Goodbye Balkans: Rovinj and Ljubljana

What a nice place to save for the end(ish) of our trip! Mark found the place where we stayed in Rovinj, a little hotel resort on the island of St. Andreas. The hotel was the only thing on the tiny island. As I learned on my run one morning, it is almost exactly one mile around St. Andreas. There is another island connected to this one,  just a little bit smaller with lots of rocky coves where you can go to sunbathe and swim. On our first full day on the island, we walked around the path that runs along St. Andreas and saw that they rent stand up paddle boards. We rented two and set off to paddle around the smaller island, but it was a little more difficult than we anticipated. The boards were not really sturdy; they were inflated, but not quite all the way. I was okay on mine, but Mark’s was a little less inflated and it was really tricky for him to stand on his. After a few plunges in the sea, he decided to make his into a sort of kayak.  More success this time! He’s a good sport 🙂

After our hour of SUP/kayaking, we found some unoccupied rocks on the smaller island to make into our own private swimming cove. We hung out there for the afternoon and then later took the boat back to the mainland of Rovinj. The boats ran almost every hour back and forth, which was very convenient. We found the greatest little champagne and cocktail bar for watching the sunset. They have little cushions on rocks jutting out into the water where you sit. After the sunset we grabbed a quick slice of pizza for me and a kebab for Mark before heading back to our island (after getting gelato, of course). 

 

View from the boat to the island

  

View from our room

       

The next morning I got up to do my run, which I loved; it was a little trail run around both of the islands and across the bridge, twice, to make four miles. We had an awesome buffet breakfast at the hotel after that and then relaxed indoors for a little while, since we had gotten lots of sun the day before. Then, we both had spa appointments! I got a facial and Mark had an aloe treatment, a good idea after all of the sun. We had another hour to relax and read in the shade after that until we had to head back to the mainland to catch our bus to Ljubljana. 

The bus ride to Ljubljana went via small coastal roads, which made the trip a bit longer (3ish hours) but made for a very scenic ride. I had been to Ljubljana once before (nine years ago!)  in the winter with Lexie. At the time, I was working at the Guggenheim Collection in Venice for a couple months and Lexie came to visit for Christmas. We took a little trip to Ljubljana and stayed in a hostel that used to be a prison. I was excited to go back again in the summer this time (though Mark and I did not stay in the prison this trip) because I knew it would be really beautiful in the summer. Since we only had one full day in the city, we didn’t do any day trips but rather walked around, took a boat, and a funicular in the city as we explored the smallest capital city (I think) in Europe (and also the most charming). 

To start we had a huge buffet breakfast (again), and then I went back to sleep for two hours 🙂 THEN, we started walking around. In the past five or so years, Ljubljana has closed nearly all of the roads in the city center to cars. The streets are now full of pedestrians walking around and stopping for coffee at the million cafe along the river that runs through the city. Our first stop was at the national library, which had a really cool exhibit on the history of medicine and anatomy (and it even mentioned Grey’s Anatomy, the show, in one of the displays, proving that maybe I’m not the only one who still watches??). Standing in museum-like exhibits for a long time is exhausting, so we stopped for lunch immediately after the library. We had a really good meal at one of the cute restaurants along the river. 

   
        

Our little lunch guest

 Having refueled properly with a post-lunch gelato, we walked over to the 200-year-old botanic gardens, one of the oldest in Europe. It actually didn’t take too long to explore the whole of the gardens. We walked back into the city along the river this time, and then ended up actually taking a little boat tour along the river, too. Lexie and I definitely did not take a boat tour when we were there in the winter!

Our last stop of the night was the Ljubljana castle. We took the funicular up to the top, walked around for a bit, looked out at the city from the viewing tower, and then sat down to dinner in the courtyard of the castle. An excellent final European dinner 🙂 We may or may not have gotten one last gelato on our way back to the hotel. 

   
    

  

This morning I did my Ljubljana run with another running tour guide. That is just the best idea ever. I loved it. We did about 6.5 miles this time (Mark had conveniently thrown away his running shoes in one of our last stops so he couldn’t come on this run). I love wearing my Garmin to run because after I sync it to my phone I can see the exact map of where we ran! We went along the river for a while and then through other streets of t city that Mark and I hadn’t seen the day before, and hen we ended by running brought part of Tivoli park, which has so many great running/biking/walking paths. An excellent final activity for the trip. 

Mark and I are so lucky to have gotten to take this trip. I hope you all enjoyed reading about it and seeing the pictures. Once we had the good pictures from our camera loaded on the computer, I’ll share some more of these too. 

  

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Plitvice Lakes and a trip to Kozlović Winery

We rented a car again to drive from Split to Plitvice and then Plitvice to Rovinj and were treated to the most beautiful views while driving from place to place. I keep thinking of my drive down to Nashville, which only gets pretty after about six hours of driving. Everywhere you go in Croatia you are surrounded by beautiful scenery. You can’t escape it (not that you would ever want to). Needless to say, I was happy that we added a bit of a detour to our original plan. 

We were supposed to spend three nights in Rovinj after Split, but we wanted to stop to see Plitvice Lakes National Park on our way. Well the lakes aren’t exactly “on the way” to Rovinj, so we decided to split up the drive and just spend the night in Rovinj after exploring the park. It’s the largest national park in Croatia and was added to the UNESCO world heritage register in 1979. And it is incredible. My pictures were only taken with my iPhone, and I’m sure Mark’s on the real camera are much better, but even my phone pictures show you how blue, green, and turquoise those lakes are. There are a few different routes you can take to walk around the lakes, which are arranged in an upper and lower level. We chose Route C on the way up, which included a boat ride across one of the bigger lakes halfway up. We decided to walk back down too, instead of taking the bus, so all in all, I think the hike took us just over 6 hours. It was pretty easy hiking though, not like the snowy mountains in Kosovo 😉

  

                           That night we had a delicious dinner at one of the pansions in Jezerca, the town where we stayed. I had calamari and Mark had trout, and both were amazing. Most of the restaurants around that area were really part of pansions where you could stay too. In the morning, we went to breakfast at a different one, called Old Shatterhand. Their billboard made me laugh, but they did make a good breakfast. 

   
 After we fueled up, we started the drive to Rovinj via the Kozlović winery. This was an excellent stop. Again, the drive was gorgeous, and the wine tasting was real well arranged. We were two of the only people there, which seemed kind of funny since it is supposed to be the busy season for everything here now. It worked out well for us though!

   
       It was about an hour drive from there to Rovinj. We returned the car and then headed to catch the ferry to our hotel, which is on a small island 15 minutes away from the center of the city. There is nothing on the island but the hotel and its restaurants, pools, and other related things. More about the Istra Island Hotel later!

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Split: a few days with friends!

We had been looking forward to going to Split since we began planning our trip so many months ago. I was there almost nine years ago to visit my friend Marina. We met when we both worked at the Guggenheim Collection in Venice in the winter of 2005/2006. Another good friend from the museum, Nina, and I both went to visit Marina in November of 2006. It was much quieter in Split then, and it was great to go back and see the city in the summer. There are definitely tourists everywhere right now, but we were so lucky to have Marina and her husband, Sylvain, there to show us around the city. They met us at the boat the first night that we got in, and they walked us to Marina’s grandparents’ place, where we were fortunate enough to stay during our visit. It was just a short walk from the port to their cute place. Marina and Sylvain then took us to a local restaurant for some cheese, prosciutto and wine.  It was so nice to get to know Sylvain; he and Marina got married last October (and then again in December, kind of like me and Mark!). 

 On Friday, Mark and I explored the city while Marina and Sylvain worked. It has started getting really hot here in the past few days, but luckily there is lots of shade in the city center with all of the twisting and turning narrow walkways. We visited Marina at her parents’ gallery, where she was working for the day (she is an art history teacher and just finished for the summer as well). We went to a delicious restaurant for lunch and then Mark and I wandered home to take a nap. Traveling is exhausting. 

We went over to Marina and Sylvain’s place for pasta and shrimp later that night. One of the best meals we have had on our trip. The sauce on the shrimp was amazing! We found a little room for gelato in our stomachs after this and Marina showed us to the best gelato place in town. It really was. I have had my fair share of gelato on this trip, and the pistachio scoop that I had from Luka’s was the best. We went to a few different bars after that and saw some of Marina’s friends. I did not have any rakia since I was getting up early to run!

Split was another one of my favorite runs. There is a park on a peninsula near where we stayed and you can run along the water on gravelly paths. I ran 5 miles around the park, shaded by trees. It was the perfect place to run. Then I got ready quickly because we were heading to the island of Brač for the day with Marina and Sylvain. This was such a great day. We rented scooters when we got there and set off to see the famous church with a tree going through it. We found it and took some pictures…and then Marina and Sylvain’s scooter wouldn’t start. We waited for a man from the rental place to come fix it, but when he got there he realized he had the wrong tools. So Sylvain ended up riding back in the car with him and returning with a new scooter. Problem solved! Then we were off to lunch at Toni’s. Another tasty meal and we were ready for the beach. We spent a few hours relaxing, swimming, and playing picigin, a game where you stand in shallow water and try to keep a small ball in the air. There is even a Picigin World Championship in Split every year (though for the most part, it’s only played in Split!). 

Later that night, when we were back in Split, we got pizza for dinner (maybe a gelato for dessert) and packed our bags since we were leaving early in the morning to drive to Plitvice Lakes. We had such a wonderful few days in Split. I love being able to visit friends while we are traveling. Marina and Sylvain, thank you for being such wonderful hosts. We had the best time in Split!

  

  

Scenes from a morning run through Marjan

       

Going to Brač for the day!

     

Uh oh. Wrong tools…

  

We don’t let a broken scooter get us down 🙂

      

Marina and Sylvain, riding off into the sunset 🙂

     

      

 

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A few days in Hvar

It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I think it’s because our days feel so packed! I left off on Korčula I believe. We ended up wishing we had stayed in Korčula for one more night, because we left there on June 30 (happy bday to Jane!) and as it turns out, they celebrate half-New Years with a big Carnival-like party. (Kind of like me celebrating my half-birthday. I like you, Korčula!) Maybe being a little sad to miss this party is why I didn’t LOVE Hvar quite as much when we first got there. It just felt so much bigger and busier than Korčula (and slightly like an American frat party scene in parts of town). So I wasn’t too impressed our first night there, but luckily my opinions changed over our few days there. (I also think I was a little tired from all of the traveling and needed some purely relaxing days, which we ended up getting.)

 
Our first full day there I dragged myself out of bed to run a few miles along the water, and then we took a taxi boat to an even smaller island called Jerolim. It was only about a 15 minute ride and then we did our relaxing. We swam and read for the entire day, going back to Hvar just in time shower, go to a wine tasting, and get fresh seafood for dinner. I had lobster linguini and it was delicious! 

   

    
   The next day we had to check out of our hotel early but our catamaran to Split wasn’t until 7:45 pm, so we signed up for an excursion that lasted from 10:30 to 7:00. Perfect timing for us! We went on a boat with nine other people and saw the Green Cave at Ravnik island and the Blue Cave on Biševo island. You can swim in the Green Cave but not the Blue because it’s so small. It really is bright, bright blue inside this cave because of the light coming in through a hole in the cave (under the water) and reflecting off the sand inside the cave (I think). After the Blue Cave, we stopped to swim at another cove and then we stopped at Viš for lunch, where we ate with an Australian couple and a South African couple from our boat. Finally, we had one last stop at Palmižana, one of the Pakleni Islands, very near to Hvar, for a quick game of ping pong and a drink in a treehouse! All in all, it was a great way to spend our last day in (or around, to be more accurate) Hvar. 

   
     
Then at 7:45 we were off on the catamaran to visit Marina and Sylvain in Split!

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Korčula

We were only in Korcula for a short time, but I loved every minute of it. We stayed in an apartment very near the harbor, in the old part of Korčula town. Another beautiful little town, full of stone streets than wind all throughout the outer walls of the old city. After dropping off our bags, we headed to see the beautiful sunset from a tiny little place at the top of a tower. It was such a tight, steep climb getting up the ladder to the top, but very worth it for the view. There were two waiters who stood up there taking orders and sending them down on a dumwaiter over the side of the tower. Then someone downstairs would load the drink on the tray and send it back up! It was a very windy night, but pretty warm, and the sunset was one of the best we have seen.  

The ladder to the top!

  

iPhone pictures didn’t do justice to the sunset

   We went to a restaurant recommended by our hotel, and this was a great decision. Mark had grilled octopus skewers and I had shrimp risotto and both were amazing. I love being right on the water and having so many fresh seafood options. We just wandered around the old town after that, looking in some of the little shops and of course getting the obligatory gelato 😉

The next day we were already heading off to the next island, Hvar, so we really only had the morning to explore Korčula. I went for a run in the early morning and then we rented bikes and rode to a relatively nearby beach and swam for a little while before heading back to town for lunch. We had some refreshing fresh-squeezed juices for the first time on the trip and split a pizza (not for the first time). Our ferry was a little late, so Mark had time to visit the Marco Polo museum (he was supposedly born in Korčula) and I had time for gelato and reading 🙂

 

Scenes from my morning run

  

My favorite house that I ran past

  

The water is SO clear!

    

View of the water frim the beach we biked to (Lumbarda, I think)

     Next up: Hvar!

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Dubrovnik!

The ride to Dubrovnik from Mostar was an interesting one. I think we picked the least popular of the routes provided by Google maps, but I’m pretty sure it was the quickest at least. And it was very scenic. The only real tricky part happened when the map told us to make a sharp turn onto a gravel road, which we then continued on for about 20 minutes, never passing any other cars in either direction. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. We eventually made our way back into paved roads and were at the border before we knew it. You have to exit the Bosnian border patrol and then go through the Croatian border crossing. We heard the border crossing on the way to Dubrovnik could take an hour in the summertime, but either we went to a different border crossing than most people or we we just got lucky. On the Bosian side, they didn’t even look at our passports. They saw that they were American and just waved us through without even inspecting them. The Croatian police did check them, but we got through either no problems. Once you’re through the border–and actually, for a mile or two before it–the views out to the sea are amazing. It kind of comes out of nowhere after driving through the mountains for so long. 
   

Our first view of the Adriatic!

  We dropped off our rental car and headed to the cute little apartment where we were staying for two days. Then it was time for a little Game of Thrones tour! Our tour guide has worked on the show for all five seasons as an extra and stand-in for Marjorie and Daenerys, and she was awesome. She showed us all of the sites where different scenes were filmed in the city and had pictures from the show to show how they modify the scenes with CGI a lot of the time. She also said that Tyrienne is her favorite in real life (and that he is pretty similar to his character on the show!)

Us and our GoT guide!

   

The Iron Throne

     After our tour we had just enough time to walk around the walls of the city before sunset. I’m not sure of the distance of the walls, but I would guess about 3km probably? You get really amazing views of the city whenever you do this walk, but it must have been the best time of day when we went because the temperature and lighting were perfect! We were (I was) starving after our walk had some delicious seafood as soon as we got down. Then we headed to bed to get rest up for our day trip to Budva and Kotor (in Montenegro) the next morning. 

   
       
Mark and I were definitely the youngest people on this day trip, by more than a few years. 🙂 But it was nice to not be driving ourselves around this time and I liked hearing about the places we visited from a guide. (Budva and Kotor would maybe best be visited before you go to Dubrovnik, as they kind of remind me of miniDubrovniks, but not quite as cool as the real thing). They were both cute little towns to walk around though, and in Kotor we got in a nice little workout climbing about 1,300 steps to get to the top of the fortress and back down again in time to make our bus back to Dubrovnik. We made it–only two minutes late!

 

On the way to Budva

  

Budva, Montenegro

      

The climb to the fortress

           That night we had another amazing seafood dinner and walked the 209 steps back up to our room. I managed to squeeze in a little three mile run in the morning, though it felt like a tough one. I don’t know if it was that we had climbed a lot the day before or that the first half mile was entirely uphill or what! I did see a few other people out running, which is always nice. We had breakfast on our terrace when I got back and had a coffee with the lady who runs the place where we stayed. She was so warm and welcoming and we managed to have a nice chat over coffee even though she didn’t really speak English and we speak about two words of Croatian. Mark and I then went to spend our last few hours in Dubrovnik by a quiet little beach that our tour guide had pointed out a few days earlier. Mark went for a swim and I read for a while. The first part of our trip felt like a history lesson (which I loved), and now we are onto the more relaxing, beachy part of our holiday 🙂  

Can you spot Mark?

 We picked up our bags around 1:00 and headed to the port to catch our ferry to Korčula. The husband who owns the place where we were staying was so kind and drove us right to the boat! Now we are on Korčula, our first island of the trip! More about this beautiful place later 🙂

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Sarajevo And Mostar

My favorite activity from Sarajevo was our morning run with Erol. A couple days ago, I was googling running routes in Sarajevo and I stumbled across a running tour website. Mark decided to go with me for this run, which was awesome! I knew he would like it. It was more of a leisurely run, interspersed with stops to hear about the history of the city. Erol grew up in Sarajevo but moved to France when the war started (he was 15 then, and too young to be in the military). He moved back ten years later and now he works at the British embassy and leads these running tours on the side. He also organizes the Sarajevo half marathon and has run marathons in most European capital cities. How cool! 

Anyway, he led us around the city, explaining how Sarajevo has a long history of being a very tolerant place in terms of religion, with a mosque, Catholic cathedral, Orthodox cathedral, and a synagogue all within 200 meters of each other. He said it still a very tolerant city but maybe a little less so than before the war. 

On the streets and sidewalks of Sarajevo, you can see painted red pentagons every so often. These mark where shells exploded and killed many people between 1992 and 1995. You can also still see bullet holes and marks from bombs on the walls of building that have not been restored. It’s so hard to believe this war was only 20 years ago. Erol was such a great guide as we ran around the city; it’s hard to believe that he was there to witness the start of this war. He talked about it so freely, and I asked if others speak so openly, to which he responded that he thinks they talk about it too much. They need to move beyond the difficulties and conflicts of that time. 

 

Mark and me by the eternal flame, lit after Worl War II to honor the military and civilians

  
  

Us and Erol, the best running guide

  

Pigeon Square

  

The yellow Holiday Inn is where journalists stayed while reporting on the war.

 The part of town where we stayed is called Baščaršija, or Old Sarajevo. This is the old Turkish quarter, and it is full of courtyards and mosques (as well as the Orthodox and Catholic cathedrals and a synagogue). There are jewelry shops and copper workshops everywhere along the little pedestrian lanes. 

The next day we packed up again and drove to Mostar. On our way out of Sarajevo, we stopped at the Tunnel Museum. During the siege of Sarajevo, the city was surrounded by hostile Serb forces and basically cut off from the rest of the world. In order to get arms and food, Sarajevo had to connect with nearby Bosniak Butmir, but between the two was the Sarajevo airport, which was very dangerous to cross. To access Butmir, an 800 meter tunnel was dug under the airport, and the museum today explains the history of this time and has a 25 meter section open that you can walk through. 

  
After stopping at the museum, we drove about two hours to reach Mostar, which was an important transport gateway during the Ottoman Empire. This may have been Mark’s favorite city so far, and you may be able to see why from a few pictures. It is a magical city with pedestrian streets made of stone, hidden courtyards, and a beautiful Old Bridge (Stari Most). We only spent one night here winding our way through the pedestrian lanes, eating traditional Bosnian food and of course gelato, but could have easily stayed for longer. I snuck in one quick run in the morning before we had some Bosnian coffees and hit the road for Dubrovnik. Most of the remainder of our trip will now be spent in Croatia, which we are really looking forward to.

   
          

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