Hear about travel to Croatia as the Amateur Traveler talks to Jay Ternavan of JaywayTravel.com about this country on the coast of the Adriatic.
Jay says, “for me, Croatia has everything you could look for in a travel experience. I went to Croatia for the first time about 12 years ago after having traveled extensively in Europe. When I first arrived I said to myself ‘this is the place that has it all'”.
“It’s got everything you could look for from breathtaking scenery with just incredible natural beauty, the gorgeous coastline which is its claim to fame, crystal clear blue waters, there are over 1000 islands, definitely rich in history, a number of UNESCO sites throughout the country, a lot of Roman and Venetian influence. There’s a lot of cultural activities throughout the country, festivals, concerts, great museums to enjoy. There are palaces. There are castles. Some of the architecture is just gorgeous, Beautiful restorative buildings, famous orange rooftops.”
“The food and wine is great, and definitely a place to enjoy some seafood, great local wines. So definitely a place for foodies I would say.”
“It’s a place we can enjoy more active excursions, there are national parks. You can get out hiking, biking. With the coastline, there are great water sports. I found the people there to be very friendly, very welcoming.”
For a week-long itinerary, Jay recommends concentrating on the southern coastal part of the country known as Dalmatia from Dubrovnik to Split. Jay recommends getting out to some of the islands like Hvar or Korcula as well as the Paklinski Islands. Jay also recommends possible side trips to the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro or Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
My Croatia Photos
Plitvice National Park
Croatia Backroads Travel – Episode 133
Croatian War of Independence
Travel to Bosnia – Episode 262
Travel to Montenegro – Episode 232
Dubrovnik Cable Car
Museum of Croatian War of Independence
Stari Grad Plain
Paklinski Islands (off Hvar)
Luka Ice Cream & Cakes
A Lesson in Cooking Peka, the Signature Dish of Croatia’s Dalmatia Region
Rijeka (largest port)
23 Best Places to Visit in Croatia
Amateur Traveler trips for Cambodia trip April of 2016
Great episode….made me want to consider river cruising (in 20 years). I also like the format with multiple people. However, I don’t remember hearing the cost of the cruise….can you give us some idea?
Chris: Amateur Traveler, episode 489. Today, the Amateur Traveler talks about palaces, UNESCO World Heritage sites, waterfalls, emperors and cabbages as we go to Croatia.
Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host Chris Christensen. Without further ado, let’s talk about Croatia. I’d like to welcome Jay from JayWay Travel who has come to talk to us about Croatia. Jay, welcome to the show.
Jay: Thanks Chris. Thanks for having me.
Chris: And many of you may recognize JayWay, as they’ve been sponsoring our transcripts of the Amateur Traveler for a while, and I just got a chance to use their service. We actually were in Croatia doing some of what Jay will be talking about. But we are not really talking about my trip, we’re going to talk about your trip. We’re going to talk about what Jay would recommend for a trip to Croatia. So Jay, thanks for coming on, and thanks for helping arrange our trip. And I should say that Jay didn’t do that as a sponsorship. We paid them to do it and they did a nice job, but we’ll talk more about that in the course of the conversation. This isn’t intended to be promoting JayWay travel, except that I had a really good experience, so it’s going to come out that way.
Jay: I don’t mind. I don’t mind.
Chris: I am most sure you don’t. So, why should somebody go to Croatia?
Jay: Well, several reasons. For me, Croatia is really a place that has everything you can look for in a travel experience. I went to Croatia for the first time about 12 years ago, after having traveled extensively in Europe. And when I first arrived to Croatia, I got there and I said to myself, “This is the place that has it all. I’ve finally found it.” It’s got everything you can look for, from breathtaking scenery with just incredible natural beauty, a gorgeous coastline that’s claimed to fame, crystal clear blue waters, like I said, over a thousand islands, definitely rich in history, a number of UNESCO sites throughout the country, a lot of Roman and Venetian influence that contributes to that history.
There’s a lot of cultural activities throughout the country, festivals, concerts, great museums to enjoy. There’s palaces, there’s castles, and just some of the architecture is just gorgeous, beautiful resort buildings and famous orange rooftops that are unique to Croatia and make up the landscape. The food and wine is great, definitely a place to enjoy some seafood, great local wines, so definitely a place for foodies, I would say. A place you can enjoy some more active-type excursion, there’s national parks, and get out hiking, biking. Obviously, with the coastline, some great water spots. I found the people there to be very friendly, very welcoming, and I think they’re very accustomed to tourists, so they know how to treat their guests, let’s say. It is a more seasonal place, the season probably runs for about six, seven months of the year, from, let’s say, about the beginning of April until mid to end October. So you can expect very comfortable weather during that time, definitely some warmer temperatures in the peak summer months, but hopefully with very little rain usually in that time. So temperature-wise, very comfortable.
Chris: My impression is, if you’re on the coastline if you went there in the winter time…we’re not talking about a harsh winter, anyway, but they don’t get nearly as much tourism in that time of the year.
Jay: Yeah, off-season months running from, let’s say, November until March, things tend to shut down, unfortunately, so it’s probably not the ideal time, but still comfortable. If you’re there just for site seeing, and just enjoying the towns, not so much of an emphasis on going on boats or beaches, and that sort of things. There’s a lot to do in the town, still, but things do shut down. But you got places like Zagreb, which is the capital city, certainly a year-round destination. But some of the coastal stuff, you probably do want to avoid for four or five months of the year.
Chris: Okay, what kind of itinerary would you recommend for, say, one week-ish?
Jay: For a week, we typically do recommend that they concentrate themselves to the south of Croatia region known as Dalmatia. So that would stretch basically the furthest southern point of the country from Dubrovnik all the way up to the Split area. And we usually have clients spend their time between the Dubrovnik, get out to some of the islands which include places like Hvar, is a very popular place, potentially another island called Korcula, and then probably finishing up their itinerary more northern Dalmatia in the Split region, to visit Split and some of the surrounding areas. One town we have people staying nearby to Split is called Trogir, actually a UNESCO World Heritage city, and also to make their way up inland a bit to one of the national parks, Plitvice Lakes National Park.
So a lot to do in a week, the distances are not bad so you can cover a lot without feeling like you’re rushed. You can even get into some of the neighboring countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina as a potential day trip, and also to Montenegro. So you can really see and do a lot in a week’s time in a smaller concentrated area.
Chris: Okay, let’s go back and do that a little more detail. You started us in Dubrovnik, what would you recommend in terms of seeing in Dubrovnik? And, interestingly enough, this is our second show on Croatia, just as I had mentioned. The other one we did probably five years ago, or so, with Amanda Castleman, as I recall, about driving some of the backroads in Croatia, and we’d skipped Dubrovnik in the this. So even though this is our second show, we actually did some different things. You might want to go back and listen to that one, as well, although things have changed. I mean, it’s a country that has changed quite a lot since the wars as things broke up in Yugoslavia, what, 20 years ago now, or?
Jay: Yeah, it’s going on 20 Years, but I’ll tell you, they recovered quickly.
Chris: Croatia I think, yeah.
Jay: Yeah, for sure. You really don’t notice much of the aftereffects there. I think, one thing about Croatia, and I’ll get into Dubrovnik shortly, but they’ve really kept their authenticity. Whereas a lot of places that start to experience more and more tourism, they start to get over-built and over-run, whereas Croatia, I guess the government really has a strict policy where they just don’t allow that mass building. So whether it’s 12 years ago when I was there or now, certainly things have changed, but the landscape, the buildings, that’s still the same. So I think that’s really a positive of Croatia. They’ve really kept that authenticity, which is a real plus.
Chris: With Dubrovnik, you mentioned the orange roofs of Croatia, and Dubrovnik is one of those places where you are standing, walking the walls of Dubrovnik and you look out, and you see all the orange roofs. Well, unfortunately, the orange roofs are the ones that were recently replaced. And so you can see that that city was quite heavily damaged in that war, but, of course, has been rebuilt since.
Chris: You said it retained its authenticity. I would have to say Dubrovnik was so beautiful, and so clean, and so amazing in terms of the architecture and the history, and such. It felt like Disney to us. I honestly think we didn’t even believe the sky was real. It’s just one of things that, it just seemed like somebody’s idyllic view of what Medieval Europe should look like.
Jay: Yeah, I totally agree, especially when you arrive to the airport there, and your drive from the airport, which I’ve done on several occasions and it never gets old. You come into Dubrovnik from above, and your first glimpse, the Old Town just jocks out into these beautiful crystal clear blue waters, and it’s just spectacular. So it’s an incredible introduction to the country for people who make that the start of their trap. But, in terms of Dubrovnik, it is a compact Old Town center, which makes it very easy to explore by foot. Actually, that’s really the only option.
Chris: It’s true. we should say, very easy to explore by foot, but we should warn people who have mobility issues…
Chris: …that half of the Old Town is relatively flat, but, for instance, one of the gates is just all-stairs going down. And, for instance, we stayed up on the hillside and that walk back to the apartment with a gorgeous view of the Old City, but you did earn that. We did work off the of the pasta, whatever we had eaten for dinner, getting back to the apartment at night. So, a very hilly area for both walking and then, for instance, if you rent a car, for driving, it gets a little more interesting.
Jay: Yes, it’s certainly something to be prepared for, and that area you stayed in is known as Plo?e, which we tend to have a lot of people stay in that area for that reason you mentioned, for the incredible views, because you look out on the sea and the Old Town. But, yeah, you often have to work for it, but, as most of our clients would agree, the views are well worth the climb.
Jay: Going Back to what’s see and do in Dubrovnik, I guess, I think one of the best ways to start any stay in Dubrovnik is by walking the city walls, again, as we mentioned, definitely some stairs to climb, but it really gives you a great perspective around the city from above and also looking out into the sea, the walk, circles, the entire Old Town, so you get a really interesting vantage point. And I think it’s a good way to introduce you to the city. Other than that, another great activity is to take the cable car. There’s a cable car which actually, during the war, had been destroyed and they brought back a few years ago. So that takes you well above the city to what they call Mount Srd. And, from above, you just get breathtaking views over the city. So that’s well worth the visit.
Jay: And when I saw for that when we were there, which was September, so not the height of the tourist season, but still a number of tourists there, is it probably took maybe half hour to 45 minutes of wait on both ends, so just plan accordingly for that. And I suspect that in August, we’re probably talking about longer lines than that.
Jay: Yeah, a lot can depend…and this is a big point to bring up on the cruise ship traffic.
Chris: Right, that’s true.
Jay: Maybe the only negative I can come up with for Dubrovnik is the influx of cruise ships coming into the city. So we often advise our clients just to plan your time around that because typically cruise ships will come in in the morning, so probably from about 10:00, 11:00 until about 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, is when it’s at its strongest and that’s when the visitors are there. So we often tell clients, “Do things like the city wall walk maybe first thing in the morning or later in the evening.” Same goes with the cable car, and maybe do other activities during the day like kayaking trips, or get out to nearby Lokum island, which we highly recommend, and it’s a really nice getaway from the Old Town traffic.
Chris: And that’s the one with the simple ferry that goes right from the Dubrovnik Old Town harbor.
Jay: Exactly, it’s a 15-minute ferry ride, so very easy. They run, depending on the season, pretty much every half an hour to hour, kind of on-the-hour sort of thing, so very easy to plan. And I think an ideal three, four-hour trip to avoid that cruise ship madness little bit.
Chris: Well, and we did it slightly differently on our trip, because you had recommended all your staff, had hooked us up with the walking tour. So we started with that, and then that guide recommended we actually wait and do the walking tour of the walls at about 5:00.
Chris: And that actually turned out to be nice because there were far fewer people up there on the walls, because, as you said, the cruise traffic had gone away at that point. You can easily notice the large groups of people following their lollipops with the different cruise names.
Jay: Some of them holding a sign.
Chris: Yeah, through the city especially on the main cross street.
Jay: The Strada, which is the main boulevard there.
Chris: But by 5:00, they had all gone back to the cruise ship and then we were also up there for a sunset, as the orange light hits all the orange roofs, and it was a wonderful time to be up there. And the weather was a little cooler by that time, too, so that turned out to be a really good suggestion, as well.
Jay: Exactly, yes. So, not only avoiding the traffic but, in some cases, avoiding the strongest heat of the day, especially when you’re walking some of those stairs.
Chris: Yeah, the wall itself is not flat. As we mentioned, the city is on a little bit of a…well, on quite a lot of a hill, so you actually have to hike up to some of the sections of the wall.
Jay: Exactly. Yeah, between some of those activities and just generally exploring the Old Town and getting lost, which is a lot of fun sometimes, as well, that should certainly fill up a full day, if not more. And then depending on the time you have, we usually have people spend two or three nights in Dubrovnik. If you have that extra night, maybe they consider some of the day trips we have mentioned, getting out to Montenegro nearby, it’s about an hour and a half away, and the highlight there is the Bay of Kotor, and so we have a lot of people that, and interesting to get out to another country that’s so close by. And, again, just breathtaking scenery there, and the Bay of Kotor is surrounded by fjord-like mountains, so really another spectacular site welcomes you there. And then, another option is getting into Bosnia Herzegovina to a town called Mostar. It’s a really unique town.
Chris: Gorgeous town.
Jay: Bosnia is a Muslim country primarily so you to get a lot of influences there.
Chris: I was surprised that that was my impression, but when I looked around when we were there, it’s only about 40% Muslim. There’s no majority in the country. But it has the Muslim influences obviously, and it depends, obviously, on where you are.
Jay: Yeah, in Mostar you’ll see the shopping bazaar and the mosques, and get a real mix of culture there because of the recent war history, there was a conflict between religions. So that would be more of a cultural trip, I would say, whereas Montenegro might be more for the natural beauty and landscape.
Chris: And we have done shows both on Bosnia, with Stephanie Yoder, her favorite country, Stephanie from Twenty-Something Travels, and then also with Ralph Velasco talking about Montenegro. So you can check out both those shows. We did not get the much regular…I would have to say, with the two nights we had in Dubrovnik, we didn’t even have time really to do a sea kayak, as you mentioned, or go out to the island. So I would say you could probably even do three nights there, and add onto that if you wanted to Montenegro. Mostar, that’s a bit of a drive to that one. You have to drive up and over to get there, and we did. We started in Sarajevo because we actually did our flights. We were flying miles and thoroughly enjoyed Bosnia, but we’ll talk about that in another show, and we were glad for some of the suggestions.
Jay: Yeah, you’re looking at about a two and a half-hour drive from Dubrovnik, so a bit longer but you get a fair amount of time in Mostar. So some beautiful drive along the coast on the way, so certainly a lot to see as you drive.
Chris: The only other thing I would say, as you mentioned, the gondola going up in the tram for the views. There’s also a museum up there. I did not plan my time accordingly so that I had any time to go into the museum about the war, did hit Dubrovnik, as well, when the Serbians of the Montenegrins were sharing the city.
Jay: Yeah, as we talked about about 20 years ago that everything happened, so still fresh. So definitely, I think, something to give interesting perspective of what people went through not too long ago in that area.
Chris: Excellent. Anything else you would recommend for Dubrovnik before we head for the north?
Jay: Well, I have one personal favorite in terms of catching a sunset. There’s a bar on the outside of the city walls called Buza bar, and I highly recommend, for a sunset, it’s pretty spectacular, enjoy a local beer, wine, and sit on the walls and watch the sea and the boats go by. So, it’s pretty spectacular.
Chris: Excellent, where to next?
Jay: Well, generally we have people head out to the islands. And if we’re talking about a week itinerary, we’d probably have people just visit one island during that time, and typically we have people go to the island of Hvar.
Chris: Which is another UNESCO site, as I recall. Do I have that correctly?
Jay: Hovar is not, actually.
Chris: Okay, sorry. There was one of them that is off the coach there, but I’ll have to look that up.
Jay: Hvar is not. But ways to get there, recently they added a direct catamaran, so like a speed ferry service, which takes about three hours. So that’s certainly the quickest way to get between the two. There are other options, potentially taking a bus up to Split and then a ferry over to Hvar, or even arranging for a driver to take you up the coast and then drive in the length of Hvar. Hvar is actually the longest island in Croatia, so some really pretty views along that drive, as well. But we find, for the sake of time, and taking advantage of the time you have in the area, that direct catamaran is probably the best bet as it takes about three hours.
Chris: And I’m going to have to correct you, Jay, because the Stari Grad plain in Hvar is a UNESCO site.
Jay: Oh, you’re right. Excuse me. You’re right.
Chris: Score one for the host.
Jay: You got it. You got it. You beat me on that because actually we send people to Hvar town. Stari Grad is another town on the island of Hvar. So you are correct. You are correct.
Chris: And I don’t remember actually how long Hvar is. We looked at it, but our trip was a little bit more rushed than what we’re describing. And I think what you are describing is a better itinerary in many ways than what we did, although we had a wonderful trip. So how long is the island?
Jay: I don’t know for sure, but I want to say something around 50 miles long.
Chris: Okay, I knew ahead, as you said, was the largest one, but I wasn’t sure how far. Yeah, that sounds about right. I think 68 kilometers is what I’m seeing, 42 miles.
Jay: Okay. So I guess fairly well my distance is…
Chris: It was pretty good. We’ll give you that one.
Jay: Thanks, I appreciate it. But, yeah, I would say, Hvar, when you’re taking the catamaran…I’m just going off of my experiences, and maybe basic, my first impression of Hvar. You cruise into this beautiful plush green island, and pull into this just gorgeous port with these amazing sailboats, palm trees, beautiful villas, scan the orange rooftops, beautiful fortress overlooking the city, so just really picturesque. And I think, also along the lines of what you said, “Is this real?” When you’re coming in. So it’s really a site to see as you pull up in the boat into the main port, and get into this just gorgeous town, which is always alive, and has a great atmosphere, and things are always happening, and people are happy. So it’s just, overall, just this great summer atmosphere and a buzz that really makes Hvar this electric place, so to speak.
And I think there, typically we have people spend, again, if you have a week’s time, probably a couple of nights. Hvar is probably a more relaxing feel because it is an island. Dubrovnik is the place where you’re probably going to be involved with a lot more sightseeing and maybe busier. So Hvar, being island, is a place you can unwind a little, and then just take in the beautiful surroundings. You’ll probably spend your time in the Old Town exploring that, enjoying nice dinners and outdoor dining, and that sort of thing, and walking along the coast enjoying some of the beach and swimming areas. One definite from Hvar, there’s a chain of 21 islands off the coast of the Old Town there known as Pakleni Islands. And, a typical trip, we have clients take…is for the day, take their own boat out, or as part of an excursion, or even have a private boat driver take you out and just cruise through these islands for the day. And there’s just beautiful secluded coves and just really untouched beautiful nature. And it’s just a really relaxing, gorgeous day out on the water, you can do a lot of swimming.
In particular, we have clients, there’s a great lunch place we send clients, too, which is actually an old farmhouse on one of the islands where they prepare all of their own food from the farm, and the wine from their vineyards, and you’re sitting in this farmhouse looking over the sea and eating amazing food, and having a few glasses of wine. It’s just a really nice relaxing day out to get outside of the Old Town a little bit and really unwind.
Chris: Excellent. Now, that ferry that goes to Hvar is leaving from Dubrovnik?
Jay: Yeah, it leaves from Dubrovnik, so it’s a direct ferry, quite easy, like I said, around three hours. Both of the ports from more or less right in the town, so you’re probably in Dubrovnik in maybe a 10-minutes taxi ride to get you to the port there, and then in Hvar, you’re dropped off right in the main port.
Chris: Okay, that’s leaving, I assume, from the new part of town rather than the old part of town in Dubrovnik.
Jay: In Dubrovnik, yeah, from Port Gruz. So, yeah, that’s outside the Old Town area, so outside where we typically have people stay.
Chris: Okay, excellent. Where to next?
Jay: Yeah, after, let’s say, a couple nights in Hvar, and we have you take another speed ferry, a catamaran back over to the mainland. And it’s a quicker ride this time around. It’s an hour ferry back over to Split. And we typically do not have clients stay in Split actually. We have them stay in an alternative town called Troger, which I mentioned earlier.
Chris: Which we did, gorgeous little town.
Jay: Yeah, gorgeous little town. Don’t get me wrong, Split is well worth a look.
Chris: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
Jay: Because we have people get off the ferry in Split, check your bags. There’s a bag check where, for a dollar, to an hour, you can check your bags safely, go out, explore the old town of Split, which is another UNESCO World Heritage site.
Chris: Oh, that’s nice.
Jay: So, needless to say, well worth a look. So spend a few hours there.
Chris: Well, and a more unusual one, since Split has this interesting history where it built up around and into the old palace of Diocletian, which, in an odd way, as you’re looking from the coastline at the Old Town, you’re actually looking at one of the walls of the palace.
Chris: So, very interesting spot. It wasn’t like somebody decided it would more happen organically over time as they took over the palace with the city, but interesting how they incorporated that in the city and yet preserved enough of it to be interesting in seeing.
Jay: Yes, certainly preserved a lot. They have all the ancient Roman artifacts there, as you mentioned, the Diocletian’s palace. So, enough to keep you busy for a couple hours, and certainly to enjoy the seafront there, the promenade, have a nice lunch for a few hours and then do a little bit of shopping, and then you’re on your way. We really think that’s enough time spent in Split.
Chris: No, of course, the emperor would disagree with you. I mean, this is the place where one of the only Roman emperors to actually retire retired to. And he had a lot of places he could choose, so he thought it was such a wonderful place and, of course, that and he grew such lovely cabbages there. When they asked him to come back to power, he said “Oh, if you could only see my cabbages, you wouldn’t even ask.”
Jay: Well, yeah. I think that was before the ports and the rest the city was built up around it. That’s the main reason. The Old Town is great, and Split, but once you get outside of that, it is a larger port town. And it is a large city.
Chris: Yeah, it’s more of a real town in some ways.
Chris: Although one thing I would recommend, and this we got from the guide that you hooked us up with, is there is an ice cream shop in Split, and I’m drawing a blank on the name, but it’s up behind the theater, one block on the other side of the theater. And it’s not from somebody from Croatia, and it starts with an L. I’ve got to tell you that, and I’ll try and find the name of that it and put it in the show notes.
Chris: But they make new flavors of ice cream every day, very interesting different flavors. I think I was trying one new flavor that they were doing that was carrot cake-based, and that was the first day they had ever had it. And it may go away tomorrow, so you never know what you’re going to get, I guess, there is what the guide was telling us. But that was worth the stop.
Jay: Yeah, got to hit the right day, I guess.
Chris: Exactly. Well, or have some good luck, but they do good work there.
Jay: The right day and the right flavor. No, it sounds good. You’ll have to give me that for my next trip in Split. Yes, once you finish your time in Split, again we send people up to Trivia. It’s about a 30 minute drive north of Split. And again just a much more charming, authentic feel to it. It’s essentially an island to the old town of Troger surrounded by city walls, again. So, a very walkable pleasant little town.
Chris: Much smaller than Dubrovnik, for instance.
Jay: For sure, probably half the size.
Chris: And the name of the ice cream place is Luka, L-U-K-A.
Jay: Okay, which is a kind of typical Croatian name.
Chris: Except I don’t think he’s Croatian. I believe that there was some information there that he was from somewhere else, but anywhere.
Jay: Oh, could be Italian.
Chris: I don’t remember.
Jay: Okay, so, yeah, in Troger, I think, a couple of nights. Another reason we have people base themselves in Troger is so they can take advantage of a day trip to the nearby Plitvice National Park. Again, a little bit of a drive from Troger, probably about two and a half hours each way, but I think it adds a nice dimension to the trip, getting inland and experiencing some of the more outdoors. It’s a series of lakes that make up the park, and really spectacular color, green turquoise color to the lakes, and very easy to hike around. There’s boat trips you can take on the lakes, and it’s really well put together with a series of wooden footbridges that connect all the lakes. So a really pleasant walk and spectacular scenery with waterfalls.
Chris: Waterfalls everywhere.
Jay: Everywhere you turn, so just really a nice addition to the trip.
Chris: Well, I would say that you really should plan on hiking Plitvice, don’t plan on just going and looking at things. We didn’t do the whole hike. Well, for one thing we were there in the rain, so that wasn’t necessarily the best day to be there, but still even in a rainy day, it was a gorgeous, gorgeous place.
Jay: The signage there is very good, so depending on your ability going into the park, you can choose from a few different routes that are marked color-coded, and that kind of thing, and it gives you the estimated time that will take to walk a certain route. Some are more strenuous than others.
Chris: But you can also start at the top walk down, and so a little less strenuous if you do it that way.
Jay: Exactly, if you go through to the different entrances…there’s three entrances. It is well put together and pretty easy to manage on your own, and figure out things when you get there.
Chris: Little trickier, again, if you have mobility issues.
Jay: Yes, for sure.
Chris: But for people who are in good enough shape to hike, take a few hours, at least, and do the hike. It’s not that big a deal, but really there are parts of the park you just wouldn’t see.
Jay: Yeah, it’s a must-see, definitely.
Chris: And you mentioned driving there, one thing you didn’t say is driving in Croatia is pretty nice. Their main highway is, I’d say, one of, if not the nicest highway I have ever driven on.
Jay: I tend to agree.
Chris: So for people who are thinking about, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to drive in a foreign country,” I really think that Croatia, other than the fact that when you’re trying to get around Dubrovnik, I did ask for an upgrade to an automatic just because I had pictures of being stalled on one of those hills in Dubrovnik. But, in terms of the highway, it is a toll highway, and with lots, as you head inland towards Plitvice and towards Zagreb, lots and lots of tunnels, but a very well-maintained, very new highway from what it looks like.
Jay: Very new, that must have been built back, maximum maybe maybe 10 years ago.
Chris: Yeah, it looks like some of the influx of money as they joined the EU.
Jay: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And driving throughout Croatia, for that southern itinerary we’ve been discussing because you’re dealing, going out to islands, that sort of thing, we tend to discourage a car for that purpose. But once you get more inland and to the northern parts of Croatia, we actually do highly recommend driving, because some of the public transport in the north, unfortunately, is a bit lacking and it is nice to have the flexibility of the car, to be able to make stops along the way. And, like you said, the roads are very good, a lot of new modern roads, and I think it’s really pretty straightforward navigating your ways city to city.
Chris: I want to say the drivers are a little more relaxed than some of the drivers of the other side of the Adriatic there.
Chris: At least in Southern Italy. I think Northern Italy is very similar, the driving is not difficult there, either.
Jay: Yeah, for sure, a lot safer than driving in Italy, let’s say, with your competition.
Chris: Yeah, and I did mention that it’s part of the EU, but we’re not on the euro we should say.
Jay: Yes, which is definitely, too, another advantage. I mean, still being on the local currency, the Croatian kuna, I think does help some of the pricing.
Chris: Dubrovnik is still expensive just because of all the tourism, but I think once you got out of there, especially, we didn’t talk about Zagreb, but we did talk about that in the other show, very inexpensive.
Jay: Yeah, for the most part. It’s not Eastern Europe cheap, but it’s not Western Europe expensive. It’s something in between.
Jay: So still bargains to be had, and the strong dollar helps as well.
Jay: Exactly. What surprised me when I…well, because I was just in Croatia, what’s going to surprise the listener when they go to Croatia?
Jay: For me, it’s how developed the country is. I think it’s got a reputation of, due to it’s communist past, and obviously the recent war history, that things might be a little rough over there. But it’s the quite the opposite. I think their infrastructure is excellent. They are very accustomed to tourists, and tourism is their main industry. So they do the business of tourism very well. They have a very good approach to it. I think that’s one thing that will certainly surprise people. Another thing is the English level there. I think people expect, especially going into Central Eastern Europe, that speaking to locals is going to be a challenge. But, of the places we cover, which is about 20 countries in Central Eastern Europe, I would say Croatia is really one of the top in terms of their level of English. So people will not struggle with communication.
Chris: Which is probably good since we picked up maybe three words of Serbo-Croatian.
Jay: You’ll get, “Hvala,” “Dobro dan.”
Chris: Yeah, exactly. That was it.
Jay: “živeli,” cheers. So, some of the important stuff.
Chris: That’s a real giveaway when you think “Cheers” is one of the important words and phrases to know, but…
Jay: And you need to know it and especially if you are drinking the local stuff. So, it’s very important. But one thing I touched on earlier is just how they kept their authenticity. I think that’s a really present surprise, let’s say, when you go to Croatia. You don’t see these mass results and buildings, one on top of the other, and you still see the old houses and villas, and, again, the orange rooftops. So, I think that’s a big key to what Croatia offers. And, I guess, other surprises, to me, at least initially when I went, and, I think when people are coming in there, is just how much the country has to offer. From North to South, there’s a lot of variety whether it be in what’s offered, or the cities, or activities available from the national parks to the coastline, to the capital cities. So there is a lot of variety there. So, yeah. It’s just a surprise that one place can really have it all.
Chris: We’re not talking about Zagreb so much, but we enjoyed that, as well. But as they say in, it’s Split, I think, they told us that people in Zagreb just work a lot harder.
Chris: That basically the people in Split work one month of the year, August, when everybody from Zagreb comes down, and the people in Zagreb work 11 months of the year, and that there’s just a different approach to life between the two areas. And when we told that to the tour guide, that we had, in Zagreb, she agreed. She said, “Oh, yeah. We go to Split for our vacation, and love it down there, but then we get back to work.”
Jay: Yeah, that’s why I don’t want to go to Zagreb in August, because the city is empty out there, I’ll go to the coast, and, like you said, keep the people in Split busy for the months, exactly.
Chris: And you mentioned how to say “Cheers” are the things that we should try when we are there, in terms of food, things to eat or drink?
Jay: First and foremost, when you are in Croatia, go right for the seafood. There’s a real variety of seafood dishes there, certainly fresh fish right out of the sea. Very popular types of fish, you’ll probably see things like sea bass or sea bream, a lot of shell fish, oysters, mussels, if you are into those sort of things. But I love things like octopus and squid, maybe not for everyone. But I think if you try it there, you might change your mind. It’s not the typical chewy caramel you might be used to at home. It’s things like octopus salad. They do things like octopus carpaccio, which I love. So, first and foremost, definitely, seafood. You’ll find things like great olive oils, which are used in most of their dishes, and certainly a staple, so try some delicious olive oils. And then in terms of things like their very good meats, one specialty is cooking meats under the bell. It’s a long process that takes a few hours of cooking things like lamb or veal, but it just makes it very tender and really delicious.
Chris: And that’s Peka? I’m really not sure if I’m saying the right…P-E-K-A.
Jay: Peka, P-E-K-A, exactly.
Chris: But one trick there was we didn’t find a lot of places, for instance, in Dubrovnik, that offer that because we had some non-sea eaters on our trip, including me. My daughter is a real meat and potatoes person, and this looked like the perfect meal for her.
Chris: And we found a restaurant in Troger that did do it, but you had to order, I think it was three hours ahead of time.
Jay: Yeah, most of them, if you’re lucky, they’ll have it ready. But, yeah, in most cases, it’s the kind of thing where you do need to order in advance. But some do have it ready. So it’s just a matter of finding the right place. But definitely something to seek out.
Chris: Especially on the coast, too. If you’re not a big seafood fan, there’s still lots, also, of the Italian influence, pastas and pizzas, and things like that.
Jay: Exactly. Plenty of pizza places.
Chris: Very easy place to get food, I think.
Jay: Yeah, absolutely. Fresh vegetables, with the mild warm climate, you’re going to get great vegetables. And one thing I’ve always liked in Croatia, they have great bread.
Chris: Oh, okay.
Jay: So, great for dipping in your olive oil. The food there, I always enjoy. You get a good mix of things and, like you said, a lot of Italian influence, as well, which is never a bad thing.
Chris: What do the guide books recommend, or the tourist board is going to tell me to do, and you skipped over?
Jay: I guess, in terms of what to avoid, it’s more a question of when the guide books and different tour companies tend to recommend overnight in certain places, and we might even say, “Avoid those, or just make them a quick stop.”
Chris: Such as…
Jay: Yeah, or kind of run through. Between Dubrovnik and Split, it is a beautiful coastline, but there’s not really any towns there of interest that are worth spending too much extended time. One that comes out a lot is Makarska, gorgeous place, but it’s more just known, again, for coastline beaches. It’s kind of where European holiday makers go, kind of place you just don’t over a night. Drive through it, stop and take a photo, and enjoy the beautiful coastline. But, as an overnight destination, definitely can pass on it. Another region we haven’t talked about too much up in the North is the Istria region. And one town there that gets a lot of publicity is Pula. And, again, somewhere we definitely recommend seeing, but no need to overnight there. It’s got the famous Colosseum called the Arena. It’s kind of small version of the Colosseum in Rome, so definitely worth a look, but once you get beyond that, it’s another big city. So we tend to have people not stay there, but instead, in a really charming Venetian fishing village called Rovinj, which is on the coast, as well. So that would be something to avoid, again, as an overnight destination going to Pula.
Couple of other places the guide book seemed to be high on are places like Rijeka, which is actually the largest port in Croatia, and maybe it gets the publicity just because it’s a larger city. But it’s a port town, so somewhere definitely to avoid. And then another town that gets a lot of pub is Opatija, and, we think, a nice enough town, but it just doesn’t compare to what else is out there. We see Opatija and a lot of other tour companies itinerary, and we just don’t think it compares to places like Dubrovnik, like Troger, like Rovinj that I just mentioned. So probably another place you could bypass. Other than that, we talked about Split a little bit, well worth a look, but, again, maybe not the ideal overnight destination. Instead, maybe to go to Troger.
Chris: As we start to wind this down, before I get to my last four questions, anything else we should know before we head to Croatia?
Jay: Just in terms of getting prepared for the trip?
Jay: That’s casual, which is, I think, very nice. It’s a place where you can go and get your shorts and your t-shirt, and feel very relaxed. You don’t have to worry too much about being stiffed up for dinner, it’s just an easygoing place. Other things in terms of going to Croatia, I think, we touched on a few things, so far, just being aware of going into your itinerary, some of the things to prepare for like the transport, in terms of accommodation. So, a lot of things we help with, to be honest.
Chris: Sure. You’re standing in the prettiest spot in all of Croatia. Where are you standing, what are you looking at?
Jay: They are so many. The thing about Croatia is it’s just one breathtaking spot after another.
Chris: I’m going to pin you down to your favorite.
Jay: Okay. I guess it’s what I spoke about earlier. It’s that drive-in from the airport. When you just see, from above, the old town of Dubrovnik, it’s just like you’re on this road, and around you is the sea and beautiful things. And then you come over this hill and you’re coming down, and then just, as you said, this spectacular, almost not real city pops out, and you see the rooftops and see around it, and the boats, and it’s just something you never forget.
Chris: I’ll back you up on that.
Jay: Yeah, I’ve made that trip so many times and I look forward to that moment when I’m coming in and I’m just…it’s like, “I’m back. This is it. I’m here again,” and it’s just spectacular.
Chris: Well, for us, I don’t know if it was the drive-in. I think it was more of when we opened the balcony windows from the apartment we were staying, and it was that.
Jay: Yeah, I lived about six months in Dubrovnik. I’ve traveled there numerous times, and just every…I am still, “Wow,” every time I go there.
Chris: Finish this thought, “You really know you are in Croatia when…” what?
Jay: I don’t know, everything is kind of free and easy, at least, for me, when I get there. And it’s the surroundings that create that. I mean, to have that stunning nature and the sea around you, and, for the most part, smiling people not only the locals, but people around you just seem to be happy because of where they are. You just have this relaxed easygoing feeling, and it just permeates through the whole country and through your whole experience. And it’s a place where you can really sit back and enjoy what’s around you just because everything is so spectacular, and maybe the locals create that. And it’s an atmosphere that I found hard to find in other places, and I think that’s what makes it so special.
Chris: And if you had to summarize the whole country in just three words, what three words would you use?
Jay: Actually my staff will like this, “Nema problema.”
Chris: No problem.
Jay: Which means no problem. And it really does capture the mood of the country, so I have to go with that even though it’s in another language, but you get the idea.
Chris: Excellent. Our guest, again, has been Jay from JayWay Travels, and what was your website, Jay?
Jay: It’s www.jaywaytravel.com.
Chris: Excellent. Thank you so much for the sponsorship you’ve been doing of the transcripts, and I will say again, and Jay did not pay me to say this, although he’s welcomed to do so, we’ve had a great experience using your services and your staff to plan our trip. And I’ll be honest that when we got the quote for how much things were going to be, we wrote back…I don’t know if know this, we wrote back and said, “Is that per person?”
Jay: Well, let’s say we gave you a good price. I will say, and definitely feedback from our clients for the service we provide, and I truly believe it’s an excellent value for money.
Chris: Well, and part of it is that’s because of where we went to. For instance, we added in Bosnia, and Bosnian is less expensive. And then added in Zagreb, and Zagreb is less expensive than Dubrovnik, too. But it was…we are used to planning our own trips, but I will say we appreciated the things like airport pickups and guided tours being arranged, and rental cars, and all that. So thanks for what you do. Thanks for coming on the Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your obvious love for Croatia.
Jay: Thanks so much, Chris. I enjoyed it. Thank you.
Chris: In News of the Community, just a quick reminder that that trip to Cambodia for April of 2016 is still on sale, that is there are a limited number people that can go on that trip. So if you want to do it, you might want to sign up as soon as you can. And more information about that at AmateurTraveler.com/trip, which is are closed Facebook community for trips.
I had a comment from Spencer from the episode we did on the Viking River Cruise on the Douro River, “Great episode, made me want to consider river cruising in 20 years. I also like the format with multiple people. However I don’t remember hearing the cost of the cruise. Can you give us some ideas?” Yeah, we didn’t mention the cost of the cruise, although that is on their website. And one of things to be aware of with costs of cruises, river cruises, in particular, is it can depend a lot on the dates. So, for instance, the same cabin, the standard cabin that’s $2,500 this November was $3,600 in July. So it can depend a lot on when you go, as well. So check that out on their website for the latest pricing information.
With that we’ll end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions, send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com or better yet leave a comment on this episode at AmateurTraveler.com. If you are an owner of an Android phone, you may be interested to know that podcasts are coming to the Google Play Store pretty soon, and the Amateur Traveler will be one of those podcasts. So wherever you find your podcast, don’t miss an episode by subscribing. And, as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.