I have spent three and a half weeks in Croatia during the busiest season, traveling and exploring the whole country from the north to the south.
And in this post, I will share with you my impressions and experience with traveling with a pandemic going on.
Traveling With Restrictions
If a year ago I was thinking about going on a Balkan tour in 2020, I did not expect what might come in the next 6 months.
So when the government locked down the whole country, I had to quickly reevaluate my original plan.
Doing a world tour across multiple countries suddenly became a risky bet. Travel agencies burnt many customers, refusing to pay the money back for canceled flights and vacations.
I almost accepted being at home all year round without setting foot on foreign soil. Because what if the illness was more fatal than the media claims it to be?
Two months passed since the lockdown and the overall mood improved after they canceled most of the restrictions. Still, there was no way I could visit 7 Balkan countries in one trip as intended.
Each country had its own blacklist, not always in sync with each other, each changing on a whim.
While you could travel to one country, you could not return without a test or vice versa.
Eventually, by the end of July, I began feeling a slight burn out from the work. And missing Karlovy Vary International Film Festival didn’t help either.
Six months without traveling is my maximum threshold, after which I get an uncontrollable need for exploring. So I decided not to wait any longer and plan a trip.
Planning For The Trip
I spent a week building a three weeks travel itinerary. Two weeks is not enough. Not after I got used to visiting as many countries as possible in a short period of time, like my Ukrainian-Moldavian trip in 2019.
At the beginning of August, Slovenia and Croatia were the only sensible choices out of all Balkan countries.
Both had no restrictions and the media communicated, that the situation was stable. I pat myself on the back for how great a plan I came up with.
Potential Slovenia – Croatia Three Weeks Itinerary
Start in Maribor. Spend two nights there, then visit surrounding villages like Ptuj and Celje.
Continue by bus to Ljubljana. Give it three nights with a day trip to Bled and Triglav National Park.
After some wildlife and urban tourism, visit the seaside, mainly Koper, Piran & Portoroz.
Then cross the border and either travel to Zagreb or Rijeka.
Sounds like an adventure right?
Well, the night after I booked a vacation slot at work, the Slovenian government went nuts and put Czech on no go list again.
I almost wanted to give up but my travel bug was more painful and the only solution was to skip Slovenia altogether, stretching Croatia from two to three weeks.
Fortunately, I have not booked any accommodation yet so there was no loss.
Logistics and Travel Checklist
Let me explain my itinerary research process. After I am satisfied with the final list of countries, I scout for articles by looking up a “one-week itinerary in XXX”.
From each article, I take all cities and destinations mentioned. Look them up on google maps and reorder them geographically, so it is possible to visit them all by going in one direction.
Next, I look up the photos on google photos and mark those, that catch my eye. The more interesting the sight is, the more days or time I allocate to that destination.
I adjust the number of days by how busy the place is. Some remote villages might take one hour to walk through end to end, some seaside resort two days.
Then I try to solve logistics, trying to find bus or train connections, that match the initial schedule. I am taking into account both time and money constraints.
Lastly, I fire up booking.com and write down the accommodation costs and the availability of well-reviewed hostels.
The itinerary is the byproduct of making compromises between the cost of accommodation, the accessibility by public transport, and the fun-factor.
While the research process can take days, going through my travel checklist has to be quick.
- Lookup for discount codes and pay for the transport
- Book the first three nights in the starting destination
- Update maps.me
- Buy travel insurance
- Exchange some foreign cash
- Pack gears and clothes
Each year, I try to trim down the number of clothes, but not always I manage to hit the sweet spot.
While in Baltic states, 7 t-shirts were just enough to not repel girls with sweat and dirt. In Croatia, I was rotating two-three beach tops, washing and drying each one every day.
The dry hot weather and air conditioning in every hostel room made it possible. In the end, I didn’t need those t-shirts nor jeans at all.
Departure From Prague
Our Flixbus departed at 3 AM from Prague Train station. During these times, the Train station is empty. Shops are closed including toilets and other services.
The only way to entertain yourself is to sit down in the hall, watch drunken groups harass solo female travelers, and their beef with Police patrols as a result. We didn’t bring any games so people watching had to do.
Btw, if you need to piss, there is a parking lot on the other side of the highway with no camera around.
On the bus, full of german tourists traveling from the west, we happily went to sleep.
Crossing Slovenian Borders
By the time I woke up, we already crossed Austrian borders, on the way to Vienna. A few hours later, we stopped next to the Slovenian borders.
I almost forgot what is like to travel across Europe with border controls. Since the establishment of the Schengen, traveling was friction-free.
Now, you stop and wait for 20-30 minutes every hour or two.
Slovenian patrol was quick with passport checks. They onboarded the bus, took all passports, and five minutes later, we got the passports back.
No one even cared, if anyone is sick on the bus. They had the list of passengers, their destinations. And the only ones stopping in Maribor were Slovenian citizens.
Unlike us, cars didn’t have to wait that long. Each one went on after one or two minutes. While our bus had to wait on the sideline for longer than 20 minutes.
They treated us like fugitives. For the first time after a decade, I had a serious thought about buying a car, to avoid this humiliation.
I started to google for car dealers and found a really good one – CarTec Group selling premium second-hand BMWs used in the corporate fleets.
A BMW M3 or 5 was not that expensive. Let’s see if the need prevails after vacation.
On the Croatian side though, we have waited for almost 30 minutes, because there were controls on both sides of the border.
Croatians requested a filled online survey before entering the country. And as you can guess, I totally forgot about the requirement.
Fortunately, it was sufficient to provide info on the spot to the border patrol.
Before entering Zagreb, we made a stop in Maribor, and from what I have seen out of the window, I am glad, I didn’t stay overnight.
The city itself might be magical for couples seeking a calm retreat, but a solo traveler would get quickly bored. The next time I visit Slovenia, I will give Maribor half a day only.
4 Days In Zagreb
Day 1 – Check-In And Walking Around
We arrived at the bus station sometime around late afternoon. It was hot and the hostel was more than 3 km far away.
Usually, 3 km is a piece of cake, but we were exhausted and sleep-deprived, and walking through Zagreb is not that enjoyable because of the cars and narrow sidewalks. It is definitely a mark of Italian architecture.
We booked accommodation at Whole Wide World Hostel, a well-rated hostel owned by Austrian/Spanish owners with free breakfast, located one km from the main square.
The hostel was equipped with two toilets and two showers on each floor, one kitchen, a fully furnished living room with couches and a bar, and a spacy 8-bed dormitory room.
Check-in took 20 minutes because we arrived after another group of individual travelers. Thank god there was air conditioning in each room. A luxury I never saw before in any hostel in Bulgaria, Romania, or Ukraine.
It made the stay more bearable and I got used to it fast. Except for the cold nights. It takes a while to fall asleep with a thin blanket.
After check-in, we took a shower and a quick nap. Then we were ready to hit the city.
Every time I travel to a new city I always go out with missions in mind. That is the curse of having a goal-oriented mindset.
I cannot rest until I checked them off. I also follow this exact order:
- Find Hostel / ATM / Grocery Stores / Transportation hubs
- Attend free walking tours
- Explore all sightseeing spots
- Take handstand photos
- Find a calisthenics park and do a workout
- Find a cheap meal restaurant with good ratings
After I go through my checklist, I have a pretty good idea, if the city is worth staying in the long-term.
1. Get Local Currency
Find the best exchange rate office and second, map the nearest grocery stores.
I read somewhere, that you can pay with debit cards in stores, but not in ticket offices. So I will need cash in hand eventually.
I didn’t want to waste time getting Kuna in Czech so I brought a few hundred Euros as an exchange currency.
Zagreb is plagued with overpriced exchange office chains, conveniently located in every street with big shiny signs promising zero commission, but hiding less than stellar rates printed on a small sheet of paper.
We had to circle for good thirty minutes before we found a reasonable exchange rate hidden in a backyard. There were no signs around, but maps.me indicated otherwise, so I didn’t hesitate and went in.
With cash in hand, we were ready to roll.
2. Locate Grocery Stores
The next thing were grocery stores.
After experiencing rich buffets in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, I had high expectations. Each grocery store there had a dedicated takeaway corner with tasty meat and a salad bar with shrimps, olives, eggs, and other goodies.
All are weighed and priced at half of the price of a meal in a restaurant. During these times I got incredibly shredded just from walking and eating healthy.
Unfortunately, Croatia doesn’t offer the same luxury. There was no buffet, even in bigger chains like Kaufland or Lidl.
People there eat differently. They buy fresh food and cook at home. Tourists do the same.
That meant we had to reduce our meal plan to bananas as snacks, 0,5 Kg of pre-cooked meat, cherry tomatoes as lunch, and whatever comes to mind as dinner.
The quality of the food, while more expensive than in Czech, was subpar. I had a bloated face and stomach all the time, but at least I didn’t starve.
By the evening, we explored about 30% of the city center. And because it was Sunday, everything was closed. Therefore we left the rest for the next day.
Day 2 – Free Walking Tour
Attending a free-walking tour is my long-term ritual whenever I visit a new town. In Zagreb, there was one coming up in the morning.
I was not sure if it is happening or not. So I just filled the attendance form and hoped for the best.
Five minutes before the start, there was only one guy waiting. A German dude from our hostel. We joked, that the tour guide won’t show up and blamed COVID for everything.
Then one minute later, a girl with an orange umbrella appeared. And at the same time, a group of 20 tourists formed up out of nowhere. The majority of the group were germans, mixed with french and one Polish couple. No Brits this time.
The number was enough for her to finally kickstart the tour, which lasted two hours. During the tour, she showed us all the major sightseeing points in the Zagreb city center.
I imagined Zagreb to be a boring post-soviet town ruined by civil war. But the opposite is true. Even though Zagreb went through civil war and a recent serious earthquake, they renovated most of the sights, unlike Riga, where the city council promises repairs, but they never take any action.
She even had to apologize, that they didn’t repair the main church in time, pointing to a tower, that fell off during an earthquake.
The urban architecture is a mix of Austrian and Italian renaissance-style buildings with a lot of secret passages and hidden corners.
The city center is pedestrian-only and is wide enough for 2 a hours walk from end to end. It is divided into downtown and an upper town, which is a popular place for evening romantic walks.
There is a fort up there, that you must visit. Every day at noon, they shoot from a pirate cannon. The bang is so loud it can awaken the dead.
I bet you won’t be able to record the bang with your phone and achieve still footage. If you do, send the footage to me, and I will reward you with some treat.
Zagreb prides on this attraction so much they employ a guy who climbs the tower and fires the knot every day for the past twenty years.
When bored with uptown, continue walking downtown and stop by one of the outdoor bars and cafes. There are few bar streets always crowded with tourists sitting outside, sipping beer, and people watching all day long.
If the temperature gets too hot during the day, you can refresh yourself in a network of underground tunnels, that were used during the war as a hideout. A favorite place for local teenagers to spend their free time.
To keep the historic heritage even more intact, a wide net of oil lamps list the city once the sun goes down.
Lightning them up requires two part-time employees, who manually fire them one by one. Their shift starts before sunset and ends before sunrise.
Zagreb is also the city of Nikola Tesla because he was a Croatian. And to honor his memory, they scattered various monuments around the city. Surprising right? I thought he was Russian all the time.
Lastly, the origin story of Zagreb is similarly captive as well. Before it gained its name, it was a small village, part of a much bigger empire.
One day a convoy of foreign soldiers, that freed the land from the common enemies, stopped by the river in the middle of nowhere, because they were thirsty as hell.
They noticed there was a group of beautiful girls washing clothes. The general commanded them to grab or “Zagreb” the jug and fetch them some water from the river.
Then something magical happened, and they decided to stay long term and establish a new city. Maybe they were charmed by the clean water, a chill atmosphere, or the friendliness and coziness of the local girls.
I don’t know if it was a true story, but it melted my heart. It’s not like the city originated because it was placed in a strategic location, somewhere in the valley, and near to rich natural resources.
The story nicely ended the tour and now I looked at what to do next. There was a german chick in the group, that I could hit on. She looked trashy, having the whole body covered with tattoos, but she was slender and easy going.
She was traveling alone and had Chinese letters tattooed on her upper back. Should be an easy target, if I was traveling alone.
But since I am in a group, I felt bad for ditching the group for a chick, no matter how understanding others are. So we moved on. ¨
Little did I know, that we will meet again.
The rest of the day was about exploring the surrounding neighbors and parks. Finding calisthenics parks and nice places for handstand photos. Two of the main pillars in my traveling itinerary.
Day 3 – An US Refuge and Free Hostel Labour
Day three in Zagreb was uneventful. We saw everything and was bored already. The only mission for today was to buy a ticket to Rijeka, our next destination, at the bus station.
On this day though, I had noticed two things about the guests at the hostel, that I want to share with you.
First, the hostel seems to profit from free foreign labor. The day we arrived, I saw a Spanish couple waiting for check-in. They seemed unexcited and annoyed, unlike any other traveler.
Finally today I understood why when I saw one of the managers giving them instructions on how to properly clean trash bins.
It struck me that, they traveled for work, getting little to no salary in exchange for accommodation. A good way of traveling for free.
I wondered if cleaning the hostel toilets would kill all the excitement from traveling. I bet it would, being a janitor for a few hours a day in exchange for a few hours of freedom in a foreign city, that is not even remotely near the sea.
I felt sorry when I heard the hostel manager throwing tantrum at them for an obvious rookie mistake. They did not clean the toilets on each floor parallelly. They were not experienced and inefficiently did the cleaning sequentially.
Second, there was an American in our room, a friendly fella, who was stuck in Europe due to lockdowns across Europe.
He was living in a Hostel for months and planned to move to Ukraine next week. I asked him why he won’t return to the US.
He shared, that as a contractor for a non-profit organization in the US, he witnessed horrible injustice done to citizens. One of his clients became a national threat, so the US government sentenced him to prison, despite him doing nothing wrong.
After seeing what can happen to him, he ran for his life. Swearing to never return to the US renouncing his citizenship.
A foolish idea if you ask me, I would switch passports with him on the spot. The US is the only country that rewards hard work and entrepreneurship with its huge market and unlimited possibilities.
His voice was trembling though, so there might be some truth to his story.
Day 4 – Departure
I was happy to leave dusty, hot Zagreb for Rijeka, our next stop located in the northern part of Croatia.
While the distance was only one hundred km by air, the ride took us more than five hours. The reason was the geographical relief of the Croatian coast, being separated from the mainland by sierra stretching from north to south.
To get easily to the coast, they had to build a complex network of highways penetrating the mountains with tunnels and bridges. And by counting how many times we have stopped to pay tolls, that must have been a highly expensive project.
But sitting for so long on the bus was worthwhile. After we got through the mountains, we were rewarded with a beautiful scenic view over the coast. The zigzag road made the bus ride even more exciting and interesting.
3 Days In Rijeka
Day 1 – Check-In & Planning
Day 2 – Trip To Pula
The next day, I had to get up at 9 am and buy tickets from the Arriva ticket office.
There, I asked for Rovinj – Rijeka timetables. It took me a while to get the info, that there are no direct buses from Rijeka to Rovinj. The ticket lady barely knew English so I had to articulate carefully using wild gestures and writings.
After the morning struggle, I became unsure about my original plan.
I realized that the ticket offices are not interconnected in any way. It was not possible to ask about departures from another city. The only way to get a reliable answer was to be there and ask in person.
I onboarded the bus anyway, there was no room for any doubts.
My thoughts shifted soon after leaving Rijeka as we cruised along the coast, passing Opatija, a Croatian Monte Carlo. A place where the richest of the richest spend their summer. I heard Rhianna was yachting there this summer.
Opatija was magical. Placed on the hill it gave a beautiful scenic view over the sea.
Then the road zigzagged through some of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen. Istria slowly grew on me and I started to regret not giving it more days.
Two hours later, we arrived at Pula, the main tourist hub in Istria county. A small town with its own international airport, an ancient amphitheater, a compact old town, and a fortress on the hill.
All of which could be explored in less than two hours of speed walking.
So in three hours, we managed to wander around, have lunch, and hike the fortress. But ultimately, It was time to go back to the bus station and buy tickets to Rovinj.
The ticket lady assured me, again after wild gesturing, that there is a return bus later in the evening making the round trip possible. So I went on the bus and fell asleep satisfied, that my risky plan is going well so far.
Day 2 – 5 Minutes In Rovinj
Rovinj was so overhyped on TripAdvisor forums I was willing to spend tons of money on return tickets. I wanted to cross it off the list that much.
In Pula, I bought a ticket to Rovinj being certain, that there will be a return bus at 20:05. So if I arrive at 15:10 I will have plenty of time to visit the old town and chill at the nearby beach.
Or so I thought.
As we arrived at Rovinj bus station I immediately headed to the ticket counter to secure a return ticket. There I was schooled by life again.
The ticket lady refused to sell me tickets because there was no bus in the evening returning to Pula. And the only one going back to Pula is departing in 5 minutes.
I could not believe it so I repeated my question at least 20 times. There was still a chance she didn’t understand English properly.
I even showed her the timetable card I got in Pula as proof, but without success. She took the timetable and tore it apart.
Time was up and I had no choice but to go back to Pula, not having a chance to explore a single inch of Rovinj.
As she saw me standing at the station waiting for a return bus with a sad face. She tried to console me by explaining, that it’s corona times and there are fewer buses each day.
Then why the hell they gave me the wrong information in Pula? God knows why.
As mentioned earlier, when I tried to put the itinerary together the previous night, I had some doubts. According to the official online timetables, the risky plan made no sense both time-wise and monetary wise.
It is my fault I didn’t listen to my gut.
Now I have to accept the loss, two hours of my life, and 30 EURs. A small price for the overconfidence while traveling during corona times.
There were plenty of buses from Pula to Rovinj, but almost none went back to Pula or Rijeka. Next time, I will stay overnight if the bus ride is longer than two hours.
No more gambling with Croatian public transportation.
Anyway, the day was not over and I still intended to explore the rest of the Pula peninsula. So after getting back to Pula, we walked 5 km to the nearest beach.
There I fixed mood by chilling on the beach and doing handstand shots during sunset.
In the end, we got back to Rijeka shortly before midnight, happy to be at the hostel again.
Day 3 – Departure
The last day in Rijeka was about packing up, buying tickets, and waiting till noon for the bus.
Initially, I thought it would be possible to leave luggage at the hostel so we can wander around until departure. We still had two hours left and I didn’t want to stay at the Hostel after checkout-time.
While I was sitting in the lobby, two german girls came to the hostel for check-in. They came 4 hours early.
They asked if they can leave luggage at the hostel. “Yes!” The owner shouted. He could bend over backward trying to please them, taking their heavy ass suitcases, and finding free bunk beds.
When I saw it was allowed, I asked If I can leave luggage there as well. And guess what. It would cost me 1 EUR per hour per luggage.
I got angry and left the hostel on a whim. One thing I don’t like is being treated differently.
The next best option was to park at Mcdonalds at the main square, order some ice cream and people watch until departure.
I could not allow him to get away with it. So I gave the hostel a five-star rating on booking, including warnings that they will charge tourists a local tourist tax in cash on arrival, even though you paid a full price via booking.
It cost me 10 EUR on top for two.
I definitely tanked their 9+ ratings. They got what they deserved.
5 Days In Zadar
Day 1 – Check-In & Fresh New Start
The bus ride to Zadar was by far the longest I have experienced in Croatia. The distance may be only 250 Km, but it took us 6 hours to reach the middle of Dalmatia.
Fortunately, the bus had air conditioning and we traveled along the coast, so we were entertained by the beautiful view of the seaside on the right and the mountains on the left.
Within the first seconds in Zadar, I felt this town will be different from Rijeka. One of the signs of well-developed and populated towns is a huge shopping mall and clean streets. Zadar had both.
We booked the cheapest hostel available, located directly in the city center.
I was skeptical about the price, but the rating above 7 put me at ease. But bot for long though.
The hostel was a part of a chain so we had to visit their office in a different location, than the one mentioned in the booking.
At the office, we had to pay a deposit for the locker, either in EUR or kuna. In exchange, she gave us the keys so we could freely accommodate ourselves.
All buildings in the city center are historic, built according to the living needs hundreds of years ago.
It was not a surprise the hostel was inside a tiny building with a squeaking staircase, wide for only one person and connecting each floor with the door.
If there would be a firefighting exercise, I am sure no one would get out of the building in time.
After reaching the top floor, I was ready to lay down and get a nap. But when I looked for my bunk bed, mine was occupied by someone else. And the available ones either didn’t have sheets or pillows.
I called the office and got instructions to choose an available one. So I did. And I also had to steal a blanket and pillow from other beds in the process.
Well, who could complain if the price was 70% of the next cheapest hostel right?
The rest of the evening was less hectic, we followed the protocol. We explored the nearest grocery stores, got dinner, and spent some quality time on the promenade.
To this day, I consider the Zadar promenade to be one of the most beautiful and romantic places for couples to take a walk.
It is wide, 2 km long, surrounded by clean and calm water with plenty of entrances for swimming. The promenade is also facing west, so you can watch magical sunset every day.
This place got me within the first seconds. I can imagine spending a vacation here when in a relationship or while having a family.
Day 2 – Free Walking Tour
The next morning, we went to a free walking tour meeting place. The tour was run by the same group like the one in Zagreb.
This time, it was only us and one other girl, the one I tried to hit on in Zagreb. A shocking surprise after attending a Zagreb tour in a group of 20+.
If she was busy back then, now it should be a piece of cake given we were alone. With tour guide of course.
I cracked a few jokes to ease the tension and she laughed a lot. Unexpectedly, the tour guide laughed even harder.
Having to entertain two girls was hard because I wanted to enjoy the tour myself too. Sometimes, there was an awkward silence since no one had any questions during the tour.
Later, I lost interest in the tattooed girl because she revealed her relationship with a Croatian living in Berlin. And the reason she is traveling alone put me off. She wanted to upset him because he didn’t want to visit Croatia this year.
We know what she was after. Some fun.
She then complained about her hostel being an utter dump, because she was scammed by an Airbnb host.
The older I am, the less I am attracted to such princess – thots types.
So for the rest of the tour, I just focused on maintaining rapport with the tour guide. Even though she tried to be super positive, her delivery was dull. Maybe there is no story in Zadar worth telling?
In the end, I didn’t feel any connection so we parted ways. At least, she gave me some tips on the best beach and the best island to visit.
Having nothing better to do, we decided to walk 8 km to Puntamika, the beach she recommended. There was a bus, but I don’t take buses if I won’t have to, period.
We arrived a few hours before sunset and the place did not resonate with me. I get why she loves the place though.
There are a lot of shades and bushes ideal for couples. But for me, I would prefer a sandy beach with slow descent and clean water, which apparently does not exist in Croatia.
Therefore we turned back and walked all the way home. I had to buy a pretty expensive burger to fix my mood.
Later in the evening, I was checking a few bars and clubs. There was an open bar with salsa music, few upscale bars playing commercial house music and that was it.
All places crowded like there is no sickness at all. A lot of young girls were hitting the night, trying to enjoy a few hours parentless.
This night, Zadar felt like cheap Ibiza minus quality music and fat British girls. If I traveled with my mates, we would have a great time here.
Day 3 – Daytrip to Dugur Otok
The next day, I wanted to visit the island recommended by the tour guide. When I asked for sandy beaches, she pointed to the one on the farthest island close to Zadar, Dugur Otok.
We bought ferry tickets the previous day just to be sure we make it in time. But it was unnecessary after all.
There was always a place on a ferry. If not on the lower deck, where seats are located, then definitely on the top deck.
But unlike the ferry between Tallinn and Helsinki, this one lacked a sauna and jacuzzi. So I had to occupy myself with other activities.
Once we arrived at Sali, the coastal town, after an hour and a half, the plan was to rent a bike and get to the beach. The distance between Sali and the beach was more than 17 km.
According to the map, it looked like a piece of cake, only two hours of biking to get there.
When we reached a crossroads 3 km far from Sali, I decided to explore the upper part of the island before circling back and continuing to the beach.
It was a mistake. The last time I went biking was a decade ago. As a result, I overestimated my endurance and strength.
So when we faced the first hill, we had to walk the bike to reach the top. We could not pedal for longer than a few seconds before gasing out.
Day 4 – Colombian Chick
The fourth day in Zadar was less intense. We explored all places we could and our legs needed a break from biking.
It was finally time to slow down, sit by the promenade, listen to the Zadar’s sea organ, its main attraction.
After the civil war, they were about to rebuild the city and someone had an idea to add a complex system of tubes into a promenade, each ending with a hole in the middle of the pedestrian area.
The effect of the holes was that every time a sea wave ground the shore, it pushed the air through the tube making a tone or noise in the process.
Each tube had a different length, therefore made a different tone.
I could compare the noise to a chaotic abstract jazz concert with an organ as the main instrument. It became more eclectic when the sea got wild. And I was told it got even worse during the storm when the sea played a Hitchcock-like soundtrack.
So I sit there the whole day people-watching and reading a book.
I had an ambitious plan to finish a book, but my mental energy was so low after physical activity each day I could not digest the word Isaac Asimov wrote in his Foundation book.
As I sit on the bench I noticed Zadar might be the most popular spot for families and love couples. There were close to zero solo travelers or mixed groups.
Later that day I returned to the hostel to chat with one of my roommates, a Colombian chick. A petite, small, slender, and adorable kitty from Colombia, who was stuck with her family in Europe.
They started traveling in November last year and got caught in the series of lockdowns. And for whatever reason, they decided to stay in Europe, making Croatia the second home for the past few months.
She had her parents and brother living in other dorm room downstairs so it was difficult to catch her attention.
I never saw a Colombian in real life, and this one gave me a different view on how Imagined them to be. She didn’t have an ass job, as propagated by media, maybe because she was in her early twenties.
But she was passionate, in everything she did. Her gestures, talking.
I asked her about the TV show Narcos If she likes it. A dumb question, I know.
She answered in her passionate way complaining about the storyline, how it is not based on reality, how they paint Colombians as bad guys, even if it is not true.
How America always sugar their part, in everything.
She even did a gesture to prove her point, imitating a snobby princess, who sweeps off her feet to emphasize her innocence. That moment I fell in love. She repeated that move five or six times during her speech against Americans, every time with the same passion.
I love passionate girls, who are not career-driven, but feminine-driven. Who believe in something while staying feminine. Too bad we got close a day before departure.
Later in the evening I just wandered between local calisthenics park and the promenade, switching workouts and walks back and forth.
I stopped one time to watch a sunset. Hitchcock said Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world and I had to see it in full.
And it was true. Sunset was truly magical thanks to the sea organ playing a sad song. As the sun disappeared over the horizon, the sky changed its color from red to dark.
It was the moment I was grateful to be alive and in the present.
If you eventually get bored in Zadar, there are street performers, who can steal your attention for a few minutes.
There was a duo from Peru, doing charade every day at the same time.
Their roles were perfectly divided. The quieter one was a supporter, buying time in between the performances doing simple juggling, etc., building an audience for the louder one.
Once they gathered enough by watchers, the louder one started to yell, repeating how he will show the most difficult performance in the world. To give you a spoiler, it was just a balancing act with cans and wood planks, while juggling with skittles.
It sounds boring on paper. But they were smart. Not only they kept attention by yelling and overpromising but were also using an audience as a prop.
And it worked. They never ran out of hot girls, who wanted to be the center of attention. And they made sure they chose the hottest one.
To make it funny, they treated her like garbage, commanding her like a slave. “Grab this, hold that, sway your ass, I told you to sway your ass!”
And the girls loved the order. Which is the proof, that girls like being treated like garbage, but only by good-looking men of course. Otherwise, they use words like asshole and weirdo.
When they finished the performance, the crowd scattered away, knowing that now is the time to pay. So I was thinking they could improve their collection strategy by having another chick going around with a hat, collecting money.
Day 5 – Departure
I was sad to leave Zadar, but it was the right time.
Monday came and Zadar became a ghost town. Most tourists left in the morning and the city center, with no residents, was soulless.
We had a bus at 11 am so we check out at the last minute. There I got annoyed again by the incompetence of the hostel staff.
First, they refused to return my deposit in the original currency, arguing that they will compensate you with a slightly better exchange rate.
In reality, they just blatantly spent my money without telling me. I had to warn everyone about accounting malpractices by giving a negative review on booking.
It will teach them a lesson. Imagine if they took a deposit in gold and returned you a smaller equivalent in Zimbabwe dollars. Not cool.
Second, some stupid french assholes, who shared the room for one night, stole a towel. Tell me who in the world steals towels? Other than french cheapos?
We had to close the case because we had a bus to Split to catch and their cleaning lady swears she did not notice anything.
So much for a nice ending.
8 Days In Split
Day 1 – 5 Star Hostel & Free Walking Tour
The ride to Split was similarly entertaining as the ride to Zadar. We could admire the mountains on the left and the coastline on the right. Fortunately, though, it took only three hours to reach Split.
I heard about the city before. The second-largest city in Croatia was promoted by travel agencies a lot. Later I realized it was not because of it being a party destination, but because of its port and surrounding islands.
Instead, party destinations are concentrated on remote islands such as Zrce and Pag, easily accessible by frequent ferries. Those are mini-Ibiza locations everyone talks about.
Unlike other cities, Split is the best place to meet locals. Being a combination of industrial and tourist hub, it is more populated and busy than any other Croatian city.
Therefore I made the right decision to stay for a week. It was also helpful to book a hostel, that was not that expensive and provided a free breakfast every day.
Frankly, I was looking forward to changing the diet a little bit and eat something else than bananas, tomatoes, and meat.
The hostel, AL Hostel was a brand new family-owned hostel, that opened for booking just a week ago. The facilities were modern and super clean.
I bet it cost a ton to remodel former office spaces into a cozy and spacy hostel with air conditioning in each room.
I mean, just our room, with 8 bunk beds, had more than 25 square meters. A luxury I had not experienced in a long time.
Also, toilets and showers could compete with 4-star hotels, equipped with movement sensors, generous space, and finally a hairdryer, something hostels advertise about, that they have, but was always missing.
We were warmly welcomed by the owner’s daughter, who always greet new guests.
Everyone in the family had their own role. Father mingles with guests and keeps a night watch. Yes, the hostel has 24 hours reception.
Mother cleans up the toilet every morning, prepares the beds, and changes sheets. She also prepares and serves breakfast every morning.
And finally, the daughter welcomes tourists and runs the marketing side of the business, but also mingles with guests from the afternoon till the evening, while watching her six-year-old son.
When we talked about the situation in Croatia, they shared that they own 100% of the business and that it was a risky move to open a hostel this season, but they went with it.
They definitely don’t know if they can survive the winter.
Right now, they have to subsidy the price, the breakfast, and operation costs to win over guests, and gather the best rating possible on booking.
Just running air conditioning in every room cost them more than the revenue from booking. Also providing free breakfast puts a hole in the pocket too. Food in Croatia is not cheap.
And even though they advertised a continental breakfast, meaning a wide variety of salami, cheese, and bread. There was just enough food for one serving.
They filled the table as people came and if I got up too late, there was only dry toast with butter and marmalade.
Other times I could get some salami, a plate of cheese, yogurt, and even a boiled egg. Fortunately, cereals and yogurt saved the day, every damn time.
It’s not a complaint though. I am just saying they should not advertise it as free continental breakfast, but more as of humble serving to get the day starting.
Running a hostel is a tough seasonal business, but I believe they can make it. I overheard the daughter, who was discussing with a payment terminal expert about the tactics on how they could earn more money. For example by forcing a DCC, a dynamic currency conversion when someone wants to pay with a card.
Because so far, they used the payment processing by Booking, which pays one month and a half after the payment. Which does not help with cash flow.
Whiles if they could accept the card in the hostel directly, guests will be more willing to spend money in the hostel on additional services.
They tried to make money by offering the drinks in the kitchen/bar, but they designed the place as a clean, but sterile dining room. You might want to hang out there, but not in the same way as in a typical hipster hostel with a cozy lair full of sofas and places to crash.
Moreover, since the kitchen was controlled by a family father/daughter duo, it had a family-respectable vibe. You would not want to get crazy drunk in their kitchen.
But enough about the hostel. After a short nap, we headed to the biggest park in town with the highest viewpoint offering nice scenery over the split. They even had a tiny zoo up there.
But since we wanted to catch a free walking tour at 6 pm, we had to go back as soon as we arrived. The park is huge and it took us one hour to get there.
The walking tour in Split had different organizers than the one in Zadar and Zagreb. Here, it is run by a group of archeological experts, which can do more harm than good. Let me explain.
The meeting point was at the fountain. We came and nobody was there. Only after I walked around and asked bystanders, a little girl came and introduced herself personally, asking us how we were doing and other stuff.
It felt good to have a personal introduction. She then did the same with each group or person. And because we were a group of 20 people, it took her 15 minutes to finally start the tour.
This time, there were fewer germans, more french, Moroccans, a Venezuelan hottie, and a polish couple. Very diverse group.
The tour guide was a former archeological student working on the cleansing of the monuments, maybe coming from a poor background and with a strong Croatian accent.
Her most favorite sentence opening was: “Yo people listen…”. Which was the only part I understood. The rest of the explanation was hard to grasp.
The main message could be shortened into a few points:
- She worked hard on rehabbing the monuments, which bad and evil foreigners destroyed
- Everything was destroyed by evil foreigners, repeated 1000 times.
- It is hard to come by as an archeological student in Croatia.
- But she met her husband during rehabbing practice so all is good.
- She has a friend who bought a studio inside the fortress for 20K Eur and is now earning One million Kuna a year renting it to tourists.
- It is a good idea to invest in the apartment inside the fortress, people.
I sympathized with her, but due to us being exhausted, not understanding much, and being bored with all the crap, this was the first time I bailed on tipping at the end of the tour. The group was big enough to pay for her time though.
After the tour, we visited the most favorite fast food spot selling Croatian delicates, Cevapi. I thought they call it a hamburger, but no, it’s just Cevapi. You order it by telling them how many pieces you want. An 8 piece is an optimal balance between price and performance.
It was so good we eat Cevapi every evening as dinner. Imagine having a pita filled with tomato sauce, mayo, and 8 tiny pieces of grilled meat, for only 4 USD.
Day 2 – Daytrip to Šibenik
Having seen the whole city center in one day left me no option but to explore the surrounding. Fortunately, Split is strategically located in the center of Dalmatia, in short distance to other major tourist places.
One of them is a magical town Šibenik, only one hour and a half away by bus. We took one in the morning from the central bus station. There will be plenty of connections so you don’t need to buy tickets upfront.
Once we arrived, I did not get what is so special about Šibenik. From the bus station, it looked like an ordinary coastal village on the hill.
My impression was further lowered by cloudy weather indicating it will rain soon. With no plan whatsoever we walked along the water to the beach located on the other side of town.
Only once we turned our heads back after reaching the beach, we saw what others saw on Šibenik. Unlike other towns, Šibenik sits on the hill with 3 fortresses on the top, guarding a bay below.
Šibenik would be an ideal shooting set for the next Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.
Except for the view, a workout park, and a beach, there was nothing more to explore, so we headed back to town, intending to climb the hill and check out the fortress.
Halfway through we were caught in the rain, so we camped at the nearest grocery store, buying some refreshments while waiting for the rain to go.
One hour later we climbed to the fortress realizing the ticket costs 15 EUR a person, so we went down to the city center, exploring every street inside out.
Because Šibenik sits on a steep hill, wandering around the city center can be as demanding as doing a leg workout.
Soon we scouted every corner so I decided to explore the eastern part of the town, looking for a calisthenics park. There were mostly 10+ floor residential buildings that could use some repair. I guess this is where locals live.
After the workout, it was already the end of the day so we rode back to Split, finishing the day with Cevapi and people watching at the promenade, which is full of five-star hotels, upscale bars, and restaurants, a place that never sleeps.
Day 3 – Day Trip to Trogir
On the third day, we decided to visit a nearby town Trogir, also very popular among Tripadvisors and accessible by city buses.
There was direct public transportation a few minutes from our hostel. No need to get up early and go all the way to the main bus station at the port.
Despite the short distance, the bus stopped every few km, so it took one hour to get there.
If I previously considered staying overnight in Trogir, I was glad I did not do so. Trogir is a beautiful historic town if you are into that kind of thing.
But it is small, the whole city center can be explored in an hour end to end. When we arrived before noon, it was pretty much empty. And I don’t think it’s due to a pandemic.
Split offers more fun and most people will consider Trogir as a short stop on the way to Split. So we were bored soon after our arrival.
Luckily, Trogir connects the mainland with a huge peninsula with a 1 km long beach and a forest. Another challenge accepted.
There was no way we can walk around the peninsula, but we wanted to walk as far as possible while making a stop at the beach for a few hours.
And visiting the beach at Todor village proved to be a good decision.
It was one of the most crowded beaches I have seen so far. And rightfully so.
If you like huge waves that can sweep your feet or smash you with sudden surges, this is the place to be. Kids there had plenty of fun, so adults trying to fight against the tide.
A few hours later we went on, continuing south. The furthest point we reached was Uvala Racetinovac, a cape few km far from the Piveti village, the last contact with civilization.
The sun went down and it was a wise decision to not wander further and return to Trogir. We speed-walked all the way back so we could catch the last bus connection.
Back in Split, we ended an exhausting day with Cevapi and a rock concert.
Day 4 – Day Trip to Supetar & Biking Around Brac
The split had the advantage of being surrounded by four big islands, that offers different traveling experience. And it was finally time to visit one of the islands nearby.
I chose the nearest one, Brac having the same plan as when visiting Dugur Otok. Take a morning ferry to Supetar, rent a bike, and conquer the highest point no matter what. And return alive.
This time I went alone. I got used to traveling in a group already and the trip to Brac reminded me of how much I missed it.
On one hand, you have a company, you can share experiences with, and you have a backup if something happens. On the other hand, every decision takes twice as much time and it is always a consensus if the group has a different opinion.
And if someone is giving a negative vibe, it can tank the morale of the whole group. No Bueno.
Whiles traveling alone gives you 100% freedom with 100% responsibility for what will happen. Did you get robbed? Your mistake. Afraid of going out meeting strangers? Your mistake again.
But if you do choose to step out of your comfort zone. Every dull moment gives you a 1000% more intense experience.
So if in Dugur Otok we were slow-walking our bikes to the hill. In Brac, I was motivated to pedal like crazy to see as much as possible in a small time frame.
The Brac has two towns, the main one Supetar, where the ferry is connected from Split and Novi Put on the southern part of the Island.
Being the closest island, I arrived at Supetar pretty early. The ferry there costs about 10 EUR for one way sail and it takes one hour to get there. It’s a big ferry with two-deck, air conditioning, and plenty of places to crash.
Supetar is a small town, even smaller than Trogir, having one tiny city center with a church and few shops. It serves as a dock for fishermen but is also siding a resort with few true underground beach clubs.
My mission was to find a cheap bike rental. The few ones at the dock were overpriced as expected. They wanted either 170 Kuna for a city bike at one place, and 150 Kuna for a mountain bike at another, but with no spare tubes.
I asked why they won’t provide accessories for such a price and she gave a dumb answer: “Well, then try to not break a tire.”
Yeah genius, Why would I ever wanted to break a tire on purpose. It just happens. The same way things break mechanically due to aging. Or it can happen that you accidentally ride over an extremely sharp rock.
I took a chance and walked further to the spot shown by google maps. They didn’t have what I wanted, but the guy was helpful by giving me an explanation.
Most tourists there just rent a city-bike to commute from the resort to the city center and vice versa. Rarely someone wants to bike to the mountain. People are lazy and they just take a car.
But he gave me a direction to another rental place not shown on google maps. There it looked like a legit rental place. Many mountain bikes and proper garage with tools and gears.
I was saved. They provided everything, a spare tube, a pump, a map and I could return the bike at 7 pm. Plenty of time to conquer the Island.
So as the last step, I went to the grocery store to fill up supplies. The meat and a banana. Carbs and water are all you need.
Then I went on the main road leading to Novi Put. After 5 km of descent ascension, two hours have already gone due to frequent stops, I decided to reach Nerežišca, a tiny village in the middle of the Island, and go with a shortcut.
First, it was more physically challenging than I thought, the sunburnt and there were no shades along the road, and biking with cars swinging by is not fun.
I had to make sure I won’t get hit by vans and trucks. As their drivers were in hurry commuting from Supetar to Novi Put and back.
And if I continued by the main road, the gradient increases to 15%, so the road gets lengthy because of many turns.
And I didn’t see myself bike-walking 1000 km above the sea with cars swinging by. I had no illusions, that Croatian roads in Brac are somehow secured with walls.
Going with a shortcut should give me a sense of peace. It is a shorter route but with worse riding conditions and unknown obstacles. There is no guarantee, that route I see on maps.me is still passable.
In the worst-case scenario, I would return to Supetar, because I did the maximum. There is no way I would take the main road.
Surprisingly, I managed to get through in time, but it was no walk in the park. The route was even steeper and completely covered with large rocks. So I bike-walked, but at least I was moving at my own pace.
The shortcut goes by an abandoned water reservoir and a valley covered by coniferous forest. So there were plenty of shades and a complete void. No noise, no civilization, just me and my thoughts.
There I realized I actually like mountains, for the fresh air, for nature, for the lack of people. I finally found my inner peace. It is similar to when I was standing alone in the middle of the desert in Egypt, hearing only my own voice and sea waves.
The asphalt road to the peak was less busy, but I still could not get rid of the fear of walking by the edge. One inattentive rider and I could roll myself off the cliff. Fortunately, all were considerate and slowed down to avoid the collision.
Once I reached the peak, I felt like a winner. Four hours and 20 km of 10-15 degree elevation later I stood on the top of the Island. I conquered my first mountain peak, slightly 1,2 Km above the sea.
The view at the shore was tremendous. I wanted to stay there forever. The look at Novi Put and surrounding was that hypnotic.
I just sat there, breathing slowly, inhaling every moment, and blank staring at the sea.
But I knew that I have limited time, so once a group of tourists vanished after releasing their drone off the mountain, I had the whole scenery for myself. I could not forgive myself if I didn’t take a handstand photo.
To be honest, it is thought to keep the body straight on an uneven surface, but I had to get the shot no matter how many tries I do.
Before going down, I stopped by the tourist point and bought an overpriced Coca Cola for whooping 4 EUR. It was worth it, and I deserved it.
Then the next best part of the trip came. The downhill ride.
If biking in Dugur Otok did not give me the rush from a constant descent, Brac gave me the opposite. I rode like a bullet from the peak to the shore, making sure I don’t ride off the cliff at top speed.
Yeah, I like the speed and the adrenaline. If I lived in Vietnam, I would buy my sports motorcycle long ago. In Czech owning a car or motorcycle is financial nonsense.
Thanks to the speed, I arrived at Supetar earlier than expected, I still had one hour and a half. Plenty of time to finally explore the city center, its tourist neighbor, and chill for a while at the beach club, while listening to the dope house music.
Finally, a proper underground house played by a live DJ. Too bad the beach bar was empty, but I didn’t care.
When it was time to leave, I returned the bike and left a good review on google maps.
The sail back to Split was then full of memories. Trips like these will forever stay within me.
Day 5 – Daytrip to Vis & Conquering the Hum Mountain
Vis is the smallest island of the trio, having a reputation of a calm and remote place far from the tourist crowd. But still reachable in less than two hours by ferry.
I was curious and hyped because I hate crowds now and fell in love with the mountains. This time, I didn’t go alone.
The plan was the same, go in the morning, land in Vis, rent a bike, conquer the mountain peak, explore and chill for the rest of the day.
By looking at the map, I could either bike to Komidža, a town on the other side of the island, and climb to mountain Hum on the way back. Or first, conquer Hum and if there is time left, then traverse to Komidža.
Both locations were on the west so we could make decisions along the way. To give you perspective, the route from Vis to Komidža is 25 km long, where the first half is a 10-12% steep ascend and the other half is mild descend to the shore.
We again had to ask around before finding a legit bike renting place, that provides a pump and spare tubes. This place was even cheaper than any place I rent before but closed early at 6 pm.
The first few km went well, but because I was not alone, we made a lot of stops due to exhaustion. The sun, the thirstiness, the lack of shades, and the cars made us consider leaving the main road asap and going for Hum first.
It was not late to make a detour and spend a little more time off the road following the outdoor route leading to the mount Hum.
The route was without the cars and it went up and down the first few km, but as we approached the 1 km before Tito’s Cave, it became a steep uphill battle with no shades for rest.
Not only we considered giving up because pushing a heavy mountain bike to a 15% steep hill is a hell of a workout, but half a km below Tito’s Cave one of the bikes started to lose air, which slowed us down even more.
At the pace of one km an hour, we were at risk of running out of time. So we made a promise to at least reach Tito’s Cave, then I will try to climb the mountain by myself.
Finally, at the entrance below the caves, I was about to change the tire. And as we loudly discussed the changing process, a family nearby, that just exited the cave, overheard our conversation.
We were arguing, that the bike shop did not give us the keys to pull up the tube out of the frame. And the Croatian guy, who I approached at the entrance did not have any tools either.
So the family guy asked if we were from the Czech Republic and I nodded, surprised to see an interest in our fate. I explained the situation, started the rapport, and asked if did not have the key.
He did not but offered to look at the tire by himself. We got the tube out with simple apartment keys, no need for special keys after all. And then he guided us through the method on how to find the hole in a tube.
So the idea is to squeeze the tube, inch by inch, and pour a little bit of water on it while listening carefully. If there is a sound, a hiss, then you are close to the spot, where the air leaks.
And truly after fifteen minutes, he gave us a throne, that made multiple holes in the tube, probably pointing to the fact, that tube was pierced when I put the bike aside from the road next to the bush with thorns during our last pause.
Then he went to his car for a duck tape. An all-mighty solution for all troubles. He taped over the leakage multiple times as I pumped the tube with new air.
When the tube was pumped out, we put it back to the frame.
I thanked him for the help. And I return, they wished us a safe return and even told us to message them how we ended.
Life events like these made me a believer again. It restored my faith in people, in destiny, and goodness in all of us. Kindness is so rare nowadays, people are selfish and only look after themselves.
Then this Mcgyver guy with a cute family from the Czech countryside goes along and saves my ass. I promised I will let him know about our whereabouts and I will write about his heroic deed on my blog.
After a long problem-solving break we agreed to continue each at their tempo, and if we meet again on my way down, we all go home.
The map showed only half a km distance, but because of the steepness and many turns, it took me another half an hour to reach the military base on the top, which was unfortunately off the limits.
The true viewpoint was a few meters below the military base with a breathtaking view over the Komidža. The city was so far there was no way we could make it there and back in time. So at least I admired the town from afar.
Unlike the previous trip, I took my time on top now, enjoyed the wind, the view, the calmness. It’s so magnetic to just stare at the horizon. I never expected to be the mountain guy.
After handstand shots, we regrouped and went back to Vis. The downhill ride was thrilling, cruising along the cliffs at the top speed with cars flying by. The adrenaline coming from the rush was the ultimate reward after climbing the mountain.
We were so fast we arrived at Vis with plenty of time in the pocket, so we explored neighbor suburbs as well.
Then on the ferry, I texted the McGyver guy we returned safely thanks to their help. Yet another memorable day ended with Cevapi and few personal victories.
Day 6 – Daytrip to Hvar & e-biking from Stari Grad to Hvar
Confident about our endurance, we chose Hvar as the next island we want to conquer.
There is another famous island Korčula, but it was too far with too few ferry connections, not worth a day trip. While Korčula seems to be an underdeveloped and forgotten region, Hvar is quite the opposite.
An upscale paradise for rich and wealthy society, not because of the pompous luxurious hotels or anything, but for its atmosphere, long promenade, and the overall feeling like a remote retreat for sophisticated people. But more on that later.
We kickstarted the day by landing at a port 3km far from Stari Grad.
Once there, we had multiple options.
- Rent a bike at the port.
- Go by bus to Stari Grad and try my luck there and walk 3km from Stari Grad to the port on way back.
- Go by bus to Hvar, lose one hour, and somehow return to the port by the evening.
My brain was seriously computing every possibility and in the end, I was forced to go with the first option.
I hesitated while looking for the rental bikes and because of that, we missed the only bus connection to Stari Grad. The bus was gone 5 minutes after landing as soon as most passengers onboarded.
Maybe I could walk to Stari Grad but I would lose another 2 hours.
Luckily there was a bike rental directly at the port. When I asked about the price, my eyes popped out. While I paid 100 Kuna for one bike max so far, this shop charged 150 Kuna. I wanted to leave, but the owner cleverly offered a counteroffer.
If I rent an electric bike, he would give me a discount so it would cost me only 200 Kuna for an e-bike. Not familiar with e-bikes I was concerned about the distance, the battery capacity, and ultimately the cost.
But he assured me, that those e-bikes are top-notch quality with Shimano engines in the middle, offering enough horsepower to help anyone, even a grandma to conquer Hvar mountains. And with a large battery pack allowing me to ride 75 Km in one day, I was hooked.
The price difference was not large and the distance was enough for us to ride to Hvar and back and maybe make a stop at Jelsa, another town near Stari Grad.
I shook out my wallet and handed him all the cash I had. He prepared the bikes, gave us pumps, spare tubes and we went to Stari Grad.
My first impression of using an e-bike was great.
It had 3 modes. Eco mode, which gives power depending on how hard you pedal. Normal mode, which produces constant torque, and a max mode, which gives maximum torque the engines can produce.
As I was used to normal mountain bikes, pedaling on eco mode felt like a breeze, even on a mild uphill road. And it was enjoyable.
We arrived at Stari Grad in a few minutes thanks to the motor. The town had nothing much to offer so we soon left for the official mountain trail from Stari Grad to Hvar.
I didn’t know what to expect, but after getting higher I understood. They built a special bike trail, that showcased the best mountain scenery I have ever seen in my life, beating all previous mountain rides.
You could literally see everything. The sea on the horizon, the valley below the cliff. And the best thing of all? There were little to no cars.
For the first 20 km, I was obsessed with tracking battery capacity and pedaling on eco mode whenever I could. But let me tell you, after 2 hours of constant ascending, you get tired, even on the lightest gear mode.
We made a test to see if different e-bike modes have any different impact on the battery. Pedaling like crazy on eco mode vs soft cruising on max mode.
And the result? When we were halfway through the trail, I had 2% more battery. So it seems there is no significant difference because the engine produces the same torque when someone pedals hard and while the other one not.
The good thing is that the engine stops working if you go downhill. And because the next half of the trail to Hvar was all the way down, we could preserve a lot of the battery.
One thing, that ruins the whole experience are trash yards located randomly on each island. You might think it’s a good idea to go on an unknown trail marked on maps, but it can happen that you just discovered gigantic piles of trash.
And it can welcome you with a strong smell miles away. One of the trash yards was placed along the trail and for the good 5 minutes we could not shake off the smell of well-seasoned trash.
Anyway, we got to Hvar on time unharmed and energized. I stopped by the Kaufland and we bought ourselves some treats, few ice creams, and a Coca-Cola.
Hvar town is small, like Trogir, having only a tiny square surrounded by few narrow streets, but where it shines is a super long promenade along the coast offering many private beaches, luxurious resorts, beach bars, and places to crash. All accessible from luxurious private condos scattered along the beaches.
And unlike any other place, you will see a lot of models and celebrities hanging around. Just giving you the tip on where to hang out, if you are after such things.
Hvar definitely left an impression of a premium town, where celebrities hang out.
After reaching one end of the promenade, we tried to explore as much as possible on the other side, but we eventually ran out of time.
So we went on the same road back to Stari Grad. This time, we made fewer stops, because of the time constraint and because we have seen it all.
With 35% of the battery left, I had max-mode turned on all the time, trying to get the maximum horsepower from the e-bike engine. It was fun, especially cruising uphill without a sweat.
We arrived at Stari Grad with a one hour reserve so we explored the surrounding coastline and hills, but except for yet another trash yard and a dirt trail, we didn’t discover anything interesting.
The e-bike handled dirt trail pretty well, keeping the pace all the time regardless of the surface. It was almost like riding a motorcycle.
Then when we truly ran out of time, we returned the e-bikes with 12% of the battery left. I thought I could squeeze it more In the beginning.
Fascinated by the e-bikes and the adrenaline rush it gave me I asked the owner about the cost. The answer did not please me. For 2000-3000 EUR an e-bike, I could buy a second-hand car.
It seems e-bikes are so far only affordable if you are used to spending tons of money on similar toys. For an average Joe, who wants to speed up commuting from the subway station to home it’s still out of reach.
The best foldable e-bike costs over 3000 EUR while the cheapest one starts at 1000 USD. E-bike will remain on my wishlist for a while until the reality sets back in and I realize, that cycling in Prague is not as fun as cruising the mountains in Hvar with sunshine on my back.
Prague is hilly, not bike-friendly, and with a lot of cars.
Day 7 – Kašjuni Beach & Triathlon Race
The last day in Split was more or less about exploring the uncovered suburbs. We spent the majority of the time traveling, so I wanted to make up for it and visit the local beach Kašjuni.
The next best option would be to take a ferry to Korčula and spend the night there, but we were set on Makarska as our next destination.
Kašjuni beach sits below the park we have visited on our first day. Having nothing better to do I decided to circle Marjan Park Forest from the north to the south, where the beach is located.
On our way, we noticed the fences blocking the road. There seemed to be some kind of a sporting event.
Only after asking the guards, we found out there is a Triathlon race happening as of right now. Racers were just about finishing the swimming part, so we camped at the shore watching the race.
When they ran out of the water I had to admit, that athletes are on a whole another level than gym rats, who spend most of the time bicep curling.
Even after three years of working out, my physique could not match their gains. I guess you can become a demigod by just swimming, cycling, and running your whole life on a competition level.
Of course, there were skinny-fat guys, but top performers were ripped as hell, a condition achievable by using steroids or by training full-time every day.
Seeing them only confirmed the importance of endurance-based anaerobic exercises. Something gym-heads frowns upon. That is why most of them look bulky and not shredded.
We have watched the cycling part as well but were bored after a while, so we continued to the beach.
Kašjuni beach was packed and rightfully so. It looked like a lagoon with calm water, smooth descent, and a beautiful view of the surrounding cliffs.
Only at Kašjuni, you can lay down in clean water and chill. Just be aware of aggressive fishes biting anyone who dares to breach their territory. I got some serious scars after one hour of swimming.
The atmosphere got even better once the beach club turned on its casual deep house music playlist.
We enjoyed the beach until sunset and by the time we walked back to the center, it was already dark. The last day in the Split was somewhat relaxing, a welcomed change from the physical torture we went through on the islands.
Day 8 – Departure
Before departure, I had to spend 2 hours on the phone arranging the hotel resort and scouting for Flixbus discounts. Dealing with travel agencies is tiresome and they always, always never book you a hotel of your choice.
So I settled for a three-star hotel Biokovka in Makarska with a half-board service, costing only 200 USD for two. I expected resorts would be half-empty, but no, Makarska was crowded as if nothing happened.
After check out, we said goodbye to the hostel owners, promising them a 10-star review, and left Split with a feeling, that our adventure peaked with the Islands.
So Makarska together with Dubrovnik should be a relaxing cherry on top, right?
Wrong. I could never anticipate what would come next. What bad choices I will make, that would cost us lives.
4 Days In Makarska Riviera
Day 1 – Biokovka Hotel Resort
Makarska Riviera is located just two hours below Split and it’s popular because there are more hotel resorts than in any other place in Croatia.
The whole coast is crammed with hotels, including low budget three stars facilities, tightly coupled next to each other. That is why the place is promoted by travel agencies.
It is a paradise for low-budget families from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. There is a few km long beach, a promenade surrounded by restaurants and bars, and an amusement park with attractions and cheap eats.
We were able to book three nights at Biokovka resort, a three-start hotel from the Yugoslavia era. The long history explains, why it was so cheap, and why it was full of pensioners.
Biokovka market itself as a recently renovated health spa for old people, so when we entered the hotel, we looked out of the place. But hey, I wanted to enjoy few last days with full service, a proper bed, and all-you-can-eat meals.
We got a room facing Mountain Biokovo, which was ok-ish. Nothing a three-star hotel should be ashamed about.
It was just weird, that despite it had more than 700 rooms, I was told by the travel agency it was almost full.
We arrived shortly before dinner, so we went straight to the dining room.
After three weeks of living on meat, banana, and tomatoes, I was so looking forward to a proper meal.
The buffet had subpar quality, offering three meat variations, one fish, many cheap side dishes such as fries, mashed potatoes, roasted broccoli, etc., and only pure water for the drink!
I was pretty disappointed, paying so much for so little. So I took a little of everything to test the taste.
And my impressions?
I felt like eating food from the communist era. The food had no taste and the soup was nothing else than water. Practically the same food I eat in a Chernobyl canteen.
But I didn’t care, I was hungry.
Next time, I will only take pork or beef, vegetables, and call it a day.
I felt so heavy from the bad quality food I had to take a walk. Luckily there was a calisthenics park at the beach so I entertained myself for the rest of the night.
Makarska is pretty busy in the evening. Families are hanging outside, dining, or walking, enjoying their once a year vacation. Again not many solo travelers or mixed groups.
I walked as far as I could to the famous Makarska underground music club Osejava, which is built inside a cave, but since it was Monday, it was closed. Time to go back and plan the next day.
Day 2 – Biokovo Mountain Survival
My stay in Makarska ought to be all about relaxing and chilling on the beach while enjoying the hotel’s full service.
Well, it would not be me if I didn’t propose an adventure the second day.
Since the hotel’s name was derived from the most famous mountain in Dalmatiaa, Biokovo, I looked at the internet and found out about mountain trails from Makarska to the top of Biokovo mountain.
The original plan was to get up early for the breakfast and go out at 10 AM. The schedule was recommended by all tour guides. Because the sooner you climb up, the sooner you can get home. A tip I totally ignored and regretted later.
We got up early, but breakfast forced us to stay in the hotel and digest for a while. The buffet was so good I could not turn down any opportunity to fill up the plate over again.
If in the last three weeks I had humble or no breakfast at all, now I could take unlimited fried bacon, mashed eggs, and many variations of cheese, ham, and pate together with bread.
Damn, it was so good. Exactly my kind of breakfast. If I had a physically demanding job, 300g of bacon, 500g of mashed eggs, three pieces of bread with pate, and two Eidam plates on top would be all I need to fuel the day. Hell, I would not even need lunch.
Stuffing myself proved to be a smart move later on.
So we left the hotel at 11 am, bought extra water in the grocery shop below Ulica Nikole Tesla. The last contact with civilization before the trail starts.
Then we took the road leading up to a tiny church Makar, the checkpoint.
We definitely underestimated our endurance. It took us one hour to walk up the hill to Makar. Maps showed one-kilometer distance but in reality, it felt like walking 5 km.
The sun was burning and we wanted to make up for the time lost, trying to speed walk up, but the steepness of the asphalt road was just too much.
At the Makar, when we sit on the bench to catch a breath, I looked up to Biokovo to see what lies ahead and I got scared for the first time. There was no road in sight, only a one km high steep wall made of rocks.
Anticipating the steepness I took time to look for a wooden stick before I start climbing. Mountain climbers use sticks all the time to help them with the balance. Some even use two sticks at once, one in each hand.
Eventually, I discovered a pile of wooden residues behind the church, took two sticks out, and went on.
It should be a piece of cake, maps showed me I will be on the top in no time. Walking one km usually takes 10 minutes. So walking a mountain trail should take us one hour max, right?
Due to steepness, which ranged from 25% to 45%, the trail zig-zagged every few meters to balanced the slope and the height difference between each mark.
Climbing paths were marked with red dots. Usually painted on a big rock, that should be visible from any point if you stay precisely on the path. During daylight, there should be no issue to spot the next mark given you don’t go out of the trail further than 1 m.
Marks signals either a turn, so the dot is surrounded by a half-circle. Or a continuation with a simple red dot.
They are placed every 5 meters to lower the risk of getting lost.
In the beginning, I felt safe because the path was covered with trees and I was hidden from the sun. The only challenge was the steepness, but the wooden stick made it easier to keep the pace.
Then we came out of the forest and I finally saw where we were positioned. Makarska became smaller and smaller with each step. And my fear of height got worse and worse.
With no forest protecting our eventual fall, our progress significantly slowed down. We were exposed to the sun and the wooden stick was not sufficient anymore, I had to reach out and grab the rocks to keep going.
Due to steepness, I could not just stand to catch a breath. If I did, I would fall off the cliff. So when we paused, we had to sit down and lay on the ground. Otherwise, the gravity would pull us down the hill.
I was so feared of heights I could not look elsewhere than on the ground, grabbing anything tangible and trying to be glued to the mountain.
After two hours of climbing, the path changed to the forest trail again.
Two hours in, it was 2 pm already and some climbers were returning down. They were prepared for this, went early in the morning, and took professional climbing sticks, one in each hand.
I asked them how far it is to the Vošac and if there is any tourist point up there. The guy told us there is an abandoned building one hour from the current location and that there are no people around.
I was disappointed, that I won’t be able to buy Cola after reaching the top as I did in Brac. And that we are still too far from the nearest peak Štrbina.
We were too far at a point of no return, so we were set to conquer Biokovo no matter what.
The rest of the path was rocky again, but at least we felt safe again thanks to huge rocks bordering the path.
Finally, when we reached Štrbina peak 1338m above the sea, we could see everything. Makarska became a tiny spot somewhere in the valley. And far away on the horizon, Brac and Korčula Islands dominated the sea.
Then 20 minutes later, we climbed to the next peak Vošac, 700 meters far from Štrbina peak. Now we were 1421m high above the sea. We felt like being on top of the world.
Of course, I had to do an obligatory handstand photo and a few selfies. I conquered my first mountain and it felt great. We spend another 20 minutes just starring down the cliff.
But then now what?
It was already 3 pm, returning by going the same path down was unthinkable and according to the original plan, we wanted to reach Sveti Jure, the highest peak in Biokovo sitting 1762 m above the sea.
If we go another kilometer and a half north, there should be a 5 km long asphalt road leading to Sveti Jure. A 2 hours walk predicted by maps.
We can make it, I thought for myself. So we left Vošac and went down the hill through logging camp until we reached the crossroad.
There, we finally saw living people after a long period of time. Mostly tourists going by car from Makar to Sveti Jure.
Feeling weak from climbing and with only half of the water supply, we decided to abandon our plan. There was no way we can climb Sveti Jure in this condition. Better to find out a way back home.
If we followed the asphalt road back to Makarska, we would be back shortly before midnight. It’s only 30 km and if we speed-walked down, going 5-6 km per hour there is a guarantee we will make it alive.
The road was the safest bet. We ain’t going to return the same way nor there is another way out. No more climbing we told ourselves.
So we walked as fast as possible. Six km later, we came across Biokovo Skywalk Ravna Vlaška. A platform offering a great view. Not a place for the faint-hearted.
The whole floor was made from glass and you could see a one km deep abyss below you. I had trouble going further than a few meters from the base.
If the platform cracked, I would fly down one kilometer before facing sharp Biokovo rocks. The platform was crowded and making selfies with no one in the scene was impossible.
So after waiting 15 minutes for a good shot I gave up and we hasted down the road. Time was running up, it was getting darker and we had still 24 km to overcome.
We could hail for a ride because many cars were going back from Sveti Jure, but my ego dismissed that idea. Begging someone was out of my comfort zone and walking 24 km is a piece of cake, right?
Two km later we came across a crossroad. There was a sign referencing there might be a shortcut, a path for sheep shepherds. The trail was 3,4 km long and led to St.Kate Church, located in the village Srida Sela below Biokovo mountain.
If we try the shortcut, we can cut down the time on the road by 7 km or 2 hours. Good plan, we even might be at dinner in time.
So we made a detour, left the safe asphalt road, and went out into the unknown.
Everything was fine until the dirt road became narrower and narrower. Soon after, there was no road at all, just a grass trail full of sheep shits.
Fine, I can jump through some sheep shit, no problem. I just wanted to be back at the hotel asap. It was 17:30 already and there was no way back.
What was a minor annoyance changed to a complete freakout when the grass path turned into a downhill climbing survival. At one moment, the grass field changed into a neverending pile of stones.
Suddenly the downslope of the ground increased from mild 10% to 35-45%. I could literally see the bottom of the mountain below my feet. Now what?
There is no way I can backtrack myself up to the asphalt road, going through sheep shit again. The sun was about to come down at any time and we had only about one liter of water each left.
According to the map, the climb down is one km long with a 500-meter elevation difference and should take two hours. Nothing impossible. So we went on, praying we won’t get stuck on the wall, in the middle of nowhere.
If we lose sunlight, there would be no way I could spot the climbing marks. When climbing up, marks are easily visible and you can judge by the elevation what is the easiest path up.
But climbing down? It’s another challenge altogether. Climbing marks are hardly visible even under direct sun. Not mentioning after the sunset.
The flashlight on our phones does not have that range to illuminate tiny stones 5 or more meters far away. More importantly, LEDs emit narrow color specters effectively making any red color greyish.
Moreover, it was much harder to judge the steepness from above, one wrong step on the wrong stone and we could roll down like a barrel. So I made sure to support myself with a wooden stick while crawling on the four frontward.
Imagine laying down on the ground facing the sky and moving forward taking one step at a time, while supporting yourself with your hands, grabbing everything that I can hold, including prickly bushes. And trying to move that way as fast as possible.
Of course, I could walk being straight up, standing like a human, but I would have to fight the gravity pulling myself down off the wall. Not mentioning the dizziness from the height.
I was so afraid of falling my brain created tunnel vision. My eyes were always scouting for red climbing marks, ignoring the beautiful scenery below the mountain. That way I could focus on climbing and progressing, fast and not freezing on the spot.
From time to time, I had to make a stop, lay down on the ground, and blankly stare at the void below me. To not lose any precious time, I always set 2 minutes alarm. Two minutes are enough to catch the breath, drink some water, and let my legs rest.
Crawling on the four was the ultimate leg workout.
Imagine being in a squat position for more than one hour. Normally 3 sets of 10 repetitions are more than enough, but this time, my body somehow allowed me to squat indefinitely, maybe thanks to the survival instincts producing adrenaline to ease the muscle pain.
I stepped on fragile stones a few times and slipped on the ground, but thanks to being so close to the ground I only got ass kicked. If I walked straight up, the momentum from the fall would be fatal.
To make sure we make it alive, I went first, closely following the map and scouting for safe passages and climbing marks. Without the map and GPS, I would be lost track and maybe I would end up dead, like many tourists who died in Biokovo in the past due to being lost.
I also closely kept my eye on the time, because the sun already disappeared behind the Biokovo. If it disappears completely, then we are done.
Fortunately, survival instinct was stronger than any odds against us, so by the time we passed the last climbing mark, it was so dark we had to use flashlights to walk another 1,5 km through the wilderness to Sv. Kate church.
We looked up to see the path we just overcome. And I could not believe my eyes. We saw a 0,5 km high steep rocky wall. I felt happy, grateful, and shocked at the same time.
Then from there, we felt safe again. The village Srida Sela was populated and properly light up. We could hear living people dining in their gardens, and we finally stood on flat asphalt ground.
The day was not over though. We still had to walk another 8,6 km to our hotel and the only way back to Makarska was through an unlighted highway with no pedestrian road.
So to prevent any car accidents, we pulled out our phones, turned on the flashlights, and waved the phone on our hands during the walk to signal the cars, that they should watch out for two human beings risking their lives on a highway.
Most of the cars got signal, slowed down, and crossed the lane to mitigate the risk of collision. One or two cars passed by with only a few inches next to us.
We were out of the water and our legs started to hurt from the lack of adrenaline. I guess once the brain thinks there is no danger anymore it stops producing survival hormones.
Still, we walked as fast as possible, and after one hour and a half, we finally entered Makarska, alive. Our first stop was the nearest Kaufland, we needed to refill our blood sugar levels to help with the pain and lack of calories.
I guess we burnt more than 5000 calories climbing and walking around Biokovo while eating only 1500 calories from bacon/eggs breakfast and about 700 calories from peanuts and snacks during the climb.
So I bought a big Coca Cola bottle, two bananas, and Ice creams. The pain finally went away and we could continue walking.
Before crashing at the hotel we wanted to eat some proper food. And the local fast-food burger joint was the only place open at this time.
But they didn’t take debit cards, only cash. So I spent another half an hour wandering around the park trying various ATM’s checking their fees.
Most people don’t know this, but before confirming the exchange, the ATM will print the fee amount, that will be charged by the ATM company on top of your bank’s fees. I didn’t want to pay 3EUR so I eventually exchanged all the EUR I had left in the wallet.
The burger was the worst burger I had in many years. A big bulky bun, a tiny prefabricated plate of meat, and a few plates of tomatoes, all for 4 EUR. McDonald’s would taste much better for much less.
Filled with some calories we crashed at the hotel, happy, alive, and full of memories.
Day 3 – A Rest Day
The next day we tried to wake up early for the breakfast. It was tough, the moment I tried to get out of bed, my legs refused to listen.
It took a lot of effort and outside help to get up and move around. Such is the consequence of squatting for hours on top of Biokovo.
I was glad I could go down to the dining room because the breakfast was worth it. Three plates, full of bacon and mashed eggs with baguette and pate. I was stuffed till evening.
Because I could not move, I went up to sleep some more.
Before the evening, we went out anyway to get fresh air and to wake up our legs. It was a painful walk, but we finally explored the major parts of Makarska.
Nothing interesting to write about. Makarska is a generic resort town living from cheap holiday tours.
At 7 pm, we went back to the hotel for dinner. And as we were about to sit down at our table, a funny thing happened.
The two old ladies sitting next to us asked us in English if were Chinese coming from Wuhan. We replied in the Czech back that no we are not. They felt relieved once they heard the Czech language.
Then they shared, that they are regulars at Biokovka hotel, going there every year because of the wonderful sea. Damn, I hope I will have more adventurous vacations once I am that old.
Day 4 – Overnight Ride To Dubrovnik
On the last day, we packed things, checked out, and caught the overnight bus to Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is located 300 km far away from Makarska in the most southern part of Croatia.
It is so remote you have to even cross the Bosnian borders, which we passed in the morning. It is funny crossing the borders, spending 5 minutes in a foreign country, and then going through border patrol check again, not.
How the hell they lost a piece of their land in the middle of their country?
Day Trip To Dubrovnik
Day 1 – A Game Of Thrones Film Set
Dubrovnik was an unknown remote historic town until they decided to use the city as a film set for the Game of Throne TV series.
From that moment on, it became a tourist gold mine. Whole Croatia started to benefit from the new trend and many “official” Game Of Throne tourist centers popped up in Zagreb and Split, promising to give you authentic secret information about the Game of Throne backstage.
That is why I decided to travel all the way to Dubrovnik to see if the hype is legit.
We arrived at the central bus station 3 km far from the city center, the place where the Game of Throne was shot.
I could barely walk, but because I did not have any cash, we decided to go there on foot, maybe find an ATM along the way and get back by bus.
Dubrovnik is not exactly a resort town, there is only one private beach at bay owned by a luxurious five-star hotel. Otherwise, there are only rocky spots good for sun-bath but not for swimming.
Dubrovnik sits on a hill, so it has a similar vibe to Šibenik, the difference is the huge fortress, which served as Kings Landing filming set.
I was worried everything will be monetized including entry to the fortress, but luckily the entry to the fortress is free. But various parts of the fortress are locked out from freeloaders.
The good thing about ongoing sickness is the lack of tourists. At 11 pm, the city center was empty with a few occasional groups. We could enjoy the walk by ourselves not having to face any crowds.
By the time it was 1 pm, many tourists arrived, and the emptiness was gone.
Seeing Kings Landing in real life was impressive. I could recall many scenes from Game of Thrones as I walked through narrow streets.
They made a good job of preserving the city. There was no sign of a modern world, maybe except for occasional internet cables attached to historic buildings.
The sad thing about being a tourist gold mine is that the whole city is spawned with souvenir shops selling Game of Thrones souvenirs. It ruined the historic architecture.
We explored Dubrovnik in less than one and a half hours, seeing the city as it is. A seaside town with a well-preserved fortress.
I was disappointed by the hype. Maybe I am not that much into visiting famous places known from movies or TV shows.
But to sweeten the last day in Croatia, we went to the best burger restaurant in town and ordered a classic cheddar cheeseburger with fried onions. A well deserved and least meal before spending 21 hours on the bus back to Prague.
On the way back to the bus station, A group of people stopped me, asking me if I want to join them on a yacht because they need numbers to get in.
Sure, invitations like these always happen to me when I am in hurry or when I have to leave the place. So I apologized and kept walking.
The bus ride back to Prague was one of the longest bus journeys I have ever done. We were back in Zagreb by 7 am and from there, it took another 10 hours to land in Prague.
I was lucky I could take a longer vacation, otherwise, I would think twice before buying bus tickets.
All in all, it was yet another life-changing vacation. Not because of romantic endeavors, but because I reached my physical limits and survived one of the biggest mistakes in my life. Now I am a stronger and better person.
As for the country, Croatia is beautiful. Especially the Dalmatian coast and its islands are worth the visit. I can definitely see myself go back to Vis, Hvar, or Zadar once I have a family. Those are great places if you seek an active outdoor vacation together with chilling on a remote pebble beach with no tourists around.