Thursday, August 29, 2013

Driving Along the Dalmatian Coast (Croatia)

When Josh and I started to talk about a trip to Croatia last year, I knew it would be a bit of an undertaking on where to go.  It's a decent sized country and we'd heard so much about Dubrovnik, Split and the thousand islands that dot the coast.  So how to choose where to go?

We narrowed it down by deciding that we wanted to go somewhere with sandy beaches.  This significantly narrowed down the scope since while Croatia has some of the largest coastline in Europe, much of it is dotted with rocky or pebble beaches.  In the end, we chose Rab Island, in the north, one of only 50 habitable islands in all of Croatia.

But the flights didn't work out so that we could travel a Sat to Sat - in fact, we could only fly into Split, the most direct flight, on Thursday.  So while it would mean a lot of driving for us, an insane amount of driving for us (ie, Josh who is the only one who drives a stick), we decided that we would spend the two days before our rental was available in the south in Dubrovnik.  Our last day would be spent in Split before flying back on Sunday, the day before school starts.  The trip looks something like this (you may need to click the map to see the whole thing):

View Larger Map

With señor pukey child in the car, this could be a big risk, but we decided it would be a great way to see a lot of the country and if you didn't notice, we also take a quick 15 minute jaunt thru Serbia.  How many people can you say have driven thru Bosnia (even if it was only for 15 minutes?)?

We arrived in Split, Croatia early on Thursday morning and immediately picked up our rental car to start heading south to Dubrovnik.  With almost a 3 ½ hour drive ahead of us, I was thinking of how I was going to keep Josh awake given neither of us got much sleep the night before and were up at 4AM as our flight was at 6:50AM.  Though Liam was on non stop chat mode, a sign that he was way overtired.  If the windy roads ahead of us didn't keep Josh awake, Liam's constant chatter hopefully would!

Sunrise as we are flying to Croatia

Full of energy when we landed

I'm pretty sure this airport is even smaller than the one in Menorca, and yet, it's considered an International Airport.  We actually had to turn around on the runway in order to get to the gates - my hope was that no other planes were going to be landing during that time!!  But the airport was easy to navigate and so were the roads leading out of it (unlike flying in and out of Logan Airport in Boston!).  
 It was a little while before we hit the highway and along the way I was getting a little nervous thinking the entire 3+ hour drive was going to be along windy, curvy roads that would provoke my little guy into a pukey mess.  Eventually we hit the highway and it's obvious that what was said in our travel books was true - after the war with Yugoslavia, there was a lot of new infrastructure built and the highways appear to be one of those results.  The highways, while curving alongside the beautiful mountains, appeared to be pretty brand spanking new.  They also had little to no traffic on them as well as very few exits.

While a pretty ride, this part was pretty uneventful.  Then the highway... ended.  Yup, just like that.  One last exit and you could see where the highway was literally blocked off at the end, kind of like in a movie where the cars on a speed chase always blow past.  We, however, did not blow past the highway ends sign and continued on to what would be lovely back roads for the remaining 2 hours of our journey down to Dubrovnik.  We had hoped to pick up the highway again somewhere along the way, but alas, no luck.

The rest of the 2 ½ hours was to be by single lane road, most of which was so twisty and turny that it reminded us of driving thru Ireland but also meant that we couldn’t drive at much of a speed to expedite the trip at all.  The first part took us down the mountain and into the valleys where we would drive for at least an hour.  Fruit stands selling the freshest of fruit (ironically the one stand we stopped at probably had the smallest selection) were sprung up along the roads in the most random of places.  As we got closer to the larger villages, more and more of these stands were found and many of them had water hoses hooked up to spouts to pour water over certain fruits, like vegetables.  The only reasoning I could think of for this is to prevent rot in the heat????  Otherwise I have no idea why they would do this. 

Less than an hour into the drive, he crashed...

Entering the valleys

One of many fruit and veggie stands

It's hard to see (click to make larger) the water spraying the watermelons but it's there...

Sarajevo anyone???

Once out of the valleys, we were surprised to see that we were driving alongside the Adriadic Sea with views that rivaled that of the Amalfi Coast.  In fact, while this coast wasn’t as beautiful with the colors of the Amalfi, it was more beautiful in the sense that it was less spoiled with tons of homes, hotels or tourists.  It felt quiet and quaint as we drove thru each village, some of which you could pass thru faster than you could count to 10. 

Josh actually thought we were driving along a river because there was land on the other side of the “river” but in actuality they were large islands, many of which had small mountain ranges on them.  As we drove, we could look behind us to see the islands from a different perspective and see that they were in, fact, islands.  These views were stunning like nothing I could ever come close to describing and unfortunately the pictures were all taken as we were driving so while not so bad, they aren’t what they could be either. 

Driving along the windy coastal route

About an hour and a half from Dubrovnik, we had to do a quick jaunt thru Bosnia.  All of a sudden along this relatively barren road, there was an international border check point.  We were waved thru pretty quickly - apparently Irish with 2 small kids don't warrant a second look - ok by me!  

Border patrol

Welcome to Bosnia!

Welcome to Neum, Bosnia

The last hour was the longest - the roads were windier and we were just exhausted from all the travel, not to mention the kids and I were still jetlagged from our trip to the US (which we only had a day and a half to recover from).  But the scenery around us never stopped stunning us from left and right.  Even as we entered the city of Dubrovnik, you could view it (I wish we had stopped to take a picture here), you could see it from a distance, jutting off the side of a mountain, with the gleaming Adriatic along side.  

Josh and I can't figure out what these barrels in the middle of the sea are - perhaps fish farming of some sort??

Islands dotting the Adriatic

More islands

Blue sky finally coming out... 

One of many little seaside towns

Right before we entered Dubrovnik

The pictures don't do the drive justice as more often than not, I was holding my camera out the window, but hopefully you'll get the gist!  And bonus, Liam was puke free the entire journey!


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