Hey everyone, it’s Emily here, taking over Jay’s blog to share some travel experiences and tips from Croatia. I’ll have more detailed blogs on specific locations coming soon but let’s begin with Croatia in general.
there’s so Much…
Quick – top 3 things that come to mind when you hear Croatia… surprise FIFA world cup finalists? Dragons flying above King’s Landing for the GoT fans out there? Sunshine and cruise ships?
All I can say is it is this and so much more. The friendly people, the breath-taking national parks and the clear, blue-green waters of the Adriatic Sea are just the beginning.
Jay and I spent a fortnight travelling this incredible country; East to West, North to South (then back up again), exploring some well-known locations and discovering some lesser-known ones. Here are a few of the bits and pieces we picked up along the way:
Croatian is the national language spoken in Croatia however, the majority of accommodation, restaurants and customer service oriented businesses either speak English fluently or to a degree that you can easily communicate the basics. English is displayed on most signs which made getting around all the easier.
And as many of you will already know, it’s always nice to learn a few words of the native language when visiting a new country. ‘Hvala’ (thank you) quickly became a regular part of our vocabulary. It was often received with a smile and was a simple gesture that helped to bridge any gaps between languages.
There are many ways to view this beautiful country- via cruise ship, on tour buses or driving it by car to name a few.
Now, this is where I’m sure I am a little biased…drive it, drive it, drive it! You’ll see what a cruise ship experience can never give you. In saying that, the vast majority of vehicles are manual, so you best be confident with a stick.
The driving was an experience in itself. Through any of the populated areas, there is a feeling of great impatience on the roads; speeding seemed common and overtaking at very questionable times is the norm. We saw first hand that a tanker, a taxi and an ambulance can fit across two lanes of traffic between a mountain and a cliff’s edge while travelling at 70km/hr.
I was continually amazed at the precision the average driver seemed to hold, manoeuvring small windy roads, as well as the pedestrians and cyclists that seemed to have little regard for their lives or perhaps just a great trust in the drivers around them.
As mentioned, we drove the country from top to bottom (into Montenegro) and back up again. On the way down, we chose the very scenic highway 8 for much of our drive. Every turn offered another “wow, look at that” moment, and made you feel as though you were experiencing the country to it’s fullest. Whilst very scenic, the coastal road was also quite slow as it passes through the middle of many small towns and was heavy with traffic in sections.
Very important to note as well, that if you are planning to drive from the north down to say, Dubrovnik, ensure you include Bosnia and Herzegovina on your car insurance. You actually have to cross into Bosnia for several kilometres when completing your drive, so have your passports handy for the border crossings.
On the way back up we were able to opt for the slightly inland toll highway, the E65, starting near Nova Sela. This was a toll road (approx. $11 USD for 170km), that was a dual carriageway in both directions, newly paved, with max speeds of 130km/hr for the majority of it. It offered views through mountain passages, with impressive bridges and was devoid of traffic when compared to the coastal drive. You can pay this with a credit card or local currency (kunas).
Regardless if you’re driving inland or coastal, watch your speed! Both roads were closely monitored by the police with speed cameras. Fellow drivers will kindly flick their lights to warn you of upcoming police presence.
SIM Cards / Internet
We flew into Zagreb airport and didn’t rush out. To be honest, it was nice to get into a fresh change of clothes, get a local SIM card sorted (at the Tisak outside Arrivals) and start the morning with a coffee while getting the car rental sorted.
For any new travellers reading this, having a local SIM card for your phone can make a world of difference. Change out your SIM so you’re not paying through the nose with your home-provider for roaming. For around $15 USD we got 10GB which was ample for our 12 days. We used it for map guidance, communicating with our accommodations and researching activities for our next location.
Free Wifi was very common at both accommodations and restaurants, but it was great to have our own data while travelling.
Things we learned: SIM cards do not cross borders. Whilst our main travels were in Croatia, we spent several days in both Montenegro and Slovenia… and the SIM stopped working at the border crossing. Good to know in advance so you don’t get stuck if you’re using it as your map guidance, or need to google how to open your car’s fuel door (ahem…umm…that wasn’t us…). Remember, you can always download your maps offline from google maps in advance, which can save a lot of frustrations on the road.
We booked all of our accommodation in advance through a major hotel booking site. Don’t be mistaken though, this does not mean you’ll be locked into staying at large, expensive establishments. And to be honest, nor would you want to! We booked into small apartments and rooms that were affordable and in great locations, with a local always greeting us and getting us acquainted with tourist attractions of the area. The hospitality at each was second to none, the rooms updated, clean and comfortable, and it gave an opportunity to live and mix with the locals of each town.
There are a couple of notable points to be watchful of when booking. Some accommodations may secure your credit card details on booking, however, they require payment in local currency upon arrival. ATM withdrawal fees aren’t cheap, so you’ll save a few dollars if you can work this out in advance! Also, if you have a strong preference for smoking or non-smoking rooms, remember to check before booking. Smoking is quite common in Croatia, and to avoid disappointment, ask first.
So what kind of food can you expect? Delicious food! We indulged heavily in the three P’s: pastry, pizza and pasta. These were available at every turn, as well as amazingly fresh seafood. As for drinks, beer was often cheaper than water and the prices fluctuating to extremes dependent on how big of a touristy town you were in.
As an example, in the old town of Dubrovnik, a 0.5L bottle of Karlovacko local beer could go for as much as 69KN ($10 USD). Head over Ivanec, a tiny inland town outside of Zagreb and we managed to find the same bottle of beer at a pizzeria for a mere 12KN ($1.80 USD).
Hvala and Stay Tuned
I’ll have a few more guest blogs going up on the various locations we visited, including Dubrovnik, Plitvice Lakes, Krka National Park, Montenegro and our castle adventures.