The route – Croatia and BiH

I have added the third route page on the blog covering details of our trip from Italy through Croatia, brief visit to Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH), and back to Italy.
You will need to visit the blog to read the detail if you’re interested. For non-bloggers, click here and then on the Route page in the top right hand corner. Then click on underlined links (Croatia and BiH) for the detail.

The Croatian Adriatic coast is a great place for a ‘beach holiday’. It is geared up for tourism, mainly for German tourists of which there are many. You generally get greeted in German, but most people speak some English (and Italian). It has beautiful calm, clear water, great for swimming in. Although most people spend their time grilling themselves on the shore and only going into the sea for a cooling paddle. It’s a bit like Salthill on steroids (the Irish will know what I mean!) with great weather.
A lot of the coastal towns are beautiful (Dubrovnik, Split) but very crowded. They get a lot of Cruise ships.
You do get an underlying feeling that Croatia has sold its soul to the tourist. Great coast for the tourist less good for ‘the traveller’.

It’s worth going inland for a break and to get away from tourist pricing! It’s more mountainous, fewer people, more ‘real’.
BiH is even more so, mountainous, outdoor sports, poorer, less developed, hard to sum up given we only had 2 days, one night there … but it was certainly memorable.

Ignatius

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Back to Croatia

Just checked the last words of the last diary blog – something about never forgetting our one night in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Prophetic words – there was an earthquake later that night. We both woke around 1am to a loud rumble and the van shaking. Didn’t last long. In the morning Sandra (campsite owner) told us it measured 4.1 on the richter scale, and the epicentre was pretty nearby. It’s the first earthquake we’ve experienced.

14th June

We drove up into the mountains, via the Catholic pilgrimage site of Medugorje, and on to the Kravica waterfalls. These are not as spectacular as the Plitvice Lakes, but have the huge advantage that you can swim in the pool beneath them. It was cool, refreshing and totally delicious swimming there. We stayed a while, had lunch, and then drove on, out of Bosnia-Hercegovina by a very scenic and interesting route.

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Kravica falls – that’s me there, standing on a rock

If you look at a map you’ll see there’s a bit of Bosnia that goes down to the coast, splitting Croatia in two. After having had a bit of trouble entering Bosnia we did not want to leave it then have to re-enter it to get through to Dubrovnik, so we planned a route that led down that land corridor to the coast, then out of Bosnia. Clearly though it’s not a well-used route. The road surface was worthy of Sicily and it was single track with sporadic passing places. Didn’t see much other traffic thankfully!

Back in Croatia, on good roads, we headed towards Dubrovnik and stopped at a campsite about 16km north of the city.

15th June

Dubrovnik’s been high on our list of must-see places. I was fearful that after so many gorgeous medieval walled towns it would be just another such, but no – it’s in a league of its own and well worth a visit. Despite extensive damage in the 1990s wars, it’s been fully restored. The walls are complete and you can walk around the top of them, and the streets are very pretty. Several areas around the city have been used as locations for filming Game of Thrones, and we tried to find some of these. Visited a few museums, had a very nice lunch out.

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On the Dubrovnik city walls
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Dubrovnik rooftops

The day was very warm and humid which made the visit less comfortable than I’d have liked but we really enjoyed it. Took a bus from outside the campsite to get there and back which was a good no-hassle way of doing it!

16th June

A day of future planning. As we’re heading into Montenegro and that’s outside Vodafone’s roam-free area, we thought we should find campsites, plan a route etc while we still have access to the internet (it’ll be £3 a day for pretty limited data allowance in Montenegro and I’ll want to save that for Google maps!) So we spent a lot of the day online, planning. I also did some writing.

Down a steep hill from the campsite is a small beach and cafe, so we had a swim and lunch there. Very refreshing, but walking back up the hill made us too hot again!

17th June

We had planned to move on today to Montenegro but we rather like this campsite so decided to spend one more day here. It’s lunchtime as I write this, and if all goes to plan it’ll be the last blog entry until we’re back in Italy in about a week, after taking the ferry from Bar to Bari.

Lazy days then on to Bosnia-Hercegovina

June 10th

That campsite outside Split was truly lovely. Everything (except perhaps the shower heads if I’m being picky) was spot on. We spent the first day there lounging around, catching up on chores and generally relaxing, but also had a swim in the sea and breakfast at the campsite restaurant. strobeccampsite.jpg

June 11th

Cycled into Split. First time on the bike since my fall in Zadar and I’ll admit I had lost some confidence. It was about 8km from the campsite to Split town centre, along a country road with some hills to start with (and we got chased by a dog which didn’t help!) and then the route was along a beach front road before entering the city.

We locked up the bikes and went around the old parts of the city on foot as usual. Split’s interesting in that the old Roman retirement palace built by Emporer Diocletian is still in use – filled with shops, restaurants and businesses, obviously parts of the buildings are more modern but all use parts of the original Roman walls etc. Fascinating place to wander around.

Cycled back to the campsite at Strobec via a slightly different route which avoided the dog. And then straight in the sea to cool off – it was a really hot day. Temperatures have been creeping up and up and are now around 30 during the day. We ate the evening meal at the campsite restaurant.

June 12th

Another day of lazing around the campsite. I have some writing edits to get on with so I do need the time! But of course we did go in the sea again.

June 13th

Time to move on. After calling at a shopping mall for some food we drove via the coast road then through the mountains, into Bosnia-Hercegovina. At the border we had to show passports then were asked for our ‘green card’ – something to prove we had insurance. Hmm. We don’t have one. We showed our insurance certificate. Lots of discussion amongst the border officials (who were holding our passports) then one said perhaps we give him something ‘for coffee’. Ignatius realised the lay of the land, said well we don’t have to go into Bosnia, perhaps we’ll just go back to Croatia, and at that the official decided we could progress after all.

We drove on to Mostar. Huge difference between coastal Croatia (very busy, touristy, a little bit ‘fake’) and Hercegovina (the southern part of Bosnia-Hercegovina). Here you can tell it’s much poorer, less tourist money coming in, still scarred by the 1990s wars. It reminded me in parts of Sicily, whereas the rich Croatian coast is more like the south of France only full of Germans.

At Mostar we paid an arm and a leg to park near the Stari Most (Old Bridge – the one that was built in the 16th century, blown up by the Croats in 1991 then reconstructed in 2004). Wandered through the old town on slippery cobbles, over the bridge, had a look in a museum which screened a video about the rebuilding of the bridge, and generally sweltered under the unforgiving sun. mostar.jpg

Headed out of town southwards where we found a lovely little campsite by the river. The woman (Sandra) who runs it is very friendly, offered us beers on the house. We chatted to her for a long time. She has an Irish friend and on hearing Ignatius is Irish came out with ‘céad míle fáilte’ which was not a phrase we expected to hear in Bosnia-Hercegovina. She used to work at Medugorje – a Catholic pilgrimage site where the Virgin Mary appeared to a bunch of children back in 1981 – and on hearing Ignatius’s mum has been there insisted on giving us a little gift to pass on when we come home. I’ve rarely known a welcome as friendly as this at any campsite. This is likely to be our only night in this country but it’s not one I’ll forget.

On to Croatia!

Oh no, it seems a week has passed since I wrote a diary blog. This one’s either going to be a long entry or very abbreviated. We’ll see. Got a sore elbow from falling off my bike today which is somehow affecting my typing ability…

May 31st

I don’t think we actually did a lot this day. Hung around Certaldo for the morning doing some planning then drove northwards, to a camperstop about 30km south of Bologna, that was near a train line (Sasso Marconi). This is our new tactic for cities – keep Gertie well outside and go by train. Not buses as they are hard work to figure out (as we discovered in Siena).

June 1st

Moved Gertie to the station car park, took train into Bologna, then walked our leggies off around the city. It has these wonderful porticoes (covered walkways) along nearly every street- some plain, some covered in carvings and frescoes. All keep the sun off and make it a very pleasant city to stroll around. And the tourist information office issued us with a map that included a self-guided walking tour of the sights, which is the way we most like to ‘do’ cities. Ate tagliatelle Bolognese for lunch as it seemed to be obligatory.

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Bologna’s porticoes. Me in a floppy white hat.

Our onward plans involved a long journey round to Croatia, so when we got back to Sasso Marconi by train we decided to get some of the miles driven. So it was on to the autostrada, foot down and away we went. Ended up going somewhat further that day than we’d thought, as we didn’t want to have to go too far off the motorway to camp, and the only camperstop we could find that wasn’t either really pricey or really far out of our way was about 50km before Trieste. It was a supermarket car park (but was an official camperstop with water and disposal facilities etc and free to park).

June 2nd

So after a night of no rain but almost continuous lightning flashes we thought we might as well stock up at the supermarket, only it was closed for an Italian bank holiday. That’s the third they’ve had since we arrived, not including Easter. Not fair.

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Lightning

We found another that was open, stocked up, then got on the road again. Soon we were in Slovenia, where we got out of the van only briefly to buy the toll pass thingy and to fill up on diesel which was MUCH cheaper there than in Italy.

We hit traffic queues approaching the Croatian border. Wasn’t sure if that was just down to lots of Italians going away for their bank holiday weekend. But when we finally got there (after spending a while parked in a layby waiting to see if the traffic eased off) we discovered it was because it’s like the UK – ie they haven’t signed up to Schengen so everyone’s passports have to be checked. There’s a lot to be said for Schengen, free movement of people, the EU, and nations generally cooperating with each other rather than trying to go it alone…

And we finally reached a large campsite by the beach near Rovinj in Istria. It was well laid out, with a pool, restaurant, shop, its own beach etc. Had a swim in the sea then ate in the campsite restaurant for dinner.

June 3rd

Campsite day. Got the sheets washed, admin caught up, etc. Spent a lot of time sitting outside and reading. Went for a swim.

June 4th

Cycled around the coast from the campsite to Rovinj town. This took us via another, even larger campsite which had a naturist section (I saw more dangly bits than ever in my life before!) then through a beautiful forest park, and finally to Rovinj. This was an old fishing village but is now basically a tourist town. Pretty winding cobbled lanes, lots of gift shops, even more restaurants. We had a sea food lunch out on a terrace by the sea, with a very friendly waiter who explained what kunjka were and how they were caught.

We’d brought swimsuits and fibre towels with us on the bikes, so had a swim off the rocks in Rovinj town before cycling back.

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Where we swam in Rovinj

Croatia is full of Germans. German is the default tourist language – everyone in campsites, restaurants, bars etc greet you in German first. Nine out of ten motorhomes we’ve seen are German. I’ve begun using my 5 words of German to say hello, thanks etc to people. Though I have learned hello (zdravo) and thanks (hvala) in Croatian.

June 5th

Three nights at Rovinj was enough so time to move on. We had a lovely drive around the bottom of Istria and up the other side, stopping in Opatija for a look around. And here too you could swim from the concrete beach, so we did. Croatia is becoming ‘the place where we swim in the sea at every opportunity’ to us. Drove on round the coast, to a campsite in a village called Selce, by the sea. There was a nice little restaurant by the beach where we ate.

June 6th

Had a quick swim in the sea this morning before moving on – heading inland towards the Plitvice Lakes national park. Everyone, every guide book says this is a must-see. So we thought we should see it. We’d found mention of a restaurant in Korenica just outside the park where you can camp for free if you eat in their restaurant, which is a great idea and I wish more places would do it. So after checking out where the entrance/parking for the Lakes was, we set ourselves up outside that restaurant, and ate there in the evening.

June 7th

Early start, to go to the Plitvice Lakes park. They are a series of lakes at different altitudes, linked to each other by waterfalls. Lots and lots of waterfalls. More waterfalls than you can shake a stick at, as Ignatius said. The place is well organised although the map (had to buy, for 20Kuna) was rubbish and the coffee we bought at the entrance was horrendously overpriced (18K where normally its around 8K). Hundreds upon thousands of coach parties, all doing the shorter walks. We’d managed to find a few paths no one else was taking before ending up on the main tourist route around, which involves a boat along one lake and a bus along the shore of another. It’s all very beautiful, and definitely worth a visit, although it’s veering towards the plastic in the way it’s being managed. We were a little unlucky with the weather that remained overcast all day, although as that meant it was cool I wasn’t too upset!

After leaving the lakes we had a stunning drive southwards, through high plains then mountains and finally dropping down to sea level and back to the coast. We drove about 2 hours seeing only about 3 other vehicles. I may be exaggerating but certainly when away from the coast there are a lot fewer people and cars. We reached a campsite on the edge of the town of Zadar. Sadly it was better in the book than in the flesh – they had not finished their much needed renovations so were unable to offer the ACSI discount… in other words we had to pay more for worse facilities than expected! On the plus side it was a great location – on the beach, 5km from the centre of Zadar. We had a swim in the sea, then Ignatius cooked my favourite BBQ dinner. Just for me. And himself.

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Burgers and grilled veg. And wine, of course!

June 8th

Rode our bikes into Zadar, after checking out of the campsite (our most expensive yet, despite the rubbish facilities!) and parking the van by the campsite entrance. Zadar’s a cute little city (the old part) and we locked our bikes up and walked around it. Its main attraction is the sea organ – waves force air up pipes buried in the concrete promenade, making random music. And a 9th century church built on Roman remains. We had a drink at the Garden bar, set up and owned by members of the band UB40.

On the way back to Gertie I stupidly managed to fall off my bike. My own fault – misjudged a bump up a kerb and went flying. Right elbow and hip took the force of the fall but nothing serious – just bruised and I expect to be very stiff tomorrow.

After limping back the last part of the cycle and applying ice, we drove to a supermarket, stocked up, then onwards to a camperstop on the edge of the Krka national park. More waterfalls – we may go and see them tomorrow.

June 9th

Well I didn’t get round to finishing this blog last night as I was tired and couldn’t be bothered finding suitable photos to go with it. Went to bed at 11pm after checking the exit poll – then checked the news as soon as the alarm went off this morning and it was very nice to see that T. May did not get the landslide she’d banked on. Well done Labour. OK this is supposed to be a travel blog not a political commentary so I will shut up now!

We pushed on to a campsite outside Split today for a couple of days relaxing and to visit Split itself. Have to say this is by far the best campsite so far – certainly the best in Croatia and probably the best of the whole trip to date. Great setting, bars, restaurants yet doesn’t feel huge, good facilities, its own beach, about 7km from the town centre (so cycleable as soon as my injuries have healed!) We may be camped here some time.

The multi-national sandwich

Planning on a 6/7 hour walk around Plitvice Park tomorrow and making some sandwiches for the trip.

Bread from Croatia, ham and cheese from Italy and my homemade Christmas chutney from UK. They would have Irish butter except our supply ran out about a week ago.
Despite searching supermarkets on the way I haven’t been able to find any Kerrygold softer butter .. ho hum!

However Italy has been the source of Marsala wine, Balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, Pecorino cheese, Limoncello and a number of aforementioned wines (see latest route blog).

Please do note we consume products other than wine and cheese!