Beauty Beneath the Rubble – Things to do (or not) in Croatia

Croatia.

By most standards Croatia would be largely described as a beautiful country. It is located on the northwestern part of the Balkan Peninsula and bordered by the Adriatic Sea. As a typical millennial, I scoured the internet looking at pictures of the most gorgeous places in Croatia, and did my usual is… safe for black people – yes that’s a thing you have to think about when travelling as a black person. I didn’t look into it’s history, or dare to believe it was anything but what those glossy images portrayed on my 14 inch screen and for the most part; I wasn’t disappointed.

Split Promenade in the early hours of the morning

On the drive to our apartment (Apartment Klara which was lovely but smelt of damp) in the city centre of Split, my view of the outside world was a mishmash of lush mountainous skyscapes and graffiti covered tower blocks (1996 the year the national football team qualified for the Euros was a date I saw almost everywhere, it also happened to be the year after its newfound independent status). What I was to learn on this trip was that when it comes to world history, I know very little if anything about the world outside of the miniscule amount of history I was taught in primary school – mostly focused around the kings and queens of England, with a little bit of Greek and Egyptian history thrown in for good measure. We took a couple of tours with Gray Line and our tour guide, whose name fails me right now, was amazing. His knowledge of Croatian history, world languages and sport was by far the most impressive I’ve seen in a long time and the fact that he made an effort to get to know everyone on each tour was what made him extra special.

Our Guide speaking to us about the church which stood strong through earth quakes

I learnt about Croatia’s long fought battle for independence having been passed through the hands of royalty many times be that Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Hungarians and Yugoslavians to name a few, either for financial gain or through wars. I learnt about the 1667 earthquakes that destroyed Dubrovnik leaving just the church standing and the whole city having to be rebuilt. I learnt about the orphanage in which the male orphans became sailors and the females nuns and I learnt about a monk who was apparently found in bed with 2 nuns now that’s the ultimate threesome if ever there was one.

Apart from naughty monks and a city in rubble what else did I do in Croatia? I lived 5 days of a dreamy lifestyle, hiking, snorkelling, kayaking and cliff jumping as well as indulging in fresh seafood and a host of delicious ice-creams.

Photo credit: Kirsty Rice aka my travel buddy

Our first trip was to Plitvice Lakes with Gray Line. It was a journey that took about 2 1/2 hours from Split by coach and was well worth the wait. Our tour guide was the absolute fountain of knowledge I spoke of earlier and made the trip a genuine experience. When we arrived, there was a short bus carriage journey to one of the 2 hiking routes (we were on the easiest route to suit the amount of time we had and the varying abilities of the group) we then made our way around the park stopping to take pictures at the many view points of the stunning turquoise lakes or the pretty little butterflies, even the pathways were a thing of beauty. We took a boat ride across one of the lakes and finished off our walk at a pretty impressive waterfall.

View of the lakes from the boat
One of the many pathways

Our second trip was supposed to be to The Blue Caves, unfortunately for us 200 meters into our journey across the sea our outing was cut short when our boat malfunctioned and was declared unfit for purpose. It was disappointing but I’d rather we went back to the safety of land than to go out to sea on a speedboat that may well have ended up underneath the water. To make up for what we considered a tragedy, we bought ourselves funnel cake ice-creams and sat by the waterside whilst organising a trip for the next morning to The Blue Lagoon. We finished our evening with a cocktail at the Olive Tree which is one of Splits many bars, we mainly went there because I wanted a photo of the body vase they had on the tables. The cocktail was lush, but at 98kn I expected it to be and the service was so poor that we probably could have walked away without paying as we were left for about an hour in the almost empty restaurant without anyone asking us if our drinks were ok or seeing if we’d like to order anything else.

Photo credit: Kirsty Rice
Photo Credit Kirsty Rice

Unfortunately, The Blue Lagoon happens to be my least favourite trip of the entire holiday, what we booked was called The Blue Lagoon and Trogir Tour, it cost about £60 and there was nothing that could be described as a tour about it. The boat ride to Trogir was nice, they played some tunes which kept us entertained and on arrival spent approximately 5 minutes telling us about Trogir – that was the entire tour. We were left there for an hour or 2 with nothing to do as the town was all restaurants and shops with a castle (which is not actually a castle – entrance fee 30kn) a few museums, which also cost money and very little else. We hadn’t planned to spend additional money that day so walked around a bit then sat under a tree waiting for the boat to pick us up again.

After the boat picked us up we were filled with anticipation at reaching the much talked about Blue Lagoon. We were promised snorkelling equipment on this trip and got nothing but a snorkel mask – that was disappointment number 1. There was nothing extraordinarily ‘blue’ about the lagoon – disappointment number number 2 and disappointment number 3 – there were sea urchins galore which resulted in me having about 6 spines in each foot which sunk progressively deeper over the remainder of our holiday (thankfully they’re out now a foot soak in vinegar solution seemed to do the trick). Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by the beautiful beaches of the Caribbean but I would recommend Brighton Beach on a hot day over a trip to The Blue Lagoon so make of that what you will.

Trogir a beautiful city for quiet roaming
The Blue Lagoon

That same evening we had the opportunity to make up for what can only be described as a ‘meh’ morning. We were off for a sunset Kayak. We had a 10 minute walk to get to our meeting point from the hotel which took us through some interesting back roads that were thankfully well populated. The guides for this trip were very good, they took us through the safety and rowing instructions then we set off into the sea with our life jackets on in our little red Kayaks. Our first stop was a spot in the ocean for a quick dip. It was awesome just to jump in and float in the sea, it’s such a strange but wonderful experience and if you’ve never done it I totally recommend it at least once in your life. After the quick stop we were back in the boats and rowing until we reached the beach, a few of the stronger rowers (which amazingly included us) were offered the opportunity to row further on and do a cliff jump and me being me I had to go and did not regret it. We also got some time to snorkel, this time with full snorkel equipment – thank the gods these guides had no excuses about how the old Covid-19 rules hadn’t been changed to stop us having a snorkel. We then rowed back to try and catch the sunset which unfortunately was blocked out by the smoke from a large fire but it was beautiful all the same and the guide gave us glasses of wine to complete what was a fantastic evening. I do recommend you bring your own waterproof camera, although the guides took pictures on their go pro they were not very good images so we didn’t get any of us out at sea.

Photo credit Kirsty Rice
Now imagine this without the smoke from the fire

Next was Dubrovnik, again this tour was with Gray Line and was brilliant, from the historical ramblings on the bus journey itself (a 4 hour journey which you need your passport for as you cross into Bosnia and Herzegovina ) to the information on the walking tour about life inside the walls and the history of the walls, castles and surrounding city. I learnt little bits of information about the life of Croatian people; for example about 90% of the population have their own homes or plots of land passed down from their parents; I learnt about the different methods of fishing and water that was good for lobsters or muscles; I learnt about the equal sizes of the roads inside the walls and the reasons all homes had display windows; I saw the famous stairs where Cersei’s walk of shame took place; and stood at the spot where young men used to hang around to meet young girls carrying water. There was so much more interesting information shared before being given hours of free time to choose what to do from the myriad of recommendations given to us by the guide. Despite the busy streets and overpriced shops, this city is definitely a must.

photo credit Kirsty Rice

Our final day was documented as an 8-10 hour day trip, which luckily for us was closer to the 8 hour mark, as had it really taken 10 hours we would have missed our flight – note to self, read the trip itinerary thoroughly especially when booking trips for the day you’re supposed to leave the country. This was Krka National Park. We did the tour minus the wine tasting which was perfect for us as we got to swim in Skradin instead. We didn’t actually have a tour guide around the park, they basically picked us up then made us walk to a different spot to meet the coach then once in the park we were told how to get around the park then left to our own devices and added to a WhatsApp group for assistance if we needed it. The group also had the boat timetable to get us to Skradin and pin locations of all the important meeting points which was very helpful.

The Krka waterfalls were by far the most breath-taking I have ever seen and the trip to the little beach was so much fun, we even got to dance in the rain.

Photo Credit (with a little coaching) Kirsty Rice

As holiday destinations go I give Croatia 7/10, I might go back one day and try out the night life and a few more destinations to see if it can grow to a solid 9.

Is Croatia on your list? Maybe it wasn’t before but it is now? Share your thoughts and experiences, I’d love to hear them.

All photos (unless stated in the caption) and opinions are my own, this is not a sponsored or gifted post and I have not been paid to share this post or tag anyone.

3 thoughts on “Beauty Beneath the Rubble – Things to do (or not) in Croatia

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