travel: Dubrovnik, Croatia

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

Have you visited a place that makes your jaw drop? Dubrovnik was this place for us.

Dubrovnik was the final destination on our train trip this summer. We started in Munich, Germany and traveled through Austria, Slovenia and worked our way to the very southern tip of Croatia. It was a grande finale and the perfect way to end the journey. It has taken me a few months to put this post together for a few reasons. Wrapping my mind around it, figuring out how to document it and what to write here is no small task!

We were in awe of the marble streets, baroque buildings, endless shimmer of the Adriatic Sea, and totally inspired as we walked the ancient city walls. We ate. We drank. And our pale Scottish skin got a long awaited sunburn. It. Was. Awesome.

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Do + See

Relax and swim in the Adriatic: When we booked our accommodation, we wanted to stay on a section of beach, or close to it. Swimming in the Adriatic is its own reward. On our first morning in Dubrovnik, Ryan and I woke up at 7am to swim at Banje Beach. Ryan grew up visiting his grandma on the New Jersey shore and is his happiest when he is by the water, or in the water. It was a completely refreshing way to start the day as this beach gets really crowded on a hot summer afternoon.

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Get on the water: Go kayaking or take a boat trip. Lots of people seemed to be enjoying a kayak trip around Lycrum Island. We opted for a boat tour, which is a really great way to spend a morning or afternoon and see the old city from a different perspective.

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We had some lunch at a nearby lagoon and then chose a boat tour at the pier. Oma chose the ‘Pirate-theme’ ship, which was hilarious. But it really was lovely, it took us on a loop around Lycrum Island. There were pockets of white rock cliffs and caverns. People in kayaks, swimmers and sunbathers at a nude beach  (don’t say we didn’t warn ya). I was happy to get off the boat with a sunburn on my shoulders and salty skin.

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Get some views: If you are staying anywhere near the Old City it is only a short walk to the base of the cable car going up Mount Srd. You might want to get up early for sunrise or get up there later for sunset. Round-trip tickets for adults cost 100 kuna ($15 bucks). From the top, we took in the shining sun on red rooftops and the deep blue waters of the Adriatic. The panoramic views from the deck of the cafe were top notch.

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Walking the city walls — A must for every Dubrovnik visitor! Walking the walls costs 100 kuna ($15 USD) and close at 7:00 PM. Our Airbnb host recommended we go at 6:00PM to avoid the crowds and the hot sun.  He was right, this is Dubrovnik’s ‘Golden Hour’. The light was golden, hitting the rooftops and the walls. The city was less crowded as most of the cruise ship visitors were back on the ships. This allowed us to walk at a nice pace and really take in the views. Oma had her knee replaced 8-weeks before the trip, and she walked the entire length of the city walls. She is incredible.

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After 4pm: Dubrovnik is growing in popularity and it will never be tourist-free. Most cruise ships dock for a single day and have the same routine: arrive in the old town in the morning and stay until the afternoon. However, in the evening, Dubrovnik becomes a bit quieter. We walked the city walls, ate nice dinners, found charming places for a drink and enjoyed the scene from inviting benches at the pier.

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Eats + Drinks 

A vacation is basically just eating food in new places, am I right? Our favourite part of travel is trying local cuisine and drinks, and Dubrovnik provided that and more! One reason that Croatia is gaining popularity among tourists is that it is considered to be a more affordable alternative to its neighbor, Italy. Croatia and Italy are separated only by the Adriatic Sea and this has created a robust tradition of Italian cuisine and influence in Croatia.

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Gelato— There are loads of places to choose from. But some of our favourite flavours were lavender (very common in this region) and vegan espresso!

Seafood—Fish and seafood is an important part of the Croatian culinary world, particularly along the coast. Although there were plenty of non-fishy options, fresh seafood was everywhere!  We ate seafood everyday. Delicious dinners of grilled sea bass was my highlight and Oma sampled a few seafood risottos.

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Pasta– Pasta is one of the most popular food items in Croatian cuisine, especially in the region of Dalmatia. The other popular sauces include creamy mushroom sauce with truffle and minced meat sauce. Also, potato dough is popular, not only for making njoki (gnocchi), but also for making plum or cheese dumplings which are boiled, and then fried in breadcrumbs and butter. I had gluten envy but Ryan got his fill of delicious pastas.

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Wine— My favourite. Croatia has two main wine regions: Continental (Kontinetalna) and Coastal (Primorska), which includes the islands. We learned that there are more than 300 geographically-defined wine-producing areas in Croatia!  The D’vino Wine Bar had a fabulous selection of Croatian wines and they were really happy to help you find the right local wine.

Burek – Ryan indulged in some homemade burek (spinach + gooey feta cheese pastry puff), lovingly made by our host family.

Karbona Nava– We had a very special dinner at Karbona Nava, our AirBnb host made us a reservation. We ate: shrimp risotto, spaghetti carbonara, grilled sea bass and drank local wines and indulged in blueberry cheesecake. The cook came to our table to check on us and even served us with three glasses of Rajika – a traditional Croatian plum brandy, a gift from the restaurant owner. It was the best authentic dining experience we had on the trip.

The Soul Caffe.– A charming cafe we spent time our last night and I loved the outdoor seating tucked between the old stone walls.There was candlelight, a guitarist playing soft music, a screen showing clips from old black and white films and we sipped on mint and chamomile tea. This vintage-chic cafe and Rajika bar is hidden within the backstreets of the Old City. The musically inspired dim atmosphere offers a great environment for a low-key night out on the town.

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Part of my inspiration for starting a blog when we moved was to document trips. I guess it has become an online journal of sorts for us. If you stuck with me for the entirety of this post, well done, it was a long one. It is just impossible to narrow down the amount of pictures or things to say about a place as wonderful as Dubrovnik.

I would love to hear where you have been in this world and the places you love!

Peace, grace and happy travels!

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travel: Split, Croatia

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

Croatia is the place to vacation in Europe these days.

 It is gaining popularity because…

  1. It is beautiful/amazing/warm/ and full of history 
  2. Affordable alternative to Italy: the Adriatic Sea, islands + strong exchange rate
  3. For all of you fans, Game of Thrones is filmed here  
  4. The list goes on and on 

The train ride into Split was very scenic. I spent time reading about the 1991 Yugoslavia War and independence of Croatia. Evidence of the war still lingers in the tiny villages along the train tracks but it is easy to see how resilient the people are here, how communities have been restored and that the area is thriving. The landscape was absolutely breathtaking in parts- rivers that we could see from the train going through Plitvice Lakes National Park  were absolutely crystal clear and bright turquoise. Green, lush, jungly trees. White cliffs. Stone bridges. Rolling hills. Tree covered mountains.

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Arriving into Split, we were ready to explore and indulge. Old town is full of romantic outdoor cafes. We found a beautiful garden restaurant in an old white building, with ivy growing up the walls, garden lights and green shutters on the windows. The currency exchange is almost 9:1 [Croatian Kuna to British Pound]. This made it affordable for us to eat out and treat ourselves to wines, seafood, and I even splurged on trying mussels for the first time!

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Our first morning in Split, we woke up extra early and went for a walk along the promenade (the ‘Riva’) curious to check out a hill on the other side of old town. We walked to the top of Marajan Hill  where we stood in awe for quite some time. What struck me was the change of scenery from the dear UK. The leaves of the palm trees, looking up and seeing them on a backdrop of clear blue, bright skies. Not a cloud to be seen.

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The morning sun was shining on the Roman ruins walking back through Old Town. Split is lovely with all its alleyways, hidden courtyards and ivy covered walls. It was early yet, so the streets were quiet. On our way back to the flat, we picked up coffees (note: coffee and cream is coffee and ice-cream, fun little surprise) and fresh juices. Ryan picked up a delicious smelling apple-baklava-filo-pastry goodie from a street vendor called, strudel od jakuba. Most places in this region have their own variation of a strudel, and Ryan was happy to try each one in search of ‘the best.’

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We enjoyed our goodies on the steps of Diocletian’s Palace, definitely the number one thing to see in Split. The ruins of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, date back to the late 3rd to early 4th century A.D. I love history and this was making my head spin a little because I think it is the oldest place that I have physically been in. There is a sphinx here that Diocletian himself had built and is part of the original palace, 2,000 years old! 
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The outdoor open market was another highlight for me – it was full of fruit, cheese, antiques, dried fruits, nuts, fresh lavender and flower vendors. Such a cultural experience! We bought some fresh goat cheese, dried apricots, almonds and juicy peaches. 
We finished our day in good style – enjoying life’s simple pleasures (gelato and coffee) in a city that does such a wonder job of  weaving the past and present.
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If we had a bit more time it would have been fun to swim at the beach or take a boat trip out to one of the nearby islands. Our time was lovely in Split and we eagerly boarded our bus for the our next stop, Dubrovnik!

Currently, there is also no train line between Split and Dubrovnik so this meant the end of our Eurail pass. This might change as Dubrovnik is becoming such a popular travel destination. For now, buses are the best way to get there. The journey to Dubrovnik is 4 hours with some fun along the way. We saw an incredible place called Fortress of Klis, baby donkeys (yes, baby donkeys!), more turquoise rivers and even made a rest stop in Bosnia – one of my favourite stamps in the passport because it is so random.

 

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 Up next: Dubrovnik, Croatia 

 

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