For months my husband teased me about going to Croatia. His Marine-tempered jokes about people stealing his kidney went on until the day we boarded our flight from Sacramento to Seattle, then off to our connecting flight in Frankfurt, Germany then Dubrovnik, Croatia.
I chose to go to Croatia because I kept reading about Medjugorje, a small city in Bosnia where six children witnessed the apparition of Mother Mary in 1981. I first read about it from a book I bought from a popular family creamery in Sacramento, Leatherbys. They talked about this peaceful and holy pilgrimage that was transformative and spiritually fulfilling. I find myself constantly seeking peace, serenity, purpose and passion in my existence here on earth. Like similar pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Lourdes, France – I felt a calling and I listened.
My goal was to attend our No Excuse Mom European Leader Retreat in Prague, Czech Republic by June 20th. So, we flew my mother-in-law in from Mississippi to watch the kids and left two days after they finished school on June 14th. We had two options, fly into Split or Dubrovnik. Both were expensive options (compared to flying into more popular destinations in Europe). I chose Dubrovnik – without doing much research – and thought we would taxi or bus to the other cities in the area before we left from Split to Prague.
I printed out a hard copy of our entire itinerary, including addresses, dates and times, I also took pics of it on my phone. (I do this every time we travel). I left a full itinerary of the kid’s schedule on the refrigerator and save all the addresses to their guitar, soccer, theater, tutoring, school, etc. – in our van’s favorite destinations on our GPS for my MIL.
Normally when I book, I use Expedia (I’ve had good and bad experiences). I look at the reviews and make my decisions based on what is suggested. I’m typically frugal and try to find the best deals, but I also understand the importance of comfort and convenience. We flew on Condor, a German airline, which we were uncertain about as we’ve never flown them. My husband’s biggest issue is entertainment (he loves movies!) and to his satisfaction, they had movies! I fly often and usually listen to podcasts, write in my diary, read books and work on projects on airlines. Rarely do I watch TV on airlines (or in general) so I was perfectly happy as this was going to be a 10hr flight from Seattle to Frankfurt. They also served two meals, one was vegetarian. My husband liked the entertainment but didn’t find the seats very comfortable.
When we finally arrived in Dubrovnik, it was 4pm and it was simply beautiful. I literally did minimal research on Croatia and did not know what I was in for. We took an Uber to our hotel (they do not have Lyft there at the moment of this blog article). Most people I encountered spoke English. When the driver dropped us off in front of the old city gates, we were super confused. It looked like we were dropped off in front of a museum. While hesitant, we got out the car and began walking into the city.
My husband used his iphone’s GPS to locate our stay, the Apartments and Rooms Lejletul, which surprisingly worked. We dragged our luggage through cobblestoned streets, narrow alley ways and found our destination right beside a Bosnian restaurant. The people working at the restaurant were so kind, they helped us immediately and carried our two luggages up two flights of narrow stairways. The room was spacious complete with a living area, refrigerator and separate sleeping quarters. I LOVED the shower, it made me realize the pressure in ours was not adequate!
After an hour of settling in, we changed out of our travel clothes (a.k.a. workout clothes for me) and decided to walk outside. The very first thing David saw were the famous steps in the Game of Thrones scene when Cersei had her walk of shame.
It was 6:30pm at this point and David was set on walking the city walls. He had already begun wikpedia-ing and trip advisor-ing the city. To his delight, Dubrovnik is where King’s Landing was filmed in Game of Thrones (he is obsessed with that show) and was the place for many other scenes in the show. We learned that during Croatia’s war for independence against Yugoslavia, 60% of the old city was destroyed. It was beautiful. Simply. It was perfect timing to walk the walls in the evening when it wasn’t too hot. Depending on your pace, it will take 1-2 hours.
That evening we dined at an expensive restaurant that had decent food but great views. There was live music and lots of people watching. After talking with neighboring table mates (we make friends easily), it seemed like a lot of Europeans take weekend trips there as it’s an inexpensive flight 1-3hr flight to Croatia (oh, the joys of living in Europe).
The next day we decided to walk outside the city walls. We started walking up a ton of steps (to catch a better view) and kept on walking with an exploration mentality.
We found local places to replenish our need for water (which was .75 versus the $3/bottle we’ve been spending). We walked through parks and walked down a path that led us to a perfect, isolated place to swim. It was only 9:30am but we were already hot and thankfully prepared for a swim (minus the towels). The Adriatic sea was super salty and I was so buoyant!
After a refreshing swim, we walked back to the old city where they held an English-speaking mass in St. Ignatius (it was Sunday), where I was asked to perform the first reading. We took a long nap afterwards (since we woke at 5am) and had dinner at the Bosnian restaurant downstairs before taking a long walk through the city.
The next day we rented a car through SIXT (highly recommended) to drive to Medjugorje. This was a last minute decision as we were planning on taxi-ing there originally. Renting a car allowed us to stop at old churches, abandoned forts and off-the-road markets. I also wanted to visit Mostar the following day, a beautiful city in Bosnia just half an hour away from Medjugorje.
When we arrived in Medjugorje, most of the streets were under construction. We literally drove in circles! As soon as we arrived, we checked in to Hotel Quercus, which was EMPTY. I mean, so empty that they didn’t even ask us for our IDs when we arrived – they knew who we were! It was hot but I was anxious to go climb Apparition Hill, the place where the children witnessed seeing Mother Mary. I couldn’t believe how slippery and steep the trek was. People of all ages and disabilities climbed the mountain. When we arrived to the top, there was a lone statue of Mother Mary as well as a large Crucifix of Jesus. I immediately knelt and prayed for what seemed like hours. Later that day we attend mass at Saint James where they had multiple confession booths for different languages. The mass was held in Croatian, but since all Catholic (meaning universal) masses has been performed the same everywhere for hundreds of years – we knew exactly what was happening during each moment.
After mass we went to the Statue of the Risen Christ, where people had miraculous experiences, esp. in an area of the leg where the bronze statue appeared to be weeping. I waited patiently for our turn, watching as many people before me wiped the statue with multiple handkerchiefs to bring home to their loved ones. When I got there, I was shocked to feel wetness – still – after all the wiping. I prayed. I prayed for everyone. But most of all, I prayed for my mother and for my body’s healing (as I was suffering from Breast Implant Illness and Fatigue at the time).
The next day we left to Mostar, stopping first at Kravice Falls. It was cold the day we visited the falls and while beautiful, it was very rocky.
When we arrived in Mostar we got great parking near the old city. I wish I shopped more here also as they had a variety of items from diverse cultural influences. We sat at a beautiful spot overlooking the 16th century Ottoman bridge (which was rebuilt after being destroyed during the war in 2001(After exploring the old city, we got back in our car and started heading to Split, Croatia.
On the way to Split we were determined to find Red Lake, but instead happened upon Blue Lake (they are neighbors). It had to be one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen in the entire world. We trekked down to the lake and I was only planning on dipping my feet in, but once I saw how crisp, clear and clean the lake was, it was impossible for me to not swim. So I asked my husband to loan me his shorts so I can dive in (which I did!) It was definitely a very local place. I’m afraid to even write about it as it might become too touristy…but it is a MUST SEE and Experience if you are there.
That evening we made our way to Split. We were sad to leave our rental car, a trusty BMW my husband is now in love with. Thankfully, the employees at SIXT gave us a ride to the old city, where our accommodations, Split Heritage Hotel, was located. I LOVED this hotel. It was small, personal and lovely. Their breakfasts were delicious and courtyard magical.
Split was a smaller version of Dubrovnik but it was magnificent. It is where the Roman emperor, Diocletian, built his palace when he retired. It’s the best preserved Roman palace in the world. He used to persecute Christians and ironically, they built the oldest Catholic cathedral on top of his tomb!
We loved exploring Split, especially the basement areas (where the dragons were kept in Game of Thrones) and Kliss Fortress, which wasn’t touristy and allowed us to roam unencumbered. We loved our trip to Croatia, in fact, despite my husband’s annoying jokes, he has talked continuously about going back, bringing the kids and experiencing this trip again.
I would highly recommend Croatia and Bosnia. It truly is one of the hidden gems I’ve seen so far in the world. I’ve traveled to China, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Italy, France, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Greece, Turkey, Jerusalem – and now Croatia and Bosnia. I loved it here.
Here are some general traveling tips:
1) Notify your credit card company that you are traveling. Most places use Visa/Mastercard, which is awesome – but I do know if you use their money, there is no conversion fee. Grab whatever cash you need from an ATM (it’s easy!) but just know when you exchange back into dollars (if you’re American) you will lose money. I think I exchanged a couple hundred Kuna (Croatian) back to U.S. dollars and I should’ve received $30, but received $12 instead (at airport, where they had terrible exchange rates and a fee).
2) Use a crossover bag and keep it in FRONT of you. I never felt any fears traveling in Croatia, but I also never used public transportation (which is when you should be most cautious, esp in Subways). I also keep our passports of me at all times.
3) If you REALLY feel the need, book a tour – but just know, you don’t have to. You can do much of your own exploring by yourself BUT you will get the historical information you wouldn’t get if you didn’t take one.
4) Generally I try to drink a lot of water when traveling (I keep a steel water bottle with me always) and refill whenever possible. Traveling takes it toll on your body, esp when there’s a big time difference. Do your best to stay hydrated and try to stick to your new time change.
5) One thing I always regret, is packing too many workout clothes, lol. We usually walk SO much whenever we travel, that I really don’t get workouts in like I normally do at home. In Croatia especially, there are SO many stairs. You wake up sore daily. I could’ve saved some space in my luggage by removing all those clothes!
6) Speaking of walking – I invested in some shoes for walking…like the kind you can wear with dresses and capris. They weren’t super pretty, but they matched all my outfits and I never got tired of wearing them. I bought Abeo Brynn from the Walking Store.