Tag Archives: nature

Travel Guide: Dubrovnik

My parents and I started our trip to Croatia with two nights in Zagreb, after which came three nights in Split. Dubrovnik was our final stop and as before, we reached our destination in the dark. But the trip leading to Dubrovnik was full of colour and anticipation.

We decided to take the scenic route along the coast, which was breathtaking. I am forever lost in the majesty of cliffs that drop off into sea, the islands in the distance, the colours of the water and sky, the villages that appear and then, just as suddenly, are gone.

The drive was indeed stunning, but we also decided to stop and explore. Our first stop was Biokovo Nature Park, essentially a nature preserve comprising of the mountains along the coast. I’d read that the best way to see the park is to drive up the road (be ready for serpentines and some negotiation with other drivers), ride an e-bike, or take a guided walk. Now having been there, I’m not sure where a guided walk would have gone as we didn’t see any paths. Rather, we pulled off the road at a point wide enough for a couple of cars and my mum and I spent some minutes scrambling up rocks.

Back in the car, we followed the road to the Skywalk, which seemed to be the primary attraction. The Skywalk is exactly what it sounds like – a glass bridge where you can walk above the cliffs and stand at the edge of the world.

After lunch at the only restaurant, which was frequented by horses and a mule in addition to the patrons at tables outside, we drove to Baćina Lakes, which is easier said than done. It was only with the aid of several blogs, several maps, and sheer dumb luck that we found a) the lakes and b)somewhere to park. This is the type of adventure that comes from travelling outside of high season when the campgrounds and kayak rentals, from which it would be easy to get directions, are closed. I’d read about beaches and a cycling/walking trail circling the seven lakes, but as Baćina Lakes was off the coastal road, it wasn’t immediately obvious where we were or where we needed to be. In the end, after a brief attempt at visiting the tourist information centre in the nearby city of Ploče, the address of which led us to an abandoned bus depot, we put Peračko Blato Beach into the GPS because I found it listed on a blog and there we were! Another car, a camper, and a few people sunning themselves at a tiny beach heralded our arrival. More importantly, we had reached an are with very well-marked walking trails that clearly went around beautiful lakes.

There were signs detailing information about the flora and fauna and the air smelled like spring. We saw pomegranate and olive trees and a wide variety of plants and flowers, as well as a snake and a jaw containing rather a lot of teeth. Considering we were following a black dog with a wagging tail who had come to greet us at the car and proceeded to walk in front of us for the entirety of our time at Baćina Lakes, we gave the skull a wide berth.

Throughout the day, we’d seen whole families spreading blankets underneath trees on the sides of the road and picking olives. We pulled over to do the same, which is when we learned that olives are not like apples and you cannot simply eat what you pull off a tree. After that, we left the olive trees to the locals, who clearly knew what they were doing.

Our last stop of the day was at a rest area that specialized in wine tastings. We didn’t stay for long, nor did we taste any wine, but remained for long enough to sit silently and stare out at the view.

Night comes fast at this time of year and Dubrovnik was quiet when we arrived.

The following day was our only day to explore, and the weather was glorious. Warm bordering on hot with bright blue skies and a breeze that came out from the harbour. I had one intention for Dubrovnik and that was to walk on the city walls, which are a UNESCO World Heritage site. When I paused to think about just how old these walls were, I had to wonder about anything we build today. Will anything last like the walls have lasted? Wherever possible, I like to visit the highest point in a city and look down. It makes me feel tiny, just like standing in a forest and looking up.

Dubrovnik is beautiful and we spent some time in the afternoon just strolling around. There are tiers of stairs all over the old town and each leads to another street or alley, stone buildings on top of stone staircases. As elsewhere in Croatia, Dubrovnik is also host to many well-behaved stray cats. We passed a small market and I bought some flavoured salt from the town of Ston, which we had passed on our drive.

Later in the afternoon, my dad and I took the cable car to the top of Srd Hill, from which you can look out to Dubrovnik, the surrounding mountains, and neighbouring Montenegro.

We spent some time on the walking paths, as well, and were lucky enough to watch a herd of sheep as they dutifully followed their shepherd.

Early the following morning, well before sunrise, we were off to the airport. My only expectations of Croatia came from what I’d heard from my siblings and friends who had visited – that it’s beautiful, that the people are wonderful and helpful, that it’s calm and relaxing and easy to explore. All I can add, I think, is that Croatia exemplifies strength – the strength to create, to survive, and to rebuild. It was a real pleasure to be there.

Travel Guide: Split and Hvar

After two nights in Zagreb and an afternoon in Plitvice Lakes National Park, my parents and I drove through beautiful mountains and the sort of scrubbed bush that seems to come right out of rock. The best word to describe the sky, I wrote in my journal later, was the German word diesig, which can mean both misty and hazy, but has none of the negative connotation of haze. The sun peeked through but to say it was sunny would be misleading. It was a beautiful drive and I was glad to be behind the wheel.

We arrived in Split in the dark and the air tasted like the sea.

The following morning we took a walking tour that gave us a brief introduction to Split’s old town and taught us a great deal about Split’s history from the time of the Roman Empire. This is where I began to understand the role of the Balkans as a crossroads through Europe. It seemed to me that Croatia has been historically disregarded as the playground of empires, even as empires rely on its strategic location for conquest and safe passage. This was clearly seen in Split, a city that has traded hands time and again throughout the course of history.

I would have thought that the enormity of Diocletian’s palace and the ancient Cardo, the trade corridor still running under Split’s streets, make this city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of deep interest for archaeologists and historians. However, as the guide explained, UNESCO is interested in new finds. Split and its heritage might be beautiful, but are not new finds.

After a walk to get our bearings, we spent the afternoon following the path up Marjan Hill to reach the highest point in Split and look down on the city from below. Interestingly enough, we found an old Jewish cemetery on the way.

I found that I could not get enough of the landscape. The white stone gave me shivers when I touched it; there were plants, trees, and cacti that I had never seen before; water was visible from everywhere above; mountains visible from every angle. The polished stone of the streets and buildings shone in sunlight and moonlight, and caper bushes were growing on the palace walls. The stories the stone could tell.

And of course, no ancient city of great trading status would be complete without a port.

For our last day in Dalmatia, we took a ferry an hour away to the island of Hvar. We walked up to the fortress overlooking the Adriatic and the town below and then along the harbour in the opposite direction, following paths that twisted and turned around trees and white stone.

From what we saw in our short time there, we were in a very peaceful place. Pristine and windy, twisting streets leading to gardens and alleys, paths winding through parks. It was just a really lovely atmosphere, one that I imagine gets very quiet when the tourists are gone for the winter (though that’s not to say the locals mind the break).

Rather than walking back along Split’s waterfront when we returned, we walked in the opposite direction towards the beaches, and I put my feet into the Adriatic for the first time. I love new bodies of water and this one was warmer than expected. We sat and watched the sky until the sun set.

And then from there we would head further south along the coastal road to our last destination – Dubrovnik.

Travel Guide: Zagreb and Plitvice Lakes National Park

I was really lucky to have my parents come visit for our fall break this year, lucky that they were able to make the trip to Germany and lucky that we were able to travel together. We spent a week in Germany before flying to Croatia to explore a country about which both of my siblings (and everyone else I talked to) have only good things to say. I cannot emphasize enough how friendly, kind, and helpful the Croatian people were, and this made for a wonderful experience.

We started our trip in the Croatian capital of Zagreb. We arrived late in the afternoon and managed some walking around before it got dark. The high fashion and style of the locals got my attention, as did the prevalence of street vendors, the ornate architecture, and the general opulence of buildings that show signs of having seen a lot in their time.

And Croatia has seen a lot, a theme that was central to the walking tour we went on the following day. Centuries of wars, including in recent decades, have shaped a land often caught between warring empires, a land that calls itself by a different name, Republika Hrvatska, than that imposed by conquerors. This is a land proud of its people, its history, and its work to move forward into a different era.

After our tour we headed to my favourite type of urban space – the local market. I have written a lot about markets, which I’ve sought out everywhere I’ve lived and visit whenever possible when travelling. Right in the centre of Zagreb’s old town is Dolac Market, open seven days a week right near Ban Jelačić Square, the main square (of many) in the city. This is where the locals do their shopping, which was evident from the people and activity we observed while strolling through the stalls selling nearly everything one could want. In preparation for a road trip and hike the next day, we bought nuts, fruit, bread, cheese, and burek, all of which we thoroughly enjoyed.

The southern side of Zagreb’s old town is lined with eight parks in a horseshoe and we walked there as long as we could before it started to rain. The amount of green space in the city was really lovely and made for an atmosphere in which, like at markets, people come together. Zagreb and its environs include about a million people, which is nearly a quarter of Croatia’s population. Nevertheless, the city’s squares, markets, and parks made it feel very liveable and like a much smaller town.

After determining that the rain had no intention of stopping, we headed to the Museum of Broken Relationships, which I had read about and about which I remained skeptical until we visited. I will only say that it was charming, thought-provoking, sad, and funny all at once. And highly relatable, for many reasons.

The following morning we picked up our rental car and drove for two hours through scrubby bushes on looming rock to Plitvice Lakes National Park, the oldest and largest of Croatia’s national parks and a UNESCO World Heritage site. (There is a fee to enter the park and during high tourist season, it is recommended to book tickets in advance.) The park is well-signed with trails of different lengths, some of which require a boat ride to continue to the second part of the path. We walked through pine forests, along boardwalks around lakes, up steps, and along winding paths that wrapped around so many waterfalls.

Somehow I wasn’t expecting what Plitvice Lakes National Park had to offer, or perhaps what it felt like to be there. It felt like entering a different world, an oasis separated from other worries and cares. And we were more relaxed getting back into the car after a few hours in nature than we were at the beginning of the day.

The second part of our drive brought us to Split, where we (very excitedly) saw a Dalmatian in Dalmatia and had the opportunity to learn about the history of Croatia in terms of shaping the world’s empires.