qarth and also the home of the Iron Throne. Today it is a nature reserve and lovely day trip from Dubrovnik.

Upon arriving I followed one of the trails for a short hike across the island. I was greeted by MANY adorable bunnies and a few peacocks. I made my way out to "the rocks", the western shore which has lots of interesting rock formations.
But my morning destination wasn't the rocky coastline, but a small inland swimming hole. The Dead Sea as it is called, is a ~30 foot deep round lake, crystal clear, and fed by surrounding caves.

I spread my towel out on a bit of the flat rock, sunscreened up, and spent a few hours soaking up the sun, swimming, and watching brave (?) folks climb and jump off the cliffs. It was wonderful! I even had a local come and visit with me for a bit.
For lunch, I packed up my things and headed to Locroma, one of the casual restaurants on the island. It was lovely to sit outside, have a refreshing gintonic, and a very good octopus salad while watching the bunnies hop around!
Tanning and lunch completed I set out to explore the Monastery. The architecture and the grounds are really pretty. There is another restaurant on the complex and also a small museum that I wandered through. This is also where I found the Iron Throne! No line up or anything!

I wandered around the botanical garden after leaving the Monastery and fed a few of the bunnies that ran across my path. They are seriously everywhere!

Continuing on the trail it was a short walk back to the boat launch area. I had some time before my return trip so grabbed a glass of rosé in the sun. The coast on this side of the island is made up of huge flat rocks and many people were spread out on them enjoying the sun.
This was such a great day trip for me! Swimming, sunning, a little hike, lots of bunnies, and boat rides! I'd highly recommend Lokrum if you want to get away from the crowds of Dubrovnik for a few hours.

All Lokrum photos here.

Other posts from this trip:

24 Hours in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Drink, Eat, Dubrovnik

Trip date: June 2019

For such a popular destination, Dubrovnik is strangely sparse on great eating and drinking spots. Between Aaron and myself, we had compiled quite a list, and they were almost exactly the same and not very long. Granted, we didn't get outside of the Old Town walls to explore restaurants where more locals dine. I would definitely do that next time, but we were just exhausted each day after climbing all over the place! 

Let's drink!

Perhaps the most popular bar in all of Dubrovnik is Buza Bar. Marked only by a wooden arrow, on a stone wall proclaiming cold drinks, you'd think this little hole in the wall (the literal meaning of buza) would be a quiet respite from all the tourists. But you'd be wrong.

The bar, which is built into the cliff wall, was packed! It was quite a little party! There is no running water here so all drinks are from cans or bottles and the bar is cash only. Besides drinking you can jump off the rocks and go for a swim in the sea (there's a ladder for re-entry). Buza isn't fancy but it's a very unique and fun spot for a drink (or two in our case). 

Another fun spot for drinks happened to also be another oceanview spot, Ala Mizerija. The open air bar looks over tiny Sulic Bay and Lovrijenac and is just outside of Pile Gate. You first pass Dodo Beach bar, which also looked cute with fun swings as chairs, as you walk to the edge of the low cliff. 

Ala Mizerija has a simple cocktail menu and also a good looking snacks menu. It seemed to have a lot more local customers and wasn't as crowded. This was a great find!

One evening, after Aaron had left town, I went on a cocktail crawl. I was excited to try a few places but unfortunately it was a bit of a bust.

My first stop was Mr. Goodlife which was almost impossible to find because 1) it's a speakeasy and 2) it was closed.

I made my way back to the main street, Stradun, and found The Bar by Azur up one of the stairway paths. I entered, expecting this to be a classic cocktail den as it was advertised on its website. It was completely empty. The bartender was rude when I asked for a menu, and pointed to a chalkboard which listed mojitos and rum cokes. I left without ordering anything.

Next stop, Buzz Bar, as recommended by the NYTimes. A basic bar with sticky menus, serving gintonics and the like. I ordered something, it was served to me, and a group of drunk people at the table next to me knocked it off my table. I took that as a sign and left!

FINALLY! I sat down at an outdoor table at Poco Loco. The drinks were inventive and delicious. The service was a dream. And the atmosphere was calm and beautiful. 

I stayed for a few rounds!

And of course I had a nightly cocktail at my hotel bar at the Hilton Imperial. The cocktails were delicious, the bar was stocked with some very good spirits, and they were always served with thoughtful snacks. 

But really it was the bartenders who made it so special. Patrick, Mirza, and Tomo went out of their way to talk to me about the local brandies, cocktails they were working on, and recommendations for around town.

Let's eat!

Lady Pi Pi restaurant is recommended by pretty much everyone who goes to Dubrovnik. And with good reason. The rooftop al fresco restaurant is a great setting, with views of nearby Lokrum Island, and the sea of red roofs of the Old Town. The grilled dishes were fresh and hot; I had some excellent squid while Aaron opted for the chicken. The staff is friendly, even if there are signs informing you that you will not be refunded for your meal if it starts to to rain, which seem a little rude. Our waiter even gave Aaron free catsup when they usually charge for it. He was very happy about that!
We also had lunch one afternoon at Horizont which has great outdoor seating looking out to the bay. The service was super friendly and the menu sounded good. Both our dishes were just ok though. It's not someplace I would recommend for a meal, but maybe just a bottle of wine and a snack if you are nearby. 

Having tasted some delicious pizza in both Slovenia and other parts of Croatia, we decided to try Mea Culpo for dinner one night. It was ok but nothing like what we had eaten before. Sadly the great pizza run had ended. 

Aaron wanted something easy the night before his early morning departure, so we settled in to the Imperial Bar at my hotel for drinks and burgers. The burgers were just ok, nothing like you would get in the states, but it fit the bill for the night.

Craving truffle pasta, I chose Dubravka Restaurant one evening. The patio here can't be beat with its views of the old forts. My pasta was fine, nothing to go out of your way for but not bad either.

On my last night I took myself to what is considered one of the best restaurants in the Old Town. Proto is a very traditional and chic fish restaurant and I was after some traditional dishes before leaving the country the next day. 

I had a lovely table outside and ordered all the hits, including rosé champagne, shrimp soup, and the famous black risotto. It was a wonderful last meal in town. 

(Restaurant 360 in Dubrovnik does have a Michelin star but neither Aaron or I had heard very good reviews -except about the view- so decided not to dine there. )

Although it's not a food or cocktail destination, Dubrovnik has so much history and natural beauty that it's hard to be disappointed! And I certainly wasn't!

All photos from Dubrovnik here.

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