Our time along the Adriatic Coast has been a study in contrasts. We’ve had some of the warmest hospitality either of us has experienced, as well as the vagaries of a region largely taken over by mass tourism.
Beginning back in Zagreb we started using AirBnB for the first time, and so far the results have been amazing. We’ve been able to stay in some wonderful places and meet some very interesting people, all for the price we would pay to stay in a hostel. For those of you not familiar with AirBnB, it’s a website that connects travelers with locals renting out rooms in their homes or entire homes in many cases. It’s a godsend for those of us trying to cook our own meals in order to save money, and you get the chance to interact with people on a personal level unmediated by commerce.
We began our time along Croatia’s very long coast line in the city of Split. It’s one of the largest cities in the country, but just about all of the sites visited by tourists are located in an area the size of only a few large city blocks. At the heart of it all is a palace built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, which was then taken over by the Venetian Republic several centuries later. It’s a very interesting combination of the narrow, winding streets of Venice mixed with ancient Roman architecture. It’s very atmospheric and its location right on the water makes it especially appealing. That said, Skylar and I aren’t the only ones that like wandering the narrow streets. By about 10am the entire place is packed to the gills with people snapping pictures every few feet and cruise ship tour groups gathered on every corner. Our strategy was to explore early and then head elsewhere until the evening.
Our time in Split will be most memorable because of our host, Anita. Her daughter set her up on AirBnB and we had the privilege of staying in a beautiful room on a quiet street just outside the palace. Anita treated us like her own children and was endlessly fascinating to talk with. She cooked us one of the best meals we’ve had so far (Tuna caught fresh by her neighbor, a fisherman) and even did our laundry for us! As she said, “Once a mother, always a mother.” She also gave us great advice on where to get a tasty, but inexpensive meal at a very small restaurant called Villa Spiza.
From Split we originally planned to head to the Island of Vis, which is the least visited of the major Croatian islands. It was off-limits for many years because Marshal Tito put a major military base on it. However, our accommodation plans fell through and we decided to go to Korčula Island instead. It’s more populated than Vis, but quieter than the “party island,” Hvar. As in Split, our AirBnB hosts, Renata and Ivo, were great. We had a private en suite room in a quiet area about 30 minutes by foot from the main town. Again our hosts treated us to a delicious meal, this time they invited us to a dinner party on their patio and fed us a feast of grilled meat, kebabs, grilled sardines, and salad. The highlight, though, was the wine made by the other party guests, which flowed very freely from some large water bottles filled directly from the vineyard’s oak barrels. Aside from this meal, we subsisted primarily on homemade sandwiches, a cheap local snack called Burek, and beer (Only $1 a pint!) because many of the restaurants were very expensive and served mostly bland, sub-par meals that felt designed to appeal solely to picky children.
We spent most of our three days on the island relaxing and exploring the small historic old town, also built by the Venetians. One day we took a water taxi to a small islet nearby called Badija and spent the whole day resting against a large log admiring the scenery. I also did a little swimming, while Skylar watched (It’s a recurring pattern on our trip). It was nothing less than idyllic.
From Korčula we took a ferry to Croatia’s most famous attraction, Dubrovnik. Like Split and Korčula, Dubrovnik’s ultra-famous old town was built by the Venetians, but it’s sort of considered the piece de résistance of the whole coast line. For you Game of Thrones fans, it’s used as the set for King’s Landing. It’s also bar none the most impacted by mass tourism and by far the most expensive. One doesn’t even dare try to visit during the middle of the day because the narrow streets become impassable due to the day trippers from multiple cruise ships all converging on the city at once. In order to afford to visit on our budget, we stayed in a nice apartment with it’s own kitchen and bathroom about 15 minutes away by bus and close to the main intercity bus terminal.
In all honesty, Skylar and I felt the city was a little underwhelming. Obviously, almost no place can live up to the superlatives heaved on Dubrovnik, but the old town seemed so scrubbed of character and everyday life that sometimes we felt like we were walking around a Croatian version of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. That said, we did really enjoy walking along the city walls at sunset and began to understand why people so deeply love the city. During the day we got some much needed errands done, like doing the laundry with a very confusing Croatian washing machine, and bought bus tickets to our next destination in a “fjord” on the Mediterranean: Kotor, Montenegro.
Bye for now!