Siempre viviendo, siempre aprendiendo

Here's to a semester in Spain that's full of new friends, amazing experiences, & lifelong memories.

A beautiful hidden gem called Croatia

My spring break this year was an epic 11-day adventure through four different countries. There were a lot of interesting mishaps, but overall it was a crazy & wonderful week that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Here is the tale:

I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Croatia when we first arrived there on Friday night. Our plane got into Zadar after dark so I couldn’t really get an idea of what it looked like. I watched out the window as we drove along in a taxi on our way to our hotel, listening to the interesting Croatian house music that our taxi driver was playing from the radio, & I saw a lot of trees. It kind of looked like northern Minnesota!

When we finally arrived at our place of residence I was really surprised. It was adorable! Here’s a picture of it in the daylight:

The woman in charge, Nella, greeted us at the door & while checking us in she gave us all sorts of suggestions for things to do while we were here & answered all our questions. Her English was cute & she was so sweet! When we finally got into our little apartment, we settled ourselves in, ordered a jumbo pizza, & watched American movies with Croatian subtitles. Then we had to get to bed so we’d be ready for the adventures of the next day!

In the morning, a few of us walked to the grocery store to get food for breakfast & lunch. The walk was beautiful! I felt like we were in a forest because of all the gorgeous trees everywhere, & the sun shining through them made for a perfect morning. After eating breakfast & saying hello to our newest travel companion, Alexis, who arrived in the middle of the night, we all got our things together for the day & we were off! We rented bikes that morning, & Nella was nice enough to drive us to the bike rental place to pick them up then lead us downtown in our car with us following on our bikes.

Zadar is the fifth largest city in Croatia, but it only has a population of 75,000. It was a lot different from any other European city I had been to because it had more of a small town feel — no tall buildings, lots of grass & trees, houses instead of apartments. Biking through town felt just like biking through my hometown! It was kind of nice to be away from the hustle & bustle of big cities for a while.

When we arrived downtown, we made our way to the ferry we would take to the island called Dugi Otok, where we planned to spend the day. (Quick fun fact: island in Croatian is otok.) The ride was wonderful! We sat on the top deck, soaking up sunshine & looking at the scenery. However, trouble ensued once we arrived to the island. A woman in the street came up to us to tell us that we were stuck on the island until Monday (it was Saturday). We were a little worried as she continued to tell us that the ferry we had taken to the island only allows cargo (our bikes) on certain rides & that the next cargo trip wouldn’t be until Monday — uh-oh! But there was another port that had a ferry leaving late that afternoon, which was great — however, it would be a five or six hour bike ride there. That was especially a problem because Hollie’s bike had a flat tire & she was having a lot of difficulty riding it. So, worried though we were, we took her advice to ride to the closest town which had an air pump, refill Hollie’s tire, & then make our way to the other port!

It was an amazing ride. The island was absolutely beautiful! Although it was difficult with the flat, we were enjoying ourselves because of the gorgeous views. From the top of one of the hills we could see a national park with beautiful lakes — way too pretty! We had to stop to take pictures every once in a while because it was just too amazing!

We finally arrived in the nearest town to fill the tire, but of course absolutely everything there was closed. (Croatia isn’t exactly the most convenient of countries!) But we were lucky to have Alexis with us, because she went up to a guy & talked to him in German, telling him about our problems & trying to find a solution. It turned out that he knew the owner of the only taxi on the entire island, so he called him up to help us out. It was such a blessing. They even made us lemonade while we waited & let us use their bathroom!

The taxi driver had a huge van, so with our reasoning skills we figured out how to fit all five of the bikes into it & he took us to Plaza Saharun, the beach that we had been wanting to go to. Along the way he played tour guide for us, telling us things about the sights & places we were passing. When he dropped us off, he arranged a time to come pick us up again, letting us keep the bikes in the van. He was sooo nice! He even offered to take us on a detour to the lighthouse on the island before heading to the ferry. We couldn’t thank him enough.

After we arrived at the beach, even though it was FREEZING cold, we were so happy! It was stunning. The water was sooo blue, the beach was covered with white stones & mountains surrounded it all. We were so excited to spend the afternoon there!

First we made our way into the trees where there were picnic tables we could use to eat our packed lunches. (And it was a lot warmer over there, being shielded from the wind!) Lunch was great, & afterwards we were excited to get out on the beach! Well, kind of… It was freezing cold so we all had a hard time deciding to go in the water. But we finally all convinced each other to get in, & it ended up being a great time. The water numbed you after a while! When we got out we discovered that we were actually warmer than we had been in the first place — that’s how cold the water was. We all just pretended that we were there in the summer, when it’s hot & they have beach parties that last all night long. And of course we had to get the classic spring break picture!

After the beach, we got our things together & hopped back in the taxi. We visited the lighthouse, which was on a pretty cliff with lots of flowers & nice views. There were swings hanging from some of the trees so we had fun playing on those! Then we made our way back to the taxi, he drove us to the ferry, & we were on our way back to the mainland.

We were all freezing & exhausted when we got back to Zadar, but our evening wasn’t over yet, because it was time for us to visit the most famous landmark in all of the city — the Zadar Sea Organ, or Morske Orgulje. The Sea Organ is a relatviely new addition which uses the waves of the sea & an intricate piping system under the water to create music. We sat on the steps for a long time just listening to the sounds of the organ & the water, watching the sun set over the sea. It was so wonderful! If you want to see a video of it I have one on my Facebook, but here’s a picture me on the organ:

When we decided it was time for dinner, we took our bikes over to the restaurant that Nella had recommended that served yummy Italian food & we ate to our hearts’ content. It was delicious! By the time we were done eating, it was completely dark outside, so we made our way back to the organ to see the city’s other new attraction that is only fun once the sun has set. It’s a giant solar panel called Greeting to the Sun, & it uses energy from the sun & the wave patterns from below to create a giant light show with all sorts of patterns & different colored lights! How neat is that?

We spent a long time there taking pictures, dancing to Gabe’s iPod, & having the time of our lives. That’s definitely one of those kinds of moments that I’ll never forget.

Finally, after such a long day, we made our way back to the apartment on our terrible bikes. Mine had gotten a flat by then too, so we were basically all struggling & so relieved when we finally made it back! The rest of the night we spent taking showers & watching more movies with Croatian subtitles.

The next morning we said goodbye to Villa Vanilla & our great hostess Nella, & she gave us all little bags of lavender as our parting gift, since lavender grows wildly in Croatia. Then we were off on another ferry to another island, Uglijan. When we got off the ferry we thought that we were close to the apartment we would be staying at, but we kept wandering & wandering & we couldn’t seem to find it! Alexis found some kids playing outside of their house & asked them if they spoke English. One of the girls went to get her older sister for help, & when she came out, we gave her the name of our hotel & showed her the directions. It turned out that we were very far away, but the girl happened to be the sister of the godson of the owners of the hotel! How crazy is that? She explained to us that the street names were new & no one used them (because that would make too much sense, obviously), but she told us how to get there, so we were thankful. Then as we started walking she offered to give us a ride! We of course said yes, stuffed all our things in her little car & made our way over there. She went right up to the door to greet the family when we got there & we were ushered into our room right away. We couldn’t get over how nice they all were, & we were very impressed with the gorgeous views!

The rest of the day was wonderfully relaxing. We walked down to the water & I took a nap in the sun. Hollie & I wandered around the island for a while, finding a pretty church, lots of dogs, & some interesting statues & monuments along the way. When we got back to our room, we found a kitty sitting outside on the ledge. I thought he was especially cute, & then I realized it was because he was cross-eyed! He belonged to the family, we found out later, but we let him hang out with us for a while. We didn’t do much the rest of the evening except watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians with Croatian subtitles (I guess Croatians like their guilty pleasure TV too) & wait for dinner. Alexis made us delicious vegetable enchiladas, so we drank wine & stuffed our faces, having lots of good conversation & overall enjoying ourselves! It was another great night.

We got up early the next day to our cross-eyed kitty friend & a gorgeous sunrise, packing our bags to leave for our next destination on a ferry that we thought left at 8:30. However, it turned out that the ferry actually left at 8:15, so we had to hurry out of there & into our host’s car down to the ferry. We got our tickets just in time to make it back to the mainland! But the transportation issues weren’t quite solved yet, because when we made it back to Zadar & took a bus to the bus station, we found out that there were no buses to Plitvice Lakes that day for some reason, even though the internet had said there would be. We didn’t know what to do! We ended up finding a taxi driver that was willing to take us, & between the five of us, the price wasn’t TOO bad.

After a couple hours in the car, we arrived in Plitvice Lakes National Park, & after more trouble actually finding the place we were staying, we finally made it to House Boro! We were greeted by Boro, the man who owns the place, & once we got inside we realized that it’s really just his house with extra bedrooms for guests to stay in. It was really cute! And as a welcome gift, he made us Turkish coffee & gave us shots of homemade Schnapps. He wasn’t very confident of his English-speaking skills, telling us “My English is small,” but we asked him some questions about how to say certain things in Croatian. By this point we had learned a few words, so here’s your quick lesson on the Croatian language!

  • Dobar dan = literally translated it means “good day,” but that’s how they say hello
  • Hvala = thank you
  • Dobro = good, okay
  • Molim = please, you’re welcome
  • Kikiriki = peanut (not necessary but super cute word!)

After eating our lunch, we finally headed to the national park in Boro’s car. We paid our entrance fee & then we were free to explore! This was my favorite part of the entire week. The park was gorgeous with all of the trees, lakes & waterfalls. The water was so clear that you could see the bottom in most places & it was safe enough to drink! The waterfalls were beautiful, especially Veliki Slap, the biggest waterfall in Croatia. We also saw a cave, rode a ferry, & did lots of hiking! I spent a lot of time thinking & appreciating the beauty of nature. And of course we took a ton of pictures!

After spending an entire day appreciating nature & doing lots of walking, we were exhausted & very hungry. But when we were leaving the park, we got kind of lost & it was only by chance that we ended up right outside a grocery store where Boro happened to be! He came outside & drove by us in his car, laughing at us for being in such a random place & giving us a ride to a good pizza restaurant. We ended the day with some pizza & beer (yummmmmmm!) & then headed back home to House Boro where I showered, hung out with the girls, & got some much needed rest after a long day.

The next day was our last in Croatia. We ate an amazing homemade breakfast of different meats & cheeses, eggs & more Turkish coffee, cooked for us by Boro himself. After some goodbye shots of Schnapps for the road, we took a bus from Plitvice to Zagreb, the capitol city, where we would spend the day before going onward to Slovenia. The city was absolutely beautiful & very quaint. It was a lot more like the European cities I was used to, except it had lots of grass & flowers!

My favorite part of the whole day was the Easter market, which is a special tradition of some European countries around Easter time. They had little booths set up & were selling beautiful decorative eggs, handmade lace, embroidered cloths, jewelry, & more! They also had some food. All five of us shared two homemade pastries, one apple & one cherry, which were delicious. Hollie bought a sort of fried pastry with chocolate drizzled on top that we all got to try. So much good stuff! I bought a few gifts there too since everything was so cute!

After we had gotten everything we wanted at the market, we made our way to the history museum since we realized we didn’t know anything about Croatia’s history! (And I guess also because we had a couple hours to kill yet.) We followed the signs, but since we still had no idea where exactly we were going, we asked a guy sitting on a bench. Unfortunately, he didn’t know either, so we kept wandering & eventually found it. We stayed outside while Hollie checked prices, & the guy we had asked before found us again & started chatting with Alexis, telling her that he was a law student & he had an hour to kill before class if we wanted him to show us around. We decided to skip the museum & instead take him to a cafe to learn from him!

So that’s how we ended up hanging out with a native Croatian for an hour. His name was Vladimir, & he told us lots of interesting things about Croatia. For example, Croatia is about to be admitted into the European Union & he told us that a lot of Croatians don’t want that for particular reasons. Also he told us about the war between Slovenia & Croatia after the end of Yugoslavia, which sounded kind of like the Civil War with families being split up & everything. Then we went on the talk about the perception of Americans that Croatians have, how they don’t like us but listen to our music & learn our language & wear apparel with the American flag on it! It was really cool & eye-opening to hear about life from the perspective of someone who lives in a country most of us knew nothing about. Definitely made for a great end of our visit to Croatia.

Also, this isn’t related to anything but this was my favorite building in Zagreb:

After our lovely afternoon, we headed to the train station to carry on to Slovenia. I was sad to say goodbye to such a great country! If I learned anything in Croatia (besides a few Croatian words & that sometimes it’s possible to get REALLY lucky), it is definitely that the Croatian people are some of the nicest people I have ever met! We had so many problems on this part of our trip, but everyone was always so nice & willing to help. It definitely made our lives easier. That & the fact that pretty much everyone spoke English there! Overall, I had an wonderful time in Croatia — it was my favorite country that I had visited, because of the amazing sights, the nice people, & of course, my great travel companions.

Slovenia, here we come!