Croatia Day 7, 8 : Zagreb

… Continued from Croatia Day 6: Motovun, Hum
We spent most of Day 7 on the road, stopping here and there, at no particular destination. The drive from Hum to the capital Zagreb was  about 200km, we finally arrived at our apartment hotel by sundown and settled in for the last leg of our awesome Croatian road-trip.

Highlights

  • Next morning the plan was to walk through Zagreb’s Upper Town. Mr.A and I started our tour at the Ban Jelačić Square & the Manduševac Fountain. Next, up to the Kaptol dominated by the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Then onto the colorfully umbrella-ed Dolac Market where local farmers bring fresh produce every day of the week. Strolling through the happening Tkalciceva Street, we passed under the Gradec Stone Gate, dating back to the 1200’s. Here locals and tourists light candles to the Virgin Mary even today. Next stop was the colorfully tiled St.Marks Church. We toured Gradec some more, listening to piano music floating in from a ballet school, such a pleasant touch to our afternoon! And then ended up somewhere in the Lower Town. The final high-point was the fun funicular ride up to the Strossmayer promenade. At the top, we were enchanted by the bird’s eye-view of the city warmly lit by the setting sun.
  • Tkalciceva Street (pronounced tkal-chee-tseva) needs special mention when one is talking about Zagreb. This is the city’s hep street lined with scores of restaurants, cafes and fast-food joints that to satisfy any craving you might have. Of course, the cuisine is not limited to Croatian food, but a large variety from all over the world. This is where you will find the best dressed Croatians sipping on their coffee, meeting friends and family, hanging out with friends, and generally enjoying the good life. Mr. A and I happily joined the scene strolling through to the very end.We even witnessed some sort of horse procession! We rewarded ourselves with an excellent lunch and coffee 🙂
  • You might have noticed that I have a thing for street-art  😉 and Zagreb had lots to offer on that front. Zagreb’s prominently young population is owed to its universities that attract students from not only the rest of Croatia but also neighbouring countries. As such, it is not surprising that graffiti show up on its walls as an expression of the young voices. Also, there are several inspiring installations all over the city in the form of sculptures & statues.

And that brought us to the end of our amazing week in Croatia, the fascinating, versatile land of natural & cultural wealth. We could wish to stay on much longer, but it was time to head back to new adventures. And there is always a way back to places we love, isn’t that right?!

Croatia Day 6: Motovun, Hum

… Continued from Croatia Day 5 : Pula, Rovinj

Carrying forward on our Croatian road-trip, from the quaint seaside towns of Pula and Rovinj, we drove towards the center of the Istra Peninsula, up through the hills, into the town of Motovun.

Highlights

  • Motovun is a tiny mountain village with a medieval history in the heart of the Istra Peninsula. It is on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is so small that the city wall can be traced in about ten minutes. No kidding. Hotels and restaurants share walls with the ancient fortress and everything seems to be part of a harmonious whole. The town is fabled to be protected by the gentle giant, Veli Jože. Since it is nestled atop a hill, the uninterrupted view of miles of green forests and plains is a treat for the eyes. This is a place where you do nothing, just soak in the atmosphere and be happy!
  • Truffles and wine. Motovun’s grapes yield grapes for delicious local wines. Our hotel had a selection that we could buy from. We enjoyed a heavenly rosé on the balcony by the sunset. We surely will remember that for a long time 🙂 The region is also famous for its truffles, the most expensive mushrooms in the world. They are locally called ‘tartufi’. A small area of the surrounding forests are home to white and black truffles that have such a fine aroma that they have to be hunted by specially trained sniffer dogs. Some excursions allow visitors to join such a hunting trip. Most restaurant dishes incorporate truffles in some form or another, and so did our hotel breakfast… yummmy. Some of them, like the renowned Konoba Mondo, even shut down for a few months every year when the truffle season ends, because they only serve fresh truffles 😮 For those who are less particular than that, you can buy souvenirs of whole or crushed truffles and truffle oils and many other variations of this precious mushroom.
  • Hum, the smallest town in the world! Yes, you read that right. It has a total population of 21 by the 2011 census. Yes, 21 persons, no more! A placard tells you “Since Hum contains administrative facilities, facilities for public affairs and has its own mayor, it is regarded as the world’s smallest town.” The drive from Motovun is barely 40 mins, and I would definitely recommend a visit. Hum has its own medieval history, with a bell tower from the 1500’s and a church from the 1800’s. Walking the cobbled streets, taking in the aromas from pretty cafes, glancing at dainty little cottages, a feeling of timelessness and bliss washed over Mr.A and me.

Followed by Croatia Day 7 & 8 : Zagreb…

Croatia Day 5: Pula, Rovinj

… Continued from Croatia Day 4: Plitvice Lakes

Refreshed after our hike through the Plitvice National Park, we travelled north-west towards the beautiful Peninsula of Istria, or Istra.

Highlights

  • The road-trip. It was such an enjoyable drive! As we drove out of the Park area, we hit some smaller scenic routes for a while before we came upon the highway. The highways were in excellent shape and traffic was low, so we covered around 250 km in about 3 hours, stopping for coffee and cake on the way. There were several tolls to be paid, but hey, the infrastructure deserved it alright. The views were again splendid, greenery everywhere and mountains on the horizon, it was so soothing to the eyes. The sun and clouds played around, making a pleasant game out of light and shadow.
  • Pula is the largest city on the Istria Peninsula, located practically at its tip, overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The town has much to offer, from a bustling harbour, to an old town, to local wineries. But the reason why we were in Pula, was the arena, constructed between 27 BC and 68 AD. Mr.A and I love all things Rome! So when we found out that Pula has a well-preserved Roman arena to offer, we just had to add it to our itirenary 🙂 This is an awe-inspiring structure, the only remaining Roman amphitheater where all four side towers and all three Roman architectural orders have survived through the aeons. We sat there imagining how it must have been in back in the day… one of the many moments I have said to myself, oh how I wish I could go back in history and see for myself…
  • Rovinj is yet another pretty coastal town on the Adriatic, about a 40-min drive along the highway to the north of Pula. It is a fishing port as is obvious by many a boat docked at the harbour. We had the perfect lunch of xxx and lazily strolled around the town. The cobbled streets jumble into one another, offering views of rows of colourful houses, tastefully planted window boxes, glimpses of the blue sea in between, and oozing a relaxed charm all the way. This could be the ideal place to unwind oneself, which is why it serves as a popular tourist town and a stop for long-distance bike teams. We ended our tour with yummy ice-creams which appeared to be another popular ‘activity’ here 😉

Followed by Croatia Day 6: Motovun, Hum…

Croatia Day 3: Trogir, Klis, Salona, Zadar

… Continued from Croatia Day 2: Split

The morning after visiting Split, Mr.A and I started off from the hotel and hopped onto a transfer bus to get to the airport to pick up the rental car which would be our transport for the rest of the journey. Today was all about visiting some smaller towns on our way north towards the Plitvice National Parks.

Highlights

  • Trogir. The Split airport is closer to this little town than Split itself. We had earlier booked the car online, and were quickly through with the paper formalities. Soon we were off to our first destination for the day, the historic center of Trogir. Founded in 200 B.C., this is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Croatia and our third on this trip alone! The town is pretty as a picture with beautiful buildings of Renaissance and Baroque styles, endearing cobbled streets between, inviting cafes and the fresh blue sea so close at hand. And we chanced upon the Trogirski Rafioli, a traditional local sweet. Perfect start to the day, how could we ever top this?! But Croatia, you surprise us at every step of the way ❤
  • Klis Fortress, or let’s call it Meereen. From Trogir, we drove off to another spot on our Game of Thrones journey. The Klis Fortress, situated high up in the hills, doubles up as the kingdom of Meereen. This medieval fortress has been built and rebuilt for more than two thousand years, having passed through the rule of many kings and clans. I must say, for some reason I just love the sound of Meereen…so musical, right? Though much of the fortress is under duress, and we could immediately see that the pyramid and various other structures from the series are heavily digitised, Mr.A and I were nevertheless filled with childlike thrill at having ‘conquered’ Meereen 😉 The uninterrupted view from the top is reason enough to hike up there.
  • Salona, about five km from Klis, is another ancient city near present day Solin. During the 1st century B.C. Salona served as the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia.There is a fee of 40 Kuna to visit the site. There is a small museum where you buy the tickets. There is a charming little garden with ancient pillars and aqueducts.  The view of the hills in the distance is quite grand. Mr.A and I both love history and ruins, and we enjoyed the site, especially the amphitheater. Although it is not in a good state, one can make out the arena where gladiator fights must have taken place. The amphitheater is a short walk away from the rest of the ruins, and unfortunately, it is now surrounded by modern houses almost sharing the walls.
  • Zadar was the last city we dropped by on our way. We went straight to the old town to see the Church of St. Donatus and the remains of the Roman Forum. Mr.A and I enjoyed our pizza lunch by the shade of trees people-watching other tourists and We passed some other grand churches on the walk around town and eventually found ourselves at the sea front. We came up right by the sea organ which lets sea waves interact with pipes and tubes under a set of marble steps, to create this music that is strangely random and melodious at the same time. We lazed for a while on the steps, soaking in the sun, sea and music splashing all around us. And then we headed off to the next leg of the journey. More about that in another post soon, promise!

Followed by Croatia Day 4: Plitvice Lakes…

Croatia Day 2: Split

… Continued from Croatia Day 1: Dubrovnik

Day 2 in Croatia was all about a bus ride from Dubrovnik to Split, and exploring Split’s charming Old Town.

The Highlights

  • The bus ride started at 8a.m. from Dubrovnik’s main bus station or the Autobusni Kolodvor. The ride was quite comfortable with beautiful seaside views. The road would rise to a height and then slowly slope down to sea level revealing sometime cliffs and sometime beaches with pretty villages nestled in between. The bus itself was clean and seats were snug. It wasn’t very crowded so we could choose to sit where we liked. The journey took some 4 hours and I was able to catch some shut-eye on the way.
  • Our hotel was at a super convenient location. Right next to the bus stand / railway station, and just a few minutes’ walk from the city centre and the Split Old Town. The room was decently equipped and the balcony had a great view. All for one night’s stay, I’d say it was a steal.
  • Diocletian’s palace, built by the Romans far back in the 4th century AD is the Old Town of Split! This is a town masquerading as a palace or perhaps the other way round, but all in all, it’s just not possible to separate one from the other. There are homes sharing palace walls, restaurants in royal courtyards, and stores in the arched pathways leading to ancient temples. It’s a wonderland, I tell you! Quite natural then that the Palace complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • The palace basements were just another bonus on our Game of Thrones journey. These are supposed to have been completely filled with debris and waste over time and have been recently undergoing massive restoration and reconstruction. The basements are the site that serve as the Meereenese catacombs where Daenerys locks up her  dragons after they kill a child and threaten to become dangerous. Mr.A and I were so excited, we were nearly jumping in our seats while watching the recent Season 6 episode when Tyrion unlocks the dragon’s shackles 😀
  • The marina was another absolutely gorgeous place. After our afternoon full of walking the cobbled streets of the Palace, we rested for a while with our feet dangling inches above the water. We watched a seaplane take off, which was a first. We sat at a pretty cafe for coffee and some delicious cake, one of them called Miss Berry, how cute! We also walked into an information centre and met the sweetest people at the counter who talked about their delightful city with such love, and also advised us on our trip ahead. The beautiful palm trees, the spring flowers, the city wall on the one side and the blue water on the other side, made it the perfect stroll to end our day in Split.

The Flipsides

  • Sigh! We could surely have spent more time in this beautiful city! But we had so much more exploring to do, we decided to look forward to the next day’s itinerary 🙂

Followed by Croatia Day 3: Trogir, Klis, Salona, Zadar…