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DansDeals Forum => Trip Reports => Topic started by: ponash123 on August 28, 2020, 09:56:23 AM

Title: Escape to Croatia
Post by: ponash123 on August 28, 2020, 09:56:23 AM
We just returned from a fabulous trip to Croatia. There is very little information here, so I figured this would helpful, especially considering that they are one of the few countries that Israel allows entry from without quarantine (with a 14 day stay).

Some background info:
We normally plan our summer trips several months in advance. Obviously, this year, everything was on hold and we were unsure if we would be able to go anywhere, let alone leave the country, but I was holding out hope.
At a certain point, Croatia opened their borders with a tourist visa requirement. We got excited for a minute, but they got so flooded with entries that they closed the applications the very next day.
Towards the end of July, we decided to face reality and start planning a domestic trip. We settled on Washington State and began planning. About 3 weeks ago, we were just about to finalize our Washington trip, when we heard that Croatia had reopened their tourist applications. We decided to try our luck, and to our jubilation, we got approved instantly!
We immediately began planning. As someone who revels in spending 4 months planning a trip, this 1-week deadline would prove to be a fun challenge!

COVID-19

- Croatia require tourist applications to be presented, which we were able to obtain easily online.

- They require a negative COVID test from within the past 48 hours. Since the PCR tests take a few days, we took rapid tests the morning we left. Upon landing in Croatia, we presented the rapid test results and were told they are not acceptable, and we would need PCR tests to enter. There were a few stressful moments, but eventually the agent spoke to his manager and allowed us entry. I assume it depends on which agent you get, but if doing it again, I would probably get a PCR test (they make 24-hour tests) and maybe a rapid as well.

- Most of us have had the virus and have antibodies, so we werenít too nervous. I myself felt the safest that I ever have while traveling. Iím normally a bit of a germaphobe when flying and always wipe down my seat and area and take vitamins before and after. This time, the plane felt cleaner, the airport bathrooms were being cleaned in between each use, and in general it felt a lot cleaner.

- We were officially required to wear masks the entire flight. The way there we flew Aer Lingus, and they were pretty relaxed about it. I took my mask off or pulled it under my chin while I was in my seat and just put it on when getting up. No one seemed to care. The way home we flew Air France, and they were definitely a bit stricter. They would not allow me to wear a bandana, or my friend to wear a cloth mask, and instead insisted on surgical masks (unclear why surgical is better than cloth but will not attempt to understand).  They also took our temperature before boarding, and in general were more uptight. I also pulled down my mask in my seat on the Air France flights though and no one said anything, though my friend did get a pillow thrown at her from a fellow passenger when her mask slipped down  :).

- Politics aside, the whole thing seemed a bit ridiculous and nonsensical. While on line for airport customs, or on the jet bridge, there were bright stickers on the floor and they were urging us to maintain 6 feet distance, while a mere 5 minutes later, we are herded and stuffed like cattle onto the plane.

- The planes were pretty empty (especially the flights to and from the US), which was nice as we were able to get full rows to ourselves.

- We were required to fill out forms from the CDC upon entering the US, and our temperature was taken when landing in JFK.

- While in Croatia, it was quite relaxed. Zagreb was a bit more cognizant, and most stores asked for masks when entering, but thatís about it.

- We met one other American couple while we were there. August generally is high season and itís usually unpleasantly crowded. We appreciated that we got the country to ourselves, but it was a bit sad and eerie to see how empty it was. Several local drivers and people in the tourist industry told us excitedly that we were the first Americans they were seeing this summer.


To be continued.
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: Something Fishy on August 28, 2020, 12:33:59 PM
Another ponash classic! Looking forward.
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: Luvisrael on August 28, 2020, 12:41:04 PM
Looking forward to pics. Some parks over there look like paradise. (The way I picture it)
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: Yehoshua on August 28, 2020, 07:40:19 PM
Wow, looking forward to the rest. Thanks for sharing.
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: ponash123 on September 02, 2020, 02:56:02 PM
Sunday - Monday

(Be warned, there will be an overload of pictures in this TR. I just canít help myself)

Our flight was scheduled to depart JFK late Sunday afternoon. We had a few last-minute things to take care of Sunday morning (like picking up our frozen food etc.) and had an unexpected 2.5 hour wait at the urgent care center, but we made it on time and rushed off to the airport,  negative COVID tests in-hand.

Side note: in the past we have bought travel meals from Pomegranate and have been pleased. However, they have raised their prices, have been slightly declining in quality, and is a bit of a shlep for us since we are not located in Brooklyn.
This year we decided to try Seasons and were thrilled with the results! They have a bit to improve on in regard to packaging the boxes, but otherwise it worked out great. The food was fantastic, lasted perfectly, and the prices are great. Would definitely recommend!   

JFK was the emptiest I have ever seen it and sparkling clean. We boarded the planes, had a stopover in Dublin, and had pleasant, uneventful flights overall. 

Beautiful landing sights:
(https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/50291462987_50c7275c5d_b.jpg)

We landed in Split on Monday morning, and aside from a few heart stopping moments with the agent and our rapid COVID tests, we exited the airport smoothly.  We grabbed some coffee and headed to the Sixt kiosk in the airport to pick up our rental car. We added a Wifi pack to our rental car, which worked out great! For a mere $8 a day, we had full Wifi anywhere we went and none of us needed to add international plans to our phones.

We wanted to spend some time in Split before heading to Dubrovnik, so we drove to Diocletianís Palace to explore.
Diocletianís Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an ancient palace that was built for the Roman emperor Diocletian. If we had been more awake, we probably wouldíve done more exploring and maybe a walking tour, but we really enjoyed walking around and seeing the sights.

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We also walked a bit around the old town and on the promenade by the water, which is picturesque.

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We then started out on the 2-hour drive to Dubrovnik, which is along the coast and quite scenic. There are many sharp turns on the windy roads, but itís incredibly beautiful and every turn had us gasping at the breathtaking vistas.

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Interestingly, there is a small area of disputed territory between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina called the Neum Corridor. Itís a 23 km coastal strip which basically divides Dubrovnik and the rest of the country and belongs to Bosnia and Herzegovina. You need to have your passports handy and go through border crossings on either end, which is pretty comical.  Although Bosnia and Herzegovina has travel restrictions in place due to COVID, we did not have any problems driving through this small strip of land.

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We enjoyed the beautiful drive and arrived at our hotel in Dubrovnik. Rixos Premium Dubrovnik is a beautiful hotel, perfectly situated on the water, and just a 15-minute walk from the old town.
Most of it has recently been redone, and the rooms are beautiful. We had 2 seaview rooms with balconies, which had the most amazing views. They also have a magnificent, huge spa.
One of their most appealing features, is that they are located on the water. And when I say on the water, I mean just that. There is no sandy beach. They have a ladder going straight down the rocks into the ocean, and itís just incredible. They were also very gracious when dealing with our food requests and were overall eager to please. Would highly recommend this hotel.

(https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/50298530621_fec6419ce0_b.jpg)

The back of Rixos, as seen from bobbing up and down in the Adriatic Sea:
(https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/50292767956_b8bdb1d1be_b.jpg)

Never seen bluer, clearer water before:
(https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/50292908502_ccfcf7b5c4_b.jpg)


Tuesday

We spent Tuesday morning around Dubrovnikís old town and city walls.
The Walls of Dubrovnik are fortifying walls surrounding the city, dating back to the 7th century.
While there is normally an hour wait to buy tickets to the city walls, and one needs to walk sideways in a single file line due the excessive crowds, we walked right up to buy our tickets and didnít have company in our immediate vicinity the entire time.

We started off by entering through The Pile Gates, which is a drawbridge over a dry moat, and climbing the (many) steep steps to reach the top of the walls. We walked around the walls, seeing the various large cannons, viewpoints, and fortresses. The enormous walls encircle the entire old town and overlook the sea. It was an amazing sight and we enjoyed it immensely.

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The city harbor is one of the oldest sectors of Dubrovnik and it looks it. One can easily picture the merchants sailing in with their goods.

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We spent some time walking around the old city and browsing the markets. There are lots of stalls with different families selling their products, like lavender from their lavender farm.
We also witnessed an interesting musical presentation of sorts from on top of the churches in the old town.

(For any GOT fans, there are a ton of episodes filmed in various locations here. We got a very entertaining recap from an Uber driver of how the entire town were extras and how it all went down).

We visited Dubrovnikís Old Shul, built in 1546, which is the oldest Sephardic shul in Europe, and the second oldest shul overall.

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At this point, we got caught in torrential downpours. This seemed to be a pretty unusual phenomenon, but it lasted a while. We decided to make a run for it and got completely and thoroughly drenched running through the old town to catch a taxi.  We got back to the hotel, dried ourselves off and spent the remainder of the rain in the spa and around the hotel.

Our plans for the afternoon were to hike or take a cable car up Srđ Hill in the late afternoon and view sunset from there. We scratched those plans during the storm, but a couple of hours later it had cleared up and we saw the cable cars running from our hotel balcony. We did the walk back to town only to be told that they were not, in fact, running. We decided to take a taxi up the mountain either way. Of course, as soon as we started driving, it started raining again, but we were holding out hope.  The drive up is quite steep and precarious, especially in the rain, and it took some maneuvering when there were 2 cars on the road.

Thankfully, it stopped raining a few minutes after we got to the top and we were treated to the most magnificent views. There is a restaurant on top of the mountain called Panorama, which has long wait lists. The manager was crestfallen at the rain, stating that even when it cleared up, they couldnít seat people outside due to the ĎNorth Windí coming in after the storm.
We hung around enjoying the sunset, a dramatic rainbow, and breathtaking views of the islands, sea, and old town. 

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We were able to clearly see the city walls that we had walked that morning:
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Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: moish on September 02, 2020, 03:26:47 PM
Nice pics

While there is normally an hour wait to buy tickets to the city walls, and one needs to walk sideways in a single file line due the excessive crowds,
I did not experience that mid August a few years back
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: ponash123 on September 02, 2020, 03:52:27 PM
Nice pics
I did not experience that mid August a few years back

That's what we were told...
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: sam28 on September 02, 2020, 04:44:45 PM
keep it coming its sounds nice .
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: JuryDuty on September 02, 2020, 05:18:40 PM
Nice! Great to see another Croatia TR
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: Yehoshua on September 02, 2020, 06:19:43 PM
Beautiful pictures and nice segment. Thanks for sharing!
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: HappyJulie on September 05, 2020, 03:03:02 PM
Wow! The pictures are fantastic! I'm really jealous, but it feels like you brought us on your trip! Thanks for sharing that!
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: ponash123 on September 07, 2020, 10:36:54 AM
Wednesday

We woke up early Wednesday morning for a poolside yoga class and then enjoyed breakfast (our stay included a large breakfast spread, of which we were able to find some items to eat).
We then spent a few hours in the pool and ocean. Rixos has steps down the rocks leading into the ocean, or one can just jump, off a (guesstimated) 20-25-foot ledge.
There was a fearless kid doing countless running leaps around us, so we of course we had to jump after him, which was really exhilarating!
Rixos provides rafts, tubes, and floaties for the ocean, as well as jet skis for rent.
Weíve all been to many places in the world and have never seen water this unbelievably clear, clean, and blue.

After lunch, we headed out to the old town to meet our ride for our afternoon boat trip. We had a private speed boat and proceeded to head to several nearby islands.  We were able to snorkel and get out and explore one of the islands as well.
We did have a couple of mishaps, which are possibly avoidable.
One injury was sustained when we hit a large wave and one of us went flying up in the air, only to land down hard on the another oneís foot. Although said foot is still hurting as I write this, 2 weeks later, thankfully it was not serious like a break or sprain. We did ice it and keep it elevated for the next couple of days and managed just fine.
Another injury was sustained when we were snorkeling and swam over to some rocks. One of us stepped on a rock and it mustíve had some sort of plant or animal on it that sent spikes into her foot.
Surgery was performed later that night in the Rixos bathroom with the help of tweezers, an iPhone flashlight, and cooking oil from the hotel kitchen.

Another point: the sun is really strong, and sunscreen is a must. An Uber driver exclaimed to us ďI hate Americans! Theyíre always sunburnt or lost!Ē (of which we were both, of course). He then hurriedly followed up that sentence by stating ďof course Iím happy to see you, youíre the first Americans Iíve seen all summer!

Allís well that endís well and no lasting damage was incurred, though we did make a sorry looking bunch for a day or two!
 
VIEWS FROM THE BOAT:
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Islands we visited:

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Thursday
We woke up early Thursday to pack up and check out of Rixos. Sadly, we were leaving Dubrovnik and heading to Zagreb, which is a long drive of about 6 hours.
To break up the drive, we decided to stop at the Cetina River, which is about 2.5 hours from Dubrovnik, and do an activity on the river and canyon.
We had a magnificently beautiful drive and arrived to meet our guide for our Extreme Canyoning activity.

Views from the road:
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We changed into many layers which included, sneakers, a base layer, thick neoprene wet suit, outer neoprene vest, life jacket, helmet, and harness for abseiling. We made sure to wear a thin base layer because when not in the water, we rolled down the top half of the wet suit, as it was quite hot out.
Once we were all changed and ready to go, we headed to the top of the canyon by car. We then proceeded to hike down the canyon, which consisted of climbing down rocks, boulders, and trees, all the while praying not to go slipping and sliding down the canyon. This was additionally difficult as the mid-day sun was beating down ferociously, and we couldnít take water bottles because we needed both hands at all times, so be sure to hydrate in advance. Their usual tour times are early morning or late afternoons to avoid the sun, but they were accommodating our schedule.

After about 15-20 minutes, we made it to the bottom of the canyon and eagerly jumped into the river to cool off, fully clothed in our multiple layers.
We proceeded to float down the river, be violently swept along by the rapids, scramble over some rocks, and bounce around through the spectacular canyon. We also had a few opportunities to repeat our cliff jumps from yesterday and jumped off high rocks into the water.
We also abseiled, or rappelled, down the canyon near a majestic waterfall. Look down if you can handle it, but the views make it worth it, they are magnificent.

After rappelling, we chose to cut our tour a bit short due to time constraints and exit by way of climbing the canyon as opposed to continuing down the river.
This was extremely intense, as we actually climbed the vertical wall of the canyon, no harnesses or help offered. It was definitely an exhilarating experience and our guide was fantastic and extremely patient with anyone that needed more time.
It was hilarious when an old man in tattered shoes appeared out of nowhere holding water bottles, like an angel from heaven. He was like a mountain goat and just scampered up and down the canyon as if it was his home staircase.

The canyon:
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Once we changed and cleaned up, we headed out for the long 4-hour trip to Zagreb.
Late that night we arrived at Hotel Jagerhorn. Itís a cute, boutique hotel, which is perfectly located in middle of town, and 10 minutes from Chabad, and with only 2 floors and hard keys is very convenient for Shabbos. We were also able to walk straight into the kitchen and heat up our food, which was super easy and handy.  There are no parking lots and just air train tracks in the main part of town, so we had to park in the hotelís lot about 5 minutes from the hotel. We proceeded to walk to the hotel with all our (many) pieces of luggage and settled in.

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Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: Yehoshua on September 07, 2020, 07:23:51 PM
Nice, that canyoneering experience reminds me of Zion NP in UT.
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: JuryDuty on September 07, 2020, 08:25:39 PM
Cool to see you guys also did canyoning!
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: ponash123 on September 08, 2020, 10:04:35 AM
Cool to see you guys also did canyoning!

Yes, and your TR really was the deciding factor into using Adventure Dalmatia because you wrote that they were fine with the skirts.
Thank you!
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: PBaruch on September 08, 2020, 12:08:25 PM
"We settled on Washington State and began planning. About 3 weeks ago, we were just about to finalize our Washington trip, when we heard that Croatia had reopened their tourist applications."

And there I was patiently waiting for a Washington State trip report.  :)

Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: ponash123 on September 08, 2020, 01:25:36 PM
"We settled on Washington State and began planning. About 3 weeks ago, we were just about to finalize our Washington trip, when we heard that Croatia had reopened their tourist applications."

And there I was patiently waiting for a Washington State trip report.  :)

Sorry! One day...
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: ponash123 on September 09, 2020, 03:40:23 PM
Friday

Friday was spent around Zagreb, and we were able to see the ramifications of the March earthquake and COVID-19. The whole town was really empty, normally busy streets of shopping stalls were bare, and some buildings are still showing signs of damage.
We climbed up to the old town and strolled around. We made our way to the unique Museum of Broken Relationships, which is quite interesting.
After the museum, we walked around a bit more and city bikes to widen our breadth.
We biked around town and made our way to a mall where we did some shopping.
One thing we noticed is that the entire country is pristine. There is no trash anywhere, the streets are swept and washed constantly, and the water has not a piece of garbage in it.

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Shabbos
We had a beautiful Shabbos with Chabad of Zagreb. We felt very lucky as it was the first week they were having a public meal since Purim.  It was a small crowd, and the shluchim, Rabbi and Mrs. Pini Zaklas were of the nicest and most welcoming Chabad centers that we have been to.

One thing to note: it was quite hot and humid in Zagreb and the air conditioning only helped somewhat, so it was definitely a bit uncomfortable, but we managed.
There are tunnels that were built during World War II, called Grič Tunnel. It was originally built as a bomb shelter and is now used as pedestrian walkway. Itís located right near Hotel Jšgerhorn and is significantly cooler temperature than the rest of the city, so we enjoyed walking through them on Shabbos.



Sunday

On Sunday morning we headed out to Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is a bit under 2 hours from Zagreb. We bought tickets online a few days before, but it probably wasnít necessary, as the crowds were a lot smaller due to COVID.

The park is a bit complicated, but we eventually figured it out. We parked in Entrance 1 and headed in to walk Route A+B.

I donít have many words to say about the park, other than it looks otherworldly. Every view we saw was jaw droppingly beautiful and looked photoshopped. I had seen pictures online but didnít believe that that was what it actually looked like. Itís a MUST-SEE.

There are numerous crystal clear turquoise colored lakes separated by trees and greenery, as well as magnificent waterfalls.
There are beautiful, picturesque wooden walkways over the lakes which lead you around the park. We were lucky that that it was fairly empty, so we were able to take our time and get some great shots.

There is a lot of walking, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring water.  Plitvice is definitely a bit cooler than Zagreb, which made for pleasant walking weather (though our hotel concierge told us to bring layers and jackets as it gets really cold, which made us laugh as we were sweating under the sun).
We also rented rowboats for an hour, which was fun and gave us an idyllic reprieve from walking.

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We left the park and decided to stop at a village nearby that we had passed on our way in, which turned out to be a fantastic treasure.
Rastoke, built on the Slunjčica River, is an old watermill village which has extraordinary natural beauty and historical traditions. There are traditional wooden homes that line the streets or rest out on little islands, and waterfalls flowing throughout the village.
We had some snacks (our own) and coffee at one of the cute little shops and enjoyed the views.
There is one part of the village that has an entrance fee. When entering, you can view the old mill, extra views, a small museum, and different sights.
The whole village looks like it came straight from a fairytale, and in general, gives off a Disney-esque vibe I wouldnít have batted an eyelash had a dwarf (or seven) had popped out of a tree.

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Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: CRACKERJACK on September 09, 2020, 04:05:11 PM
I'm sold! do you think a 3 day trip would do it?
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: Yehoshua on September 09, 2020, 04:21:26 PM
Wow! Those pictures are really nice. I hope to get there one day.
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: ponash123 on September 09, 2020, 04:24:04 PM
I'm sold! do you think a 3 day trip would do it?

You can go for 3 days but you'd have to focus on either the north or south of the country
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: ponash123 on September 10, 2020, 11:11:44 AM
Wow! Those pictures are really nice. I hope to get there one day.

Thanks! Definitely should be on the list.
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: Something Fishy on September 10, 2020, 07:53:58 PM
I'm sold! do you think a 3 day trip would do it?

I sped through Croatia in a day and a half (TR coming in 7-14 business years), and it was just enough to see basically one major sight - Dubrovnik in my case. So 3 days should give you time to see let's say Dubrovnik, Plitvice, and maybe one or two other things along the way.
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: Something Fishy on September 10, 2020, 07:55:21 PM
Wow! Those pictures are really nice. I hope to get there one day.

@ponash123's TRs will do that to you. She's the main reason I went to Morocco last year.
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: Yehoshua on September 10, 2020, 08:42:45 PM
@ponash123's TRs will do that to you. She's the main reason I went to Morocco last year.
That's another place I have to get to...
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: ponash123 on September 11, 2020, 10:15:57 AM
@ponash123's TRs will do that to you. She's the main reason I went to Morocco last year.

Coming from you, that's the highest form of a compliment!

Really looking forward to your Morocco TR (hopefully you can swing it in 3 - 5 business years)
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: ponash123 on September 16, 2020, 04:23:56 PM


Monday
Monday morning our group split, with half of us having to head home for work (myself included) and the others staying for another couple of days.
I will write a brief recap of what my friends did, so the information is here.
We headed to Zagreb airport together. They were heading to Split and we were heading to JFK by way of Paris.

We had an uneventful trip home, though as mentioned, Air France was decidedly more uptight in general.

Below is a brief recap written by my friend of their remaining 2 days.

We landed in Split early afternoon and went to our hotel The Radisson Blu, which provided us with great service and was across the street from the water. We spent our afternoon at the waterfront Reva promenade where there's a great market and lots of shops. We also checked out the Split Mall that has some good stores.

View from the plane:
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Reva Promenade:
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The next morning, we got up early for a full day private boat tour of the Islands nearby. We used Stefan from Mayer Charter Day Tours and it was amazing! It was a windy day, so he got a coastguard boat to ensure comfort and safety and yes it was a pretty smooth ride.
He picked us up from the dock across the street from our hotel and we went straight to Hvar magnificent island of Hvar. The island boasts a stunning dock, promenade, fresh fruits market and best of all a citadel at the highest point of the island.
Itís a 20 minute to hike up a steady inclined and the views get increasingly more breathtaking. We could have spent a full day in Hvar alone, but Stephan had an itinerary so off we went.

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From there we went to some swimming spots with clear gorgeous water. We coasted by the popular Zlatni Rat known for its unique horn shape when viewed from an aerial perspective

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We ended the day with a stop at ďsleepy village" -which true to its name is a most tranquil, delightful residential island-for some drinks and then headed back to the same dock for drop off.

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Wednesday morning, we had an early morning flight back to Zagreb and then a flight home through Paris.

Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: dpk4588 on September 16, 2020, 11:15:28 PM
Amazing TR. Stunning pictures. Croatia is now officially on my to do list. Thanks for the write up!
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: EliJelly on September 17, 2020, 01:04:14 AM
Amazing TR! What a beautiful country! Always regarded it as just another former Yugoslavian developing country.. These hues of blue and green are unreal, and the medieval streets and citadels just adds to it's beauty. Wish I can visit one day!
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: ponash123 on September 17, 2020, 01:44:14 PM
Amazing TR. Stunning pictures. Croatia is now officially on my to do list. Thanks for the write up!

Thank you!
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: ponash123 on September 17, 2020, 01:44:56 PM
Amazing TR! What a beautiful country! Always regarded it as just another former Yugoslavian developing country.. These hues of blue and green are unreal, and the medieval streets and citadels just adds to it's beauty. Wish I can visit one day!

Yes, many people don't realize just how beautiful it is
Title: Re: Escape to Croatia
Post by: Traveler718 on September 22, 2020, 10:10:36 AM
https://www.wsj.com/articles/tourists-in-croatia-help-feed-covid-19-surge-across-europe-11600684208