A SUMMER IN CROATIA
From what was meant to be a few weeks travelling around the Balkans for my Birthday, to turning into 3 and a half months living in Croatia, the universe has a crazy way of turning a sequence of events into grand adventures. Like most people who ask me, I don't really have any idea how it actually came into fruition, however it has held some of the best memories I've ever had. From sundazed afternoon sleeps on the warm rocks by the ocean to staying up every night till 3am partying with the best, Croatia is a country bursting with vibrance.
HOW I ENDED UP LIVING IN CROATIA
The burning question most of you are probably wondering is, how did it even happen? How did two days in Split end up turning into a job, free accomodation and getting paid to party for the entire summer?
To be honest, I don't really know either.
I've always been one to put myself out there, but this was pretty daring even for me. To put into context what my original plan was - In my mind I was going to begin in Croatia, and then work my way down into Greece which is where I would fly back to Dublin from. However all I had booked was a week of accomodation in advance and my €40 flight from Athens - Dublin. This meant when I reached my third stop in Croatia, Split, I had nearly reached the end of my pre organised travels.
I know some people loathe the idea of not having something planned and waiting for their next move, I thrive off the idea of the unknown. While I had enjoyed Pula and Zadar, within the day I had completely fallen in love with Split. From the dark, rich history to its architecture to the electric nightlife every day of the week, it had captivated me. After just the short two days I had (planned) on staying there, I was on the verge of obsessed with the city. It had everything I loved and I had already made an abundance of friends which I didn't want to leave.
As according to my original plan, the morning before my birthday I headed off to Hvar with two Irish girls (they were not apart of the original plan, but a welcomed addition). During my stay in the island I realised how much I loved Croatia as a country, but more importantly how much I missed Split. It sounded ridiculous, and it kind of was. I talked over and over with the girls and as a collective we decided that after our stay in Hvar we would return back to the city we seemed to be unbelievably infatuated with.
From there the story kind of tells itself. We returned to Split and went on yet another Crozzies Pubcrawl, which we had been attending religiously. That is where I plucked up the courage (with a help of some drinks), to ask if there would be a possibility of a job. A drunken conversation which ended up turning into the best summer of my life, I had never been so glad to be an excitable Gemini.
My trip to the Balkans began with a late night flight from Dublin to London, then a night of sleeping on the airport floor, followed by another flight to Croatia at 5am the next morning. As I looked out the window just as the plane was about to land, I was greeted with electric blue water which slowly transitioned into lush, green vegetation.
Pula was quiet. The hostels I stayed in were on the verge of empty and I felt as if it was me in a sea of locals, which I wasn't mad about. My time was spent with early mornings wandering around the very Romanesque style buildings and landmarks. I spent my days sitting and listening to music while munching on bread and olives and my nights in an 8 bed dorm all to myself. It was a beautiful city, quite quaint. I really loved my time in Pula, and if you're looking for a place to escape for a night or two, I think it's a really beautiful place to hang out and recharge before continuing on your adventures (it is also a very cheap flight route to fly into if you're on a budget).
Zadar was my second stop along my travels. My time was short and somewhat sweet in this small city. The streets were slippery and small, and as I wandered I found tangled ivy covering the top of old wooden doors and little cafes with locals sipping coffee. There wasn't much to Zadar and I felt as if even my two nights there was a little too long. The Church of St Donatus, Zadar Cathedral and the Sea Organ were the best parts about my time in the city (as well as some tofu ravioli which I happened to find in the super market), but other than that, I found Zadar lacking in a lot of things to do and see.
WARNING: If you're planning on staying in Zadar I would HIGHLY advise not staying at the Tequila Bar Hostel. It is probably the worst hostel I've ever stayed in for a number of reasons and I don't want anyone to have to put up with it!
WHAT TO DO IN ZADAR
1. WALK AROUND OLD TOWN
The old town is small but incredibly beautiful. The little cobbled streets and old squares make a really beautiful walk and you can spend an hour or two having a wander to get your bearings.
2. VIST THE SEA ORGAN
The sea organ is an experimental musical instrument located under a set of marble steps. The ocean waves move in and out of the different sized pipes to create a very whimsical type of sound.
During my time in Croatia, Split was my base and my home. From its beaches to its winding little streets to the constant buzz of friendly locals and excited tourists, this city will always hold a huge and special place in my heart. There is so much more than its surface beauty which enticed me to stay and as the months rolled by I felt the magic that the city held. From the slippery tiles the tourists slid over daily to the little back alleys with little shops to the burning hot Riva which provided no shade on the hot summer days, Split is a city I'll never forget.
WHAT TO DO IN SPLIT
1. CROZZIES PUBCRAWL
As soon as you arrive in Split I'm sure you will quickly notice its very abundant Pubcrawl culture. Like many other cities in Europe, Split is renowned for its nightlife and party culture and the summer is the time where it all comes to life. As a promoter of Crozzies (Croatian Aussies), I know the in's and out's of how to have a good time in this amazing city, and this is my number one recommendation. From 3 hours open bar to people standing on tables pouring shots into your mouth, to making incredible friends to kissing the cute boy in the corner, if you're a party animal you will fit in perfectly.
2. KRKA WATERFALLS
Located just an hour away from Split, these National Parks are among the most beautiful in the country. There are dozens of tour companies that offer day trips for around €20 (not including the entrance fee into the park) which will take you to and from the waterfalls and it's a great way to spend a day if you're stuck for things to do.
3. CLIMB THE BELL TOWER
The bell tower is one of Split's iconic landmarks. It can be seen across pretty much any part in and around the city and provides some incredible views of Old Town and its surrounding mountains.
4. CHILL OUT AT BAČVICE
Bačvice is the main tourist beach in Split and is the only 'sandy' (the closest thing to sand you'll find) beach around. The beach consists a few small jumping rocks, a row of clubs open till 6am every night, restaurants, beach bars, and anything else you could think of. Its water isn't as clear as some of the other quieter beaches around but it always has such a fun atmosphere from the morning till the last people leaving the clubs.
5. SUN BAKE AT ROCKY BEACH
If Bačvice isn't really your scene, hit up the Rocky Beach. Unfortunately, many people, including myself don't actually know the name of the beach. However, when you're trying to find it, head to the Riva and turn right (so the water is on your left) and follow the coast past the very expensive looking yachts until you hit a park. Walk through the park and you'll find the coast again, follow it along and you'll firstly find some jumping rocks followed by a series of rocky beaches.
6. CHARLIE'S BAR
Split is among one of the most vibrant party cities in Croatia, if not Europe, so what better way to experience it than to jump right in? Charlie's bar is the renowned Backpacker Bar in Split and is where everyone flocks for a good time (if they're not on a pubcrawl). Tempt your fate by trying the Adios Motherfucker challenge (if you can drink 4 you get a free shirt) or just hang out and make some friends.
WHERE TO EAT IN SPLIT
1. VEGE FAST FOOD
This was my go-to pretty much everyday of the week. With the convenience of fast service and the option of takeaway, mixed with fresh, healthy ingredients and a wide variety of meals from burritos and burgers to grilled veggies, soya steaks, tofu, seitan, falafel, you can see why I would come here everyday.
2. WOK ME AWAY
If you're a fiend for Asian food like me, this is another prime place for a quick takeaway. Located in one of the little back streets near the Marmontova, you can pretty much make your own wok from the base, to the veggies, to the sauce. For 50 kunas it will keep you full for hours and it's much cheaper than the Wok Bar (which is also good but more expensive for half the size).
3. LUKA ICE CREAM
There is no point being in Europe if you're not going to indulge yourself in as much ice cream as humanly possible. Luka is pretty gourmet for normal standards, but they provide an amazing selection of handmade flavours which change daily.
Another one of my favourite takeout spots has to be Pancho's. A hole in the wall style takeout joint with a range of super tasty Mexican options from burritos to taco salads, you can see why I was a regular.
Although it may be read like None, it's pronounced like 'Non-Ayes' and is THE place for late night drunk food. Pizzas, sandwiches, chips, nuggets, etc, all taste especially heavenly when it's 2am and you're chatting rubbish with your friends. It's ridiculously cheap and you'll probably accidentally end up going there everyday.
This last option is for the more fancy among us. Fabrique is definitely for those with a slightly bigger budget or really special occasions, which is why I could only afford going once during my 3 months living in Split. It's located right at the end of the Riva and serves some of the best food and cocktails in town. The atmosphere is sexy and fun, perfect for a girls night out (which is why I was there).
In my opinion Hvar is the little gem of Croatia. From the Terracotta coloured roofs to the see through water, you can quickly see why people flock there. It's one of those places which you never really understand the beauty of unless you can witness it first hand, and damn you'll be blown away once you see it. It's much more expensive than other parts of Croatia by far and you'll end up paying close to 50% more than you would on the mainland, but the whole experience is a must while you're in Balkans.
WHAT TO DO IN HVAR
1. RENT A BOAT FOR THE DAY
My number one recommendation while in Hvar is to rent a boat for the day. It was one of the best experiences I had during the whole summer and I couldn't recommend it enough. There are a heap of different companies and options that you can choose from, ranging from the cheapest boats which are around 400 kuna (€50) for up to 6 people for the day to more expensive boats (which work a lot better than the cheapest option). For my birthday there was a group of about 20 travellers who all ended up renting several different boats and we drove around the islands docking occasionally for a swim and some drinks, something I won't forget.
2. HIT UP THE NIGHT LIFE
Hvar is a pretty big party island, so if you're keen to get a taste of your own you have a wide selection to choose from. From Kiva Bar, which is more of a backpacker type of bar, to Carpe Diem which is a club on its own island, there is something for everyone.
3. ŠPANJOLA FORTRESS
Hvar Town is pretty much on a big hill (which isn't fun to walk up when it's unbelievably hot), but it means that it provides some pretty incredible views. Check out Španjola Fortress if you have a spare morning and be prepared to be blown away by some really gorgeous scenery.
Made famous by the hit series Game of Thrones, Dubrovnik is the well known gem of Croatia. From its iconic fortress like walls to the liquid crystal looking water which surrounds it, it's a must for your list of 'to visits' on your travels. The iconic city has so much charisma and I found myself falling more and more in love as I wandered throughout the little streets and back alleys of Old Town.
WHAT TO DO IN DUBROVNIK
1. SHOP LOCAL
As many other major tourist city, pretty much everything in and around it, is expensive. If you are on a budget I would highly recommend going to a grocery store and buying snacks, ingredients for meals, pasta, sandwich fillings, etc. Meals in Dubrovnik can quickly turn into a bit of a joke on the price side and I even ended up paying €6 for a juice which had already been opened!
2. WAKE UP EARLY
Dubrovnik is a HUB for cruise ships and, unfortunately, they all come and dock at the exact same time (around 8 or 9am), this means when those ships hit shore, you're about to be inundated with flocks of incredibly loud, annoying people who can't grasp the concept of walking fast or using manners. I highly recommend getting yourself out of bed at around 6/7ish so you have time to walk around the streets while it's not too hot and it's only a few locals awake.
3. WALK DUBROVNIK'S CITY WALLS
This is probably the biggest must while you're in Kings Landing. The views around the entirety of the walls are beyond breathtaking inside and out, and is definitely worth the overpriced 200 kuna (€20 ish) you have to pay to enter (you can get student discount if you have a card). I would highly recommend doing it straight away when the walls open at 8am to avoid the major crowds and to not get burnt to a crisp while you're walking the circuit.
4. ROCK JUMPING
Dubrovnik is pretty much surrounded by ocean on three sides of the old town, which means there's a heap of potential to rock jump all around. There are a few places tourists (mainly crazy Australians) all flock to where you can chill on the rocks for some drinks and watch/partake in some jumping.