What I learned in Croatia (The List)

1. If you want Zagreb’s Upper Town to yourself for wandering, it is deserted at 2 a.m. There is nothing more magical than having the city in your hands to breathe in. Even if nothing is open, to walk on the old streets, to see the gothic buildings, it is an amazing experience. Bonus points if you have someone with you to share the moment. And even more bonus points if the person is a cutie. A Hollywood ending. Almost.

2. For a trip back in time and an eerily beautiful moment of peace, wander around Zagreb’s Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s grounds. It is quiet — a great place to do some writing, thinking, or relaxing.  The unconventional tourist.

3. Plitvice Lakes National Park is quite possibly one of the most beautiful places on Earth. The bluegreen water, the waterfalls that lightly mist you as you walk by, the winding wooden paths — every turn is something new and more beautiful than the next. It’s about two hours from Zadar and Zagreb and a great day trip. Should you want to stay longer, there are a few hotels in the park. The prettiest day trip ever.

4. Don’t get lost. Or take the wrong bus. And, if you do, hope for the bus driver I had in Zadar. Quite possibly one of the kindest souls I have ever met. Remember — if you’re not sure what bus to take, or if the gate number is the seat number of vice-versa, ask. Croatian’s are remarkably wonderful and helpful. English isn’t a common in Croatia, but the closer you are to the tourist areas, the better chance you have. If someone doesn’t speak English, they will help direct you the best they can. I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers.

5. Take the time to stop in Zadar. If you are time crunched while traveling Croatia, it is a great starting point to kick of Adriatic coastal adventures.  There are a lot of ferries from the city, as well as tours of the surrounding islands. While visiting the old city, be sure to head to the water and swing by the Sea Organ. It’s haunting melodies still play in my mind. Plus, the grilled corn is delicious. A Hollywood ending. Almost.

6. Spend at least two days in Split. Climb to the top of the cathedral in the old city for captivating views of the entire city and Adriatic. Every nook and cranny in the main square has something wonderful. Next to the Lacoste shop is a great little food stop with delicious breakfasts cooked fresh while you wait. The egg sandwich is mouth-watering. This could be heaven.

7. While in Split, make sure you hit the beach. The one with the sand. It’s outside the old city and perfect for swimming, sunning and people watching. Plus,  if you have the right company, it will change your life. Instantaneous enlightenment on the Adriatic.

8. If you want to bare it all in Croatia, you can. There are plenty of nudie beaches up and down the coast to run around sans your skivvies. Just  mind where you jump. Birthday suits and Split.

9. An hour ferry trip from Split is Hvar, an upscale island covered in lavender. Hvar’s beaches are rocky and pebble-y. It’s not too bad, but if you want smooth sand, venture to a surrounding island. Renting a little motor boat won’t cost too much, and you can negotiate. Rocky, rocky, pebble-y, pebble-y.

10. A bathroom can lead to another bathroom. And, it is possible to shimmy from one bathing suit into another without revealing anything. Well, almost. Booze, boobs and a beach bar.

11. The sea is not free of dangers. Those little black spiky things in the water? They are not your friends. In fact, Sea Urchin are the devil. No, seriously. There’s WHAT in the water?

12. Never say “goodbye” to the travelers you meet. You never know, you may just cross paths with them again. It’s not “goodbye,” it’s “see you soon.”

13. The bus ride from Split to Dubrovnik is a MUST. Yes, you hug the cliffs, but you also see some of the most stunning sights on the Adriatic. The city of stairs.

14. Dubrovnik is a city of stairs. Be prepared. The city of stairs.

15. Opening yourself to new people, new places and new opportunities can change your entire world. A BRIEF intermission: My 30-Life-Crisis … Solved?

Do you have questions about Croatia? Tips you want to share? Be sure to leave a comment.

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The City of Stairs

I looked up at the stairs that seemed to rise to the sky. Panting. We had made it up the first few sets of stairs, me trying to balance the very unsteady bag I had on my back. I had specifically taken this piece of luggage for  my trip because it had wheels (!) and straps to turn into one massive backpack. But, it really wasn’t made to be balanced on a back. I could barely stand up straight, and when I was upright, it felt like the weight of the bag would have me topple over, down the stairs and back to Square One.

“Nope. No way,” I said, turning to Chopper, who was taking in the monstrosity of stairs beside me. “There is NO WAY I can carry my bag up those thousand stairs to the hostel. Let’s just go to your hostel instead. I don’t need to stay in the old city of Dubrovnik.”

“Come on, D,” he said. “You can do it.”

I had tried. Sweat was beading up on my forehead, my frustration with my ability to master those stairs with bag in tow was building to massive proportions.

“Chopper,” I said, trying not to seem whiny, “I really can’t do this.”

Instead of agreeing with me to turn back, he grabbed my bag and carried it up the rest of the stairs. I had been thankful for his company the entire time I had known him, but that moment, damn, the gratitude was  overwhelming. I knew if I had been by myself, there was no way I could have done that. There were A LOT of stairs. More than the cathedral towers I had climbed. More than the stairs up the mountain I had climbed in Israel.

Dubrovnik, this beautiful walled city in Croatia, was essentially a town of stairs. Restaurants had outdoor seating on the stairs; bars opened to them; stores lined them. All of these places were situated like they were on a normal walking path, except they were growing up the stairs.

And, even though I was in pretty decent shape, it kicked my glutes into high-gear. And my legs.

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The prettiest day trip ever

 

Before learning Jon was not going to be meeting me in Zadar, Amy and I adventured to Plitvice Lakes National Park.

After an hour of sleep, a haul to the bus station, and the pure adrenaline and hope pumping through my veins at what the day would bring, sinking into the seat on the bus was divine.

Quickly, my head bobbed to the window and sleep coursed through my blood. There were a few times along the way when my eyes would flutter open and I would marvel at the road we journeyed down. Amy had nudged me at one point to show me homes that had been destroyed by the 90s war; another time I was greeted with the sight of turn-of-the-century homes teetering over waterfalls and rushing waters.

When we finally arrived to Plitvice, you wouldn’t have known what was contained beyond the thick forest where we departed the bus.

To say Plitvice Lakes is a stunner would be an understatement. Its sheer technicolor natural beauty around each and every meandering turn is jaw-dropping. Its 16 turquoise lakes link together through waterfalls cascading down sheer rock cliffs. Unlike most water bodies I have seen, you can see straight to the bottom with astounding clarity. That twig resting on the lake floor? You can see even the most minute detail.

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The new roommate

Davor and I stood on Fulir’s balcony, overlooking the tiny shops and bar below. He was telling me a Canadian girl was staying here and also going to Plitvice Lakes the next day, and when she got back, he promised he would introduce us so we could take the bus together the following morning. He had tried to explain to me where the bus station was, but when I became exasperated because of my lack of map-reading skills, I just asked if him or Tin, a worker at the hostel I had befriended the night before, would come with me so I wouldn’t get lost. Instead of agreeing to that, Tin said he would drive me to the bus station to purchase the ticket.

It worked for me.

That’s when I saw Him on the street below.  He caught my eye immediately. Perfect height (I’d probably recon around 5’9 or so). Perfect weight (the right blend between athletic and non-athletic). And completely different from the typical guy.

He wore plaid shorts, a dark shirt and shiny gold-framed sunglasses. He had a healthy serving of tattoos on his arms and legs, and a lip ring hooped through the middle of his bottom lip. His brown hair was cropped close to his head.

There was no way he was staying at Fulir. He just didn’t fit the mold of a typical backpack-hostel-goer. But, he walked up the ancient, red colored stairs, pulled a key out of his pocket and walked through the yellow painted door into the room I was staying in. When he walked in I caught a glimpse of a tattoo peaking through his hair on the back of his head and melted just a little bit.

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