Yes, we are certainly making use of John’s vacation time (and being mindful of the fact that once he’s in language training, he won’t be taking any leave for about a year) – so, why not hop in the car for another (crazy) road trip?
And off to Croatia we went…. 17 days with 7 stops plus many more cities, unlimited DVDs watched in the car, and a gazillion miles later – this was our itinerary:
Not too ambitious with 2 kids, right?
Google maps estimated we did 27 hours of driving but that certainly doesn’t include the extra estimated 7+ hours or so of 1) additional day trips, 2) figuring out where exactly to go and park (oh the joy!), and 3) waiting over 1.5 hours to cross the border from Bosnia back to Croatia (how glad were we to have A/C?!).
So, where did we go?
Stop 1: Varaždin
First day, an easy drive to Varaždin where we walked around the old town and castle and had our first tasting of refreshing beer and yummy Ćevapi sausages and oh yes, the heavenly ajvar dip.
Next up, we headed South to explore the Istrian peninsula. We stayed at an agriturismo close to Pula and headed to Pula to see the ancient amphitheater (from the 1st century – yes, that’s old!). We made use of plenty of beach time, explored beautiful Rovinj where we took a glass-bottom boat tour, and visited Pazin, Motovun, and Poreč. No, we were never once bored in Istria!
Stop 3: Zadar
We then headed East to beautiful Zadar with a pit stop exploring the Rijeka castle since that was literally on the way. Aside from visiting Zadar, listening to the tunes of the unique sea organ, and taking in the sun, we tried to beat the rain in a day trip to the Plitvice Lakes National Park. And although the temperature dropped way, way down, and the drizzle never went entirely away, we hiked the full 2.5 hours around the beautiful lakes and waterfalls. Yes, even the kids hiked all the way without any complaints or whining – just a somewhat recurring checking-in to ask whether there really was ice cream waiting for them at the end of the hike! Which, of course, there was!
Stop 4: Dubrovnik
Stop 4 on our epic road journey was Dubrovnik with a quick “lunch and stroll stop” in amazing Split. To say that we were not alone in Dubrovnik is a severe understatement. There were about 3 cruise lines parked at the Marina and the city was overrun with package tourists. Oh. The. Joy. We stayed as long as we could tolerate the crowds which fortunately left enough time for me to visit an interesting photo exhibit called “War Photo Limited” showcasing photojournalists’ experiences and descriptions of the Yugoslavian wars among others.
Since we were not so excited about returning to Dubrovnik for a second day of battling other tourists, we hopped on a boat instead to explore the beautiful Elafiti islands (Koločep, Lopud and Šipan Island). And what fun we had! Not only did we get to play on sand beaches (a nice change from the rocky beaches of Zadar and Istria) but we soon discovered that Juliana possesses the power to transform an entire boat of reserved strangers into a party dancing “fun” boat. And so we cruised the Adriatic Sea while rocking to the tunes our captain/DJ supplied (ok, there *may* have been some Croatian wine and grappa involved too).
Stop 5: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Next up, a new country! Mostar is just a 2-hour drive from Dubrovnik so who am I to refuse a short drive for once? And for the record, I am not a good road trip traveler – I really need to get out of the car after 3.5 hours…..that is my limit!
Mostar was by far our favorite and most interesting city to explore. Of course, there’s the famous 16th century bridge to see that was tragically destroyed in the war and then rebuilt in 2004 but just being in Bosnia and witnessing the repercussions of the war was something else.
I did not expect to see so many war-damaged buildings all around me. Bombed out and shelled buildings were everywhere.
And, I did not expect to witness hostility and daily segregation among the ethnic groups (literally after an hour of arriving in the city).
It was truly something else considering that the Yugoslavian wars were almost 20 years ago (in fact, there’s a sign on one side of the bridge saying “never forget ’93,” the time of the Mostar siege). I am still in awe of this country’s history and trying to make sense of it so we’ve been watching the BBC documentaries on the Yugoslavian wars since we returned (yes, in all of our free time as we are preparing for pack-out!).
Aside from visiting Mostar, we hired a guide to take us around some of the other wonderful and beautiful sites of Herzegovina. We saw ancient towns and villages (some still in ruins, others rebuilt) and wonderful water falls and lakes that were just begging us to jump right in (it was so hot). And we were all quite ready to do that until our guide pointed out the water snakes. So yeah, we just dipped our feet in the nice cool water (very quickly, if that…because, you know, there were snakes!).
Stop 6: Hvar
And then there was Hvar, the sunniest island of all of Croatia or so we were promised. Well, let’s just say we had the wildest thunderstorm when we arrived (which made driving along the coast especially fun since guard rails are apparently just as prevalent there as in the Douro Valley in Portugal!) and then another storm on our second day on the island.
Fortunately, we managed to spend the remaining time at the beach engaging in a new family sport which can only be called “crab hunting!” You see, Luca got a new fishing net that he had been desperately wanting so that he could finally catch a fish. Well, let’s just say he’s not the quickest or the quietest when hunting fish so his little net and prepared bucket were left empty. Cue in a bunch of crabs climbing around the coast and there was a new target! We (as in John and I) caught two but they quickly climbed out of the net again to escape the inquisitive stare of preschoolers studying their behavior. Of course this led to a constant discussion of “why did the crab leave? I just wanted to look at him?” and “why can’t they just swim/crawl/move into my net?” This was followed by a carefully crafted new plan of feeding the crabs and fish first before attempting to catch them, which we, sadly, never had a chance to test. Oh well. But we still talk about the plan…
Stop 7: Zagreb
After a brief lunch stop in Trogir, we drove to Zagreb. It was a long day. It was a hot day and no one really had the energy or the desire to do much in Zagreb. So, we just hopped in the car after unpacking at the hotel, drove to a recommended pizzeria and looked at some sites from the car window and drove back for some needed relaxation.
And then we made it back to Vienna with just enough time to unpack the car, take a shower, and make our way to a wonderful farewell party. Did I mention the movers are coming next week? I better get back to organizing and sorting.