A Week in Croatia

I am incredibly excited to write this blog post because I think Croatia has to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I travelled to Croatia with my friend Bay at the end of August for 7 days and we had the most amazing time together. Just for some background, Bay and I took an outdoor education class together and are both very adventurous and you know, if we can live in a snow shelter for a night in Northern Canada, we can definitely get through a trip to Croatia together.

Since Bay was visiting her Dutch family before our trip, she stayed over at my cube the night before our flight left. We had a lovely 5:30am start time the next day and despite our train to Amsterdam being cancelled, we made it to the airport. We flew with EastJet who have really good deals on flights throughout Europe. The flight was short and we both managed to sleep the entire time. The minute we landed and the plane doors opened, we could feel the humidity. We flew into Dubrovnik airport which was just outside the city, but a few different companies run coach busses into the downtown area. We were dropped off at the main bus depot and took a taxi to our hostel. I honestly cannot recommend our hostel, Villa Divine, enough. The staff were so sweet and the rooms were stunning, plus they did free drinks every night which is always appreciated. We stayed outside of the old town, which is what we wanted since the hostels in the actual old town cost WAY too much and anything much closer than where we stayed was just as expensive as the old town. The location was great because there was a direct bus route which took us down to the old town whenever we wanted to go, though we never did find the correct bus stop, instead, we walked to the second stop on the route.

Our first day, we went to the old town to see what there was to see and what types of tours we wanted to do while we were in Dubrovnik. If we had more time there I would have loved to visit the National Parks because they have the most fantastic lakes, but it was too far from where we were so we decided to settle on doing tours in Dubrovnik and Split. The old town was everything I could have hoped for and more. There were old cobblestone streets, churches and marble buildings and columns which, if you tried to block out the hordes of tourists, made you feel like you had stepped back in time. Fun fact, quite a few scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed in old town Dubrovnik which is one of the reasons why it is so popular with tourists now. Luckily the receptionist at our hostel warned us not to eat on the main streets of the town because the restaurants there would be so much more expensive than eating on the side streets. Personally, I think that the restaurants and little shops on the side streets were much nicer and they were FAR less crowded than the main strip. After walking around the entire town, we decided that we would book a kayaking trip for the following day. Then we left to go back to our hostel so that we could go for a sunset swim at one of the beaches near the hostel.

The next day we were up bright and early to start our kayaking trip at 9am. We cut it VERY close because the bus took much longer to get there than we thought, but we managed to get there in time anyway. Bay and I got a two-person kayak and distributed our things between our waterproof barrels before setting off to the first stop of the tour, a little enclave in the cliffs. It was absolutely stunning and since our tour was the earliest group to leave, we were the only ones there for at least 30 minutes before other groups started to arrive. They supplied us with snacks, water and snorkels but, since I have an abnormally small head for an adult (seriously, I wear a child’s XS helmet for go-karting), the snorkel didn’t fit my head properly. We ended up seeing that there was a place that we could go cliff jumping which was something we both REALLY wanted to do. We had seen people cliff jumping in the old town the day before and thought, if we found a smaller jump, that we both really wanted to say that we went cliff jumping in Croatia. Anyway, this was the perfect opportunity so we both climbed on up and WOW was it ever high when I got up there. After a very long internal pep talk, I finally jumped and let’s just say it could have looked much nicer. Despite the bruise on the backs on my legs from where I smacked into the water, I can say that I went cliff jumping in Croatia and it was so worth it. The rest of the kayaking tour was amazing as well. We were supposed to paddle all the way around the island called Lokum, which is said to be haunted. Our guide told us the local legend that if you go ashore and fall asleep, you will die. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see all the way around the island because the current was too strong for most of the group to paddle all the way around. Instead, we went around the water just outside of the city and the walls, which was still very beautiful. After the tour was done, we had lunch in the old town before heading outside the walls to swim and tan overlooking the water. That evening we decided to have a night out in the old town and went to a really fun club with a couple of the people who were staying at the same hostel. I think the best part of the night out was being able to walk around the old town without there being any tourists there. I mean it was almost completely deserted by the time we left and there were lights which illuminated all the buildings.

In the morning we were up bright and early, yet again, to make our way to Split. We decided that we were going to take the ferry but once we arrived we found that all the tickets were sold, so bus it was. The reason we were hesitant to take the bus was that you have to cross over the border into Bosnia and Herzegovina before crossing back over into Croatia, so if there is a delay at the passport check you can get stuck there for hours. Luckily, we were through very quickly and made it to Split at the perfect time to check into our Airbnb. Bay and I were both absolutely exhausted from all the early mornings and the heat so we decided to have a relaxing afternoon in at the apartment, before going to buy groceries and explore the waterfront of Split at sunset. We went to Diocletian’s Palace which was lit up with lights, full of live music and bustling with tourists. It was absolutely incredible to see something so old still so full of life. We walked around for a little while before heading back to the Airbnb, having decided on the plan for our next two days in Split.

We decided we wanted our first full day in Split to be a beach day. Bay and I went down to the beach and rented chairs and lockers so that we could leave all of our stuff somewhere safe while we went swimming or went and got food. It was really nice to have one day where we could just relax, and not rush around trying to see everything. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and, since we rented chairs away from the main beach, we were able to get away from all the noise. We stayed on the beach all day before leaving to try and find a better place to watch the sunset from. We didn’t find one, so we just sat on the side of a pier drinking Croatian beer (since it’s totally legal to drink in public there).

On the 31st of September, Bay and I had booked a boat cruise around a few of the islands off the coast of Split. It was absolutely stunning. The water was perfectly clear and was the most fantastic shade of blue. There were quite a few different stops on the tour and it also included a complimentary ‘traditional’ lunch on one of the islands and free drinks on the boat. It was quite a lot of money, but in my opinion was worth it. It was tough to decide which boat tour to do since they all seemed to do the same route and were all roughly the same price, but we were happy with the one we chose. The main reason we chose our boat was that they had an inflatable water slide!! It was massive and unrolled from the top of the second deck on one of our longer stops between islands. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea what islands we visited but they were very tiny and quaint. It was a really nice way to spend the day, with more than enough time for swimming in the beautiful water.

On our last full day in Split, we had both seen everything that we wanted to see except for Marjan Hill. We had a relaxing start to the morning and then just walked around the downtown and Diocletian’s Palace again. A few hours before sunset we decided that we would walk up to the top of Marjan Hill with our books and sit there until the sunset. Our plan was great BUT then it started to cloud over and look like rain. The hike up to the top of the hill was really easy, mainly paved the entire way to make it easier for tourists to get up. We had the most fantastic view looking out over all of the city and it was so nice to sit up there with our books, the breeze blowing. After the weather started to change, we walked back down halfway to where there was a nice little cafe which still overlooked the cafe. We sat there until the sunset and even though we didn’t get to watch the actual sunset, it was so beautiful to watch the darkness fall on the city and all the red-roofed buildings start to light up. I think it was the perfect way to end the trip and Bay and I ended up spending quite a few hours sitting at this little cafe before heading back to our apartment to pack for our journey back to Amsterdam the next day.

View of Split from the top of Marjan Hill

We took another bus to the airport the following day, heading back to Amsterdam with EasyJet. I really, really enjoyed my time in Croatia and I couldn’t recommend it enough. Dubrovnik’s old town is a must see place but it is EXTREMELY touristy. I mean seriously, when Bay and I were there you could hardly stick your elbows out there were so many tourists there. I would say it is still worth it, but it isn’t a place to stay for a prolonged period of time. All the Croatian locals I met were so sweet and helpful, giving us a lot of tips about where to go and, more importantly, where not to go. I think that Croatia is the perfect place to go for a more adventurous trip because you have the option to do things like kayaking day trips and there is a lot of hiking as well. I will absolutely be returning to Croatia at some point in my life because I really want to see Zagreb and the Plitvice Lakes National Park. It is a country that is full of history, beautiful nature and it makes for such a great experience.

Discovering Dublin

Dublin was wonderful, simple as that. While it was a place I have always wanted to visit, it wasn’t wonderful for the reasons I thought it would be. Usually, when I visit a new city in Europe I like to go for the historical sites and then a few of the touristy sites as well but, in Dublin, the only historical place I visited was the Trinity College Library and even then I was in and out in under 10 minutes. I think the reason that I had such a wonderful couple of days was that I met some really interesting people to share the adventure with.

I stayed at Abigails Hostel (http://abigailshostel.com) which was in the best location I could have asked for, right in the middle of Temple Bar. Temple Bar is one of the famous and extremely touristy bars and the area around it is named after it. I never had to walk for longer than 10 minutes to get to anything I wanted to see in the city which was amazing. I met some really interesting people in my hostel too and it was great to have other people to tour the city with. It was such an interesting mix of people too. I met people who had just moved to Dublin and were staying a hostel while they found an apartment, I met people like myself who had been abroad all summer and this was one of their last stops and there were people who were in Dublin for only two nights. One of the things that I love about hostels is how open and friendly most people are, especially other solo travelers. Almost everyone is looking to meet new people and share adventures along the way. Just sitting in the lobby of a hostel, you can make a handful of new friends in no time and I think its just such an interesting experience to have. I mean sure, a lot of the people I met I will follow their lives at a distance on Instagram or Facebook, but there are others who I can see myself staying in touch with and going to visit wherever they might end up in the world.

I arrived in Dublin around 6pm from Toulouse airport and went right to my hostel to check in. I made my bed and then headed down to the nearest pub I could find to grab a bite to eat and my first Guinness (of many). I found a great little place a couple doors down from my hostel and sat listening to live music for a couple of hours and, of course, found myself sitting next to two other Canadians who were there on their honeymoon. I swear that Canadians are subconsciously drawn to each other when traveling because they seem to pop up whenever I am introducing myself to new people. The next day I was up bright and early, and I mean bolt upright and ready to go. The time difference between France and Ireland was only one hour but when you’re used to waking up at 6am in France, that means you’re up at 5am in Ireland. Despite my best effort, I wasn’t able to fall back asleep so I ended up lying around the room until I could finally go down for breakfast at 7:30am. By 8am I was out of the hostel walking around a VERY empty looking city. I was fully prepared to be the first person at all of the sites I wanted to see and had a long list of places to check off, but it turns out it was a holiday in Ireland so almost everything I wanted to see was closed. I ended up heading back to the hostel to change my plan for the day. I signed up to do a free walking tour at 11am and then booked tickets to see the book of Kells and the Trinity College Library later in the day.  I honestly have to say that free walking tours are one of the best ways to see a city, especially when you’re on a budget! The tour guides are all freelancers who work on tips so they have the incentive to give you a better tour because a better tour means more tips. Then you just need to tip them what you think the tour is worth! I have been using Sandemans New Europe Tours (http://www.neweuropetours.eu) and haven’t been disappointed with them yet. I even did 4 different tours with them in Berlin and all the guides were fantastic. But anyway, after that I went around the Book of Kells exhibit which was alright. I know that as a history major I should have been much more excited about it, but it was packed with tourists and the exhibit wasn’t of particular interest to me. I ended up just walking straight past the exhibit to see the books, which are very very beautiful, medieval manuscripts, and then headed right up to the library. The library is stunning and was very much worth the money I paid to get into it, but again it was absolutely packed with tourists so after taking a couple pictures there wasn’t much else I could do in there.

After that, I completely hit a wall. I don’t know if I was coming down from working so much in France this summer or if being back in a city was too much for me but I could hardly keep my eyes open and I started to feel super guilty about not continuing to tour around Dublin. I ended up just sitting in the lobby of the hostel for 2 hours, video chatting with my boyfriend while he tried to talk me out of feeling guilty for not walking around more. I was super close to just going to bed at 6pm but he suggested that I find someone to go for a drink with for an hour and honestly if he hadn’t convinced me to do that, I would have missed out on meeting some really awesome girls who I ended up spending the rest of my trip with. After I hung up the call with Xav, I ended up introducing myself to a girl who had also been sitting in the lobby for two hours. Basically, we totally hit it off and went out for drinks with another girl in her room. That one hour out for a drink turned into 8 hours of drinks, dinner, laughter, and dancing and I am so thankful that I didn’t just go to bed like I planned to. I think that I had my all-time best travel moment that night too when I dragged an Irishman onto the dance floor to dance. Let me tell you, we absolutely cleared the dance floor with the way he was spinning me to the Irish jig the band was playing.

I have to say as much as I enjoy travelling on my own, it was really nice to have company in Dublin. Our group did a little bit of shopping, because why not, and did the Guinness Storehouse together which was absolutely worth the money. It was packed but the view from the bar at the top was well worth it. We spent a good chunk of our afternoon up there meeting new people and looking out over the city. But as wonderful as all of that was, my absolute favourite part of the trip was the ride I did just outside of the city. I booked a private two-hour ride because let’s face it, after riding for three hours every day for three months, I figured I would be missing riding a little bit by then. By coincidence, the girl who took me out on the ride was from the same part of France that I had just come from and was the same age as me. We had a fantastic ride together galloping through the paths that overlooked the city. At the very top, you could look down and see the entire city of Dublin which was stunning. We even saw it when the sun was shining (believe it or not)! I really enjoyed the relaxing pace that I had in Dublin. Usually, I pack in as much as I can see and this time I didn’t, I just enjoyed the city and the new company and it was really refreshing.

My final day in Dublin was really chilled out and I went out for a goodbye breakfast with the girls before heading to the airport to fly to Manchester. I have just spent the last two weeks visiting with my family in the UK which is something I don’t get to do as often as I would like. My cousin Emily picked me up from Manchester airport and drove me up to her Uni house in Wales, and let me stay with her and her boyfriend for 5 days. We filled our days with cooking, history and a lot of laughing together. It was really nice to have someone to nerd out with over the stone outline of an Iron Age farm that we visited and even better to be with someone who was as in awe as I was over a neolithic burial chamber!! She’s also majoring in history, so she just gets it.  After spending time with her, she put me on the train to my aunts house in Crewe. I spent nearly a week with her, my uncle and two more of my cousins and had a wonderful time there as well. It was a huge change to be able to spend time one on one with all my family, because usually when I see them it is at Christmas time and it’s always a bit chaotic trying to see everyone in my very large family, in a very short period of time. My aunt has just bought a new horse so I spent an hour or so every day up at the stables with her. On my last day we went out on a hack together and honestly, just galloped around a country park for the best part of two hours. She and I had the most fantastic time and we even get the same silly smile when we’re riding. I also had the new experience of having a day trip out on my uncle’s motorbike. We drove around the English country-side up to a beautiful peak view (which of course we couldn’t see because of the rain) and then down to a place called Matlock Bath which is where all the bikes meet up for food and a drink. I also got to see where my mom and dad used to live in England which was really cool since I have never been there before. It was a jam-packed few days which also included visiting Alton Towers with my cousin and his girlfriend and having a night out with my other cousin. I think that this trip was probably the most time I have ever got to spend with my cousins, ever so we absolutely made the most of it. On Wednesday, my aunt dropped me off at the airport and I travelled to Amsterdam Airport before taking the train down to Rotterdam. And here I am, settling into the city that I will be calling home for the next 10 months.