A Celebration in Croatia Part II

There has been a bit of a gap between Part One and Two on our trip to Croatia so apologies for that. Despite the current ‘Lockdown’ I’m always busy and when the weather is good, as it has been, I’m out in the garden rather than my office. Anyway that’s my excuse and now that gorgeous, sunny weather has left for a while, it’s on with the Blog …

You might remember if you read Part One that the reason my man and I went to Croatia was to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary. John had booked a rather splendid hotel on the Island of Rab. The island is just off the northern coast of Croatia. It’s famous for its beaches and the old town which is full of character and boasts four belfries rather like the ones you see in Italy. It all sounded idyllic so we were slightly surprised on or arrival to be faced with a completely barren landscape. Top left picture below). This couldn’t be it …surely?! Thankfully when you drive off the ferry about five kilometres down the road you hit civilisation and there below is the town in all its splendour.

Picturesque town of Rab with it’s four towers – landmarks of the island .

We absolutely loved Rab and had a great time. The four-star hotel, The Arbiana was built in the colonial style and is right by the seafront. It was a perfect place to celebrate our wedding anniversary and although we had a very disappointing meal, the setting was delightful and there was even a full moon that night. We had a wander around the town before we ate and outside one of the churches was a bride having her pictures taken before the Ceremony. We gave her our congratulations and then told her we were celebrating our fortieth that day which amused her. We wished her well and walked around the corner to look at the gorgeous sunset.

As we were the only ones having a meal at the hotel, (clearly the rest of the guests knew better than we did!), we wandered into the town afterwards to find the square teeming with life with bars full of people, stalls selling jewellery and even a German-style Oompah Band!

Celebrating our wedding anniversary.

The next morning we caught the ferry back to the mainland and had an interesting drive along the coast to the small town of Primosten. It’s actually built on a small island but is connected to the mainland and attracts lots of tourists because of the clear, blue waters which stay warm right up until October! The beach is very pebbly and tricky if like me you hesitate walking over them so I bought a pair of rubbery thick soled shoes. Not surprisingly every beach stall sold them but you don’t see the locals wearing them, I guess they’re used to the pebbles and the sea urchins with are everywhere in the water.

Of all the places we stayed on this holiday, Primosten was our favourite. The apartment was right on the sea front and had been newly renovated by the owners and was superb. I felt quite pleased as it was my choice – I’d chosen it above the three others in the town.

The view out of the window of the apartment and the sleepy street below our little balcony with just the fisherman sorting out his catch.

We had a lazy two days in Primosten; great swimming in the clear, warm waters although we never quite got used to lying on the pebbly beaches with just a towel as padding. There were lots of restaurants all along the waterfront – all a stone-throw’s away from our apartment. The seafood as you would expect was superb and I loved some of the small, local shops. It was just a perfect place – very unhurried and quite beautiful, we were sorry when we had to leave.

Primosten, Croatia
A final shot as we were leaving Primosten

Our next stop for the last two days of our holiday was near the town of Trogir. It’s a famous place in Croatia and has always been popular with tourists but since the screening of ‘Game of Thrones’ it has seen a huge increase in visitors . The programme used many locations in Croatia which isn’t surprising as many of the historic towns and cities were a perfect backdrop. The harbour at Trogir doubled up as the trading harbour of Qarth; the doorway into the historic old town featured several times and the monastery of St Dominic was yet another location. From the pictures below you can probably see why Trogir was chosen as the ideal location.

Sites of Trogir including, top right, the famous gateway into the old town
Interesting little corners amongst the paths and alleys of the medieval town.

It was only a short drive from our hotel, Vila Tina along the seafront to Trogir. Even in the low season the place was teeming. For ‘people-watching’ you can’t do better than have beer at one of the many bars along the harbour side. It was also interesting to see some of the very smart yachts arriving and mooring up there. Walking through the famous gateway into the old town it was obvious why Trogir is listed as a World Heritage Site. – it has a rich cultural heritage with intact medieval architecture everywhere. Great for photographs especially when you come across little corners where no-one else is around.

You won’t be on your own though when you stand outside the Cathedral of St Lawrence. This is definitely on the tourist trail and boasts a superb doorway if only I could have got a clear shot of it without people in the way! We paid 25kuna to go into the Cathedral which included access to the 14th century bell tower. The climb up the circular staircase was well worth it for the fantastic views from the top making sure you didn’t bang your head on one of the large bells!. Climbing all those steps gave us an appetite for lunch but it took quite a while to find a cafe in the old quarter which wasn’t full – goodness knows what this place is like when it’s busy!

The bell tower of the Cathedral of St Lawrence, Trogir, Croatia
View of Trogir from the bell tower of the Cathedral of St Lawrence

We were chatting to the hotel receptionist saying we were going to spend the penultimate day of our holiday in the city of Split. We were thinking of going by bus until she recommended taking the ferry from the little village of Slatine which was just further down the coast. This has got to be the best way to arrive in Split. The ferry is used by locals too and wasn’t expensive.

Going by ferry into Split harbour.

Split is the second largest city in Croatia and is famous for Diocletian’s Palace built in 305AD for the Roman Emperor of the same name. The palace is a massive structure and covers half of the old town of Split. It’s rather like a giant fortress and was built with four gates none of which survive but you can still see the carved stone pillars and arches. The Palace and the old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was yet another location used in ‘Game of Thrones‘.

Just before we went into the complex I took this picture (below) which I have ‘aged’ a little. I liked this dilapidated building and the clothes on the line made the picture for me. Perhaps I should have photoshopped out the satellite dish and the air-con unit …? Looks like people still live there.

Built long after the Romans left the city.

Walking into the basement of the palace gives you a good idea of just how thick those walls are(Picture on the left hand side). Once you’ve walked through you’re then into an amazing open space, a Roman square which feels like a film set -what I would call The Forum but apparently it’s called The Peristyle. It wasn’t overly busy when we were there but I gather in summer it’s not pleasant because of all the crowds. Turning to go into the cathedral there are two very impressive large Egyptian sphinx which are 3000 years old. No-one seemed to mind that tourists were sitting on them!

Entrance through the basement and onto The Peristyle

So far everything is free but you have to pay to go into the Cathedral which was about three euros. Its quite small inside as it was originally built to house just the grave of the Emperor. He ousted all the Christians and it wasn’t until a few hundred years later that the building became a church again. Lots of gold leaf in here.

Cathedral of St. Dominus

Of course we had to climb up the bell tower where you had to pay again. Bit of a rickety staircase but it was well worth the climb for the gorgeous views of the city, its harbour and the hills beyond.

Pretty obviously …views of the city from the Belltower..

After lunch we left the palace through the Golden Gate to look at the statue of ‘Gregory of Nin’. (Great name). It’s an iconic feature of the city and is one of the most visited sights in Split. Apparently Gregory was a Croatian religious leader in the 10th century. Nowadays visitors, including us, give his big toe a rub to bring you luck. You can just see in the picture, bottom right that’s exactly what the little girl is doing.

Top left picture is The Golden Gate. Bottom left, part of the Roman wall with a delightful 21st century block of flats next to it. Gregory Nin’s statue (top right), shows he was a tall chap and apparently he had big feet!

After all this sightseeing it was time to head towards the harbour, grab a cold beer before catching the ferry back to Slatine and picking up our car.

That evening we went back into Trogir and had a superb meal in the old town. Stunning sunset too which was a fitting end we thought to our week in Croatia. We’d driven quite a few miles, visited several places, enjoyed the weather, the beaches, the people and the history, We didn’t have time to visit Dubrovnik but I think Split and Trogir were enough for us. We would thoroughly recommend a trip to Croatia but maybe avoid the High Season.

Sunset over Trogir, Croatia
Sunset over Trogir, Croatia

A celebration in Croatia

It’s been a while since my last Blog and there’s a reason for that … I wasn’t sure whether writing about travel at this particular time was the right thing to do. Then I noticed other travel bloggers were carrying on as usual, so I’ve decided to do the same. My ‘usual’ I should say means that when one of my Blogs go ‘live’ the holiday you are reading about happened a few months ago. I’m always aiming to catch up so you never know, with these current restrictions on travel due to the coronavirus and staying at home I might just do that. Croatia first and then Laos followed by our trip to Thailand, but I’m jumping ahead.

It was interesting how many times Croatia was mentioned last year. (2019). The travel pages featured the country quite regularly and we knew several people who had either been or were going so after doing some research we decided it would be a perfect place to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary.

My man had booked an apartment right in the middle of Pula. https://www.citycenterroomsistria.com/en-gb/contact “Don’t take any notice of how the building looks outside,” we were told …and they weren’t joking! Thankfully despite the crumbling exterior the inside was really nice and a stone’s throw away from the city centre. Bags dumped, car parking space found, it was time to explore!

Arena in Pula

Pula is situated on the tip of Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula and is known for its Roman ruins, picturesque coast and harbour. The arena is impressive and free, that’s if you don’t go inside. You don’t need to as you can see everything from the outer walls.

There are several Roman features in the city and loads of cafes and restaurants. No problem finding anywhere for breakfast in the morning we thought. After doing some more exploring we headed up to the the castle known appropriately as ‘The Fortress’. To be honest there wasn’t much to see inside but the views of the city and harbour from around the walls were impressive.

The Fortres, Pula
Pula Castle – The Fortress

By the time we got back to the apartment we’d tried the local beer and had a very mediocre afternoon snack. Fortunately the meal that night at the Restaurant Alighieri made up for it. What we hadn’t expected was how hard it was to find somewhere for breakfast the next day. There are cafes either side of the main streets and all of them were full of people …drinking. Croatian’s love their beer and liquors and obviously nine in the morning is when you come out and socialise and drink. Eventually we found a bakers which had a cafe but that seemed to be the only one around.

Having enjoyed croissants and a hot drink it was time to leave Pula and head inland to the medieval hilltop town of Hum. It claims to be the smallest town in the world and has 27 inhabitants, several tourist shops and two main streets with challenging cobbles. It has it’s own charm though and great views although there isn’t a lot if you’re looking for tourist attractions. You pay 10 kroner to park and to access the town you open two enormous copper doors. We tried the local speciality drink which is a brandy which includes mistletoe. (Funny I thought mistletoe was poisonous?) Anyway we survived that but weren’t tempted to buy a bottle. Coming out through the copper gates I spotted the town cemetery which if you have read any of my blogs you’ll know I can’t resist checking out a cemetery. There was one picture on a grave which caught my eye which I’ve included in the composite picture, I thought she was very beautiful.

Hom, Istria, Croatia
Hum – the smallest town in the world.

Leaving Hum you don’t have any option but to drive back along the narrow twisty road which seems to go on for ever. Eventually the coastline came into view and I spotted what looked like an ideal place for lunch …and indeed it was. Don’t know if Bakar is a touristy place but we were the token two. It didn’t take us long to spot the place to eat just by the water’s edge …freshly caught sardines served with chips and washed down with a beer for the equivalent of £6. It turned out to be one of the best meals of the holiday. The cafe was full of locals and you could see why. After we’d polished off our meal we decided to stretch our legs and walk up to the main village. Wow was it steep! The people of Bakar must be very fit!

Continuing along the coast our stop that night was a B & B overlooking the seaside resort of Crikvenica. This seaside town was the direct opposite of Bakar being a popular tourist resort. So popular that when we drove into the town that night for a meal we found it impossible to park. In the end we drove out a little way and found a pizza place. The one thing I’ll remember about our stay was the B & B had one of the smallest and coldest swimming pools ever but there was beautiful sunset that night. Our room had a balcony and faced west so I was able to get a few shots.

Coastline of Croatia
Picture top left is of the quiet fishing town of Bakar. The main picture is of Senj a much more affluent town on the Adriatic peninsular.

The next morning after a superb breakfast at the B & B we followed the coastal road for a while before heading inland towards the UNESCO world heritage site of Plitvice Lakes National Park. Its Croatia’s most popular tourist attraction so we knew it was going to be a busy there. It’s also high up in the mountains so it was bound to be cooler than on the coast but we were ready for it. It’s interesting too that these hardy types eat a lot of meat. An unbelievable amount. It’s fuel I suppose but it’s hard to find a meal that doesn’t come piled high with meat. We ate at our guest house Villa Verde the first night and my goodness it was a hearty meal to say the least whether you chose the meat or fish dish, but at least there was a choice.

Day three of our holiday and what a beautiful day it was for visiting the Lakes. We decided to walk from the guest house to Entrance number 2. As the park has so many visitors including coaches coming from far and wide it’s all very well organised. The walk through the forest was lovely with the sun coming through the trees and so quiet that it was a shock to arrive at the entrance and see so many people.

Walking to Plitvice Lakes

We managed to get on the first shuttle bus which drops you off at the start of the upper lakes. There are sixteen lakes in all, seven different routes you can walk round and four hiking trails plus the electric boats on the lake and the park bus. We arrived at 9.00am and already it was quite busy but by early afternoon the coach parties were in evidence and many of the tour groups wanted to take over the whole of the paths. Choose a hiking trail if you want to avoid them!

There are twelve upper lakes and four lower ones. The colour of the water is a beautiful turquoise and teems with fish. The waterfalls are so impressive as are the coloured rocks underneath which hopefully you can see in the picture below.

Waterfall at Plitvice lakes, Croatia
Waterfall at Plitvice Lakes
Waterfalls at Plitvice lakes, Croatia
Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes

Around every twist of the trails are stunning views, dynamic water features and deep rocks rising all around. The most impressive waterfalls are called Sastavci and when you see the Korana River flowing under the base of the falls it’s a stunning sight.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
The rugged landscape with the Korana river below.

This national park is very well organised. There is a trail to suit everyone whether you want to spend a day hiking to the upper Lakes or a more gentle stroll around the lower lakes travelling across to the other side on one of the electric ferries. There are plenty of places to buy snacks and there’s also a restaurant and for those preferring not to do too much walking there’s the panoramic bus tour too.

We spent most of the day in the park ending our visit with a well-deserved ice cream before walking the whole way back to our guest house. It had been a fantastic day. We’d walked about twelve miles, seen some wonderful sights and the weather had been perfect, we couldn’t have asked for more. Just to add that the park is as you would expect closed at the moment, let’s hope it won’t be too long before it’s able to re-open.

This seems like a good place to finish this section of my Blog on our trip to Croatia – it’s long enough I think and I’ve got lots more to write about. Hope you’ll stick around for Part II – when I write it!