Our Croatian vacation began in Split, the 2nd largest city. We rented a studio apartment inside of Diocletian’s Palace for only 220 kuna / 30€ per night. The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage site and about 1,700 years old, but it’s not a closed tourist attraction that you have to pay to enter – it’s a part of the city where people live and work. Most of the stone and marble used to construct it came from the nearby island of Brač, which we also visited, and whose marble was used in constructing buildings in Budapest, Vienna, and even the White House in Washington, D.C.
We only had two full days in Split before heading to Dubrovnik, but I wish we could have stayed longer. We did walk along the water around the peninsula and take a ferry to Brač for 28 kn, but I would love to explore the islands more (such as Korčula and Hvar) and go back to Trogir, another UNESCO site next to the airport, about 30 minutes from Split. We actually went there on the last day before heading to the airport and it was such a nice place. I definitely recommend it as a day trip from Split and the local buses run there so it’s quite easy to reach.
We took a bus to Dubrovnik (there are no trains that go that far south) for 109 kn but I wish we could have taken the ferry, even if it does take all day. Unfortunately for us, Jadrolinija has suspended the Split-Dubrovnik route until May 30 so we didn’t have much of a choice. We bought the bus tickets the day before, which was a good idea since the seats are assigned and we were lucky enough to be in the front row and on the right side so we could look at the coast the entire way. We arrived more than 5 hours later (normally it should take 4.5 hours) even though the driver was constantly speeding because he made so many stops at random places, including 20 minutes in Bosnia. For some reason, you are not allowed to use the bathroom on the bus, but there are three 5 minute stops at other bus stations in Makarska, Ploče, and Metković, but you do have to pay to use their bathrooms (2 or 3 kn).
Passing through Bosnia & Herzegovina was interesting. If you look closely at a map of southern Croatia, you will see that it is actually cut into two so that Bosnia can have access to the water. There are customs on both borders so you have to get your passports out and but they don’t actually stamp them. There is one Bosnian city on the coast, Neum, but it still feels like Croatia since they take kunas (Bosnia uses the convertible mark) and the stores sell Croatian souvenirs and nothing that says Bosnia & Herzegovina on it. The majority of the people who live there are also Croats rather than Bosnians or Serbs.
When we finally arrived in Dubrovnik, it took us forever to get to our hotel because the bus station is on the western edge of the city and the local buses don’t go directly to the area with the hotels, which is a peninsula to the south. Plus the old town is on the eastern side of the city, so we walked a lot though we could have taken a local bus for 10 kn. Luckily it wasn’t very hot yet so it wasn’t a problem, but I wasn’t expecting the hotels to be so far away from the main tourist attraction. There are only a few hotels in and around the old town and they are mostly 5 star hotels like the Hilton, so if you want to stay near the old town, you have to book private accommodation. It is really common in Croatia for people to rent out rooms (sobe) or apartments (apartmani), and they even hang out at the bus station trying to get customers as soon as they get off the bus.
Dubrovnik’s old town, another UNESCO World Heritage site, was just as beautiful as the pictures I had seen, but it is really crowded with tour groups and people from cruise ships. It costs 70 kn to walk around the town on the walls that completely surround it and it is definitely worth it. Other than the old town, we also walked along the water on the peninsula by the hotels and took a day trip to Cavtat, a gorgeous town on the water even further south. It is less touristy and crowded, and there are plenty of places to sit on the rocks next to the water (sandy beaches are kind of rare in Croatia). It wasn’t warm enough to go swimming but the beautiful turquoise water made me want to stay there longer. Plus it only cost 12 kn to take the bus there.
The final day we rented a car to return to the airport in Split because I did not want to take the 5 hour bus again. Our bus driver was constantly talking on his cell phone and smoking while driving (illegal in Croatia) and I really didn’t want to get motion sick on a bus that wouldn’t let me use the bathroom. It took probably 3.5 hours to get back because it is just one road along the coast (the highway doesn’t go all the way down to Dubrovnik yet) and we stopped again in Neum in Bosnia to have lunch at Hotel Orka. It was the cheapest meal we ever had. Less than 14€ for two drinks, two main dishes and two sides of fries. Croatia was cheaper than France too, of course, but it is getting more and more touristy so I’m sure prices will continue to rise.
Croatia is supposed to be the next country to join the European Union in (probably) 2012 and I will also hopefully become an EU citizen within 2 years since I can start applying for French citizenship at the end of this year. I would love to be able to live and work there, but I really hope they keep the kuna for as long as possible since the expensive euro screws up everything . I wonder if it will become more difficult to drive through Bosnia though once Schengen space laws are enforced.
In short, I loved loved loved Croatia and want to go back very badly. The small towns along the coast were so beautiful and I would like to explore the northern regions too, especially around Plitvice Lakes and Pula. Everyone was extremely nice to us and spoke English very well. (They put my students to shame!) Anglophone shows and movies are subtitled and not dubbed on TV, which I’m sure helps a lot. We also heard a lot of German and some Italian, but less French and almost no Spanish. The Croatian language has always interested me and will certainly be helpful for traveling around Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro someday when I finally learn enough to communicate. If we had had more time, we would have done some excursions to Mostar and the Bay of Kotor since they’re both an hour or two from Dubrovnik. I’ve always wanted to see Sarajevo too and learn more about the history of the Balkan wars. But that’s another trip for another day…
More photos: View the full Croatia photo album and check out some Croatian realia so you can see how the language is used in everyday life (menus, signs, receipts, etc.)