Croatia : The Underdog Of European Travel Destinations
While I observed the red smudged sky blending with the charcoal darkness, my bus kept moving on the narrow serpentine roads, pressing me against the glass barrier that separated us. Vivid colors that sculptured the mountainous landscapes where undergoing a metamorphosis to become black terrains with golden ornaments. Lights from distant houses kept growing remorse and jovial as I moved from the capital city to the southern tip. A ten minute crossover into Bosnia Herzegovina pulled my spirit back into my body, as I reassured numerous police officials about my legitimate harmless intentions of entering Croatia and received multicolored stamps on my passport.
Croatia, the country endowed with breathtaking wetlands, caves, natural parks and thick forests, would not even make to the top five of European travel destinations. Unsurprisingly, its beauty feels unadulterated and virgin. Thousands of islands linger along its western coast in the Adriatic Sea, as if being pulled by the gravitational force of the landmass. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, then Croatia is the real world destination of King’s Landing.
I was travelling on a budget trip to taste the offbeat aesthetic offerings of this European crossroad. After a long overnight train from Munich to Zagreb, where the passport and ticket checks kept me awake as we crossed Germany, Austria and Slovenia, the Mediterranean autumn wind swirling the abandoned leaves, pumped caffeine into my system.
A walk along the block tiled roads from station to the Ban Jelačić Square, also known as the central square, was enough to fall in love with the city. With its history dating back to the roman times, symmetrical gardens were delicately between medieval structures on both sides of the lane. Trams, foot travelers and cars maintained a harmony on this shared space while moving in a fashion that would fit a slow motion cinema. After my daylong affair with museums, I spent the entire evening listening to Eric Clapton covers played by a two-student band. A dangerous fire show with accordion music added a spike to my serene mood. The central square was swamped with artist as their protagonists watched keenly, holding wine and dropping silver Kuna’s, as the night unfolded.
Dozing off on another long bus ride next morning, I did not notice when my city landscape turned mountainous. I arrived at Plitvice Lakes National park, one of the first natural sites to be registered in the UNESCO World Heritage list
Throughout the day, the lakes mystified its observers, reflecting shades of blue, from dark to sapphire, smirched with moss green. As I traced the narrow elevated wooden trail, I breathed beneath the sky-falling waterfalls and walked above the cloud reflecting lakes. With all my focus, I tried to memorize the view and headed towards the coastal city of Dubrovnik. While I believed that Croatia had already exceeded my expectations, old town of Dubrovnik challenged my assumption.
Tasting different cuisines at the food festival inside Kings Landing, I was tapping my foot on the base beats of the percussionists. Given the unusually warm afternoon, I went kayaking into the sea with a local group and heard their war stories and old tales. When a dip in the blue water almost numbed my senses, the guides surprised us with a daytime bonfire, burning spice leaves to add a flavor in the air. Pushing and pulling the pedal with every muscle in my arm, I waved adios to the drowning sun and kept gazing at the point where the crimson tint of the sky collapsed.
A click on the front panels and lights dimmed gradually. I kept looking outside the window, trying to trace the edges of the mountains. Croatia kept mesmerizing me even when I was exhausted to appreciate its beauty. Nothing could break my chain of thoughts and I kept mapping them to meet my true self. Home was still far away, but I had all the thoughts from this adventurous voyage, conversations with the fellow travelers and view from my window to accompany me until then.
Travel Information for Budget Travelers:
You will have to take buses to reach most of the places. Autobusni has real-time information about all the buses and ticket prices. Tickets can be bought on the bus itself for most connections. You can also check BusCroatia (before mid-October when it displays accurate information)
Croatia has a local currency called Kuna. Get around 200 Euros converted on a good exchange rate on the first day itself.
Day 1: Reach Ljubljana, Slovenia from Munich. Take another train to Divaca, Slovenia. If you visit after mid October, you will have to travel in a bus which starts from the station itself. You can buy the ticket inside the bus or use your train ticket/pass, both are valid. Reach Divaca in an hour long journey and visit the Skocjan Caves. These caves are around 2.5 million years old, formed by the flow of the river. Steep stalactites and stalagmites are worth the effort. There are buses outside the station that will take you to the location of the caves (3 Km). At the tourist centre near the caves, you can check for the return timings. Cave tours are 2 to 3 hr long and cost around 10 to 20 Euros. Do avail the student discount if applicable. Return to Ljubljana and take another train to Zagreb, Croatia.
Day 2: Explore Zagreb for the whole day. There are many museums, architectural sites to keep you busy. Evenings are beautiful on the central square.
Day 3: Take a bus from Zagreb and reach Plitvice Lakes National Park. It will cost around 12 Euros and take four hours. Spend the whole day inside the park. Tickets can be bought outside either Gate 1 or Gate 2 and would cost around 20 Euros. Get information about the trails to follow from the information centre. You can keep your luggage in the luggage room at the entrance for free of cost.
- You can take a return bus to Zadar, watch sunset and stay overnight.
- You can take a return bus to Split and stay overnight. You can roam around the next day. Split Guesthouse is an amazing place to stay.
- You can reach Zadar, watch the sunset. Take another bus to Split and stay overnight at Split.
Day 4: After spending a day in Split, take a bus to Dubrovnik and stay overnight. It will cost around 12 to 20 Euros and take 4 hours. Red Dwarf Hostel is a good option for stay. It’s near the port, gives a perfect view from the top and has wonderful owners.
Day 5: Roam around the old hilly town of Dubrovnik. Kayak with local guides in the warm afternoon. Take a cable car and reach the top point for a view of the sea and the city.
Day 6: Start your return journey. If you are flying back, you will have to reach Zagreb. If you are travelling by train, then you will have to take multiple trains and buses to reach Zagreb. Check the information beforehand as the schedule may vary in the off-season.
Croatia is relatively cheap and has a great night life. People are extremely sweet and the natural beauty is untouched. There are other natural parks and cities that you may want to visit if you have more time (Rijeka is very famous). Once you reach Zagreb, the entire trip should cost less than 250 Euros. Croatia is definitely the most underrated destination in Europe! Don’t miss it
Nikita Bharadia graduated from BITS and is currently pursuing her MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, India. She is very active on the social front and leads the women leadership forum at IIM A. She is also an author at The Women’s Web. On her blog, The Simple Prism, you can find the memoirs of her travels across the world, her articles and poems.