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Unlike other destinations I have traveled to, I knew almost nothing about Croatia before visiting. I had never studied its history, I had barely heard its name, I had no idea what it was famous for, yet its mystery intrigued me. I wanted to find out just what kind of country Croatia was. I soon realized, however, that the answer was not a simple one because there are many different sides to the beautiful nation of Croatia.
On the Shores of the Adriatic: Dubrovnik
I stood on the peak of Mount Srđ at sunset, looking down at the jewel of the Adriatic glittering in the red light against the waves calmly moving to and fro. The setting sun only enhanced the scarlet hue of the roofs packed into the old city’s walls. The drive up the mountain had been difficult to navigate, and it was equally trying to get back down the peak, but the sunset made my ascent well worth the effort, all 412 meters of it.
In the morning, I wandered the outside walls of Dubrovnik, taking in the refreshing salty breeze blowing off the seaward side. In the past, these walls were the Old Town’s only defense from invaders, but at four to six meters thick on the landward side, they were a good deterrent. Partway through my stroll atop the walls, I took a moment to look down the Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main street. As far as main streets in Europe go, the Stradun is rather quaint. The fortress walls kept the Old Town from getting too large and coincidentally preserved the smaller, cozier medieval feel of the Stradun. I descended the walls to get a better view of Dubrovnik from the street.
And getting up close and personal was quite the treat. The cream-colored stone of the surrounding buildings and streets against the contrast of the crimson roofs is reminiscent of Croatia’s neighbor across the Adriatic, Italy. Exploring Dubrovnik’s Old Town felt so similar to the times I’ve walked through Rome, Venice, or other Italian towns just after dusk and stumbled on a quiet little town square with a fountain while listening to the chatter of people enjoying one another’s company on a warm summer night.
After dipping my toes in the waters of southern Croatia, it was time to head up the coast to another town behind thick walls.
In the Palace of an Emperor: Split
With Croatia’s unique shape, I knew I would be spending a lot of time on the coast, but as someone who loves seafood and can’t get enough of the salty sea air, I was excited for a little shore time. And like Dubrovnik, Split sits on the coast; however, Split’s Old Town walls no longer touch the sea. What used to be the shoreline is now a wide promenade for parking and walking, and it leads straight into the old sea entrance of the palace of a Roman emperor.
The owner of the hotel I was staying at met me in the parking lot and led me through the dark tunnels that used to be filled with water. Now, they were filled with street vendors selling all kinds of jewelry and other fine trinkets. I emerged from the depths of the lower levels to a forum filled with restaurants, people and a comical street performer. I was told that the wide open space, known is the Peristylium, was once the living room of the palace, Emperor Diocletian’s former home. As I followed my new friend through the narrow streets, the ancient Roman influence of the palace was apparent, but so were the traces of medieval architecture in the individual buildings. The palace had been turned into a fortress during the middle ages—a safe haven from the plague in those times. In modern times, it continued to thrive with its unique heritage and history.
Waking up the next morning in the middle of an ancient palace was a serene realization. Being literally just around the corner from all of the beautiful sites within the palace walls made getting up in the early morning to beat the cruise ship crowds quite a bit easier. I took my time at each site—the gates, Jupiter’s Temple, St. Duje’s Cathedral—before ascending the bell tower in the middle of the palace for a sweeping view of the sea and city. The church and bell tower were constructed after Diocletian’s death, as a mausoleum to him, and the view it provides is one worthy of royalty.
Above the Waterfalls of the Lakes: Plitvice
After some much needed time on the coast, I headed inland for a much different setting—a more alpine surrounding. The trees were greener, the houses were wooden and the rolling hills looked like a snowless Switzerland. Sea water turned to lake water. The salty air turned fresh and earthy smelling. The roaring of the waves turned into the rush of waterfalls constantly flowing. I was in Plitvice.
At first sight of the valley, I was taken aback by the sight of dozens of clear, serene, turquoise pools against the backdrop of mossy green trees and shrubs weaving around the edges of the water. The unique sight is not one you can easily forget, and after one look, you’ll instantly recognize this mysterious and mystical place tucked away in the middle of Croatia. I walked along the slick wood boardwalks from waterfall to waterfall. The day was mostly overcast, but that didn’t stop the sun from peeking through the clouds to give me a few gorgeous rainbows through the mist cascading off the falls.
I reveled in my escape from the concrete world and crowds it seems to bear. Though I was not alone in my appreciation of nature that morning, I felt the rhythmic call to simply relax. The falls hit the pools hard and fast, but the cadence of Plitvice slowed my pulse and eased my worries. I’m sure it was a culmination of things—tranquil blue and green hues all around, the relative silence of the area, the lack of people and absence of the stresses of society—but I found a peace within myself that I had been missing in my life. The peacefulness of Plitvice helped me get that back.
In just one country, I experienced a multitude of emotions because of the vastly different regions I explored. Dubrovnik excited me with the rush I felt from being by the sea. Split took my breath away with its towering views. Plitvice calmed my heart with its serenity. Each of these places has a soul that touched my own. Each place showed me a different side to one country. Each place was a different face of Croatia.
And as an added bonus, Croatia is home to a new trend in camping – mobile home camping. A lot has happened at campsites in the last few years, and more and more modern mobile home areas are being deployed to augment the experience. These mobile homes offer greater comfort than a tent and are equipped with everything you need for a camping holiday. So if you want to spend some time in the tranquility of Croatia, you should explore holidays in a mobile home.
Also check out Tiffanie’s blog.