Week 20 & 21
The train from Slovenia to Croatia means you are leaving the Schengen Zone. (I have another post dedicated to Visa’s and zones etc). For this reason it is a patrolled border and when the train stops just prior to the border it quickly fills with heavily armed Slovenian police who are escorting Croatian immigration officials.
Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, the atmosphere in the train cabin changes, palpably. However we needn’t have worried about this exchange if Sam’s experience is anything to go by. He was sitting alone after being banished from the family for appalling behaviour. As the men with guns entered his cabin he glanced at them, cursorily, and went back to listening to his music. They made him take his headphones off (obviously 🙄) and demanded to know where he had come from and where he was going. After thinking hard on this for several seconds he looked up and replied “Actually, I have no idea”. This response both annoyed and stunned the officials enough to cause them to angrily stamp his passport and leave😂
A single night in Zagreb as a transit stop was probably a short sighted move because it’s a very cool city. To make the most of it we decided on a several hour bike tour. These and the walking tours give you such a great overview of a new city. There’s often so much to see in these places you just don’t know where to start and when you’re travelling long term you lose the impetus to carefully research every place you’re visiting before you arrive. Plus, we are largely go with the flow travel types 🤘
We were in Zagreb in the week leading up to Easter and it was adorable to see the trouble they go to for, what is, their largest Catholic celebration. We met a lovely Canadian girl who has been living and working in Croatia for years and she had some really illuminating things to say about political corruption and levels of general unhappiness with the state of social affairs in Croatia. Sounded tough and made us grateful to live where we do. Tourism over the last 20 years has saved their economy from collapse, but they are still losing all their best and brightest to central Europe and further afield. On the upside, she served some awesome poutine among all that depressing talk!
For me, the main reason I came to Croatia was to see Plitvice lakes. I don’t have a bucket list as such, but if I did, this would make it. We drove into Rastoke/Slunj and had our minds blown by the bizarre sight below. A tiny village built ON and OVER water and waterfalls. It was incredible and about the ONLY thing worth seeing in Rastoke 😂
Making our way to the lakes early the following day we picked up 7x hot chocolates at the dinky little local place for the bargain basement price of 20c each! We’d read lots of nightmare info about the lakes being worse than Disneyland in the summertime (the photos prove it), however, on arrival we knew it was going to be ok. The day was perfect and although there were people around, they didn’t detract from what I can only say was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.
You can’t swim at the lakes anymore – but you can swim in the same river if you stay in Rastoke or Slunj and TBH the lakes are so incredible you kind of don’t want to. Long day, but very, very rewarding. We missed Barb and Neil who were initially planning to join us, but ultimately couldn’t.
Onto Zadar which was a great little coastal town on a small island. We spent Easter long weekend here listening to church bells for about 24hrs solid. The joy of the bells in Europe haven’t worn off yet 😆 I can imagine they might over time.
It’s a brilliant fortified Adriatic town that required a little boat ride by the ‘Boatmen of Zadar’ to get to the old town. There’s a cool monument to the sun and an interestingly designed set of concrete stairs that allow the waves to lap up underneath them producing tones like an organ.
Incredibly, long term travel does very little to relieve a lot of the dross aspects of family life, like deciding what to have for dinner. Although perhaps it provides more time and opportunity to come up with some novel solutions to mundane problems!! We try to eat in as often as we can in an attempt to keep costs down….here’s our attempt to engage the children in dinner decisions!!!
The what do you want for dinner online survey!
Lots of things are more difficult whilst travelling. I have washed clothes in all permeations of what could be considered ‘a laundry’. From hand washing them in a river to using laundromats to the dark basements of apartment buildings to even having an old Italian nonna do it for us. We’ve shopped in 9 different countries supermarkets hunting for items in 6 different languages…..and you thought the weekly Countdown shop was time consuming. Additionally all the domestic ‘lifemin’ you accumulate at home doesn’t go anywhere either. In fact we still deal with all the usual stuff from home PLUS all the trip planning admin. Sigh, this long term travel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!!!!!
From Zadar we packed up the van AGAIN and after a quick look around the stunning Togir we arrived in Split. A bit of standard arguing over the bedding arrangements and we bunkered down in anticipation of our Croatian Island boating adventure!
Essentially cruising the islands on a chartered boat is hella popular and expensive. I had given up on the idea altogether until a chance online meeting with an American lady who put us in touch with a more affordable charter company. There’s something like 1000+ islands off the Adriatic coast. There are fast ferries that start running between the popular islands from end of April, or you can head out and stay on a few islands – there’s plenty of accommodation. But we are treating this whole trip as a tasting plate of sorts. So we want to ‘drop into’ as many places as possible, sleeping on the boat and essentially use it as a circuitous mode of transport between Spilt and Dubrovnik.
We were able to afford a 45ft motor yacht which once onboard appeared a little like the set up we have when we go camping, but with less room and MUCH smaller beds. We were introduced to our skipper ‘Eddie’, a 21yo chain smoking Croat who spoke not a lick of English and was of zero persuasion to try.
We were reassured he was one of Croatia’s imminent young sailors and certainly, apart from a little scrape here and there, he seemed to know what he was doing.
The weather was atrocious and despite being forewarned that the itinerary was far too ambitious for the timeframe even in good weather, we forged ahead! She’ll be right eh!!!! The next four nights passed in a blur of continual nausea, windy, choppy weather (interspersed with some sun), defrosting food, long walks to shower blocks and hot, stuffy sleepless nights – essentially camping, on the sea. Jordy was largely happy as she camps on the sea every summer and thought that the sleeping arrangements on this boat were better than what she was used to!!!!
Eddie turned out to be like all 21yo mumma’s boys. His expectation was that I would cook and clean for him. The islands were cool, but much like what we had already seen along that coast from Slovenia to Split.
All that said, looking back on it all now we laugh long and hard about some of the ridiculous situations we found ourselves in. Like the time Eddie insisted he knew how to play UNO. Then it transpired that he had absolutely no idea once the game got going but was too embarrassed to communicate. Or the time Andrew woke the girls up by screaming like a drill sergeant at the head of their bed only to have Jordyn bolt upright and almost knock herself unconscious on the bulkhead (one in a long line of Andrew’s cruel and unusual attempts at waking the girls. #dadlife)
We called into Brac, Hvar, Korcula and Mljet which was a nice little tasting plate of the famous islands now so popular with tourists. They each had their own charm and reminded us very much of the islands in and around Auckland.
We sailed into Dubrovnik Marina on a particularly rough day at sea and it was a welcome sight! The Marina was absolutely packed and watching the skippers “park” is entertainment in and of itself. The island season was just starting and there were throngs of backpacker-esque young people loading up supermarket trolleys with random food items and alcohol, ready to squeeze aboard all the chartered boats.
We thanked Eddie, who I think was happy to see the back of us too, and filled with the joy and confidence of dry land underfoot tried to get into town. Easier said than done it turned out. Dubrovnik was running it’s annual “Fun run marathon” and the marina was locked down. Nothing in or out. To pass the time while we tried to negotiate with some local drivers Sam decided to fracture his thumb!! Sam is consistent in his likeness to a dog. He has an uncanny ability to make good times better and bad times far worse.
We eventually got a good price to get into town via a very circuitous route which actually provided some amazing views of the old town from the South coast.
I had booked a few nights in a flash hotel anticipating our post boating moods. So we settled in there and paid crack cocaine prices for an extremely average lunch on a lovely terrace watching boats that looked like they’d come directly from the Iron islands of GOT.
The rest of our time in Dubrovnik was peppered with ups and downs. We found the old town and surrounds entirely overrun with tourists and kitsch tourist crap now that cruise season has started. It made our time there a struggle. We had a good chat with a couple of locals, both of whom benefit financially from the enormous influx of Croatian tourists over the last 20 years. They talked about how life has changed enormously for the little town, making it largely unlivable for many. Lots of families have had to relocate their spouses and children to Zagreb or elsewhere while one of them stays for the seasonal work.
I met a lovely Australian couple, both retired with adult children for whom travel is now a priority. We shared an impromptu lunch date and exchanged contact details. Turns out they live not far from my Mum on the NSW South Coast! With some luck we’ll call in on them at the end of the year.
Our ED hospital experience with Sam was insanely different to the environment I work in at home. They have cut all the corners to deliver a fast paced service that gets the basics right in the shortest amount of time possible for the least cost. I ended up having to ask a family friend and some colleagues at home for advice about how to manage the thumb and we sorted it that way (the joys of accidents while travelling).
Overall the food was average, the environment lovely but feeling the pinch of too many people. We enjoyed our walk around the wall, spending a little time with locals and our fancy hotel breakfasts.
I’d definitely return to Croatia, but only to hit up the areas not being advertised on every travel site in the universe. It didn’t have quite the same appeal for us as Slovenia…..but I think the gap between expectations and reality is starting to emerge on this trip. The psychology is interesting.
Items lost/broken/confiscated: (to the tune of 12 days of xmas) : “12 types of hairband, 11 single socks, 10 water bottles, 9 cremes and lotions, 8 USB sticks, 7 hats and beanies, 6 aftershaves, 5 ADAPTERS, 4 headphones, 3 mobile phones, 2 laptop chargers and a puffer jacket that was Nealieeee’s”.
Border control strong disapproval = 1
NEW favourite Mis-sung Lyrics: Taylor Swift. “I’ve got a long list of ex-lovers” = “I’ve got a long list of starbucks lovers”
Most Common argument Combinations: 1. Sam v Eve
2. Sam v Lily
3. Sam v Zac
4. Sam v Mum
Languages loosely learnt and forgotten = 5