If you’re a traveler, travel blogger or geography enthusiast then you’ve not only heard about Croatia, but you’ve most certainly jotted it down on your bucket list. If you don’t fall into one of the above categories (or you do, but you’re into more mainstream destinations- not judging), then you’re wondering where on earth Croatia is and why did this panda need to go there so urgently?
You know what time it is!
Chances are that if you’ve ever heard of Croatia, it was in the context of atrocious Balkan warfare. Some of the bloodiest conflict since the end of World War II was waged in the region during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, and the scars, both physical and psychological, have yet to fully heal.
But for anyone who’s actually visited Croatia, it’s a sun-drenched coastal paradise of exquisite medieval architecture, thousands of dreamy island getaways, and some of the friendliest people. You’re probably far more familiar with Croatia than you may have realized, and we have Game of Thrones to thank for it. The show has captivated viewers all over the world, and seasons 2 and 3 showcased Croatia’s most famous city- the walled seaside fortress of Dubrovnik- which was chosen as King’s Landing.
Zagreb is the capital of Croatia though (not Dubrovnik) and their currency is Croatian Kuna.
Croatia is, by European standards, one of the larger countries and has a TON of things to do and see. I knew I had limited time before I started school (and of course my besties in Abu Dhabi were just counting down the sleeps till I would return), so I couldn’t do everything that I wanted to.
So I picked one destination in Croatia and planned my Croatia visit around that. Do you want to go here?
Yeah I bet you do! This is Plitvice National Park.
Of course it was Expat Bee who unveiled this European gem to me and ever since I found out about it, I’ve been DYING to go. Like literally dreaming about going there in my sleep.
Why would you want to go there? Let’s look at some visual reasons:
Still not convinced? How about a few more:
This is one of those places that pictures, even my pretty ones, don’t do it justice. Before I went, I read plenty of blogs with guides to visiting Plitvice. All of them had their routes mapped out before they arrived, and some even give photography tips. You can read some here, here and here.
I don’t know if I’m the only blogger who travels like this but when I got there (at 7am), I too had a route planned. But once I entered the park and started walking/trekking/climbing/hiking I was distracted by the beauty around me and veered off my chosen path. I started off following route B and later ended up on route C. I took two boats across lakes and a bus that transported me from the upper lake section lower lakes. My path was haphazard and probably made no sense but I went where I felt was the direction to go! Not that I can complain as I saw beauty at every turn.
As for the photography tips, talking about shutter speed and aperture is all well and good but the best advice is this- the places where you can view the waterfalls are on uneven, rickety wooden platforms with no barriers. That means you need to position your tripod in such a way that one leg isn’t going through the platform, hold on to your camera because people thundering past you WILL cause it to fall into the water- tripod and all- should you not be careful. No doubt it was a challenge for a solo panda like me but if I can do it, you can too! Think about those simple factors before lowering your shutter speed for those beautiful misty water shots!
If you’re good at descriptions, you’ll be challenged to name all the colors of Plitvice’s 16 lakes. Turquoise, azure, green-blue or blue-green, emerald, gray: they change by the day or even the moment, depending on light and what minerals and mosses are in the water.
Plitvice was breathtaking and since I arrived at 7am, I was back at my guesthouse by 13:30. It’s a lot of walking, climbing, hiking and in general- active effort. It isn’t a place for small hyperactive kids (they will fall into the water), babies in prams or those with mobility issues.
From Plitvice I made my way north again but this time to Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city. I couldn’t believe that is the country’s capital city as it is so untouched by the modern world.
Everything about this city is just delightful.
From the street art…
To the churches…
To the cute places to enjoy a meal…
To this delicious French toast…
To cute souvenirs at the huge open air market…
To charming walkways and streets…
To these stunning views…
I tried this Croatian speciality dish called Strukli at a place recommended to me by my blogging buddy Marwa. Thanks girl for sending me to the most romantic restaurant (called Vinodol) in Zagreb by myself 😁 But seriously, both the dish and the restaurant were so, so good. Strukli, was this magical dish with layer upon layer of the softest pillowy dough alternating with creamy, soft cheese… it was like a giant hug.
I have been charmed by Zagreb. Not head over heels like I am with Prague and not besotted like I am with Belgrade. But simply charmed. In Croatia I was a celebrity again, reminding me so much of my days in South Korea, where I was stared at everywhere I went. The first time it happened, I was waiting for a tram on the side of the road and people were slowing down to look at me, smile and stare. At first I thought I was perhaps dressed inappropriately (I’ve been in the gulf for too long), or was I doing something wrong? But as every second man turned his head to look at me, sometimes wink and some even approach me (I would love to engage you in conversation handsome Croatian man but I don’t speak Croatian!), I realised that this piece of chocolate was just in high demand in this land of vanilla 😂 People were in general, very friendly and seemed to think I was local as a few tourists asked me for directions! 😀
Croatia however is about more than just Plitvice National Park or Zagreb. There are many interesting historical sites you can visit, old towns waiting to be explored and island hopping for the more adventurous ones. Even if I just concentrate on the coastline, islands and the beaches, there are many possibilities on Hvar or Pag Islands or you can get lost in the cute little streets in Split’s old town and of course, Dubrovnik is a story on its own. It is for these reasons and many more that my heart literally aches to go back to Croatia so I can explore more… as grateful as I am to have gotten to opportunity to explore just a tiny bit of this incredible country, I know that I have major regret over not being able to stay longer and explore more. So… when is my next long weekend??!!
Have you been to Croatia? What did you love about it and tell me what I should do when I go back again… (in the not too distant future I hope!)