Deciding on where to go in Europe can be a rather daunting task, especially when you’re spoilt for choice with a myriad of beautiful locations and very little time. Although not the ideal place for conserving your precious backpacker savings, Croatia is worth every ounce of starvation and pain on your travel journey.
The experience of dumb and dumber; Lucy and Alex.
With very little signage, humid temperatures and a 19kg backpack in tow, Dubrovnik didn’t seem that crash hot at first glance. It was a struggle to say the least, to find the My Way Hostel, but after a delightful hike through the windy roads and lugging the backpack up and down flights of stairs, we arrived at our humble (shabby) abode for the next few days. Despite walking into our hostel room and being slapped in the face with the stench of one thousand day care centres combined, we resisted our exhaustion and decided to explore Dubrovnik.
Whenever we arrived in a new place, we experienced an overwhelming anxiety of being unsettled in an unfamiliar environment. The only way to overcome this feeling, we discovered, was to push ourselves to immediately go out and get our bearings on the town, its major attractions and to conquer the map in true Dora style.
Following the grumpy hostel receptionist’s suggestion of the best local beach, we found ourselves sun-bathing upon scathing hot pebbles and over-looking the most glorious blue lagoon we’d ever seen. Our pitiful breakfast of plums and walnuts went down a treat, and we spent the rest of the day taking turns going for swims, whilst the other safe-guarded our (worthless) belongings.
Alex proposed we walk explore the Old Town and walk the walls of Dubrovnik – defensive stone walls built in the Middle Ages. Suffering from a blinding headache, burnt eyeballs and heatstroke, I downed a coke and we walked around the Dubrovnik wall. Stepping through the doors to the Old Town is like stepping into a medieval movie set.
The streets are paved with marble, have buskers blasting their violins on every corner, and secret alleyways everywhere which have a certain magical quality to them. Walking around the Wall nearly killed us with all the stairs, but the view was incredible from the top. With sight of the Bokar Fortress, the Franciscan Monastery, the red-roofed brick houses, and the sun setting over the ocean, it was truly beautiful, out-of-this-world scenery. It’s like Paris and Florence combined. Stunning.
After crashing a fun hostel’s pre party, and hitting up an Irish Pub, we came to the notorious club, Revelin – which was jam-packed with tourists, and held within the Dubrovnik walls. The coolest club we’d ever been to – the ceiling arches were so high, much like our feelings of joy when dancing to brilliant bangers, and sipping on the most expensive vodka sodas we’ll ever consume in our lives. The night concluded with a late-night pastry from the 24/hr bakery, a raiding of the hostel fridge and meeting our French roommates. Dubrovnik was surreal, and one of the most outstanding places in the world I’d say.
It’s probably a good idea to download google maps on your phone beforehand when you have wifi, when arriving on a foreign island and trying to navigate to your Airbnb. Unfortunately, Dumb and Dumber arrived in Hvar by ferry with nothing but an address and foul tempers. After walking around for over an hour and talking to some unknowledgeable locals, we arrived at our Airbnb.
We spent the afternoon by a beautiful little swimming bay, one of the many in Hvar, laid our rotting Turkish towels on the concrete and took in the sun rays.
We saved our precious dosh that night, by devouring the pizza offered in our neighbouring party hostel, and by taking the drink tokens to grant ourselves 2 delightful jagerbombs. We hit up the glorious Sevens bar and danced away to 90s tunes, and in Kiva bar we learnt our lesson to not pour our self-brought vodka into a bought-sprite, in front of the security camera.
When on a budget, it can be hard to find that satisfying, savoury, drunken feast… so on our way home, Alex decided to take a pizza box off the back of a millionaire’s Yacht – lucky she wasn’t whisked away and sold as a slave tbh… however I, dumber, decided to cook myself a wholesome meal of boiled eggs. Only, at 4am in the morning one doesn’t have the patience of 7 minutes, and decides to eat the eggs raw. It was a regret I can tell you that.
The second day was filled with more sunbathing, lathering ourselves in olive oil to gain the oh-so healthy tan, and in the evening we joined another hostel bar-crawl. Our night out was soon hijacked by a gang of 30/40 year olds celebrating a Buck’s Party, and we spent the remainder of the evening sipping all their Rose wine which amounted to a bill of 300 euros. And that’s when we decided it was time to go.
Hvar nights out are always unpredictable, and filled with excitement – you never know where the night will take you. Whether it’s giving relationship advice to bickering couple Mary and Rowat on the dock (when you haven’t even been in a relationship yourself), or discussing your favourite vegetables with 18-year-old George on his Dad’s yacht at 5am, it’s bound to be an unforgettable night.
3. Plitvice Lakes
The most remarkable place in Croatia. Travelling by bus from Split to Plitvice Lakes seemed an easy task, however we hadn’t prepared ourselves for the absolute remoteness of the little town. A scene from a horror film, we arrived at 7pm, the brisk air turning our lips blue, stranded, with no food for dinner, defenceless, in the middle of nowhere. After much deliberation and almost accepting we were going to spend the night sleeping in the forrest, we walked till we found any hint of civilisation.
We spotted a restaurant not too far ahead, and luckily they had the number of a taxi, to which we paid 25 AUD for a 5 minute drive. With nothing but a can of tuna and a rotting tomato, we sat in our ‘cabin in the woods’ and just comprehended in terror, the fact that, yes, Plitvice Lakes is the signature location for wild lynx cats and bears (oh my!) in Croatia. GREAT! We went to sleep accepting whatever our fate, and awoke the next day hoping to God that the lakes would be worth it. And it was!
We beat the crowd and got to the Lakes at 7am and spent 3 hours walking around the most beautiful lakes known to man. The largest national park in Croatia, the turquoise-coloured, crystalline lakes were like something out of Avatar, we felt like we were walking against a movie backdrop or screensaver – it was so breathtaking and simply the most gorgeous scenery we’d ever seen. It made us feel very small. The most photogenic place, however photos could never do it justice.
We were picked up by our Airbnb host’s nephew, who informed us of the bear-fighting culture in Croatia, telling us how he spends his weekends wrestling baby bears and wrapping steak around his neck, despite the fact his grandfather lost an arm from this so-called pastime. It’s such a small town, and quite frankly gave us a pure culture shock. We asked the son what he’ll do with his life and he said, ‘I’ll be a ranger at the National Park’. Their whole lives are there, – it made us realise just how fortunate we are.
Croatia couldn’t have been better – it is 100% everything it’s talked up to be… a mediterranean fantasy surrounded by sapphire waters and ancient walled towns… a place that I’ll definitely re-visit in years to come – only next time with bear protection…