Croatia: Travel yourself young!

06, July 2017 Croatia

You are never guaranteed old age, so enjoy life's experiences now!
As the end of my 20's drew closer and with them the beginning of my 30's I didn't have to think too hard about how I wanted to mark my 30th birthday. I didn't want balloons, champagne or loud music, I could experience a night in the city whenever I wanted. I decided with ease that what I wanted was to wake up in a new country the day I turned 30 and kick start the next decade of my life the way I had been living my last.

Scrolling through my ever expanding bucket list the destination sprang to mind quite easily....Croatia - land of UNESCO protected sites and coastline of enticing sea. Adventure, history, culture, food, sun - what more could I ask from a runaway destination!

Armed with coffee and a map my friend and I marked out our road trip route. We aimed for natural beauty, culture, local authenticity and as much of the Adriatic Sea as we could find. Our options were immense but we had a few locations in mind and within a few hours refined our route down to the loop of  Zadar-Plitvice Lakes - Dubrovnik - Split - Zadar.

A quick formality of signing papers upon landing in Zadar saw us with our bags in the boot, our playlist on and sights set to Plitvice Lakes as we hit the road to our first destination. Smooth roads took us north as we climbed through rocky Croatian terrain to arrive in the lush green national park of Plitvice. Tucked away in this reserve lie 16 terraced lakes, chained together by tumbling waterfalls. Simple timber walkways wind around the aquamarine lakes visually enhancing the space as they take you on a magical journey through it. Every bone in your body will ache to swim in the waters, the greatest respect you pay to them is to never touch them, just visually drink them in as you criss cross your way across them via hiking trails and boats. Even watching the rain dance across their surface is a delightful scene. After we left we climbed further still via car parking at an old abandoned house on the hill and following a beaten track through the woods. As I've learned throughout my twenties the road less traveled never fails to reward. Through a clearing we reached a lookout point and goosebumps ran through me. We stood like royalty with the park laid out before us. Lakes of rich blue nestled in the green valley, where the pathways snaked a trail around the waterfalls and what people remained below seemed minuscule. 

Dubrovnik is the perfect destination to simply wander around, explore the narrow stepped streets and take in details like lamp posts, window shutters and flower displays that add to it's character.

I climbed onto the wall to let my legs dangle into the vast void below me and marvel at the view. Right there and then embracing the scene I had come to see I was happy to close the chapter on my twenties and start writing my thirties.

My thirties started in the historic city of Dubrovnik, a 6 hour drive from Plitvice that took us across the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Arriving in Old Town Dubrovnik is like being whisked back in time. You leave your car and cares at it's Old Pile gates and walk through the dominating fortress of the  UNESCO protected city walls that have withstood the ravages of time and evils of war. Entering onto Stradum (main street) to walk along gleaming polished stone and immaculately restored buildings the cities first impression is one of revival and victory in the most tasteful manner. Flashbacks run through your mind of what besieged this humble sized destination in the 1990's. Images of crumbled buildings with women and children fleeing while men stayed to fight among bomb torn streets. Today as you walk along the mighty walls that cradle the history of the city within them you look out over a picturesque urban vista. If you look closely varying coloured roof tiles will give an insight into a past the city and it's people have emerged from but not forgotten. 

Dubrovnik is the perfect destination to simply wander around, explore the narrow stepped streets and take in details like lamp posts, window shutters and flower displays that add to it's character. Enjoy a unique vantage point and take a kayak out around the bay and Lokrum Island to see the city and walls from the water and enjoy a dip in the irrisitable Adriatic Sea. 

One of the best times to enjoy Dubrovnik is early in the morning while the streets are still quiet, before daily buses arrive with day trips. If you are lucky enough to be staying in the Old Town make prime use of the morning hours when the city will feel a little more like yours.  Of course if you are a Game of Thrones fan you will find plenty of familiar views! 

Split is another city steeped in history and proud home to another UNESCO site of ancient city walls. The city has more of a lived in feel than Dubrovnik with a buzz of local activity filling the air. By day take in the Old Town home to the Diocletian's Palace and the ruins that remain, the active sea front and Bacvice Beach are prime locations to spend the day. By night indulge in the best of Croatian seafood, caught local that day with wine recommended by restaurant staff and return to the Old Square. This space acts as a perfect acoustic venue, sit under the stars on the steps with a drink, listen to some live music and if the mood takes you dance the night away in this beautiful open aired historic setting.

While enjoying the sights, weather and food Croatia has to offer don't forget to enjoy the people. They are among the friendliest you will find, always ready to greet you with a smile and friendly chat. They are proud and open about their country and what they have gone through in recent years, I found an empathy with them. Yes take guided tours but there really is no better way to understand a place you are in than by talking to the locals, and locals don't come much better than here.