Crazy for Croatia

Next stop, Venice. Warm and sunny, everything about Italy makes my heart swoon. The romantic language, the intricate architecture, the homemade food and not to mention gorgeous people, Italy is by far and will always be my favorite place.

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We stayed at the Antica Locanda Sturion situated right in the heart of the city. Only a stone’s throw away from the Rialto Bridge, we thoroughly enjoyed our room with a beautiful view overlooking the Grand Canal. If the over 150 foot span of the Rialto plus the 78 steps leading up to the hotel lobby were not enough of a workout, a major traveler’s note for any European destination is to pack as light as possible. I promise you won’t need half of what you bring and your arms and many others will be thanking you.

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DSC_3949Lunch in Italy. Let me rewrite. Food in Italy. Once you do away with “gli spaghetti” and “la pizza”, you can indulge in the most literal sense of a taste of heaven. What I consider as one of the greatest food capitals in the world, Italians are prideful of their nation’s cuisine and rightly so. From their handcrafted pasta to fresh Italian herbs, the different and diverse delicacies of Italy range from region to region, each boasting of their own unique and delicious signature dishes. In Italy, meals are structured around lunch being one of the biggest and most important meals of the day so it was only fitting that when in Italy, eat like Italy. Old-fashioned duck “Sauce Pevarada” and orange crème brulee with rosemary sherbet were just a small taste of the exquisite and authentic Venetian cuisine served at the Bistrot de Venise. If it weren’t for our plane ticket back home, I am almost positive we would still be eating there.

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Apart from the magnificent marvel enveloped in tourists, the smaller, lesser known islands surrounding the city offer a whole new world to discover. It is definitely worth veering from Venice to make a day trip to the lovely islands of Burano, Murano and Torcello. To explore these islands, the most accessible way of transportation are by the daily waterbus services leaving from Fondamenta Nove. Our first stop took us to Murano, which is reputable and renowned for being the original glass factory of Venice. The artisans of Murano continue century-old techniques in glass blowing demonstrations that lead to the creation of handcrafted pieces sure to leave you in awe.

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An unplanned yet spontaneous private water taxi trip later, we were dropped off on the island of Burano. This was one of my absolute favorite islands as we strolled among brightly and boldly painted houses lining the streets of the island engulfed in complete peace and tranquility. Vivid blues, bright pinks, serene lavenders and every color in between paint a picture of livelihood and beauty, an artist’s paradise. Also known for its intricate lacework, the beauty of Burano lies in its delicate atmosphere and cheerful community sure to lift any soul. As meal times come around, our approach for choosing where to eat usually consists of whatever the locals suggest and wherever the most people are to fully immerse ourselves into the community. Being on a working fisherman’s island was no doubt showcased in the freshly caught seafood at what many note as the best of Burano at Al Gatto Nero da Ruggero.

Ready for the next adventure, after a few days in Italy we finally began our journey to the “promised land”; Croatia. Ecstatic and extremely eager, I could not help but love absolutely every minute of it. Just something about the way the crystal blue sea met with the taupe rock of small villages gave off an all-encompassing, picturesque grandeur. Much more a spearhead than the months of online travel sites and advice articles we research leading up to our trips, it is most certainly the spontaneity of adventure that leads us in discovering the most splendid towns and treasures. Our initial aim was for that large and well known dot on the map called Split, but more often than not our shots wonderfully and whimsically land us in the little and lesser known specks.

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From an inviting entrance through the historic North Gate to the Fortress Kamerlengo overlooking the harbor, Trogir will delight you with its quaint and charming culture. This medieval town full of urban tradition combines its Greek, Roman and Venetian influenced foundation with its stunning scenery and marvelous monuments to create an island filled with genuine Dalmatian history. Our night at the Hotel Palace provided friendly service, a perfect location and a beautiful view that makes for an all-around pleasurable stay.

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One thing I must mention is how nice the people of Croatia are. Not only do I love their country, but also their people that exuded overwhelming kindness and sincerity everywhere we went. Appetizers at Sv. Dominik were accompanied by front row entertainment of an incredible downpour of rain, lightning and thunderstorm, sweeping away all the outdoor seating, but surely no one’s spirit. With soaked clothing and food, the waiters were extremely considerate in trying to provide us the finest service up until they were unfortunately stormed out for the night. Still hungry for more, we took our seats down the street to family-run and recommended Konoba Kaleeta that personally welcomed us with wiped down tables and a warm meal despite the wicked weather.

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DSC_4671When I think back to my favorite place in Croatia, Hvar takes the crown. After some more R&D, we boarded the Jadrolinja car ferry from Split to an island of breathtakingly natural beauty. Located just off the Dalmatian Coast among over a thousand Croatian islands, Hvar is the destination for the ultimate island getaway. Rolling hills, beautiful beaches, spectacular architecture and a vibrant nightlife make Hvar Town a port city bustling with energy and vivacity worthy of its popularity. Food in Croatia had yet to fail us and our dinner at Kod Kapetana made for the most outstanding of all. The day’s fresh catch of “bird fish” was prepared whole in typical Dalmatian, oven-baked style with roasted potatoes and vegetables, a seafood lover’s wildest dream turned reality. If I had to do it over again, I would order two and never leave. A lovely night stroll along the yacht lit harbor landed a local lavender gelato in my hand and a smile on my face. After waking up to the sound of swaying palm trees, the spray of crystal blue waters crashing against the rustic stone walkways and the feeling of the sun shining down after a storm, I am now positive that all things Hvar lead to eternal happiness.

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From sea to shining sea and back again, we took the ferry back to Split and headed north towards the city of Zadar. The old town of Zadar itself does not have very many accommodations so plan to stay in one of nearby surrounding cities like we did at the Hotel Adriana in Boric. Once settled, you can head over to the old town peninsula to explore Romanesque ruins and marble streets rich with zeal and ancient relics characteristic of its historic center. Included in this enchanting town is Zadar’s famous Sea Organ, which uses the waves and wind to play music on organ steps leading into the water and the Sun Salutation, a large solar-paneled piece that creates a light show at night, both created by local artist Nikola Basic.

DSC_4715The hiker in me was more than satisfied as a scenic drive back through the mountains landed us at Plitvice Lakes National Park. A woodsy stay at the Hotel Bellevue placed us right at the head of the entrance for an easy access to the stunning scenery before us. Granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979, this park is known as one of Croatia’s most beautiful natural sights due to its magnificent series of lakes and waterfalls all formed by pure geological processes. The sixteen lakes are divided into upper and lower sections, interconnected by flowing cascades over dolomite and limestone complexes complemented by a range of diverse flora and fauna worthy of a fantasy. Shuttle bus, electric boat or walking provide the best options for an all extensive tour of this watery wonderland. Unluckily, our hike was literally cut short as the massive waterfalls before our eyes overflowed onto the trails from the water falling out of the sky, but we left with an enchanting experience nonetheless. Our last night fell in the small sea town of Lignano Sabbiadoro that is a popular destination for relaxation along golden beaches and attractive landscapes. A delicious dinner at Ristorante Rosa added to the quality and community feeling that the town was a glow with and marked the commune as a definite return.

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When I think back to what I remember most about our marvelous trip, in the end it never really matters where we go or what we see. We may be thousands of miles away in the most extravagant of places, but it’s in the simplicity of cherishing time and experiences together that I find the greatest sense of home. They say home is where the heart is and for those pieces of my heart left wherever I go, I think we can agree.

3 Comments

  1. Cindy Shaw
    November 18, 2014 / 11:56 am

    Love your blogs, Soleil (courtesy of your mom on FB). Italy’s my favorite, too – last trip we included an organic farm stay in Tuscany with my cousins from Norway. Talk about a whole nother dimension in Italian food!

  2. Kathy Beecher
    November 18, 2014 / 2:03 pm

    Your writing is amazing. We are going to Croatia in the spring! Kathy Beecher

  3. Kim bachtel
    November 18, 2014 / 8:44 pm

    Soleil – you have an incredible way with words, making the reader feel what you experienced…a true talent. And the photos are absolutely perfection. I see a potential career… Thank you for sharing.

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