Croatia is a pretty fascinating country. Not only is it beautiful and offers incredible sites to see, but it also offers a rich history and culture, of which I was unaware before visiting. I had booked a spot on a sailboat through Croatia, on the recommendation of many a friend who said it would be one of the best experiences of your life. The idea of being able to stay in the one room while visiting multiple regions of Croatia was appealing, and the opportunity to meet more people even more so!
I landed in Split, and while the airport was potentially one of the WORST airports I have been to (and was reinforced on the journey out of Split), the trip into the centre of town was cruisey. I got lost in the centre of town, a). because Google Maps doesn’t work and b). because Google Maps is actually wrong and doesn’t include streets that exist in the old centre. But there are no cars permitted and the worst you have to deal with is the bustle of like-minded tourists also attempting to navigate. As I was sure that the next week in Croatia was going to be crazy, I took the opportunity for some quiet alone time to write, recharge, enjoy coffee and explore. (Warning people, while they may hike up the prices over summer, Croatia isn’t nearly as cheap as I thought it would be!)
The walking tour of Split was an excellent way to explore and learn about Croatian history and culture. We started in the Diocletian’s Palace, which was essentially an open palace built as the retirement home of the Roman Emperor Diocletian way back in the 4th Century AD. Today, it forms the “Old City” of Split, with people living within its walls today. The Palace was originally constructed with 4 main entrances; the Gold Gate, Silver Gate, Bronze Gate and Iron Gate, with each entrance assigned to different classes of visitor (Of course the Emperor entering via the Golden Gate). The Bronze Gate originally backed onto the Sea, but today, there lies the Promenade filled with restaurants and the harbour filled with a huge array of boats, ships and luxury yachts. The Palace itself was incredibly easy to get lost in, but also easy to find yourself; being not so large and once you hit an outer wall, you knew where you were again. It was filled with speciality shops, bakeries, restaurants, the Cathedral and main square, clothes shops and Game of Thrones memorabilia. The Diocletian’s Palace was a filming site for the 4th season of GoT!
The History of Croatia was absolutely fascinating, with so many different changes of hands, from the settlement by the Illyrians, take over by the Roman Empire, the Venetians, the Ottoman Empire, then even Austria took control for a while after a brief period of French rule. It then entered into a union to create Yugoslavia by the merger of State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, which remained this was until World War II, and in 1941 was occupied by Germany and Italy. It was only in 1991 that Croatia declared independence with Dubrovnik joining in 1992. No wonder the Croatians speak so many different languages! Our tour guide’s own grandmother was born in Northern Croatia when the Venetian Empire was in control of the region, and to this day declares herself Italian, and refuses to speak any language other than Italian. Each tour guide I met spoke at least three or four different languages fluently and seemed to slip between them with absolute ease.
On my only full day, I decided to go on an excursion to Krka National Park, as I had heard that the walks and waterfalls were absolutely incredible. I found the little museum of the water mills and old farming town interesting, and the walks along the boardwalk were enjoyable, but absolutely packed with people (and I apparently went on a quieter day!). I was so grateful to have downloaded my special app where I could delete people- just check out the difference!
On my final solo night in Split, I treated myself to an early dinner and hiked up the Marjan Park Hill to enjoy the sunset. I had been warned that the promenade of Split would be busy due to a memorial service of one of the country’s National heroes and singers, Oliver Dragojevic, but I was not prepared for HOW busy it was going to be. It was almost impossible to move against the crowds, but once I was away from it all, it was a pretty impressive sight to look back on. Navy ships led a procession out of the harbour with thousands of people singing and bidding farewell to what must have been an incredible man. The views of the sunset were spectacular and definitely worth the hike.
The next day marked the start of seven nights on a boat. The boat was by no means luxury, and I was not expecting this at all. Small, hot rooms, showers over the toilets, limited space. But my oh my, what a fun week. Upon meeting our fellow passengers and having our first meal together on board, we were off to the island of Hvar.
After taking a water taxi to the island itself, we made the trek up to the magnificent look out of the fortress. From such a high vantage point it was easy to see why the spot was chosen for its defensive viewpoint. The views back over the city were simply incredible. Our first group dinner and we had the choice of “normal food” or “Asian”, and while I was keen to try some Croatian delicacies, I wasn’t disappointed. After a few drinks we were off to a bar for more drinks and a boogie and my lordy was it hot and sweaty in there. There is absolutely no point wearing any makeup when going out in Croatia because it will end up by your knees in the first fifteen minutes of dancing. We then took another boat to another smaller island to enjoy more dancing and more drinks, only to return to the main island for late night bakery delights before bed.
A change in schedule meant that we were in for a long day of sailing to Dubrovnik, home of King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. We were to stay for two nights, and I was super excited for the Game of Thrones walking tour! The first day, as we were on the boat for most of the day, involved a quiet, subdued dinner after everyone had gotten day-drunk at happy hour. The following day was for exploring Dubrovnik properly! The sites were spectacular and easy to picture what scenes they were a part of (if you were imaginative enough to take out the hoards of people!). Dubrovnik and the old city was amazing. The uniform white stone of the streets and the buildings instantly took you back in time and it felt so large, so much bigger than I had imagined. Oh! And it rained! For the first time in MONTHS, I felt RAIN! I wasn’t even upset, it was refreshing and brought a little bit of relief from the unrelenting heat. Again, a night out on the town and far too much alcohol for all. We partied in a castle, which had a stupid system of requiring you to scan your entry ticket to leave- who keeps those things? The scary event occurred on a bus, where myself and one other girl from my boat noticed that another VERY drunk girl was wearing the same bracelet as us, meaning she was on another boat from the same company. She tried to get off early and we told her that she could get off with us and we would help find her boat. When it came time for our stop, we tried to get her to come off with us, but she refused and sat down again. The doors closed before we could get her off and she rode off. We informed one of the staff members when we got back to our boat, but it was something that definitely played on my mind for the next couple of days, but also questioned how someone could get so drunk in a strange place. I guess in these environments it’s easy to think you are safe and have friends that would look out for you, but at the same time, anything can happen!
Next morning, after a very hot and unrestful night, we were off to Mlijet. It must be that they have to include this in the itinerary to give everyone a quiet night, as there is no nightclub and a curfew of 11pm. I definitely wasn’t complaining, nor were many others. The island included a National Park with a few lakes which were beautiful to walk around, and I took the opportunity to get in some exercise and walk around the larger one (unfortunately we didn’t get there early enough to get the full way around), so I stopped for a swim stop and returned to the boat. The National park was absolutely beautiful, and you could kayak, rent bikes, swim. It was amazing.
Next day we were off to Korcula, which was my favourite island and spot in Croatia. We explored a beautiful little sea-side promenade filled with restaurants and a little market, beautiful quaint stone streets and buildings filled with shops, houses and restaurants. It was a quieter and smaller area to town, but still had a bit of a bustling nightlife. There were a few other boats at Korcula that evening, and we all ended up at the one bar where the best music (classic 90s hits) and when the club closed at 2am to the Looney Tunes theme “That’s all Folks”, we wandered to the local pizza shop and back to the boat. It was my kind of night out for sure.
The following morning we were all looking a little worse for wear, but when we were reminded we all had either Ziplining or Canyoning in the afternoon, we perked up. I had been Canyoning in New Zealand, which was amazing, but decided Ziplining was the activity for me that afternoon. The scenery was mindblowing. Ziplining over 700m, 150m in the air was exactly what was needed to kick the hangover. That evening, in Makarska, we had our “Pirate Party” where we went out to the club in a cave, aka Cave Rave. The music was a little average, but with the right group of people, it was still a blast. That evening was potentially the best nights sleep I had, as I slept on the roof of the boat. It was only when the hot sun came out at 8am that I felt too hot and had to get some shade.
That day, we sailed back into Split after a brief pitstop at the beach, where we partook in a beach water aerobics class, half in English, Half in Croatian, conducted by a lovely and very fit man in a bright red speedo, and the afternoon activity of rafting. I can’t say that the rafting was overly difficult or adrenaline pumping, more so a gentle cruise down the river and one moderate drop, with the boat uneven due to one side of the boat significantly slacker than the other. (I, of course, was on the strong side. LEFT SIDE. STRONG SIDE.) The last night, we were all convinced to head out for one last drink all together as a group. A great way to finish with a great group of people.
By coincidence, I had booked the exact same hotel with two girls from the boat; New Zealanders living in London. We headed over to the hotel, handed over all of our washing, and wandered back into town for lunch. I treated myself to a massage while the gals napped, and then we all went out for one final evening meal together, at a great little restaurant called “Kod sfinge vaneuropske zviri”. It was a little family-run restaurant that served delicious fresh seafood and Croatian specialities. YUM.
A funny little side note- one of the New Zealand gals had seriously swollen feet. I guess a side effect of plane travel, too much alcohol, not too much activity and salty food. Not only did we stop in to get some compression socks, but the Pharmacist also suggested some natural diuretics, which apparently worked a treat. She was not the only one on the boat to experience the swollen feet side effects! Be careful people!