2015 March – Croatia/ Montenegro/ Bosnia/ Slovenia

Day 1 – Lake Bled, SLOVENIA

In the spring of 2015, we took a flight from Houston and reached Zagreb, Croatia 10 hours and 2 flights later. Worn out physically but not in spirit, we rented a car and set off on our adventure(s) from the airport itself. Luckily we remembered to rent an automatic car and add a GPS to the rental agreement, otherwise the signage in that part of the world is definitely not one of the best.

Slovenia border is not too far from Zagreb, the capital city of Ljubljana…only about an hour and a half. The roads are very well maintained and traffic wasn’t a problem for us since it was a weekday afternoon. Since we were driving in the opposite direction of our hotel, we didn’t want to waste time stopping here and there. We skirted around Ljubljana and drove straight to Lake Bled, 30 minutes north of there. There are several parking areas around the lake but most were occupied – we parked at the Visitors’ Center there (the lady there was ultra-helpful!) and took a short 10-minute hike to the lake. The whole area is very Switzerland like with the Alps in the background and the lakes and the pine trees.

A couple of hours of relaxation there and walking around were good for us and then we headed back on our 4 hour journey back to Split, Croatia where we were staying for the night. Unfortunately, because of strong winds in the region, several freeways were closed and traffic was diverted (no good signage in the area though!). It took us close to 6 hours to get to our hotel that was a very welcome relief after continuous flying and driving. We deserved a good night’s sleep and got it!

What we couldn’t cover – Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia has a lot to offer in terms of gardens and museums but we drove straight to Lake Bled, bypassing everything. Even there, we did not take the boat ride to the middle of the island because it was too cold. Would have been fun! While driving through Ljubljana we attempted to catch the famous castle there but because of the traffic and diversions we got lost and decided to give that a skip too.

Day 2 – Plitvice National Park, CROATIA and Split, CROATIA

The park is two hours north of Split. However, because of the same road closures that we had encountered the previous night, we got there after 4 hours of driving via the back roads. Plitvice National Park is an amazing wonder of nature – naturally built on a system of 7 lakes that has waterfalls flowing from one into the other lake. There are several walkways built right along the waterfalls and the lakes, which bring you really up-close to nature… in some cases the water actually flows over the waterways. We spent a good 4 hours there exploring the area even though we reached quite late. There is a boat ride that takes you along several other waterfalls over a lake, but considering that we had to wait for almost an hour for the boat, it certainly wasn’t worth it. This was indeed our favorite part of the trip but would have been much better, had we gone there in the summer!!
The drive back was not so bad – we had gotten lost the last two times so we just took the back roads all the way to the Split area.

What we couldn’t cover – Zadar, a quaint little town off the Adriatic coast has a “Sea organ” which is an architectural object an experimental musical instrument which plays music by way of sea waves and tubes located underneath a set of large marble steps. In as much as we would have liked to see it, the winds, the cooler weather and the loss of time because of the drive really didn’t let that happen.

Day 3 – Mostar Bridge, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA

We started the 2-hour southward drive from Split to Dubrovnik fairly early in the morning. There is a faster way to get to Dubrovnik but we did most of our driving along the wonderful Adriatic Sea (kinda like Hwy-1 California). We had decided to take a detour and go into Bosnia/Herzegovina to see the wonderful and historic Mostar Bridge that separates the Croatian and the Moslem population. Although completely ravaged in the 90’s during the Bosnia war, it has since been rebuilt and is quite a plaeasant sight. Even thought we had read otherwise, we were allowed to cross to either side and soak in the cultural differences. Little shops lined along the river, authentic Bosnian food and plenty of handicrafts is a hallmark of the area. The detour added about 2 hours to our trip, it was a chilly windy day but we still had a great time walking there for a couple of hours.

From there we started our drive onwards to Dubrovnik and reached there about 5 in the evening. Now what we didn’t realize was that the apartment we had booked was in the Old City of Dubrovnik and cars cannot drive into the old city. Parking is a huge problem there because of the touristy nature of the area. We had to climb down hundreds of steps into the old walled city looking for our apartment address. Even though English is widely spoken there and people are supremely helpful, somehow we took about an hour to locate the obscure street where the apartment was located. On top of that, the owner did not live there and had to be called – so there was the additional hour wait, which is when we decided to walk around inside the walled city instead of climbing up and down. Luckily after the apartment was made available to us, the cleaning lady was able to point us to a parking area which was closer, free and we could manage to bring in our luggage easily.

What we couldn’t cover – Kravice Falls is supposed to be another spectacular waterfall just south of Mostar, Bosnia. However, there is no signage for that, the GPS would not take the address, the locals pronounce it several different ways and as a result we just could not find it. We had also planned on going further 2 hours north to Sarajevo, just to appreciate the history of the location, but we had to drop that area too.

Day 4 – Dubrovnik, CROATIA

Dubrovnik is awesomely gorgeous and was exactly how we had pictured Croatia to be! The Old City, with it’s orange tiled roofs, huge castles and forts looming large all over the place is lined by the bluest of blue Adriatic Sea! After a quick breakfast in the city, we walked about 10 minutes to Fort Lovrijenac, which is an isolated fort along the sea. There are several steep steps that take you up to the fort and after paying about $25/person for the fort tour and City Walls tour, we took a good couple of hours walking around the fort … it is famous for its importance in resisting Venetian rule, and overshadows the two entrances to the city, from the sea and by land. An absolute must-see. The other highlight of the day was walking along the city wall – about 2 kms in length that encloses the wonderful culture of Croatia, from hundreds of years go. Part of the walk runs along the Adriatic Sea on one side and the city on the other, and the other runs along the modern side of Croatia. An absolute must-see!! But watch out, there are several steep steps all along the all and it can get pretty tiring after a while.

After a wonderful kebab-lunch in the old city, we walked outside the City Limits and took the cable car all the way up to the hill top. The views of Dubrovnik from that vantage point are unbeatable – you see all blue on one side with several islands popping up and then the gorgeous city on the other.
All in all, a great car-free day where we just walked around, soaked in the scenery and had a relaxing day around the city.

What we couldn’t cover – There are several boat rides that take you to the nearby islands for a pretty reasonable cost, but we decided to forego them as the beaches there were closed because of off-season. The Kings Palace is on the far end of town but we did not go there too, since we had decided this would be a car free day.

Day 5 – Bay of Kotor, MONTENEGRO

The country of Montenegro is only about 2 hours from Dubrovnik and a very pretty drive along the way. It’s funny how the whole economical landscape changes as soon as you enter Montenegro. It was vastly different from the elitism that we had experienced in Croatia. Nevertheless, a beautiful drive and lots to see around there. We drove straight to the Bay of Kotor which is the highlight of the area.. beautiful trees and homes and small villages line the bay. We could take a shortcut and take our car on a ferry across the bay or we could just drive around the bay – we chose the latter to enjoy the area closely. Our favorite was the really quaint town of Perast, which was utterly charming.

An hour further south of there is the exclusive area of Sveti Stefan – which has been bought by the main hotel in the area and rooms go upwards of $1000+ a night. The access to the beach is $60/person. Luckily, it being off-season, we were allowed to enter the premises and even walk on the beach at no cost! If only it wasn’t a gloomy dark day (it even rained!), the day could have turned out much better. But no complaints, we still had a great time hanging out there for a few hours, and then driving all the way back to Dubrovnik along the blue Adriatic sea – I know, I have said it several times but it is really pretty!!

What we couldn’t cover – Budva, the little town in Montenegro was recommended by a few websites but as we drove through it, we didn’t find anything spectacular there so we didn’t stop there and drove straight through. One sight we would have loved to see is the Cetinje Monastery, which was about 2 hours drive to the east into the main country, up a really treacherous snaky road – unfortunately, because of the rains there were some landslides in the area and the road was closed. The alternate route would have added another 2 hours to the trip and it being a grey day, we decided to forego it … maybe next time!!

Day 6 – Departure from CROATIA

We took the early morning flight out of Dubrovnik, which must be one of the smallest airpoers I have seen in our lives. There were several parts of the country that we couldn’t cover and even though the weather cooperated for the most part, we got our share of dark gloomy days, so we may go back there again some day! In Summer for sure!!

5 Favorite things about the trip:

  1. Plitvice National Park, CROATIA – nothing like it!
  2. All of Dubrovnik, CROATIA – the Old City was the highlight
  3. Sveti Stefan, MONTENEGRO – luckily we could get in and enjoy it upclose
  4. Lake Bled, SLOVENIA – reminded us of Switzerland
  5. Drive along the Adriatic Sea, CROATIA – It’s blue, blue, blue!

Some Don’ts or Recommendations:

  • Try and go in summer – maybe a little expensive but the best time to enjoy the beauty of the place!
  • While Phuket is the widely known place, Chiang Mayi is supposed to be the gorgeous one. After we got back, we saw pictures and already have plans to include it in the next trip.
  • While Phuket was absolutely gorgeous, have heard great things about staying in Krabi instead.
  • Our tours were organized by JC Tours – for the most part they are very good, very courteous, reasonably priced and very flexible in their itineraries etc.
  • Signage in Croatia is not very good – have a good map handy. The GPS doesn’t help much too if roads are closed all over the place.
  • Budva was highly touted as a tourist destination in Montenegro but it couldn’t hold a candle to the drive along the way and to Bay of Kotor just 15 minutes away.
  • If you take a hotel in the Old City of Dubrovnik, make sure you know that parking will be a hassle there and you cannot drive in the Old City.
  • If you do decide to go with a Car Rental – GPS is recommended especially if you want to explore random areas on a whim.
  • When you ask a Croatian for directions, everything is 10 minutes away J In reality the walk or the drive could take you up to 30 minutes.
  • Whether you decide to take a detour to Bosnia or not, you have to drive through Bosnia for a short 5 minutes while driving to Dubrovnik from north so keep your passports handy!

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