Croatia: The Dubrovnik Challenge

Dubrovnik – Split – Zagreb

The journey to Dubrovnik was always going to be an interesting one. As we had paid for our InterRail passes we wanted to use the train as much as possible to avoid having to pay for other methods of transportation. We began by getting the train from Sofia to Belgrade which we knew, as it was going through Serbia, would be delayed. Fortunately we were sharing our cabin with another American traveller, David, a German who worked in Belgrade and spoke English, Yorke and later on another American, Matt. The conversations flowed pretty easily and the journey and delays were largely ignored in favour of the exchange of stories and plans. Once we arrived in Belgrade, we stopped off in the Backpackers Lounge once more.

David On The Train

The next morning we got up early, grabbed some supplies and got on a train to Bar on the Montenegrin coast, again we expected serious delays and this turned out to be our worst train ride yet; stopping on three separate occasions for over an hour on either side of the border. The only consolation was the stunning mountain scenery that we passed through.

We arrived in Bar around midnight and walked across the town to the Yu Hostel to find everyone, owners included, out. Fortunately two other guests came back from the bars just after we arrived and let us in, showing us to an open room where we crashed for the night. After a few hours sleep we were up and ready to roll out once more. We had believe we would be able to get a bus straight to Dubrovnik from Bar, but we were informed that we would have to get several buses, going to Podgorica, Herceg Novi and then to Dubrovnik. We were also told that this would be simple and buses ran all the time, which was true up until Herceg Novi where we found only two buses that went to Dubrovnik and we had missed them both. After brief hesitation we approached a taxi driver, who told us he could drive us the rest of the way for a minimum of 40 Euros, which we accepted. The drive was a pleasant one and we were dropped at the main bus station and only charged what was agreed, which pleased David and I greatly. From the station we found ourselves only a short, but seriously uphill walk to the Begovic Boarding House and I don’t think either of us had been happier to arrive at a destination. Four countries, three days, two trains, two buses and a taxi later and we were finally in Dubrovnik!

Dubrovnik

Once we had settled into our room we decided it would be best for us to get some dinner as we hadn’t managed to eat anything substantial since Sofia. We headed down to the promenade in Lapad and stopped at the first place we came to where I indulged in steak and chips, and David enjoyed chicken stuffed with ham and cheese and both were washed down with a refreshing lager. We opted not to stay out late as the 1000km journey had really taken it out of us and we retired to our room with the intention of getting up early to see the Old Town before the cruise ships rolled in.

Begovic Boarding House

We began the following day in terrible form. Proper beds combined with a lack of sleep to keep us resting long into the morning and we didn’t make it out until after many of the cruise ships had already dumped their passengers onto the shores. Still, we got our things together and headed across the peninsular to Stari Grad. Fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as we had expected; there was plenty of room to move about it without walking on pensioners toes.

We ambled about for a while, before finding something to eat. The owner of the apartment we were staying in informed us it would be very expensive to eat in the old town, but we found a small place tucked away on a back street where things weren’t to bad and enjoyed a light lunch a some old town beers. After eating we continued to explore the old town, visiting the harbor and checking out the 6m thick walls. Having done the rounds, we decided it would be necessary for us to hit the beach seeing as David had missed out on the excellent sands of Varna.

We returned to our apartment, dropped our things and for the first time on the trip David put on some shorts. He was serious, he would definitely be going in the sea. We headed down to the Lapad promenade and followed it down to the beach, which was fairly packed despite having an unpleasant covering of stones and pebbles. Based on the poor quality of the beach itself we headed immediately into the sea which turned out to be the best decision. The sea was impossibly clear, pleasantly refreshing, and for one reader, yes; it was wet. After bobbing about for a while, we headed back to the apartment once more to freshen up before heading out for some food.

David and I had been informed that Levanat was the place to go for fresh sea-food and as it wasn’t too far from our place and overlooked the bay where we had been swimming we thought it would be pretty good idea to check it out. We ordered mains only, and were then presented with what we assumed were complimentary starters of a very pleasant tuna pate. It would later turn out that we were only supposed to look at it, once we’d eaten it we’d have to pay for it. I then enjoyed a plate of prawns, despite not knowing how to peel them properly and ending up in a bit of a mess. We then took a stroll back along the bay and returned to the hostel for another long night of sleep.

Another late start, and we made the most of the relaxing environment provided by our own apartment. After much debate we decided we should go for a walk around the Lapad peninsular, but we only managed to get halfway around it due to resorts putting up fences and walls to keep people from leaving. We were forced to wander on back to the city, picking up a couple of postcards and an ice cream on the way. We then spent the rest of the afternoon chilling out around the apartment before heading to check out another recommendation for dinner, this time staying off the beach and visiting Bueno, where we enjoyed some delicious soups followed with the standard of meat and cheese.

Split

The following morning we awoke early to give us enough time to pack, get complacent about packing, pack some more and then leave. We took the long walk back to the bus station, bought a ticket to Split, got on the bus and then enjoyed four hours of the most impressive coast line I have ever seen. I didn’t take any photos due to the windows being filthy, but if you’re ever in Dubrovnik take a bus to Split, sit on the left hand side and thank me later.

David and I got off the bus next to the harbor late in the afternoon, prepared ourselves a map and consequently got lost in the UNESCO listed old town before we eventually arrived at Split Booze and Snooze hostel.

We dumped our things, I jumped in the shower and we headed out to find some food, ending up just off the waterfront in Buffet Fife, recommended by Lonely Planet for it’s unique brand of hospitality. Our waiter, on discovering we were English spent much of his time talking about football and the somewhat militant support of HNK Hajduk. He even informed me that the Croatian word for Newcastle, the magpies, was Svraka; some of the only Croatian I’ve managed to remember. We took in some pretty good soup and some Dalmatian delicacies and a couple of beers before stopping back at the hostel to use the facilities before heading out to Charlie’s Bar. Apparently, this was a place where travelers came together to get drunk, but for the large part of the evening we were some of the only people in the place. Sounds familiar, but this was nothing like Vienna. After a few hours a pub crawl arrived, with some patriotic English drinkers in tow. Fortunately we managed to avoid them and ended up chatting with a couple of guys from Ireland who were traveling around the Balkans for a month. After just enough to drink we headed back to the hostel and crashed out.

Booze 'N' Snooze Hostel

We took a relaxed approach to getting on with the following day. The hostel had recommended a juice bar called Tonik for breakfast, and despite the time we thought this would be an excellent first point of call and after some more confusion in the old town we eventually sat down for a near perfect BLT and a smoothie each. Feeling much refreshed we headed to a view point to get some panoramic photos looking back across the city and it’s harbor.

From this high point we headed back into the old town to see the incredibly well preserved remains of Diocletian’s Palace. Having planned to get up early the following morning to catch a train to Zagreb, David and I decided we should grab an early dinner and an early night and stopped off at the traditional restaurant Apetit and enjoyed yet more excellent soup. We then took ourselves back to the hostel to get plenty of sleep.

Zagreb

After a night disturbed by a group of girls trying to decide whether or not they were drunk enough to go to bed we got ourselves on a train that dragged itself across Croatia. By this point I was starting to long for the high-speed rail connections of Western Europe. After too many hours of going too slow we rolled into Zagreb and it was clear to see that the culture was changing, as was the strength of the economy as we traveled further north, up the Balkans. Once we’d found Buzz hostel, just outside of the city centre, we were once again driven by the need to eat and found a small pub not too far from the hostel where we enjoyed one of Europe’s culinary masterstrokes; meat stuffed with meat stuffed with cheese. We then headed back to the hostel and spent much of the evening relaxing, supplied with entertainment from a group of travelers who couldn’t decide whether or not they wanted to stay in a room where two of them would have to share a double bed.

Buzz Hostel Zagreb

The following morning we enjoyed a breakfast of winners; bananas and Snickers before we headed out to see what Zagreb would have to offer us. Our first stop, before we had made it into the city was the effortlessly cool Booksa. it had been some time since we indulged in a coffee and having discovered this place was also a bookshop, it seemed like the perfect place for two aspiring hipsters to grab a latte. From here we went into the town, taking in many of the recommended sights including the Square of Ban Josip Jelačić and Zagreb cathedral which, typically for anything worth seeing Europe, was covered in scaffolding.

We then took a stroll through Dolac market and the upper town eventually coming to what David and I decided was perhaps the best church in all of Europe, or at least of all the ones we had seen so far, St. Mark’s Church.

After taking in much of the city, we decided it was time for lunch and found our way to a small restaurant called Tip Top where David enjoyed an octopus goulash and I devoured more meat stuffed with meat stuffed with cheese. We then returned to the main square, where we found a lot of people in military gear who looked less than in shape for any kind of serious duty. At this point, David decided it was finally time for him to replace his socks, so we did a spot of shopping before returning to the hostel just in time to avoid getting wet. Having eaten a pretty large meal earlier in the day, we didn’t much fancy anything too heavy for dinner, so found ourselves a pizzeria and accidentally ordered a large pizza each. David still managed to eat all of his, where as I found myself defeated just over half way through. We returned to the hostel to find ourselves in another empty room.

The following morning we were woken up at stupid o’clock by guests checking in. This was not only hugely inconvenient but also frustrating as at various points on our trip, we had arrived at hostels early and had been told we would be unable to check in until four, or found doors locked and nobody about until the middle of the afternoon. After a couple more hours of trying to sleep we woke up to find five English girls who were partying there way from Berlin to Italy to celebrate their graduation. In the course of about two hours they had managed to cover the floor in bags, clothes, and shoes and we decided we’d better get out of their way as quickly as we could.

The plan for the day was to hang out in Maksimir park which immediately impressed by having a large boating lake that had not only ducks and fish but turtles! You certainly wouldn’t find that back in the UK! We spent a good few hours watching the wild life and laughing at a bunch of Croatian boys who struggled wildly to navigate a canoe around the lake, regularly crashing into the shore. Sadly they didn’t capsize in the middle despite making several attempts to tip it over.

According to our appalling city map one of the major sights of Zagreb is the Mirogoj Cemetery, so we thought we’d take a trek through the suburbs to find it and have a wander through the graves. Unlike cemeteries I have been to in the UK there was nothing terrifying about Mirogoj. However, it was strange to see several names listed on each headstone and distressing to see that some names had been added despite the fact they were still alive. The cemetery is also home to the grave of the first President of the Republic of Croatia, Franjo Tuđman so we thought we’d better stop and admire his memorial before heading back to the hostel.

Much to our surprise, the girls had managed to make it out before we got back and they rolled in just after we did and all climbed into bed for a nap. We decided we’d leave them in peace and headed out to find something to eat and stumbled upon a gem where I enjoyed the most amazing and large steak I could ever imagine to find. After enjoying a couple of beers, we returned to find the girls pre-drinking at eleven. They informed us that they had to get up the next morning to catch a train at 07:50, which we found impressive and hilarious. They stuck at the drink for another hour and a half before deciding to hit the town, promising on their way out that they’d keep quiet on the way back. We knew better, and took advantage of the quiet hours to get some sleep.

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