An Unconventional Approach to Croatia
Our Intro to Croatia
Phase I of our Explore Croatia Tour began with two stops: medieval Dubrovnik and modern Zagreb. Croatia has developed in recent decades into a hot tourism destination and has a lot to offer, including a long, beautiful coastline and over a thousand islands nestled into the Adriatic Sea. Given the unusually chilly and rainy spring that the Balkans were experiencing, we decided to skip the more traditional path of going up the coastline and instead cherry picked a few ‘non-beachy’ stops.
We went back and forth on visiting Dubrovnik. We’ve had a few friends and acquaintances tell us that Dubrovnik had been their highlight of Croatia and oftentimes of all of Europe, but those people had visited more than a decade ago. Reading more current reports we were learning of a saturated destination that was now over-priced and over-whelming with mobs and mobs of people. However, we would have to go through the city to get to our next destination anyway plus we are Game of Thrones watchers and part of Dubrovnik’s most recent popularity has stemmed from it being the filming location for King’s Landing. So, we took the when in Rome approach but kept our visit short with only two nights. We didn’t do the popular Game of Thrones tour (we were tempted though!) or pay to walk the fortress walls or perhaps do any of the classic things-to-do in Dubrovnik. Instead we just enjoyed the views and walking the Old Town, taking lots of photos along the way as it really is a photogenic place!
Given our previous experience in Kotor when the cruise ships arrived we decided to deploy the same strategy and only go into the Old Town in the early mornings before 11 and then in the evenings after 6. This worked fairly well as there were even more, and larger, cruise ships docked at the harbor when we pulled into the city and we didn’t want to battle through crowds all day and end up with a tainted view of this magical place. During the day, we hiked up the hill behind our lodging for a bird’s eye view of the bay, old town and growing city and just enjoyed some quiet time (for me) and catching up with work (for Luis) at the AirBnB we had reserved.
Inland to Zagreb
About 400 miles away we found ourselves once again in a city along the Sava River, but this time it was Zagreb instead of Belgrade. Zagreb proved to be another great Balkan capital with just about a million residents. We found it to be lively with a diverse economy, museums, interesting restaurants/pubs and all sorts of office towers dotting the skyline. As an important transportation hub for Central Europe there seemed to be a lot of coming and going but it seems most international tourists just use Zagreb as an entry point and immediately carry on to their destination. I enjoyed Zagreb, it seems it would be a very livable city. Plus, I found decent Thai food. Anyplace that has good Thai food immediately gets elevated a few notches in my playbook.
While a bit unorthodox to skip the entire Croatian coastline, I was happy to went inland to explore the capital city and get a more well rounded look at this country. We’ll leave the Dalmatian Coast and the islands for another trip. Besides, the best was yet to come, 5 days in Croatia’s Istria Peninsula! Another area that often comes in second to the Dalmatian coast for visitors, but not for us. We had only one goal to tackle – their cuisine!