Showing posts with label Croatia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Croatia. Show all posts

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Zagreb Stopover Before Heading Home from Croatia

Lynn and I left Split for Zagreb in the late afternoon. The drive was a fairly easy one as highways of Croatia are new and very well kept up.

Zagreb was unlike any city we saw in Istria, Rijeka, or Split. It was filled with tall buildings and contemporary designs.

We arrived at the Doubletree by Hilton Zagreb. It was a beautiful hotel and had a comfortable lobby. It was evening and we had an early flight in the morning so the only thing we had planned was dinner and then an early bedtime.

We checked out the restaurant, but didn’t really want a meal. We were both craving pizza and were curious to see if it was as good as it had been in Istria.

The staff at the front desk unanimously told us to go into the building next door to Al Metro. The building was modern and filled with restaurants, but we followed the smell to the pizzeria.

We picked up a pie and took it back to the room. It had been a once in a lifetime experience in Croatia, especially the first week with the Share Istria group.

There had been so many great meals and fantastic experiences. We were ready for a quiet pizza dinner and some girl talk before we headed to our homes in two different states.

In the morning, Lynn and I left Doubletree by Hilton Zagreb for the airport, where we said our goodbyes. She was going straight from Zagreb to New York and I was flying to Chicago, and then to home.

It was nice to see a familiar Starbucks to start my journey home. 

I was able to get an upgrade on Air France. It was only economy plus, but it was quite nice in the upper level of the plane in a bulkhead. The service and food was wonderful. I got some sleep and did some work. It was time to get back to life.

Although I had been to Croatia before, the experience I had with Istria Tourism and my Share Istria group could not compare to anything else. I am grateful to all.

In the end, I did win as the social influencer in my group that week, but I did not win the Grand Prize (10,000 Euros).

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I still wouldn’t trade that trip for anything in the world.

It was even more special to share it with my friend Lynn, who I have known for 25 years.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Beach Time and Relaxation in Split, Croatia

Travel days where I have nothing to do are few and far between, but this one was especially wonderful since I had a beautiful beach and a spa to enjoy for the day.

Lynn and I had been traveling through Croatia for nine days. Although I wouldn’t have done anything different, we were still exhausted.

The Hotel Split was on a breathtaking beach and, since it was during the week, pretty quiet.

We had every intention of taking advantage of that time in Split.

We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel with an amazing view. It was a pretty typical European breakfast for me of yogurt, fruit, cheese, and a croissant. 

It’s odd how I like variety so much at home, but always seem to stick to this in Europe.

After breakfast, we spent the morning walking and lounging on the beach. The Adriatic Sea was especially beautiful from Split and just gazing at it from different angles was a treat.
When we arrived at Hotel Split, I saw the spa specials and noticed that the Hot Oil Aromatherapy Massage was very cheap (about $30 U.S. for an hour).

My muscles had been taxed during the week and it sounded like heaven.

Lynn agreed, but unfortunately they only had room for one appointment. She graciously let me take it.

I left the spa and was back looking at the turquoise sea when we both decided to take a walk and find something to eat.

We found a Croatian bakery nearby and got some pastries filled with cheese that were more than satisfying.

As much as I like relaxing, I’m not one to just lay on a lounge chair for hours. After a while I got up to explore the rest of the Hotel Split.

I went up to the rooftop and was so glad I did.

The Hotel Split  rooftop has a pool and lounging areas. It also has a view that was even more spectacular than the ones I had seen in the morning.

We had just a little longer before we had to get dressed, pack up, and head to Zagreb. Our Croatia adventure was coming near its end.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

From Rijeka to Split and the Game of Thrones

After an exciting week with our Share Istria group, my friend Lynn and I were off on our own to explore more of Croatia. Our first stop was in Rijeka and we had a great first day there.

In the morning, we had another great and filling Croatia breakfast after a good night’s sleep at the Grand Hotel Bonavia in Rijeka. 

Before we headed back on the road we also had a chance to spend a bit of time in the Grand Hotel Bonavia Wellness Centre.

I was extremely impressed with this spa that was complimentary to all guests. It included a relaxation area with chromo therapy, themed aromatherapy showers, a Finish Sauna, a Turkish Sauna, and a spa area where they offered massages.

By the time we left there we were very relaxed and we hit the road to Split.

Alenka, our guide the previous day, had told us a lot about the beach town of Krk so we made a short detour to check it out.

It was indeed filled with beaches and a quaint downtown area along the water with a marina.

We walked around for a bit, enjoying the scenery, and watching the people at the cafes.

It was a good thing we didn’t stay too long, because the trip to Split, though beautiful, took twice as long as we expected.

As we arrived in the city, I was struck by how much more crowded it was than I expected. I soon learned that Split, Croatia,,was spread out and each area was different.

The spot our hotel was located in Podstrana was actually a bit more residential – and on an amazing stretch of beach.

When I looked out the window at Hotel Split, all I could think about was enjoying the turquoise water, but that would have to wait as we first had a tour waiting.

Our very knowledgeable, friendly, and fun guide was Vjeran Mlacic and he was going to introduce us to this historical city.

We met Vjeran on the other side of the city. This area of Split was filled with locals and tourists, sightseeing and enjoying local food. We were pretty hungry ourselves, but needed to get through the tour first.

He showed us a map of Split to give us a better understanding of the area before we headed inside Diocletian's Palace.

It was like nothing I had ever seen before. From the outside, you could see shops and cafes on the lower level with the remnants of what is the oldest remains from the Roman era above!

Inside the palace was also a combination of souvenir shops among these tall, old, walls. As we got further inside, though, it was all about long ago, and the Roman emperors that had lived here.

Although I’ve never watched Game of Thrones it was easy to see how anything filmed within these ancient walls could look realistic. Vjeran showed us a number of the tremendous rooms used for scenes.

After we went through the palace we stopped at some of the stores beneath it.
Lynn, who designs and makes jewelry herself, couldn’t resist picking up a few intricate silver pieces and I got some souvenirs.

We walked out of the palace area and to the marina toward our restaurant for dinner.

Tavern Varos is an excellent Italian choice. It was quite different than what we had in Istria, with more of this regions focus on vegetables.

After a salad and beets, we enjoyed grilled meats and a wonderful gnocchi in an alfredo sauce.

We walked back to the car along the marina. It was a beautiful scene with people enjoying cafes and music.

We couldn’t resist joining in for some gelato and cappuccinos before heading back to the hotel.

Lynn and I had one more day in <Split and it was going to be something I don’t get to do very often – free time on the beach.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hitting the Road to Rijeka

Lynn and I woke up in Istria for the last time. We had breakfast with the group and said as our rental car pulled up to the front of Hotel Lone in Rovinj.

The Croatia Tourism Board had arranged for us to have this Audi as we hit the road to check out two more areas of the country neither of us had ever been: Rijeka and Split.

Rijeka was first and we had a scenic ride along the Mediterranean Sea to our destination.

It definitely looked more city-like than anywhere we had been in Istria, and Rijeka was in fact filled with plenty to. This has made it a very popular cruise port in the last few years.

We would be staying overnight at the Hotel Bonavia. It was centrally located and looked quite “grand.”

It was raining when Dominik Damis of the Rijeka Tourist Board and guide Alenka Šuljić Petrc picked us up to tour Rijeka, but we weren’t deterred from seeing the sites.

As we went through the city, we saw the cruise terminal, and heard about how inexpensive Rijeka is as a tourist destination. Taxis around the city are around a $1 a ride, and hostels are only about 25 euros a night, making it especially popular with young people.

She told us about the Planetarium and the ferries that you could use to easily visit the small islands in the area. We also learned that Al Capone’s mother lived in Rijeka, as did former New York City Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia.

We also passed the Rijeka Synagogue, a small orthodox synagogue that was built and opened in 1932.

We drove up the hill to Trsat, where we explored the Castle and the Franciscan Monastery, which had been honored with a visit from Pope John Paul II. A bronze statue commemorates his time in Rijeka.

Despite the rain, we were able to see some beautiful views of the city and the sea behind it.

We went back down to town to meet Snijezana Papes from the Port of Rijeka for lunch at Gardens Restaurant. In some ways it reminded me of a New York diner, with a big menu that offered a little of everything.

Lynn and I were surprised how different the culture and food in Rijeka was from Istria. It was a little less Italian-influenced, but we found a lot more salads and vegetables.

After an indulgent chocolate fudge cake dessert,  we talked more about the port and the city before the group left us at Korzo, the pedestrian shopping area.

At first sight, it reminded me of a similar area in Vienna, but it wasn’t quite as high end. The prices and selection was quite reasonable.

Korzo also has outdoor cafes between the shops.

Lynn, a jewelry designer, especially loved the mosaics in the galleries. I picked up a few souvenirs to bring home.

By the time we got back to the hotel, we were pretty worn out from a long day. We were glad dinner was scheduled for right in the Grand Hotel Bonavia.

The meal was great, but the Berry Crepe finish was fantastic.

Fortunately, it was also light because we were more than ready to head straight to bed.

It had been a great introduction to Rijeka and I hoped to come back, but in the morning, we were off to Split. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Toasting to the Final Share Istria Adventure - Day Six

I woke up in my suite at Hotel Lone knowing it would be my last morning in Istria. Although my friend Lynn and I would be staying in Croatia a few more days, this was the last day we would be spending with the Share Istria group, a terrific set of guys we had gotten to know well.

It was the first place Lynn and I had our own hotel rooms so we met down at the restaurant for breakfast. 

The Hotel Lone in Rovinj has one of the biggest buffet breakfasts I have ever seen, and it was included with our room.
The rows of fruit, cheese, Danishes, croissants, meats, eggs, yogurt, and covered half of the large dining room.

I took my selection of a yogurt smoothies, chocolate croissant, brie and spinach quiche out to the deck.

It looked to be another comfortably warm day in this area of Croatia

We sipped our cappuccinos for a bit before going to our rooms to get ready for a full day.

Goran Franinovic of the Istria Tourism Board had been our guide throughout the week, and a perfect one at that. His colleague, Marko Markovic, whom we met on the first day, would be taking over from here.

Most of our days had been exploring the seaside villages of Istria, but today we were heading up to the mountains to Grožnjan, often called the “City of Artists.”

It may have not been on the Adriatic Sea, but it had the same warmth I felt all over this region of Istria.

We had lattes in a café that was lined with art as we were briefed on the tour we would take through the cobblestone alleyways and into art galleries of Grožnjan.
Lynn, an artist herself who specializes in silver jewelry design, was especially interested in the art, which varied from ceramic to wood carvings to coral pieces.  

After a few hours we headed to CUJ Winery and Olive Oil. While it’s not a combination those of us in the U.S. are used to, it is very common for Istrian wineries to also produce olive oil.

We walked through the vineyards and toured the production area at CUJ. It was set up for strictly small batches. We tasted both wine and oil and really enjoyed both.

Our next stop was in Umag at Konoba Buscina for lunch. It was a picturesque setting and Marko, our guide, told us to expect a delicious lunch.

We were not disappointed as we feasted on goat cheese, prosciutto, grilled meat, pasta with freshly grated truffles, and more olive oil and wine.

Marko dropped us off at the hotel and we said our goodbyes to him. He and Goran had gone above and beyond in making us feel comfortable and welcomed in Istria.

I was happy to have some free time to explore the grounds of Hotel Lone. I even took a walk down to the beach area and did a few laps in the pool before returning to my room, where the infinity Jacuzzi on my balcony was warm and comforting.

I decided to dress up a bit for the final night as long as we had time. I was actually the first to arrive in the lobby, but Lynn, Rocky, Nicolas, Andras, and Georgy quickly followed. I wondered if the other Share Istria groups had gotten along as well as we had.

On our first visit to Rovinj a few days previous, we had remarked that the Valentino Champagne Bar was an amazing place for cocktails and Goran had arranged for us to go there before dinner.

Valentino was on a hill and they set it up so you could actually sit along the rocks that climbed down to the Adriatic Sea. Two things made it even more breathtaking – a specialty Moet & Chandon Champagne drinks in specially designed glasses, and the opportunity to watch the sunset under these once in a lifetime circumstances.

We continued to watch the sun fade away over the Adriatic Sea as we walked a few doors down to have dinner at Puntulina.

Our last meal was as memorable as our first, with the freshest Italian and Croatian food flowing, along with the Istrian wine I had come to love.

Platters of prosciutto, cheese, meat, and pasta kept coming. Lynn and I, who are both allergic to seafood, were a bit jealous when we saw the plates for the men, but our food and rich desserts were also pretty amazing.

We walked back through the Rovinj Piazza. The weekend was nearing and more people were coming down. There were even musicians playing in the background.

It was definitely a bittersweet night as we all said goodbye in the Hotel Lone lobby. Although we had talked about going to a club our last night, we were too tired, saying “Zbogom” to our Istrian adventure.

While this marks the end of the Share Istria adventure, look for more stories on that week in my other outlets (search #ShareIstriaUSA1, the designation given to Lynn and I). The rest of the Croatian trip through Rijeka and Split will be coming soon.