Hrvatska!

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From July 15 to 31, I was on vacation with my family in Croatia. The trip was absolutely amazing. It was a trip that we had wanted to take the year before, but it was postponed due to my cancer treatment.

Many people have asked me, “Why Croatia?” Probably about 8 years ago or so, we were getting new windows in our house. The salesman who came over was Croatian. He said that he was on the Croatian ski team and we talked about skiing in Colorado. I kept thinking, “There are mountains in Croatia? You can ski there? Where the hell is THERE?” I decided to do some investigating and found out some pretty amazing stuff about Croatia. Since that time, I’ve wanted to go. I guess I’m the kind of person who gets something stuck in her head. And then, it has to be done.

I hope that you learn a little something about Croatia from my post here. And yes, you can ski there. Just not in July. 🙂

We were gone for a little over two weeks, and it wasn’t enough for me. We spent 14 days in Croatia and  one night in Munich, Germany. My heart was swept away by the Adriatic. On our last morning, my heart was heavy as I said goodbye to our little piece of the sea.

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Getting there

We flew from Atlanta because when we booked the trip, we were intending to be living in Atlanta. So we drove from Charlotte to Atlanta then flew to Frankfurt>Vienna>Dubrovnik. We arrived without any complications, just so very tired. And all of our baggage arrived too!

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Waiting for our rental car at Enterprise. We drove a Renault Kadjar.

Villa Lucija

Once in Dubrovnik, we drove three hours north along the coast to Medici, the village where we stayed. It’s situated just betweeen Omis and Makarska. The house we lived in is called Villa Lucija (loot-SEE-ya). It’s a typical Adriatic style home: stone hewn, travertine and wood floors, green painted window and dooor shutters. Adorable. In 2009, the owner updated the entire house. It is the perfect blend of old world charm and modern convenience. It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dishwasher, a clothes washer and a large stainless steel fridge. It also has a private pool, brick oven, outdoor eating space and private stairs to the water’s edge (130 of them to be exact).

In Croatia, they don’t use clothes dryers. Everyone hangs their clothes out to be dried. With the amazing breezes on the hillside, they were dry in no time flat.

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Geography

The area we stayed in is known as the Dalmation Coast, as there are more than 1,200 islands that dot the coast. About 40% of them are inhabited. Medici is on the mainland coastline by Brac, a very large island. We didn’t venture out to the islands on this trip. Next time.

Most of the coastline has very sloped beaches because of the steep mountains rising up from the sea floor. The beaches are plentiful, public and pebble. I was surprised that there was no nude or topless sunbathing. Aspen said she saw one woman one time. But considering how widely popular it is in Germany and other countries, I had just assumed. But no.

Just off the coast of Dubrovnik, the water plummets 1200+ meters deep where a major fault line is located. In 1979 a large earthquake killed half the population of Dubrovnik. It was the second largest in its history and it remains at risk for quakes.

Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As such, there are restrictions on changes to buildings and structures. The roofs must remain orange terra cotta and the stone must be kept. Inside the city walls, the roads are paved in travertine tile that is plentiful in the region. It’s stunning.

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Economy

I thought that Croatia would be more third world. But it’s not. It’s got a stable government, a booming economy (partly due to the movie and TV industry and mostly due to the high volume of European tourists), modern infrastructure and the cleanest damned bathrooms anywhere in the world. The unit of currency is the kuna. It’s 7:1.

The roads are well maintained. The tunnels are many and new. The bridges are safe and modern. It’s a safe, clean, prosperous place.

Considering that their civil war was just 25 years ago, I expected to see some evidence. There was none. It’s fresh in their minds, but not in their surroundings.

The only evidence I saw of the war was that Dubrovnik is now separated from the rest of the coastline by about a 5K stretch of Bosnia and Herzegovina. When driving down Highway 8, you will come upon a border crossing. You go into B&H and after approximately 5K, you cross another border back into Croatia. This change in borders occurred as a result of the war. B&H claimed that Dubrovnik never belonged to Croatia and fought to keep it part of the republic of Yugoslavia. In the end, Dubrovnik is part of Croatia and B&H gained access to the coastline.

The average income is about 600 Euro/month. The people maintain a pretty high standard of living. The cars on the roads are nice ones. There were no junkers. Just lots of late model Audis, VWs, Renaults, Mercedes, BMWs, Fiats, Toyotas, Kias and an occasional Ford.

Language

The official language is Croatian. Before we went, I Googled a few useful phrases. So we could say greetings and that’s about it. Luckily, because of the high number of languages spoken throughout Europe, the majority of people meet on English. In school, English is taught, much like in Germany and other European countries.

Menus were almost always printed in 6-10 languages. As you can see on the sign at the beginning, the word for Croatia in Croatian is Hrvatska. I picked up on some pronunciation cues. Such as the c being pronounced like a ts. And how to pronounce letters with accents and double letters. On a couple of occasions, people thought I was Swedish or German and were very surprised when I talked and had an American accent. I’m very curious to know what that sounds like to the rest of the world.

Food

At one time, Croatia was part of the Roman Empire so it’s 90% Catholic today and shares the food culture of Italy. In Croatia, they produce olives and olive oil, wines and prosecco, figs, nuts, lavender, honey, tomatoes, eggplant, herbs and many more fruits and vegetables. Everywhere you go, you can find a roadside stand selling fresh produce, olive oil, wine, honey, cheese and more. They are very proud of what they produce and many of the oils and wines are award winning. The bakeries are everywhere and they’re magnificent. Fresh bread and stuffed baguettes were amazing.

Most menus feature grilled meats and seafood. Octopus is their specialty. Whole octopus. And whole fish. And whole shrimp. They’re not big on cutting off the heads or legs or anything else. But they also serve chicken cutlet, beef steak, risotto, pasta, pizza and grilled veggies. We had fantastic food while we were there. About a third of the time, we cooked at the house. We fileted sea bass and grilled it in our brick oven. We made pasta bolognese. And had lots of fresh fruits and salads.

The one meal that we had a hard time figuring out was breakfast. Breakfast was mostly coffee, a newspaper and a cigarette from our observation. Lots of cigarettes. <cough, gag> Aspen and I went to breakfast ourselves one morning and there was one option for breakfast. It read: ham, cheese, ham {yes, two hams}, bread, egg of choice, honey, butter, marmalade, pate, cream cheese, orange juice and coffee. We were confused, but figured that we knew what all of those things are, so how bad could it be?

Actually, not bad at all! They bring a plate of cold cuts and cheese. The two hams were a black forest ham and prosciutto. Then a basket of bread with about 5 things to spread on it. And a plate of eggs — four per person. It was a lot of really good food. And the prices were not commensurate.

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Prices

The cost of food, lodging and activities are crazy low. One morning, I got a baguette stuffed with ham. It was fresh, delicious and high quality. It cost me around 75 cents. A cappuccino costs about $1.50. We had a really nice meal at a beautiful restaurant high on a cliff in Brela. It has a stone terrace that over looks the sea. It’s surrounded by grapevines growing along the pergolas. Simply breathtaking. Their specialty is grilled meats and seafood. We got appetizers, alcohol, four steak dinners, dessert and more alcohol. Our bill was around $100. In the States, this meal would’ve cost $250 easily. Pizza was about $6 a pie. For the best pizza you’ve ever had.

Tipping wasn’t really a thing. In fact, it seemed like some people were offended or embarrassed by the gesture. But because habits die hard, we’d leave some money on the table and run.

Game of Thrones

Parts of the show are filmed in Croatia. Kings Landing is set in Dubrovnik. So are parts of Mereen. The city of Split is also where parts of Mereen are shot.

Turns out that they do a Game of Thrones Walking Tour of Dubrovnik just for crazed fans like me! It was so much fun. They talked about the history of the city, but for the most part, our guide would tell us that the steps we were on were used for Cersei’s Walk of Shame, and the fort we were in is the Red Keep and the bay in front of Old Town is Black Water Bay. She’d talk about different scenes from different seasons and show us screen shots of where we were. I was all a-twitter!

She told us a little about the actors and some inside scoop on the show. Turns out that Peter Dinklage isn’t too far from his character in that he likes to go out drinking in the bars. For Cersei’s Walk of Shame, that was not Lena Headey but a body double. Lena Headey was six months pregnant at the time. The Walk of Shame filming caused a stir in Dubrovnik because the producers asked permission to use the staircase of the Dominican church. They were denied permission. The scene was controversial because of the nudity and the obscenities that the extras were encouraged to yell at Cersei on her walk.

Our tour guide told us that most of the actors don’t get approached in Dubrovnik because the people there are too proud to swoon. It’s a good thing I’m not Croatian! I’d be chasing Jaime Lannister down the street for a picture and an autograph. But it sounds like I wouldn’t have to. I might just have to be the sole person waiting patiently for the scene to be done. Hmmmm. Maybe another trip to Croatia in September for the next shooting is in order.

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The hallways in all of Kings Landing.
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The Red Keep on the right.
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“Black Water Bay”
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“Kings Landing”

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Shame. Shame. Shame.
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Where Danaerys asked the Spice King for ships.

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Plitvice National Park

We visited Plitvice (Plit-VEET-sa) National Park near the beginning of our trip. It was so beautiful. There are hundreds of falls on the 4+ hour hike. You’re not allowed to swim in the lakes there but the scenery is unparalleled. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Krka National Park

In this national park, there is a swimming area. The water is pretty chilly but because it was nearly 100 degrees on the day we were there, it felt refreshing.

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River Cetina

This river flows down from the mountains and joins the sea in Omis. It’s a very cute town with restaurants, shops, produce stands, hotels and street vendors. It has a big beach, a long pier and lots of activities to do on the river. It was about 20 minutes north of our house. We took a boat tour up the river into the mountain canyon. About an hour in, the boat stopped on the river bank at a cute little outdoor restaurant.

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SCUBA certification

Michael and Zach got NAUI certified to SCUBA dive to 18 meters while we were there. They were told that it’s a good place to get certified because it’s inexpensive, not terribly popular and not the best place in the world to go. Therefore, it’s not a let down when you go to the next dive spot. They both really enjoyed it. They saw some really cool things and got to spend 4 partial days doing some father/son bonding.

While the boys were occupied, Aspen and I had some time for ourselves. We had breakfast and lunches out, massages, pedicure, manicure, pool time and shopping.

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Zach’s birthday

Zach turned 15 on July 30 which was the day we flew from Dubrovnik to Germany. Therefore, we celebrated in Croatia the day before. We didn’t how much time we’d have in Germany for a proper celebration.

On his “Croatia birthday” we went to a new beach where he and Michael snorkeled and did some rock jumping. Aspen and I swam and were designated photographers for the jumping part. Then we went to Omis for lunch, followed by jet skiing for Zach and Aspen. They loved it. Zach went twice. Then to surprise him, we granted his wish of getting his ears pierced. There was a nice jewelry shop on the far end of town that did piercings. So we stopped in and surprised him. We finished up the day with our favorite meal at Konoba Galinac. We ate there three times in our 14 days. They were very good about caring for Zach’s allergies. The owner is a good friend of the owner of the villa we rented so we got a little extra care and attention.

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Germany

When we flew out of Dubrovnik on our last day, we headed to Munich. We had an overnight stay there before returning to the States. We got in around 6 pm which was plenty of time to catch the S Bahn to downtown Munich. We headed off to Marienplatz for dinner and a quick view of the area. As soon as we emerged from the train station, our hair was blown back. (everyone except Michael who has been there on a number of occasions). Man! The buildings, the stone streets, the history, the atmosphere. I was swept up. We walked along the streets, window shopping. Zach saw a Bugatti for about a million bucks that he thought about picking up, but we didn’t know how to get it home.

We found a cool sausage house to have dinner. Because the drinking age is 14, Zach had a glass of birthday Riesling. He’s very interested in learning German and is taking it as a class this fall in high school. I’m excited to have a practice partner.

All I know is this, visiting Germany for one night was like giving a thirsty person a sip. I’m going back. I’m going back. I’m going back.

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Math

There was plenty of math to do the whole time we were there: Celcius to Fahrenheit, kuna to dollars, military time to 12-hour time, liters to gallons, kilograms to pounds, meters to feet, kilometers to miles and finally, EDT (Eastern Daylight Time) to CEST (Central European Summer Time).

Many of you know how much I just adore math. And how good I am at it. So, I can assure you that there were never miscommunications or misunderstandings regarding any of the above. We almost got four pounds of turkey from the deli. But almost is the key word. Crisis averted.

 

 

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