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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It’s not “goodbye,” it’s “see you soon”

 

Friday morning I had intended to get my massage. But, as I lugged my bag up the rolling coastal hills in Hvar to the spa, the crystal water called to me. Just one last swim in Hvar. You know you want to.

Instead of just gazing at the sun dancing in the water my last morning on the island, I decided to do a 180, and head back to the pebble beach where Shaun was.

Of course, being the impatient person I am, I ducked into a restroom at a restaurant to do a quick change into my suit, not paying a lick of  attention to the fact there was a door in the room where I changed. So, mid-change, a man walked through the door, looked at me strangely as I stood there, half in a bathing suit, half in a dress, and exited. Classy? You bet.

I did my best not to make eye contact with my bathroom buddy as I clumsily hauled my bag out of the restaurant, dodging chairs and tables and looks.

When I met Shaun down at the beach, she gave me a confused look.

“I just couldn’t do it,” I explained. “I would rather stay here with you and enjoy the last morning on the island then get a massage.”

She and I took in the late morning rays for about an hour. Then, as we were sitting there, laughing and exchanging stories of our last night out in Hvar — the topless woman from Hula Hula had made an appearance  (clothed) much to the boys pleasure, and Chopper had decided he was coming with me to Dubrovnik — when a girl wandering along the path just above us caught my eye.

Her brown hair and sunglasses looked familiar. Could it be …

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There’s WHAT in the water?!?

When we awoke Thursday morning, it was a beautiful and bright blue day in Hvar. After enjoying the refreshing views of the sea from Green Lizard’s outdoor kitchen/terrace, the six of us — Mel, Shaun, Chopper, Lauren, Emma and I — headed to grocery in town to pick up food and drink for our beach picnic.

Chopper negotiated the boat rental — a small boat decked with an awning and motor — for around $350 KN (not a bad deal for a full day rental, split among six), and then we all piled into the tiny thing.

I don’t like boats.

I was in one of those teeny tiny things when it almost flipped over in the middle of the St. Lawrence River during a storm. I can clearly recall the white-knuckle-death-grip I had on my friend’s leg as the boat dangled precariously in the air, nearly parallel with the choppy white-capped water; the massive tears of relief that spilled from my eyes when we made it safely to the shore; the hour it took for me to catch my breath and calm down. So yeah, I don’t like little boats where your fingers can touch the rushing water below.

Thankfully, Chopper seemed to know what he was doing. And, this trip was about pushing my comfort levels. Who was I to skip out on some Croatian island hopping because of a nasty boat ride I had nearly nine years ago to the day?

As we motored out of the harbor and towards the break in the islands, nude beaches greeted us. Well, really the nude beaches were large rocks, jutting out into the water, with naked bodies spread atop. We were far enough away where all that could be seen were tan bodies. Luckily.

“OK, get ready,” announced Chopper as we passed between two islands and out into more open water. “We’re heading into the high seas.”

My hear rate quickened momentarily, my grip grew a little tighter on the side of the boat, and my feet planted more firmly to the floor, and we kept on motoring. Nothing bad happened. After a moment, and noticing everyone else on the boat was simply delighted to bump over the wake created from the other crafts on the water, I calmed. Chopper was a great captain. And, even if we were to flip into the water, I could see straight to the bottom and knew there was almost nothing in this crystal clear Adriatic.

Well, nothing except SEA URCHIN.

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Booze, boobs and a beach bar

At the dock, about 15 woman, most of them older, stood crowded around the boat ramp, awaiting the boat’s passengers to disembark so they could descend on them. They all clutched laminated one-sheets boasting color photos of their sobes. As soon as people would begin to walk off the boat, they would commence hounding to rent their rooms.

“You need a room?” “I’ll give you a good deal.” “I’m in the city.” “My home is beautiful.” And so it continues until you either tell them you are not interested, have other lodging, or are able to escape unscathed, beyond the fortress of sobe owners.

As a traveler, it is overwhelming to depart a boat, or a bus or a train and be surrounded by people trying to hawk their rooms at you. I get it, but sometimes you just want to get off whatever mode of transportation you are on and not have to dodge, weave or otherwise avoid being chased after.

I planted myself just outside the group of women to avoid the chaos and to survey the passengers for Mel and Shaun.

I waited. And waited. And waited.

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Rocky, rocky, pebble-y, pebble-y

 

I slowly hauled my belongings from Booze & Snooze down to the port that Wednesday morning, anxious to just get on the catamaran and head to Hvar.

I stood, perched at the ramp to the Jadrolinija catamaran, the country’s main ferry system that weaves through Croatia’s islands and across the Adriatic to Italy,  until after boarding had started with the hope Mel and Shaun would come bounding down from their hostel, bags on their backs, ready to go.

Only, they never did.

I love traveling solo, I really do. I feel like you meet more people when you are by yourself. If you want social interaction traveling solo almost forces you to be a little more outgoing, a little more friendly, than you would in normal life. It also creates a fascinating dynamic — you make friends fast and furious — and then move on and do the same thing, town after town.

I really liked Mel and Shaun, so when the boat pulled away from the dock, it made me sad they were not there, too. I was, once again, solo. But I knew, as my previous travel experiences had dictated, I would meet new and fascinating people as soon as I was ready.

My antics from the night before were starting to catch up with me, along with the throbbing in my ankle. For now, I wanted to zone out and breathe in my trip to that point. 

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Instantaneous enlightenment on the Adriatic

I stood, trusty bag at my side, next to the catamaran docked at Split’s port, waiting. My bloodshot eyes told the tale of the night before, even though my body did not. It was nearly 11:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, and I was pretty sure amidst sipping the local Croatian beer and shots of  Jagermeister the night before, plans had been made to meet at the ferry and take the 11:30 boat to one of Croatia’s island gem’s – Hvar.

However, as I walked onto the boat, my recollections and the truth seemed to be battling it out.

Earlier that morning, a group of us were at a “nightclub” overlooking the beach, toasting a night out in one of the most stunning places most of us had ever been.

And even earlier, I had been on the beach with Simon, soaking in the warm Adriatic Sun and marveling that even hundreds of yards out into the aquamarine glittery water, my feet could still touch the sea floor with no problem, and I could see the color of nail polish adorning the smallest of my toes.

The Adriatic Sea had certainly taken ahold of me that sunny Tuesday afternoon. Just feeling its cool water rush over me as I swam out, deeper and deeper, washed a sense of calm over me. Something I hadn’t felt in a long time.

And Simon had, in one brief instance, managed to change my mindset on life – and had unexpectedly made me question everything I had essentially trusted up until that moment as fact.

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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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