Warning: Croatia's another one of those places that's almost too good to be true: a vacation within a vacation. Sunny photos ahead.
After a day or two of catching up on travel planning back in Slovenia, it was time to make the trip south to meet up with our next visitor: my mom. We boarded a train from Ljubljana to Zagreb, then caught a quick flight to Dubrovnik. My mom had a little farther to travel, coming all the way from Boise, but we all three were determined to make a great first day of it in this gorgeous country. We loaded up the rental car and made for our new home in the hills above Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik is sometimes called "The Pearl of the Adriatic", and it's easy to see why. To a degree unlike any city we've been to yet, Dubrovnik has restored its old city to its former gothic renaissance beauty each time buildings have been destroyed instead of simply rebuilding in the current style. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful to behold.
It's also probably why the Game of Thrones series decided to use it as the setting for Kings Landing, and it's what makes it such a popular tourist destination today. If you can shut out the gelato stands and the occasional selfie-stick sighting, walking among its streets will give you the feeling of being transported to another time.
We walked the old city walls after lunch, looking for an even better way to enjoy the city. The circuit gave us a little much-needed exercise, plus a look at its stunning architecture and its ruggedly gorgeous coastline at the same time. But by late afternoon, we had found the best way of all to enjoy Dubrovnik—a little bar perched just outside the wall, and right above the lovely Adriatic Sea.
You've decided to ford the river
After a few idyllic days in Dubrovnik, we bundled off in the rental car and geared up for the long drive/ferry to Hvar island. The forecast didn't look promising for our voyage, but if we could just make it out there, the next few days were predicted to be lovely. Determined to keep our plans, we pressed on.
Photo by Cindy
We started the drive in what looked like a bit of rain, but once we made it to the coastal highway it became clear we were actually in the middle of a flash flood. Nick's courageous driving kept us going past waterfalls, fallen rocks, and roads that were more river than pavement.
Naturally, we took a break from the tempest to sample the offerings at Saint Hills winery. Here, we learned more about the Plavac Mali grape, which is the primary red varietal grown in Croatia. If you can manage to find some in a wine shop, any bottle from the Dingač region (the premier terroir for this grape) is definitely worth a try.
We eventually reached a patch of sun and prayed that the ferry would still be operating. After about an hour of waiting, speculating, and watching some fearsome lightning strikes, we finally got the go-ahead to board and let out a sigh of relief.
Fortunately, we could look forward to deliciously warm and sunny days on Hvar. We spent the next few days boating around the Paklinski islands, hiking up to the fortress perched above the town, tasting wine, and staring dreamily at the Adriatic.
A little more tan and a lot more relaxed after four days on island time, we began our long drive North to Zadar. We decided to break up the coastal views a little bit along the way, heading inland for some forest and waterfalls at Krka National Park.
We rolled into the park and hopped out of the car, only to find that the charming little waterfalls advertised in the pamphlet were now roaring maelstroms of water after the heavy rains we'd previously driven in. Unfortunately, this also meant that most of the boardwalks and trails were closed, so we could only view the main waterfalls from the fortifications around the visitor center. They were impressive, if not a bit frightening—the water looked ready to jump its retaining wall and inundate the snack bar at any moment.
We scurried out of harm's way and off into the lovely arms of Zadar, a beautiful little port town with a buzzing old city center and the too-weird-to-resist Sea Organ. We spent almost an hour listening to its hauntingly rhythmic sound and contemplating our lives, wondering what kind of acid trip would lead a person to summon the idea for a Sea Organ in the first place. It was a fantastic place to come and ponder.
At long last, we managed to tear ourselves away with the prospect of some first-rate blood orange gelato.
Going out with a bang
The next morning, we decided to try our luck at national parks again and made our way to Plitvice, a fantastically gorgeous network of crystalline waterfalls and lakes. Parts of this park were closed as well, but we managed to sneak onto some of the less sunken boardwalks for a closer look at the powerful conditions.
And, of course, we couldn't let my mom go back home without squeezing in one more wine tasting session. We wound through the hills of Plešivica until we eventually found the beautiful family-owned Vinarija Korak. The winemaker took us on a lengthy tour of his work, which featured a fantastic Pinot Noir, a complex Chardonnay, a classically fruity Plavac Mali, and a luscious, jammy Syrah.
We pulled ourselves together and finally made it into Zagreb around nightfall. My mom would fly off the next morning, but we wandered the streets after dinner determined to see some of the sights before then so she'd at least have a feel for Zagreb. We spent almost an hour walking past Zagreb Cathedral, winding our way up the hill to St. Mark's Church, and enjoying the warming glow of the old city's kerosene street lamps.
We took Mom to the airport early the next morning and officially ended our time as hosts on this trip with a good long nap. When we awoke from hibernation, Nick and I took off on a walking tour of the city to fill in the historical gaps from our stroll the night before, no less amazed by all that we saw in the daylight.
Mom heads home to Idaho, leaving us with an overabundance of wine and one less thirsty traveler to enjoy it with. We're taking an unexpected jaunt next door to Serbia!