Tag Archives: Croatia

The Dalmatian Coast: Dubrovnik


Despite Hvar’s orgasmically gorgeous beaches, Dubrovnik was really more my style. Old Town is brimming with history, and as the King’s Landing filming site for Game of Thrones it’s also a bit of a nerd mini-mecca. You can fly in directly, or catch a bus down from Split. PRO TIP: Always, always check how long your bus ride is supposed to take. I caught one from Split to Dubrovnik that was four hours long, but the return trip stopped in every little backwater town and gave me heart palpitations because I was trying to catch a flight back to Rome. Another PRO TIP is to have your passport handy, because you will pass very briefly through Bosnia on the way up and down. I didn’t mind the ride at all, mostly due to the countryside that we passed through, but also because I’m from Texas and we measure distance in hours.

My original hostel was in one of Dubrovnik’s northern bays, and after a good hour and a half of searching for it I was getting really pissed off. I literally walked the same three blocks about five times, desperately trying to make sense of their directions. I even called the hostel but the guy who answered was spectacularly unhelpful, so I took a deep breath, found a place with WiFi and Karlovačko (the only beer that I have ever genuinely enjoyed), and sat my happy butt down to find a new place to stay. Hostel Marker Dubrovnik Old Town was more expensive than my old place, but it was worth every penny and then some. It’s located less than a five minute walk from the Pile Gate, which is one of the main entrances into the Old Town, and it has fantastic access to the site where they filmed the Battle of Blackwater Bay as well as a great beach. The owner is an absolute dream and he will enthusiastically write suggestions for food and sightseeing all over your map. I really can’t say it enough: stay in this hostel.

My first afternoon in Dubrovnik was pretty relaxed; I thoroughly examined Blackwater Bay, including Fort Lovrijenac, which has spectacular views of both that bay and the one next door. I’m actually fairly certain that I would like to eventually be proposed to up there.

Future suitors, take note

Future suitors, kindly take note

I won’t bore you with the two hours that I spent making goo-goo eyes at the water. I met some hostel people and tagged along to the Argentina vs. Netherlands football game that night, because Europe. On the up side, I did get to geek out over Game of Thrones with Lena and the angry Canadian lobster whose name I have forgotten.

My favorite part of my stay was the next morning, and the weather had a hand in it. Great storm clouds were constantly circling, and when combined with the old stone battlements and the pounding sea below they made for some fantastic pictures, even if it did rain on me a few times. The one thing that you have to do in Dubrovnik is walk around the city walls. It’s a decently physical activity, and it’ll take about two hours, but it’s worth every minute. When you enter the Pile Gate, you’ll see a large fountain on your right; turn immediately to the left and follow the signs to the ticket office, and then head up the stairs to reach the top of the wall.  On the low end of the city you get fantastic views of the water, and as you move uphill all of Old Town is spread beneath you. From that vantage point, it’s easy to see more than a few broken buildings left over from the Siege of Dubrovnik in October of 1991. Most of the Old Town has been rebuilt, but at least half a dozen ruins were left standing as a sobering reminder of the war. Near the end of the walk along the walls, you have an opportunity to climb up to the top of an old fort on the walls, and I highly recommend it even though you’ll be exhausted.

As soon as you come off the walls, refill your water bottle at Big Onofrio’s fountain and then stop by the Franciscan Monastery on the left. It has a stunning central cloister and the world’s oldest still-operating pharmacy, not to mention murals on the inner walls. There’s a Dominican Monastery in the northeast corner of the city too, and they’re both fantastic places to slow down for a minute and just sit beneath the trees, listening to sounds echo off the cool white marble. I wandered down the Placa-Stradun, which is like Dubrovnik’s main boulevard, until I came to St. Blaise’s Church and the bell tower. If you turn left you’ll find the Dominican Monastery and a gate leading out of Old Town, and if you go right you’ll pass by the Rector’s Palace, which definitely deserves a look. It’s a beautiful historical building complete with prison cells and magistrate’s chambers. My favorite part was a photography exhibit from the Siege, located in the cells below the palace. One of the coolest things is that your ticket to the Rector’s Palace includes entry into a whole bunch of other places like the Maritime Museum on top of the city walls and the Ethnographic Museum.



For lunch, I kept going around the Rector’s Palace until I was in the old harbor, where I found Lokanda Peskarija, or Seafood Lokanda. It’s a fantastic restaurant with great views of the harbor and delicious seafood risotto, and the portions are huge! I could have easily split lunch with someone. About the time that I finished the rain really started to pour, so I just ordered a cappuccino and stayed put. A sweet French couple came under the awnings and tried to find a table nearby, and I invited them to sit with me since everywhere else was full. They were halfway into their meal when the rain suddenly stopped, so I grabbed my stuff and said goodbye before it could come back. Like in Split, the wet ground was appallingly slippery, so I walked around barefoot until it dried out.

By coincidence, my wandering took me right by Lena and her trio of six foot tall Swedish Vikings. They called each other the Tractor, the Waffle, and the Oracle, and I’m so glad that I’m not kidding about that last part; apparently the nicknames are similar to their real names, and I feel like I can’t stress enough that these are their names for each other. We walked back to the hostel together to collect James, the only living example of a cocaine-fueled monkey that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. James was wonderful, generous, and friendly, but he was also a force of nature. You just didn’t say “no” to James, and that’s how a few of us ended up drunk before 9 pm. We actually met one of the coolest cats in Dubrovnik because James liked his hair. I kid you not, this poor guy was sitting peacefully in a restaurant and James just sat down and started talking to him. Lena, the Vikings and I kept walking, and when we came back James had ordered dinner for himself and a beer for Cool Hair Guy. We joined them rather than fight the inevitable, and that’s how we met Andrej.

Dubrovnik’s cultural festival started that night, so after dinner (during which James threw his pizza over the restaurant’s balcony and the Tractor lost his water gun privileges) Rachel and I headed back into Old Town in time to catch an amazing Croatian band. Even though I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, the quality of the music was so high that it transcended language. I’m actually a bit desperate to learn the name of the band, because I can’t find their information on the festival’s website or Facebook page.


Day Two in Dubrovnik was dedicated to wandering. Old Town is small enough that you can see most of it in a couple of days, and it’s more or less on a grid pattern so it’s pretty damn hard to get lost. I had passed by Gundulic’s Square several times, but that morning they had a farmer’s and artisan’s market. Since covered markets are high on my list of weaknesses, I took the time to walk through it and drool over the things that I wanted but shouldn’t buy. Behind the square is a large staircase that leads up to St. Ignatius Church, which has the oldest grotto in Europe. It’s gorgeously decorated anyway, but the grotto definitely makes it worth the short climb. There’s also a way up to Buza, a bar that’s situated on the Old Town wall; it’s a great place to watch the sunset, and a welcome relief if you’re walking the walls without water.

I stopped at Taj Mahal for lunch, which, in spite of its name, does not exclusively serve Indian food. This was the scene of one of the best meals that I have ever tasted: Ćevapi (or ćevapčići), a Balkan dish of minced sausages grilled and served in a flatbread taco with sides that can include onions and cottage cheese. I’ve had cheaper versions of this dish and they were okay, but Taj Mahal’s was heavenly. Like, I definitely heard a choir of angels each time I took a bite. My instinct was to fill my flatbread taco with the sausage and smother it in cheese and onions before eating it like a burger, but I thought that was just my barbarian side talking (seriously, take me to Medieval Times and watch the civilization flee from my eyes), so I cut the flatbread into strips and rolled the sausage in it. According to Lena, my barbarian instincts were correct and you are supposed to fill it up and mash it into your piehole; fine by me, I look forward to devouring Ćevapi the right way.

I visited the Ethnographic Museum for a while, and if you like mythology it’s worth a look, but the displays are mostly low-quality and the presentation was a bit sloppy. Don’t pay for it, but if you have a ticket from the Rector’s Palace and time to kill, go ahead and stop by. I thought about catching a boat to Lokrum Island, which came highly recommended by our hostel owner, but the weather was still touch-and-go. Since I was already in the harbor, I took a walk along the inside of the walls and noticed that people were disappearing around a corner. Being a curious sort, I followed them and discovered an area between the city walls and the sea where you could sit on the rocks, so I claimed the largest one for myself and relaxed there for a while before going back to the small bay near my hostel for a long swim. Lena and I had dinner in Gundulic’s Square, and then we met the Vikings at an amazing place called Art Bar where they use bathtubs for couches and the metal spinners from washing machines for tables. To get to Art Bar, leave Old Town via the Pile Gate and keep going straight for about ten minutes. Between the weird decorations and the bright lights, it’s kinda impossible to miss.

One of Kelsey's happy places

One of Kelsey’s happy places

That’s about it for Dubrovnik! Ever since my visit I have been plugging Croatia like crazy, so hit me up if you have any questions or comments. There were so many places that I wanted to visit, and I would not hesitate to go again.

Ćevapi kisses,



The Dalmatian Coast: Split and Hvar


You could make a pretty strong case that Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is paradise, and you’d get no argument from me. A thousand thanks to the beautiful Croatian friend I made here in Florence who convinced me to visit her country, because I had an incredible time! Croatia is outside of the Schengen Territories, so it’s a good stop if you’re worried about overstaying your welcome. American citizens can stay for 90 days without a visa; I was there for a week, and I sincerely wish that I could have made it two.

My first stop was in Split. If you’re arriving by plane, just head out of the airport and you’ll see signs for the city buses. They’ll take you to the main bus station, and there’s a tourist office in the same strip that can help you find your way. Be ready for crowds because Split a big party city with a gorgeous seaside promenade called the Riva, and in the summer it definitely caters to young beachgoers. I stayed in Hostel Ana, which is right next door to Diocletian’s Palace and less than a ten minute walk from the ferry port. It was perfect for my needs, but if you prefer to stay in fancy hotels or luxurious hostels, it’s not for you. It’s cheap, cozy, and ideally situated with a fantastic open-air sitting area where you can lounge and meet other travelers. Next door is Split’s main attraction: Diocletian’s Palace, a sprawling complex full of shops, restaurants, squares, and ruins. It was originally the retirement home of Diocletian, a Roman Emperor who was in power from 284 to 305. I had a great time wandering around the streets, and I discovered little gems like an older couple dancing to live music in the middle of a square, and a guitar player camped out in a particularly beautiful area full of toppled pillars. In fact, I ate my first Croatian meal against one of those pillars, just listening to him play in the soft evening air. I fell in love with almost everything that I ate in Croatia, but that first night I had hot and simple street food in the form of a crocup, this gorgeous creation that consisted of a bread bowl filled with garlic sauce, the meat of my choice, and vegetables, which was then covered in cheese and baked to perfection. While we’re on the subject of food, I also highly recommend a really cool restaurant in the palace complex called Figa. It has indoor and outdoor seating options and sports a colorful vibe, friendly staff, and the best shrimp risotto I have ever eaten.


Inside Diocletian’s Palace

A quick word on currency: some places do accept euros, but the kuna is the national currency of Croatia. The exchange rate for the American dollar right now is 5.68 kuna for $1; for example, my crocup cost 40 kuna, which only comes to about $7. I like to keep my calculations simple, so I just mentally divided everything by five. It’s easier, and you’re actually paying less than your original estimate. Win-win, in my book.

Anyway, Diocletian’s Palace was wonderful. I really enjoyed exploring it in depth, especially the parts that haven’t been as well maintained because I’m weird like that. I love the sight of all that crumbling white marble, though walking on it is seriously a chore. I don’t know if I just picked the two most slippery cities in Croatia, but any time it rained I took my shoes off and walked barefoot because my feet had better traction, so keep that in mind when picking shoes for this location. One of the best things about Split this time of year is that there are constantly festivals. The cultural music festival was going on when I visited, and the day I came home Ultra started. That means live music every night on the Riva, and I had a great time relaxing on a bench with the sea at my back and a fun band rocking out onstage. If you’re not a fan of big crowds and crazy parties, however, I would avoid Split during Ultra because it’s one of the biggest house music festivals in the world. Honestly, if I had to do it over again, I would stay in Split for one night and then go to Hvar Island for the rest of the time because I personally wasn’t there to party.

Hvar Island is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I ended up spending most of my time there, which cost me quite a chunk in ferry tickets. Another quick word: the fastest way from Split to Hvar is by catamaran (http://www.hvarinfo.com/travel-to-island-hvar/), and while they’re usually pretty easy to use from the mainland, the ones leaving Hvar are infrequent and often sell out. The second option is the car ferry, which leaves from Stari Grad on the other side of the island. Here’s how you catch it:

  • Go to the main ticket office in Hvar Town, which is very close to where the catamaran dropped you off, and buy a ticket for the car ferry. You have to take a bus to reach Stari Grad, and there will be a list of bus times that match the ferry you need.
  • Once you have your ticket, leave the office and turn right. Go towards the main square in front of the church, and keep walking to the left of the church (there’s a public bathroom right there if you need it). You’ll see taxi stands by a building, and if you go towards that building on your left you’ll see the buses. You want the one that says “Stari Grad” in the front window.
  • Buy a ticket for Stari Grad, but you’re not actually getting off there. The bus may stop a few times on the way to pick up people, but the first major stop will be the ferry port, and that’s where you’ll get off. The car ferry should be the giant ship on the left side of the port, and while the ride is exceedingly smooth, it will take about two hours to get back to Split. The absolute best thing about the car ferry is that it runs late; the last one leaves some time after 11:00 pm.

Hvar Island just….defies words. If you walk around the port and keep going, you’ll find all sorts of public beaches. Walk far enough and there are resort-style places with sand and drinks and fancy changing areas, but the first ones you come to are rocky, free, and much more interesting in my opinion. Navigating them is a little tricky, but slow going should see you through. I lucked out and found a perfect spot that was tucked into the rock face a bit, so I could lay my things out and gently make my way into the water. There are plenty of sunbathers around, but since I am a delicate British flower (and I’m secretly ten years old, don’t let me tell you any differently), I went straight for the water.

The Adriatic Sea is absolutely ridiculous. That water is the most incredibly clear shade of blue, and it’s so salty that if you let it dry on your skin, you can actually brush the residual salt off. I highly recommend taking goggles, and if you elect not to, at least take a lesson from me and don’t grab sh*t off the seabed that you can’t see clearly. I saw what looked like a white seashell below me and I wanted it, but my contacts made the water blurry. I dove down anyway and reached for it and, as you can probably guess, it definitely was not a seashell. It was a hollowed out sea urchin. WHICH REMINDS ME: Sea urchins. Sea urchins everywhere, so watch out. They’re pretty easy to see, but be careful. I ended up stepping on one as well the next day while walking in the water. But I digress; I survived the sea urchins and frolicked sufficiently in that ridiculous water, and then I thought it would be a good idea to sit up on the rocks, half in and half out of the water. As with the “seashell,” I was sorely mistaken because the water entranced me so much that I sat there for an hour without applying more sunscreen, just staring out at the waves like a dodo. And then I decided to rinse and repeat. I mean, come on; can you blame me?

View of the Adriatic Sea

This view is directly responsible for my lobster legs.

Hvar Town itself is gorgeous, and definitely worth exploring. It’s a party place like Split, but there’s so much more to do in addition to drinking and dancing. Hvar is famous for its lavendar fields, and you can hire all sorts of excursions to take you across the island or, even better, to entirely different islands. On Vis, there is a magical place called the Blue Grotto, not to be confused with a place of the same name in Capri. If you walk around the harbor in Hvar Town, you’ll find loads of tours available. I found one such tour that promised the Blue Grotto, the Green Grotto, and a few private beaches on Vis, so I booked it for the next day. Unfortunately the sea was too rough to visit the grottos, but we made for Vis anyway on a small sailboat crewed by two very attractive Croatian sailors whose names I never caught. I’d like to dub the beefcake with long curly hair Tarzan, and the slimmer blond Terk because he was the one scrambling all over the boat like a monkey (yes, I’m aware that Terk is a gorilla, hush). The trip to Vis wasn’t that bouncy, but by the end most of us landlubbers were queasy to one degree or another, especially the poor Malaysian girls. PRO TIP: if you get seasick, stare at something steady like the horizon or an approaching island, and whatever you do, DO NOT go belowdeck.

We pulled in to this tiny cove full of moored boats and dropped anchor, and then most of us proceeded to jump right off the boat and into that glorious water. I’m not going to lie to you, I hesitated for about twenty seconds. The water was so clear that I could see all the way to the bottom, but something about taking that plunge gave me pause. In the end, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and just—stepped off. It really was as easy as all that. Except then I hit the water and came up cursing a blue streak because it was so cold, thereby cementing my status as a true Southern lady to all my nice new foreign friends. Someone tossed goggles down, and I had a fantastic time snorkeling along the edge of the bay. The middle parts were sandy and boring, but the edges held reefs. They weren’t tropical by any means, but it was amazing to explore such a diverse ecosystem filled with fish, crabs, sea slugs, and plantlife. That’s how I amused myself while most of the others were sunbathing and napping on the boat. Eventually Tarzan and Terk brought out lunch, most of which was delicious (tuna and corn, who wouldda thunk?), though the sardines were a mistake on my part. After lunch the boys seriously tossed all of the plates overboard, explaining that the fish would eat the leftovers and all they would need afterwards would be a swish under fresh water. It was a lot of fun to watch Tarzan and Janja dive for them, especially when they told the British tourist to throw some of the silverware in as well and he threw all of it, so they had to dive down at least twenty feet to pick two dozen forks and knifes off the seabed.



Our next stop was at the Laganini Lounge Bar on a different part of Hvar Island. It wasn’t as much fun as the cove on Vis, but it seems like a fantastic place to relax with friends or a loved one. It’s basically a private bay with different levels cut into the rockface, and all of the furniture is made of white driftwood and softened burlap. There are several bars, and a few perches in the trees that you can reserve. As my family can tell you, I don’t do “relaxation” very well when I’m in a new place, so I preferred the journey across the water to sitting still. I let my legs dangle over the side of the boat and watched the sapphire water pass underneath me, and I had a lot of deep thoughts about the open sea and how amazing/terrifying it would be to swim in it. Thankfully, my higher brain functions prevented me from toppling overboard, no matter how curious I was. A stunning sunset was the perfect cherry on the decadent sundae that was my day on the water.

That’s it for my island adventures; tune in next time to read all about the real King’s Landing and how I dodged a surprise wedding. There will also be guest appearances by the Storm God, three Vikings and their boss, a metric sh*t ton of cats, and James.

Pasta kisses,