After breakfast, we all loaded our luggage back on the bus and drove to our next destination of Pag. 85% of the island is barren rock void of vegetation due to the strong salty winds. Pag is known for its salt, cheese, lace, and most recently its party beaches.
We went to the salt museum first and learned all about Pag’s salt pans and the history behind them. The museum itself was actually very interesting; it was built in an old salt factory with piles of salt all over the place.
Next was the Pag lace museum. Croatian women have produced this traditional lace for centuries. The time and intricate detail put into the lace make pieces extremely expensive. The second picture shows lace worth 5,250 kuna which is a little more than 800 dollars.
After a tour of the city, we arrived at our hotel. The Wi-Fi there was the worst yet and the reason why these blogs are days behind. What made up for the practically non-existent Wi-Fi and no AC was the distance away from the beach. These pictures are a taken a minute’s walk away from my hotel room.
Later on, some of us went out to the main party beach. Ryan, Sam, and I walked there so we didn’t have to pay for a cab. When we arrived, there was barely anyone there. Apparently we were in Pag at the wrong time of the season. We ended up making friends with a group of Austrians who we hung out with for the rest of the night.
The actual area was really cool. Outdoor clubs with neon lights lined the beach. The bars were selling one liter drinks for 100 kuna (about $15). I ordered a Sex on the Beach which tasted amazing.
On Saturday, we woke up at 7:00 am to go to National Park Paklenica. We made a short stop at a place called the graveyard of souls. The village elders believed that souls deserved more respect and remembrance than physical bodies after death. They would measure the height of the deceased then line up rocks in the same measurement. Lastly, a headstone and footstone were placed on opposite ends.
Our hike was originally supposed to last about 4 hours but the bus decided to break down halfway to the starting point. We had to walk uphill on asphalt with the sun beating down on us. All of us were exhausted and sweaty before the long hike even started.
The actual hike was long and difficult but actually pretty fun. I had to climb over huge rocks both uphill and downhill while trying not to fall down the mountain – there was no defined trail. The mountain we hiked up is called Mt. St. Jure which is 1,728 m above sea level. Dense forests contrasted with the barren rocky landscape as we hiked up the 10 kilometers.
When we arrived at the top, lunch was being prepared for us at a small family’s house tucked away from civilization. They cooked veal and lamb under two metal bells with charcoal over the top. The whole meal tasted amazing.
After eating, we were given time to digest before the trek down the mountain. Chris and I spotted two kittens hiding in a hole on the side of the house. While we were trying to coax them out, a little girl who lived there named Lily straight up grabbed and dragged one out of the hole. She was 4 years old so she didn’t really understand the concept that the kittens were not toys. The picture below shows her manhandling the poor thing. Lily was really cute; she only spoke German so we had no idea what she was saying. She would only let the girls hold the kitten which was hilarious.
The hike back down was definitely easier even though it was longer: about 12 kilometers. There were defined trails for the first half then slippery steep rocks for the second half. In total, the hike lasted about 7 hours. Needless to say, when we got back to the hotel we were exhausted. We ate dinner by the water then went to bed.
After breakfast in Split, we were on the road again to Krka River National Park. This park is famous for its beautiful waterfalls and plant life. There are many different hiking trails and places to swim. We had time to walk these trails and just soak in the natural beauty of the park.
There was only an hour or two before our boat departed for our next destination: the Monastery Island of Visovac. Only a section of the island is open to the public; the monks forbid anyone from entering the monastery. We were only allowed to tour the church and gardens. Roosters, peacocks, and many other animals roam the lush gardens uninhibited. Technically, we weren’t supposed to take any pictures but I managed to sneak a few.
The monks also happen to make grappa, which is an extremely strong Croatian fruit liquor. Stasa hyped up the grappa before we went to the island so we all ended up buying a bottle or two there. It actually tasted pretty good – like rich plums.
After the tour of the island, we took the boat back to our bus then drove to Starigrad Paklenica where we would stay for two nights. Our hotel was right by the beach and I could see the water from my hotel room.
Dinner at the hotel was an experience. Our waiter was extremely rude – even more so than the Croatian standard. When Allie, Brooke, Ryan, and I asked for tap water, he said they didn’t have any even though there was a jug on the table next to us. Pissed off and confused, we didn’t order any drinks in protest. Minutes later he placed a jug on our table quickly and didn’t say a word to us. We know it wasn’t a language barrier because he spoke excellent English; he was just another example of shitty Croatian service.
We all went to bed pretty early after dinner because the next day we would have to wake up around 7:00 am for a day long hike.
On Thursday, we left Makarska to go to the city of Split. Our professors arranged for a tour guide so we learned a lot about Split and the walls surrounding the center. Right by the entrance to the walls is a mini metal model of the whole city. This gives you a better idea of the size of the walls around Split.
The tour guide led us through the old substructure of Diocletian’s palace/grounds. The substructure itself was covered in moss because of the humidity down there. Apparently, Game of Thrones has many scenes shot in Split. Specifically, the last picture below is where the dragons were kept (sorry that’s all I remember haha). The actual history behind this room is quite unique. Rich Romans who lived above the substructure didn’t have any place to put their waste so they drilled holes in their floors to use the substructure as their bathroom/garbage dump. The whole area ended up being filled to the top with literal shit. Major restoration and cleaning had to be done to get that area open to the public.
The whole city of Split is beautiful and very European-looking. Next to Dubrovnik, Split is the second most popular tourist destination in Croatia. Locals maximize this with their many shops and street performers.
For lunch, our professors ordered us fresh fish – with its eyeballs intact and everything. I was a little freaked out, I must admit, but I did eat some of it.
After the tour, we arrived at our hotel. For some reason, they messed up my rooming situation so I was given a single room! Because I was exhausted from the night before, I slept until 9 pm. For dinner, I ventured into the city to grab a burger from a street vendor.
June 10th we spent the day in Biokovo National Park. At the entrance, we spotted two wild horses grazing on grass near the road. One of the horses decided to stand right in the middle of the road in front of a car so we had to lead it away. The horses were very friendly and let us handle them.
Driving through the park, we stopped at a bunch of different areas admiring the plant life and views.
The bus took us up to a certain point on Mt. St. Jure before we had to get off and walk. To get to the very top we had to climb incredibly steep boulders without a harness. There was only a guiding rope to grab onto in case you fell. I had so much fun doing this because the climb was such an adrenaline rush. If you fell, you would definitely feel it.
Views at the top were stunning; however, this time of year is mating season for local bugs and they were all over the top of the mountain. This was a real test for me – four to five bugs were crawling on me at a time. Mike liked picking up the bugs and holding them (ew.) so I took a cool close-up which I added below.
Walking back down the mountain and to lunch we saw more amazing views and a suprising amount of Croatian war damage in the the asphalt and the guardrails.
Lunch we ate at a local family’s house in the middle of the national park. They cooked a really nice meal consisting of pork and potatoes for us. I was starving after walking for a good amount of time.
At night after we got back to the hotel, we decided to go to a nightclub called Deep. The nightclub itself was in a cave right by the water with a strip of lights running across the entire top of the cave. After a couple hours there around 2:30 am, Ben and I decided to leave because we had to get up early the next morning.
Tuesday morning we drove to a tiny village named Vid which previously was a Roman settlement named Narona. I toured a museum built around the excavated Roman ruins. The main area of the museum showcases statues of 1st century Roman emperor Augustus and his family/friends. If the statues are without clothing, it was an indication that the subjects were dead while being crafted. In the first picture, Augustus is the biggest statue in the center.
For lunch, Rob and Stasa took us to a restaurant for a nice lunch: raw eel and frog legs. I surprisingly enjoyed the frog legs; they tasted a bit like chicken. The eel was pretty gross but I at least I can say I tried it.
After lunch, we drove to Makarska where we would stay for two nights. We got there around dinner time and decided to eat at an outdoor place called XXL. Our waiter was the owner and he was the only waiter we have had in Croatia that’s actually personable. While we were eating, a stray dog came up to our table and begged for food. He wouldn’t leave us alone the whole meal but we didn’t really mind because he was so cute.
We decided to walk around the promenade after dinner – exploring the more remote rocky sections. The area was practically a cat sanctuary. You can see a couple in the pictures below.
June 8th was my first day on the road. For the next 14 days, I will be traveling up the coast of Croatia and staying at many different places for a night or two. I left Dubrovnik early in the morning; a coach bus took the group to our first location of Ston.
Ston is a little village built in the 15th century, protected by a series of walls second in length to The Great Wall of China. The walls were constructed to protect the village’s precious salt pans which extract salt from sea water by evaporation. We climbed a portion of these walls and had the opportunity to see Ston from a birds-eye view.
Second stop for the day was lunch and wine tasting at Bartulovic winery. The Bartulovic’s only produce 20,000 liters of wine a year with organic homegrown grapes – no pesticides or poisons. Their 500 year old family house and vineyards are tucked away in the mountains of Prizdrina. The family cooked a delicious meal for us and let us taste their red and white wines. I may or may not have bought a bottle or two of wine to take back home ;)
Back on the road, we took a ferry ride from Trpanj to Ploce. From there on we drove to Metkovic where we stayed in a hotel for just a night. Metkovic is another small village in the Neretva river valley. This area is extremely fertile and produces large quantities of fresh produce. My room had a great view of the fields and river.
Dinner we just picked up at the supermarket right next to our hotel – there was not an open restaurant in sight. The rest of the night we all drank on the patio and talked (common theme here haha).
On June 7th, Ryan, Sam, and I went on a day excursion to the country of Montenegro. Montenegro is just south and to the right of Croatia – a small drive to a small country. As we were driving to our first stop, our tour guide told us about how terrible drivers are in Montenegro.
Hours later, we got into a car accident.
The car cut us off after trying to enter the high speed roadway without a turning signal, clipping the front of the bus and sending their car spinning. Obviously, it was their fault; we had the right-of-way. No one in either vehicle was hurt – our driver applied the brakes just in time to reduce force of impact. The pictures below are minutes after the accident. The lady at fault was pretty pissed that people were taking photos; it was pretty funny. The picture quite nicely captures her shouting at an old lady who wanted a photo as well.
Because there was a tour group nearby, they picked us up and took us to our first stop which was relatively close. Ryan, Sam, and I explored the city of Budva while waiting for news about our transportation predicament.
We had lunch at this amazing seafood place steps away from the sea. I ordered fresh mussels caught that morning.
Budva is a very interesting area in Montenegro. On the right side is Old City which has about 3500 years of history. On the left side is the new section with tall skyscrapers and fancy hotels from Russian investors. The contrast between the two is striking. Unfortunately, we only had time to explore one side so I only have pictures of Old City.
Besides the extravagant hotels, Russians greatly influence the docks and airports in Montenegro. There were so many Russian yachts in Budva and at least a couple private Russian airports for their jets outside the main area. Signs in Budva aren’t just in the traditional Latin alphabet, but also the Cyrillic alphabet used in Russia.
The second and last stop was the city of Kotor. Small but beautiful, Kotor resembles the Old City in Budva a little bit. It is surrounded by tall stone walls with a couple churches and shops nested inside.
Driving back to Dubrovnik, we made a small stop to take a couple shots of two picturesque islands. The island with the trees is naturally occurring while the other is man-made.
Back in Dubrovnik we ate dinner really late then went to bed; I was so exhausted.
After starting the day off with Stasa’s class, we went to a restaurant for lunch in Old Town with an amazing view of the harbor. I ordered the calamari and it was absolutely fantastic.
Then, for Rob’s class, we visited Domino Steakhouse in Old Town which is a restaurant owned by an RIT staff member. He talked to us about how difficult it is to own a business here: the many city taxes, importance of location, off-season struggles, etc. He also mentioned how during the war, the restaurant shut down and was used as a refugee camp.
When we got back to the hotel, all of us chilled and drank on the patio. Around 11:30 pm, we decided to go to Revelin nightclub in Old Town. The building Revelin was in was actually one of Napoleon’s fortresses. The nightclub itself was really cool: lasers, balloons, and great music. I had such a great time dancing and meeting new people who were also traveling.
Ryan and I decided to leave at 2:30 am since we had to go to the public market for class at 7:30 am the same day. Everyone else decided to stay and just pull an all-nighter. We walked back and made really good conversation, eventually going to bed around 3:30 am.
Waking up was a struggle. All of us were walking zombies at the public market. Part of our assignment at the market was to talk to the vendors about their products and business. They didn’t really want to talk to us so Stasa just answered our questions. After the market, we went to a nearby agricultural shop. I was surprised that they openly sold pesticides and other poisons right there – in the United States products like that aren’t as accessible.
When I got back from the market, I slept until dinner. Brooke, Allie, and I ate Mexican food then I went to an internet café for some decent wifi.
On Thursday June 4th, we took a boat to the island of Lokrum from Old Town.
Lokrum is exclusively a nature preserve with a variety of species closely monitored. Smoking isn’t allowed on the island which is actually a big deal because so many people smoke in Europe. There are big tubs of water on the trails every so often in case of forest fires. Wild peacocks roam the grounds and aren’t afraid of people at all.
We took another long hike up to a ruined castle which had another wonderful view.
Stasa showed us the many different plant and tree species on the island as we hiked back down. Apparently, the Dubrovnik Rabbit Bush only exists on the island of Lokrum; it doesn’t naturally grow anywhere else in the world.
After the hike, we went cliff diving! It was so much fun and the cliffs were pretty high – I had time to think as I was falling. Not everyone ended up jumping, probably only half of us did it. I wish we could go back, but we are leaving Dubrovnik to travel around soon.
When we arrived back in Old Town, Allie, Brooke, and I decided to walk around and shop for a little bit. While wandering, we came across an ornate 18th century church of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The attention to detail and opulence of the church amazed me.
One thing that really surprised me when I came to Dubrovnik was the amount of wild cats and dogs that just meander around town. Just in the short time I was in Old Town, I saw over 10 cats. All of them look young, and are tiny. I don’t like to think that they are malnourished, just little, or I would feel really bad every time I came across one.
We ate dinner at a pizza place called Mamma Mia (pizza is big here) then met up at the hotel for drinks.