travelling

+ Split, Korčula & Dubrovnik: Croatia Travel Tips

Split, Korcula and Dubrovnik Travel Guide
I planned our Croatia trip almost a year in advance - we had no big plans to look forward to and Croatia was always on our bucket list so it made sense to get something in the diary. It was a daunting task - there's so many must-see places that it's futile to try to tick them all off in one week, so we settled on an itinerary of five nights in Split (to include day trips to nearby gems), two nights in Korčula and then two final nights in Dubrovnik before flying home. See below for my Croatia travel tips based on my first taste of this gorgeous country!

Tip #1: Don't spend more than two or three nights in Split, and instead spend more time in Korčula or a more peaceful island such as Hvar or Brac.

Split

Diocletian's Palace

I came across Apartment Luxury Palace No.1, a beautiful one-bed apartment right in the heart of Diocletian's Palace with its very own hot tub and terrace. You might think that staying within the confines of a UNESCO World Heritage site would be peaceful, but on a Friday night in peak tourist season the palace is less royal and more rave! The Diocletian's Palace was absolutely heaving with people when we arrived, so we were perked up to see that the apartment owner had left us some freebies:


Complimentary fruit, biscuits and wine from the owner of our Airbnb

The main living area
The main living area

The master bedroom
The master bedroom

Breakfast on the terrace
Breakfast on the terrace

The hot tub with a glimpse of the Saint Domnius Bell Tower

The hot tub with a glimpse of the Saint Domnius Bell Tower

Walking around the Roman ruins is captivating; every time you look up you'll find gorgeously worn shutters, intricate chimneys  and columns, or a cloudless sky framed by the opening of a vestibule.

Tip #2: If you're short on time and money, Diocletian's Palace has reams of cheap pizza stalls and well-priced gelato.

We only ate out one evening within the palace grounds, at a place called Appetit - my steak was good but Ned wasn't so convinced about his braised beef! It didn't help we were there super early and the place was artificially forcing an atmosphere with electronic music despite there only being three tables' worth of punters. I'd also thoroughly recommend Buffet Fife, quick, cheap and unbelievably tasty Croatian cuisine.

Tip #3:  Don't be fools like us and withdraw lots of Euros for your Croatia trip - even though some places accept them, it's technically illegal to use as currency so it's best to get a small amount of Kunas and then top up as and when you need to. Another tip we were told by a fellow traveller was to choose the option that lets the bank set the conversion rate on ATMs to get a better deal.

Split's Coastline

Bačvice Beach

Bačvice Beach

It's a truth universally acknowledged that sandy beaches are better than pebbly ones, and the good news is that there's the golden Bačvice beach just a few minutes' walk from the main town centre. However, this beach is REALLY busy (Costa Del Hell) so  (Tip #4) I'd recommend walking along the coast towards Radisson Blu, as the beach there is less hectic.

We stopped walking once we reached the Mistral Beach Bar & Restaurant. The food here was pricey but tasty with the fluffiest home-baked bread rolls I think I've ever been lucky enough to try! You can also rent a sun lounger at their beach bar.
Lunch at the Mistral restaurant

Plaza Kasjuni

The next day we tried out Plaza Kasjuni. You can either spend 45 minutes walking along the coastal road from the Riva of Split (bearing in mind that the pavement stops at one point) up towards Joe's Beach Lounge & Bar, or get the No.12 Bus from here.

You can rent a sun lounger for 100 Kuna, overlooking the beautiful Kasjuni bay. The water is so salty you can almost float but be warned - the seabed is very, very jagged! Unfortunately for us, one of Joe's restaurants didn't serve food(!) and its sister restaurant had a big birthday group reservation and so there was a two-hour wait. My advice is to reserve a table before you go!

Joe's Beach Bar & Lounge at Plaza Kasjuni

Bene Beach

Our first encounter of this quiet little beach was on our Split Sunset Sea Kayaking Tour. The no.12 bus also takes you there directly. We got into our kayaks (much to the disapproval of a local self-entitled idiot who harassed our tour guides for ruining 'his' stretch of sea) and set off towards an old military posting, past The Mediterranean Institute for Life Sciences and then onwards to a quiet bay. En route, we spotted a couple of nudists who really didn't expect thirty kayakers to glide past!

Most of the group posed for Go Pro shots as they jumped off a jagged boulder, whereas Ned and I opted for a few moments chilling on a more attainable rock on the shore. We then headed back and watched the sun set from our kayaks before the tour officially ended.

Krka Waterfalls - Day Trip

Although we technically booked a tour, it was really just a return bus journey with a brief river cruise from Skradin to the park entrance. Tip #5 - Buy your tour ticket as part of a special offer bundled in with the sea kayaking tour. On the cruise we were treated to the most stunning views of untouched nature, as if humans had never discovered this slice of the world before. It was only when we got through the entrance that we started to appreciate just how busy the place was!

Once you've bought your ticket and walked into the park, (tip #6) is to turn left towards the wooden walkway rather than going straight to the waterfalls. That way, you're going 'against' the majority of tourists as they loop along the path.

Following the path around, there's various little pockets of water bordered by rugged bushes to explore, very much like tiny secret gardens! Come lunchtime, food at the Buffet restaurant near the Mill was good if slightly overpriced, and unfortunately we didn't get to go too close to the waterfalls as it was packed with people :(

Marjan Mountains

To start your ascent up this hill, walk past Buffet Fife up Solurat Ul. and then turn right up the stairs when you reach Hotel Garden Apartment. Once you reach the top of the steps, you'll find a viewpoint to your left (opposite Cafe Bar Vidilica) where you'll see a gorgeous view of Split, as seen in the pic below:

From what we could see, there's no real end point to the trail but we continued past Bene Beach and towards a marina full of yachts. The dense forest offers a lot of much-needed shade, and en route you'll also find the odd secluded cove - (tip #7) definitely seek a space there to bathe rather than walking all the way to Prva Voda plaža, a distinctively average beach. Next time I go I'd also consider paying closer attention to this blog post by Becky Snyder detailing the best way to explore the mountains.

Korčula

Getting there from Split: First of all, getting the ferry from Split was a bit of an ordeal - the Jardolinijia website doesn't say which part of the port to go to, and all the ferries look the same and are a long way apart from each other so tip #8, leave yourself plenty of time to find/board the ferry. We booked the 9.15am ferry (via Hvar) but narrowly avoided missing it thanks to running about like headless chickens with a broken and far too heavy suitcase! We got to the old town port just in time for midday, where we were easily able to find a taxi to get to Tara's Lodge.

Tara's Lodge

Snapshot of the bay and the food served at Tara's Lodge

It takes about 10 minutes to get from the port to the lodge by taxi, and upon arrival you're greeted with a complimentary drink each :) The resort is located in a pristine bay minutes from the old town of Korčula, with units decorated in a minimalist Nordic style. FYI, we had room #20 and the panoramic sea view was slightly obscured by the main restaurant building.

Tip #9 Visit the beautiful Zrnovska Banja bay while it's still wonderfully undeveloped! The lodge is essentially the only touristy place we could spot which means you feel like you're a true local while lying on Tara's bean bag beds, but there's lots of new buildings being built and I suspect it won't stay this preserved forever. The only drawback is that there's not many other options for food or drinks unless you're willing to go to Korčula old town or explore further inland.


Every Thursday they hold a big barbecue on the shore. It's over £35 (350 Kunas) which is ridiculously overpriced, but you are a captive audience. The food was awesome though - we could choose from traditional skinless sausage, pork shoulder or chicken kebabs.

Korčula Old Town

We walked towards the old town in time for sunset. Along the coast were some secluded beaches and stunning views to boot of the mainland. For me, the old town is reminiscent of Cartagena in Colombia with its brightly painted houses and palm trees lining the roads.

Tip #10: Sit atop the town at Massimo Cocktail Bar in time for sunset. The bar offers 360 views from a medieval tower. To enter, you have to climb a ladder to get to the main bar, where poor Ned and I had to cover our eyes as dozens of girls with tiny skirts made their way down to leave! Finally we were able to get our seat, and before I could question how they get the cocktails into the bar, I noticed the little basket being raised up by a pulley system! The waitresses shout down the orders to the barmen downstairs 🍷🍸🍹

Šetalište Petra Kanavelića has arguably the poshest restaurants, all with reserved tables along the shore. You can easily find a bite to eat by exploring the walled town, and luckily we found an empty and deceptively average-looking place called Fundamentum. I tried the seabass with roasted vegetables and Ned opted for a Korčula speciality called Korculanski Scartocet (marinated baby beef filled with cheese and prosciutto, with homemade macaroni). This was the best introduction we had to Croatian cuisine throughout the entire trip!

Dubrovnik

Tip #11 Rather than rough it on the usual ferry, you can pay just 22 Euros (paid in Kunas) for a transfer onwards to Dubrovnik via the Korkyra travel agency. The cost includes hotel pick-up, then drop off to a boat at the Old town port which then takes you to the mainland before a very rocky and white-knuckle drive through the mountains towards Dubrovnik.

Once there, must-see attractions include walking the city walls, taking the cable car and sea kayaking at sunset. As we plan to come back to this beautiful place again soon, we decided to take it easy and spend most of our time at our hotel, the only 'activity' we did was City Walls:

As we plan to come back to this beautiful place again soon, we decided to take it easy and spend most of our time at our hotel, so we only tackled the City Walls! To get there, you can enter via Pile Gate and entry costs 120 kunas per adult. There's also plenty of stops along the walls to get an ice cream or a snack so don't worry about bringing too much with you. To get to the entrance, you can enter via Pile Gate and entry costs 120 Kunas per adult. There's also plenty of stops along the walls to get an ice cream or a snack so don't worry about bringing too much with you.

Villa Dubrovnik

Tip #12 to infinity: One day, you HAVE to visit Villa Dubrovnik. It's seriously a place you'd think only exists in dreams. OK, it's ridiculously expensive which is why we only stayed two nights as the cherry to top our trip. The hotel itself is made of Brac stone and designed by two Croatians to a stunning finish, making Ned and I feel like we were being entertained at someone's Venice Beach mansion!

Villa Dubrovnik

Villa Dubrovnik

We plumped for room 201 (executive suite) as it included a hot tub, and according to Trip Advisor was the best suite to watch the sunset. It's a shame that this was overlooked by anyone taking the lift of chilling near the swimming pool, doubled with the fact that there was no curtain for us to bathe privately. The suite has a well-sized bathtub, his-and-hers sinks and a large bed with silk sheets. Because we chose the executive suite, breakfast delivered to our room was free of charge too! The lunch menu was reasonably priced (compared to the eye-watering amounts I imagined they'd charge) and you get to experience a gorgeous view of the walled city across the ocean.

The grounds also included:
* Swimming pool with choice of indoor or outdoor sunbeds
* Spa (if you book with Mr & Mrs Smith they give you a 30-minute 'Diamond Bed' treatment, but don't bother!)
* Free gym with reasonable choice of equipment
* Concrete beach with private swimming area
* Numerous luxury lounges with a wide range of books
* Prosciutto Wine Bar (amazing view of the walled town at sunset)
* Vaporetto boat service to the old town. The boat had technical issues during our stay so we had a free taxi shuttle instead

To wrap up, this truly was a trip of a lifetime and it blows my mind that Croatia is less than 3 hours to fly to from London. No need to fly long-haul to find paradise ever again! Ned and I have already decided that we'll head back next year and visit Hvar, Brac and spend more relaxation time in Korčula. All I know is that I can't wait to write up my next Croatia travel blog post in 2017 :)


+ How I Spent My Time in '09

This was the year I travelled around the world, starting off in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the world's biggest party, the Rio Carnaval! It's funny how the second you get home you almost forget you ever spent over five months seeing some of the most beautiful parts of the planet. So to remind myself of what I did accomplish, here's a selection of my favourite moments of the last year:

+ Went to watch the Rio Carnaval parades in the sambodrome not once but twice!

Halong Bay, Vietnam

+ Cruised Halong Bay, Vietnam

+ Watched the sun rise over the Caribbean sea in Colombia.

+ Mountain-biked down the world's deadliest road near La Paz, Bolivia.

+ (If you include the end of '08) I saw three of the official new 7 wonders of the world: Christ the Redeemer in Rio, Machu Picchu in Peru and the great wall of China.

+ Danced the samba with Brazilian locals in a bloco while drinking caiprinhas.

+ Went tubing in a turbulent river (while drunk) and survived!

+ Hiked the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand.

+ Held a baby crocodile in the middle of the Amazon jungle... and seconds later found a snake inside our boat!


+ Backpacking Tips: Common Misconceptions

 

Misconception #1 -It's difficult.

Obviously the strain of travelling is subjective, but it really is possible to make your way around the world without researching and planning every movement in advance. While it can be demanding to book a bus ticket in Brazil due to knowing zero Brazilian-Portuguese, you CAN communicate what you want in other ways. Tried-and-tested ways include writing the bare bones of the information, such as destination, time and date and then handing it over to the ticket officer. When that fails, you'll be surprised how often another traveller or English-speaking local come to your rescue!

Misconception #2 - The whole world is a paradise

Maybe I'm wrong but when I ponder upon the nature of paradise I don't visualise myself sleeping in a manky, rickety bunkbed in a room full of mosquitoes, let alone sleeping in a room with other questionables! Of course, there are moments when life on the road is pure freedom, but that's not to say that just because you are on the trip of a lifetime every moment will count.

Misconception #3 - You'll stick to your budget

Uh-uh. Just you wait until you hit the weekend markets for 'cultural reasons', only to return to your hostel laden with swathes of silk, souvenirs and questionable wooly legwarmers for the coming summer (oops!). Just be aware that money repels a traveller's purse.

Misconception #4 - Foreign countries are scary!

Particularly when I tell people I once lived in Shanghai, China, their first expression is one of shock, followed by horror. "Oh my God, how did you cope?!" I'm often asked. But to be honest, although countries vary immensely around the world, they are all pretty much comprised of the same elements. Like your hometown or home country, there'll be people there to look out for you, people who want to take advantage of you, and places you shouldn't go in the dark. While travelling I tried to make sure I was as cautious as possible, but it's actually more likely that bad things will happen to you in your home environment because your guard is down!

Finally, travelling is all about getting out there and experiencing it first-hand. It doesn't matter how much of your Lonely Planet you've read, backpacking tips you've memorized or how many questions you've posted in forums. What does matter is that you're open-minded and ready to spend your next few months doing something memorable. Just don't feel too sad when you get home, are skint and desperately want to hit the road again!


+ Don't Let a Tight Budget Ruin Your Trip

Keiichi Iwasaki
Keiichi Iwasaki proved that low funds are no barrier to seeing the world when his story was featured in the media last week. Iwasaki left his native Japan for a worldwide voyage with the equivalent of just £1 in his pocket, facilitated by a humble bicycle to cover the huge distances. Earning money through street performances such as magic tricks, he has been able to climb Mount Everest, row across the Caspian sea, and generally live a life quite literally worlds apart from his old air-conditioning job.

All power to you if you're brave enough to attempt something similar (please do!), but however low your budget is, there are ways to make sure your journey doesn't come to an end before you want it to. I went travelling with minimal funds and the comfort of an interest-free overdraft. Here are some tips to survive on a pittance, and NOT at the expense of having a good time (see the pun I did there?!).

- Keep in mind cheaper hostels are often unpopular and have less opportunities to meet fellow travellers, and so if you’re travelling solo you won’t be getting quality for money. I never realised it until I started backpacking but it often serves well to pay more to meet people.

- Stand your ground with scheming taxi drivers etc, but don’t let it take over your everyday experiences abroad. Many travellers become so weary of being stitched up by opportunists that you end up haggling over a silly amount of small change... let it go over your head and you’ll enjoy your trip so much more.

- LISTEN to advice from all sources, i.e. locals as well as your guidebook. Often restaurants/cafes listed in guidebooks put up their prices as a result of their ensuing popularity.

- Shop around when you get to the bus depot. In many foreign countries there are several companies all trying to compete with each other, and inevitably prices vary. Just by spending a couple of extra minutes doing your research can save you enough for tomorrow's lunch! Also, when booking bus tickets with your hostel you should ask if that is a 'VIP' or 'local' bus. To really save money you should stipulate you want the cheapest bus possible, because they will automatically place you on the more expensive bus. Obviously you need to ask fellow travellers about the safety of such loca buses.

- Being on a budget doesn't mean ruling out eating in restaurants. In fact, it's often cheaper to eat out rather than cooking your own meal, particularly if you are by yourself. What I used to do was try and save some of my dinner, take it home with me and eat it the next day!


+ Favourite Moments From My Time Away - Part 2



Here is the second and last installment of my most memorable moments from my recent trip travelling around the world.

Hmong village children with their free bananas! Luang Prabang, Laos

We visited three different hill tribes near Luang Prabang, Laos, and we had the chance to interact with the local children. They were curious of us and didn't know how to react when we gave them our bananas for free; the photo shows they seemed to appreciate them however!

Two Cambodian children, Koh Kong

I met a Cambodian girl who invited me back to her family home for dinner. I met the children and the neighbours, who all thought it was hilarious that a white girl was hanging around their area! What made it so memorable was that it gave me a chance to see a different side to travelling, where there are no other backpackers and you get to see a foreign country's way of life first-hand.

Last of New Zealand

Not so much a moment, but at some points travelling through New Zealand the scenery is enough to give you goosebumps. Above is an example of such scenery in the South Island, where the Matheson Lake reflects views of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman.

Me in front of Mao in Tianmen Square, China

OK, so this was a separate trip from my time backpacking, but it was still less than a year ago so the memory is relatively fresh! I was blessed during my short time in Beijing; the air was crisp and not polluted, the skies were clear blue and the sun was shining. What I remember is just feeling in awe of the beauty of this metropolis, be it the Summer Palace, Tianmen Square or one of the various parks. I love China!

Panoramic view of secluded tea farm near Anji,China

This is also from my time in China and NOT during my backpacking trip, but I think the photo speaks for itself. We were able to camp by a secluded lake with barely any other people around, and were allowed to wander around this tea farm valley thanks to the lovely middle-aged lady that ran it.

Tea farm lady writing in Chinese, trying to communicate with us

Again, while in China we went to camp in this rural, completely idyllic and secluded location, and we met a tea farmer who ran the tea valley pictured above. We only knew limited Mandarin, and she obviously knew no English, so actually wrote a message to us in Chinese! Shame we didn't translate it until later: "I am from China. Where are you from?"