Croatia 2016 Day 4 – Dubrovnik to Neum to Split

Woke up at about the same timing as pervious day. Baby K woke up rather early but thankfully he went back to sleep quickly. I went to the bakery to get some pastries for breakfast and 2 lattes from Lavazza. I managed to make a mess when I toppled my cup of coffee at the lift landing, which was quite frustrating since I have less one cup of coffee and also a little embarrassing.

Breakfast from bakery

Baby K woke by the time I returned. We would be visiting Dubrovnik old town to take the cable car in the morning. To save ourselves some time, mommy went to buy bus tickets from the kiosks while baby K and I went to the supermarket to get some banana (for baby K who was always constipated). There weren’t any fresh bananas stocked and the existing ones didn’t look edible we so didn’t buy any and proceeded to bus stop.

Bus schedule

Bus number 4 came and brought us to the same stop of at the old town but instead of going through the walls to the old town, we climbed the many flights of stairs to cable car street level. It was difficult with my extra 10kg on my hip seat but thankfully my frequent runs helped built the muscles for this.

Steps to cable car street level

A 5mins walk from the flight of steps brought us the Dubrovnik cable car station, the location obvious to spot as cable cars travel above the roofs of the houses below could be seen from the street. We got our return tickets for 120kunas per adult from the ticket counter just within the station’s confines. We got into front of the queue as the last one just left. We were glad that the cable car frequency was about 15 mins and with a limit in number of passengers per trip, there was comfortable space while in the cable car.

Dubrovnik cable car 1
Cable car tickets
Dubrovnik cable car

The cable car brought us upwards above the orange roofs, offering views of the old town and the coast line, all the way till the top station. The top station had various viewing decks where we took photos, a souvenir shop where we bought a tee and a restaurant. After we had our fill of the sights, we took the cable car back to ground station.

View from cable car station
Panoramic view of Dubrovnik from the cable car station
Goats on hill

Entered the old town through north entrance where we had a taste of the narrow cobbled alleys and many flights of stairs (in our minds we were glad we didn’t stay inside the old towns, this would be hell with our heavy luggage!). We got back out to bus stop where bus arrived just in time. After disembarking at Lapad, we took a short detour to check out the beach nearby, Lapad beach. This was a rocky beach, rather than a sandy one but the waters looked calm enough to swim in. We didn’t have time though.

Dubrovnik old town street
Lapad beach

Upon returning to the apartment, we completed our final packing and I brought the car seat and luggage down to the car in advance. Informed owner time of departure and owner got someone to come help with the check out whom also offered to help carry our barang barang but it was already not required. She escorted us right till we loaded up into the car and opened the private car park gate for us and we left.

The way to Split was the same route that we took in the opposite direction the previous day, coming back from Mostar. As it was going to be a long drive to Split, we split (pun intended) the journey into two, the first half being to Neum for a lunch break and the second half to Split itself. En-route to Neum was a town called Ston that could be worth visiting if we had more time. We arrived at the crossing pretty quickly and the officers at crossings waved us by just as quickly too. The gas at Bosnia was cheaper so I stopped by the gas station as soon as we were in Bosnia. I didn’t have any Marks with me and paid in kuna, a bad move as it resulted in the gas being more expensive. By right if I had pumped in Croatia, the rate was 1.8sgd/L while the rate in Bosnia was 1.45sgd/L. However the rate changed to 1.9/l when I paid in Kunas. I should have just paid in euros instead.

From the gas station it was just a short drive to Neum center. It was a quiet town and as it was the only Bosnian coastal town, I thought it would have been a little more touristy. We drove around trying to search for a restaurant that had parking and we did find one which had a terrace overlooking the bay. Parked by the roadside next to this restaurant Bonaca with a terrace and sat in. We were thinking that this location should offer great tasting seafood and ordered fish. I was asked to choose from a ice filled counter the fish that I wanted which was a first time for me. We also ordered a tuna steak and a tasty mushroom soup. The restaurant offered some starters, on the house, which was delicious. The fresh fish that I chose came after spending some time on the grill. As it was served on a tray, it was first deboned at the table next to ours before finally served to us. The sides were potatoes, vegs and fries. As it turned out, it was a pretty filling lunch and a nice lunch experience overall.

Cold dish
Mushroom soup
Deboning the fish
Tuna steak and fish
Bonaca restaurant

We left the restaurant and parked at Konzum supermarket for some grocery shopping. We bought bottled water and some milk and groceries, taking them back to Croatia and also taking advantage of the cheaper price in Bosnia.

Then the 2nd section began and we got on to A1 tolled highway. This road was fast at 130km/hr (and people go above that) and our trip to Split took about 1.5hrs ( GPS didn’t recommend that route but thankfully Google did). The toll ticket was dispensed at the station and returned to the cashier at the exit of the toll road form payment.

Toll tickets

The drive down to Split was mostly a nice easy drive until somewhere in the mountains where we met an ice storm and I didn’t know how to react. I continued on at a lower speed which was also too high (the width of the road gave the perception that I was slower already but still 90km/hr) and also realizing a little too late that pounding of the roof was not from liquid rain but solid ice pelts, the next thing I knew, the wiper wasn’t able to wipe off some frosty gash on windscreen. Eventually I lowered the speed further to a 50km/hr (or less, I couldn’t remember) crawl until we passed the area of storm. Then I realized why some cars chose to hide under the overpass. Paid the toll of 48kuna at the exit, expecting more to pay for the windscreen when I returned the car.

Gash on the windscreen

We arrived at 530pm into the city of Split. Common to European cities, there were narrow lanes and many cars, making driving a little difficult. On our first arrival, I missed the entry totally and had to circle around. The second time I arrived, I realized that the road was so narrow (and I was not confident) that I had to drive past it again. Found a place to stop and called Airbnb owner for help, she told us that we were on the correct road and asked us to wait for her on the road. We then stopped just before the small road trying to keep to the sides as much as possible in order not to obstruct traffic and within minutes, the owner drove by and signaled for us to follow. She then turned into the small lane. Gathering my courage, I followed slowly, trying my best to avoid hitting the car against the wall. The owner showed us on foot to the small car park lot next to the apartment and I had to maneuver a few times to get the whole car into the parallel lot with a kerb. As I drove head first into the lot, and with the owner’s guidance, I still stepped too heavily on the gas and slightly hit the front bumper of big car. The lady owner even offered to park for us initially but she couldn’t drive an automatic.

After sweating over parking, the host then showed us the apartment, which was a room that was split from the main building, and therefore much smaller than the one in Dubrovnik. It was beautifully decorated though. The host also brought over some home baked pastries made by her mother, which was irresistibly tasty.

Sitting area with TV
Toilet and shower
Tasty treats

Mommy cooked for baby K in the kitchenette separated by a curtain, while I entertained the little one. Then I went out to buy groceries from Tommy supermarket right across 2 streets, not too far away. Managed to get fish, banana, fresh milk and bread. After that, I went out a second time to get dinner, this time further away, from Split’s old town. The old town illuminated by modern street lighting, was beautiful at night, having the effect of the medieval town night lighted by fire without the flickering. There were still lots of people around, presumably the same objective as me, to get dinner and experienced history while at it. There were many restaurants, so I just chose one, named Konoba Fortuna, that was found in a narrow corridor and ordered spaghetti and chicken fillet for takeaways.

Tommy supermarket
Split old town gate
Bell tower
Peristyle at night
Square with restaurants
Konoba Fortuna

As I was done collecting the food, the drizzle that followed us from Dubrovnik began to drip from the clouds above and I picked up the pace to get back and avoided being drenched. I gave the little one a bath in the similarly (as in Dubrovnik) small bathing area. Here there was a stool that helped as I could sit and bath the toddler at the same time.

For dinner, mommy had the chicken fillet and felt that it was too salty while I had the spaghetti. As usual, I brought out the thrash to throw in the central bins just near the driveway and had my bath. Baby K went to bed by 945 since he missed the afternoon nap. His parents followed suit soon after as we needed to wake up early for tomorrow’s boat trip to Hvar.

Chicken fillet

Croatia 2016 Day 3 – Day trip to Mostar and Blagaj Tekke

Day 3 started with the similar arrangements as day 2, only 30mins later. I blamed jet lag and sleeping late for the tiredness.

Baby K woke up earlier at 745. As we prepared for the day, we got baby K to munch on his breakfast cereal, leaving a mess as bits and pieces of the crunchy bar fell onto the floor as he walked around. Mommy went to buy pastry and pizza from same bakery as the previous day and Lavazza coffee from Caffe Pizzeria Blue Planet, also on the ground floor.

I went to check the car seat that I washed the night before and left it under the air-con to dry but it was still smelly. We decided to leave it in the room. I brought baby K to the supermarket to look for air freshener and prune juice as baby K seemed to be suffering from constipation. Eventually I didn’t get the prune juice as baby K decided to poop in the supermarket while fiddling around with the goods.

After changing the soiled diapers back in the apartment, we were on our way to explore another city in another country. The car was still smelling like puke and we quickly put the air fresheners to use. Drove south east on 8 until a split to 223 where we hit a border crossing near a town Ivanica. It was a busy border and we managed to cross after 30 minutes. This time around, we had to predownload the Google map while we had wifi and used that as a check back with the recommended route by the GPS, so that we didn’t get the longest route. Thankfully the downloaded map given by google map could still work even after the mifi dropped after crossing into Bosnia.

Crossing at Dubrovnik to Bosnia
Crossing at Bosnia

It was a really long drive and comparatively the paved roads here were quite bumpy. Baby K slept soon after. We only managed to reach Mostar at 130pm, about 3hrs of driving as baby K woke up at the same time. I have read in advance from somewhere to ignore and keep going forward when we see a carpark attendant when arriving into Mostar but had totally forgotten about that advice. Furthermore it was indicated clearly on my GPS that I had not arrived at the right carpark yet. So I scrolled down my window to talk to the man with a parking attendant tag and was told to follow a boy on a scooter to the car park lot. Scooter boy led me through a narrow street and into a compound where there were already many cars parked there and so I did the same. I was only told, after getting off the car, the parking fees. 200kunas. That translate to 40SGD, more expensive than parking in MBS (and this was not MBS)! I managed to come out with a “Errr too expensive” and was offered half day for 100kuna, and half day meant to 11pm apparently. Didn’t want any trouble especially with my family around and also already arriving so late into Mostar, I accepted this VIP parking lot and left, walking towards the famous bridge. Upon entering the old town, we found public carpark at 1euros, the one that my GPS was initially bringing us to.

Parking receipt for the expensive carpark
Old building at Mostar
Gate of a Jewish building
Mostar map
Church of St Peter and Paul
Public parking

Just near the bridge we chose a restaurant Sadvran, with local Bosnian food and nice ambience. They had baby seat which was great as that would limit baby K’s movement during lunch. Ordered veal and chicken fillet and they came in very big portions and at an affordable 17euros in all. Payment in all 3 currencies (Euros, Croatian and Bosnian Marks) available. As a hobby, I have also asked to change some Bosnian marks for currency collection at the restaurant.

Sadrvan restaurant
Fountain inside Sadrvan restaurant
Bread and soup.
Tomato soup
Interesting utensils
Veel with rice
Chicken fillet

So it was mentioned that there would be a nice photo shoot point if we walked past the restaurants down the steps towards the river and true enough, it was a nice spot. After taking some photos, we crossed the UNESCO bridge, Stari Most, to the Bosniak side of town, where the buildings and culture reflect predominantly Islamic compared to the Catholic presence in the form of cathedrals before the bridge. We walked through the streets with shops on both sides of the cobbled street. Stopped at one shop to buy a souvenir of the famous bridge. There was no price tag and we were going to negotiate but didn’t – the price was just 1euros! Walked to a small shopping mall nearby to use the toilet and change baby K diapers and while at it, change small currencies at the toilet for collection. Toilet lady was exceptionally helpful in getting the different coins for me.

Mostar bridge
Crossing the bridge
Panoramic view from the bridge
View of bridge from the street.

Wanted to follow walking route by Rick Steves but as we were about half way through, the skies began to trickle. We moved quickly backwards, getting past some heavy road works before managing to take refuge at a market before the heavy showers came. It was awful to have rain during our holidays but the weather had been especially kind as it was forecasted on online weather webby to be 4 days of showers which should have started on the day we arrived in Dubrovnik and it was not all that bad (there were passing showers) till now. We hanged around the market until the rain lightened to trickles. While waiting, I carried baby K and walked around looking at some of the local products on sale amongst the few stalls. We proceeded to walk back to the carpark and while on the bridge, we noticed some people that looked like they were going to jump and dive from the bridge (maybe the rain allowed the depth of the river to increase?) but seeing that there weren’t any developments after 5mins, we left. I left Mostar with a slight sense of disappointment as it wasn’t as what I had expected to see. My impression from reading the online reviews about how it was a town so devastated by war that old buildings with bullet holes could be seen or even a bombed up building. I have not seen anything of that and I thought that the town was kinda nice, one with a rustic feel.

Minute maid in Bosnia
Market for shelter
Ruins building in Mostar

Our next stop was a picture perfect Blagaj Tekke which was a short 15mins drive from Mostar. This time I just followed the GPS and went all the way in to the car park I had earlier bookmarked. The nearer we approached our destination, the narrower the roads became. We arrived at the entrance of the carpark guarded by a carpark attendant who charged a reasonable 2marks (about 1SGD) parking fee.

Parking ticket at Blagaj Tekke
Carpark at Blagaj Tekke

We walked the short distance in but didn’t know what we were expecting and paid 8marks for 2 persons to enter the attraction. Only after we enter we found that we were not in the proper attire (wearing berms) and so didn’t bother to enter as it didn’t look all that interesting. I guessed we were there more for the view than the history and culture. We should have just explored the area a bit before heading to the tickets counter.

Pathway leading to Blagaj Tekke house
Blagaj Tekke house

After using the rest room and accessing the balcony, we back tracked and crossed the closest bridge, walked thru a restaurant Vrelo and trekked towards cave opening in the mountains to take photos (where the view was). There were other activities available like kayaking in the river and taking a boat trip into cave but we didn’t attempt those.

View from the opposite track
Another view further away

We returned to the Vrelo that we had passed through earlier on the way to the cave opening (where there was a waitress not impressed with us walking through the restaurant when I had asked for directions on how to get there instead of asking for the menu) and ordered Bosnian coffee (which I thought was one of the must-try) and red tea. The coffee came in a interesting pot which was very powdery but tasted nice. Maybe I didn’t pour it properly. Paid only 2 marks for all which was good price but the service was quite slow.

Exquisite utensils for the coffee
Bosnian tea
View from the bridge

Getting back from Blagaj Tekke to Dubrovnik was hell of a long journey. Thankfully baby K fell asleep and slept for most of the journey. On this return journey we took a different route to the one we took as we drove towards Mostar and was quick to reach the border crossing. While Bosnian side officers waved us past quickly without even stamping, the Croatia side went through the stamping.

The very long drive happened as I ignored the GPS constant recommendations to take the small roads and my insistence to stay on M6 all the way got us on the west side of Neum, which meant we had to do another two border crossings as Dubrovnik was separated (funnily) from the main part of Croatia by this small part of Bosnia. However, as many drivers would pass this Bosnian territory in their daily commute, the border crossings were much easier and quicker as officials usually only glanced and waved us past, with the more detailed check on computer at the most. Their counters were even side by side, reducing the space to travel between counters and the need to stop frequently.

It was a race against the setting sun as I tried to drive as fast as I could manage around the winding coastal roads. With imminent darkness covering our horizon, I had to drive in complete darkness with only road reflectors as guidance and occasional headlamps of oncoming traffic for road vision, something I was not used to although it was not my first time doing so overseas.

We finally arrived at 830pm and baby K just woke from his long sleep. Went back to the apartment and mommy quickly cooked and fed baby K while I went to buy dinner at Lavazza, which they took quite a while to cook. Had initially wanted to check out what’s available at beachside and I did see quite a few restaurants but pestering drizzles came and had to run back to the sheltered Lavazza instead. Our dinner consisted of pork burger and grilled fish for 134kunas. The taste was not the best especially since it was packed, the pork burger didn’t taste like pork while grilled fish was just ok.

Pork Burger and grilled fish from Lavazza

Night duty of bathing baby K done before I went down to try to wash the car seats and throw the trash at the rubbish bin center. Then it was round two of cleaning the baby seat back at the apartment, this time with more detergent. At long last, final duty to bath myself and got into bed for the well deserved rest. The next day we would be heading to Split and we had some more packing to be done in the morning.

Escape plan to Croatia/Slovenia September 2016

A brief summary on the itinerary

Escape Plan to Croatia/Slovenia 2016:

Total duration 18D18N
Singapore is 6hrs ahead of Croatia and Slovenia.
Flight time is 11hrs 25mins on Turkish Airlines from Singapore to Istanbul, Turkey followed by a 1hr 50min flight to Dubrovnik, Croatia after about a 4hour transition at Istanbul.
Return is 2hrs 30mins from Salzburg to Istanbul, a 11hrs layover then a 11hrs 5mins flight from Istanbul back to Singapore.

Flight from Singapore to Istanbul at 10pm, arriving at 425am in Istanbul and fly off again at 920am arriving in Dubrovnik at 1010am. Return flight from Salzburg is at 1125am and touching down in Istanbul at 255pm and flying off at 150am and finally touching down at 555pm.

Day 0 Flight to Istanbul
Day 1 Arrival in Dubrovnik, old town visit
Day 2 Day trip to Perast and Kotor
Day 3 Day trip to Mostar and Blagaj Tekke
Day 4 Dubrovnik to Neum to Split
Day 5 Day trip to Hvar and Stari Grad
Day 6 Krka National Park waterfalls and Sibenik
Day 7 Split – Diocletian Palace and old town
Day 8 Split to Trogir to Zadar
Day 9 Plitvice National Park waterfalls and towards Zagreb
Day 10 Zagreb old town towards Opatija, Motovun visit
Day 11 Opatija to Pula to Rovinj
Day 12 Rovinj to Porec, border crossing, visit Postojna Cave and Predama Castle to Ljubljana
Day 13 Ljubljana old town and castle
Day 14 Ljubljana to Skofja Loka to Lake Bled, Bled castle
Day 15 Lake Bohinj and Trenta Valley
Day 16 Lake Bled to Salzburg, Mirabell gardens
Day 17-18 Flight to Istanbul then Home Sweet Home

This annual family trip we wanted to do a road trip as it would be easier for us to manage with toddler in tow. With a car, we could get from place to place at our own pace. A few other options did surface (such as Eastern Europe – Prague and Budapest) but we were more in favour of this itinerary as we thought in terms of security these countries had less issues as it seemed less popular amongst tourists and therefore lesser target for security issues. Though we had concluded that it was really difficult to travel with a toddler from our Europe trip last year, I guessed wanderlust got the better of us?

Budget – Depends – budget buster for us due to choice over comfort.

The total amount spent was about 12k SGD, mostly coming from the plane tickets and the car with all the tolls and petrol. Accommodation was the other major contributor especially in Turkey airport. Food expenditure was not very high and comparable to Singapore’s standard of eating out at a normal restaurant, unlike in other European countries. Croatia had its own currency and there would be some losses due to double exchange from SGD to Euros to Kunas.

Complexity – High without car. Ours made easy due to car and Google maps on data plan and GPS.

Although there were multiple border crossings, it wasn’t really difficult with our own transport since we have everything with us most of the time. Road signs were clear and easy to navigate. Only roads in old towns were narrow and parking were challenging to find. We had to purchase data SIM (12-15euros?) which eased the navigation bit as Google map was accurate to the dot. The map that was used in my Garmin GPS was neurotic, often choosing the smaller roads which made the journey longer than it should have been thus unreliable.