Thursday, June 29, 2017

Practical Travel Tips for Croatia

If I were talking to a friend about traveling in Croatia, what specific recommendations would I make?

Our experiences with Airbnb were all good. We prefer quiet accommodations and don't need (or want) a lot of frantic activity nearby. If you do like hustle and bustle, our suggestions may not suit you. The private apartments worked well for us since we traveled as a couple, but if I were traveling solo, I'd prefer an onsite front desk/host. Our favorite apartments either for location, physical accommodations, or friendliness of our host(s) were:
  • The Olive Tree City Corner Apartment in Zagreb - in a quiet courtyard, convenient to the Old Town, and very accommodating hosts who went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
  • The Yellow Apartment in Dubrovnik - absolutely beautiful views of the Old Town from up high and a cheery yellow decorating theme.
  • The Little Stream Apartment in Korenica, near Plitvice National Park - quiet residential/rural area just off the highway and only a 15 minute drive to Plitvice; hosts that welcomed us with an outdoor drink of homemade slivovitz (plum moonshine) and a chat; a very new and large apartment just upstairs from our hosts and their children; and a close view of the neighbor's sheep.

We ate our breakfasts in our room with fruit, yogurt, and milk from a nearby grocery store and homemade granola. Lunch was usually a picnic with ingredients from a bakery or grocery store deli. In the evening we would find a restaurant that looked appealing and sit down to enjoy a glass of wine, beer, or cider and our dinner. Prices are very reasonable in Croatia and our kuna went a long way. Our favorite restaurants were:
  • Aqua 2 in Rovinj, on the waterfront with wide open windows for almost-outdoor seating and great views. Our pasta carbonara was excellent and makes me want to get out my recipe book and make it at home again. I knew my prawns with pasta were going to be a little more work than I expected when our waitress brought me a seafood bib. Fortunately, upon request, she gave me a tutorial on removing the edible portions from the prawn's protective "armature."
  • Gelateria Italia in Rovinj, for the best gelato we had in Croatia. I love the nut flavors - hazelnut and pistachio were wonderful together!
  • Restoran Šapina in Korenica (near Plitvice), a short walk from our apartment where we ate two nights in a row. On our first night, we found that we needed to pre-order the veal peka-style, so we did and returned the next night for the veal prepared "under the bell." It was so tender and delicious. We shared it along with a huge platter of grilled vegetables which were also fabulous.
  • Lunch at Regina del Formaggio in Split, a simple little Italian deli with THE BEST sandwiches. They have a small menu but I could eat that flavorful salami and cheese sandwich everyday!
  • Aterina Konoba in Korčula, where reservations are recommended. They serve mostly local, and mostly vegetarian, well-prepared food. However, we did have pasta with asparagus and pršut (Dalmatian prosciutto), which is allowed even though it is not local to the island or vegetarian, but it IS quintessentially Croatian.
  • Taj Mahal in Dubrovnik, recommended by friends. This Bosnian restaurant served a fantastic Diva Salad and Ćevapi (also known as ćevapčići, a grilled dish of minced meat in the form of skinless sausage). We were also tempted by the burek but, unfortunately, that would have been way too much food for us. We do have an absolutely delightful restaurant in our hometown that serves wonderful cheese, spinach, and beef burek. It's time for another visit to Milwaukee's Three Brothers Serbian Restaurant! 
  • Lucin Kantun in Dubrovnik, where reservations are again recommended. Inside and outdoor seating is somewhat limited but the chef and kitchen are visible from the dining room and the food was fresh and outstanding - cheese and spinach rolls, veal medallions in mustard sauce, roasted potatoes, and ratatouille.
We did not do much shopping in Croatia, but I do like to look at interesting, handmade jewelry, so we did a little shopping in Korčula where I found two jewelry stores that had artisan styles that intrigued me. As I decided between pendants at the two shops, I found that they were both owned by the same family. The mother was running one, the daughter the other shop, and the sons were the artisans. If you go, look for Prirodni Nakit/Natural Jewellery at Ulica Svetog Roka 13 or the Pod Room at Ulica Depola 21. I love the pendant I brought home!

A sampling of jewelry in the Korčula shop window
(sorry for the unavoidable reflection)

For local currency, we usually get cash by using a debit card at an ATM/Bankomat. Since our last international travels, we found a new confusing message at the ATM. After selecting the amount of kuna we wanted to receive, the screen displayed something to this effect: "xx kuna = xx dollars, do you want to accept this conversion?" At first it appeared that if we didn't accept the conversion, we would not receive the cash. In fact, the answer for us was "NO, we don't want to accept the conversion." We still got the cash and our credit card company did the conversion at a much better rate than the suggested rate at the ATM. Don't let this message throw you off.

When traveling by car, I recommend using either a GPS device or a phone app that has downloadable offline maps. We traveled about 1000 kilometers over 6 days, used about $85 of petrol, and, for convenience and speed, we spent about half that amount on toll roads. Having a car is perfect for getting to out-of-the-way places.

Gathering information before traveling usually means using a number of resources. Besides talking with friends who have already been to Croatia, travel books by Rick Steves and Lonely Planet gave me background and ideas. But for more details and personal accounts, I read a number of blogs. My favorites were:
If you plan a trip, I wish you a great adventure!

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