Dubrovnik >>> Zadar >>> (Greece) Athens
11/5 – Research and Planning Day in Dubrovnik
11/6 – Explored Dubrovnik and Walked the City Walls
11/7 – Long day on buses from Dubrovnik to Zadar
11/8 – Zipping around Zainy Zadar
11/9 – Drive to Plitvice National Park, Hiking around all the beautiful waterfalls!
11/10 – Travel Day from Zadar to Brussels and then to Athens!
11/11 – Walking Audio Tour of Athens and Visiting the Parliament and National Gardens
Research and Planning Day in Dubrovnik
+ This was our first full day in Dubrovnik and we were excited to be in what was probably the most famous city here on the Dalmation coast.
+ After sleeping in a bit, we ate our leftover pizza for lunch and watched some stuff on the tablet.
+ In the afternoon, we went outside to start exploring but found that it was really rainy and dreary. So we just walked around snapping pictures of the walls and harbour set amongst the grey skyline and then went to the supermarket to get some supplies for our stay.
+ Spent most of the day in our apartment avoiding the rain while researching and planning for what we would be doing after Greece. What we had initially thought would be a long journey straight to Australia was now becoming a bit more convulated with some other options to break up the journey along the way. I know, poor us. But trying to research a million different flight options with airlines we’d never even heard of, without even having set dates, was proving to be a headache.
+ At night we explored a little bit of the city while looking for a cheap restaurant for dinner. We ended up deciding on a little sandwich shop called Presa. They had cheap sandwiches which were really delicious!
+ Afterwards we managed to find Liz’s favorite Croatian beer, Tomislav, and then stumbled upon a large outdoor concert happening right there in the city walls. With everything being sung in Croatian, we had no idea what it was for but hung around for a few minutes to listen and enjoy the scene anyway.
+ Then it was back to the apartment for some more computer time before finally calling it quits around 2:30 am.
Explored Dubrovnik and Walked the City Walls
+ We had hoped today would have much nicer weather to explore Dubrovnik, but it was actually a little worse than yesterday! Still, it was our last day so we put on the rain jackets and set out to sightsee in the famous walled city!
+ Our first destination was to do the wall-walk. Luckily we had our FSU student ID’s on us and saved a bunch of money on admission! Although it was pretty windy and rainy, we still had a lot of fun spending about 90 minutes walking the 1.3 mile trail. Along the way we had great overlooks of the city, ocean (very choppy and rough) and the fortress where they film the “Red Keep” on Game of Thrones.
+ Since the rocks were pretty slippery, Liz was actually able to pull off her best attempt at The Running Man she’d ever done! It was really funny to watch her do the “Croatian Running Man” with the hoards of Asian tourists coming up behind her.
+ Next we walked through the narrow streets and alleyways and popped into a few cathedrals and churches which were beautiful. One church had a unique altar display like an outdoor grotto. Another building had a memorial room to all the Croatians who died during the war of independence in the 1990’s. It was crazy to think about how all of that was going on during our lifetime when we were just a few years old!
+ Went back to the apartment to do some more work and research until dinner time.
+ Unfortunately, for the 3rd night in a row, the restaurant we wanted to go to (so Liz could try an Octopus burger) had closed hours earlier than posted. So after looking around for a bit again, we ended up back at the same sandwich shop as last night! Still yummy.
+ Back at the apartment we packed up our bags and took showers and got ready to depart the next day.
+ Before going to sleep, we watched a few episodes of a new show called Black Mirror. It was really interesting!
Long day on buses from Dubrovnik to Zadar
+ After checking out of our nice apartment, we grabbed some lunch to go for our long day of bus riding ahead. Needing something quick and cheap we went to, you guessed it, the same sandwich shop. 3rd day in a row, woohoo!
+ Today we’d be bussing back north past Split and up to Zadar. It would take about 7 hours so we settled in for the first half of the journey.
+ Liz almost immediately fell asleep (it’s a talent) and Corey got out the tablet to start his marathon show and movie watching. He watched a few episodes of South Park, and the movies Ghostbusters and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.
+ We did need to change buses in Split and we once again passed through Bosnia and Herzegovnia but this time we stopped for a break so our time in the country was a whopping 35 minutes!
+ In Zadar, we would need to take a local bus from the main station into town (seemed to be a theme in Croatia) but first we figured we’d grab some groceries from the large supermarket nearby. So with all 4 of our backpacks on, we waddled through the grocery store and picked up a few things. Somehow, we managed not to knock over or break anything!
+ We were already hungry and decided to get some McDonalds for dinner since it was also right there at the station. We were happy to see the Croatian McDonalds was back down to normal prices, unlike the crazy expensive Switzerland ones!
+ Our studio room was inside Zadar’s walled Old Town and we met our host who checked us in. He was very friendly and talked to us about the time he was the drummer in a rock band and toured around the U.S. in the 80’s. He even had some pictures on his phone!
+ We spent the rest of the evening relaxing after some nice hot showers.
Zipping around Zainy Zadar
+ For lunch we finally ate the rest of those leftover noodles from Split! Then after working for a bit we headed out to explore Zadar around 3 in the afternoon. It is a very small city so it only took about 90 minutes to see the whole thing and we ended our walk at the city’s most famous site: The Sea Organ. It was a really cool art structure where the ocean waves produced peaceful melodic sounds through various sized pipes in the ground. They also had some light up circles called Greeting of the Sun which we couldn’t quite figure out the purpose of, other than to look nice at night.
+ After sunset, we walked back to the apartment and hung out for a bit researching. The next moves after Greece were proving to be very challenging and we had lots of decisions to make about whether or not we were visiting Mykonos, Israel, Dubai, or Singapore. Or just going straight to Australia. And if we were visiting some of those, where would we stay and would flights be affordable? To top it off, we were trying to get a housesit in Dubai but hadn’t been able to get a hold of the homeowners to ask some crucial questions that would decide if we’d visit or not.
+ Around dinner time we set off to look for some cheap eats and we found a pizza place that had super cheap slices! For only about $4, we both had our fill of the huge delicious slices.
+ Before going to sleep that night, we packed up some small daypacks for our trip tomorrow and then watched an episode of Black Mirror and an episode of Last Man on Earth.
Drive to Plitvice National Park, Hiking around all the beautiful waterfalls!
+ Although we’d rented a campervan 3 times already on this trip, today would be the first time we would rent an actual car. But getting to the car rental place proved to be difficult as it was located at the Zadar airport and the only direct buses to the airport left super early or super late in the day. So we took the local bus to the main station in hopes there would be some more options from there but no, same thing. So Corey ended up haggling with a taxi driver to take us there without costing us half our daily budget.
+ At the airport we picked up our car from Alamo (we had a Volkswagon Golf) and began our 2 hour trip north to Croatia’s most famous outdoor attraction- Plitvice National Park! We’d heard nothing but great things from every friend who’d been there and we were excited to visit. Since it was low season, there were no tours or buses going there so renting a car was the only way. Also, our phone SIM card monthly plan had just run out yesterday so we wouldn’t have service for the drive but luckily the offline google maps we downloaded on the go phone got us there without any problems!
+ During the drive, we went from the flat coastal area to the first mountain range, took a long tunnel through the mountain, and then came to another mountain range higher up in elevation. The temperature had dropped almost to 0 degrees celcius and there was even snow all over the ground! Were we back in Switzerland!?
+ Once we arrived in Plitvice, we parked and got our tickets and map from the visitor center. Once again our old student ID’s saved us a good bit of money. Those things have been more useful post-graduation than they ever were when we actually attended FSU! Slowly but surely maybe we’ll save enough money to equal that tuition cost!
+ Plitvice National Park was indeed stunningly beautiful, with countless waterfalls at almost every turn. Seriously, this park had thousands of waterfalls throughout and each was set in this pretty gorge and poured from and into emerald green lakes. The water was so crystal clear that it was very tempting to go swimming, but the icy temperatures (and being strictly forbidden as it was a nationally protected World Heritage site) prevented us from doing so.
+ For almost 5 whole hours we walked through the park, starting from the bottom lake and working our way up to higher and higher lakes. We also met some new friends. One was a tour guide from Singapore called Jeremiah who was leading a large group of asian tourists. He was very friendly and gave us all sorts of helpful tips on places to go and things to see in Greece and Singapore too, should we get there. The other new friend we met was Rosie, a fellow backpacker who was visiting Croatia for a week while on holiday from Christchurch, New Zealand! We ended up walking around the park with her for about 2-3 hours and talking about all the fun places we each have visited and where to go when we visit New Zealand ourselves.
+ There was a ferry to take us across one of the lakes which was nice as it provided some great views, but it was also very chilly! So we eagerly got back to hiking once again to warm ourselves up. While exploring this area of the park, we were often walking on wooden pathways built right above all the rushing water and sometimes even right on top of waterfalls! It was pretty cool.
+ Another thing to note is that it was nice to have some people to take pictures of us in these majestic settings instead of countless selfies. So we traded cameras with Rosie and made sure we each got some great shots.
+ Around 4ish it was closing time since it was getting dark soon this time of year. Even though we hadn’t managed to see the whole park (only about 2/3 since the tram to the far end of the park wasn’t running and it was too far to walk), we felt fulfilled by the many beautiful sights we’d managed to see.
+ We made it back to Zadar without any incidents and then went on another unexpected adventure around the city looking for a place to print our boarding passes for the flights the next day. The tourist office pointed us towards a bar that supposedly could do it. They said no and sent us to a hostel where reception was closed and had a sign pointing us to a different bar. There, the guy walked us to a random apartment where the lady there took us back to the hostel and we were finally able to get them printed! Whew!
+ Since we were now literally right next door the the pizza restaurant we’d eaten at last night, we decided to use our last few remaining Kuna (Croatian currency) and eat there again. Still delicious.
+ We were supposed to do a Skype call with the Dubai homeowners tonight, but they didn’t pick up our calls at the time we both agreed upon. Very frustrating! This was making our deicions about what to do next much more difficult!
+ When we finally made it back to the apartment, we both sat down for a bit, exhausted from our long day. We then proceeded to browse through the crazy reactions online from the news that Donald Trump had been elected president earlier in the day. Almost none of our family and friends back home supported Trump, and with all the pre-voting day polls pointing to an easy win by Hillary, we (along with most people in America) were shocked that Trump had actually managed to pull the upset. Although neither of us liked Hillary, we felt she was a much less dangerous (and embarrassing) option for our country than Trump and we were very nervous about what this would mean for the future of the U.S. and what type of landscape we’d be returning home to.
+ After some showers and packing up our bags for the plane trips tomorrow, we finally laid down in bed and watched some Youtube videos and news about the historic day.
Travel Day from Zadar to Brussels and then to Athens!
+ For the second night in a row, we got very little sleep and had a full day of traveling ahead of us. With our bags uniquely packed for these RyanAir flights (we have to put all our heavy stuff in the small carry on packs and move all the light stuff to our big backpacks so they will come in under the 15kg weight limit), we loaded the rental car and drove back to the airport to return it and catch our flight.
+ Although we were ultimately going to end up in Athens, Greece (which was south of Croatia), getting there cheaply had proved to be difficult. With low season once again limiting options and taking away things like direct flights or ferries, the cheapest (and fastest) route involved 2 seperate RyanAir flights that actually took us up to Brussels, Belgium first and then back down to Athens. Strange, but hey, it would work.
+ The Zadar airport was tiny and after getting through security, we had only a small wait before boarding the plane with the world’s tiniest seats and least leg room ever.
+ Liz assumed her sleep ritual and Corey worked on this blog for the majority of the flight. Even though we tried to stay on top of it, we always seemed to be like a week behind every time we went to update it!
+ During the flight, we looked out the window we saw the snow-capped Swiss mountains!
+ After landing in Brussels, we got our bags and then checked them again for our next flight to Athens. We had a little bit to hang around in the Brussels airport. Luckily there was wifi!
+ After we landed in Athens, we made our way to train station as the airport is about an hour away from the main city. We rode the metro into town and got off at Monastiraki station and then started our 20 minute walk to Chameleon Youth Hostel. Along the way, we had great views of the Parthenon lit up at night up atop the hill!
+ It was back to dorm life for the 3 nights we would be in Athens, but the hostel had a rooftop terrace and common area we could hang out in which were nice.
+ After checking in and getting settled we walked down the street to a restaurant the hostel owner had recommended. Liz had greek meatballs with rice, carrots and potatoes in a lemon sauce and Corey had a chicken and bacon combination. We are both really excited about Greek food and can’t wait to try everything on our list!
Walking Audio Tour of Athens and Visiting the Parliament and National Gardens
+ Even though we were in a dorm room with 4 other people, the room stayed surprisingly quiet and dark until almost 11 am! Then everyone got up and moving at about the same time and after packing a little daypack for ourselves, we set off to explore Athens!
+ Tried our first Greek gyro at “All that Jatz” café. The gyro was your choice of pork or chicken and had lettuce, tomato, tzatziki, and a few french fries stuffed in there as toppings! Not really what we were expecting compared to our gyros at home.
+ After lunch and walking through the Athens flea market, we stopped in a deli type shop loaded with beautiful little desserts and yummy looking wraps and sandwiches. Liz was looking forward to trying authentic Greek coffee.
+ Greek coffee is made with very finely ground coffee and water heated in a small specific pot (usually copper or aluminum). At this cafe, they mixed the coffee and water and then placed the pot on a hot plate filled with sand. They brushed the sand to cover the bottom and sides and let the coffer heat. The coffee is (intentionally!) served with a thick sludge like layer of leftover grounds at the bottom of the cup. This layer is definitely not meant to be drunk!
+ We got the coffee to go and enjoyed walking through neighborhoods of Athens. During our wandering exploration, we managed to get to less touristy districts that contained more local shops. We even found multiple craft stores and in one we bought a small paint by numbers thingy for Liz to enjoy while in Santorini.
+ At one point we walked into small shop called “Hobby Lobby” (like back at home!) that had a large group of women knitting and chatting. Liz’s future dream! We walked upstairs and checked out some promising cross stitch materials but because it wasn’t a kit, costs would add up quickly. We decided against it.
+ We were feeling a little bit peckish so we stopped at a little Mexican restaurant and got some taco’s! Corey got the hottest sauce (after convincing the chefs he would be ok to handle it) and it was pretty tasty. Still, nothing compares to the Ecuador hot sauce burger (thankfully!).
+ One of the main places we wanted to see today was the National Gardens. This was a large park type area that was very pretty with lots of shaded pathways to stroll and a huge variety of plants and birds. It would certainly be a very nice area to relax and enjoy a good book if you lived here.
+ Having made our way to the significant Syntagma Square (the sight of Greece’s Parliament building and where all Greek protests and rallies are held), and sat down to begin listening to the Rick Steves walking tour we’d be doing.
+ The audio tour was about an hour and a half long, but with our pauses it ended up taking an hour longer. But the tour was great! We really enjoyed these Rick Steves tours not only because they were free and contained interesting info, but they were well paced and he even threw a bunch of “dad jokes” in there from time to time!
+ On the tour, we got to take pictures with the popular Evzoni guards outside the Parliament building, view the inside of a few different Greek Orthodox churches, wander through lots of unique markets and crowded streets, walk underneath the Arch of Hadrian, and look out over Hadrian’s Library and the Tower of the Winds. It was a great way to see a lot of the city! We especially liked the Greek orthodox churches because they were so unique, both on the inside and outside, from all the other churches and cathedrals we’ve visited on this trip!
+ Since it was now well past sunset, we were pretty hungry and decided to have dinner at the most popular restaurant in the city: Thanasis Kebap. Liz ordered Moussaka and Corey had the Souvlaki and both were tasty.
+ Before returning to the hostel, we picked up some desserts from a cheap bakery right down street for only about 2 dollars! Then we hung out in the hostel watching the FSU game vs. Boston College and eating our dessert!