Best and Worst of Croatia

Please take a look at Kristina’s Hvala Croatia post as well. On our drive from Lyon to Craponne sur Arzon we collated our best and worst of Croatia. I (Ian) was superbly impressed by Croatia. Wasn’t quite exactly as I expected. There is a lot more visible history than I imagined – Roman, Venetian, Austrian, Italian – with both Cities and towns that are very medieval and oozing with history. The coast is super rocky, which means generally rocky beaches (which was expected) but what I hadn’t expected was the fields and hills covered in rock walls and rock piles, painstakingly hand picked over the centuries to allow trees and other plants to grow. In this landscape they produced the staples of Croatia – wine, cheese and olive oil. Didn’t know that either. Apparently the Croatian wine industry was wiped out in the early 20th century by a blight but it is now more established again. The other big impression is how well known and busy Croatia is. Coming from Canada I thought maybe we were going to the quieter part of Europe. Maybe it was the quieter part of Europe but the beaches are full, roads busy and cities and towns jammed. But as someone said last night at dinner. Well this is Europe. We really enjoyed it despite the crowds and did get away from tourist track now and again.

So to our list and then some photos.

Favourite beach:

I: Vela Luka beach, Supetar. Nice variety of beach, good snorkelling, pretty quiet.

K: Me, too. Vela Luka, the sandy beach in Supetar. Crystal blue water, always a perfect temperature. 

N: The second beach near our place in Senj. It was warm, tucked away and not too busy.

A: Lovracina, a sandy beach where you didn’t need to worry about sea urchins

Favourite meal:

I: Fish platter at the local bistro (Vinotoka) in Supetar

K: Three-way tie: For atmosphere, the lamb peka at the restaurant on the hill in Dol. For deliciousness, the grilled lamb and octopus salad at Vinoteka. For something special, landlady’s treats in Senj: homemade fruit liqueurs, soups, sheep cheese scones.

N: A tie between lamb leg on the grill at Vinotoka, and lamb chops on the grill in Trogir

A: Homemade pasta with lamb sauce (ragu) at Konoba Nada in Vrbnik

Favourite drink:
I: Plavac Barrique, red wine

K: Plavic Mali Kastel Gosponik in Dol

N: Croatian hot chocolate in Supetar – basically a drinkable chocolate pudding

A: Orangina

Least favourite thing about Croatia:

I: Being too hot to sleep sometimes.

K: Crazy rash and some kind of allergic reaction to Croatian mosquito bites.

N: Zlatni Rat (famous beach in Bol). The scenery (see blog post on Zlatni Rat), and it was really overrated. Because really, it was just a beach.

A: The two hikes in Velebit National Park. And the Dolcevita hike on Brac. Too hot.

Favourite place (other than a beach):

I: Premuzic Trail in Velebit National Park. Great views. Crazy terrain. Interesting rocks. Beautiful, well-made trail.

K: Hiking the Premuzic Trail in Velebit National Park. And wandering the tiny alleys in Vrbnic on Krk Island.

N:Trogir, in general.

A: Pletvice Lakes. And the Konzum Super (the supermarket), because you can buy Lego there.

And some photos of recent adventures: Lukovo beach again, Zavratnica (near Jablanac), Rijeka and Trogir plus a few from the last stormy day in Supetar.

   
    
   

   
    

 

 
   
    
    
    
 

   
   

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Hvala, Croatia!

Didn’t have a chance to post before we left Croatia, so am writing from the Haute-Loire in France where we arrived last night after a direct flight from Split to Lyon and a 2 hour drive through the Auvergne. We are visiting Naeva’s good friend from home, Madeleine, and her family from Victoria who are here visiting les grandparents at the family home for the summer. Their house has many guests at it – we will be 17 for supper tonight! – so Ian, Amos and I are at the campground down the road. We had a spectacular 4 hour thunder and lightning show last night, an impressive welcome back to the tent after a month away. So happy that it is new and 100% watertight. It was something else. 

Here we are wandering the streets of Craponne this morning.

 
Croissants for breakfast 

 BEfore we left home, we joked that our last month on the road would be our couch surfing month, the month where we were out of money and gleefully took advantage of every person who had ever said “if you’re ever in Europe, you should come visit”…Well, here we are! As of today, we have officially started on the last chapter, the last month of our six month trip. We, Naeva especially, are excited to spend much of the next four weeks with friends, three stops which will feature 12 year old girls! We’ve had a wonderful month in Croatia as a family of four, lots of time together, and it is time to re-open ourselves to the world and other people a bit. Needless to say, I’m a bit sad about it, too. So grateful for the last month together, without having to share Ian, Naeva or Amos with anyone else. Will we ever have this much time together, just the four of us again? 

I think everybody really enjoyed the time in Croatia. What at a lucky situation that we didn’t know until too late that we needed a long-stay visa to stay in the Eurozone for more than three months – and that we had to find somewhere else to go outside it for a month. The carpet is well-rolled out for tourists, who seem to come from every country in Europe. We loved playing the licence plate game in parking lots and on the roads- Belarus, Latvia, Macedonia, Turkey, Finland..

There were some odd bits. Despite a devastating Croatian war only twenty years ago, you would be hard-pressed to find any public mention of it. There are hardly no monuments or memorials to it that we could find, except in a small village near where the war started. This, despite passing through villages were the houses and churches still have holes from the shelling, and houses visibly in ruins. Detailed interpretive signs that tell of history all the way back to the 600s skip over any recent events from only 20 years ago. Maybe it’s too raw, too soon? Or maybe putting on a brave face for the tourism industry, that seems to be the mainstay of the economy.  In any case, we loved it all, and will be back again to bob in the Crystal blue water.  Magnificent. 

 Amos enjoying the in-flight service on Croatian Airlines: olives, goat cheese, crostini and great wine (ok, he had apple juice)!
 

  

Pletvice Lakes

This was our adventure a few days ago. “Adventure” is maybe the wrong word. Experience perhaps better describes it. The lakes are a series of karst lakes and waterfalls that are absolutely stunning, full of trout and a bright aquamarine (teal?) blue-green colour. Makes Lake Louise seem very pedestrian. An “Experience” it was because we shared it with about 5000 – 10,000 other visitors. Kudos to the Croatian National Parks system because despite the hordes, there was little garbage, the trails in relatively good shape and we saw not one person in the water – which was crying out for a swim, but forbidden. To access the trails there were 4 different entrance points with massive parking lots, miles of boardwalks and trails, shuttle buses and shuttle boats. At one point we were waiting for our boat ride down the lake (Amos insisted, we had promised) for the boats that took 100 each, we had to wait for 3 boats and it was elbows out, guard your place in line kind of stuff. Sort of expected in the metro station following sporting match, not so much on the dock of lake, in a National Park, in the middle of the mountains. But Pletvice Lakes are now world renowned and for good reason. 

   

    
 

  
    
  

   
And the hordes ?? Well maybe you spotted a few already but they have been hidden from your view. Until now.

   

  
    
    

  
 A 

It is still spectacular even with all those people. A bit uncomfortable for us Canadians – but definitely worth the hassle. 

And our selfie attempts… No selfie sticks with this family!

         

   
 
And then a stranger took pity on us!

 
 

Velebit Moutains

We have settled into a nice pattern here in Senj. One super lazy day followed by an adventure or exploring. The lack of posts are due mostly to the demands on the iPad (and my dead phone – our second posting device) and other digital devices. iPad scrabble and ticket to ride, reading e-books, restaurant and hotel research, Tour de France highlights (not such an existing year this year), Star Wars game, reading our friends travel blogs and watching movies and shows (Star 4,5,6, Harry Potter 1 and the new Amazing Race Canada) consume the iPad hours. I have THE device at the moment so will try to get a couple short posts out on this a lazy day beach day. It is sunny and 29 (at 11 am), the Bura wind of the last few days is weakening and there may be a thunder shower this afternoon but I suspect it will be 32 or 33 by this afternoon. Perfect for a lazy float in the Adriatic (followed an octopus around snorkelling the other day by the way).

The Velebit. The main mountain range in Croatia and according to Wiki an extension of the Alps. As decscribed earlier they literally rise out of the Adriatic here in Senj so that from the coast road you turn off and are immediately driving switchbacks up into the mountains. After a bunch of research we finally settled on a day hike out of Alan Hut (a Croatian Mountaineering Association Hut) to the Rossi shelter on the well known Premuzic trail which runs the length of the Velebit (a nine day hike – anyone interested?).

  
The Velebit are super interesting Karst mountains with openings / holes into the mountains everywhere. In this section of the mountain are super steep vertical caves stretching some 1300 + metres down into the mountain. At the surface are sheer, white, limestone mountains and hills, covered by beech forests and grazing mountain grasslands.

 

   
  
The hike was fantastic. A few low moments as we neared our turnaround point  and Amos (and Naeva too a bit) were overcome with tiredness and the thought of the hike back. We and they persevered and other than Amos’s knee acting up on the return no tears were shed and we enjoyed the scenery from the opposite angle. The trail was built in the 30s and there are lots of places with hand-built stone stairs and walkways built into the side of cliffs. Super impressive. 

   
    
   
The Rossi Shelter – with a hiking group of about 40 or so. They left shortly after we arrived so we could enjoy or rest without the hordes!

 
  
  
   
    

A mountain goat. Too bad I didn’t have a better camera!

    
This series is the same section of trail in opposite directions. With the Kristina, Naeva and Amos on the trail. The second photo is from the top of the mountain knoll I climbed that is visible in the first. Can you spot them in the second?

   

  
  

Island of Krk

So much for doing nothing. We rented a flash little red VW, a four-door Smart Car, for the two weeks we are in Senj and it’s pull has been too strong.  Yesterday we piled in and headed an hour north, across a huge bridge, onto the island of Krk.  Where the tourist towns on the mainland (where we are) are a bit tired, to ones on the island are full of new pensions and well-kept restaurants and walking trails.

  
We wandered around Vrbnik’s alleys and walled town for a while, perched on a cliff. Found the “narrowest street in the world”, 43 cm wide.  Wondered if Fan Tan Alley didn’t claim this title, too? 

   
Wandered down to the bottom of the cliff, through a hidden arch in the rock, to Secret Beach. Small. Heavenly.

   
 And then, after doing some serious TripAdvisor and other research, settled on Konoba Nada for dinner. The terrace hangs off the side of cliff, looking back at the mainland and mountains of Velebit National Park. Cuttlefish risotto, black from the ink; grilled monkfish so hearty that it was like eating a rare steak; and fresh pasta with the local specialty, shredded lamb ragu on top. Washed down with Zlatevina wine, grown less than a kilometre away.  Another meal to remember!  

   
And a nice, quiet drive home at sunset, zipping along twisted roads out of a car commercial. We’ll do nothing tomorrow.

Zlatni Rat

 
Zlatni rat

We actually went to this beach last week but I never got the opportunity to write about it and it’s a subject you just can’t miss. It’s called the heart shaped beach but actually in my opinion looks like a ice cream cone. To get there we had to take a bus for one hour and then walk for 30 minutes. Oh and it’s was 35 degrees. Is this starting to sound like another blog post? If not read the hike… It was supposed to be a world famous beach (it even had its own airport) but was just a random old beach with way too many people. It just so happened to have a lot of people who were very brown and tanned but didn’t actually have any swimsuit tan lines. Anywhere. Yes my parents took me to a nudist beach and I will most likely have nightmares for the rest of my life. After that me and Amos went on a blow up obstacle course. It was really fun and had fully CLOTHED people! I heard French,English,German,Spanish,Italian,Portuguese,Hungarian, I could basically go on for hours but I only heard 2 Croatians! Hmmmm i wonder why they weren’t at this beach!? In the end I decided that it was pretty much just a beach and I didn’t even see famous people or people who looked like they might have just come off their private jet. The day ended with us having donairs for dinner and my dad almost missing the bus back. Typical…  

    
 -Naeva

Senj – the edge of the mountains (and moon)

We have moved from Brac and the southern Dalmatian islands and north to the little coastal town of Senj (pronounced “Senye”). We are further north on the Adriatic (our guide book says the area is called the Kvarner Gulf). On the coast we are literally on the edge of the mountain as the Velebit mountains plunge from 1500 m into the ocean. There is a set of islands here as well, with the edge facing the coast seemingly completely devoid of vegetation. Much of Brac seemed very barren and harsh, while some of the areas around here feel like they could be on the moon.

  
Kristina scored again with the apartment. This the view.

    

And the swimming beach.

    
Part of the barrenness I think is the result of the winds – “Bura” – that blow out of the mountains. So the side of the islands facing us are windswept and the other side has some vegetation. At least enough to support sheep so that lamb and sheep cheese are famous from these parts. The day we arrived here there was a mighty wind blowing. So much so that parts of the road were closed to everything but cars. It is Europe holiday season in full force and we think the radio warned of a 50km long traffic jam, caused in part by the crazy weather. Stay at home said the forecaster (we along with many others didn’t). We did experience a 20km ish one and another one on the other side of the road where people we out of their cars. Given the jams and RVs clogging the road we dared not stop to take pictures of the incredible landscape and massive gusts blowing across the water. Here is one that captures it a bit? And another of the very high bridge where the wind was shaking our wee car and motorcycles, trucks, RVs etc forbidden from crossing.

    
Since arriving in Senj we took advantage of a cloudy day for a hike in the mountains.

  
And spent sunny yesterday in a quiet little tuna fishing village of Lukovo, which was down off the main road along a 15% plus hairpin, cliff hugging, road.