This year for our annual ‘kids-free’ vacation Victor and I decided to go to Croatia and Montenegro. Why these two countries you may ask? Croatia was the only destination in Europe that we wanted to go to but have not visited yet and since a friend recommended it last year, it went high on our To Travel list. And Montenegro? Well, I LOVE saying ‘Montenegro’ (have done so ever we’ve been Casino Royal, that was supposed to be set thre) and I could not think of a better excuse to say ‘Montenegro’ than to actually go there:) And since these countries are right next door to each other (AND flying to Montenegro was several hundred dollars less than flying to Croatia) we decided to add Montenegro to our itinerary.
I usually do quick summary posts of our travels but a lot of people have been asking me about this trip so I decided to write a more detailed description of our trip and itinerary.
We LOVED these countries! I did not know much about them and I gotta say that we were AMAZED at the beauty of these places.
We arrived to the capital of Montenegro – a small town of Podgorica. It was pleasant – with huge statues of Transformers (protectors of the city!) everywhere. It was occupied by the Ottomans years ago and you can still see their influence with a couple of mosques here and there.
After spending a night in Podgorica we rented a car to explore the rest of Montenegro. You may not know this, but my husband has a super human ability to find his way ANYWHERE in the world so when we were told we had to wait 30 min to get a GPS, he said that we would be fine without it. The thing he did not know, was that they don’t believe in street or any other kinds of signs in Montenegro and the fact that English is not widely spoke outside of the capital, did not help either. Miraculously, we only got lost twice and somehow made it to all our destination in this small but beautiful country!
We checked out an old monastery built into a rock in Ostreg:
Then we headed to Bay of Kotor, where we spent on night in a cute town by the sea:
before heading out to the town of Kotor, which I think was my most favorite sight of the whole trip! The old town is a UNESCO World’s Heritage sight and is beyond words amazing. It is a walled city and there are no cars allowed in it. Even if cars were allowed, they would not be able to get very far because all streets are so narrow. I absolutely LOVED exploring this town – its cobble stoned alleys, tiled roofs, beautiful churches and of course- great restaurants! There is an old fort on the top of the mountain outside the city and we were told that it takes 1350 steps to get there. I don’t know if anyone actually counted the steps but having made that trek I definitely believe it – it was not an easy climb! But the view from the top – of the whole city and the Adriatic sea was worth it!
After spending a few days in Kotor we headed to Dubrovnik, Croatia which was only about 2 hours away. We were thinking about taking a bus across (returning a car in Croatia was $200 extra so we dropped it off in Montenegro) but someone recommended that we could just take a taxi over the border, which we did. We’ve crossed country borders on planes, trains, and cars driven by Victor – this was our first time ‘cabbing’ a border crossing:)
Dubrovnik was truly stunning! We stayed in the Old Town (another UNESCO World’ Heritage Site) and it was awesome! The view from our hotel room (the pic below) was truly spectacular! We took a tour around the old wall and it was timed perfectly as we were able to see the city during daylight as well as at sunset. My picture taking got a bit out of hand because every single corner looked stunning but soon I realized that I should just enjoy it so Victor and I saw on the wall and took in the beauty of the sun setting over the sea and these old city walls.
We did not have any set itenerary so we just walked all over old town and Lovrjenac Fort exploring and breathing in history. We also found out that they were shooting Game of Thrones there (apparently most scenes from Westeros are filmed there!) so on our last morning we went looking a filming locating, hoping to be ‘discovered’ and making our small screen debut in Game of Thrones Season 5. Discovered we were not but we did find a Lannisters flag!
After Dubrovnik we were heading to a town of Split but at breakfast, while looking through our guide book, decided on a last minute detour and a day trip to Bosnia to a town of Mostar – another UNESCO World Heritage Site! I did not know anything about Bosnia except for the fact that there was a civil war there. When we went to Germany a few year ago, I remember thinking that a lot of places we were visiting were bombed and rebuilt and we were walking through history in a way. It was even more surreal going to places like Dubrovnik and Bosnia that had civil wars during MY lifetime.. Mostar was damaged pretty badly and we saw a few buildings with bullet holes – a sad reminder of what happened there in not so distant past. Stari Most (see below) – a symbol of Mostar was ruined during the war but they did an amazing job rebuilding it and all areas around. It was very interesting to see how Muslim and Christian cultures co-exist (peacefully it seems!) side by side – with mosques on one side of the river and churches on the other. It was a lovely detour and I was so glad that now Bosnia for me is associated not with the war but with this beautiful city and friendly people.
Victor put together our itinerary and I did not know anything about Split – I thought it would be just another town on the Adriatic city. Was I wrong! It was unlike anything we’ve seen before. Yes, it was a small town (at least the old town part) and yes, it was set on sea but it was unlike anything we’ve seen on this trip or before that! The main attraction there is Diocletian Palace, which, I thought, would be similar to roman ruins we saw in Italy. But it was completely different – it was a living part of the city so to speak – the city was built around it – with restaurants, cafes and even apartments built right in the palace walls! On our first night there, we had dinner underneath an arch that was over 1600 years old! And when we came across the main attraction – the Cathedral of St. Domnius and a square surrounding it, we were left simply speechless! But outside of the wall it looks like any modern southern European city by the city – with tons of cafes, palm trees and a promenade – a mix of Marseille and Nice. It was very interesting to see the old and the new side by side.
Our next stop was Plitvice Lakes National Park, which was a few hours drive from Split. This park is known for many lakes and waterfalls and while it may not sound very exciting, the pictures I saw prior to the trip, and the fact that this park was listed on one of the Top Sights to See list, made me very happy about going there. The morning we headed to this park was cold, grey and rainy and when we got in we discovered that a lot of trails were closed due to flooding. In addition, the fog there was so heavy that while we could HEAR waterfalls we could not see them at all. But then fog has lifted and the view was beyond words STUNNING! I literally ran out of words – all I could master was ‘awww’ and ‘ohhhhh’! There were wooden paths everywhere so we walked across the lakes with waterfalls surrounding us! It was an experience unlike anything we’ve done before!
Our last stop on the trip was the capital of Croatia – Zagreb. Dubrovnik and Split get a lot more praise and we did not have many expectations of Zagreb, other than the fact that it had a great food scene – which was good enough for us! But the city surprised us – it was quaint and small (as far as capitals go) and did have a lot of charm and personality. We spent two days exploring it, breathing in (AND eating) fresh fruit and vegetables at Dolac Market, checking out beautiful cathedrals and of course eating at many great restaurants the city had to offer.
It was a wonderful trip and definitely exceeded our expectations. Victor said that he liked it even better than Italy, which I disagree – after all what can be better than ITALY, but it did come pretty close. So if you are planning a trip a bit of the beaten path, I cannot recommend Montenegro and Croatia enough!