One Night In Zagreb

For us, Zagreb was a bit of an incidental destination.

Originally we had planned to fly into, and then out of, Croatia’s capital city at the start and finish of this year’s summer holiday. When we changed our mind and decided to drive to the Balkans instead, we hung onto our hotel rooms in Zagreb for one night, and made it part of our trip home.

The four hour drive from Split to Croatia  was a fairly sedate one, mainly on motorway and broken up only the conclusion of our third ‘Stephen Fry Reads Harry Potter’ cd.

We did find the clouds sitting heavily atop the bare, rocky mountain range we drove alongside worth a photo or two though.

cloud topped mountains croatia

Zagreb was a much bigger town than we expected. The kids were ecstatic as we passed not one, but two, McDonalds on our approach. As far as they were concerned, this meant civilisation!

We stayed in the Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, which has got to be one of the nicest places we’ve ever stayed, anywhere. It’s decorated in Art Deco style, the rooms are large and solid and it’s 10-15 minutes walk to the town centre. It’s probably a bit upmarket for the likes of us, but we really enjoyed our night in luxury there, and they could not have made us more welcome. They even had a valet to drive our filthy, crisp-packet strewn car to the hotel carpark for us. He didn’t blink an eye at the state of our vehicle, although he did try and climb in the wrong side to drive off initially.

Esplanade Zagreb Hotel

We originally booked two rooms, but they moved us into a beautiful suite and threw in a complimentary breakfast. The youngest two had to sleep on a sofa bed, but they didn’t mind and they loved the spa bath which was almost big enough for them to swim in. DH was happy because they had people to help get our luggage to our room and the children were happy with the WiFi that allowed them to enjoy an hour or so of Minecraft before we headed out to explore a little.

Esplanade Zagreb rooms

As we were only there for one night, we didn’t have much time to look around Zagreb but we did get out for a bit of a wander. We went next door and watched the fountain and colourful trams for a bit before heading towards the city centre for dinner. In the end, we couldn’t agree on anything we all wanted to eat ( the kids were tired and fussy by this point) so we just had a drink, walked back to the hotel and ordered room service. The kids were ecstatic to find fish fingers on the menu!

watching fountain in Zagreb

We all slept well; the beds were probably some of the most comfortable we’d had during the four weeks we were away, and we really enjoyed the breakfast the next morning. There was everything you could think of laid out buffet style, and hot dishes, such as eggs benedict and pancakes, were available to order. Best of all there were many other kids around, including a couple of screaming babies, so our lot weren’t the noisiest kids in the room for once.

Halfway through the meal, DS went off to the toilet, and came back wittering on about a ‘quiet room’ that he wanted to show us. So we’d packed, and DH was checking out, we traipsed after him to take a look. It was a huge ballroom, all decked out in white and crystal. When a staff member came along and caught us peering through the door, he ushered the kids in, turned the lights on and wanted to show it off to us. The kids got up on the stage and sung a few songs to enjoy the amazing acoustics but I was terrified that they would break something!

emerald ballroom

 And then that was it, our car was driven round and packed for us and we were off to our next one-nighter on our way home to the UK.

Zagreb is widely underrated as a place to visit in its own right, as most people probably fly in, then race off down to the coast to Split and Dubrovnik, but there are plenty of parks, museums and galleries to explore; we could have easily spent a couple of days here. And despite being vastly superior, the accommodation was half the price of the hotel we stayed in in Dubrovnik. It would be a great place for a city break, with or without children and we will definitely be back for more.

 

 

 

 

 

The Rest Of The Holiday: Split

I know this is a long overdue post, but two days after we got home, I came down with cellulitis and  today, 4 days later, I still feel barely able to type a coherent sentence…

So we are safely home and for the last 5 night we have been able to sleep in our own beds. It was my pillow that I missed the most I think.

We left Dubrovnik after three nights there, and headed north for Split. Because of an oversight when buying car insurance on the way down into Bosnia, we ended up taking a bit of a detour that involved a car ferry, rather than using the usual coastal road that zips across Bosnia.

From there we headed to Split for 2 nights, then started driving home, stopping for a night at a time in Zagreb ( Croatia), Salzburg( Austria), Triesenberg (Liechtenstein) and finally, our old standby, Reims( France). On our way back we also drove through Slovenia and Switzerland. Our children are now quite familiar with the geography of these parts of Europe.

Split

Split is one of the popular seaside towns of Croatia, and is built around the ancient Roman Palace of the Emperor Diocletian, and its bay and port.

Split bell tower

We really liked Split and found it less Touristy than Dubrovnik. There are plenty of tourists, of course, but they seem to be less concentrated; maybe there are more local visitors as we certainly didn’t hear as much English spoken in the crowds.

The ‘Old City’ is much smaller and there is also a ‘Not So Old’ area to wander around as well. We really liked the way the Old and New exist right next door to each other. Split hasn’t tried to renovate everything and there are bits of Old Split propped up by newer buildings built right alongside then. Every corner you turn presents you with something different.

old next to new in Split

There were some cheesy Roman Soldier reenactments, performed in Croatian, but we got the idea. It was quite a sight to see them marching in and out of the ancient ruins though.

roman soldiers in Split

We enjoyed exploring both the old and new towns, eating delicious sandwiches, mimicking statues and even spent a quarter of an hour looking at an exhibition of stuffed frogs frozen in various human poses.

What I didn’t like was the slippery smooth and uneven cobblestones. I managed to fall over a couple of times; once I took a small child down with me. Only my pride was hurt.

And at least there were plenty of bits of  fallen masonry to sit on when that happened.

Sitting in Split

And as in many places we visited in the Balkans, there was plenty of ice cream to sample.

Croatian icecream

We stayed in a couple of  rooms owned by Apartments Gajeta, which were clean and centrally located, but involved quite a trek with our luggage through the town.  We had an apartment for four ( with washing machine-hurray!) and one for two, but while they were close, they weren’t in the same building. DH shared with DD2 and I had the others. The first night I shared the sofa bed with DS but it so uncomfortable that I made the girls sleep there the following night; they weren’t impressed either. Both apartments had air conditioning, fridges, WiFi and dishwashers but both were on the second floor of some rather steep stairs. My knee didn’t like them very much at all, so these apartments would not be suitable for anyone who had major difficulties with stairs.

We only got to spend a couple of nights in Split but would like to spend longer and visit some of the offshore islands, as well as spend more time downtown.

 

 

Three Nights in Dubrovnik

First things first, Dubrovnik is hideously expensive.

The food is mediocre, a small bottle of soda can set you back £4, and the town is often crammed full of tourists off the cruise ships that dock 1, 2, 3 at a time.

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We booked our accommodation months ago. Normally we stick to B&B type places or apartments when we stay in big cities for more than one night, but DH couldn’t find anything that would take 6 people except for a large hotel about 10 minutes taxi ride from the Old Town.

We had two rooms booked at the Grand Hotel Park for three nights, but when we arrived after driving from Perast, they offered us a two bedroom apartment for the same price. One room contained a double bed and there were three beds in the other room, but they managed to squeeze a 4th converted sofa sort of bed into the larger room as DS is still pretty small. It still cost around £400 a night ; for example nights this was only a little less than the cost of the villa we rented for a week in Perast.

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The kids liked the hotel, especially the pool, although the salt water was a bit of a shock apparently.

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But for such expense, you’d expect top notch accommodation in most towns; not in Dubrovnik.

The hotel was clean enough, the staff were friendly and the beds were comfortable but there were little niggles like remote controls, showers and lights not working. The lifts were tiny, they only fit 6 people at a time so it took ages to get luggage up to our room, then back down to the car again.

And although the food was fine, I hated the buffet meal experience; I think it reminded me of boarding school.

Dubrovnik Old Town was a short cab ride away. There are frequent buses and of course we could have driven, but the parking situation is said to be dire.

But despite the cost, we did have a nice time. We went over to Stari Grad a couple of times and just wandered around with no particular agenda.

The first time we paid some money and headed up to the walls. These are very high up, involve a lot of stairs and are not completely secure if you have small children who like to lean over walls but there are plenty of views to enjoy, and many nooks to explore.

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It was very hot, so we only did the South wall, which runs beside the sea. It took us around 40 minutes and we moved at an extremely leisurely pace, watching boats, kayaks and people swimming I the ocean far below as we walked.

When we came down off the walls, we walked a few streets away from the main Stradum and stopped for a cold drink and some pizza. We’ve eaten a lot of pizza in Europe. We’ve eaten almost as much ice cream.

Ice cream is an essential part of the Dubrovnik experience, especially with children. Carry wet wipes at all times.

Drink prices in Dubrovnik can vary quite a bit depending on where you go. You can be charged up to 4 euros for a small bottle of lemonade if you drink at the top of the cable car or close to the main street. Walk down a few side streets and you’ll save yourself at least a euro.

After our lunch we went down to the port to take a closer look at the boat trips avaliable for the next day. We passed a lady advertising a glass bottomed boat tour leaving in the ‘next 5 minutes’ and the kids fell for her patter. To be honest, so did I. DH didnt; he said it would be shit and it was.

He paid up anyhow but the trip was over crowded, there was no commentary, we saw only a few small fish and some sea urchins and none were especially interesting or colourful. On the plus side, we got a pleasant boat ride around an island, saw a couple of big caves and the kids got a good look at a local nudist beach. I don’t think it scarred them too badly.

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The following day we returned and took the cable car up to the top of the mountain standing over Dubrovnik. There wasn’t much of a queue and it wasn’t too scary and you do get an amazing view of the coast, but I couldn’t help wonder why they didn’t build a viewing platform that didn’t overlook the cables.

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There is a restaurant and a souvenir shop at the top but if you buy anything, you’ll be paying top kuna.

We enjoyed our stay in Dubrovnik and the kids loved the hotel and pool.

Dubrovnik is a gorgeous town but it was just a bit full of tourists for my liking. I’d certainly enjoy it better if I had it all to myself.

I’m not sure we’d bother going back for any length of time as we saw a lot of places we’d love to go back to and I just didn’t feel the love for Dubrovnik.

I certainly don’t regret including it in this tour of Europe through; we can now claim we’ve been there, done that.

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The Gallery: World Photography Day

Monday just gone was World Photography Day and for this week’s Gallery we were challenged to take a photo of something that we were doing that day.

In our case, we were driving from Dubrovnik to Split, in Croatia.

Most people take the main motorway, along the coast, but due to a mix up we found ourselves without car insurance for the 15 miles it takes to cross from Croatia to Bosnia and back into Croatia again. Investigation in Dubrovnik suggested that is wasn’t going to be easy to get any; they didn’t sell it at that border and our normal UK insurance didn’t cover us.

We considered driving without insurance, as it seemed they didn’t check whether you had it before you went through the border, but we worried we might have an accident or get stopped by the police, and in the end we decided to take an alternative route out onto a peninsula that effectively overshoots the troublesome bit of Bosnia. The road was just a little winding B road, but was fine and eventually got us to Trpanj, where we caught a car ferry to the port of Ploce then carried on up the coast without ever leaving Croatia. Our insurance remained valid the whole time.

While queuing up for the ferry with a lot of locals, Italians and Germans (we were the only GB car on board) I took this photo of a beautiful rocky outcrop topped with a statue of the Madonna.

The water was so smooth, it looked like the rocks were floating, suspended between sea and sky.

For more World Photography Day photos, check out The Gallery over at Sticky Fingers today.

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Islands And Bridges

When you are driving around a country, staying a night here and a couple of nights there, you end up doing a lot of loading, and unloading, of luggage.

In our case DH does a lot of the loading and unloading. DD1 is old enough to help him. I can pull a wheelie suitcase while wearing a backpack and carrying a couple of extra bags with the best of them, but my sore knee make it very difficult for me to carry stuff down stairs, so I’m usually on child care duty.

Both DH and I have remarked that we don’t think we have as much luggage as we have had before. Two big suitcases, one medium and a couple of decent sized soft sided wheelie bags. Plus a back pack each, and a few carrier bags full of car activities and screens for easy access.

Most of the places we’ve stayed at have had parking right outside the rooms but the hotel we were staying in on Tuesday night was on an island and we had to park about 15 minutes away. That’s a whole lot of ferrying luggage back and forth in temperatures in the high 30s (C).

We stayed the night on Trogir, a small island between the Croatian mainland and the island of Čiovo, about 27km West of Split. Our hotel looked old from the outside, but had been totally renovated internally in 2006. It had comfortable beds, good showers, air conditioning and room for three people per room. We all slept well as the previous couple of nights had been spent in much less luxurious surroundings.

Trigor itself was full of cobbled streets, restaurants and tourists. Tourism is a very important part of the economy and you can see why; it’s a gorgeous place with a medieval core of a preserved castle and tower and a series of dwellings and palaces, all surrounded by walls. We wandered around in a bit of a daze, admiring the old structures as well as the fantastic luxury boats and street entertainers on the water front.

Trigor looking back from waterfront

There was also plenty of choice of restaurants for somewhere to eat. And plenty of icecream stands for dessert…

But the next morning we had to pack everything up again and drag it halfway across the island to the car. We stopped to buy more cheap sunglasses on the way, but we were all gasping by the time we got back to the car.

From Trogir, we drove down to one of the major borders and drove into Bosnia. Our car insurance doesn’t cover non EU countries, so we had to purchase some 3rd party insurance in the no mans land between the borders.

To be honest, it seemed the bloke checking the paperwork couldn’t have cared less.

Now we are in Mostar, where we will stay for two nights. We are staying in a very comfortable Pansion with three rooms, of which we have two.

It’s very hot here at the moment, almost 40C during the day, so we have only gone out in the morning and in the evening. The rest of the time we have spent in our A/C rooms trying not to overheat.

Mostar is another city with a past. Between 1992 and 1993, after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the town was subject to an 18 month siege.  During the conflict, the Old Bridge was destroyed but has since been restored, along with the surrounding structures and historic neighbourhoods. This rebuilding project was initiated in 1999 and mostly completed by Spring 2004.

The restored Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia

We have not over exerted ourselves in Mostar. Time has been spent time watching the divers- young men who leap from the bridge, but only after enough tourist Euros have been collected, wandering the slippery cobble stoned streets in search of fridge magnets and postcards, watching busloads of tourists wander around in untidy groups and stopping frequently for cold drinks, and ice cream.

shopping in Mostar

When the heat has proved too much, we’ve retreated to our rooms, 50m from the Old Bridge, and read or watched TV until it cooled down again.

We’d liked to have explored a little more and perhaps gathered a little more information about the now not so recent conflicts that tore this city apart. You can see the scars and old wounds everywhere in the form of ruined buildings and bullet holes. When we explained what we knew to the kids, they were a little bit scared, but also excited by being able to see the evidence of what went on for themselves.

Tomorrow we leave for a week in Montenegro, but we’d like to revisit Mostar and Trogir sometime, touristy as they are.

Maybe we could come back sometime when it’s not so hot?

 

Lies and Waterfalls

On Monday we spent a long hot day traipsing through Plitvice National Park.

It’s full of lakes and we spent a lot of time walking over rather uneven, rickety board walks that took us past and over waterfalls, crystal clear pools containing ducks and fish, and fast moving streams.

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It’s all very beautiful, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it before, but it was hot and, as per usual for our family,  things didnt go exactly to plan.

The information board at the entrance advised us that the shortest walk we could do would take ‘2-3’ hours.

This made me nervous. My dodgy knee can just about 3 hours of walking if everything is on the level. Add stairs and/or slopes to the walk and it’s much less.

And DD2 and DS are both hypermoble, so they struggle with walking more than a couple of hours too.

It was a recipe for disaster really, especially when we realised that we had to walk 20 minutes just to catch the bus-train that would take us up into the mountains.

The girls kept asking how long the walk would take and I’m afraid we were not entirely honest with them about the expected time scale. Once they’d  finished grilling us, they were rather under the impression that we’d be walking for oh, around 30-40 minutes.

All went ok for the first 2 hours. We strolled between the trees on the wide, well-marked paths. We enjoyed the exquisite scenery and the way the light struck the water at different angles.

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The kids loved watching the fish and we sat beside a couple of inquisitive ducks to eat our sandwiches.

There were lots of little waterfalls and a handful of big, very impressive ones. I can only imagine what they are like in  the spring time.

There was also a no swimming rule, which was understandable, but the water looked so, so inviting sometimes. Remarkably we didn’t see anyone flouting this rule; from what we’ve seen, people in this area of Europe do not seem to be that hot on following rules.

But there were rather a lot of stairs and slopes, and after two hours, my knee was not happy. I took an ibuprofen and asked DH if he thought it would be another hour or longer.

There were some signs pointing the way you should go if you wanted to take a particular route but there was no indication of times. Just as well, as DD2 heard my question and she was not impressed at the prospect of walking for another hour or so.

In fact she threw a pretty impressive tantrum at the thought of having to walk perhaps another hour.

Despite the very warm weather, it seemed that everyone in Croatia was up for a wander around the Lakes. The path was crowded with people who obviously found the sight of a tweenager throwing a strop quite entertaining.

Finally we got DD moving again, but it was too late. My knee decided enough was enough, DS’s legs got sore and DD3 fell down a bank while looking for a ‘walking’ stick. DD2 discovered she had blisters and became hysterical again.

DD1 helpfully started talking about the wolves and bears in the park, then stabbed my foot while holding my walking pole for me. I swore profusely and DH, quite understandably, suffered a complete sense of humour failure.

There were tears. We found a vacant bench, sat down and had something to drink, applied plasters and psyched ourselves up for the final push.

Finally, we could see something promising through the trees. It didn’t look that far, as the crow flew, but the path seemed to curve away from what we could see, so DH volunteered to go ahead.

He was back less than 10 minutes later  with good news. The boat that would take us across the lower lake, so we could make our way up to the car park, was within touching distance.

Unfortunately for me, there were steps involved but I hobbled down them and soon we were on the boat, crossing the lake.

I spoke to the man who was in charge of loading and unloading the boat and asked him how far to the car park from where the boat let us off.

He assured me it was very close; ‘no more than 10 minutes.’

Maybe 10 minutes would be the case if you were a mountain goat, but it took us at least half an hour.

We had an ice cream break first and childishly amused ourselves but urging each other to try unfortunately named products.

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Then we resumed the whining and complaining while we staggered up more stairs and slopes and uneven board walks, back to our car.

4 hours after we set out, we sunk down into our seats and switched on the A/C.

We were glad we’d done the Plitvice National Park, but it had been a bit much for some of us.