I have always wanted to visit Croatia ever since I saw pictures of Plitvice Lakes National Park. And with having Croatian friends at work, time has never been any better for a visit and so it was. I was supposed to fly from Greece to Dubrovnik but due to the latest developments to my initial plan in addition to not being able to reverse its order, I had to go to Zagreb and from there figure out a way to make it to Dubrovnik in order to start with my itinerary. Having lost quite a sum of money on the cancellations I had to undergo because my sister couldn’t join me, I was really looking for a cheap option to make that detour possible. And since I did need to fly from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, I decided on the cheapest option to go from Graz to Zagreb which was a 3 to 4 hours bus trip. I have done 12 hours bus trips before so what’s a 4 hours drive, right? Done deal! I had myself booked for the 7 am bus so I would have plenty of time on my hands to transfer myself to the airport for my 2:15 pm flight.
I was a little anxious not to miss the bus so I went there a little earlier without grabbing something to eat, not that I was able to find a nearby place that was open that early anyway. The bus was a little late and came almost packed with people that I might have ended up standing or sitting on the bus steps if it wasn’t for the driver who emptied a seat for me under the fluster of the passenger to be seated next to me for the entire bus trip. I could tell how uncomfortable the girl who sat next to me was as she fidgeted most of the ride. And just to disconnect myself from all the drama, I put on my XL Sennheiser headphones, turned up the music and gave myself a shot at trying to doze off the ride and the piled-up hunger.
I woke up after I-don’t-know-how-long to horrible traffic, the bus was barely moving. It took us around an hour just to move a couple of meters and at that moment I started to freak out a little as with such a pace, I might end up missing my flight! I intentionally booked an early bus to have a big window before my flight just in case and it looked like that window might get closed shut in my face at the time. It was one of those moments when I absolutely had nothing in my hands to do anything about so I decided to let it be and worry later, whatever happens happens. Surprisingly and so very unlike me, I went back to sleep just like that and the next time I woke up, we were at the boarders of Slovenia and Croatia. Everyone went off the bus and had his/her ID checked, for me it was my passport and at that check point I got stamped out of the Schengen area. As we all waited for the bus to pass the check point and come for us, one passenger approached me and spoke to me in a language I didn’t understand but I was able to sense what she was talking about. I guess she was asking me if I’m Bosnian and when I corresponded in English to what I actually didn’t understand, she apologized and went away.
We got back on the bus and shortly after, we stopped at another check point, the point where we should be delving into Croatia. An officer got on the bus, scanned the passengers with his eyes and at the sight of me, he asked for my passport. He flipped through it, looked at me then went off the bus taking my passport with him without saying a word. Uh-Oh! The bus driver gave me a not-so-comforting look on the light of what happened and I thought to myself, damn! Bad thoughts came rushing into my head, I will be interrogated, will I be allowed to cross the boarders, will I cause a delay to everyone on the bus if they got suspicious about me, etc etc! Luckily, the officer came back a minute or two later and gave me back my passport, again without saying a word but the bus driver was happy so I thought that must be a good sign! Phew!
I reached Zagreb around noon which meant I had around 2 hours before my flight. And having asked the driver worriedly a couple of times about how long we should take on the road so I would catch my flight, he directed me to where I can flag a taxi to the airport as soon as we stopped at the bus station. The airport was some 20 minutes drive away and I was able to be there at a decent time to check in, drop my luggage and wait to board the plane feeling hungry like hell.
I had an airport pick up previously arranged by the hostel I was staying at in Dubrovnik and at the airport, I was greeted by the owner who was a very nice guy. The ride from the airport to the city as we drove by the coast was scenic and the conversation we both had made it even more enjoyable. My host got excited when he knew I came from Egypt, he asked about my trip, what I did so far and what’s yet to come. The talk took its course through the misfortunes I experienced in Greece, the amazing time I had in Austria, and my anticipation of my time in Croatia. He was surprised to learn about how I was perceived in Corfu and he assured me that I shouldn’t be worried about such a thing in Croatia. He proclaimed that being neighbors with Bosnia introduced them to Islam as a religion and Muslims as people and that Croatians are tolerant in that regard and kind of used to the intercultural/religion coexistence. He even told me that he is married to a Muslim and the difference in religion doesn’t cause any problems between them. Don’t worry he said, you will not be bothered here and I indeed wasn’t bothered at all.
The hostel I stayed at is a family run place, the daughter and boyfriend take care of the management and the dad helps with the transfers. The location was just perfect, the place overlooks the yacht marina and was a few steps away from the ferry loading dock, and the old city walls were just a couple of bus stops away. There was a nearby exchange office, a supermarket, a nice café shop/bar and a bakery like two steps away. This is where I will be having my breakfast and morning coffee I thought to myself. The rooms were painted in white and light colors, spacious and with a terrace that viewed the port. The lady who received me at the reception, who is a family friend, was really nice, friendly, and helpful. That hostel was such a great choice; I really enjoyed my stay over there.
It was late in the afternoon by the time I finally settled in on my bunk bed. I was tired, famished, and kind of beaten by the heat and humidity that I decided to sleep for a couple of hours before I go out for dinner somewhere near. I went out around sunset time and being tired still, I lacked the energy to go somewhere far for dinner so I walked around the port to see what options I had in the area. I ended up going to Taverna Otto which is a cute little place and somehow fancy. I wasn’t really impressed by the collection of main dishes on the menu but the atmosphere and service were great. I ordered salmon and it was kind of plain but I was hungry anyway so I devoured the whole thing. I finished my dinner and walked myself back to bed because I literally wasn’t able to keep my eyes opened. So what was better than having a good night sleep so I would be filled with energy to explore the city in the morning?
I woke up in the morning and picked up something to eat at the bakery along with a cup of coffee at the adjacent café for breakfast. Then I went on the bus to the old town of Dubrovnik to get the day rolling. I decided to divide the lengthy hours of sunlight between visiting the island of Lokrum and walking the city walls and old town. And so on that sunny summer day, I took off for Lokrum on a water taxi enjoying the distant views of Dubrovnik as the boat rushed to its destination.
The petite island of Lokrum is just lovely, it makes for a good day trip from the city or even a couple of hours if you are on a rush like I was then. I only spent two hours on the island and was able to walk the whole length of it checking most of the sites on the map. The only thing I didn’t do and kind of regretted it was to swim. First of all if you are a Game of Thrones fan, which I’m not by the way, don’t miss on the chance of not only taking a picture of the Iron Throne itself but also get pictured sitting on it. The throne is located in the Benedictine Monastery where there is also a small museum dedicated to Game of Thrones including a map of the filming locations in Croatia.
The cloister of the monastery with the arches and the greenery made for a very serene scene. Around the area of the monastery, one can also walk the Botanical Garden and get a chance to see peacocks, brought from the Canary Islands by Maximilian, and rabbits roaming freely. Close to the monastery as well is the Dead Sea which is a small lake that’s also connected to the sea water. It has clear waters and suitable for a relaxing swim.
Another popular spot on the island would be the Fort Royal which was built by the French on the highest point of the island. The way up to the castle is kind of steep and rocky, so please mind your foot-wear, but the views of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic Sea from up that circular castle are worth the effort. If you will be walking your way back to the water taxi station, you should pass by The Cross of Triton which was erected in honors of the sailors of the Austrian Navy ship Triton who died due to an explosion in 1859. Only 10 men survived the explosion and the names of the passed away sailors were carved on the cross. Read more about the history of the island here.
I had such a great time on that pretty island and I was ready to go back to the old town of Dubrovnik for lunch and a walk around the walled city. The boat back to Dubrovnik dropped me off at the old port and once I walked myself towards the old city I was greeted by Luža Square where one can marvel at the Clock Tower, Sponza Palace, Orlando’s Column, Sveti Vlaho Church, and Dubrovnik’s Cathedral just a little further down the square.
I needed to put some food into my system before I start strolling around the medieval city and the recommendation I had was for a cozy sea food place overlooking the open-air market where a statue of Ivan Gundulić is located. The place is called Kamenice and I had myself some delicious mussel risotto in there while enjoying the atmosphere of the surrounding open-air market. I was advised to wait for the heat to cool off a little before I go on the city walls walk. And so I took a stroll around the alleyways enjoying the architecture and the coziness of the tiny passageways, trying to locate the synagogue and the mosque I found on the map, but mostly liking the feeling of walking the paths and climbing the stairs of this medieval city. No wonder it was one of the filming locations of Games of Thrones.
The walk over the city walls offers spectacular views of the city, the port, the nearby islands, and the surrounding Adriatic. Nothing special about it except for the views so if you don’t feel like going on that walk on a hot summer day, you might consider taking the cable car to Srđ Mountain and you will be rewarded with even better sights. If you are feeling a little active you can hike your way up and down instead. I didn’t have the energy for such a physical activity and I honestly wanted to catch the sunset from up there so no hiking for me I decided though from what I read online, the hike is pretty much enjoyable. And so I picked up something quick to eat from the bakery across the cable car station, booked myself a round trip and went on my way up the mountain enjoying the views of the old city as it pulled itself away from us the more the cable car took us further up.
There is a viewing platform near the cable car station on top of the mountain from where the walled city greets all viewers. The cable car station is also the meeting point for buggy safaris that take place in that area if you are up for an exciting off-road drive. On top of the mountain there is also a castle with a small museum inside. Past that castle, I reached a clearing with an uninterrupted view of the city and the Adriatic and it was decorated by the setting sun and a couple of passing by horses.
It was gorgeous; I was able to see the old city enveloped by its walls, the neighboring islands, and the sea for as far as my eyes could reach. I stayed there watching the sun as it sat enjoying my turned-out-to-be-dinner snack and once the sun finally bade us goodbye, I headed back to the cable car station. As I waited for my turn to enter the car, one of the attendants, a young man, came to show me the way greeting me with As-salamu alaykum which is how Muslims greet one another. He didn’t say anything more, just showed me the way and greeted me with those warm words, peace be upon you. I don’t know if he is a Muslim or not but the fact that my attire intrigued him to greet me in such a way was heartfelt. His gesture, as simple as it was, actually made my day.
I was back to sea level after that short ride and I walked myself into the walled city for a last stroll before I head back to the hostel and call it a day. It was more crowded than the morning time now that everyone was out for a night out. I had one last look at those old buildings and walked a few more steps on the cobblestone paths before wending my way out the city the same way I was let in, through Pile Gate. It wasn’t that late at the time but I had an early start the following morning as I was to take the ferry to my second stop in Croatia, the island of Hvar, so I needed to pack and have a good rest after a full day of walking and roaming around. I took the bus back to the hostel and when I got back to my room, I was introduced to a new roommate, Minji from South Korea. I got Minji excited since she had lots of inquiries about Islam and we spent some time conversing about some misconceptions related to Muslims while joined by another roommate who was from England. We also talked about our travels and the three of us ended up having quite an enjoyable talk. The conversation got wrapped up with an agreement with Minji to meet in Split two days later as we found out that both of us will be visiting the city at pretty much the same time.
A day well spent was ending but touristy (and slightly overrated to some folks including Croatians) Dubrovnik was so good to me that I can’t really complain. I had such a nice time in that city and ended up making a new friend, couldn’t have asked for more I guess 🙂 Next stop: Hvar.