Even though we had started off in Croatia for the trip, we didn’t explore it one bit except to get an incomplete picture the first time round.
We arrived from Ljubljana in Zagreb and made our way to Airbnb apartment which was only a short walk away from the bus station and was primarily one of the reasons for choosing the apartment. When we arrived at the apartment, we were dismayed as it looked decrepit and old, reminiscent of the Soviet/ Yugoslavian era which have now become living relics. Irena arrived on time and showed us to our apartment and suffice to say, we were truly blown away by a fully modern and tastefully done apartment. The decor was warm and made us feel welcome.
Irena suggested we do a city walk and guided us to the place we could see the advent activities going around Trg kralja Tomislava. At Trg kralja Tomislava, we saw Ice Skating rinks filled with people enjoying a nice winter evening out. Lots of stalls selling meat dishes, stews, soups and beers abounded the area. I bought cider to partake in the revelry going around. We had to return back to the apartment as we had an early morning bus from Zagreb towards Plitvice lakes and then on to Split.
Day 1: Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes to Split
When we were going towards the Bus station to board the bus we saw there was a bit of snow falling around but was not thick enough to slow anything or so we thought. Turns out we were wrong, majorly wrong later. We boarded the bus at 730am tp Plitvice lakes. As we were getting out of the city, we noticed that snow was coming in thick and fast and was already more than a couple of inches.
After the 2 and a half hour ride to Plitvice lakes, we got out and realized 2 things. First, there was about half a feet of snow all around us and second, most importantly, we were at the wrong entrance of the Plitvice lakes. We had to walk back nearly 45 minutes to the other entrance and on the road as the pedestrian walkway was snowed down.
Protip: Keep an eye on the map to know when you are going to be near Entrance 1. Tell the Bus personnel to inform you when the bus is near Entrance 1
45 mins later and after a whole lot of grumbling later, we arrived at the Entrance. We had the good fortune of meeting Yash and Anuja from Mumbai, who joined us on this grueling walk and accompanied us for the rest of the day providing their valuable companionship. Dumping our luggage in the Luggage room, we went for a coffee and some breakfast, only to realize that there was not much options to eat from and settled for a coffee, hot chocolate and pastry.
We took the entrance tickets and started on an easy trail into the forest. The view that welcome you is breath taking. It is straight out a postcard and is on the cover page of numerous travel magazines. The trail had been cleared of snow but was still slippery as the snow was compacted than cleared completely. We had good providence of not having to bear many tourists and made our way at a leisurely pace. We took time out to create a small snowman who suddenly gained popularity among East Asian tourists who started posing with it. We crossed the bridge on a rivulet and threw compacted snow to skip on the water.
However, as the trail is about 3 hours long and as we had already lost a lot time, we could not take the boat to the other side and ended up returning to the starting point to collect our luggage and more coffee. We bid good bye to Yash and Anuja as they were headed to Zagreb and we to Split. We got the bus about an hour later than designated as there was a lot of snow everywhere.
Plitvice lakes to Split was an uneventful bus journey going through some of the most unexplored parts of Croatia as it comprised of a few villages and not as much to see or do as the coastline.
At Split, we literally felt like we headed through a maze to get to our apartment where we were welcomed by Josco who showed us our apartment and gave a whole lot of valuable tips on getting around.
We dumped our luggage and headed for dinner as we had not eaten enough the entire day to Bokeria for a good dinner. Food at Bokeria is superb as is the ambience. The menu comprising mostly meat dishes is not a recommended place for vegetarians as it does not offer much options but a gastro delight for non vegetarians such as myself. To wash down the food, the serving staff can suggest a good wine to pair it with. Post dinner, we headed back for some well deserved sleep
Day 2: Split
We decided to take the day slow in Split as the past few days had been extremely hectic. We had a choice between making the trip to Dubrovnik and chilling out the next day or chill out today and make the trip to Dubrovnik the next day; we decided to the latter as we had been quite tired. We woke up around 9 and had a leisurely breakfast at Bobis which is on the riviera. The weather was pleasant after the snow laden day of Plitvice lakes. From there, we started exploring the small yet beautiful split of Split.Split has the living breathing relic of Diocletian’s Palace built by the Roman King Diocletian for use as a retirement palace but was not be realized. instead, it has been used by the villagers and have made it their own with the inhabitant using it from 4th Century CE. The palace ramparts are free to be explored but to get into the Basement, an entrance fee of about 7 Eur has to be paid. the fee was not worth it in my opinion as there was nothing of note to see in there. From there, we explored the rest of the palace which took us about 2 hours in all.
Our next stop was Fabrique Pub which was well recommended by Josco for its food and drinks. I had a nice baltic porter and chicken wings while the missus had Tortillas and coke. We spent lovely 2 hours enjoying the lunch and talking a great deal.
Post Fabrique, we decided the head up the Marjan hill for its towering views of Split. halfway through though we called it quits as we had no intention of getting more tired, we headed back for a siesta.
We got up somewhere around 5ish and went out for enjoying the city in the evening tomes. being the time of advent, the city was bedecked in its finest glory and there were 2 bands performing simultaneously about 500m apart. the first group was crooning some English numbers and was being appreciated by crowd while the second was belting out Croatian numbers and the crowd was joining them on the floor dancing with members of all age groups breaking a leg.We had dinner at Konoba Makarun and then headed back as we had an early bus to Dubrovnik the next day
Day 3: Split to Dubrovnik to Split
When we started off from Split, we had not planned a massive day ahead with only getting on the City walls prime on the list and nothing much else. The journey to and from Dubrovnik passes through the Neum Corridor which belongs to Bosnia. So it is like Croatia–Bosnia–Croatia.On the highway, we saw snow clad steep mountains on one side and the short beaches on the other which somehow must have given birth to the proverb of rock and hard place etc. the journey itself is 4 hours long and if undertaken in summer when it is teeming with people, add a generous 2 hours to the journey. After 4 checks on the passport, we were finally in Dubrovnik
We were greeted in the city by rain and high speed winds. I was poring on my maps deciding how to get to City walls when we were greeted by Ivan who is a taxi driver as well as a Tour guide. He offered to drop us to the city walls for 10Eur and as it sounded much better than walking, we agreed for the same. When we were driving, he started telling us about the history of Dubrovnik and gave us an offer of the entire city tour plus water mills plus the drive up the mountains for a sum of 45 Eur. This sounded really good and we took it up.
Our first stop was the mountain top with the customary photo of Dubrovnik and is generally taken by the Cable car leading up or can be driven all the way. Ivan drove us up the way and took a photo while we were being hammered by tiny snow flakes. Ivan was afraid that the wind speeds would be too high and offered us his hand to hold on to. The closer we got to edge of the mountain, we felt comfortable at wind speeds to pose for the photo.
From there, we headed to the City walls and the city in itself where we saw the oldest pharmacy, the aquifer and climbed on to the city walls. the city walls now cost about 20 Eur pp but there is a section which is about 400m long accessible without having to pay for it. That section is right above the dock yard and gives a great overview of the old bay. We also some props from the movie Robin hood which is set to release in 2018. there are tons of places in Dubrovnik where the Game of thrones was shot. Be sure to book a walking tour from one of the many tour agencies in Dubrovnik if you are a huge fan. As we were pressed for time, we had skipped the same. Yash and Anuja were in set to reach Dubrovnik but we could not catch up with them as we did not have much time. Though we did catch up on the phone. The city is filled with stories dating back a millennia of conflicts between Ottoman Turks, Catholics and Orthodox Christians. The story of Dubrovnik and Neum actually defines the problem of Bosnia which I will spend more time in the next Blog post but for now suffice to say that Neum exists because Dubrovnik which was once an independent place came under severe attack by Catholics of Venetian empire and had to seek out the alliance with the Ottoman Turks who were then in Bosnia. The Turks agreed to do in exchange for access to the sea which is now manifest as Neum corridor.
From the city wall, we headed to the newest bridge which shortens the journey time between Split and Dubrovnik while providing some marvelous views over the sea.the weather in general had considerably improved.
As we had not had lunch, Ivan took us to a small pizzeria where we placed the order and instead of waiting for the pizza, he drove us to Ombla which is where Dubrovnik gets its fresh water from. We collected the Pizza and headed back to Dubrovnik and from there on took the bus back to Split.We reached around 1030PM and had a well deserved sleep after all the exciting travel and stories
Day 4: Split to Mostar, Bosnia
From Split, we took Bus to Mostar in the morning and we were to reach late afternoon. After a lot of false starts, the bus finally arrived about 15 mins behind schedule. The journey to the Border crossing is a beautiful one on Croatia side with well maintained roads and clean countryside. the border patrol on Croatia again took a lot of time as they were verifying the passports and visas but strangely enough the border patrol on Bosnia did not appear to be interested in checking much as their attitude was more like “If you have the trouble to come this far, you might as well come in”. The entry to Bosnia gives way to a stark scenery and much different country side from the Croatia side even though we had only traveled a few miles inside. The Call rates go up 10X and the entire region looks grim. However, the beauty in the country of Bosnia is a different story altogether and in the next Blog post