Croatia

Saturday, May 20

Today was the day we were originally supposed to take a train from Budapest to Zagreb.  Previously it was mentioned that a train trip didn’t always mean a train trip.  Karen was smart enough to investigate the train trip to Zagreb after our experience with the train trip to Budapest.  It seems that the train reservation that we made was no longer running at the time we had booked.  Also the train would take us a certain distance, then we would need to go by bus a certain distance and also some unknown length of walking.  Of course the overall travel time also increased by at least two hours.  So we went to work to check out other travel possibilities.  Flights were expensive and time consuming, there were no direct flights.  We finally came across a company called DayTrip that was able to take us door-to-door from Budapest to Zagreb.  It cost more than the train, but significantly less than a flight.

Sunday, May 21

Today we did a Zagreb Culinary Adventure tour.  During the tour we saw various local sites and tasted some of the local cuisine.  Our guide (Darko) helped us with our Croatian. Havla (like back of your throat Hannaka) means thank you.  We strolled past the Flower Market and also passed through the Dolac market (i.e. farmers market).

We walked along the food market and saw stalls for dairy, stalls for bread, stalls for meat, and stalls for noodles. There were also stalls for vegetables, and stalls for fruits. 

We stopped at a few of these stalls and were treated to typical Croatian fare; cottage cheese and sour cream (their sour cream is less tart than ours, making it quite tasty); Some meats, such as sausages, and absolutely the best prosciutto I’ve ever had, along with Börek, which is meat cooked in a light flaky pastry. At another stop we tried cevabecici. This is a meat shaped into sausage-like fingers and grilled, then served with a flat bread called lepinja, and a creamy melty cheese called Kajmak. To top it off we sat in a small restaurant and were served štrukli – a dessert which originates in Austria. It is a layered thin dough and cheese with (in our case) honey and nuts, then cooked in the oven until golden. Very yummy!

Darko also showed us some tunnels that run under the city, and the cathedral near the center of town (which is under renovation after the earthquake from three years ago did some damage). Next to the cathedral was a 3D map of city. 

To finish off our culinary delights, we visited a little shop and were treated to a variety of schnapps. There were three different types, each one more potent than the next. Alan stopped at the second one – LOL. Karen had the third and decided to stop.

And finally we hit the motherload with chocolate candies. Darko spoiled us with at that shop!

Monday, May 22

Today we are changing cities, moving from Zagreb to Zadar.  We will be taking a tour of the Plitvice National Park along the way.  The Plitvice National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and once you see it, you know why.  This is perhaps the most beautiful landscape we have ever seen.  We were also very lucky with our timing. Due to recent rains some sections of the park had to be closed due to high water levels a few days before our visit.  When we were there everything was open and the high water/lake levels made the waterfalls that much more breathtaking. We hiked almost 4 miles, but the hike was very easy. This location has some fantastic waterfalls. A series of about a dozen tiers of cascading waterfalls with one tall fall – the tallest in Croatia. The boardwalks were made of logs instead of planks. The steps were made vertically from old trees that had naturally fallen. After about two-thirds of the way, we boarded a boat with 97 other people and rode up the longest lake, then got out, had a potty stop, and continued hiking. We had plenty of stops for pictures all along the way. A tram, broken into three sections, drove us to our final location where we were picked up by our driver. 

When we got back to our hotel we decided to explore Zadar. We enjoyed the narrow streets, and had a lovely dinner in an out of the way shop before going out to watch the sunset.

Tuesday, May 23

Today’s tour is Hiking and Wildlife in Paklenica National Park.  This park is a well trafficked park for climbers.  This tour is labeled as moderate so figured we would be fine.  We were wrong.  The trail that we were taking was both very steep and very rocky.  If we could get past the first forty five minutes of the hike then things would level out and be more forested.  However, we never got to the part that leveled out.  Karen was very unsteady with her footing and it didn’t seem worth the risk of getting hurt trying to come back down.  The guide was very accommodating and we headed back about a quarter mile before the trail started to level out.  There was a very nice visitor center called “Underground Secrets of Paklenica” where we spent quite of bit of time learning about the park.

Wednesday, May 24 

We are changing cities again, this time moving from Zadar to Rovinj.  This is our last city in Croatia.  We will check into our hotel (the fabulous Hotel Lone) and we have a personalized walking tour in the afternoon.  We had choices of two hotels at each city on our tour.   In this case we picked a five star hotel that was not as centrally located as some of the other hotels.  We have never felt so spoiled in our lives.  Our room had an outdoor plunge pool.  We are ready to come back here anytime.

Reluctantly we left our room to go on the walking tour.  The central part of the city is about a half mile stroll from the hotel.  It is a very pleasant walk along the Waterfront Promenade.  We wandered the city taking in the Church of St Euphemia, and the various cafes and boutiques. Rovinj has a lot of Italian influence in its architecture, and lots of gelato shops!

Thursday, May 25

Today’s tour is Truffle Hunting and Winery Visit in Istria.  We took an extremely scenic drive to our truffle hunting destination.  We got a short tutorial on truffles, white vs black. Then we loaded up the truck with our guide, Karen, Alan and three dogs.  Can you say clown car?

We took a short ride in the clown car and then started our truffle hunt.  Our guide let the dogs go and sniff the roots of the trees where the truffles are found.  He needs to be quick if a dog starts digging, because the dog will eat the truffle if he isn’t quick enough.

The dogs found two small truffles on our hunt, or as our guide said, “One-and-a-half”.

We headed back to the main location, and were served up some dishes with truffles.  They even gave directions on how to cook some of the dishes.  We were the only ones in the restaurant when this was going on so it was very personalized.  We then had a chance to go shopping for truffle related items. Karen bought a bottle of black truffle powder and a bottle of white truffle powder.

We headed off to our next location which was the wine tasting.  We got to the vineyard and were told that we were too early and they would not be ready for us for another hour-and-a-half.  Since neither of us are wine people, we decided that we would rather go back to the hotel than wait it out.

Friday, May 26

Today’s tour is a Day Trip to Pula.  The highlight of this tour is visiting the Pula Arena, which is the 6th largest Roman Colosseum in the world. Afterward we walked into the bowels of the arena and saw old oil containers, and Karen shopped a bit at the gift store. After we left the coliseum we saw some more of the old city and had some lunch before heading back to Rovinj.

On the way back to Ravinj we stopped at a display of stone houses. These are quite unique in how they are built, even the roof is made of stones stacked in such a way that the roof would not cave in. Amazing.

Tonight is our last night to walk into town and stroll along the streets to determine where to dine.  A couple of comments about dining.  Most of the restaurants that we ate at were al fresco restaurants.  That was the norm especially along the seaports.  You can sit in the restaurant as long as you like.  They will not bring you a bill until you request it.  Dining is an event.  Every meal must end in gelato (that’s an Alan rule).