One Week Road Trip through Croatia

Writing about our incredible trip to South Africa over the Easter holiday has reminded me that I haven’t posted about our one week road trip through Croatia during Semana Santa (Easter) last year. We packed a lot in but hit some of the best spots in Croatia (sans islands), and I think it’s time I share that itinerary!

One week Road Trip Itinerary

(croatia and bonus Bosnia)

Zagreb

St. Mark's Church, Zagreb, Croatia
Okay, this is kind of a cheat because I spent my time in Zagreb before our week long road trip started. But Zagreb is SUCH a great little city, and was one of my favorite parts of Croatia. I think some people might skip it and head straight to the coast, but this would be a huge mistake! I spent four days happily exploring Zagreb, and I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything! Unfortunately for Gareth, we didn’t know how great Zagreb would be when we were planning (though Lee tried to warn us!), so while I got to spend four days there, he landed at the airport and we immediately set off for the Plitvice lakes.

Plitvice Lakes (Day one)

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

The lakes are beautiful, so plan to spend a few hours walking around and taking pictures. It is visually stunning and not a place to miss.

Zadar (Day one)

Zadar, Croatia

To break up the drive we spent a night in Zadar. Zadar was cute but quite honestly, it was the least exciting of the places we stayed and I think skippable. If we were doing this again, we’d find somewhere else to stay, or just drive straight down to Split.

Krka (day two)

Krka, Croatia

The main reason we needed to break the drive up was so we could stop at Krka National Park, which was gorgeous (and would be even better during the summer months when you can swim!). We preferred this to Plitvice because while Plitvice was beautiful, Krka was more of an adventure.

Split (Days two and three)

Split, Croatia

We spent two nights in Split and could have stayed much longer! The city is gorgeous and full of great food (and such a great bar). Plan to spend at least two days here!

Mostar (Day Four)

Stari Most Bridge, Mostar, Bosnia

We couldn’t be so close to Mostar (another place I once saw in a picture and knew I had to visit), without popping in, and luckily it was (pretty much) on the way. We only spent one night in magical Mostar, but the town is tiny and honestly this felt like enough. However, Mostar is definitely a can’t-miss part of this itinerary.

Dubrovnik (Days five, six, and seven)

Dubrovnik, Croatia

After some trouble getting back into Croatia (some border crossings are only for locals!), we arrived in Dubrovnik for our final three days in the country. We loved Dubrovnik and it was definitely the highlight for us. Had we had more time, or been less in love with Dubrovnik, we discussed doing a day trip into Kotor, Montenegro, but we decided to enjoy as much time in Dubrovnik as we could and do a separate trip to Montenegro some day.

overall

While we would have absolutely loved to spend more time in each place, and to visit some of the islands, given our one week road trip time limit this was the perfect itinerary for us. We moved around a lot but the infrastructure was top notch and the drive one of the most beautiful I’ve ever taken.

Lake Bled, Slovenia

About five years ago I saw a picture of what looked like a fairy tale brought to life. It was of a gorgeous lake, surrounded by towering mountains, with a tiny island in the middle with an old church on it. I wasn’t sure if it was real, but eventually tracked it down: Lake Bled, Slovenia.

Slovenia. It sounded remote and was definitely not a place I already had on my list. But after seeing that photo, up it went, and I am so incredibly glad I was able to go last Semana Santa, in between Italy and Croatia.

I made friends with a few people from my hostel, and we decided to spend the day in Bled together. Getting there from Ljubljana is really easy. The bus leaves right from the main station, and drops you off right at the lake about and hour and fifteen minutes later. They depart hourly, and are 7 euros each way. Some buses even continue on to Bohinj, which is another gorgeous looking lake. You can also go by train, which is faster but the stop is a few miles away from the lake so unless you feel like a walk, you’d have to then catch the bus or take a cab.

It was as stunning in person as it is in photos, which isn’t always the case, and even though it was Easter we only had to share the lake with about ten other people. We spent a few hours walking the loop, and at about the midpoint found a little shop that had groceries–we picked up some wine and the makings for a picnic. There’s a trail almost directly across from where you first enter that leads to the most incredible view point. It was a lot more steep and rocky than I had expected, but WOW were the views worth it. We stayed up there for about an hour, picnicking, and soaking in the beauty. There are hostels nearby if you want to stay for the night, but unless you’re planning on going to Bohinj the next day, there’s not much to do in the area once you’ve done the lake. It’s a perfect as a day trip from Ljubljana, and such a perfect way to cap off any trip to Slovenia.

48 hours in Ljubljana, Slovenia

A weekend in Ljubljana was the perfect rest stop between the craziness of Italy, and the fast paced road trip I was about to embark on with G.

A tiny capital city, there is very little to do but wander around, soak in the beauty, and speak to the amazingly friendly locals. Also ask again and again how to pronounce it–apparently it’s Loo-blah-nah. But the Spanish call it Libby-anna, the Germans have something else entirely, and it seemed like every person I asked had their own take–even the natives! So I guess the best advice is to just go with your gut and hope not to get it too wrong.

There weren’t many tourists while I was there–and this was over Easter holidays. I love avoiding tourists and instead trying to get a feel of what actually living in a place might be like.. And after the loneliness I felt in Venice, Ljubljana was the perfect place to do some solo travel.

The bus I took from Italy was delayed at the border due to what could only be described as some pretty serious racism. It was horrible to have to powerlessly witness it, and be unable to do anything to help.

Because of the delay we didn’t get into the city until past midnight, and I entered in a bit of a panic–my phone wasn’t working (the new rule that keeps EU phones working across borders is THE BEST, but hadn’t yet gone into effect), my hostel had a 21:00 pm check in cut off, and I had no idea how safe it would be to walk the streets alone at night.

Luckily, I was in Ljubljana which is probably the most charming, friendly, and sweet European city I’ve visited. They had free wifi everywhere, so I could easily log on, find my hostel, and alert them to my arrival. Walking the streets felt a lot safer than it does in London or even LA. There wasn’t a single moment I felt nervous walking alone.

I stayed at Zeppelin Hostel and I really loved it. However—I woke up on my second morning to discover that both me and the girl below me were covered in itchy red marks! BED BUGS. I don’t know if it’s me in particular, of if everyone is equally horrified by the idea of bugs crawling all over them whilst they sleep, but it was a really horrendous discovery. The hostel was fantastic, moving me to a new room, washing all my things (pretty great after a week on the road), and made my entire stay free. They were great people and from talking to others around Ljubljana, it sounds like it’s a huge problem at all the hostels—the bed bugs come up from Northern Italy—even the trains and buses that do the route are infested. So if you’re staying in a hostel, check the mattress carefully before climbing into bed!

BUT, even bed bugs could not get me down, as Ljubljana was fantastic. There’s not much to do, to be sure. You really only need a day or two in the city–it really is the perfect respite. I hiked up to the castle that sits atop the city, swung on the swing, and read a bit. 

Honestly though, wandering around the city, popping into shops, and eating the delicious food was so refreshing. To anyone who needs a respite after a bit of hectic travel, I highly, highly recommend taking a break in Ljubljana. There’s no need to sightsee, because the city is the sight. That, and Lake Bled, obviously, which is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been.

After 48 hours hanging around in Ljubljana, I was ready for the next adventure. I went into the bus station, and there were so many bus companies that weren’t listed online, with routes to Belgrade, Sarajevo, Trieste, and more, all for under 10 euros. My advice would be to check here before booking anything online, where the options were much more expensive.

I had a week before I had to meet G, and could go anywhere. The freedom was such a fantastic feeling, only hampered by the realization I couldn’t do it all. After checking out the weather, connections, and timings, I decided on Zagreb, as it was where G and I were meeting, but we wouldn’t actually spending any time in outside the airport. And seriously, it was the right choice!

24 hours in Venice

Going to Italy during Semana Santa helped me realize something about myself–I hate tourists. Not just other people, but I don’t like being one myself. It’s probably why whenever I go anywhere I even moderately connect to, I’m convinced I’ll move there one day and experience the place like only a true local can. That said, I don’t want to move to Venice. Venice is like Prague to me–too magical to be real. I couldn’t ruin Venice by actually moving there and having to worry about running late for work or changing the kitty litter or any other real life burdens. I want to preserve it’s otherworldly charm, but I do still want to go back. Because of Semana Santa the cheapest hostel I could find was over $45 and I could only afford a night there.

Venice was my second stop of 17 day trip over Semana Santa, and to be honest about the fact that travel is not all wonderful all the time, my night in Venice was not the best. Usually I love traveling alone, but after Rachel left Italy to go back to London, I was facing another week alone before Gareth and I met in Zagreb, and I suddenly felt really lonely. Add in that I didn’t arrive until the sun was beginning to set, and that Venice is not exactly the ideal place to be a single– I spent the most of the night sticking close to my hostel and on the phone with Gareth. Lame, I know.

Luckily after a good night’s sleep I remembered how much I actually love solo travel, and got my mojo back. I spent the day wandering through the maze like passages, stopping in awe every few minutes that a place like that actually exists.

    

I don’t have a ton of suggestions for how to best “do” Venice, because I don’t think I did it properly. I have a few suggestions based off of lessons I learned, however.

Book early – and by this I mean everything. Accommodation, certainly. But there are places online you can arrange a gondola share, because they are privately hired and seriously expensive. That said, the looks on people’s faces as they rode convinced me they are worth it.

Get off the beaten track – the restaurants that have their menus in a dozen different languages aren’t going to be the ones with food you never forget. One of my biggest regrets was the place I chose for dinner. I was staying in the Jewish area, an immediate left after crossing the Guglie bridge. I had wandered deeper into the city, and it was getting dark. I knew it was a bad idea, but I settled for a place on Rio Terà San Leonardo that was filled with tourists and served legitimately bad food. On the five minute walk back to my hostel, along Fondamenta Cannaregio, I passed about three places lit by candle lit and filled with Italians. Learn from my mistakes. And probably go to dinner on that street cause it looked amazing.

Buy a water bus day pass. The pass is 20 euros and a single journey is 7.50. The ride is such a good tour of the city, and to have been able to go to San Marco, Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore, and back to Guglie all on a water taxi would have been great.

Set aside time to get lost – this, I did, and it was one of my favorite parts of the day. As I wandered back from San Marco to Guglie, I passed through quiet, residential areas that were nearly empty, and offered just as much charm as the packed city center. I also stumbled upon La Bottiglia, which is an amazing deli. They asked me to trust them and built me the most incredible sandwich. If you like sandwiches, this is your place.

Saint Mark’s Square – They charge an outlandish price to sit and have a drink, but you should do it anyway. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s everything you imagine when you think of Venice. Have the Prosecco, obviously. Sit and listen to music and watch people try get a photo with the pigeons. Drink in the magic of the city, and if you’re like me have to remind yourself over and over again that you haven’t fallen into a movie set, but that Venice is a real place that exists in the world.

 

Dinner at Il Teatro del Sale

Il Teatro del Sale is an all you can eat dinner followed by a show, and the kind of dining experience you’ll remember forever. You’d think it would be overflowing with tourists, but when we went we were the only non-Italians in attendance. It’s the kind of place you immediately feel at home in, almost like you’re all having dinner in someone’s (huge) living room. There are private tables and community tables and as everyone gets up to collect the next dish at the same time, it feels like one big group dinner.

It’s run by a husband and wife team, he handles the food, she handles the entertainment. Together, they make quite the pair and have turned the place into a Florentine treasure. There are hundreds of dinner options in Florence, but you can tell this one is in the heart of the city and its history.

It’s a members only club, so to attend you have to become a member. It’s 7 euros to join and around 35 for the meal. Not exactly cheap, and also the (unlimited) wine that is included is quite literally undrinkable–and this is coming from a girl who thinks Franzia and two buck chuck is surprisingly tasty. We kept checking to see if other people were drinking it, wondering if maybe it had oxidized and no one noticed, but no. It was only a small few, but some people went back for seconds. We tried to power through, if only to be polite, but it was honestly like drinking nail varnish. Suffice it to say, we did not finish our (small) glasses, and they only sell wine by the bottle. The cheapest is another 30 euros, not ideal, and not an inexpensive night.

That said, everything else was amazing. The food was delicious. Like, really, really good. And there was tons of it. I eat a lot and even I was super overwhelmed with the amount and variety in front of me. The service was excellent, though we had an amazing language barrier experience.

The way the place runs is there’s always food being served on a table that you can just go grab. While this is happening the chefs are cooking a ton of other things right from the kitchen, and when that is ready the chef yells out, in Italian, what the next course is, and you line up and wait for them to hand you a plate. Easy enough. However, this was described to us as “when the cook screams, you must go running because there is a situation in the kitchen.” After a slightly concerned second wondering exactly what situation occurring in the kitchen would cause the chef to scream, we realized what he meant. It was hilarious and sweet and so nice to not be the one making little sense in a second language for a change!

The show afterwards was my favorite part. It was two older guys, and I’ve never seen anyone love what they do so much. One of them was literally grinning and jumping around the entire time, and if I can be half as happy and content as he is, I will consider myself a success.

They serve brunch as well, and next time I’m in Florence I will definitely be back. I highly recommend this place to anyone wanting an authentic Italian experience!