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Croatia: the “Hidden”- but Discovered - Gem, by Norm Bour, TravelYounger.com
Croatia: the “Hidden”- but Discovered - Gem, by Norm Bour, TravelYounger.com

  In February 2019, my girlfriend and I left the US and decided to travel the world, staying for six weeks at each location. As a non-EU traveler we were limited to 90 days in the European Union, which we kicked off during our first term between Spain and Italy at 45 days apiece. But where to next? (TravelYounger.com)

And that is how we “found” Croatia and fell in love with a country that made it one of our favorites during our travels.

Even though my heritage and roots are Eastern European, having a Hungarian Mother, I never knew much about Croatia. And no wonder since I was taught in school it was part of the collective Yugoslavia, which went through a horrific rendering in the 1990’s. The creation of Croatia, Slovakia, Montenegro, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia was bloody and left a terrible wake, but based on what I learned over my two tenures living in Croatia, the country is ready to move forward, and embrace and welcome the rest of the world to visit.

First Impressions

We arrived in Croatia after a beautiful 12 hour overnight ferry ride from Ancona, Italy, my first “long” ferry. The Jadrolinijaline was a pleasure and sailing out of Italy at sunset and into Split, Croatia at sunrise was heavenly. We landed mid-May, before the “start” of holiday season and crowds, and for almost a month had the pleasure of that privacy. With over 80 AirBNBs experiences under our belt we learned two valuable lessons:

1.    If you stay longer than 30 days you can negotiate a nice discount
2.    If you are outside the “city” the prices are lower

With those guidelines in mind, we took a taxi ride about 20 minutes north of Split to the “Kastel” cities, which are actually five or six small towns all named after “castles” within them. We lived in Kastel Kambelovacfor 45 days, which offered us the right combination of proximity to downtown Split, just a 20 minute bus ride away (about $1.50 USD), plus great affordability. That affordability presented itself in our lodging, which was very reasonable, especially since our one bedroom studio overlooked the harbor so that each morning we awoke to the sounds of seabirds and fishermen. Along with inexpensive transportation and lodging, another perk was the food!

I do not profess to be a “foodie” and truly, you do not need to be one to appreciate the magnificent food in Croatia.

We were within walking distance to several restaurants and found the Italian food to be even superior from what we ate in Italy! The pasta, spaghetti, lasagna and desserts weremagnificent, along with the wine, which was Italian as well as Croatian. We also got to enjoy and appreciate native Croatian cooking.

Our daily routine of walking to a coffee shop for “white coffee” (Bijela kava, which is like a latte with lots of milk),was something to look forward to, along with the mouth watering pastries that Croatia is getting known for.

Considering Croatia was under Communist rule post World War II until the 90’s, the country has done a magnificent job moving forward and leaving the past behind. Since I am a motorcycle rider, and we rented them several times, (I’ll get to that in a moment) we were able to journey south into Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia, and the vibes of those countries was noticeably different.

My girlfriend Kathleennor I speak Croatian, but we found it unnecessary since English was very prevalent, especially among the sub-30’s crowd. That makes sense since they were born after the breakup and the New Frontier has been part of their lives. Many of the older generation, however, still bear the psychological scars of oppression, and it shows up in their style of dress, their mannerisms and their hold on their native tongue.

Being There

I have encouraged travelers (not tourists) to stay in certain locations for six weeks at a time, and after living in Kastel and Split for that long, we were able to appreciate the area, from beautiful scenery to amazing natural parks and the beautiful spirit of the Croats.

Split is not large, just four million people throughout the entire region.

Downtown Split directs everyone to just one place: the Riva, which has been their harbor and promenade for more than two centuries.

Full of restaurants and shops, it runs into the other prominent feature in Split, which is Diocletian's Palace. Taking up almost half the area known as “Old Town,” the palace, built for EmperorDiocletianin the fourth century AD, was formerly a residence as well as a military fortress, but now houses shops and restaurants that can make a day pass very quickly.

The Palace is also a magnet for entertainment, both street borne as well as city sponsored, and listening to music within those walls is a step back in time.

Although most of our time was shared between the town of Split and our home area, we also visited the small town of Trogir, just to the north of the Kastel area. Like a trip back in time, this small city offers amazing architecture, combining Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles, plus is also a launching point for many sea bound tours.

For seamen and boaters, Croatia offers a plethora of islands to visit, numbering more than 700, though some put the entire collection at much higher. Everyone has their favorites and those scores will be determined by what you are seeking. The islands of Hvar, Vis, Brac and Korcula are some of the top destinations, but there are dozens more to choose from, mostly available by charter or tour groups.

While we were in Kastel we rented a small 250 cc scooter and rode south to Dubrovnik, which is a whole article by itself, and you can read about our journey on these blogs from Total Croatia News.The famous and historic “walled city” may be familiar to Game of Thrones fans and the tiled streets and seacoast butting into town is magnificent. The Southern coastline of Croatia is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and proceeding south through the cities of Omis, Makarska—and through the six mile border of Bosnia-Herzegovina—is magical.

A popular destination, and one of the more cosmopolitan cities, is Zagreb, the capital. Though not as much on the tourist’s radar as other cities, Zagreb offers an up and coming classiness which will only increase with time.

While in Zagreb we rented another motorcycle, a full size BMW 750, and from there traveled to the northwestern Istrian Peninsula coast and to the cities of Rijeka and Pula.

So how do you “discover” and uncover this amazing gem, called Croatia?

Though often overlooked and overshadowed by the similar countries of Greece and Italy, I think that Croatia offers the best of both. The Italian coastline is a draw for many, and of course the 227 inhabited islands of Greece (leaving almost 5800 more!), brings the boaters. If you are looking for a paradise that has been bypassed for much too long, check out Croatia.

Norm Bour left the USA permanently in February 2019 at the age of 64. His goal was to travel the world six weeks at a time, which he did, and wrote a book about his experiences. Over 14 months he visited 23 countries along with taking 36 plane trips. Norm was motivated by the Millennial generation who make travel look so easy, so he teaches fellow Boomers how to "travel like a Millennial." You can follow his journey at www.TravelYounger.com, along with his Facebook blog by the same name.

www.pass2europe.com



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