Croatian Island Hoping My Own Way

It’s a question that every backpacker faces  – whether to do a tour or work out how to do it on your own? With the Europe summer fast approaching my inbox is being flooded with early bird Sail Croatia deals…. oh so tempting!

Sunny Croatia

With several itinerary options – some starting in Dubrovnik and others in Split, some are round trips, some visit the islands to the south and some do the islands in the north.  You would be hard pressed not to find the perfect itinerary for you.  They also offer a number of styles – for the under 35s backpacker, luxury cruises, sail and cycle and there is even one for young professionals.

Yet with all of these great reasons to do the Sail Croatia experience (or one of the many other companies that offer the same thing) I am still dubious. There are some major drawbacks – the obvious being stuck on a boat with 12 people who could potentially annoy the crap out of you.  Having to go and see things that are on the well trodden path (though there is a reason that those places are so popular so it’s not necessarily a bad thing). If you really like a place you can’t stay and get to know it better and if you really hate a place you still have to spend time there. For all the ease that a tour can give you it does take away some of your freedom.

So whats the alternative?  Especially in Croatia where there are so many beautiful islands that you want to see? And what if you have limited time and funds? How can you see and do as much as possible without resorting to a tour?

There are some great pros to doing a tour, and yet every time I think of Sail Croatia one memory comes flooding back.  I was in the town of Hvar, having a quick beverage before dinner with some friends I had just met, the bar tender was joking with us as well as a few locals who were also having a quick drink on their way home.  Suddenly the barman gets a call, after he hangs up he heaves a great sigh and pulls out a tray filled with shot glasses which he proceeds to fill.  Before he had finished the place was packed with a boat load of sweaty, obnoxious 20 somethings from the Sail Croatia boat.  We decided to leave in search of dinner… the locals did the same.  On the way out I saw a girl who looked about my age (not quite 30), hanging back with resignation as cheers erupted from the bar – I pitied her. After dinner we walked back past the bar which was now quiet (the Sail Croatia crowd had moved on) we re-claimed our seats and continued to laugh with the barman.

Chilling out in Hvar

Getting around Croatia in a short period without resorting to a tour is easy and cheap.  Here is the quick itinerary based on the same amount of time as the Dalmatian tour companies.

Day 1 – Split

  • Accommodation: Silver Central Hostel 17 Euros per night peak season.  Close to everything, clean and with great helpful staff.

    Exploring Split through a free walking tour

    Exploring Split through a free walking tour

  • Do: There is a free walking tour that starts by the harbour every day – the guides are funny and informative, great way to orientate yourself and get a little of the history. Or you could go swimming and watch people play Picigin – or have a go yourself! There are also loads of great shops and restaurants – indulge yourself.

Day 2 – Split to Hvar

  • Transport: Jadrolinija runs a ferry to Hvar for about 12 Euros – but check the schedule as it changes
  • Accommodation: Dink’s Place – a fun family run affair! 28 Euros per night
  • Do: Walk around the old town, eat some amazing food and go swimming… anywhere its all amazing

Day 3 – Hvar

  • Transport: Hire a car or a scooter if your game! We negotiated a great rate of 32 Euros a day

    Renting a car and driving through lavender fields on Hvar

    Renting a car and driving through lavender fields on Hvar

  • Do: See the other towns of the island such as Zavala and Stari Grad. Stand in a Lavender field, go wine tasting, eat plenty of fresh olives and swim in one of the hundreds of secluded coves you will drive past.

Day 4 – Hvar to Korchula

  • Transport: Jump on the Jadrolinija ferry to Korchula for 15 Euros
  • Accommodation: We stayed at Dragan’s Den – It was quite far out-of-town, but the staff were amazing, the house was amazing (had a pool!) and the walk was actually a great way to walk off any alcohol that may have accumulated when you were dragged out be the afore mentioned staff on a random night out! It was just 20 Euros per night
  • Do: Hire a bike for 3 Euros and ride along the coast – there are some amazing sights as well as some great spots to stop and enjoy a sneaky wine and a swim.

Day 5 – Korchula

  • Do: Walk around the town, climb the old bell tower, drink great coffee, climb over the walls and go for a swim, check out the art galleries (Korchula is known for culturing many young artists)

    Over the town walls to find a spot for a swim

    Over the town walls to find a spot for a swim

Day 6 – Korchula to Dubrovnik

  • Transport: You can catch a ferry and then a bus (pretty much every travel agency on the island can arrange this for you) or you can catch a ferry straight there however check the timetable as these only run on certain days even in the peak season. Bus and Ferry for 20 Euros
  • Accommodation: Hostel Villa Angelina Old Town – a bit more expensive at 24 Euros but once again great staff and clean light dorms.
  • Do: Walk explore the lane ways, try pancakes at La Dolce Vita, eat dinner at Lady Pi Pi’s, go on a free pub crawl.

Day 7 – Dubrovnik

  • Do: Get up early and climb the walls to beat the crowds and see the sun come over the terracotta roofs. Visit the Cliff bar for a cocktail and some cliff jumping – though maybe jump off the cliffs before the cocktail!

Accommodation: 178 Euros for one person
Transport: 47 Euros for one person

When you add everything up it only equals 225 Euros! Much less than 469 Euros for Sail Croatia.

Hvar

Of course there are always extra incidentals such as sneaky ice creams and emergency sun cream – but you would buy these on a tour as well. If you are heading to Croatia for a short break this summer make sure to do your research and see if you can do it on your own – you might be pleasantly surprised at the money you will save but also the freedom it gives you to make new friends and fall in love with new places.

A Whiff of a Tuna Paté Memory

We all know that our senses are strongly linked to our memory – we have all had that moment when walking through a shopping centre and a whiff of someones cologne gives you an instant flashback to that pubescent ex-boyfriend. A sausage sizzles makes me think of Saturday mornings following Dad around Bunnings (Bunnings definitely have an advertising advantage on a whole generation), when ever the name Queanbeyan is mentioned I immediately think of going to the South Coast (only a feeling a fellow Canberran will know), the sight of Colin Firth even in his old age still makes me feel like a young teenager gawking at the TV watching Miss Bennett and Mr Darcy fall in hate then in love.

Of course not all sensory memories are things you want to remember; every time I smell bleach I get flashbacks to my time as a kitchen hand in a hospital, the Nutbush just reminds me of awkward school discos and whiskey reminds me of that time I over indulged.

Occasionally though, there is a moment we want to remember, relive in what ever small way possible! This weekend I was reminiscing over the fabulous time I had basking in the Croatian sun while lolling in crystal blue waters.

Korchula

Almost sub-consciously I found myself in the kitchen preparing a mini feast for a few friends. Grabbing cheeses, olives, celery sticks, the old faithful spinach dip and finally my famous tuna paté!

This is a recipe I have half made-up and half stolen from others, all in an attempt to recreate that perfect meal moment I had in Croatia.

We had started the day late on the island of Korchula, having slept in, after a late breakfast we had revived ourselves by climbing over the walls of the town and flopping into the water. At some point we grabbed an ice cream and explored the shops, including climbing an old church bell tower – it really was an exhausting day!

Korchula

We decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal out at a fancy restaurant with table cloths. We placed our order and sat back watching the sun setting over the terracotta roofs when suddenly the waiter appeared with a little appetiser on the house – tuna paté with crusty bread. I don’t remember the rest of the meal – it can’t have been anything spectacular. To this day all I want is to relive those four bites of tuna pate on crusty bread after a long day swimming and watching the sun set!

After chatting with a few locals and some googling I have pulled together the below recipe – a must have for any entertaining shindig or for a Sunday afternoon splurge!

  • 400g tin of tuna in the brine or oil (you could use real tuna – but who has 400gs of cooked tuna left over) (if you don’t want the brine drain it off and melt a slice of butter to add instead to keep it moist)

    A handful of roughly chopped parsley and spring onions

    A handful of roughly chopped parsley and spring onions

  • A large hand fully of roughly chopped parsley
  • 2-4 Clove’s of garlic (how much depends on how much you plan on kissing later in the evening)
  • Spring onion tops – one handful, chopped
  • 300g Cream cheese or if you feel like a healthier version, cottage cheese.
  • 3-5 green olives
  • Salt and pepper
  • A squeeze of half a lemon
  • If you like it salty like me add in half a tin of anchovies, if not then leave them out – they don’t make it any more “fishy”
  • A very healthy splash of tobacco sauce.

 

Simply put all the ingredients into a food processor and whizz whizz!

Small processor: Separate and whizz in batches

Small processor: Separate and whizz in batches

However if you have a little food processor like me, you can put all the ingredients into a big bowl and mix them together and then whizz whizz them in batches.

I like to let it sit on the fridge for half an hour or so, it’s often even better the next day so you can make it ahead of time if you know you are entertaining.

Serve with crusty bread, crackers or celery sticks.

Serve with crusty bread

Serve with crusty bread

A good trip: 50% Location and 50% the People – who ever they may be!

I do love my own bed – really I do! Yet I find myself silently cursing it every morning I wake up at home.  In all honesty though it’s not the bed that’s making me sad – I have the home time blues.  I have been home a while now and yet they aren’t fading as quickly as they normally do. The perfect solution is rather obvious I need to steal the Bed Knobs and Broomsticks bed which will take me to many amazing places with just three tabs of the bed knob (innuendoes aside) then I could be happy where ever I sleep.

I had no excitement about coming home – probably because when I left London it was 28 degrees (gasp in shock) and when I arrived in Sydney it was 5 degrees and raining (double gasp!).

Of course I loved seeing my friends again… for all of five seconds, soon though we were all talking about work and love and diets and life – topics which I had studiously avoided for the length of my trip.  I wished that we could all jump in a van and take off on a road trip together, leaving all of these thoughts behind.

Work was not the worst part (shock), we were so busy that I had to jump in with two feet due to the mountain of emails that were clamouring to be heard that from 8-5 I forgot that I had ever been on holiday…(hmmmmmmm)

No the worst thing is that the memory is starting to slip (the old lady in me has begun to surface).  Of course I remember the events, and the places and even the people.  The feeling though – you know the feeling! The one where you feel free and energised, where any worries are limited to if you will wake up in time with/without a hangover for your walking tour. The feeling of possibilities but at the same time the feeling that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.

In trying to recapture this feeling – even for just a moment – I started going through my videos and films, and because I have a blog that means I must share!

Here is Croatia – Love from me!

What is Perfection?

Can you have such a thing as too perfect.  Too many moments where you want to sigh with pleasure to the point where it is no longer possible to feel how spectacular the moment really is?

Dubrovnik streets

After a few days in Dubrovnik I began to think so! There was only so many times I could look up at the ancient streets covered in vines which the sunshine was glinting through ever so slyly and marvel. Only so many times I could jump into the crystal blue sea and lean back and say ‘Dude is this my life!’. After a while you begin to feel your sense of reality has been warped and changed.

Yet in saying this I can genuinely say that my last night in Croatia in the southern capital of Dubrovnik really did ignite the spark of perfection.

We had spent the day in typical Dubrovnik backpacker style, after making friends with everyone in our dorm room we had proceeded to jump off rocks just outside the city walls into the sea that was so clear that we could sea the bottom even though it was a good 15 meters below us. By the end of the day we were tired (even though we had been sleeping all day), sunburnt (You can’t escape the sun no matter how much you slip slop slap) and worst of all… hungry!

A plan was made: to head home, shower, make ourselves slightly pretty and head round the corner for dinner.

When we arrived at Lady Pi Pi’s the gate was closed as it was already full.  For a moment we considered turning around and finding somewhere else to eat… only for a moment.  The smell of the roasting meats in garlic on the open outdoor flame had wafted to where we were standing – there was now only one thing to do – stand there and salivate until a table became free.

While we were standing there for half an hour watching the light slowly become more golden as it set over the terracotta roofs a small cat wandered past and jumped into a fountain just next to the gate… and this is how we discovered how the restaurant got its name.

Lady Pi Pi

Lady Pi Pi

Finally we were shown to a table on the top terrace just as the sun was dipping down into the sea. After waiting and staring at the menu for so long we wasted no time in ordering. Sardines and muscles with crusty bread for starter.  I would like to say that they were the most amazing muscles I have ever had with confidence but I think my hunger level may be skewing my judgement – but under anyones scale of judgement they were definitely up there with the best.  Made even better by dipping the crusty bread into the garlic tomato sauce to catch the few muscles that had escaped their shells and the orignal gorging.

After my second glass of the local red wine that is made in a vineyard just outside the city, my main arrived!

The light had started to fade and our meals were lit by candle light (which sounds romantic but when you are with a bunch of sunburnt backpackers… it really isn’t) yet there were no beastie bugs around – probably because we were so high up above the city.

Dubrovnik Views

Grilled sea bass with steamed garlic vegetables…. it was perfect! In fact I would go so far as to say it was fabtabulous!

The meat fell off the fish bones so easily that I was practically inhaling it instead of chewing it. Every mouthful had managed to catch all of the delicious flavours of the garlic grill.  Not going to lie – I took my time with it!

My Perfect Fish!

My Perfect Fish!

Finally when darkness had fully descended on the city we had finished.  To end the evening off we headed to the supermarket to grab a couple of beers to drink while we sat on the water’s edge… while also licking ice creams (not the best combination but shme).

As I sat there with good friends (who I had only known for two days) with a full belly (and really bad garlic breath) a beer in hand (slightly warm…) and with the beautiful moonlit ocean stretched out in front of me, I honestly couldn’t think of a single moment that could be more perfect and satisfying.

For the Price of a Smile

They say that it’s the people you meet that makes travel so amazing.  I don’t always agree with this as I have been to quite a few amazing places where the people have been horrible, rude or pushy – and yet this hasn’t dimmed the experience of the place for me at all.

Croatia however has been the best of both worlds, with stunning scenery, adventures to write home about all coupled with some of the nicest people I have ever met.

Two days ago we arrived in the small town of Korchula on the large island of Korchula and once again I had left the instructions on how to get to our hostel on the dratted computer machine.  So instead I walked into the first travel agency I saw and asked for some directions “It’s really far out of town so we will arrange a free transfer for you, just wait five minutes” – um ok, THANK YOU! This has been the theme of the whole trip – every where we go people go above and beyond to help us.

One theory is because we are two girls travelling alone, but I don’t think so as everyone we meet is saying the same thing about the Croatian people.

I am concerned though that this will fade with time as more and more tourists flock to the islands, invading and eradicating the culture with their demands that the locals will become more and more jaded.  It is my mission to meet every local with a smile and small talk – even when I am just asking for directions.

I really think its working as well.  Yesterday we hired bikes to ride around the island (we only went up and over two hills before deciding that it was dinner time), the lady who rented us the bikes had clearly had a hard day as she was tired and the tourists who were ahead of us in the line were rude and abrupt.  When she turned to help us I started off by just saying hello and asking after her day – such a small think but her attitude changed immediately! She organised the bikes for us, and even found ones with a bike pump attached to it for just in case – then she walked out of the store and showed us which way to go.

After we got back into town and were well fed I went to look at an art gallery where a famous Croatian painter who uses the impressionist style displays his work.  I am slowly building up my travel art collection – I don’t want the kitchy pieces that anyone can get on the side if the road, but pieces that tell a story of the place as the artist sees it.  And these were just like that.  I spent half an hour in the store chatting with the lady about which one I would like best before I bought one – as we were leaving she grabbed my hand and shook it with a firm hand “it was a pleasure to meet you” – this made the painting all the more valuable to me.

I was concerned that maybe it was more an island mentality that makes the people so lovely.  We arrived in Dubrovnick this morning and once again I didn’t have any directions on how to get to our hostel (you may shake your head at me but this little tactic has a silver lining) so once again we asked for directions. The lovely lady at Korkyra travel looked up the address for us as all we had been the name and marked how to get there on the map – she then also marked a few other things we may like to see just for kicks and walked us out and over the road to make sure we didn’t get lost.  All because we smiled and had a chat with her.

On the way to this internet cafe I got lost and was doing the obvious looking around thing with my map held out in front of me when a young girl working in one of the shops called out to me, she was quickly able to point me in the right direction with the help of a few of her fellow shopkeepers – and here I am.

For the small price of a smile you will find your way around Croatia with no problems and with more than a few extra nice surprises thrown in!

A Family Affair!

Good hostels are few and far between, great hostels are what legends are made of! Everyone has stayed at one great hostel which the will rave about and recommend the world over – maybe it was the people they met there, the staff or the location, or all of the above.

Whatever the “it factor” is you will remember it as much as the most extreme activities, it becomes linked with the place and time.

On our little burst through the Croatian isle we decided to stop off at the paradise of Hvar, so naturally we looked up Hostelworld to see what they recommended.  To our shock it seemed as though nearly everything was booked out (we later found out that the music festival called FOR was on).  In haste we booked into the next available hostel that we could find – Dink’s Place.

No sooner had my booking been confirmed when I received an email from Dink himself! Just welcoming me to Hvar and giving me instructions on how to find the place “if you can’t find it just ask someone if they know my father and they will point you in the right direction”.

Of course me being me forgot to print out these careful instructions before I left meaning we had no concept of which direction to walk in once we got off the ferry.  In the first travel agency that we found I asked for directions.

“oh you are at Dink’s – he is my friend!” and like that the nice lady was on the phone to Dink telling him we were on our way.  She also gave us a map and pointed out the route.  Shouldering our packs we began the hike up the hill.

Looking out over the city we momentarily had doubt about which way to go, but at that moment another friendly Croatian was passing who of course knew Dink as well and pointed us up the hill further.  It seemed that Dink is just as popular as his father.

Finally we found the place with its beautiful vine-covered patio. Peter, Dink’s father showed us around and gave us maps with an air that was so relaxed that I immediately felt as though I was meant to be here for the rest of my life.

Our room was cool and the beds huge and very comfortable.

That evening once we had been for a swim in the crystal clear waters we sat out on the patio with a beer in hand to watch the sun set over the islands that were dotting the horizon.  Slowly our fellow backpackers emerged and joined in – before long we had a nice little family (though it has to be said it was predominately Australians… I think we are invading!) ready to head out for a drink.

For the party crowd Dink has an arrangement with Kiva bar that his guests get a free shot upon entry.  Which is always a good way to start the night if you are so inclined.  I, however, was ready for bed.

The next day we hired a car and headed off to explore the many wonders of Hvar – this blog is not long enough for me to tell all of the amazing things we saw.  When we got back to our Dink’s our way was blocked by Dink and five friends lugging a vending machine up the stairs (a feat in its self) – it turned out that one of the guys was the same guy who had rented us our car earlier in the day!  Seriously everyone does know Dink.

Another night meeting people and watching the super yachts sail into town to disgorge the party goers and I felt like I had found a mini paradise and home in the middle of Croatia.

Unlike all of the party hostels in town Dink’s was more of a family run affair which created an atmosphere amongst its guests to bond and hang out. And most importantly it was only ten minutes from quite possible the most amazing beach I have ever seen!!

And Jesus Said “Don’t do anything untill I get back”

The reason that there is hardly any crime in the city of Split in Croatia is not because the police force is particularly effective or because the inhabitants possess more moral fiber than most – but purely because they are lazy. This is not a bad thing when you live in a city as beautiful as the heart of the Dalmatian coast is – in fact they pride themselves in their ability to laze about as after all Jesus said “Don’t do anything until I get back” or so they claim.

So when in Rome do as the Romans do – and while in Split… we did like the Spliticians did! Drink coffee, sit in the sun and most importantly – relax.

IMG_3351

We started our day off in Split with one of the most relaxed walking tours I have ever done, this could have to do with the fact that Split is a rather small town so you can walk all the major parts of it in just about 15 minutes, or it could have to do with the stifling heat making us all sluggish – but I think it was due to our great local guide who would lead us to shady spots round the city so she could point things out while cracking great jokes.  Then to top it all off she took us all out for a coffee in true Split style… walking was, after all, too much effort!

After such a strenuous morning we needed a nice hearty lunch to re-charge our batteries. We headed to a local place that our guide had gestured towards at one point – vaguely.  It was down a small unmarked alleyway with nothing but a red bench outside to mark its presence. We sat up at the wooden counter and chatted to the two lovely ladies who were behind the bar cooking, they recommended the fresh calamari and the Sardine fish balls with a side of mash and beans. Sure we said!!  I can honestly say that I have never had seafood with so much character and flavor which we washed down with a nice cold Pan beer – heaven!

In the heat of the day it appeared as though the city had emptied of locals, but a short walk round the cove lead us straight to them.  They were all hiding from the sun at the beach where they were enthusiastically playing Picigin in the shallow water.  We lolled about and watch in awe of their athleticism.

To end the day we continued on the style of Split by spending the evening with some fellow backpackers in a small seafront restaurant eating seafood late into the night.  The only blemish on the whole day was a rude man who approached us and our new Canadian friends and said  “I bet you can’t complete two sentences straight without using the word ‘like'” – to which we were LIKE seriously LIKE we are having a nice meal in peace and we are LIKE not hurting you or being LIKE obnoxious – but you can’t win them all and after all we were keeping with the style of Split and that kind of indignation takes more energy than should wisely be spent.

Now we are heading off to Hvar for some wine olive groves and lavender fields!