When we decided to add a few weeks in the Baltics at the end of our Antwerp stay, I started pondering Internet service. The Baltic countries are small, and we had plans to drive back and forth across borders and to cross borders in some fairly rural places. That kind of trip doesn’t lend itself to making a quick stop in a phone store to buy a local SIM card, something I often do when traveling. I also didn’t want to have to buy–and change every time we crossed a border–3 SIM cards, one each for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. (I’d already decided we could do without for the relatively short time we’d be in Belarus.)
I spent nearly two weeks in Croatia with my sons years ago and the place I’d always regretted missing was Plitvice National Park. As far as I was concerned, Plitvice was #1 on my list for this Croatian vacation with David and now, as our trip neared an end, we were finally going to be there…and it was storming. Not just light rain, but a downpour. Aaargh!
The weather in Zadar had been overcast with occasional drizzle, but cleared to sunny the morning we set out on the drive to Plitvice. It’s an easy 2-hour drive from Zadar to Plitvice and the scenery is beautiful as you head into the mountains and cross over impressive bridges spanning wide inlets of water.
The listing for our AirBnB apartment in Zadar billed the place as “Fifi apartment.” The name conjured images of a French poodle or maybe even a can-can dancer; definitely female, in any event. When I emailed and WhatsApp’ed with contact Andrej, however, he let me know, in passing, that Fifi was male. Oh. Andrej said “Fifi” spoke little English, hence Andrej’s role as spokesman, but that Fifi himself would meet us. The apartment included secure on-site parking, a big plus for an apartment inside the old town. Andrej told me that Fifi would be waiting for us by the city gate and lead us to the parking since. Despite the advance info, we were a still a little surprised the first time we saw “Fifi:” a big man of late middle age in a black leather jacket. As promised, he was waiting for us, on foot. When we offered to drive him with us, he declined and proceeded to walk ahead of our car, leading us into the old city, past the open-air market and to the electronic gate to our apartment.
The waterfalls, lakes, rivers and pathways of Krka Park lure visitors from Croatia and beyond. We got up early to start our daytrip to Krka, hoping to avoid the crowds we’d heard could be a problem. The park lies an easy hour’s drive from Split. We drove the vast majority of the way on the excellent A1/E65 highway, then followed signs (and Google Maps) along the equally well-maintained E33 to the park’s main entrance at Lozovac. The enormous parking lot was mostly empty, but cars and tour buses were already beginning to arrive. We bought entrance tickets at the booth in the parking lot then realized we’d just missed the free shuttle bus that takes visitors into the park. [The free shuttle service runs from April to October.] Unwilling to wait for the bus to return, we opted to hike instead downhill through thick forests. The walk is pretty and not overly-difficult for the fit, but views of the lake below are blocked and we actually saw more of that particular vista by riding the bus back to the parking lot at the end of our visit. Our hike deposited us just up the road from the bus drop-off.
My foodie husband, David, read great things about a restaurant called Villa Spiza in Split, so we headed there our first night in town. We found a tiny little hole-in-the-wall, with no tables available, but two stools at a bar that faced a cooking range-top. I had to squeeze into the cornermost stool, my back practically against the side of the woman behind me. Learning they only accept cash, David headed out again leaving me to nurse a white wine while he searched for an ATM machine. The place was bustling, with only two cooks/servers, a man and a woman behind the L-shaped bar. People waited outside for larger tables to free up.
Our apartment wish list in Split presented some challenges: We needed parking, but we wanted to be near the pedestrian old town. As always, I wanted value for our money (plus wi-fi, a washing machine, charm, a quiet place to sleep, a good host…). We really lucked out on all fronts in Split and ended up with one of our favorite AirBnB apartments to date…with a tiny caveat I’ll get to below.
Our host Vlatko was very responsive from the moment we booked. As promised, he was waiting in the street for us with his little boy when we arrived from Dubrovnik to “hold a parking place for us.” This was the first inkling that the billed guaranteed parking might not be so guaranteed; that caveat I mentioned. The parking turns out to be sort of a first-come–first-served affair at the end of the dead-end street on which the apartment sits. David did his usual awesome job of maneuvering our bigger-than-expected rent car into the snug parking. Vlatko explained that there was “usually” parking and, if we happened to come back and there wasn’t any parking, we could just park in the paid lot next door and then look down from the apartment window until a free space opened up and move the car. Hmm. Not how I wanted to spend my time in Split. Despite this potential hitch, we actually didn’t have a problem getting free parking on our return from our one daytrip to Krka, Trogir and Solin.
Split had been a favorite of my boys and mine on that first visit to Croatia 13 years ago, and I was excited to return with David. It’s a fascinating place: a medieval city built into and incorporating the ruins of Roman emperor Diocletian’s palace. Happily, Split proved to be one of those places that’s just as good the second time around.
As with Dubrovnik, tourism has boomed in Split in recent years and cruise ships periodically dump large crowds on the city, but Split managed to retain the charm I remembered in spite of it all. It’s popular with Croatians from surrounding areas as well and the cafés were filled on sunny weekend days. We ran into our young guide from the Winery Miloš with a girlfriend one evening and caught up with the status of the wine competition in the US. There’s always a kick to actually recognizing a familiar face in a foreign city.
At the recommendation of our server at D’Vino in Dubrovnik, we stopped at Winery Miloš in Ston on our way to Split. Ston is on the Pelješac peninsula only a short detour (on the 414) off the main highway about an hour into the 3 hour drive between Dubrovnik and Split.
We dropped in without a reservation, and were greeted by the son of owner, Frano Miloš. The very knowledgeable young man conducted us on a short private tour of the small winery followed by a tasting of several of their wines. Miloš uses only Plavic mali grapes aged in traditional 2000 liter Slavonian oak barrels and the results are excellent, garnering international awards. They were awaiting word from the U.S. regarding a current entry at the time we were there, having won in their class the year before.
Glam Café is an interesting place. We went for the beer–twice, but it’s also a coffee shop. I hear the coffee is good, but I wouldn’t know; like I said, we went for the beer. Glam Café is a great place in Dubrovnik for craft beers from all over Croatia. The bar staff is super friendly and knowledgeable. The place is small, but stylish and immaculate and there’s outdoor seating as well along the narrow alley. If anyone in your party prefers wine, Glam Café is fine with you buying wine across the way and D’Vino (see my earlier post) and bringing it back to a Glam table.
We spied D’Vino on our first short stop in Dubrovnik since it was just across from Glam Cafe, the coffee and craft beer bar that David had his heart set on. The proprietress of Glam Cafe was friendly with D’Vino’s owner and recommended it for our return. We were pleased, on our return, to find that D’Vino was also recommended by our AirBnB hostesses.
D’Vino is located in old town Dubrovnik at Palmotićeva ul. 4A, just a short walk from the main pedestrian boulevard, Stradun, near the Pile Gate. It’s cosy and warm and the perfect spot to sample Croatian wine. D’Vino also offers small (and not so small) plates including local cheeses and meats. Their smoked duck was fantastic.