Yes, yes, yes, it’s been far too long. We’ve been busy, then lazy, then busy again. Regardless, you get another two-for-one post. Whoo!
After the freezing cold of Germany, we were anxious to migrate south for the winter and soak up the warm Croatian sun and sea. Ha. It just so happened that the day (and I do mean day) we fly into Split airport, the Dalmatian coast is experiencing the lowest drop of temperatures it’s seen for 10 years. A happy -4 degrees Celsius, with the biting bura wind that flies off the ocean and freezes your nips off, we begin to build a temporary life inside the Diocletian Palace.
Built in the fourth century, the Palace and the surrounding Old Town rips you back to ancient Dalmatia, while still having the typical life and party of a coastal town. Walking along the Riva, watching the ferries drift in and out, it was hard not to hate it – even with the fierce wind and freezing temps. The Palace itself is comprised of gorgeous white stone, with dozens of tiny corridors, alleyways and secret passages; you can actually feel yourself in the world of the Emperor.
We explored all through the city, including the what feels like hundreds of caffe bars that offer coffee, alcohol and copious amounts of ashtrays. Eastern Europe! The people are friendly, in the way that tourist towns are skeptically and optimistically open to party with new revellers. I can only imagine this place in the summer – talking with the locals, they would share stories about how every bar is packed with hundreds of people on bar crawls and hazy dancing. However, beneath our apartment was a quiet, adorable Italian-style café, with wine, charcuterie, and beer from the best craft brewery we’ve had in Europe to date. Go Italy!
We ventured out of Split quite a few times, exploring the ancient region and taking in the stone-carved landscape. Honestly, when you journey through the country, they’re so old. I constantly found myself imagining the likes of Odysseus or Achilles roaming over the hills. It’s no wonder we found ourselves at (yet another) Game of Thrones filming location.
One weekend, we ferried our way over to Hvar, an island right off the coast of Split. We explored Stari Grad, the first town in Hvar, drove around to the west-facing side to see the stunning rock formations, and visited the few wineries that were actually open. Funny anecdote: Usually, we always have the people we interact with politely inquire, “So, what brings you here?”. Since we were there in the major off season, everyone opted for a blunt and majorly confused, “Um, why are you here?”
About the wine in Croatia: Obviously, the wine in Spain, France and Italy is world famous, and for a reason. But we were taken aback with how incredible the wine is in Croatia. It is stunning. Plavac Mali, who is the kind of aunt to the Zinfandel grape, has quickly become one of, if not our absolute favorite wine. I don’t know why, but this grape is ours. Also, the Dalmatian prosciutto is unreal.
We also rented a car, turning our eyes inland and visiting the frozen waterfalls of the Plitvice Lakes. Ever the adventurer, I walked across a frozen lake to get a better shot of the falls, until the security guy yelled at me to get off.
We also did a few hikes to overlook the region, including an old Roman footpath that was surprisingly rocky and difficult to climb; a walk to see Salina, the gladiator arena ruins; and a hike to two massive craters that are flooded with water at the bottom. Apparently one of them dries out every summer, and the kids play soccer at the bottom.
We were in Split for 6 weeks, and it was beautiful, historically intriguing and frankly a lot of fun. However, our sense of time is shifting – 6 weeks felt like a long, long time. We constantly found ourselves asking, “Was there a time before Croatia?” “Have we ever not been here?”
And with that, we bid adieu to Dalmatia, and its delicious wines, marbled ruins and smoked ham. On to Bosnia!
The main reason I’m combining these two places in partly because I’m behind, but also partly because we did not do much in Sarajevo. We went into it knowing this, though. Our plan was to hibernate for a final four weeks, before we chart ourselves off to Kotor, Daylight Savings and warmer weather of tourist season.
In a word, Sarajevo was chill. The people went out of their way to be friendly, and the whole atmosphere was relaxed and at whatever pace you chose for yourself. As our first time in a Muslim-prominent country, we were fascinated by the abundance of mosques, calling their prayers six times a day and influencing the architecture around them.
What was also fascinating to us was the amount of pollution in Sarajevo. Apparently it's the heaviest polluted city in Europe - who knew? Basically the city is in the bottom of a bowl, and with no regulations on burning trash and wood, all the smoke from the upper surrounding parts hang over the valley. I'm sure it has nothing on some Asian cities, but it made us realize how unused to heavy pollution we are. Travis naturally made the joke that it's not from burning trash, but has to be from the amount of cigarette smoke hazing the city.
Sarajevo, as you’ll read in any blog about the city, had a civil war in the mid-nineties, and practically every façade still has bullet holes and crumbling pieces to show it. We leisurely explored the city, visiting the bazaar with Turkish wares and delicious coffee, hiked up to the abandoned bobsled course from the 1984 Winter Olympics, and watch the sunset from the Yellow Bastion.
We also made a pit stop in Mostar, Bosnia’s mediterranean-climate Bridge City on the way out of Bosnia. The river and the bridge and the nooks and cranies of the city – there is a silent strength to Mostar that made us want to stay longer.
When leaving Sarajevo, we had a mishap with our computers that would lead to two of the most frustrating weeks since we started traveling 9 months ago, but also gave us a peek into the true kindness of the Balkan people. It was a learning experience (and boy did we learn), but every time we were thwarted and depressed, we were also helped with sincere generosity and understanding from these people. Travis and I are unused to not having control over what is happening around us. This experience left us with the reminder that in this lifestyle, you must trust people. And more often than not, they’ll surprise you.