Final Destination: Dubrovnik!

Where does four weeks go??? From starting in the glorious Lake Bled, Slovenia, to driving through stunning cities and towns, to crossing the Croatian border and visiting the Garden of Eden (AKA Plitvice Lakes), to island hopping to a mini paradise called Korcula, all with my three favorite people in the world….. it has truly been the trip of a lifetime.

For the fifth and final week we topped it off by spending the entire week in Dubrovnik- “The Pearl of the Adriatic.” All of our other destinations have been a maximum stay of four nights so it was lovely to slow the pace down. To really put icing on the cake, my parents and sister and her family joined us for this final week. The four little cousins had a whale of a time together (as did the adults!)

Here was the view from our Airbnb balcony. Wow!

The week in Dubrovnik was glorious with tons to do. I will preface this by saying Dubrovnik is indeed a tourist trap and was extremely busy. It was also by far the most expensive of any Slovenian or Croatian place that we adventured through. To be fair, we have found that the further south we have come, the busier and more expensive it gets. So with Dubrovnik being the most southerly- I suppose these elements are not surprising.

We did a lot in the week so I will try to break it down by activity.

Walking the Walls of Dubrovnik.

We picked an overcast, cooler morning for this and went early as we knew the crowds would take over from 10am onwards. It took about an hour and a half and the views of Dubrovnik were 360 degrees, encompassing red terraced roofs and the sparkling Adriatic Sea from all directions.

Wandering Inside The Walls of Old Town Dunrovnik.

Each and everyday we took a stroll around this medieval town and found something new and intriguing. There are the East and Pile Gates guarding the city, the ever- thronged main street of Stradun lined with cafes, stores and restaurants. There’s the Jesuit Steps, St. Blasius Church, and multiple winding alleys and lanes with something new to discover on each corner.

Real Housewives of Orange County, eat your heart out!

And of course there were many days we participated in grabbing a coffee or an ice cream with the masses on the main drag of Stradun.

Fort Lovrijenac

Fort Lovrijenac is Dubrovnik’s Gibraltar, sitting menacingly atop high cliffs overlooking the city protectively. As with most forts in Croatia, there were a lot of steps up and with a few breaks along the way (and some ice cream bribes) my two little troopers did fantastically! The views of Dubrovnik were breathtaking.

Upon exiting the fort, we meandered down into a snug bay- Pile Bay- with lazy fishing boats and lovely aquamarine water.

Banje Beach

Just outside the city walls lies the tiny Banje Beach. From this beach, the Old City looks like a lego set laid upon the Adriatic Sea. I took my one and only dip of the vacation in the crystal clear waters. Yep- I’m a wimp when it comes to the sea. My sister said it was painful watching me get in! Baahaaahaaahaaa!

 

Eating Out

We ate out every night and found some nice little nooks and crannies. But the restaurant that we came back to over and over again was Dubravka restaurant. With a view of the city walls, good food and fairly reasonable prices (for Dubrovnik!), we ended coming back here three separate times.

 

The City By Night

Because my amazing folks were in town for this portion of the trip, we got two fantastic date nights during the week. The first was just the two of us and we thoroughly availed of the evening by taking in the city by night, and frequenting the secret, but not so secret, bar of Buza. Here we saw people jumping off the cliffs which planted seeds in Wyatt’s brain for a future activity. More on that later….

On the second night out, D and C joined us and we frequented Buza bar again, followed, of course, by the Irish Bar.

D showed me how all the insta models are posing against walls these days. Lol!

Two really lovely evenings!

Diving Off The Cliffs At Buza Bar

Wyatt and I met in Hawaii. He was actually living there at the time, and enjoyed cliff diving with buddies on a regular basis. So when he spotted people cliff diving at Buza bar- he knew how he wanted to spend our final afternoon. It was a lot of fun!

Lokrum Island

The island you see in the background of all my photos is Lokrum Island. We decided to spend a morning exploring. It’s well worth it as there is a lot to do. My parents took the trip over with us. The ferry takes about fifteen minutes to cross.

The island has a monastery, where subsequently a lot of Game of Thrones was filmed. You can check out my GOT Dubrovnik post here. 

There is a fort in the middle of the island with a formidable climb up to it. Ro let a heartfelt groan out of her when she saw the steep incline. The views from the top made it all worth while!

There are also plenty of hidden rocks on every corner of the island to sunbathe on and jump off, as well as a mini ‘Dead Sea’.

But it was the wildlife of Lokrum Island that made my two kiddo’s day. There were peacocks everywhere. KJ called these the ‘peahawks’ (can you tell he is a Seahawks fan?) and referred to them as The Bad Guys as they could peck you.

There were also rabbits all over the island. These were affectionately called The Good Guys. Lots of bunny kisses obtained on this day!

All in all a very enjoyable morning.

Another fantastic extended family holiday in the books!

La Fin.

And so our five week adventure around Slovenia and Croatia draws to an end. I cannot put into words what an unbelievable trip it has been. When Wyatt and I are (hopefully) old and senile, I know we will look back at this time-out we took to spend as a family with our two littles, and light up at the memory of this phenomenal adventure. A massive Hvala Slovenia and Croatia!

It’s back to reality for Wyatt in Seattle, while the kiddos and I continue our Irish adventure for another few weeks.

A Dip in the Adriatic Sea at Mlini, Croatia

We had one night to kill between our stay at Korcula Island and our week in Dubrovnik. We settled on Mlini, a little rocky beach town fifteen minutes from Dubrovnik.

The ferry ride from Korcula to the mainland is much shorter than the inward journey. A little fifteen minute hop across the pond. My head and stomach were grateful!

The two hour car ride from Oberic down to Mlini is stunning! It got a little hairy when the gas light came on and we realized the nearest gas station was a ways away on a one lane street winding its way along the Adriatic cliff face. I think we pulled into the station on fumes but we made it!

A few good friends of mine had visited a travel agency well over a decade ago and asked the agent to book them in somewhere sunny and lively for two weeks. She booked them in to Mlini and they now have the worst memories of Croatia. I can see why. Even though Mlini is a lovely, little town with a calm rocky beach, it would get very small fast if you were in your early twenties and looking for action for two weeks. It was ideal for the night, but to be honest I can definitely see why boredom set in for these ladies. In my opinion two nights is more than enough in Mlini.

There was a lot of construction when we were there getting ready for the beginning of the season in June.

The two littles had a fabulous time looking for crabs in the rock pools and taking a refreshing dip in the sparkling Adriatic Sea.

Next up we meet up with my parents, and my sister and her family in Dubrovnik for an entire week. Little cousins from Seattle and Ireland getting to spend time together in the Mediteranian. Lucky Duckies!

A Stint in the Split Area of Croatia

Dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, DUN, DUN, DUN!!! *Sung to the Game of Thrones opening credits. Yes! There was a lot of nerding out (on my part) in Split as we visited some of the GOT sites. More on that later!

We had heard from a fellow Plitvice Lake hiker that Split and Dubrovnik were a little like the circus and I saw what he meant. Tourists are everywhere in Split and it was only May! For that reason, we stayed fifteen minutes outside Split in the tiny, sleepy village of Stobrec. It was super quiet as the season does not start until June 1st there- ideal for us!

We spent the first evening exploring the little coves, nooks, and crannies of Stobrec.

The next day, my two took their first dip in the Adriatic Sea at the rocky beach of Camp Camping.

Later, when we attempted to visit the playground only to find it closed, I had two sad faces looking up at me. So when they asked if they could go catch the fishies in the shallow bay fully clothed, yes was the definitive answer.

The old historic city of Split was indeed heaving with people as we had been warned, and it was still well worth the visit. We spent two days exploring the different sites.

Diocletian’s Palace is impressive. The square has a cathedral and bell tower on one side guarded by a sphinx. College student Roman Soldiers making a little extra money by posing with tourists roam the center.

And then we climbed the bell tower and I almost had a heart attack. I am not afraid of heights….but I do NOT recommend climbing this view laiden building with a four and six-year-old. Plenty of open spaces veerryyy high off the ground for little feet to fall through. I was very glad when our feet touched the ground again.

And then we wandered aimlessly inside the city walls discovering the People’s Square and the statue of Gregory of Nin and rubbed his toe for good luck. We also stopped at a tiny Mexican joint and had a scrumptious lunch.

Killian found a feather and stuck it in his hat…..as you do!

For anyone that knows Wyatt they will certainly know what a huge (at times annoying) Washington State fan he is. The Irish gal in me will never understand the American obsession with college sports but that’s another day’s story. He had read on a WSU Cougar page that there was a Coug bar in Split. And so our quest to find the bar began. As we started following google maps (which has been the We Will Get You Somewhere In The Vicinity Of Where You Need To Go And You Figure Out The Rest app on this vacation) Wyatt spotted a dude with a cougar hat and yells his obligatory, ‘Go Cougs!’ Dude yells, ‘Thanks!’ And the conversation goes something like this:

Wyatt- Did you know there is a bar right around here that is owned by a Coug.

Dude- No way!

Wyatt- Yup. We are on our way to find it right now.

Dude- Ha ha! Awesome! Actually I own the bar. I’ll bring you there right now.

How random and awesome! The bar is called The Sanctuary and the co- owners Chad and Tristan were super cool.

Heads up- you have now come to the super nerd part of the blog. I am a huge Game of Thrones fan. HUGE! I have read the books twice and watched the series twice and have become the biggest GOT conspiracy theory weirdo. I fully admit to being very far down the GOT rabbit hole. So while in Split, obviously, we visited two GOT filming locations.

The first was the cellars of the Diocletians Palace. This is where Dany ruled and imprisoned her dragons in Season 5.

Yep. I loved it. It’s such a weird, cool place and the kids loved playing chase in the little alleys and hidden nooks.

The second GOT location we visited was a fifteen minute drive up the mountain to Fort Kliss….AKA Mereen. LOVED it!!!!!

Even if you’re not a Game of Thrones fan, this fortress is well worth visiting. It has amazing views of Split, and we had hail the day we visited so it certainly looked like Winter Was Coming.

Not a bad way to spend Mother’s Day! Next up…we are doing some island hopping and heading to the island of Korcula!

A Stop For Lunch Between Zadar and Split: Historic Sibenik

There’s a lot of potential places to stop off and have a nose around between Zadar and Split if you take the coastal drive. We have traveled a lot the last few weeks, so we wanted just one town where we could fill our bellies before landing into our next Airbnb near Split. We decided on the charming, historic town of Sibenik. There’s the usual old Croatian town church, bell tower, cathedral and lovely narrow medieval streets inside a towering town wall.

When we arrive into a Slovenian or Croatian town we have never been to before and have absolutely no idea where the good restaurants are, we google “Cheap Eats Insert Town Name Here.” Travel advisor pops up with its ten best cheap eats in that city. This technique has yet to let us down. Today it was Restaurant More in Sibenik and it was great! We met the owner and she made us feel like family.

As we left the town, we came across something really unusual and special. Just on the outskirts of the town, there is a mossy green fountain. It had what we thought were statues of little turtles….and all of a sudden one of the turtles moved! The kids were enthralled.

 

And then one of the hairiest driving moments of the trip happened. The GPS sent us down one of the narrowest streets I have ever seen. There was maybe a centimeter on either side of the car! I exaggerate not!! And it was a two-way street!!! I have no photos as we were sweating bricks and trying not to poop our pants! It felt something like this except with an SUV….

mini

Wyatt was a champ and got us out of there. It was a half hour before we were breathing normally again! Next up- Split!

Zadar: Croatia’s Sunset City.

Zadar is the shortest portion of our trip as we are only staying for one night. I squeezed it in as an afterthought when I was planning the trip….and I’m SO glad I did! Zadar is a small, compact, super cool and interesting city. It oozes history and a lot of character. You get into the city via a bridge through an arch in the town walls. The first pic is a view of the bridge from our sweet Airbnb balcony.

We started in the center of Zadar with its Forum. Yes- there is an ancient Roman Forum in downtown Zadar surrounded by the circular St. Donatus’ Church, the Benedictine St. Mary’s Church, and the ancient basilica St. Anastasia’s Cathedral. They sure like their saints in Zadar.

I had been denied access inside St. Mary’s because my shorts were too short (!?!) so it only made sense to visit the Pillar of Shame next.

There is a gorgeous promenade that trails all the way around the city peninsula and makes for a stunning stroll.

As we strolled along the promenade we ambled upon Nikola Basic’s award winning art installation, The Sea Organ. The large marble steps leading into the ocean have been cut to create an organ that makes beautiful, haunting sounds as the sea laps into it. My video really does not do the sound justice.

 

Right next to The Sea Organ is Basic’s second art piece, Greeting to the Sun. As the title evokes, this piece of work really comes alive at sunset. More on that later!

As we had reached the tip of the peninsula, we turned around and started meandering towards the other side of the town. On our way we came across more churches, a park full of historic looking heads and, of course, a playground.

My favorite part of Zadar was at the other end of the city. Five Wells Square has a cool vibe that invites you to slow down and take in all the cool views.

The Square leads to a funky little park that contains an outdoor bar and lounge with music that the kids (and Wyatt) did the robot dance to.

But the real magic of Zadar lies in the evening time. Unless it’s our weekly Friday night pizza-dance party at friends’ houses, we are religious about bed time for our kids. Zadar was the exception to the rule. Sunset was at 8.13pm that evening, and we took the two littles back down to Greeting to the Sun as an extra special treat. As this is Zadar’s main attraction, it was thronged with people. Wyatt told the kids the lights would only turn on if they jumped on the installation. We watched the sun seep down on the horizon as our kids chased around like maniacs with the hundreds of other kids that had arrived on a bus. It was an awesome evening!

 

 

Next up- Split!

Plitvice Lakes National Park: Paradise On Earth

If you want to see a real life Garden of Eden, Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia is where it’s at. This massive park is made up of sixteen lakes flowing in to one another in spectacular fashion via limestone waterfalls. The place is breathtaking.

We had done our research and had read that this park was VERY busy…. like heaving with people busy most of the year round. The tips were to get there after 2pm or first thing in the morning when it opened. Because of that we took our time coming from Zagreb, filled our bellies with a big lunch, and arrived at Entrance One around two thirty, just as many of the big tour groups were leaving.

 

Don’t get me wrong. It was still busy! But not heaving. About an hour into the hike it really started to drop off and we could get the pictures we wanted without having to line up to take them. There are two main entrances to the park (three entrances total) and you have to buy tickets to get in. They ain’t cheap either! We decided on the two day tickets to make the most of our time there.

There are eight hiking trails total, each varying in length. We settled on Hike B on that first afternoon, which explores the lower lakes. First up, it takes you right by the Big Fall, Veliki Slap.

After about an hour meandering through the trail, a stunning boat ride across Lake Kozjak greeted us.

The sign says Hike B takes 3 to 4 hours. We managed it in about 3 with our two rockstars. It’s not a hard one walking wise but you really need to keep an eye on the little ones as most of it is not fenced in!

The Money Shot: we totally cheated to get it!

On the entrance ticket stub there’s this phenomenal picture of the lakes. We really really wanted to get it. But it was now nearing the kid’s bedtime and after driving two plus hours from Zagreb and hauling a four and six year old on a three hour hike….it just didn’t seem feasible. And then I came across a blog post that said not only could you hike up to it….but you could also take a sneaky drive up to it….if you plugged Veliki Slap into your GPS. Duh! No brainer right there. And the shots we got were unreal.

On Day 2 of our Plitvice Lakes adventure, we hit the park at 7.30am for opening. The aim of the day was to attempt Hike H which the sign says is 5-6 hours and takes you around most of the park. We had a bag full of food and the four and six year old pumped up! The very first thing you do is take a bus all the way up to the highest of the upper lakes and slowly hike your way down. It felt like we had the park to ourselves (we were on the very first bus up there) and the views, sights and sounds yet again were unbelievable.

 

KJ caught a bug and Ro spotted a pair of snails kissing!

Wyatt is a huge Washington State University nerd…..so don’t mind the commentary in this:

Thanks for everything Plitvice Lakes National Park. It’s been unreal! Next up- Zadar!

Zagreb: The Croatian Capital With A Lower Town, An Upper Town And A Lot Of Bells!

Zagreb is not initially what I would call a ‘pretty’ city, like Ljubljana was. It is what Wyatt calls a ‘city- city’. The more time I spend here, the more I appreciate and enjoy its charming character, rich history, and outdoor cafe scene. Here are some of the things we enjoyed while in Zagreb.

Kaptol

There are two upper towns in Zagreb, and they actually had beef with each other back in the day. The Kaptol area has a beautiful cathedral which, just like Barcelona, is under constant construction. Other enticing features include a glistening Holy Mary fountain, which the kids called The Goldy, and some gorgeous gold-roofed buildings.

Gradec

The ‘other’ Zagreb upper town, Gradec, is lined with cobblestone streets. One of the main attractions is Saint Mark’s Church. The outstanding feature of the church is its roof which has the medieval Croatian coat of arms on it. Today there were some stern looking guards outside who, when peppered with questions from my curious two, refused to speak. And all of a sudden they embarked on a little march for themselves.

 

At noon everyday, a cannon is shot out of the tower in Gradec. Even though we knew it was coming, it still scared the life out of us. We caught a video of it.

 

There’s some impressive views of Zagreb from up here.

And Zagreb has it’s own mini lock gate with more fab views overlooking the city.

The kids even found their favorite street artist in the area up here.

 

A tiny funicular links lower town to upper town. We were cruel though and made the kids walk up!

And right by the city wall we stumbled upon a little shrine tunnel to the Blessed Mary. We had no idea we were coming up on it, and were shushed vigorously as we entered.

Lower Town.

A mix of swanky hotels, outdoor cafe streets and some lovely parks and quirky statues make up Lower Town.

Tkalciceva Street

This delightful street was one of my favorite parts of Zagreb. I haven’t a clue how to pronounce the name! It is lined with restaurants and the vibe is very hip. This is where Zagrebians come to eat during the day and party at night.

There is a store on this street called Here Lie Dragons, AKA The Nerd Store and the kids (and I) loved it!

…and they had The Hound’s helmet. Eeeeek!

Museums
Zagreb is full of museums, with some very quirky ones including The Museum of Broken Relationships, The Torture Museum and the 80s Museum.

We settled on The Museum of Illusions to bring the kids to and I’m so glad we did. This is a tiny two-storey museum crammed with some awesome stuff.

 

Don’t stare at this one too long…….

 

Dolac Market

Zagreb has a daily farmers market and it’s pretty big. Stalls upon red stalls offer almost everything. Of course, the kids were fascinated with the toy stalls.

Jelacic Square

This is at the heart of Zagreb and connects the two upper towns and lower town. The statues of Cont Josip Jelacic overlooks the square with his sword permanently taking aim at his audience.

 

…..and then yesterday evening the kids met The Pigeon Man of Jelacic Square and this happened: