20 days, four countries and over two thousand photos. I spent much of June with Brianna on a trip through Eastern Europe. We traveled from Zagreb, Croatia, to Athens, Greece, working our way down the coast through Montenegro and Albania along the way.
I had a few ideas about the countries I was visiting as I boarded the twin-prop plane in Halifax: I knew Eastern Europe was (a little) less touristy than the West, the food in Greece was spectacular, and that I had no idea about Albania besides their love of milk-soaked cake. What I didn’t expect was the blooming craft beer scene in Zagreb, how far Albania has come in the last 20 years and just how good fresh-made moussaka is.
We started our trip in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. While we would be meeting up with a tour group in a couple days, we wanted to be sure to see the city on our own and be able to make up our own schedule.
The highlight of our time in the capital city was a beer tour. Our guide, Ozrin, led us from the modern downtown to the historic old city and into his own neighbourhood. Along the way, we stopped at pubs, secluded beer gardens, rooftop patios and a restaurant around the corner from his house.
Being able to visit places we might have otherwise skipped over or not noticed gave me a greater appreciation for the city than I would have if I had stuck to the main tourist streets and sidewalk patios.
The next day, we met up with other members of our group and prepared for our next stop: Plitvice National Park, two hours from Zagreb. The park is known for its countless waterfalls, crystal-clear lakes and breathtaking scenery. Try as I might, it was hard to take a bad picture – even in harsh daylight and in a crowd of other tourists. We did a short hike the evening we arrived, then took on a six-hour loop the next morning before the mid-day heat.
That afternoon, we packed up again and headed for the coast. Split is a coastal city and home of Diocletian’s Palace. Tree-lined streets and views of lush, vibrant hills were replaced by a forest of ships’ masts in the harbour and flocks of seabirds darting between buildings.
The change could be tasted, too. Bacon pastries and cheese-stuffed sausages gave way to fresh grilled seafood. We started our day with a tour of Diocletian's Palace, then spent the afternoon enjoying both the sun and breeze at the beach.
The next day ended up being the only break in the otherwise perfect weather. The skies were grey at dawn and by the time we were boarding our ferry to Hvar, we were getting soaked. Hvar was not much drier that afternoon.
By that evening, though, the clouds broke – just in time for a sunset boat cruise. We sailed from cove to cove, jumping into the clear water and snacking on grocery store wine and cheese along the way. Despite a painful back-flop by yours truly, it was another highlight of the trip.
After the sun sank, we cruised back to the harbour and squeezed between the huge yachts that had all come in from offshore while we had been gone. Up on the hill above town, an old Spanish fortress was lit up against the inky blue sky. Not a bad ending to a day that started with rain.
The next day would be our last stop in Croatia – the iconic city of Dubrovnik. We boarded a ferry and settled in for a three-hour ride along the coast. After unpacking at our hostel, we bussed over to the old city. Much of Game of Thrones is filmed within the old city walls and it’s clear why: thick walls, winding stone streets and rows upon rows of red-roofed buildings are all found in the old city.
The walls of Dubrovnik were spectacular, but what I enjoyed the most was getting off the crowded main streets and getting into the back streets or just taking in the view. After a while, touristy areas can start to feel like a theme park and it’s refreshing to just sit back and watch people go about their lives.
That night at a sunset dinner, we said goodbye to the tour group members who wouldn’t be joining us for the second half of our trip. The next day, after a morning walk around the city walls and checking out some museums, we took it easy and I took care of some long-overdue laundry.
Since there’s so much more to cover (and since I’m using this as a bit of a travel journal) I’m going to break this trip up by country for the sake of length. Tomorrow, Montenegro, then Albania and Greece next week.