The truth is, I had been to Croatia once before. As a child, barely old enough to remember the sights; certainly, too young to have created any lasting memories. But all of that was set to change. Work was slow, I had just come out of a relationship, and my tax return check had just come in. There was no better time to travel than now, so I decided to fly out to the mystical land of my ancestors. My parents were also set to vacation in Europe, so we came up with a plan to meet up along the coast. The plan was perfect.
Zagreb. A beautiful city of fewer than one million residents. From the second I laid my eyes on the charming architecture, the wide-open skies, I was in love. And it was made all the more sumptuous by the late-June weather. It was friendly, familiar, as if I had seen and heard it all before (which, of course, I had). But this was different.
I was set to embark on a coastal drive to Dubrovnik spanning a few days––with some long-awaited curiosities to see along the way.
After checking into my suite at the Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, and securing a cute little Fiat from a nearby car rental agency, I was set to embark on a coastal drive to Dubrovnik spanning a few days––with some long-awaited curiosities to see along the way.
My morning started sweetly enough: cherry strudel and fritule with my coffee, followed by a brisk jog through Maksimir Park (the oldest public park in Zagreb). Then, just as the summer sun was at its highest point in the sky, I packed up my Fiat and hooped onto the E65 roadway, making my way south towards the glistening coastline.
As I cruised along, a surreal scene played out before me: the beautiful Velebit National Park to my left, with its rocky crags and lush carpets of green; and to my right, the sparkling blue waters of the Adriatic Sea.
After about 4 hours into my scenic drive, I pulled off the road and made my way towards Krka National Park in Lozovac to stretch my legs and take some photos. There, I watched as families and couples reclined luxuriously in sequestered spots along the walkways, as the stately Skradinski Buk waterfall roared majestically in the foreground.
By now, I still had a few good hours of daylight left, so I continued to the city of Split, a cultural mecca steeped in history. City driving was not as tricky as in Zagreb, and finding parking was easy. I got out and made my way through the cobblestoned streets, pausing to photograph Diocletian’s Palace and St. Domnius Cathedral. I basked in the sun while noticing the sharp contrast between Split’s medieval design and the palm trees and turquoise shoreline just within reach. How I wish I had had more time to discover this charming oasis.
I would come to learn that Split, for all its beauty, was also one of the most peaceful regions I had ever experienced.
Rather than rush through, I opted to spend the night. After checking into the Hotel Agava, I wandered towards Old Town before grabbing a patio seat at Konoba Marjan––a great local haunt for traditional cuisine. Admittedly, after an exhaustive day of touring the local sights––more wonderful restaurants (try the freshly caught fish of the day at Bokeria Kitchen) and shopping, and incredibly friendly people––I allowed myself to doze off on the balcony of my hotel suite while gazing out on the calming sea. I would come to learn that Split, for all its beauty, was also one of the most peaceful regions I had ever experienced.
My journey through the magical coastal region was almost over. Three hours later, I had reached my destination of Dubrovnik. The drive had taken longer than expected, so I had to forego seeing some of the other-worldly locations in nearby King’s Landing, not far from the storied Dalmatian region, where my favourite TV show, Game of Thrones, was filmed. I was disappointed, but not for long.
In less than an hour, I would be meeting up with my parents once their cruise ship docked in Gruz, just outside of Dubrovnik’s Old Town. From there, I would be spending the afternoon with them on the portside––lunch along the Adriatic Sea, maybe some shopping and strolling through Gruz Market, followed by swimming in Lapad––before returning my Fiat to the rental agency and joining them on their cruise to Venice.
In six days, I had been so spoiled on my coastal Croatian adventure. And, still, my journey was far from over…