While I “only” made it to Mostar and the surrounding area (a detour to Montenegro got in the way of coming back to Bosnia for Sarajevo and more), I cannot say enough about Bosnia and Herzegovina. I ended up extending my stay by a night, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my trip. If you didn’t have Bosnia and the Balkans on your radar, add it. Now.
I get in to Mostar late afternoon, the first place I’ve showed up without a reservation for somewhere to sleep. I ring the bell at the Hostel Majdas, which had great reviews online and which I’d luckily starred on my map. I’m ushered into the courtyard by a young woman who sits me down at one of the picnic tables, hands me some colored markers and some fresh cake, and asks me to create a colorful nametag for myself while she goes off to make me hot tea. Living the life much?
Brač (pronounced “Bratch”) is the largest island off the coast of Split, but also one of the less touristy (compared to Hvar and Korcula). It’s mostly known for 2 things: its white stone and the Zlatni Rat beach, which were about the main highlights during my 1 night stay there with a Croatian family.
The easiest way to get to Bol (the city on the other side of the island where I’d booked a small AirBnB room in the home of a Croatian family) from Split is probably by the once-daily direct ferry. But since I didn’t want to wait until afternoon to take the ferry (it runs at 4:30pm during the summer and 4pm the rest of the year), I got the 9am catamaran over to Supetar first, and then the 1 hour-long bus from there across to Bol. Let’s just say, I think I underestimated how much of an ordeal it would be getting there, just kind of floating with the idea of “island=small” in my head when I booked the room without much research. Oh well. The bus ride allowed me to see a lot of the piles of white stone I’d read about (mostly after my visit). Did you know that a lot of the stone from major monuments (like the Reichstag in Berlin, Diocletian’s palace in Split of course, and even the White House), comes from Brač? Pretty cool.
Sometimes you get to a city and instantly know you’re ready to leave- that the main “story” you’ll get out of it is “well, I guess now I’ve seen it.” If you’re thinking of going to Split for more than just a stopover, below is my account of why this city, for me, was Split. I also considered titling this post “French tourist mecca.” Take it with a grain of salt.
I decided to head to Split because I’d heard good things about the city. Granted, this is all from people who’d never been there. First mistake. And I admit that I can see how the city might have held a certain charm before it exploded from being just a transit hub into being a full-blown tourist mecca. Maybe I’d just hit it too late.
On my way to Split from Šibenik, I did get into a mess that I knew would happen at some point. Since I was sick of being that obvious tourist and repeating “Split? Split?” (insert name of city you’re trying to get to here), I did my best to check the signs on the front of each bus, and hopped on board the one I thought was headed to Split. Big mistake. Turns out, the bus was coming from Split. 5 minutes after we pulled out, the ticket guy got to my seat, checked my ticket, and said roughly and matter of factly: “Split? No. Zagreb.” And just as I’d mentally resettled on making the best of it and changing my plans to include the 8 hour trek back up north to Zagreb and a new city, I was (kindly) dumped at the next bus stop. Continue reading “Split: when a city doesn’t always live up to expectations”
Imagine bright green water, cascading gently over mossy rock and forming beautiful pools. Little wooden walkways just above the water offer a path right through this unique landscape and biosphere. Now imagine you can get in that water on a warm day and swim right up near these waterfalls. Surprise: you’re at Krka National Park.
My ride to Krka National Park from my hostel in Sibenik was in the very back of a van, carefully balanced in a wicker chair. Bumpy ride. The roundtrip had been arranged by the hostel owner for 30 kuna, but you can also get there by bus or by bus to Skradin (which, by the way, is known for its 12 hour risotto) and then by boat in, which I hear is a very attractive option.
The entrance fee was 110 kn this time of year (roughly $16 USD), and once paid, it’s a straightforward walk down a dirt path. When you reach the water, you’ll amble on wooden footbridges hovering just above the water, snaking through fish-filled green ponds and overhanging trees. Given the mostly barren landscape leading into the park, it’s an especially interesting little oasis.
“What’s your favorite city you’ve visited so far in your 6 months traveling through Europe?” I once asked another traveler. Without hesitation he answered “Šibenik.” This charming city boasts all the best parts of Croatia (sunsets, great seafood, quaint alleyways, and historic churches) all in one small, magical location. As the oldest native Croatian town on the shores of the Adriatic (others were founded by Greeks, Illyrians, or Romans), it deserves to be enjoyed as much more than just a stopping point on the way to Krka National Park.
The Croatian part of my stay started in Šibenik, a small Central Dalmatian city that serves as the gateway to Krka National Park. I sauntered off the train in Šibenik around 11pm, three trains and a bus later from my farmstay in Semic, Slovenia. When I finally made it to my hostel, the middle-aged woman at the front desk looked tired and relieved that I’d finally made it. She was very nice in broken English, though, and got me a seat in the back of her son’s car to go to Krka National Park the next day, the main reason I’d come.
Well, I made it to my farm stay. And while the first steps off the train more than made up for the stress of getting out here and then beyond, I guess I can say I’m a bit disappointed. I knew trekking out here without a car might be a bit more stressful than it was worth, but I sort of hoped the friendly people, convivial atmosphere, and home cooked food would make up for it. Unfortunately, the owners were out all day until 3pm, so I’m glad I got here later like I did. I sat outside in the sun with the sound of goats and sheep in the background and wrote some long overdue postcards and waited for them to get home. Finally I heard some noise inside, so I walked up to the main door where the sign was now gone, past the family dog, and peeked inside. A blonde woman looked surprised and ushered me outside, asking why I hadn’t rung the bell. Because…why would I ring a bell if this looks like the reception desk?
I’ve only been in Ljubljana for a mere 4 hours and I can already tell I won’t want to leave. By happenstance, I got a couch surfing host while I’m here, and he’s already made the experience 100x better, not that Ljubljana needs it.
As soon as the bus pulled in, I raced over to the Hostel Celica (yes, the one that used to be military barracks for the Yugoslav army and now has been fully redone, each room by a different artist). I already should have known that a city that has this kind of place will likely be an interesting city. I picked up a bunch of information while waiting for my guy, including a “made by locals” map- which, by the way, is mostly about food, just the way I like it.
Well, Bled, I showed up sick, looking forward to a relaxing few days by the lake, taking in the beauty and the swans. Getting off the night train from Worgl- which, incidentally was an experience since of course no other routes to Slovenia were open since Germany had closed its border except this 1:38 am train. No guards checked tickets, and each compartment went a different direction during the trip, so I wasn’t sure I was on the right one, especially since they’d also shortened the train. Finally at day break, we stopped somewhere called Lesce-Bled and I jumped off prematurely, choosing to walk 4km rather than take it on to Kranj and then take a bus back to Bled.
The walk itself was actually really scenic- a nice walking and biking pathway by the road with emerald green rivers, nature, and chirping birds at 7am.
In Kufstein on Saturday, we got in just as the festival was kicking off. The little town we’d seen so quiet a few days before now was lined with tents selling homemade schnapps, food, honey, and all sorts of little trinkets. There was one big beer garden area, where everyone sat eating donuts and pastries with beer or Fanta. We watched rowdy, entertaining Austrian performances of men in suits chopping wood and dancing in circles. Another had young guys snapping ropes above everyone’s heads, standing on beer garden tables. Tons of pastries and beer flowed freely and it was quite an experience in a little Austrian town. Finally the cows started coming down and I made sure to get plenty of videos. This is really a thing? I loved it. After grabbing some local pear schnapps to go, we reluctantly headed to the train station, sad to leave this little town that had grown on us.
The next day’s hike was definitely the hardest of all, as expected. It was marked a “black” trail in the ranking (which really only varies between red and black), and it does deserve that marking. We started off with about 1,000m almost straight up, usually with the help of iron wiring, steep steps, or just good ol fashioned uphill. It was fun, though, and if you’re decently in shape and not too afraid of heights, this might be one of your favorite days.