Saturday, July 6, 2024

Eight things it's helpful to know before embarking on a Croatian vacation July 2024


Well, I wrote this while I was still on the plane about three weeks ago, but it doesn't age, so here it goes.

Well, I'm still on this plane and will be for quite a while longer so I might as well plan ahead and see if I can write a bit more. Last year we went to Greece in the height of the heat and the pinnacle of the European travel season.  When we were there, we were surprised by quite a bit but learned a lot, some things particular to Greece and some particular to European travel in general.  These are outlined in my blogpost, "Some Hard and Fast Truths about Greece."   Many of the things noted during our trip to Croatia this year were similar to those experienced in Greece, but here is a list of eight things it helps to know coming to Croatia that stand on their own. Why eight?  Because that's how many I can think of right now.

1)  STAIRS-- OMG.  Stairs, stairs, stairs--stairs, and steep stairs, as far as the eye can see, and then more stairs.

Stairs were a thing in Split, as when climbing to the top of the St Domnius Cathedral Bell Tower or hiking to the top of Mt Telegrin on the Marjan Peninsula.  Stairs worsened in Bol, but were not so bad as Bol was a small city.  Where the stairs truly rolled themselves out to destroy us was in Dubrovnik.  Imagine hauling your fifty pounds of luggage plus your carry on bag/pack/purse, etc. up 80 narrow, shallow, steep stairs in the burning heat of the day after travelling from God knows where.  We saw many suffering faces doing exactly this during our time in Dubrovnik and we did it ourselves.  We think of ourselves as fit people, but dang, these stairs sobered us.  Everywhere we went involved stairs.  Though we figured out more gradual (less strenuous) ways to get to Old Town, the over-reaching reality was that whatever went down had to come up.

I'd be inclined to say that if you had any mobility issues whosoever, you would be completely S.O.L.  Bad knees, bad back, overweight--forget it, you are toast.

Most of the pedestrian passageways, though actual streets with residences, all walled on either side with only a few doors visible. There is no telling what is behind the walls until you peek through the occasional open door, revealing a bar, a cemetery, a residence, or worse, 80 stairs descending to the street below.

Curiously, these alley ways are safe.  We saw no homeless, no creepy characters, and even saw young ladies walking them at night on their own.

Yes, we hauled our luggage up this monster

Goodbye knees....

2)  COFFEE  Coffee in Croatia is a big deal.  There is not a single Starbucks in all of Croatia and, in fact, take away coffee is almost unheard of.  Coffee is expensive, and generally you are going to stay to drink it where you bought it, that is unless you have a better way of making it at home.  Of the five places we stayed, only two had a drip coffee maker, and the grind used to make drip coffee is virtually unavailable.  In Split we were forced to our friend YouTube to learn to make Turkish Coffee on the stove, also warming the milk up on the stove and drinking from very small espresso cups.  This did tend to grow on us and we did get more proficient at it as the days went on.

3)  BEACHES  While the water on Croatian beaches is possibly the clearest and the most gentle I have ever encountered, the beaches are made of fine pebbles, which hurt your feet.  Entry into the water at some beaches is ok, especially if you leave your flipflops at the water's edge so you can get back to your towel without the agony of stepping over the rocks, but at some, like at Banje, Dubrovnik's most well known beach right outside the Old City walls, we just went in with our water shoes on. While sand beaches exist, well never mind, they don't really.  We always wore water shoes to the beach.  Don't go expecting to curl your toes in the sand.

This as you might imagine can definitely impact the experience of laying in the sun, but we managed it. Unlike in Greece, rented beach chairs were expensive, sometimes ranging upward of 60 Euros for two chairs and an umbrella, but, also unlike as in Greece, there was plenty of space on the beach to lay out your towel, and as a matter of fact, this is what most people choose to do.  There is always a bar nearby, you just have to get up and get your beer instead of someone bringing it to you.

Pebbles on Martinica Beach on Brac
Lunch on Kasjuni Beach on the Marjan Peninsula in Split

4)  ICE   Ice is hard to come by, in fact, we did not encounter a single grocery store in which you could just "buy ice."  One of our tri-daily chores was emptying out the single ice tray, some of them making as few as 10 small cubes at a time, and refilling the tray to immeidately make more.  We were constantly low on ice, which made ice water impossible and the sustenance of our gin and tonic habit a struggle at best.

5) HOLIDAYS  Try not to arrive on a Sunday or a national holiday.  The Croatians take these days very seriously so popping into a grocery store for something as simple as a bar of soap may prove to be quite difficult.

We arrived the day before what turned out to be both a national AND a religious holiday.  Both National Statehood Day and Corpus Christi fell on May 30th.  We strolled out in the morning hoping to find a cafe or a grocery store open and found ourselves striking out on many levels, to the point that when we drove to quite remote Plitvice, we feared being able to get any dinner at all.

6)  APPLIANCES and RENTAL CARS  If your place has major appliances, like an oven, dishwasher, or a washing machine, make sure your host shows you how to use it.  If your place has a washer, it will not have a dryer, but it will have a drying rack, so don't wash your clothes right before you have to pack them.  Similarly, if you rent a car, get instructions on the basics.  European models are not the same as their American counterparts.  In the middle of a parking garage in Zagreb, we had to get out our trusted friend YouTube again and learn how to put our rental car into reverse!


There is no bus or train service between Split and Dubrovnik.  If you chose to drive this road, though lovely, you will have to cross the non-EU Bosnian border. We heard the delay here can reach into the hours-long category.  All the ferries we rode were precisely on time, if not a few seconds early.

Seriously like airplane seats!!

Super comfy ride to Hvar..

8)  Several mobile apps can be downloaded to make your life easier, such as the SplitParking App (should you have a car) and the Dubrovnik Bus System app, without which, good luck!

I hope these tips will make your trip to Croatia a little easier!  Hope you enjoyed reading.  Please follow me on Instagram at @templestravel for more frequent travel related tips! Scan the QR code to follow!

Monday, July 1, 2024

Croatia : Five Outdoor Activities You Cannot Miss May/June 2024

Well, we just spent a glorious two and a half weeks entirely within the country of Croatia.  Leading up to our trip, when I told people I was going to Croatia, a lot of people questioned me as to why I was going, so I felt compelled to come up with some good reasons.  Well, as often inspires us, we were watching a PBS television series filmed in a very lovely location and we decide to find out what that location was.  Turns out, the PBS series, Hotel Portofino, is not filmed in Portofino at all, but rather in Croatia. My kids and my husband have Croatian background, and prior to the pandemic we had considered it as a destination.  The blue waters, rising cliffs, and green trees we saw in the show were the final selling points--we were going to Croatia.  When researching this vacation, I was pleased to discover the extensive national park system within the country and, between that and the water, the subsequent opportunities for outdoor activities, and take advantage we did!  So here it is, five outdoor activities in Croatia that are not to be missed, along with a few honorable mentions.  Because they were all just fabulous, I will list them in the order we did them.  


Thank you, Rick Steves.  In the latest version of his guidebook on Croatia and Slovenia, Rick lists Plitvice (pronounced PLEET-veet-seh) Lakes as only one of two things in Croatia that absolutely cannot be missed (the other being the Dubrovnik city walls).  Trusting in his wisdom, we chose to land in Zagreb and then drive the next day to Plitvice, spend one night, and then move on to the coastal city of Split, Brac, and Dubrovnik where the remaining 2 weeks of our vacation would be spent.  Well, Rick was right. Plitvice Lakes National Park was quite possibly the most beautiful place I had ever been, a meandering collection of lacy waterfalls, forested trails, and blue green lakes.  The park is well organized for exploration by a series of well signed boardwalks, ferries, and shuttle buses which direct guests along fitness level appropriate routes, generally in one direction.  We took the boat in one direction, but when we returned to the shuttle bus too quickly, we decided to walk the other side back.  We had hiking shoes, but you don't need them, sneakers would have been fine.  We had completed the whole route in about four hours, oogling every moment at the sheer beauty of it all and wishing it would never end.  Paid parking available at both entrances.  Entrance fee varies depending on the season.  We paid 25 Euros but the price was going up to the summer price of 40 the next day.  Absolutely not to be missed.


Rafting down the Cetina River with Rafting Pirate.  Omigoodness this was so much fun.  Rafting the Cetina River is a fairly popular activity originating about 45 minutes out of the Split area, typically near the town of Omis.  A lot of outfits run this route, but we settled on Rafting Pirate because of their nearly perfect review record.  Anyway, start to finish, a crazy good time.

After parking, a 20 minute van ride took us to the put in point of our 3 hour rafting adventure.  We were first equipped with helmets, neoprene shorty wetsuits and anoraks (if desired) before setting out in two rafts of 8 people with one guide in each boat.  Though, once again, many outfits advertise that they make this trek, as severe rain was in the forecast, we seemed to be the only two boats on the river.

Anyway, our guide, Huss (pronounced Hoos) was a total scream.  He made a lot of effort to get to know our names, made a lot of jokes, and told a lot of entertaining stories.  He was also very informative about upcoming parts of the trip and how we would best and most safely execute them.

This was largely a peaceful float down the river with occasional ducking out of the way of branches and bumping into rocks and general sloshing around and getting wet.  One huge highlight was swimming through a dark (and VERY cold) cave and emerging on the other side through a waterfall.  Another spot offered cliff jumping which we all joined (several times at that)

Incidentally, there was a young lady from Hong Kong who was on her own and could not swim.  My three lifeguards were called into action and we all helped our fellow rafter enjoy both the cave and the cliff jumping.  It was great to be a team and to see her bravery in trying new things.

The last twenty minutes it POURED, I mean POURED, like you could drink water off your face.  We were freezing---teeth chattering and all.  But we were met at the finish line with homemade liquor and cookies and our dry clothes waiting in our car.  All was good!

The trip cost about 40 Euros per person.  Worth every penny.  The guides also take great pictures the whole length of the course and send them to you for 15 Euros.  I don't recommend the trip for people with bad knees or knees that don't have full range.


Mljet is a long and skinny island (about 23 miles in length and 2 miles in width) about a two hour peaceful and scenic ferry ride from Dubrovnik. The ferry costs about 10 euros each way and makes a quick stop in the port of Sobra before heading on to Polace, on the edge of the National Park.  On arrival in Polace, (or Pomena, if you got on the ferry that took you there) you may purchase your entrance to the National Park, which includes a round trip short ferry ride to Sv. Marija Island where there is a church and a restaurant.  Anyway, after buying your ticket, you can take a shuttle to the ferry dock or you can walk the distance (which we did in about 30 minutes).  Most people start the day by taking the ferry across the Veliko Jezero (Big Lake) to the island.  After returning, it is up to you.  We chose to rent bikes (about 20 Euros for three hours) and ride the 5 miles around the big lake.  Midway into our ride we pulled our bikes over at the "beach" and had a very private picnic and swim in the lake's crystal clear water. After our ride, we hiked back over the hill, grabbed some beers at the market and boarded the ferry back to Dubrovnik.

I would say the only problem with this day is that the ONE ferry daily arrives at 11 and departs at 5.  This can leave you rushing or can leave you trying to kill time.  I think we felt a bit of both at some point during the day.


It's not really called this, okay, but we started affectionately referring to this absolutely beautiful day aboard the boat "Emilie" as such.  This day began at 9am at the Dubrovnik port.  We promptly beelined for the top deck of the boat where we selected our seats and let the party begin! We knew we were in for a good time when our hostess, also Emilie, began serving brandy and joining us in the early morning shots---hey, it's for your health, right?

Anyway, the boat makes stops on three of the Elaphite Islands:  Kolocep (1 hour), Sipan (1 hour) and Lopud (3 hrs).  Well, we don't know how destiny works but not long after the first stop, we were befriended by 3 Bulgarian guys on a "business trip" sitting at the table next to us.  One of the guys had been on the same boat with his family just a few weeks before and invited us to join them wine tasting at the next stop.  This turned out to be a good call as we tasted 4 nice wines for just 2 euros a piece.  After the wine it was time for lunch, which was an ample amount of grilled whole fish, potatoes, and of course, more wine.  On the island of Lopud we walked about 30 minutes to glorious sandy Sunj beach on the opposite side of the island where we swam, sunned, and downed gin and tonics.  By 4 or so it was time to return to the boat and party our way home.

Anyway, it's funny who you meet on vacation. It would be silly to say that our trip was not greatly enhanced by the company of our new friends with whom we exchanged contact information and hope to get to see again.

This trip was about 53$ per person.  Lunch and unlimited wine, brandy, and soft drinks included.  Other drinks available for purchase.  Party atmosphere.  The whole day is an absolute hoot.


Oh shoot, now that I think about it, this very well may have been on Rick's NTBM list.

Mt. Srd rises tall directly over the city of Dubrovnik--as a matter of fact, it rises directly above what was our flat.

Now most people do this as a cable car ride.  You walk to the cable car, pay 30 euros, queue up, and then ride the cable car about 30 seconds (well, it's actually three minutes) to get to the top.  Well, suffice it to say we did not do it this way.  We walked it, or let's just say, we hiked it.  Finding the trailhead is easy and on finding it, you have already knocked off about half of the elevation gain as it is a pretty straight shot upstairs through town.

The trail is 1.5 miles each way with about 865 ft of elevation gain.  We had hiking shoes and I would recommend them.  We saw BAD shoes on the way and up and those wearing them were definitely hating life!  The trail took us about 45-50 minutes to complete on the way up, less going down.  We were not alone on this trail but it was far from crowded.   The trail  is also referred to as "the Way of the Cross," as in ascending you pass the 14 stations of the Cross represented by bronze reliefs depicting scenes from the Passion of Christ.  A large cross mark the top of the mountain and is the best vantage point for marvelous views.

Anyway, the trail is hard but because of its short length it is manageable. An earlier start is better.  One bummer about the viewpoint is that you can actually drive or get a taxi up there, so there are a fair amount of people not being rewarded for their efforts as you are.  For crying out loud there is even a restaurant up there, of course, with a spectacular view.  Well, you know you earned it, and what you earned was just this, Dubrovnik as far as the eye can see, from Lokrum Island to Gruz Port, absolutely incredible.  It was fun to pick out all the churches and other landmarks we had seen from the city walls just the other day.

Well, that's my five.  I do have a few honorable mentions that really should/could be included if at all possible.


Krka National Park is about one hour from Split.  While the waterfalls are not as spectacular as those at Plitvice Lakes, they are worth seeing, especially if you cannot make it to Plitvice.  


Dusty, buggy, long, rocky and difficult, this trail evokes a lot of pain and suffering on the 2355 ft elevation gain over the course of 3.5 miles.  Another spot where you can meet those that drove there :(.  But again, the views--Bol, Zlatni Rat, Hvar Island, Vis--are positively to die for.

3)  BEACHES--any

Though generally pebbly, and best experienced when in the possession of some water shoes, the water is the clearest and bluest I have ever seen.

Well, that's my list!  I hope you enjoyed reading this post.  I actually have another post on Croatia ready to go so stand by!  Don't forget to follow me on Instagram at @templestravel.

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