After a brief stopover in Slovenia to meet up with our tour group, we soon found ourselves driving across the border to Croatia. This was probably the country I was most excited to see on our itinerary; we planned the rest of our Euro-trip around Croatia, and even opted to pay for a tour of the country (instead of doing it on our own) so we could see as much as possible in the week we had to spend in Croatia.
The tour group consisted of mostly older couples; Tori and I were a solid 20-30 years younger than most of the participants. But there was a young Australian girl on the tour also, so we made friends with her 🙂 And there was also two couples speaking Russian, who turned out to be originally from Ukraine! They live in New York now, and are nationalized citizens, but they were all born and raised in Odessa. It was so fun to bond over Ukraine in Croatia! It was interesting to me what a low opinion they had of the quality of life in Ukraine; don’t get me wrong, Ukraine is definitely a developing country, but I’ve seen lots of improvement in the last two years and I recognize potential in the minds of my students. But I guess if the desperate conditions of Ukraine in the early 1990s (after the USSR collapsed) drove them to emigrate, I can understand why they would think life in Ukraine would be such a hardship for a (spoiled) American. I’m proud to say I’ve adapted, and also proud to say I’ve lived in Ukraine… but enough about Ukraine, back to CROATIA!
The best part of our tour was the coast–it made for some of most beautiful scenery ever for the long bus rides! The entire country of Croatia stretches down the Adriatic Sea, and this coastal area is referred to as the Dalmatian Coast. Our main stops on the coast were Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik.
I made another handy dandy map for you to be able to visualize this leg of our trip: After driving down the coast to Dubrovnik, we entered Bosnia and Herzegovina. We stopped in Mostar and Sarajevo, and then drove north and entered Croatia again to stop at the Plitvice National Park. Then we toured Zagreb for a morning before returning to Ljubljana.
Our first stop in Croatia was Zadar, which is the historical center of Dalmatia. In the 7th century B.C. Zadar was an important trade center in the Mediterranean, attracting the Phoenicians, Etruscans, and Ancient Greeks. The Romans began invading in the 2nd century B.C., eventually becoming a province under the control of Julius Caesar in 59 B.C. Under Roman rule, Zadar continued to flourish and remained an important center on the Adriatic coast. As the Roman empire embraced Christianity, so did Zadar, and some of the most famous sites in the city today are remnants of ancient churches.
Our next stop on the Dalmatian coast was Split, which like Zadar, was also strongly influenced by Roman occupation and colonization. Split is most famous for Diocletian’s Palace, which was built in the 3rd century A.D. by none other than Emperor Diocletian. Besides building this spectacular palace, his biggest claim to fame was persecuting Christians. He should’ve stuck to palace building, he did it well!
The most interesting part of Diocletian’s Palace is that the city of Split has grown up inside of the palace walls. Shops, cafes, and even apartments are located within this famous historical complex, so you can almost picture that activity that must’ve taken place in these very alleys 18 centuries ago. Plus you randomly see people dressed in period costumes, which definitely adds to the atmosphere. Tori and I got our picture taken with two such gentlemen, who were dressed as Roman centurions. I must admit, this was the highlight of our stop in Split 😉
Actually, I think the Roman centurions tied for first place in Split with this amazing pizza we had… plus, dining in an outdoor cafe in the midst of an ancient Roman palace is really quite magical. I remember sitting at this cafe with Tori, taking cute pictures and just enjoying being there with her… Tori makes wonderful company, and just hanging out and having fun with her every day was a constant joy, not to mention the incredible places we got to see and explore!
After our pizza Tori and I spent a few hours exploring the palace and doing some souvenir shopping. She bought an incredible painting from a nice old gentleman who was painting on the street, and I looked at books about Croatia in Russian for my Ukrainian friends. But we were late getting back to the tour bus (I lost track of the time), and the old-timers gave us a hard time for the rest of the week about being late. Whoops!
After Split, our last stop on the coast was Dubrovnik, possibly on the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. Its the most popular city for tourists in Croatia, and the Old City of Dubrovnik is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. In ancient times, the port of Dubrovnik rivaled Venice in importance, and having been to both, I can definitely say that Dubrovnik rivals Venice in beauty. However, I think Venice wins by a hair because of the canals and the gondolas… Dubrovnik has no gondolas, and is just a bit too touristy for my taste. But it was still incredible!
I think Dubrovnik was my favorite stop on our Croatia tour because we had the most free time there to explore. We made friends in the souvenir bazaar with a lady who brewed homemade “rakija,” a Croatian specialty made from fermented fruit. We ending up buying almost all the souvenirs we needed for our family members in Dubrovnik, because there were shops on every corner and we had enough time to browse and find something special for everyone on our list. We also took a boat tour of the port of Dubrovnik so we could see what the town looks like from the water, and ate some really fresh seafood at an outdoor cafe overlooking the water.
My favorite night in Dubrovnik, Tori and I took a cable car to the top of the city to watch the sunset, and ended up spending hours chatting with a couple from Holland. The sunset was spectacular, the view from the top of the city was stunning, the company was great, and the weather was perfect. What more can you ask for? I remember wishing I could freeze time that evening… this night definitely goes down on my list as one of the best on our Eurotrip 🙂
Does it get any better than this? Incredibly enough, it does. Check out the next blog post to see the most beautiful place on earth: Plitvice National Park in Croatia.