Sunday, 16 October 2016

Part 1: Coastal Road Trip in Croatia


A 2-day trip was just right for Dubrovnik, our most favorite city of 2016's summer vacation and probably the most touristic in Croatia for its beauty as well as fame that rests on "King's Landing" in the popular TV show Game of Thrones, but for those with a tight schedule the Dubrovnik City Walls are the must-see. Expect to spend 2 to 3 hours depending on individual pace and interest in photography; do not exit before completing the circuit, or you will have to spend another HRK120 for a ticket to re-enter; and last but not least also included in the ticket is Fort Lovrijenac, another point of view of Dubrovnik from which is worth a few more minutes walk west from Pile Gate. 
For stunning views of sunset over this historic gem, reach the city's highest point by Dubrovnik Cable Car which just so happens to open till late. Get away from the cable car station, go beyond to the other side of the hill and settle yourself down at a best position waiting for the sun to set down the layers of mountains from afar.
Do spend another day wandering inside the walls to admire Dubrovnik's old-world charm from the low ground. Octopus salad and fried small fishes are good choices for a light lunch on a hot day. Go further east from Banje Beach for another postcard photograph. If you fancy one more romantic sunset moment like we did, set out on a kayak with your beloved so that you will see the sun setting down below the mighty King's Landing over the Adriatic Sea.   


Trsteno Arboretum is nothing more than a botanical garden, which has become more well-known only after it was spotted in several scenes in Game of Thrones. It might be a good idea to make a brief stop there on your way up the coast unless you have a tight schedule for the day.


We arrived in Ston at midday and so of course our golden rule of "Eat before you walk" applied - Eat the mussels fresh caught from a mussel farm in Ston before you walk up the 7-km long defensive stone walls of Ston. Be sure to read reviews of restaurants before your trip as ratings could vary a lot. We had a very nice lunch at Stagnum before setting off for the strenuous but rather short hike up on the walls.  


Included in the coastal road trip in Croatia were a few detours north from Ston towards the inland Bosnia and Herzegovina. While this was one of those countries we normally tried to avoid on our travel bucket list, we could not resist exploring a couple of must-sees. Kravice Falls was not an easy place to find especially we made a mistake coming from the south. I believe the road would have been just a little more car-friendly from the other side. Not only is this one of the most beautiful falls we had ever seen, it also offers an exceptional up-close experience with the falls - Only if you do have the courage to immerse yourself in the freezing cold water whose temperature remains constant at around 8 degree Celsius all year long, then you could even shower under one of the mighty falls.


Although the most recognizable landmark in Mostar is the Old Bridge, the panoramic views of this charming medieval town from top of Koski Mehmed-pašina džamija is our favorite. 


Southeast of the Mostar basin is the village-town called Blagaj. The Blagaj Tekija was built into the 200 metre cliff walls at around in the 1500’s, with elements of Ottoman architecture and Mediterranean style.This dervish monastery with Turkish style elements is a national monument. The monastery consisted of various buildings but over the time not all of them survived. It was just a brief stop for a glimpse of its beauty from the outside. According to reviews guided tour of the Tekke and boat tour into the cave were below average anyway.
The rest of this day we were supposed to do some sightseeing of Modro Jezero and Crveno Jezero in Imotski back in Croatia and climb the Tvrđava Starigrad-fortica / Fortress Starigrad for a nice panorama of Omis in the sunshine. Unfortunately we had to do all these very briefly under the rain in the wind.


Unpleasant weather continued to strike the next day that led to cancellation of excursion to Blue Cave and Hvar Island. Our visit at the medieval fortress of Klis, another filming location of Game of Thrones, would have been nicer without strong winds.


Rain was minimal back in Split. There were quite a lot to see but with all attractions situated in the very center half a day would do. Climb to the top of the Saint Domnius Bell Tower for a unique view of the entire city and the central Dalmatian islands.


All our travel life we avoid joining "tours" as much as we could but we found no better way to get to the Blue Cave. As expected, part of the excursion was just fine and we did have lots of fun travelling on the speedboat. According to the itinerary, we were supposed to see the Blue Cave first thing in the morning, before going to Vis Island, Stiniva Bay, Green Cave, and finally Hvar town. We knew something was not right. Then we were told in the late afternoon that we could not enter the Blue Cave because of high tide. We were disgusted by the fact that we were chosen as the sacrifice of the day who did not get to see the Blue Cave at low tide among the enormous crowds of tour boats and that this scammer tour operator insulted our intelligence - even a fool understands that tour operators know exactly at what time of the day tourists should be brought to enter the Blue Cave as said on the timetable.


Unlike Kravice Falls in Bosnia, the spectacular Skradinski Waterfall was just too crowded and of course nobody could swim close enough to the falls. Allow a full day for Krka National Park to go also to the viewpoint for the tiny island of Visovac in the Krka river, and to the Roski Slap Waterfall.


This is a must-see of a lifetime. There is no need to buy a map. Just choose your route (A, B, C, or K) from the big map erected at entrance. Every route was well signposted on your way. Spend a full day for either C or K and you will not regret it! 
This evening we survived the 4-hour drive northwest, longest of the trip, to settle ourselves down for the last day in Croatia the next day.


Kamenjak National Park is situated on the most southern point of Croatia’s Istrian coast, a peninsula with natural stone terraces, pebbly bays and beaches, clear water, and caves. Entry by car costs HRK 40 and ticket must be purchased in advance in a tourist/souvenir shop somewhere in the town or you will be rejected at the gate.


The best of Pula is Pula Arena, the amphitheatre which is the only remaining Roman amphitheatre to have four side towers and with all three Roman architectural orders entirely preserved. Surely it is not comparable to the one in Rome, but it was nice to admire the structure just from the outside on a beautiful day.  We did not spend much time there, and neither did we focus on any particular attractions in Pula, as we set out with an aim of seeing the town itself.


To enjoy a panorama of Rovinj, our last Croatian coastal town, we climbed up the bell tower of Sveta Eufemija / Church of St. Euphemia. 


Perched on a hill some 227m above sea level, this captivating hilltop Istrian medieval walled town of Motovun-Montona is one of the characteristic symbols of the Istrian interior. With its elegant system of towers, walls, gates and piazzas, the hilltop village is a striking example of Venetian colonial architecture. You could easily have a postcard shot of Motovun from afar, but it is not as interesting from the inside as you would normally expect from a medieval town.
We planned to do a little sightseeing this evening in Piran, our last coastal destination, and point of entry to Slovenia, but as we ran out of time we had time only for a seafood dinner, which was delicious!

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