After experiencing Prague, we were hesitant that any place would compare in beauty and splendor, but the unique blend of Mediterranean culture and rugged landscape makes Croatia a Utopian paradise. The picturesque coastline and crystal clear turquoise water is superbly divine.
We first arrived in Split, a city off the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea and were met by beautifully preserved Romanesque architecture, hidden culinary treasures and a lively and exuberant cultural scene. This seaside delight is rife with historic Roman ruins that have been in existence for thousands of years, with 220 buildings within the Diocletian’s Palace, it is a labyrinth of lustrous white stone, ancient marble from Italy and Greece, and columns and sphinxes from Egypt. It is a fortress seething with narrow pathways and courtyards that house quaint cafes, lively bars, restaurants galore, shops, and museums. Our first adventure ensued promptly when the cab driver abandoned us with no hotel in sight. Unbeknownst to us, we had to trek, luggage in tow, through the Palace walls and beneath the dry scorching sun to find our hotel. We weaved in and out of passageways, looped through expansive terraces, passed beneath archways, and made multiple queries for assistance only to continue to encircle our steps once more. After multiple detours, dead ends and missed alleyways, we finally found our hotel nestled behind the Jupiter Temple, which was constructed in the 3rd Century to honor Diocletian’s father, the highest Roman god, the god of the sky and the god of thunder. Its baroque motif was met with the perfect amount of modernity, which spoke volumes to my grandeur taste. The arduous journey was well worth it.
We made it no more than 100 yards before stopping at No Stress Café, an outdoor bistro that is nestled in a bustling town hall lined by the towering Palace walls. We immediately fell in love with the authentic cuisine of fresh fish, octopus salad, black squid risotto and lobster. We strolled along the narrow alleyways exploring the limits of our new confines and lo and behold I stumbled upon the most unexpected, but most delightful surprise – ZARA. If you ask my husband he will attest to my abiding love for this clothing and accessory line bore out of Spain. There was nothing that could stop me from immediately venturing into this three story dwelling of refined fashion. I was elated and I spared no expense.
At nightfall we ventured just beyond the Palace walls to the Riva – a lively boulevard along the coastline lined with palm trees, cocktail lounges and boutiques. We sipped Prosecco listening to the idyllic sapphire water. The following day was solely dedicated to basking in the sun, beach side. Just a few minutes’ walk landed us at one of Splits most popular beaches, Bacvice. Against the backdrop of a dense pine forest lay a shallow shoreline perfect for our leisurely intentions. That evening we stumbled upon a culinary gem, Mazzgoon (translation: mule) that was nestled in an enchanted courtyard of ancient stone walls and adorned with flowering plants of every variety. We dined on fresh baked breads, sardines, beef Carpaccio, lamb, fresh-caught fish, and dark chocolate cake on a bed of olive oil and served with lavender infused ice cream, all prepared to perfection. The wait staff was impeccable as was the resident guitarist that serenaded us throughout this delectable meal. There’s no question that it upped the ante for all culinary experiences to come.
We boarded the ferry from Split to one of the world’s most beautiful islands, Hvar. It did not disappoint. Hvar is filled with vibrant colors and fragrances of lavender and rosemary. Age-old pine trees line the rocky hillside to engulf the quaint harbor town while luxurious yachts bob carelessly among the tranquil beauty of this blissful habitat. Foolishly, we opted to walk to our hotel as a means to engage in some sort of physical fitness. Our luggage was merciless in the hot sodden air and the curvaceous gradient did us no favors. We tend to steer clear of resort style accommodations, but much to our liking Hotel Amfora was a sight for sore eyes. With breath-taking views, expansive pools, swim-up bars and outrageous buffets, this was by definition: paradise.
Time passed idly as we lounged poolside, cocktails in hand. At sunset we returned to Old Town to feast on an assortment of seafood (and even some pasta). Yes, I threw my Paleo ways to the wind throughout the duration of our trip as I wanted to experience the culture and cuisine in its entirety. Mussels, monk-fish, clams, octopus, risotto, prosciutto, Prosecco, and gelato were consumed en masse. Luckily, our lavish resort came equipped with a fitness facility that overlooked the pool and surrounding Pakleni islands. Unfortunately, it was a feeble excuse for a gym, but served its purpose nonetheless. I took advantage of the sea level and ran for miles with ease. Double-unders, sit-ups and air squats were performed in plenty, but it was difficult to commit any real time indoors when the warm sun rays were calling to me.
The majority of our time was spent meandering about the harbor and getting lost along the hillside of Old Town. We did, however, plan to devote an entire day to sailing the boundless Adriatic Sea. From the central harbor we boarded a sailboat along with six other tourists and one Skipper. The gentle waves and warm breeze provided a serene ambiance as we set sail for the Green Cave, a grotto off the small island of Ravnik. En route to our destination, we passed a slew of Pakleni islands that offer nudist beaches, hidden coves and remote lighthouses.
The hidden Green Cave produced an ethereal green hue, a byproduct of the sun’s reflection off the sandy sea floor. We promptly submerged ourselves into the emerald waters, exploring the depths of the cove, and reveling in the tranquility. We anchored in a nearby sandy bay to feast on authentic Croatian cuisine provided by our Skipper and to sip white wine from a local vineyard. As the Skipper began to prepare for our return he became increasingly concerned about the shallow waters. We soon realized that the centerboard of the boat was wedged in the rocky seabed. We were stuck, shipwrecked, stranded! The Skipper worked quickly to try and free us from the bedrock, but with no avail. He graciously instructed everyone to move to the left side of the bow (the front section of the boat) to distribute the weight in a favorable way. We didn’t budge. After several more attempts, we were asked to off board the boat to alleviate weight altogether. While thrusting my hands and feet rhythmically to stay afloat, I envisioned having to swim to shore – a 600 meter jaunt. In a sea of bobbing heads, we watched patiently as the Skipper worked relentlessly to break free. A mere 45 minutes later the sailboat slowly but surely began to pull out of the depthless bay. We swam frantically to catch the now mobile vessel. Soon after climbing aboard we mused over our priceless adventure, finding comic relief in our near shipwrecked excursion. We set sail for Hvar, letting the weather and wind guide us.
We traveled to our final destination, Dubrovnik, by way of a four hour bus ride. It wasn’t the most memorable experience of our trip, but it did allow us to witness the expansive countryside, complete with vineyards, olive groves and charming villages. Dubrovnik is an awe-inspiring city that is rich with cultural heritage and a tumultuous past. We stayed in a charming apartment in the heart of Old Town among an array of cafes, bars and boutiques. We strolled the along the ancient city walls that once protected the citizens from hostile forces. Despite much restoration, ruins still remain from the shelling of 1991-2. The fresh Ston oysters, rich gelato and creamy cappuccinos were delectable. Be that as it may, my most revered memory of Dubrovnik was Buza (translation: hole in the wall), a secluded bar set in the side of a cliff. Locating this worldly treasure was no easy task, but we left the beaten path in search for a promising sign of “cold drinks” that lead us to the modest entrance. We emerged at the very point in which the open air of the sea met the steep rock terrace. Under a vast white umbrella, we drank champagne observing the mellow crowd and soulful tunes.
On the eve of our departure we took one last walk through the marble lined courtyard, consumed pizza and not just one gelato, but two. Our return flight from Croatia left in the wee hours of the morning and so we set our alarm for an absurd 1:30am. We arrived at the airport well in advance only to learn that the airport would not open for an hour and so we sat beneath an overhang to hide from the drizzling sky. The Croatian airline attendant presented us with disheartening news – although we had reserved seats on the flight, she could not issue us our tickets as they had been cancelled. CANCELLED? In hopes of returning to that states as planned, we had no other option than to purchase new tickets for our first leg to Germany. We had exactly four hours during our layover there to mend our travel arrangements. Unfortunately, we spent nearly two of them frantically searching for the one United customer service desk in the entire place. For some ungodly reason, they were unable to find any sort of evidence in their system that we did in fact purchase return tickets, despite providing proof. Several agents, airlines and arguments later, we had no other option than to buy new tickets. In case you are wondering, purchasing same day international tickets is quite costly. Of course our direct flight to Denver was booked, so we had to stop in NY and then continue on home. Our luggage, however, did not make it safely home for an additional five days. All in all, this little misadventure cost us an additional $4,000, which we have yet to be refunded. Oh the woes of traveling abroad!
Luckily, the cataclysm of misplaced flights and unforeseen delays does not hold a candle to the memories of mildly sweet Prosecco, plush landscapes, sophisticated cuisine, palm fringed harbors, and the robust aroma of absinthe, a green alcoholic beverage surrounded by myth, mystery and misconception. I am most definitely content with my participation in these sanctuaries.
What is your most memorable travel experience?
How do you incorporate physical fitness into your travel, if at all?