September 12, 2017

Croatia's Dalmatian Coast: A Travel Guide

It seems that everyone is going to Croatia right now. When we decided to go, a mere 5 days before we left, almost everyone we told mentioned they were either going to Croatia this summer or knew someone who had just gotten back or was headed there shortly.

This was really surprising because I had always thought of Croatia as a somewhat off-the-beaten-path destination. In 2011, when I traveled to Bosnia and Serbia, I remember people being utterly confused not only at why I wanted to travel to those places but why I lamented the fact that my trip wouldn't give me time to visit Croatia.

It seems like Game of Thrones has really changed that. I know people who have never left the country who say that Croatia is first on their bucket list because of the show. Because of that, I've decided to write this travel guide before diving into the details of how we spent our trip! 

Croatia was wildly different from what I expected. Having traveled to the region before, I expected it to be similar to Bosnia and Serbia. While I know that Croatia is a different country, that has only been the case for about 20 years so I was surprised to see just how different they were!

For example, in both Bosnia and Serbia, all of the signs everywhere are written in Cyrillic, where as Croatia uses the Roman alphabet! In Croatia, English was widely-spoken, whereas the language barrier definitely posed a challenge when I was in Sarajevo and Belgrade! There were other differences, which I'll share below.

I really enjoyed our trip to Croatia but it wasn't quite the trip I was expecting. Today, I'm sharing some tips so that you know exactly what to expect if you're planning a trip there.

Where We Went
We started our Croatian adventure in Dubrovnik and ended in Trogir. We chose to rent a car for the day to drive from Dubrovnik to Split. Typically, this drive takes about 3 hours but we took our time and made a few stops along the way, including on the Peljesac Peninsula (an absolute must if you like oysters) and Krka National Park. 

We opted to stay in Trogir instead of Split for a few reasons: it was less expensive, a bit more off the beaten path and therefore quieter, and close enough to Split to allow us time to visit.

Where We Stayed
When The Pilot and I travel, it's almost always a pretty last minute decision. Croatia is not a destination I would recommend for last minute travel. Hotel prices were astronomical so we turned to Airbnb. When we looked at our options in Dubrovnik, Split, and Trogir, there were only about 12-15 available places remaining in each city for the dates we were traveling and all of them had wildly strict cancellation policies. This really came to bite us when we didn't make our connection from Munich and lost a day in Dubrovnik. Because of the unpredictability of the way we travel (flying standby), we've always preferred hotels or Airbnbs that are a bit more forgiving with changing travel plans. In hindsight, part of me wishes we had opted out of Croatia so that we didn't lose money and chosen to go at a time when more was available so that we could book places with flexible travel policies.

What We Ate
One of my favorite restaurants in DC is a Balkan restaurant that brings back all of the flavors and tastes that I enjoyed so much in Bosnia and Serbia. I couldn't wait to get back to the Balkans and get my fill of one of my favorite cuisines. Croatian food, however, is wildly different from what I ate in Bosnia or Serbia. It's funny...I know that Croatia is a different country but less than 25 years ago, it wasn't and I expected there to be a lot more similarities but there weren't any.

This was not the easiest dish I've ever consumed. They still had eyes! And I accidentally chopped off one of their heads and it flew at my husband. Oops.
Where the food in Bosnia and Serbia offers bread, pasta, meat, and pastries filled with vegetables and spices, Croatia had an interesting mix of Mediterranean and Italian flavors with a ton of seafood. I absolutely loved it. I was very happy to find a Bosnian restaurant in Dubrovnik though to get my fill of the Balkan food I expected!

A Note about the Beaches
I had read that the beaches in Croatia are pebble beaches. I've been on pebble beaches before and liked them. Smooth, black pebbles that are a little warm to walk on but are otherwise fine.

Croatia does not have pebble beaches. Croatia has jagged, rocky beaches that are wildly painful to step on without water shoes. The beaches were so rocky, in fact, that a lot of people carried yoga mats to lay out on, as they offered a little bit more protection from the rocky beaches than towels.

We had planned to bring water shoes but forgot them which really put us at a disadvantage. And the one day we tried to go to the beach, the water was so breathtakingly cold, I couldn't stand it.

It wildly hot in Croatia. The temperatures were only in the high 80s but being that much closer to the equator really had an impact. I'm someone that usually loves hot, summer weather. I've gone on 20-mile runs in 90-degree heat and it hasn't phased me but Croatia was a different story. Every day by 2 pm, we were completely drained from the heat and I wanted nothing more than to dive into the water and cool off but, with the beaches too unpleasant to walk on and the water too cold to enjoy, I really regretted not booking a hotel with a pool. It would have been really nice to take an afternoon dip every day and then go out in the evenings when things cooled off. So, every afternoon, we would climb back up to our Airbnb and sit in the A.C. for a few hours to cool off. 

We did manage to find one beach that was a true pebble beach, just outside Trogir but we only had about one afternoon to spend there by the time we found it.

If you're traveling to Croatia in the middle of the summer and you're looking for some beach time, do not forget to bring water shoes. But if you aren't a fan of ice cold water, try your luck at a hotel that has a pool!

On Currency
As of writing this post, Croatia's currency is the kuna. Croatia will be switching to the euro in 2018 and from what we learned, Croatia has mixed feelings about this. All over Dubrovnik, shop windows featured signs with the euro symbol and an x through it. We saw a few encounters of tourists trying to pay in euro and being vehemently denied. 

Interestingly, in Split and Trogir, they welcomed the euro! We actually ran into a few instances where we were quoted prices in euro and had to calculate the exchange rate into kuna in order to pay. Everywhere we went, you can only take kuna out of the ATMs, so it was a little bit confusing to find places that only accepted euro. 

One other note about currency, carry small change! The smallest bill you can take out of an ATM is 200 kuna and most shops won't accept bills that large so I recommend finding a way to make change either at a restaurant with a larger meal or with a larger purchase. Trying to buy ice cream for 10 kuna with a 200 kuna bill won't cut it.

Final Thoughts
I know this post might lean toward the negative but I really did love Croatia. The whole time we were there, The Pilot and I kept talking about what we would do when we came back. I did love it but it wasn't what I expected and, had I known about a lot of the things I've just shared, I might have planned this trip at a different time.

I wanted to share this post for anyone who might go into planning a trip to Croatia with the same thoughts I did. I was looking for a beach trip in a European destination where I could balance sightseeing with relaxing on the beach. This wasn't that trip. We definitely did a lot of sightseeing but this wasn't a beach destination. 

I absolutely recommend traveling to Croatia but I think you should know what to expect before you go because I certainly didn't!

Stay tuned for more about our trip to Croatia including how we spent our time in Dubrovnik, our road trip to Trogir and visit to Krka National Park, and what we did in Trogir and Split!

Have a great week!

September 11, 2017

Life Lately.

Hi. (Waves sheepishly.) Remember me? 

I can't believe it has been six weeks since I last posted. 

Ever since I started my current job last year, I've had less time for this blog. Most days, I sit at my computer and write. My work is thought-provoking, engaging, challenging, and incredibly demanding. I thought, at first, that I would enjoy switching gears before or after work to write about things that are fun but the reality is that by the time I shut down for the day, I just can't bring myself to sit in front of a computer and keep writing. It doesn't help that I work from home most days so I don't even have that period of commuting to unwind and give myself a break. On days that I am in the office, my bus commute takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 depending on the traffic and I'm usually pretty exhausted by the time I get home.

DC buses feel like some sort of punishment loop. Seriously.

This time around, work hasn't been the sole reason I've stayed away from my blog and reading all of yours. This year has been hard. I usually roll my eyes at the people who always say, "I can't believe it's already September" but this time, I feel like September has rolled around and I can't catch a break. I can't believe it's already September and that for the last four months, I feel like I've been spiraling downward. I know, I'm being really vague and I'm sorry. I really am. One day, I definitely plan to share what's been going on but right now, I'm too busy trying to keep my head on straight to open up about everything. 

Since it has been so long and summer is coming to a close, I'll share a few details of what I have been up to:
  • The Pilot and I went to Dublin. It was a wildly impromptu trip but The Pilot whisked me away to the land of Guinness and stew. I was desperate to get away somewhere and that trip was just what I needed. I could use another weekend like that right about now.
  • I went to a wedding in San Francisco with one of my girlfriends. I also took my first trip to wine country.
  • The Pilot and I went to Croatia and got stuck in Munich on the way there. Croatia wasn't what I expected. I'm hoping to get those posts up in the next week or two so you can see why.
While it may all sound like fun and travel, I can assure you that it hasn't been. Every single one of those trips was taken because I desperately needed to get away and take my mind off of things. They definitely served their purpose but now I'm dealing with some other things that have popped up since Croatia and I could use another trip. Running away has always been my favorite solution. It gives me a chance to reset, refocus, and feel better. 
  • I can probably count on both hands the number of times I've gone for a run since April. Remember when I went to Dubai for 4 days and ran 3 out of the 4? Yea. I miss that kind of commitment and I'm desperate to get back to it. It's amazing how hard it is to get back into running when I haven't run in so long. I planned to run just 2 miles four times this past week and I only did that once. I've got a long road ahead of me if I'm struggling to find time for two miles.
  • I've read 25 books this year, a decent number but I think I've only liked 3 of them.
  • My house is a mess. I haven't even unpacked from our trip to Croatia. We've been back for two months. I wish I was joking.
I'm desperate to get back to a place of prioritizing the things that make me happy - running, blogging, and traveling (and blogging about traveling). I need to start doing these things for my own peace of mind and well-being. This year has been absolute hell for me and I feel like I haven't had anything to fall back on so it's been a lot harder than I think it could have been if I was able to have time for the things that make me happy. We do have a few exciting things looming: 
  • Two of my friends are getting married this month so wedding season has officially kicked off in our household.
  • Wednesday is our 3rd wedding anniversary and, while we normally jet off somewhere fun to celebrate (see last year's trip to Australia and the previous year's trip to Hawaii), we took our anniversary trip early this year (Croatia) because of The Pilot's schedule. That doesn't mean that either of us isn't itching to jet off somewhere this week but sadly, we'll be spending our anniversary apart this year. 
Right now at work, I'm in the midst of planning for the next quarter of the year and I feel like it's a good time to plan out the quarter for myself too. What do I want the end of this year to look like? I want to run another half-marathon and possibly start training for a full. We'll see about that though. I want to get back to writing regularly. I desperately want to get back to writing regularly. I'll be taking the next few weeks to make some changes to my blog and share some thoughts about what you can see moving forward. And yes, I'll definitely get those Croatia posts up!

Thanks for reading. For those of you who have reached out because you've noticed my absence, it means the world to me. I spent some time catching up on all of your blogs this weekend but I'd love to hear what everyone has been up to.

Do you have any fun plans for fall?
What books have you absolutely loved lately? I'm desperate for a good read!

August 2, 2017

Two Ways to Spend a Layover in Munich

When The Pilot and I planned our trip to Croatia, we did so with a Layover in Munich. We couldn't fly direct to Croatia from the states and, from Munich, the flights to Dubrovnik looked good for pass travel (how we refer to our flight benefits, also called non-revving).

When we checked into our Lufthansa flight 24 hours prior to departure, before we had even left the states, we had already been given seat assignments, something that doesn't usually happen until 10 minutes prior to departure.

With only one flight per day from Munich to Dubrovnik, we were going to have exactly 6 hours from the time we landed to the time we took off again, which is a long time to spend in an airport. It's a manageable layover but why sit in an airport when you can go out and explore!

I started looking at what are options to get to Munich would be and learned that Munich is about a 45 minute train ride from the airport, not nearly enough time to get into Munich with enough time to actually see anything but when I learned that the small university town of Freising was only 10km from the airport, we decided to spend our layover exploring a bit of Germany.

Our flight landed at 8:30 am and we immediately saw signs for the 635 bus to Freising upon clearing Immigration.

If you're flying from the US, you will likely have bags too big to carry on to your final destination. European baggage rules are different but with most airlines that codeshare with the major American legacy carriers, they know this and don't charge for baggage. We didn't want to carry our luggage so we headed to the other terminal to check out bags and then made our way to the bus stop.

The bus to Freising departs from both terminals every 20 minutes and takes about 15 minutes. We had just missed one when we got to the stop so we had a bit of a wait but the trip took no time and we were dropped off in Freising with abo it 2 1/2 hours to kill, less time than we wanted but we definitely took our time getting through the airport. 

First, we wandered through Freising to the Marienplatz, the central square in the town. Freising is so quaint and I loved that there were more bikes than people! In true German fashion, the Marienplatz has a large church and the street continues in either direction with shops, bakeries, and restaurants. We walked down the street, passing in and out of little shops and eyeing the German pastries from afar. 

After going back and forth on the idea for a bit, we decided to visit Freising's main tourist attraction, the Weihenstephaner Brewery, which has been in existence since the year 1040. 

I had known from my research that Weihenstephaner only does tours three days per week (Monday through Wednesday) but we decided to go anyway and have some drinks at the Braustuberl. We took a bus from Freising up the hill toward the university and then walked up to Weisenstephan. That hill is no joke and, by the time we got there, we were ready for some cold beer! 

We each ordered drinks and an appetizer of Oberlatz, a Bavarian camembert, to share. We were pleasantly surprised to see a basket of giant pretzels put on our table and equally disappointed to learn that free bread baskets aren't a thing in Germany, or at least at Weihenstephaner when we got our bill and were charged 4 euro for eating the pretzels! 

We left Weihenstephaner, trekked back down the hill, and hopped on the bus back to the bus station. We made it to the airport only to find that our flight had been delayed and we could have had more time in Freising but it was a great little side trip and a much better option than spending six hours in Munich's expensive airport!

Unfortunately, shortly after getting back to the airport, we learned that we hadn't been given seats on the flight. We always know that there's a risk with this since we fly standby but in this case, there actually had been seats but a broken crew seat derailed that for us. With only one flight per day to Dubrovnik, we were stuck in Munich for the night.

This time, we took the train into central Munich where we booked a hotel near the train station. By the time we checked in and freshened up (we had been traveling for 24 hours at this point and neither of us had slept on the transatlantic flight!), it was close to 7. Luckily, it stays dark in Munich pretty late so we headed out toward the Marienplatz to wander around.

I had been in Germany twice before - to Berlin and to Darmstadt, a small town outside Frankfurt, but this was my first time in Bavaria and between Freising and, now Munich, I fell in love with the German state. We walked through all of the streets in the Marienplatz and then made our way to the Hauptbanhaus for drinks. 

This place is insane. It is wildly overwhelming. Don't even think twice to stop and take in your surroundings lest you block the way of a server carrying no less than 2 dozen1-liter beers on a single tray.

The next morning, we headed back to the Marienplatz in search of a book store to add to our Harry Potter collection. After an unsuccessful attempt in Freising (they only had The Cursed Child, and Quidditch through the Ages...seriously?) we found a German copy at Hugendubel

Next, we headed up to the top of the New Town Hall to scope out the amazing views over Munich. We opted for this view since there's an elevator as opposed to climbing the tower at St. Peter's Church because we only had about two hours. 

We did duck into St. Peter's for a peek though we missed the bejeweled skeleton of St. Munditia (which I don't think I'm too bummed about!)

Just like that, it was 10:30 and time to head back to our hotel to check out and catch the train.

I loved both Freising and Munich! After a short time in both, I can say that Freising feels like a much smaller version of Munich and is the perfect stop in Germany for anyone with a short layover! As for Munich, we barely scratched the surface but with only about five waking hours in the city, and a desperate need to eat on arriving, I think we managed to see a good bit! We're already thinking about when we can go back and really see Munich! I'd love to visit the Residenz Palace and see the English Garden!

Have you ever been to Munich? 
Do you try to venture out during your layovers or do you prefer to stay at the airport?
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