Croatia Backroads Travel – Episode 133

categories: europe travel

Hear about travel to Croatia as the Amateur Traveler talks to Amanda Castleman about a trip to the less explored parts of Croatia: Trogir, Plitvice Lakes, Mount Medvednica, Marija Bistrica, Krapina.


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Airlines Ground Flights – 100,000+ Travelers Affected
Another Airline Down – Skybus Closes

Show Notes

Croatia map
Croatia National Tourism Board
Edward Readicker-Henderson
Mount Medvednica
“Whiter Shade of Pale” by Amanda Castleman
Castle Hotel Bezanec
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Frommer’s Dream Vacations
Hotel Arcotel Allegra
Esplanade Hotel Zagreb
Current State Department Travel Warnings
Krapina – Neaderthal Site
Marija Bistrica, Croatia
From Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes


Chris: Amateur Traveler episode 133. Today the Amateur Traveler goes to Croatia. Learn about castles, churches, beaches, and fried cheese today on the Amateur Traveler.


Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. I have a couple news stories before we get into today’s interview. It feels a little bit like all the news I’ve been sharing recently is about airlines and all of it is bad news and I’m afraid there’s a little more of that this week.

You probably already caught the two news stories that I have for you. One is that Frontier Airways has declared Chapter 11 which is bankruptcy. For those of you that are outside the U.S. and not familiar with the distinction, Chapter 11 says that a company needs protection from its creditors but wants to keep going on functioning. So their flights are still running and they’re hoping to be able to reorganize and get some relief from their creditors and then go back into business in a regular way.

Then the second news story, discount airline SkyBus has ceased operations in the last couple weeks.

It has been an awful week for American Airlines and their passengers. They have canceled over 1,000 flights this week because of F.A.A. inspections that were remiss. Over 100,000 passengers have been stranded. The bad news here is that the F.A.A. is going around to a number of airlines because of some irregularities that were discovered recently and it’s expected that this will continue into June. So there is a real chance that if you’re taking a vacation here in April, May, or June that this could effect your travel plans not just on American but they will be going to other airlines and doing similar sorts of inspections.

There are a number of other news item that are worthy of note such as the French yacht that was seized by Somali pirates or the story of how Bellview Hospital, which is an insane asylum, is being turned possibly into a luxury hotel that I’m not going to get into because of time. This is, I think, going to be a longer episode. But you can check them out at and the links to the stories I mentioned will be on


I’d like to welcome to the show Amanda Castleman. Amanda is a freelance journalist and a travel writing instructor and has come to talk to us about Croatia. Amanda, welcome to the show.

Amanda: Hey, Chris. How are you doing?

Chris: First things first, Croatia is starting to get to be a popular destination place, but really only in the last few years. What led you to Croatia?

Amanda: I had a rather convoluted personal story that led me to Croatia. First there certainly was an intrigue with the Balkans as an area that was opening up as you expanded. On a personal level, I was dating a man who went off backpacking the world. I was due to meet him in Italy and we were going to travel through the Balkans which was going to be his first step outside what I call the mayonnaise belt of Australia, New Zealand, Germany, English speaking and Germanic countries. So we were going to venture outside the mayonnaise belt and go on this great road trip.

Then he ran off with this German backpacker with a diamond in her tooth two weeks before I was due to join him. So I called a good friend of mine, the travel writer Edward Readicker-Henderson and he actually flew over from Alaska to help me with this series of journalistic assignments I had throughout the Balkans. We wound up in Croatia as well as Bosnia and Slovenia.

Chris: Then we’ll jump right into the meat of it. What were the highlights of the trip for you?

Amanda: Some of the highlights were just those incredibly silly mini-golf moments. I think place-wise, what surprised me most was a small town called Trogir. It was out on the coast. It’s a medieval fortified island near Split. It’s one square mile, but it’s just bristling like a hedge hog with these towers made out of creamy stone. It was kind of almost like a trick box type of location. It was so small you could drive off it by accident.

One wrong turn and you were on the next island over a causeway. But once you got inside all these crazy little alleys and this just sort of warm pale stone everywhere, you could wander for days. It is a Unesco World Heritage Center but nothing either of us had heard of until we basically stumbled upon it.

Chris: Interesting. And your itinerary, let’s go into a little detail and just cover upfront that you didn’t go to Dubrovnik which is probably the most popular place in Croatia because?

Amanda: Partly because it is the most popular place in Croatia frankly. As a travel writer you are constantly seeking out the next destination, not where the cruise ships necessarily are already docking.

The other factor was I had a few guide book research assignments who had asked me to go into the interior specifically because those are areas that are still opening up. It seemed like a wonderful deal at the time. I had a British company that said oh, we’re going to give you 50 pounds, $100 a day in expenses, plus pay all this money to go research distinctive hotels.

I thought okay, great, I can do this other writing on the back side of that. I got over there and they were supposed to have scouted distinctive hotels and we were finding like two rooms above a gas station.

Chris: Well that would be distinctive.

Amanda: Yeah. It had a lot of local color, if you would, with petrol pumps. So this gig sort of fell through in the middle of the trip. It was a little heart breaking in a way because we’d come all this distance and then gone out into the Croatian countryside where clearly no tourist had ever been except the person who rented the room over the gas station. It put us into some strange territory, but that actually wound up being the strength of the trip.

One night we wound up staying in, it was called the Hotel Puntar near Mount Medvednica which is 20 something kilometers outside of Zabgreb, the capital. We drove up this mountain in the mist. It was real kind of movie land, haunting scene. There were these sort of strange Croatian foragers that kept appearing out of the clouds.

We drove back down because I’d read that there was this Hotel Puntar that had a big Soviet fighter plane outside of it. It was a real former Yugoslavia stronghold. So we drove and drove and drove through this very surreal, it’s almost like a Japanese water color landscape, and I had to eat my traditional vegetarian meal in Croatia of fried cheese and french fries which is almost all I ate for two weeks. Then this wedding kicks in. We’re just in the middle of nowhere outside of the capital.

They played the Battle Hymn of the Republic on the accordion until three in the morning at this hotel. It would just be this flurry of accordion notes and then you’d hear someone shout, “Glory! Glory!” And it didn’t stop all night. So we wound up having a lot of these strange textual moments here. We were the only guests in a castle called Dvorac Bezanec. It was in Pregrada. I was very excited with my last name being Castleman, I was going to get to stay in a castle. We sort of showed up.

It was just kind of a crummy castle. It didn’t have an battlements and it didn’t have any turrets. It had a really angry alpaca that kept spitting at me. We had metal soup and it’s a great memory. We were the only people there running around and there was all this crazy artwork on the walls. But again, it has this very primitive tourism once you’re outside of areas like Borovnik or Zagreb.

It has that almost kind of raw very undiscovered feel. In a lot of these areas, these rural areas, when you get inland the backpackers aren’t even there because the bus and train infrastructure isn’t in place.

Plitvice National Park, Croatia by Gary Arndt from

Plitvice National Park, Croatia by Gary Arndt from

To answer your earlier question about my itinerary, we started in Zagreb and we drove down towards the Plitvice Lakes which are a series of 16 cascading lakes. They’re an incredible kind of peacock turqoise color. You walk on boardwalks out among these interconnected lakes and waterfalls. It’s pretty amazing. Definitely a world-class destination as far as beauty goes. We sort of headed there and then went down the coast toward Trogir and Split, went up to Hvar which is supposed to be a gem and we headed right back for the mainland with the weird llamas and the accordion music, frankly.

Chris: Supposed to be. It doesn’t sound like you found it to be a gem?

Amanda: I think Hvar was tricky for me. I lived in Europe for almost eight years, a lot of that in Italy. Hvar is on the Adriatic Coast and has had a lot of Italian influence so for me it felt very familiar. Sort of more of the same but not quite as good. But I’m probably going to get hate mail now from Croatians. It is an amazing city I think particularly if you haven’t been to the Italian Adriatic. It is a World Heritage Site, but we kept joking it was a World Heritage Identi-kit.

Like they were just kind of checking things off. All right, do we have a Venetian castle? Check. Do we have atmospheric harbor with boats bobbing at buoys? Check. It may have been because we were there off season, but for me it just didn’t pull together into a real sense of place. I feel like I was in a real heavily touristed location with some glossy bed and breakfasts. I know they have a thriving lavender trade, but I just couldn’t get a real sense of why that was different from other Adriatic destinations. I think it’s a beautiful place, but it wasn’t what we were looking for in Croatia. We wanted to drive around and go to truck stops where they were roasting sausages on open fires and drank wormwood wine. That, to me, was the adventure there. Not staying in a bed and breakfast over a quaint harbor.

Chris: Okay. So it wasn’t that you found it to be an ugly place, but it’s a pretty place in a region full of pretty places that just didn’t stand out as much for you.

Amanda: Yes. And also the character was a lot more Italian-ette, which I adore but that’s not necessarily why I would go to Croatia. It is interesting that I think both Hvar and Trogir, those are two destinations that are now appearing on U.S. and U.K. on the travel maps. I wound up writing about Croatia for a promotioner who put out a book called Dream Vacations. We had a big go round about how you’ve got to talk of Hvar. I said all right. Well it’s only 75 words. I can get 75 words of good out of that, but I think as a travel writer you just hit some places that don’t speak to you or more importantly in this case it just didn’t speak to my expectation of the place. So I would absolutely recommend it for anyone that hasn’t experienced that kind of seaside, eat your ice cream, stroll on the promenade, stare up at the ancient fortifications, Adriatic, seaside town. It’s great for that. But it is not the wild and wooly.

Chris: Sounds horrible. No alpacas.

Amanda: No alpacas. Exactly. It all comes down to alpacas in the end.

Chris: When you talked about meals, you mentioned something about, you’re a vegetarian and it sounds like Croatia is not quite yet vegetarian ready?

Amanda: It’s a little bit of hard work. Before I went I found a few Croatians and asked them to write out, “I am vegetarian.” Universally they all just started laughing and said we don’t really even have a word for this. You could try the Russian. The worst meal, I mean typically it would be fried cheese and french fries as I mentioned earlier. By far the scariest, it was actually at the truck stop where they were roasting sausages on the fire, and I saw a salad on the menu and I thought great, some leafy greens, bring it on. It was a salad composed of pickles, 1/3 pickles in a big wedge, and 1/3 pickled beets and then pickled cabbage. It was sort of arranged like one of those radiation signs, “Don’t go there.” Big third wedges. It was just really about the most terrifying platter of pickled Balkan food. But that’s what I signed up for. I left all the pizza on the coast and I went inland. I will say both Hvar and Trogir had some exquisite pizza. They do some very, very exceptional cooking. My friend I was traveling with who is a meat eater was delighted all the way along. But vegetarians, I would recommend bringing a few granola bars, yeah.

Chris: For your friend, for instance, you’re saying the food wasn’t as difficult. It’s just not so much vegetarian friendly right now?

Zagreb, Croatia by Gary Arndt from

Zagreb, Croatia by Gary Arndt from

Amanda: Right. I think it’s just not part of their culture. We did have some good moments stopping and buying honey from women selling it along the road. That’s a really incredible taste of the landscape. We’d get bread from a local bakery and just dip it in this honey. I will say in Zagreb I ate exceptionally well. It’s a very cosmopolitan capital. We wound up staying at the Arcotel Allegra which I’ve been marketing as Croatia’s first design hotel which was pretty fun. And since it was the end of the trip we treated ourselves to dinner at kind of the Grandame Hotel which is the Regent Esplanade. That was kind of where all the nobility and war correspondents and everyone stayed over the last 400 years or so. I don’t know how old the hotel is off hand.

It looks like a castle. It looks like the castle I wanted out in the countryside. We ate one of the more exceptional meals of my travel writing career there, I would say. So there is some amazing food to be had. I think because of my dietary preferences I missed a little bit of it. That’s all.

Chris: Okay. And then you had also mentioned this being one of the former parts of Yugoslavia which of course was a little bit of an artificial country with all these Balkan countries kind of pasted together after World War I. I think most people are aware of the trouble this region has gone through. How much did you still see traces of that in Croatia?

Amanda: Well at Plitvice Lakes that I mentioned earlier, those chain of 16 lakes, there weren’t overt signs, but later I read that was one of the more brutal areas of fighting because it’s out close by the Bosnian border. That sort of gave me pause, but when we actually drove across the Bosnian border we crossed at what is known as the Biatch Quarter and yeah, it’s unfortunate.

There were a lot of bad jokes especially because what they call a waterfall is a slap and so that day became the Biatch Slapped day of waterfalls and Bosnia. Unfortunately that’s just us being childish. So we went across it at Biatch and that was the most war torn landscape I’ve encountered anywhere on four or five continents. Just bombed in roofs, there were still big huge craters out in fields, just houses that were nothing but blown apart terracotta tiles and maybe one retaining wall left. It was a very frightening landscape. My friend Edward got kind of goofy at the border. We pull up. They’ve probably seen like three American tourists in the last year crossing into Biatch Quarter because we’re just out in the boonies with this car driving around like travel writer clowns do. They asked what we were going for and Ed just goes lunch. I’m thinking no, he’s got a machine gun. Don’t be funny. It was true, but I’m speaking very slowly saying no, no we go to see your beautiful country then we turn around and come home today.

And once you were across the border everything changes. There are suddenly mosques, there were a lot of people carrying livestock and wood and produce on their backs. It wasn’t that it was an undeveloped country, but there was suddenly a much more raw edge. You were much more aware that this was a place recovering from fighting and fairly recently. It still would be reasonable to go around with a horse and a cart because your car got bombed out 10 years ago. That to me was one of the more powerful elements. It was one of the first times I’ve actually been in a landscape that still bore those scars so freshly and not in any type of national monument, clean, tidy type of way.

But in a someone blew up grandma’s house and we just left it in the field. Also seeing the tank barricades, I’ve not encountered that anywhere else and those seemed like they went on for miles. We actually have a friend who’s a war correspondent who flinched when we told him we went through the Biatch Quarter and he was having flashbacks to a much more vivid and intense time. It was a very curious and very sobering powerful place to wind up.

Chris: You’ve ventured into Bosnia Herzegovina but you didn’t see a whole lot of that on this trip?

Amanda: No. It’s a place I’d really like to go back to. I think there’s a wealth of destinations in the Balkans like Albania. There are still some security issues in that part of the world. I would read up a lot and I would definitely read the state department warnings. Some place like Albania, frankly, I would like to go. That might be the type of area I would even consider hiring a local driver, interpreter especially as a woman for comfort factor. Croatia was great. Two Yanks driving around in a car unable to read the signs half the time although a lot of them do have Roman transliterations.

Chris: Language brings up the question so it is not a romance language. So it’s a language that most people when they go there don’t speak. What kind of issues did you run into with language?

Amanda: We did a lot of sign language.

Chris: Tourist charades?

Amanda: Exactly. A little bit of English. Along the Adriatic Coast, Italian. And inland, German. Which was a real work out for my high school German, but a lot of the older educated people still spoke German so that got a bit of a work out for those old skills that hadn’t been trotted out since senior year.

Chris: Did we finish covering your itinerary or did I just interrupt you in the middle of it?

Amanda: It was fairly patchwork and kind of wandering. Once we got off this prescribed route for the guidebook research, we’d sort of look in the guidebook and think well, what do we feel like doing today? Well heck, let’s go stay at this castle. So there wasn’t any real purposeful movement that I would encourage anyone.

Highlight definitely Zagreb, beautiful city. Trogir out on the coast. You can drive down through the Plitvice Lakes to Trogir. That would be a fantastic week long itinerary. We read at one point that there’s apparently something called the Krapina man who is a well preserved Neanderthal. I believe he’s a mummy. Kind of one of those, who was the guy they pulled down off the ice?

Chris: In Switzerland.

Amanda: Yeah, I can’t remember what his name was. But I think he was some figure like that. We just drove out to Krapina. We never even saw Krapina man because we got horribly, horribly lost and I think we illegally crossed the border like 18 times. It was like an open border between there and Slovenia and we were so lost, every time we would circle around we were sort of violating some treaty I’m sure. That’s one of the reasons I have very warm memories of Croatia and the Balkans in general is as a travel writer often you go in with a purpose. For someone like Tim Cahill, he’ll often kind of set himself like these strange purposes. I’m going to take a chicken bus out to this country and then see the world free fishing, spear diving competition or whatever. Then that will set him on the path of having these quirky adventures. So quite often we travel that way or we travel because an editor has asked us, I want you to go check out Libyana. It’s really happening right now. It’s just to get to wander at whim.

Chris: What was the biggest surprise you had?

Amanda: Aside from the accordion music, accordion playing Battle Hymn of the Republic? I would have to say on an emotional level the Biatch on the Bosnian border. For Americans, we often don’t get that sense of a domestic landscape destroyed by political violence and I’m really grateful that we don’t. We don’t have an acute sense of that. Seeing the day to day life of these people that have been bombed back to using horse carts, that was probably the biggest feeler in your gut revelation moment that I had. Not necessarily the cheeriest surprise. I also discovered I like fried cheese. Is that happier?

Chris: I’m sorry you hadn’t discovered that earlier. I happen to also like fried cheese. Most memorable person you met?

Amanda: Oh wow. Most memorable person. It’s funny, I think because of the language barrier our interactions were so limited because of language barriers. The woman I stopped and bought honey from, a marvelous character, but a two minute encounter. I think that was one of the strange things is because the tourism infrastructure was so limited we would arrive in a small place and we would typically rent a room. I would usually go for the grandmas and I would negotiate a room in German and then we would be taken into someone’s house and given like two moldy blankets for $25 a night for two people. It’s kind of hard to argue. But it didn’t really allow for a lot of interpersonal connection.

Chris: And would you just drive around and see someone would be advertising Zimmer frei or something?

Amanda: Yeah, yeah. Zimmer, camera, they’d have it out there. A couple languages. Suddenly you’d be sitting in someone’s home kind of sitting there with your bread and your honey. It was a very isolating way to travel in some respects because there weren’t a lot of people you could fluidly communicate with in a way that you would bond and really share emotion. I have to say people were delighted that we were there. Universally it didn’t feel any friction whatsoever as Americans. Typically we were just a curiosity. Once you get that far into Croatia it just becomes a matter of what are you doing here? Why? You’re a source of wonder. Imagine in small town America if someone from Georgia, former Soviet Union, showed up. Just be thinking how did you wind up in Burlington, Washington? We were a curiosity and not in a bad way. I will say the most poignant interpersonal moment that we did manage across a rather extreme language barrier, this was in Slovenia if you’ll just let me slip over the border briefly. We’d gone to a very small town where we’d read there was a honey museum. My friend used to be a bee keeper so we traveled out there on sort of the milk delivery train type of situation and wound up in this small town where it was beautifully sunny and spring and we stumbled into the middle of a traditional wedding that was going on. We didn’t quite crash it but we sat in the cafe and watched the bride who was one of the most stunningly beautiful women I’d honestly ever seen. She was all in the traditional garb and her man was just beaming, like I can’t believe I’m this lucky. We sort of just sat and watched them. There was a little bit of traditional dancing, lots of cheering and toasting. And we sort of got to be on the periphery. It’s sort of those small moments when you can’t fully speak the language but there’s still our universal stories that you can engage with. Those are sort of what stands out more from our trip because we were just very isolated by the language and also by the car. As good as the car was and as essential to travel in those rural areas, you don’t get your hitchhiking, bus, train type of adventures.

Chris: Sure. It is more isolating.

Amanda: Yeah.

Chris: What do you wish you’d known before you’d gone?

Amanda: I don’t feel like this was particularly a well thought out trip in my pantheon.

Chris: Spontaneous is the word we use for that.

Amanda: Yeah. No. It was kind of a goober driving around not speaking the language type of crashing in random houses hoping you wake up alive type of trip. And the blankets really were moldy and nasty a lot of times. They were musty. I’m not really sure I would’ve changed much to be honest. There were certainly places, particularly islands, out on the coast one of which I think is supposed to be the Jason and the Argonauts island. If I’m remembering correctly that’s the one called Krik which is K-R-I-K, which we just didn’t have time to get out there even with, I believe we were on the ground like 10 or 12 days. I would’ve liked to have spent a little more time hiking around the lakes and boating a little bit. We did do about a six mile hike and then took a boat down through the lake system, but I was not prepared for the extreme natural beauty and ruggedness of those areas. If I went back I think I would try and explore that a little more intensively to kind of actually get out and interact with that landscape. I’m sure the language problems would be just as bad if you go to inland Croatia now, two years later after my trip I would be very surprised if anything had changed substantially there, but you don’t need to speak the language real well to hike or bike or go taste honey from the little lady on the side of the road.

So I think as sort of an interim, before things get slick and polished and they have design hotels out by the Plitvice Jezera Lakes, there is a real opportunity for independent adventure travelers to explore that inland area. There’s also quite a tradition of religious pilgrimage there. Because of my friend’s interest in that we wound up going to a series of small churches which I found really fascinating. A lot of them had sort of naive art frescoes and one of them was quite a large religious center.

Chris: These would be altar pieces?

Amanda: The one that he was so keen on that we detoured quite a large way was Mardi Bistrica, I’m not pronouncing things wonderfully, but it’s in that area outside Zagreb called Dagorge, D-A-G-O-R-G-E, and again I know I’m not pronouncing that right. We actually back tracked all the way up into this area again because we heard there was a big pilgrimage church with a black Madonna and that’s quite an unusual thing.

So again we went on one of these harem scarem we’re driving three days so we can buy our friend Patty a rosary from the black Madonna church. Those often are some of the best memories because they will bring you into that weird place with the Communist era fighter jet and the accordions and fried cheese. It’s sort of what we do. It’s the unexpected adventure.

Chris: Do you have one moment maybe that you haven’t mentioned so far that is a quintessential Croatia moment for you?

Amanda: For me it was the church in Trogir. The church there is in the process of being restored, but it was a horrible stormy, rainy day. I of course had had this joke with my friend Edward the whole time. I think I mentioned earlier that I’d had a bit of a break up and my buddy, kind of my pseudo sibling had bailed me out. I needed a driver because I had all these assignments and didn’t want to be running around in the Balkans on my own. I kind of lured him across by saying oh, there’s going to be all these beautiful women in the Balkans. Like super models, come on dude. We got there and it was torrential rain all over Eastern Europe. I mean the Danube flooded while we were there. It was an utter mess. By the time we hit Trogir he was fairly annoyed with me. Just like come on, you promised me all these topless women on the beach and all I’m looking at are postcards and I was kind of holding in reserve that this church had the most famous naked statue of Eve. It was sort of the first naked statue of Eve for I don’t know how large a region. Must be a 13th century sculpture. So I was sort of stringing him along going oh, well there will be great topless women in Trogir.

Not telling him it was this carving on the church. Of course we got there and I’m ready for my big haha joke moment and it’s all scaffolded up. You couldn’t even see her. But we went to the church anyway and one of the side chapels was being restored and had been cleaned back to white marble, but the rest of it had this smoky darkness. I think I mentioned earlier the stone there is very creamy. It’s almost like the color of Brie. It’s very warm. But inside this church, it had been stained dark by years of candles. It had this very heavy, oppressive, this is a land that has seen woes type of feelings. It was one of the weightiest churches I’ve ever been in. We went over and lit huge, and they were actually beeswax big fat candles, they were just.

And being American and having lived in Italy, a lot of times you get the churches that have the electric light switches. Put your 25 in and flip it. I know it’s better for the artwork in the church, but it doesn’t carry so much of the emotional weight. I was suddenly in this dark smoke stained church in the grueling rain on this coast that has seen so many invasions and even in our lifetime has seen warfare. It was a very heavy moment. A very sobering one, but probably when I felt most connected to here’s what these people have experienced. There are these beautiful play boats bobbing in harbor the color of a peacock’s tail and it’s very easy to pretend that you’re in Italy and you’re sitting in a cafe that’s serving you great wood-fired pizza and you’re drinking campari and soda. You feel like you could be down the Amalfi coast or something, but that was kind of what brought it all back home to me is that this is an area that has seen a lot of suffering and has survived it with really an amazing grace. To be able to go there and connect to the place when it’s still in this transition, when it hasn’t packaged itself up for tourism. It’s like being in Prague after the wall came down type of feeling. It’s almost like they haven’t begun their own spin yet. Places like Sibotnik might be different and that’s part of why I avoided them. You can still walk and experience those elements of the shiny happy beaches which I’m told have topless women most of the time, but just not that April. But for me what was really amazing was that they hadn’t begun constructing their own story out of it yet.

Chris: I did have one set of questions that I got asked by a listener knowing that you were coming on the show and that’s from Wes and I’m not sure you’re going to be able to answer it because of you’re not getting to Dubrovnik, but he was wondering if you did go there what was a good day trip outside of that area? I don’t know if you got far enough south to answer that question.

Amanda: Dubrovnik? I’m afraid I didn’t. I can pass along a warning from a colleague of mine. A colleague did warn me that Bosnia and Herzegovina have a small strip of coastline north of Dubrovnik and it’s one of those sort of hundred feet swabs of unmarked border, the kind that tripped me up around Krapina that we crossed illegally. But apparently this one has a speed trap so she got a ticket I believe both going and coming because it really sneaks up on you. On the way back she knew it was a possibility and it still was so unmarked that it happened again. So I would caution anyone driving north and because there is only one highway that’s something they’re likely to encounter. I would say for Dubrovnik, getting up to Trogir and Hvar, Vis which is a little farther out from Hvar might be a little off the beaten path possibility. If memory is serving me, it was six or eight hours up the coast to Trogir.

Chris: Not so much a day trip.

Amanda: No. Your caller might be better off going out to the islands north of Dubrovnik would be my guess but it’s nothing I can speak to personally, unfortunately.

Chris: Okay. As we wind this up, is there anything else that you would like to leave people with if they’re thinking about a trip to Croatia?

Amanda: Brush up on their German. You’re going to be doing a lot of sit-ups to wear off the fried cheese. Grapefruit gum.

Chris: Grapefruit gum?

Amanda: Grapefruit gum. We became addicted to grapefruit gum which sounds fairly disgusting I realize and apparently is only, it is a Rigley’s product, but we cannot find it in any other country. We’ve checked about 20, 20 plus collectively now. It is a product seemingly unique to Croatia. I’ve even tried Googling around to see if I can get some of it sent here and I had no luck at all. But grapefruit gum I would certainly recommend to anyone who’s headed into Croatia. It was one of those unexpected newsstand purchases that winds up defining an entire trip for you.

Chris: I understand what you mean. There’s a Coca-Cola drink that I can’t get in the U.S. An apple drink. They sell it just over the border in Mexico, but I can’t find it in the U.S.

Amanda: Oh no. That’s frustrating because that’s so close. And you can probably only bring so much back across with you before they start looking at you funny. Yeah. We brought home a fair amount of grapefruit gum and have been squabbling over it for two years. I discovered a whole pack but we’re not going to tell Edward. He has to listen to the whole show to find that out.

Chris: Well I hope that we don’t cause problems for you.

Amanda: Yeah. I don’t want to give up my last pack. I was going to surprise him with like a piece next time he came to visit. But yeah the grapefruit gum was terrific. I think it was a combination of the familiar but slightly twisted. I guess I would just encourage people, I understand Dubovnik is a very amazing pearl of the Adriatic type of place, but I think if they want to engage a little bit more with the color and character to get into that story before it’s processed tourism to maybe head inland. Zagreb is a great starting point and is an amazing place to arrive by train if you’re somewhere else in Europe. Very user friendly on that front. From there it’s not terribly difficult to rent a car and head outward. It’s a pretty amazing opportunity.

Croatia is one of those destinations that’s all over the cover of the glossy magazines now. i think we’re really lucky that there still are these parts inland where things aren’t fully scripted yet. Rick Steves has already covered the Plitvice Lakes. It’s all blasting wide open right now, but I would encourage people to try to see that authentic story before it gets lost under the layers of interpretations. Even if you don’t speak the language you can drive around and you can eat sausages and drink wormwood wine. Unless you can’t eat sausages if you’re me. But I think there still is a very visceral experience to be had there so I would encourage people to go a little outside their comfort zone on this one. And it certainly was for me even having lived in Europe.

Frankly I was scared taking a night train from Naples into Slovenia and then crossing over the border. i didn’t know what to expect in the Balkans. On the whole it has wound up being one of the best trips of my life and from someone that is often out in the field 150 days a year, that’s saying a lot.

Chris: Okay and our guest has been Amanda Castleman. Amanda, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Amanda: Thanks, Chris. It’s been a pleasure.


Chris: Normally at this point in the show I’d have an internet resource for you and some news from the community, but I’m going to skip that this week. I have a trip this weekend and if I’m going to get out of town I still have to pack and if I’m going to get this out on time I’m going to have to edit this in the car with a wireless card so we’ll wind this show down here. if you have any comments for me feel free to send them to host at or leave them on the discussion board, or call the comment line if you find that number on As always thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

11 Responses to “Croatia Backroads Travel – Episode 133”

Nomadic Matt


I see your on facebook! I sent you an ad!



LOVED the episode. Amanda was a great interview. I’ll be headed for Croatia in a month, so I’ll be sure to post some trip notes here when I get back. I have a daytrip to Trogar (as mentioned by Amanda) on my itinerary. My other daytrip out of Dubrovnik is going to be a day in Montenegro (Bay of Kotor). It’s supposed to be a very scenic drive along the only southern fjord in Europe.

Good to know that German will come in handy. I’ll have my phrasebooks ready!


Marilyn Terrell


I love Trogir and Plitvice Lakes! You could wander Trogir’s tiny streets forever, and the waterfalls at Plitvice are amazing. Here’s a story you might like about a spontaneous trip to Trogir, on National Geographic Traveler’s collection of “Sudden Journeys”:



That’s great. I don’t know if you caught that the author of that is Edward Readicker-Henderson who was Amanda’s traveling companion. That’s the same trip. I am glad you found that.

Marilyn Terrell


Ah, now I get to hear the other side of that story! Thanks!



Just in from my trip to Central/Eastern Europe…

Croatia – LOVED Plitvice National Park. I found it a rare and unique gem that is nothing like I have seen elsewhere in my travels. It was the crown jewel in my 24 day trip.

As for Trogir, I don’t get it. In fact, it was as BAD as Plitvice was great. I had a full day set up to spend in Trogir and found it to be a dead and severely overpriced trap. Granted, it was a Sunday, but nobody was out on the street. It was small, uninteresting and catered heavily to affluent yachters docking for the afternoon or for an overnight stop. It was the biggest single wasted four hours of my entire 24 days. Did I miss something???



There are so many beautiful things to see in Eastern Europe, wonderful old Towns, marvelous nature and the overlap and contrats with the modernity and advance that comes into the former communistic countries. Never been to Croatia but Poland is wunderful, too!!

D.P. Sharma



Alphonso Tuttle


Croatia is referred as the country of a thousand islands. If you have ever dreamed about being on a small island alone with someone, this is the place for you. If you are a nature lover, a travel to Croatia offers: camping, mountain hiking/biking, rafting, scuba diving and skydiving.

Craig Mullins


Going here in a week woo hoo!



Awesome, Croatia was the top of our list until we started pricing airfare.

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