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“You’re only going to Croatia for six days? Why?”
I must’ve heard the same reaction a dozen times when I mentioned that I had spontaneously booked a six day jaunt to Croatia; the homeland of many of my relatives, including my grandparents and dad. And do you know what my answer was every single time?
My sister and her boyfriend had booked a trip to Croatia for three weeks, so they were already going to be down near the coast when I said it’d be fun to meet up after I explored Zagreb, the beautiful and extremely underrated capital city for a few days, visited some relatives in some small villages and see where my family roots came from and eventually I’d make my way down to the coast to meet up in Zadar, famous for its stunning sunsets and Adriatic views. My grandma (my mom’s mom and from my Slovenian half of the family) decided that she wanted to go back home to spend time with some family when she heard that I was going, so she booked a ticket spontaneously like I did, and joined me for the plane ride to Zagreb, where we’d eventually split ways and she’d be picked up by our cousins and go to Slovenia, while I would hail a taxi and head to Zagreb.
As soon as I exited the airport after collecting our baggage and walked towards the taxis, the intense summer heat hit me in the face like a hot steam bath. Now, everyone knows I despise the heat, we just don’t get along, so I was more than happy to have a cabbie approach me quickly and whisk me off to the Zagreb city centre in his air conditioned chariot of a taxi!
Next stop, Zagreb!
Once I had checked into my beautiful apartment, I immediately hit the ground running and was already totally in love with Zagreb. Even though it is the capital city and it was peak travel season, Zagreb never felt jam packed to me, which was pretty damn nice if I do say so myself! I figured that most tourists land in Zagreb, but then immediately head down to the coastal towns for the beaches, which is a shame because Zagreb was blowing my mind with it’s stunning Austro-Hungarian and Neo-Classical style architecture, grandiose buildings and incredibly gorgeous parks filled with bright and colourful flowers.
Read more: A Complete City Guide To Zagreb, Croatia
Strolling around Zagreb’s medieval city centre looks and feels like you are walking through the pages of a history book. As I walked around in the heat to try to make it from Donji Grad (Lower Town) to Gornji Grad (Upper Town) I could just instantly feel myself getting an intense migraine, so I retreated for the afternoon back to my hotel to shower, rest and nap, since I had been up since the day before flying from Toronto. I guess jet lag and the migraine totally kicked my ass because I ended up just sleeping until 1am, so there was no use in getting up. Sometimes you just need to listen to your body and relax.
The next morning, I woke up bright and early around 6am and got ready to head to breakfast then make my way to Zagreb’s main train station because I was off to catch a local train to visit my dad’s side of the family in the countryside area of Draganić, which is considered a municipality in Karlovac County. The area is small and consists of many tiny villages of Lug, Goljak, Mrzljaki, Jazvaci, Darići, Budrovci (where my grandfather is from), Bencetici, Barkovići, Draganići, Lazina, Franetici, Vrbanci, and Vrh. This area is tiny. The combined population was last recorded at approximately 2,950 people with a 97% Croat heritage. That’s about double the amount of people that went to my high school. Crazy! I then would head to Vukšin Šipak (where my grandmother is from), which is a settlement in the Jastrebarsko area and literally a stone’s throw away from Draganić. As of 2011, Vukšin Šipak had a grand total population of 310 people. WOW!
After my hearty breakfast, I casually strolled down to the train station and searched for my train to Draganić. After I picked up some fruits and treats to give to my relatives, and after a bit of confusion, I eventually found my train and this was definitely a locals only ride. It was full of graffiti, no A/C (lucky me) and I’m pretty sure I was the only tourist on board, but it was actually a very seamless ride and it was FAST. Shockingly fast, actually! The train ride to Draganići train station from Zagreb took a total of 46 minutes and made stops at very small and local train stations. The train I was on did not call the stops, and from where I was sitting in the train, it was difficult to see the station names, so luckily I had a screenshot of the station stops, as I had zero internet connectivity at the time, so I was able to determine when I should get off the train. Easy!
After spending a full day with family, I headed back to Zagreb on a much more modern train (complete with A/C) to my delight, walked back to my apartment and headed to bed. I wanted to be up early the next day and hit up the sites and neighbourhoods in Zagreb that I didn’t get to see the first two days before heading down to the coast for the remainder of my trip.
I woke up early the next day and headed out the door to explore Zagreb some more. It was my last full day in the city, so I wanted to hit up some sites such as St. Mark’s Church (Crkva sv. Marka), climb the fortified Lotrščak Tower for incredible views of Gornji Grad, Zagreb Cathedral (Zagrebačka Katedrala), Dolac Market, The Museum of Broken Relationships and SO much more! After a quick breakfast stop, I walked my way from Donji Grad to Gonji Grad and stopped along the way for tons of photos, of course!
Read more: How to Create the Perfect Travel Itinerary
As the day went on, the temperature started to rise rapidly, so I grabbed some fresh blackberries from the Dolac Market, bought an ice cold Ožujsko Limun radler and perched myself on a shady bench along the Strossmayer Promenade and enjoyed the views of Donji Grad in the distance. Once I finished my “sightseeing break”, I climbed Lotrščak Tower and the views did NOT disappoint at all. After the climb, I was pretty hungry, so I stopped off at a traditional Croatian restaurant in Old Town to enjoy some home cooked food and beer. The portions were massive and the beer was cold – perfect!
Once I was finished eating and thankful for wearing stretchy tights, I headed back to my apartment as soon as I noticed the sky above was starting to darken. The moment I made it into my room, the skies opened up and a torrential downpour came flooding out of the sky above and blustering winds started to blow. The whole ordeal only lasted about 15-20 minutes, but it was intense and I was glad I came back to cool down, shower and have a mid-afternoon snooze. That evening I went out for a delicious pizza, some coffee and walked around the city and watched it come to life as the sun dipped below the horizon. I was on the search for a craft beer bar and I found it near Gornji Grad and it had such a great vibe and lively outdoor patio, so I stepped inside to have a quick drink and continued to walk around some more.
Even with the sun completely gone at this point, the heat was still in the high 20’s (Celcius), so I decided to take the world’s shortest funicular from Gornji Grad to Donji Grad. Best 5 kuna I’ve spent, since it saved me from sweating for just a bit! After the long day of walking around, I headed back to my apartment and started to pack up my stuff because the next morning I was hopping on a bus and heading down to the coast for the remainder of my trip.
Next stop, Zadar!
The next morning, I was up early, finished packing, had a shower and was out the door and on my way to the Zagreb bus station. I don’t know why I didn’t take a tram and decided to walk with all of my stuff because it was scorching hot walking directly into the sun for a straight 25 minutes. When I finally arrived at the station, I searched for my bus number and waited for it to arrive. Once the bus rolled up and everyone had their luggage on board, we pulled out of the station and headed towards the Autoput (highway). The bus ride to Zadar from Zagreb was estimated to be about three and a half hours, which would get me into the city at around 12:30pm and have enough time to meet my sister and her boyfriend, walk around and explore a bit and relax, but things were about to change that plan real quick! When we finally got the the Autoput, we were cruising at a good 120kms/hr and since the Autoput is essentially the equivalent of the Autobahn, the posted speed limits are quite high. Well, our cruising soon turned into a slow crawl due to the insane amount of traffic (hello peak season) and cars were stalled on the road overheating causing traffic to come to a near standstill. As we inched our way down the Autoput, we’d get a break in traffic every so often, but it wouldn’t last long. I was supposed to meet my apartment host at 1pm for my keys, but I knew that wasn’t happening. I decided to ask an Italian girl that was insisting next to me if I could borrow her phone (mine had no connectivity) to send my host an email saying that I was definitely going to be late.
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Our bus driver was getting fed up at the snail’s pace we were going and he knew he was definitely no longer on schedule, so he basically said, “Fuck this,” in Croatian and took an off-ramp and we then headed through small villages and eventually made our way up to the mountains in order to cross over and head to the coastal area. The mountain roads of Croatia are generally full of vertigo inducing switchbacks and cliffs to begin with…try doing them in a massive bus. It was enough to fill your pants with shit, especially if you’re lucky to have a window seat like I did. As we careened down the mountains and around the tight turns, all I could think about was the skill our driver had, which was nothing short of amazing! Finally, after an good 45 minutes in the mountains, we were back on flat ground and the sign to Zadar was marked with 60kms left to go!
Six grueling hours later, we finally made it to the Zadar bus station! I hailed a taxi immediately and headed to my apartment, settled in and went to meet my sister and her boyfriend for a late lunch/early dinner by the water. After scarfing down a delicious pasta with truffle cream sauce and a cold beer, I had to rush back to my hotel and get ready, as I had booked a private sunset sailing cruise for that night and the meeting point was about three kilometres away. Thankfully, my sister said they could drive me there and drop me off to save me from walking.
Read more: A Complete City Guide To Zadar, Croatia
Around 7:30pm, the sun was beginning to set and our host and skipper met us (there was a French couple and their baby as well) at the harbour and we boarded the sailboat and set off into the sunset. Sitting on the boat and bobbing along with the waves, having some great local food for snacking, some drinks and great conversation made the stress of that crazy travel day melt away. It was so relaxing and definitely something I could’ve easily gotten used to doing every night. The cool sea breeze was inviting after the intense heat of the day and it was the perfect way to end the night; I just wished that the cruise was longer.
The next morning I was up early, once again, to head out, grab some breakfast and explore the medieval streets of Zadar. I had lost some precious hours the day before due to the late arrival into the city, so getting up early was my only chance to go snap some photos. The contrast between the amount of people roaming the streets was quite literally night and day. There were loads of people walking around the previous night and partying into the wee hours of the morning and when I was out at 7am, the streets were absolutely empty with the exception of a few delivery trucks and a cat snoozing in the main square. Wandering through Zadar’s medieval streets was one of my favourite parts of the trip. The city layout has been around since the Roman rule and is full of historic sites and beautiful and sleek marble lane ways. After spending some time taking plenty of photos, drinking coffee and buying some souvenirs for some friends and family, I headed back to my apartment and waited on my sister and her boyfriend to pick me up, as we were heading to the island Pag, famous for its moon-like surface for a day trip before heading back up to my grandma’s brother’s house in the village of Vukšin Šipak.
Driving onto the island of Pag felt like driving onto another planet. It’s harsh bright stone landscapes were dry and barren and quite the contrast from the rolling green hills and vegetation rich areas of Croatia. We stopped in Old Pag Town for some lunch, some exploring and drove down to a remote beach, which was less than idyllic due to the heavy amount of tourists sunning themselves and the extremely sharp and rocky shoreline. No, thanks. Once we packed up the car, we headed to the Autoput and off we went.
Next stop, Vukšin Šipak.
When we arrived in Vukšin Šipak at my grandma’s brother’s house, of course we were greeted with hugs, kisses and food…lots of food! We sat down to a delicious home cooked meal and chatted the night away. I knew we’d have to be up early to pack and drive to the airport, so I headed to bed to get a good night’s sleep, well at least the best I could, since it was just so damn hot in the house, especially with zero A/C. The next morning, I got up early to get my stuff packed and ready to go and went for a little walk in the village. Walking down the semi-paved road, breathing in the fresh country air and listening to the sound of a rooster calling out for everyone to wake up was a relaxing way to welcome a new summer day and to close the chapter of my six day trip to Croatia.
Although six days wasn’t long enough to fully explore the country, I do have to give myself credit for seeing, doing and experiencing so much in such a short span of time. Growing up in Canada, but surrounded by half of my family being from Croatia, will always make Croatia a country that will feel like a piece of home to me because of the familiarity of the food, its people, its customs, hearing the language and of course visiting caring and generous family members there that always welcome you with open arms…and an open fridge!!
Make sure to check back here in the coming weeks as I delve into more detail with complete city guides to Zagreb, Zadar and some other goodies for you guys! xo