Croatian Adventure, part 7 – Plitvice Lakes

After collecting our hire car from central Zagreb it was time to head south towards Croatia’s most famed national park, the Plitvice Lakes. I was sweating it a bit driving out of a busy city on a busy weekday morning, but the gps instructions were easy and once out of Zagreb the road was super easy to get to our destination.

We arrived in the afternoon, and decided not to push to go see the lakes straight away as we had two nights booked at our hotel. We took a walk down to the ticket booth from our hotel, and bought our tickets for the following day so we could be up early and in the park. The afternoon was very crisp and fresh – the difference in temperatures between here and the coast only 2 hours away was quite surprising. It was chilly, foggy and the coldest we had been this trip. So we snuggled in our room, baby A watched some cartoons and we relaxed. We decided to jump into the car and head around 10km back up the road towards Zagreb to eat at Restaurant Degenija. We had heard good things about this place, and our visit confirmed that this place is great for a good feed. So good we went back the following night too.

Anyway the next day we were up early and at 8.30am we entered the park. It was very fresh, but clear and pleasant. We jumped onto the inner park shuttle bus and got dropped off to the very top of the park. From there we walked and wound our way all the way down, past the numerous lakes and so much water! The second part of the walk involved a little boat taking us across the main lake to the “lower section”, which is home to biggest waterfall in the park. The boat trip across the lake was short, but it was sooooo cold on the water. Luckily at the other end there is a warm, but overpriced cafe/restaurant where we got some hot coffee and food. Not the best, but it was warm and did the job.

Overall we walked over 8km on numerous dirt trails, boardwalks and bridges. We were a bit concerned about baby A not being able to cope, but she absolutely LOVED it here. She walked the whole time with no complaints. Towards the end she was a bit tired and worn out, but she totally surprised us with her resiliance and love for the place! This place is a must see!!!!

Some notes:

  • Hotel/Restaurant Degenija is on the main road about 10km north. Very reasonably priced and great size serves.
  • We stayed at the Hotel Plitvice. This was the worst place we stayed at for the price. Quite expensive for a run down, old 1970s inspired room, BUT BUT BUT… you cannot beat the location. A short walk to the main entry. And I will give it that it was very clean considering how old it is.
  • Having a hire car was a godsend. The hotel restaurant didnt look promising, so having easy access to surrounding towns to eat at local places or stop at small stores to buy juice, yogurts (for Baby A) etc was helpful.
  • It gets COLD here. Mid september and the air already had a winter chill. We wore all our layers here. Even with a jacket the boat transfer in the park was freezing. Two hours later in Split on the coast it was warm, so yes, this region has its own microclimate while is chillier than the coast.
  • If you have small children do NOT bring a pram/pusher. We saw two people with this and they looked as miserable as all hell. There are heaps of up and down, rickety platforms, uneven steps etc. You will need to carry your child if they cannot walk.
  • Not many places to stop and buy drinks/snacks in the park. Bring your own backpack as you will spend most of the day out and you might need snacks inbetween.

Enjoy Plitvice!!!

 

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Croatian Adventure, part 6 – Zagreb

After Slovenia it was time to head back into Croatia and visit the capital city, Zagreb. I had been numerous times in the past, but the last time had been over 10 years ago, so it was interesting to see how the city has grown and developed. Of course, the old centre was pretty much the same as it always has been, but as the bus was entering the outskirts of the city it was impressive to see how much the city has grown, with new modern fancy office buildings and large shopping complexes. Croatia has certainly developed since the first time I had visited back in 2000.

Anyway we had a lovely 2 nights here to rest up, recharge and explore the city before hiring a car and continuing on to Plitvice. Baby A thoroughly enjoyed Zagreb for its water fountains and statues. She was especially taken with the large golden statue of the Virgin Mary in front of the cities main cathedral. I dont know why but she just liked it, so we had to walk past it numerous times. We enjoyed exploring the old upper town, which is the oldest part of the city and has many interesting buildings and monuments. Of course we enjoyed many coffee stops too – Zagreb has a thriving cafe culture and we enjoyed numerous cappucinos on the main square, Trg Ban Jelacic.

Another highlight was the chance to catch up with some old friends who I hadnt seen for a very long time. It was so great catching up with two friends who I had known for close to 15 years via the travel website Virtualtourist (which sadly just closed down recently). Having a coffee and a laugh with Mr B and Miss Z and hearing about life in Croatia from ‘the locals’ was a treat, and I’m grateful for the gifts they gave us too! The wine and grapes were super good!

Zagreb is sometimes overlooked because everyone heads straight to Croatia’s famed coast. I can understand that – the coast is special indeed. But if you have a few days up your sleeve be sure to stop in Zagreb. It really is thriving and it definitely has a positive vibe to it. Its definitely a more uplifting city than it was the first time I visited 17 years earlier.

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Croatian Adventure, part 5 – Into Slovenia

After spending time with the family it was onwards and northwards. I had organised to drop off our hire car in Rijeka so that we wouldn’t have to drive it into Slovenia, and also because I have two very good friends I hadnt seen in over ten years who live in Rijeka. After dropping off our car we went into the city centre, found our apartment and later on, Miss A and Mrs N came to meet up with us. It was so great catching up after so many years, having a coffee and icecream and enjoying a nice evening on the town. Thanks so much for taking the time to meet us you two lovely ladies!!!

The next morning we caught the bus to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. It was so beautiful driving through the Slovenian countryside, it is just so green and the villages are just so picture perfect! We arrived into the capital and and after walking around a bit we caught up with some more friends that I had communicated with for a number of years on the travel website virtualtourist.com .

It was so great finally meeting up with Miss M, and remeeting Ms K! Miss M was kind enough as well to take us to Lake Bled, which unfortunately was rained out! lol. She also told us about the famous Lake Bled cake that we just had to try, so of course, we did and it was truly delicious. The best cake we had in the balkans we reckon! Ljubljana is a really charming city as I knew from my first visit many years ago, but this time it was great to experience it with my family.

We are very grateful for the time and generosity that Miss M showed us. It was nice to learn more about Slovenia and to drive through more of the countryside, which I didnt have the chance to do last time. Thanks must also go to Ms K who found a playground and was willing to sit for a while and let Baby A have her play. I hope to meet you ladies again some day!img_4766img_4773img_4783img_4787img_4792img_4795img_4797

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Croatian Adventure, part 4 – Pag

After spending time with mum’s side of the family it was time to head over to the island of Pag (Otok Pag) to spend time with dad’s side of the family. The whole reason of our coming to Croatia for a holiday was to visit my grandparents, and for them to see little A. It had been over 10 years since I had last seen them, and I had been warned that they had aged considerably since that last time. My grandmother has also got the onset of dementia and her health is deteriorating, so I knew this was the time to go and quite possibly say my final goodbyes.

We spent a lovely 3 days here exploring the island and of course, spending time with my grandparents. The sea was still gloriously warm so we would walk down to the village beach and have a swim. Having a hire car meant we could explore the island as well, which we did. Each morning we would go into the small main town on the island, also called Pag, and sit in the cafes by the sea. We also took a trip to Novalja, where we saw an epic sunset. Novalja is now “all the rage” amongst the young kids, as they have huge DJ festivals and beach parties during the summer. Luckily in mid september it was pretty tame and there were only old germans in socks and sandals left behind, so it was pretty quiet and peaceful. I was quite shocked to see how large Novalja has grown due to being the new ‘Ibiza’ of europe – the small sleepy fishing village I remembered from well over 10 years ago is now a buzzing large town which is even crazier and busier in the months of July and August.

Saying goodbye was not fun. My gran’s dementia meant that she thought I lived around the corner and that I would be visiting next week. My grandfather was quite teary because he knew that this was highly likely the last goodbye. I can’t see us getting to Croatia any time again soon, and at their age, time is limited. We all knew this, so the parting was pretty emotional to say the least. I was of course so glad I made the pilgrimage back to the village, but it was also bittersweet. I am just grateful they got to meet their great grand daughter before it is too late.

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Croatian Adventure, part 3 – Nin

After our time in Mostar it was time to head back into Croatia and visit some family. My mother’s side originates from the small historic town of Nin, located about a half hour from the main city of Zadar. I had been here quite a few times in the past, but it was the first time in over 10 years I was coming back, and this time with my little family. I was looking forward to seeing my mum’s aunties and other relatives who I hadnt seen in a long time.

We arrived just after lunch from a 3 hour drive through the backroads of the mounainous region of Croatia. Welcoming us were my mum’s Aunty and Uncle, and it was just like coming back home. They were super happy to see us, and of course, a good lunch spread was laid out for our arrival. The next three days were just lovely – nice and warm, visits to the Nin lagoon (which has a sandy beach, which is rare for Croatia), plenty of cafe and icecream stops, and of course, being fed good old fashioned croatian food. My relatives have a beautiful plot of land where they grow all their own fruit and vegetables – by golly nothing beats croatian grown organic produce!!!

We also of course, visited some of the small historic spots in the town. Nin is famous as being one of the oldest religous towns in Croatia, and also was a seat for the Princes of Dalmatia. Today you can visit what is known as the ‘smallest cathedral in the world’, the Church of the Holy Cross, which located smack bang in the centre of the old historic town. There are also some old roman ruins to explore. My mother was born in a house directly on the square where the roman ruins were discovered! In town there is also a small museum and church which has some relics from the times of the old Croatian princes and bishops.

Nin is quaint and charming. Perhaps too small and quiet for the every day tourist to spend some days here, but being only a half hour from bustling Zadar, I would definitely urge you take the bus or drive out and spend a few hours exploring, beaching, and sitting in the small town square grabbing a drink.

 

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Croatian Adventure – part 2, Mostar

While not a part of our “Croatian” adventure, we decided that the opportunity to explore a different city in a different country was too good to miss. After picking up our hire car in Dubrovnik we took the short 2 hour drive to Mostar and spent 2 nights exploring and relaxing in this charming city.

After checking into our beautiful hotel, the Hotel Kriva-Cuprija we decided to head straight down to the famous landmark, the “stari most” (old bridge) to check it out and see if anyone was jumping. It was a warm steamy humid day, so the chance for baby A (who really should be called little A now because she is no longer a baby!) to explore the rivers edge was welcome, especially after the car ride too. While she enjoyed splashing rocks into the Neretva River, we actually saw a man toying with the crowd pretending to jump off the bridge, then pull back etc. There was an Australian lady sunbaking by the river who told us that he had been doing the same thing over and over since 10am when she had arrived, and now it was approximately 3pm when we got there, so a long time to be teasing the crowds. After half an hour or so it looked like he was finally going to do it, and sure enough he did! Little A was super excited to see the jump, and asked if she could see him do it again. Well it took him 5 hours to do that one, I had to tell her we werent waiting around for the next! So icecream it was to please the little one. For our first nights dinner we opted to take our hotels special of a traditional Bosnian meat dish cooked the traditional way under a earthenware/ceramic lid over hot coals. It was cheap and super delicious. Even better, because our daughter was so cute and the waitress loved her so much, she got given an extra piece of cake for dessert just for her. My daughter didnt like it, so myself and Mr R got to have it. Hooray for cute daughter scoring us free cake! lol

The following day we explored more of the city. We took things very easy and slowly – it was warm, the streets were very cobbled, and little A was a bit tired, so we just walked around, made lots of stops at cafes/icecream shops and just relaxed by the river. We also took a quick drive out to Blagaj to check out the dervish monastery before it got too warm. After our visit it was time for lunch, and through a tip I had read on a previous wordpress blog, we decided to have lunch at the Saray Restaurant because it said it had a playground at the back of the restaurant. This place ended up being a little gem of a find. While it wasnt a playground as such (more like a few little plastic toy slides/swings for the kids) it was enough for little A to have a grand time. There were lots of local muslim ladies drinking coffee togther, while their kids were playing, so little A had some new friends to run around and play with. At one stage I heard little A bossing them around, telling them what to do in english, and they told her something back in Bosnian/Croat. She wasnt going to get her way this time! While she played we had an awesome Cevapi dish (small bosnian sausages) and some fantastic coffee. When we got the bill we nearly fell over, it was SO cheap. We were super glad to have had the chance to eat at a more authentic local place – it benefitted little A, it was cheap, and we got to be with the locals.

Our night came to a close with myself going for a walk in the twilight while Mr R stayed in the room with little A watching cartoon network. Mr R was feeling a bit sick with a cold, and little A was just exhausted, so I had the chance to explore by myself, visit a mosque and venture further afield to check out some of the old buildings destroyed by the war and never patched up. We had such a lovely time in Mostar, and driving through the surrounding countryside makes us want to go back and explore more next time!

Tips:

  • The child friendly Restaurant Saray “Aščinica Saray” is located at Karađozbegova 3. 
  • Euros, Croatian Kuna and Bosnian Marks can be used everywhere. To be honest, we never saw a Bosnian mark, we paid for things in both euro and kuna and always got change back in euro.
  • Definitely take the trip out to Blagaj Tekke, the monastery built for the dervish. Even if you aren’t into religious travel, the site itself located on a super green river is simply stunning.

 

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Croatian Adventure – part 1, Dubrovnik.

It’s been 2 weeks since our return from our big family trip to Croatia, and on this rainy cold Saturday night here in Perth I thought it was time to start writing about our trip and relive the warmth of the croatian sunshine.


Our first stop on our three week adventure was Dubrovnik. What people say about Dubrovnik is true, it really is the ‘pearl of the Adriatic’ and it really does live up to its hype. We spent 3 days in the luxurious Hotel Libertas Rixos, a modern fancy resort clinging along the side of a cliff. The resort was about a 20 minute walk to the old town, or a short and cheap bus ride. We loved staying here because it was definitely good for our daughter, who is 4. They had a kids pool with a fountain in it, which kept her very happy indeed. Lots of space for her to run around too, and a decent size bedroom. I think if we had stayed in a small apartment in the old town centre it might of been a bit too much for her, she loves to roam and be free.

Our first full day in Dubrovnik was a glorious sunny day. Possible rain was forecast for the next day or two, so we decided to do the touristy things while it was sunny. With an early start, we were some of the first to be on the city walls. We walked the walls, amazed and taking a gazillion photos of the ocean, the city and the walls. After all that walking an ice cream stop for baby A and coffee for us was on the cards. We then walked through the town, taking in points of interest, the architecture of the buildings etc. We then decided to go and take the cable car up to Mount Srd, to take in the famous view of dubrovnik from above. Our plan hit a snag though – baby A was TERRIFIED of going on the cable car. She took one look at it and refused to go on. So Mr R took her back to town centre for more ice cream and I took it up to check out the views and take the photos. I don’t know why she was so scared of it, I think most kids would love to go on, but now out girl. Her screams and cries could be heard echoing through the ancient town walls I’m sure!

Our second full day saw it cloudy and drizzly on occasions, but we still went back into town to check out a few more things. First item on the agenda was to find a playground for baby A. We had promised that since she was an amazingly good girl the day before (apart from the cable car meltdown she really was an angel) we would take her to a playground. My googling found a spot right by the Pile Gate entrance to the old town. She had her play, then the drizzle came, so it was coffee and ice cream time. After the rain abated we headed up to check out Lovrijenac Fortress, which is just outside of the main walled town. We sneakily hung around a tour group who were taking the “game of thrones” tour, so we could see where certain scenes from the show were filmed without actually taking the tour. It was pretty cool to see where King Joffrey would have been sitting and stuff like that.

After a lazy few hours back in the hotel to rest, we took another walk towards the modern city centre, and to the harbour, where the cruise ships come in. On the bus into town I witnessed another playground near the water, so we took Baby A there for a play too. Right next to the playground was a replica tank and navy boat that was used to defend the town during the homeland war of the 1990’s. Try explaining to a 4 year old what the big truck with a gun sticking out of it is used for! Lol

We had a glorious time in Dubrovnik and enjoyed it immensely. After picking up our hire car we drove out of town on the high road overlooking the sea and made a promise to ourselves that we would definitely come back again in the future. It’s just too beautiful not to!

Some tips for travelling Dubrovnik (especially with a kid!)

  • Buses from around the outside of the old town are super easy to navigate and reasonably cheap, at 15kn a ticket. You can easily stay outside of the old town by the seaside, and go to the old town daily to explore.
  • For those with a kid, we discovered two playgrounds during our time there. One was right by the old walls, just near the Pile Gate. To get there, go down a small staircase which is located to the left if facing the Pile Gate. The other playground near the harbour was on Ulica Nikola Tesla.
  • Go as early as possible for the wall tour. We got there at 8.30am and it was pretty quiet, with plenty of room to move. This was helpful for baby A to walk around the wall, or when we had to pick her up to climb stairs. Towards the end of the tour, around 11am it was jampacked, and all afternoon we could see hordes of people jostling each other. Very hot in the sun,and very crowded on the walls. Go early!
  • You can buy water and icecream at a few points along the wall, but they are pricey and few and far between. Bring your own water bottle up.
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