JenSop: The Singing Traveler!

Idealist. Dreamer. Singer. Explorer.


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Dubrovnik, Croatia

Hello dear readers!  If you’re a regular here, you know Miloš and I have traveled extensively all around his home country of Croatia. We’ve been almost everywhere.  BUT – I had still never been to Dubrovnik!  (Yes, I know!) The primary reason for not getting to this wonderful city sooner was simply logistical.  It’s pretty much the farthest away place IN Croatia, from where we live in Croatia. (An almost six hour drive if you take the highway AND don’t stop for breaks.)

However, it was finally time to see this amazing city, so we planned a visit for the last weekend of March, as we had to get our personal traveling in before our own working tour seasons began.  (We also visited Trogir on our way down to Dubrovnik.  Blog about that coming soon!)

 

Let me say right off the bat – Dubrovnik is a MUST SEE city.  It most certainly lived up to its fantastic reputation.  If you are a fan of history, architecture, the sea, good food, and cats – this is your place!

But first – a map!  (You know I love maps!  And on this one, I’ve highlighted our driving route.)  As you can see, Dubrovnik lies along the Adriatic Sea, all the way near the southern-most part of Croatia.  This southern coastal region of Croatia is called Dalmatia.  (Yup – just like the dogs! That’s where they get their name.)

Our route from Crikvenica to Dubrovnik

 

This historic city was founded in the 7th century, when the first wave of Croats migrated to Dalmatia.  Some also speculate the town may have been founded by Greek refugees or sailors.  Originally named Ragusa, Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Excavations also include evidence of a pre-Christian era settlement.  The city was a strong maritime port during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  It suffered damage during a terrible earthquake in 1667, but was still able to preserve its Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque historic buildings.  The city again suffered extensive damage in the 1990s during the Croatian War for Independence.  Today’s Dubrovnik is one of the Mediterranean’s most popular tourist destinations; its inherent charm is the ability to make visitors feel as if they are being transported back in time.

If you choose to drive to Dubrovnik from most places in Croatia, you will have to pass through a 10 kilometer stretch of land that is controlled by Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Borders at both sides have passport controls. We had no hold ups getting through, but I travel inside Europe with my Hungarian passport.  It may take a little longer with a non-EU passport.  I also suspect there could be traffic issues during the busy summer months.

 

We stayed for two nights, but should have made it three.  It just wasn’t enough time. From the first moment we saw the city, we were blown away by its sheer majesty.  Just entering through the Pile Gate into the old city made me feel like we were entering some kind of fantasy world.

We stayed right in the middle of the old city at the Villa Sigurata, where we were made to feel right at home.  Our room was comfortable, clean, and had everything we needed.  I definitely give it my highest recommendation!

 

Here are a few highlights we experienced during our time in Dubrovnik:

Walking along the Stradun
Stradun is the main promenade that runs along the entire inside length of the old city.  This wide thoroughfare is full of shops and restaurants, as well as historic churches, monasteries, and residences.  You can see the Onofrio Fountain, the Fransiscan Monestary, Europe’s oldest pharmacy (since 1391), the Orlando Column, the Church of St. Blaise, and the Rector’s Palace.

Old City Walls
Despite it being a pricier option (150 kuna per person/approx. 20 euro), walking the Old City Walls is an absolute must-do experience in Dubrovnik.  The walls encircle the entire city, complete with lookouts, forts, and cannons.  The views that await you are simply breath-taking.  Be ready to walk and climb lots of stairs.  Give yourself a good solid two hours to get all the way around, more if you want to take your time.  Your ticket is good for one circle around the wall, and also allows you into the Lovrijenac Fortress, across from the old city.  (We climbed up to the fortress, but it had already closed for the day, so we didn’t make it inside.  This one is featured in Game of Thrones as the Red Keep in King’s Landing.)

Today’s city walls were mostly constructed between the 12th and 17th centuries, although construction on the original walls started in the 8th century.  They measure almost 2 kilometers in length, all the way around.  They reach a maximum height of 25 meters, and the main walls on the land side are 4 to 6 meters thick.  Highlights along the wall are the Minčeta Tower, rising above the city on the land side, and Fort Bokar, which  juts into the sea, guarding the area of the Pile Gate.

Lovrijenac Fortress
As I mentioned above, we didn’t get the opportunity to go inside the fortress, but we did hike up there and took in the amazing views.  Then we went down the stairs that lead to the pier between the two fortresses.

 

 

Pile Gate (pronounced “pee-leh”)
The Pile Gate is nearly 500 years old – it lets you enter the old city over an ancient draw bridge that used to be lifted every evening.  It’s covered with a Renaissance arch, where St. Blaise (the city’s patron saint) looks down upon everyone coming and going from the city.  Our accommodations were located close to this entrance.
Just walking through the city itself is an activity that can’t be beat.  The streets are set up mostly in a grid pattern, and are pedestrian-only.  The streets running perpendicular to the Stradun are only level for a block or two, then continue up many many stairs.


Dubrovnik Old Port
Located at the eastern side of the city, the old port was once an important part of Dubrovnik’s maritime history.  It’s a busy area of restaurants and local boats.  The ship that runs to the island of Lokrum departs from here.

 

We also had a couple really amazing dining/drinking experiences that I just HAVE to share with you.

Nautika
Our first evening in Dubrovnik, we had reservations at Nautika, located right outside the Pile Gate.  The restaurant is located inside the former Dubrovnik School of Maritime Studies, which dates back to 1881.  One of the highlights of this wonderful restaurant is its outdoor terrace, where diners can look out onto one of the world’s most amazing views.  Nautika’s location is on the seaside, between the Lovrijenac Fortress and Fort Bokar.  I don’t think I’ve ever dined with a more spectacular view in my entire life.

The food and service are at the top end of the spectrum. Every dish was meticulously created to be something truly special. The staff takes care of your every need, ensuring your visit is unforgettable.

The prices are rather high, but it’s worth every penny.  I highly encourage you to make a reservation – request the outdoor terrace.

We will be back for sure!

Buza Bar
We happened upon this bar by accident on our first day, but we were sure to return for another visit the next day!  This hidden gem is actually built out onto the rocks outside the city walls, overlooking the sea.  They only serve cold drinks, as per the signs leading you there.  The view is amazing – especially at sunset.  Go to enjoy some relaxing time in the sea breeze.

To find this bar, go up the Game of Thrones staircase, then cut across left up top until you see the sign directing you to the “Cold drinks with the most beautiful view.”  Continue walking along that path for a bit until you get to the “hole in the wall” entrance to the bar.

 

CATS….

Okay, I mentioned it briefly earlier, but Dubrovnik is FULL of cats!  There were cats everywhere. I never saw so many stray cats. I guess since the old city is pedestrian-only, they don’t have to worry so much about cars.  And if you know me, you know I LOVE cats!  Of course I took lots of cat pics.  Here are some of them!

A few thoughts about Dubrovnik:

-It’s an expensive city.  (Popular tourist destinations usually are.)  Don’t cheap out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience just because it’s a few more dollars than you expected to spend.  Budget yourself a little higher in this city.

-Crowds can get super crazy in the high season.  If you can travel during shoulder season, you’ll be able to experience this wonderful place without the insane crowd levels.

– If you’re staying long enough, you can take some nice day trips from Dubrovnik.  I would recommend getting out to some of the islands.  (I’m so eager to go to Korčula!)

-Stay at least three nights to be able to see and do more.

 

 

We loved our visit and can’t wait to return!

Here are some more miscellaneous photos from our trip to Dubrovnik!

Enjoy!


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Day trip to Rovinj, Croatia

Due to the weather forecast of warm temps and rain, my birthday day trip back in January ended up being a little journey to Rovinj on Croatia’s Istrian peninsula.  (Originally it was to be Plitvice Lakes in the snow, but that trip got postponed.  CLICK HERE to read all about when we WERE able to go to Plitvice in the snow!)   Rovinj is about an hour and a half drive away from Miloš’ home town of Crikvenica.

Istria is the peninsula at the top of Croatia’s coastline, right next to Italy.  The area is well known for its history, natural beauty, and food and wine.

We left midday and made it there with no troubles.  The route there is mostly main roads and highways.  The town is situated on the edge of the sea and rises up in the middle, like a natural tower.  Crowning the old town’s point in the center is its historic church.

Rovinj, Croatia

Rovinj, Croatia

 

View of Rovinj

View of Rovinj

 

 

Before entering the old town, we had a drink at a cafe by the marina and enjoyed a little bit of the day’s only sunshine.  Here are a few photos from around the marina area of the town:

 

 

 

As we walked, we started looking for some of the restaurants we had read about on Trip Advisor.  We were hoping to try out a new place to eat.  But the more we walked around, the more we noticed that this town was truly closed for winter. We thought that perhaps there might be something in the old town, and it’s not like we were looking to eat right then – we were just scoping the area out for later.

The old town was really quite lovely.  Due to the fact that this part of Croatia is right next to Italy, the architecture reflected that, and reminded us a bit of Venice.

IMG_8848

We explored the little narrow streets and continued our climb up to the town’s pinnacle.  Just like many of these pedestrian old towns, Rovinj had many adorable feline inhabitants. 

But there were certain residents that stole our hearts more than others.  We met two of the sweetest little baby kittens you ever did see!  One was black and white, and the other was calico.  They followed us around as we walked up the cobblestone street, meowing and vying for attention.  They clearly had eye infections and needed some medicine, but it didn’t seem to slow them down.  They were so charming and adorable!  The calico was especially courageous and followed us all the way up to the church yard area at the top of town.  She made her little mewing sounds and rubbed against our legs.  We were worried that she was walking too far away from her home base, and tried to ignore her so she would walk back home.  All that did was make her stand her ground and meow even louder, in her high-pitched kitten voice.  Oh how I wanted to be able to take these kittens home with us, but alas, we couldn’t.

We continued our walk around the narrow streets of Rovinj, looking to see if we’d have any luck finding a restaurant.  While walking down a narrow alley, we came across an old man who looked to be the stereotypical traditional fisherman type.  He walked us along to show us a restaurant that he thought would be open.  Turns out, we had already seen that one, and it WAS open during the off-season.  But it was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and this particular day was a Tuesday.  We admitted defeat and acknowledged that dinner would not be in Rovinj, and we’d just have to stop in Rijeka on the way back home to eat somewhere there.  (Rijeka is a hopping city all year round.)

Our few hours exploring Rovinj were very nice, and I got some great pics to show for it.  I’d definitely be interested in visiting again during the warmer months to see more of what it has to offer.

p.s.  I’m STILL thinking of those adorable little kittens!

Here are some more pics from our day!

Rovinj, Croatia Rovinj, Croatia Rovinj, Croatia Rovinj, Croatia Rovinj, Croatia Rovinj, Croatia Rovinj, Croatia Rovinj, Croatia

This is supposed to be a really great restaurant during the warm months!

This is supposed to be a really great restaurant during the warm months!

Rovinj, Croatia Rovinj, Croatia IMG_8877 Rovinj, Croatia Rovinj, Croatia

Lovely whimsical tile art

Lovely whimsical tile art

Rovinj, Croatia Rovinj, Croatia Rovinj, Croatia Rovinj, Croatia


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Plitvice Lakes in January – A Wintery Fairyland!

Plitvice Lakes in January: A Wintery Fairyland!

A few days ago, Miloš and I went to Plitvice Lakes National Park.  If you recall, we visited Plitvice last year on a particularly warm day in late March.  (CLICK HERE TO READ THAT BLOG POST.)  But we had also seen pics of it covered in ice and snow, and we simply had to see it that way in person!

Initially, we planned on going for my birthday, but the forecast showed warm temperatures and a chance of rain.  Not a flake of snow would be in sight.  (And who wants to go hiking in the rain?) 

However, we kept an eye on the forecast and saw that the weekend would bring that area of Croatia a nice coating of snow, with temperatures cold enough to keep it on the ground.

Plitvice is a little over two hours away.  It’s further inland and at a higher elevation than Miloš’ seaside town.  Because of that, we rented an SUV with four-wheel drive – just for the day.  We wanted to make sure we didn’t get stuck anywhere.  Plus, Croatia (and many other European countries) have strict regulations when it comes to tires during the winter.  We needed something that would be compliant with the law and get us there safely.

We set out in the late morning – a little later than expected due to some other unforeseen circumstances.  When we left, it was a mild sunny day in Crikvenica.  We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best!

Sunny day by the sea

Sunny day by the sea

Along the road, heading up the mountain

Along the road, heading up the mountain

Passing a village church

Passing a village church

Part of the drive involves going over the mountains; navigating sharp turns and tricky roads.  (Miloš drove there and I drove back. Needless to say, I took those curves on the mountain road VERY slowly.)

We got a bit past the mountain and were feeling a tad discouraged, as there wasn’t really a lot of snow.  I mean, there was a dusting on the ground, but nothing on the trees.  We decided though, that even if the park didn’t look exactly like we wanted it to, we’d still have a great day together at a wonderful place.

As we got closer to the Plitvice area, there was more and more snow.  I’m talking SNOW.  We didn’t want to jinx it, but we were feeling pretty good about it…

Well, let’s just say that EVERYTHING we had hoped for as far as snow at Plitvice, we got!  And then some!  I don’t even know how to describe it.  Photos do not do it justice.  It was quite honestly and truly a winter fairy land.  Simply magical!

Time was of the essence, as it was already past 1:00pm and the park would be closing at 4:00pm.  We were informed when we bought our tickets into the park that the last boat was at 3:00pm, and the last “train” at 3:30pm.  (At Plitvice, the main trail takes you past some of the most amazing well-known falls and lakes. Then you catch a boat that takes you across the lake to another section.  If you have more time, there are other trails to explore from there.  (And even more sections of the park are open during the warmer months.)   There is also a “train” vehicle that picks you up near the boat drop-off and drives you back near the entrance of the park.

Let me first just show you some of the sights that awaited us when we entered the park…

Entrance of Plitvice

Entrance of Plitvice

Plitvice Water Falls

Plitvice Water Falls

Finishing my sandwich by the magnificent view

Finishing my sandwich by the magnificent view

One of the uncountable amazing views

One of the uncountable amazing views

Heading further downs the mountain side

Heading further downs the mountain side

Looking down at the lakes below the falls

Looking down at the lakes below the falls

 

Miloš hiking down the trail

Miloš hiking down the trail

The trail below that takes you across the water

The trail below that takes you across the water

Layers of Lakes

Layers of Lakes

 

We hiked down the first section of trail that leads down to the first main water level.  There are then wooden walkways that lead you right across the water.  Because of the snow (and some ice), sections of the walkways were a bit slippery.  We had to move very cautiously, as there was no way either of us was going to fall in!  We even trekked over to the main high falls.  The walk way here was even more treacherous, as the waterfall actually flows over parts of the walkway.  Someone had laid down some rocks to help people avoid getting wet feet in the freezing temperatures.

The water is such an amazing color!

The water is such an amazing color!

Milos carefully crossing the lake.

Milos carefully crossing the lake.

Looking down from the waterfall to the lake below

Looking down from the waterfall to the lake below

All the branches were covered in ice or snow

All the branches were covered in ice or snow

A view of the main high falls

A view of the main high falls

Milos and the falls!

Milos and the falls!

Jen the Croatian Travel Expert!

Jen the Croatian Travel Expert!

Closer view of the falls

Walking back up the precarious walkway from the falls

Walking back up the precarious walkway from the falls

Another view from the top of the falls

Another view from the top of the falls

 

 

Milos at the edge of the falls

Milos at the edge of the falls

Once we got back on the primary trail, only amazing sites awaited us.  Plitvice is breathtakingly beautiful in the sunny warm weather, but it’s just as stunning covered in snow and ice.  All afternoon, a light flurry fell upon us, adding to the juxtaposition of still quiet areas interspersed with rushing water falls.  We couldn’t have asked for better.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.  (And for the record, all photos were taken by either my iPhone 5S, Milos’ Samsung Galaxy S4, or my Canon point and shoot camera.  All photos are original files with no filters or editing applied.  What you see is the real deal!)

We made it to the boat dock around 2:40pm, well in advance of the 3:00pm sailing. 

Waiting for the boat - look how clear the water is.

Waiting for the boat – look how clear the water is.

Another great shot that shows just how pristine the water is here

Another great shot that shows just how pristine and clear the water is here

 

View of the edge of the boat dock

View of the edge of the boat dock

Crossing the lake on the boat

Crossing the lake on the boat

Crossing the lake on the boat

Crossing the lake on the boat

Looking across the lake

Looking across the lake – notice how white the trees are with snow up on the mountainside 

The area we got to explore back in March, but weren't able to see on this trip

The area we got to explore back in March, but weren’t able to see on this trip

The boat ride takes about 15 minutes.  We could see layer after layer of snow covered trees.  There were loons swimming on the lake, and even more clustered on two of the trees next to the water.  We really wished we had had time to get over to the other section that we started to explore last year, but there just wasn’t time on this visit.  We had to continue on with the rest of the folks and make our way up the hill to the “train” stop.

Instead of a tram looking vehicle like in the summer, we boarded something that looked like a small bus on super sized tires.  We were driven back to the trail above the lake for the final twenty minutes of our hike.

This upper trail gives you amazing views of the lakes and falls below, with strategically placed look-out areas where you can take in the sights and get some fantastic photos.   We were able to have someone get our pic for us at the first look out.

Once we got to the second look out area, we started to have a visitor who got closer and closer.  At first, we were just excited that this little bird was flying and hopping right near us.  He had no fear and seemed genuinely friendly.  He seemed to be getting closer to check us out.

I guess we passed his test because before long, this happened:

 

That was so awesome!

That was so awesome!

 

After landing on me, he landed on Milos

After landing on me, he landed on Milos

All we had as far as food was a candy bar, so we tore a little bit off for Chirpy

All we had as far as food was a candy bar, so we tore a little bit off for Chirpy

It was unreal!  I felt like I was a princess in a cartoon Disney movie!  It hindsight, we should have gotten video.  But in the moment, we were just so taken aback by this adorable little bird!

After hiking along past that point, our happy mood was lifted even higher to pure giddy elation!  What an experience!  What a day this was!

We took more photos along this hiking trail area.  Here are some more of our pics from this last stretch…

Croatia Travel Expert at Plitvice Lakes

By the late afternoon, the sun was trying to peak out - just enough to cast a pink glow over the entire landscape

By the late afternoon, the sun was trying to peak out – just enough to cast a pink glow over the entire landscape

As we approached the end, we could see that late afternoon sun trying to peak a bit through the clouds.  As a result, it cast a rosy glow over all of nature’s white canvas. 

But alas, it was time to head back home for the day.  We came across this charming little snow family as we walked back to the park’s main entrance. 

Overall, our day was just about perfect.  We got just the exact snow cover that we had hoped for, and an amazing visit from one of the park’s little residents.  Our goal is still to return to Plitvice and stay overnight, so that we can have more time to explore the park and all of its trail and waterfalls.  There’s so much more to see – I can’t wait!

***A few tips for your own visit to Plitvice:

Dress accordingly.  In the winter, it gets cold.  I also advise bringing some supplies – some water and snacks and dry clothes to keep in your car just in case you get wet.  Your footwear should also be adequate enough to keep your feet warm and dry, and help you navigate slippery and uneven terrain.  Also, it’s not the USA – there aren’t safety railings next to the pathways – travel at your own risk.


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Oh the places we will go… (And have been!)

One of the things that Miloš and I truly have in common is a passion for travel.  We are adventurers who love to explore!  And the more years we spend together, the more places we go!  We also love to plan our future trips and enjoy helping others do the same.  Here’s a fun little photo review of just some of the places we’ve been together.

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