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 2 – Day trip to Perast and Kotor

It was a restless night for baby K as he woke up many times. We weren’t sure if it was the environment as staying in the attic, the roof was a lot closer to our faces as we laid in bed as compared to our room back home and he might not be used to that. Or if it was due to jet lag. Anyhow, he returned to sleep without much problem.

As of all trips, we had to wake up early (630am) to prepare for his meals since he wasn’t ready to take outside food yet. As mommy cooked, I laid in bed till baby K woke up at 8.

From the bakery, we bought a loaf of freshly baked bread the previous day and ate that for breakfast. Baby K did not seemed to know that we were overseas and behaved normally, his usual cheeky self. We managed to leave the apartment at 9, after all the preparations.

As we would be visiting UNESCO listed Kotor and Perast in Montenegro, I checked the vehicle documents just to be sure that it came with required insurance aka green card. We had read about the confusion at border crossings and that people were made to pay additional fees because of these. In the folder that came with the car, the insurance was there, covering Montenegro and Bosnia and the other countries that were planned in our itinerary. And to be better prepared, I had also input all the parking lots for the places to visit into the GPS so as to reduce time spent on fiddling around with the GPS and stress over finding a car park in a unfamiliar city.

Vehicle green card for border crossing.

I punched the “favorites” folder on my decade old Garmin uploaded a map I got from the web and selected Perast car park and we were on our way towards the border. Upon some amount of driving, I realized that the GPS would always prefer small street roads instead of taking the main road. I had to make a couple of U-turns and learnt to ignore sometimes. We arrived at border crossing at 1015 to find a queue of cars waiting to cross. As soon as it was my turn, we were asked for passports, drivers license and vehicle documents, in exchange for exit stamps at the Croatian side and entry stamps at the Montenegro’s side, a short drive away.

Border crossing at Dubrovnik.
Border crossing at Montegegro

Then it was all about following the GPS with common sense, sometimes needing to U-turn and sticking close to the waters to be sure I was on the right path. Lining the huge Kotor bay were a couple of small towns and as we moved onwards to Perast, we also drove past the Kamenari ferry crossing, which could shorten the drive to Kotor if anyone wanted to avoid going around the whole bay. We weren’t skipping the scenic drive around the bay though.

We arrived into Perast and approached the car park that was almost full. Luckily there was a parking lot available at that time. Got off and went to the shore to find a boatman offering for ferry trips to island, commonly known as “Our Lady of the Rock“, for 5euros per person return. We boarded the motor boat for the 5mins smooth trip to island. It was small island with a church on it and we spent some time taking photos with the surrounding and Perast town. We did not enter the church as it required entrance fees and we weren’t all that interested.

Abbey of St George
Our Lady of the Rock
Photos taken on the little island.
Another perspective.
Calm waters.
Boat transfer from Perast to the Lady of the Rock.

Waited to take the same boat back and only paid upon disembarkation back at the car park. There wasn’t a lot of boats so it was not too difficult to identify the same boatman. We then walked along the restaurants lined street and chose one called Konoba Skolji, which has tripadvisor winner sticker, as it most likely would have some tasty food. Indeed the decision paid off with the delicious squid ink risotto and spaghetti with prawns. Baby K wasn’t equally impressed with his cooked lunch and wasn’t cooperative to finish it so we had to negotiate with biscuits. After the nice lunch with the bay view, we bought a cup of watermelon from a fruit stall while walking back to the car, to share with baby K.

Bell tower in Perast.
Konoba Skolji menu
Tomato soup.
Squid ink risotto
Seafood pasta
Konoba Skolji restaurant

Our next stop was Kotor which was about 20mins drive further down the same road that brought us to Perast. At almost 500m from the old town the road leading to the old town was already getting jammed. There was a public parking lot just across the old town where we parked our car. Forgetting that Montenegro were already using the Euros, we crossed the road to the port side to find a bank but was advised that the official currency was the Euros.

At one of the entrance through the defense wall of Kotor Old town, we took the town map from info counter and walked through. There wasn’t a planned route for us (though we wanted to follow one recommended in Rick Steve’s travel guide but we quickly got lost) so we just started walking around and exploring the historic old town at our own pace.

Stone gate at Kotor old town.
Kotor clock and square

The narrow streets and the rustic buildings and churches and the squares from the medieval times were nice, just like those depicted in the movies. We stopped by one pharmacy to purchase a toddler spoon as we had left baby K’s utensils back in Singapore. There was a route that led the untiring travelers to the top of the mountain where people would probably enjoy a birds eye view of the bay. We didn’t do it as it was a really long climb up.

St Tryphon Cathedral
St. Nicholas church
Inside St Nic church
Paintings on St Nic church
St Lucas church and square

After walking around the old town, we went back to the car park and saw a shopping mall Kamelija nearby. That’s when we decided visit and see if there were any supermarket to buy groceries. There was a Aroma supermarket which offered pretty affordable groceries. As mommy shopped, baby K and I briefly got up to the 3rd floor where it had mainly kids stuff. After shopping, we left Kotor for Dubrovnik, paying the carpark fees of 1.60euros for about 2hrs parking at the counter before getting on the car.

Aroma supermarket
Inside Kamelija mall
Kamelija mall
Parking ticket for Kotor car park.

We drove the same way back, with the bay on our left side. It was a longer journey now and was all ok until baby K puked. Had to stop at the side of the road to do a quick clean up with wet tissues and changed out his shirt with one that we just bought from Kotor though he had to go without pants. He must have been carsick and also drank a little too much from the packet of milk we bought from the supermarket. Later on, he fell asleep.

It was a long drive back and while we made a wrong turn and started to climb a hill, we saw a beautiful view of bay at the top but did not stop to take any pictures. Made a U-turn and went back to the main road.

There was another border crossing other than the one that we gone through that afternoon. Instead on going on the main expressway after Igalo on the right, we took the left one that got us on to 516, a smaller single lane road, which would provide more ocean view then the main expressway. The border office on this road a very small building though and only a few cars would use this border crossing. We passed through within 10mins.

After being on the road for some 2hrs, we finally arrived at 7 pm. Quickly mommy cooked baby K’s dinner and we went out to the same pedestrian street yesterday at Konavoka restaurant for dinner. The food took a while to arrive, longer than it took baby K to finish his dinner. To avoid his fussiness, I took him to walk around the area and play around the fountain. After a while, I swapped with mommy to eat my dinner which also took a long time because I had ordered sardines and there were lots of bones. Dinner costed about 220kunas.

Restaurant Konavoka

It was a long night and it started with giving baby K a bath and prepared him to sleep. After he fell asleep, I had to remove the car seat to wash off the vomit and try to clean the car with detergent to get rid of the smell. Then I continued with washing the clothes with the same smell. After all the washing and my own bath, I went to bed at 1130pm, already numbed to the stench.

Croatia 2016 Day 1 – Arrival in Dubrovnik and Old Town visit

After disembarking the plane, we went about looking for the airport hotel. It was only 4am and our connecting flight was almost 5hrs away so we had booked the airport TAV hotel airside room for our comfort. It had rooms going at horrendously expensive rates in 3hrs block but there weren’t other much better choices.

TAV airport reception
TAV airport reception

There wasn’t much info on where it was located and the counter near the transfer gates was closed. We had to pass through transfer gates luggage checks before arriving at the departure hall where the hotel was situated. There were 8 lines of passengers waiting to get their luggage checked to get to the departure halls but the line moved rather quickly.
There were signs providing directions to the hotel at the hall and we arrived at the reception and checked into the room for the shortest 3hr period at 118 euros. The rooms were pretty basic. There was leftover coffee in the flask and we couldn’t boil any water in it as there was the taste of coffee left. I got out and bought a bottle of mineral water at Starbucks for 1euros. Since there was some time left, we took a bath and took a quite nap. After the short break, we checked out with baby K still napping in my arms and went to Cakes & Bakes for breakfast. The pastries and the coffee costed 44euros!

Bathtub in the toilet.
Bathtub in the toilet.
Inside Cakes & Bakes cafe.
Inside Cakes & Bakes cafe.
Our lunch.
Our breakfast.

We got ready for our next flight and as we arrived at the gate, we found ourselves being one of the last to board (again!) the bus that took us to the plane. This was a much smaller plane as it was a short 1.5hrs flight to Dubrovnik. There weren’t any entertainment onboard the flight, simple meals for breakfast but we survived any baby tantrums as he was pretty well behaved! As a bonus, the weather was clear and we caught a birds eye view of the Kotor Bay (no time to take a shot though).

The plane landed in small Dubrovnik airport and we managed to clear Immigrations rather quickly. We got our luggage proceeded out of the arrival. There was a forex counter and we changed Euros to Kunas at a poor rate (expected) of 1:7, which we changed only 200euros to tide us over till we get to one with a better rate.

Dubrovnik airport
Dubrovnik airport

The car rental companies were located at a street directly across the street of the arrival halls. Having earlier anticipated that we could actually take a long time to settle the car as our itinerary was a little complex (having to drop off the car at another country and what not), I had previously made a reservation online, trying to provide all the details possible, settling questions on costs and the types of insurance, and asking for the baby seats and types of auto car that could take our 2 large luggage, in a bid to have this all ready for us to pick up, it was all done in vain. The car was never prepared. At the Avis counter, though there were 2 people there, it took very long as there were both new customers and returning customers. Then when it was finally my turn, it took a while to even get started, as though my reservation was too difficult to handle. Then while getting to the payment and the insurance, I was confused by the initial payment and the deposit as I remembered not paying any deposit for any of my rented cars at all (maybe this time around I didn’t had zero excess insurance). Moreover, he was charging to card 1 more time more than required and told me that the initial charge was cancelled and having received an SMS from the bank, I was even more confused.

Line of car rental companies

A diesel car was given and as I got in to check (after the external damage check and taking photos and so on), I realized first that there wasn’t any baby seat in which he said he really didn’t have anymore and showed me the empty cupboard. He offered to talk to another company but I had to rent it from them directly (and pay them separately). This brought the question of what I was paying for again. It wasn’t cheap and costed 120 euros, which I thought I could have bought a new baby seat with that kind of money. Avis guy that offered to provide me a portable wifi set for free that kinda eased my frustrations a little.

Then while I sat in ready to go, I realized I was given a manual car rather than an auto (which was the more common of the 2 in Europe). Went in and told him I had reserved an Auto and frankly it would be too challenging for me to do manual in a left hand drive coming from a right hand drive Singapore. He said he had to pick it up from a garage at another place. At this point, I had already given up all expectations of any better service coming from Avis and just wanted to quickly get on with my trip. (Baby K wasn’t helping as he was incredibly cranky)

When he finally returned with a Chevrolet Cruze wagon, I went through the same checks and loaded up the luggage and the baby seat, started the GPS and we were finally on our way. Just seated in, baby K was in dreamland. And then mommy said she left her hand phone in the backseat of the manual car. Back to airport again.

At arrival, I couldn’t get thru the tight lane spaces due to multiple car parking on the sides and cars maneuvering to get in/out, I quickly just parked by the road side and ran to the car, and recovered the hp. Finally we were on our way.

Driving in Dubrovnik was fairly simple, one lane highways from the airport to Lapad, therefore the speed of which depended on the amount of traffic. It wasn’t too bad and soon, upon arrival at our first Airbnb accommodation, Dvori Lapad Apartments, I parked at the public parking just outside the block of apartments (we know we have arrived as I have “visited” the place before using Google map during planning). Couldn’t remember the instructions and therefore gave the owner a call. She came to the car park and brought us to the private parking at a specific lot. After that she gave an introduction to the accommodation to me (left mommy and sleeping baby K in the car) and provided the map, tips on going to the old town, market close to the apartment and places to eat and visit. Thereafter I paid for the 3 nights stay in Euros (which was good as I don’t suffer dual forex losses and I don’t have much Kunas to begin with). It was exhausting but I felt a sense of relief that we had finally arrived some 3hrs after our flight have landed in Dubrovnik.

Living room with a bed.
Living room with a bed.
Main bedroom
Main bedroom

Returned to the secured car park and pick up luggage and brought everyone to the apartment. After leaving the our barang barang in this attic apartment, after some tiring lugging of luggage up 2 flights of stairs, We visited the Studenec supermarket located on the ground level to buy fish and drinks. Whilst mommy had to cook for baby K, I brought him to the ground level this time to visit the bakery to get some bread.

Studenec Supermarket
Studenec Supermarket
Pastries from the bakery.
Pastries from the bakery.

After having our meals, we left the apartment to visit the old town. In order to take the bus, we had to go buy tickets from a kiosk at 12 Kunas per adult per way. The bus stop was conveniently located within a few meters from the apartment block and we boarded bus 4 for a 15mins ride before dropping off just outside the old city walls. We then climbed the wall for 120kunas and walked the entire 2km stretch around the old town. It was a nice walk offering various views of the city, the fort and also the harbour. There were also some restaurants and cafes along the way for tired tourists to sit back and enjoy the view.

Bus tickets kiosk.
Bus tickets kiosk.
Bus tickets.
Bus tickets.
Bus number 4.
Bus number 4.
Entrance to the old town.
Entrance to the old town.
Within the old town.
Within the old town.
View from the wall.
View from the wall.
View of Fort Lovrijenac from the wall.
View of Fort Lovrijenac from the wall.
Dubrovnik Harbour Pano
Dubrovnik Harbour Pano
Famous orange roofs of Dubrovnik old town
Famous orange roofs of Dubrovnik old town
Main street of Dubrovnik old town.
Main street of Dubrovnik old town.

After our tiring walk, we looked for a forex counter to exchange 500euros to kuna at 1:7.2, slightly better. Our initial intention to take the cable car up to the viewing station was dropped in favor of going back to rest (some jet lag and walking while carrying a toddler was no joke). Bus 4 return was much more crowded than when we took it to the old town.

Once back at the apartment, we pumped up the air bathtub for baby K to bath. For our dinner, I went to the pedestrian street, Šetalište kralja Zvonimira, which was lined with restaurants. As it was a busy night, I tried ordering for takeaway but they had offered pizzas only. Thankfully another restaurant Agora offered more when I ordered scampi (prawns with claws) spaghetti and fish soup all for 250kunas. This street was quite crowded as there seemed to be a outdoor concert event about to start.

Pedestrian street at night.
Pedestrian street at night.
A restaurant
Agora restaurant
Our dinner
Our dinner

The night closed rather quickly as we had dinner and baby K fell asleep while I changed his diapers. It was a long day after all. As we had cooked fish, I had to throw the garbage at the main bin center to avoid any fishy smell in the apartment. There were still people walking about and it felt relatively safe, one of the many positive feelings I had about this country.

After my bath, we found ourselves already in bed before 10pm, some deserved rest before our long exploration of this part of Balkans.