Croatia & Slovenia Travel Skills

Croatia & Slovenia Travel Skills

My name is Cameron Hewitt and I work
here at Rick Steves’ Europe. I’m actually the co-author of Rick’s guidebook on
Croatia and Slovenia. I also work on our Eastern Europe book, and I also write and
research other guidebooks and other materials for Rick as well. And I’m really
excited today to be able to tell you about two of my favorite countries and I
think two of the most beautiful countries in Europe, and that’s Croatia and Slovenia.
First I wanted to wish you all a welcome. Thank you very much for coming, we’re
really glad to have you here. And welcome also to the folks who are watching at
home, either live streaming or on our website. These videos are going to be on our
website available for anyone to watch anytime in the near future. Let’s go ahead and get started exploring
these wonderful countries of Croatia and Slovenia. I just wanted to give you a
taste of some of the things we’re going to see here. This is a great place to
just dive on in to the Adriatic, whether you’re swimming in the sea in front of a
romantic old town on the coast; maybe you’re taking a dip at the base of a
thundering waterfall; or maybe you’re taking a dip in a pristine Alpine lake.
As I mentioned this is, I think, one of the most beautiful corners in all of
Europe. But there’s more than just the natural wonders. You’ve got a vineyards,
you’ve got charming hill towns, you’ve got some really dramatic coastal villages
and towns. Small towns, big cities, thriving cities — it’s just a really
exciting place to explore and enjoy. You have a lot of offbeat sites as well here
in Croatia and Slovenia. You’ve got, for example, Predjama Castle in Slovenia. This is a
castle burrowed into the side of a cliff. It’s also a chance to get a sense of the
exotic diversity of cultures throughout this part of Europe. You’re very close to
Bosnia. The title of this class is “Croatia and Slovenia” but I’m also gonna be
talking about Bosnia and Montenegro — two countries that were once part of the
same country as Croatia and Slovenia but now have a very different, very unique
culture that you can go and visit. But again, I always come back to those
natural wonders. This is really one of the most beautiful parts of Europe. You’ve
got, for example, the gorgeous waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park. You’ve got the soaring peaks of the
Julian Alps up in the northwest part of Slovenia. You can take a tranquil boat
ride across a glassy lake under the shadows of
cut-glass peaks to an island in the middle of Lake Bled. It’s just a really romantic and
beautiful place to travel. Let me tell you a little bit about
Croatia and Slovenia generally. These are two of the seven countries
that emerged from what was once one country: Yugoslavia. I’ll give you a very
quick description of Yugoslavia a little bit later. You’ve got Croatia, which I’ll cover
first. You’ll notice that Croatia wraps almost all the way around
Bosnia-Herzegovina, so we’ll also talk about a couple little stops you might want to
make there in Bosnia, and just south of Croatia is a different country:
Montenegro. Another good side trip. Then we’re gonna head up at the end and talk
about Slovenia up in the north part of the country. Now while these used to be
all part of the same country, it’s really striking how different they are when you
go there. You realize that Yugoslavia was pretty short-lived and it was always
kind of an artificial union and you really are aware of that when you’re
traveling across borders. You just really feel like you’re in a different place. Taken together, I think this is a great
region to travel in. And by the way, I will admit to you up front that I like to use a
Croatia a kind of a Trojan horse for getting people to go to Slovenia. That’s
why it gets equal billing with this class. I love Croatia, it’s a wonderful place,
but Slovenia I think is one of the most underrated gems in Europe. So I hope you
look forward to seeing that, and even if you weren’t thinking that you’d go to
Slovenia, maybe after this talk, it’ll change your mind. Let’s start off in the main attraction
for most folks, and that is Croatia. Croatia is a sort of a boomerang shaped
country, about 5 million people and it ended up with most of the coastline of
the former Yugoslavia. So a lot of what you’re going to see and do in Croatia
is coastal. It’s little islands, it’s coastal towns and villages, swimming,
beach time, that sort of thing, but there’s also some great stuff in the
interior. We’re actually gonna start up in the north it’s a wedge-shaped peninsula called
Istria. We’re going to work our way south, but we are going to head into that
interior part of the country. The capital city of Zagreb up at the top there. Right
in the middle there, we’ll also go through Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of the, I
think, great natural wonders in all of Europe. We’re going to start up in Istria,
and the most appealing town in Istria — and Rick and I agree on this — is also
the most appealing coastal town all along the Adriatic, between Venice and
Dubrovnik, and that is the town of Rovinj. Rovinj is simply a delightful little
town. It looks like it’s being pulled up to
heaven by its grand oversized belltower. There’s not a lot to see or do per se
in Rovinj. It’s just a very romantic, relaxing place to go for a stroll,
enjoying maybe a photo safari. I like to walk through the streets of Rovinj with
with my camera cocked. You get a nice picture of a fisherman mending his nets,
for example, people drying their laundry on the streets as if they’re flying
their flag, and you never know who’s watching you when you’re watching the
great sights of Rovinj. I think one of the things that people
really like about Rovinj — it’s sort of the most Italian-feeling part of Croatia.
Historically this corner of Croatia was was part of Italy — really all of Croatia
was part of Italy for a lot of its history, at least the coastline was, but
this part was part of Italy for a little bit longer than the rest. So for example Rovinj is actually
bilingual. All the signs are in both Italian and Croatian and it does have that
kind of Italian feel. A lot of great opportunities to experience the local
culture here in Rovinj and really throughout Croatia, but always make sure
you’re aware of if there are any kind of folk shows or that sort of thing going on.
Each of these towns has its own very proud local culture and costumes, local
dances, so make sure that you’re aware of those and don’t miss them. Croatia is just a wonderful place to be
on vacation. It sort of comes up with all sorts of innovative ways to
relax and have fun and have a memorable experience. Rovinj for example is one of
many places that has a really cool bar. This is called Valentino Cocktail Bar.
You can go there for a chance to watch the sunset with a drink on the rocks —
literally you’re sitting on the rocks on the ocean. They’ll give you a cushion that
you can sit on while you sip your cocktail and watch as the sun dips
slowly into the Adriatic. This is the kind of thing you get to do all along the
Croatian coastline, but Rovinj is one of my favorite towns and and this is a
really cool experience. Rovinj is also a great home base for exploring this
region of Istria that I just mentioned. It’s actually a very diverse region even
though it’s quite small. If you drive an hour south from Rovinj, you go to the big
city of Pula which has one of the best- preserved ancient Roman amphitheaters
anywhere in Europe. You can tour that, it’s kind of like a mini Colosseum. It’s
amazing — as a tour guide, when I take folks to this place, they kind
of look around and say, “I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this before. This is
an incredible amphitheater.” Like a lot of things in this part of
Europe, this is a little bit off the beaten track. The whole town of Pula by
the way is just loaded with these Roman ruins. This is a Roman temple that’s just
sitting right there on the main square of Pula. The other thing I really like about
this region of Istria is it’s got some of the best and most appealing reasons to
head inland, in the form of some really delightful hill towns. Just like the
hill towns you find in Tuscany or Provence — this region in general is
not quite as a spiffed up as that is — but you know what, it’s a great day to
just kind of drive around check out these hill towns, get lost in a place
that sort of feels lost in time. By the way, like I said, this used to be
part of Italy. You have a lot of abandoned hill towns here because they
used to be Italian towns. After this part of Croatia became Croatia instead of
Italy a lot of Italian families fled to Italy proper, so you have a lot of these
kind of abandoned hill towns that were later colonized by artists and
vacationers and this sort of thing. So you’re having an experience right now in
Istria of a delightful hill towns that are just sort of being rediscovered and
establishing themselves as great destinations. My favorite hill town in
Istria is one called Motovun. This is also a town that gets the Rick Steves
seal of approval. What do I like about Motovun? One, it’s
very well located right in the middle of Istria. It’s got an extremely beautiful
and tranquil main square. It’s a little tiny town — you can walk from one end to
the other in just a couple of minutes. And from Motovun you have really
wonderful views over the Istrian countryside. It’s a great place to do a little bit of
wine tasting. We like to take our tours on a wine tasting experience here.
Speaking of wine, I’ll talk a little bit about the food and drink that you’ll
enjoy throughout Croatia and Slovenia. Let’s start with a drink. Croatia actually has
some really very high quality wines. And what happened not just in Croatia but
really throughout Eastern Europe throughout the communist countries of
Eastern Europe under communism — a lot of wineries became collectivized and the
quality went really downhill. That was just sort of the communist system for
producing wines. Since the end of communism a lot of folks are coming back —
going back to their roots literally — people are buying back their
family’s ancestral wineries, or people are importing know-how from other
wine-making regions. And in the last five or ten years Croatian wines are really gaining some esteem, some
well-deserved esteem. They’re showing up on wine lists in fancy restaurants and
in Rome and London and Paris. And actually for the first time — I just was in Croatia
updating my book a few months ago — for the first time I’m noticing there’s
starting to be a culture of wine tasting as well. It used to be a little tricky.
You’d have to call ahead and make an appointment but more and more you’ve got
this sort of Napa Valley style situation where there’s a gorgeous winery perched
on a hill overlooking the vineyards and you can just drive up anytime you want
and taste a couple of a different vintages from their vines. It’s really
fun. If you are a teetotaler or even if you’re not you should try the local
answer to Coca-Cola. It’s called Cockta and this is kind of a funny story and
you will see this everywhere. It sounds obscure but you’ll see it everywhere in
both Croatia and Slovenia. This originated during communist times when you couldn’t
get real Coca-Cola so the Communist authorities came up with their kind of
ersatz alternative called Cockta-Cockta. Pretty subtle marketing there. It’s worth
trying once, it certainly has its fans. It kind
of tastes like Coke that’s gone bad and what’s interesting about Cockta is,
people my age grew up drinking Cockta and so they have a lot of sort of
sentimentality attached to it, so people still drink it because that’s what
they’re used to. I like to tease it but actually it’s
kind of fun to go to a place that you can buy Coke of course but it’s
interesting to have a local alternative that they’re very proud of. Talking about
the food — well here in Istria specifically — and this really applies
only to Istria — you’ve got some of the best truffles that you’re going to find
anywhere in Europe. Istria rivals some of the other famous truffle-growing
regions in, for example, Italy and France, France. So a lot of menus in Istria
have truffle specialties. I really try to enjoy it as much as possible when I’m
there — once you leave Istria it’s not so much. Croatian food in general — it’s
kind of interesting. I would say it resembles Italian food but it’s not
maybe quite as good as Italian food. I hate to say it. I love Croatia and I
enjoy traveling there. The Croatian tourist board is trying to market Croatia as a
culinary destination and I’m not sure that that’s the best move because it
inflates expectations. I would say Croatians eat to live rather than live
to eat but you will find no shortage of good things to eat while you’re there.
It’s, again, very what you think of Italian-style food — you’ve got a lot of kind of
dry cheeses and prosciutto — they call it “pršut” for the local version. The kind of
budget standby for food would be a pizzeria or a pasta restaurant, so if you
want to just kind of grab a meal on the go you’re gonna find pizzerias and pasta
places on every corner throughout Croatia. If you want to do something a
little more special and a little bit more local maybe there’s a lot of great
seafood options, fish restaurants. Be aware though that a lot of times on
menus, fish is priced by the either the kilogram or by the hundred gram units
rather than by the portion, so if the price for your fish seems suspiciously
low you can ask the waiter and it may be that it’s per 100 grams and a real
portion is for 500 grams which means you have to multiply that price. And you know
what? Don’t be afraid to try local surprises, things that you wouldn’t
normally try at home. You might find it’s a new favorite dish. This is one of my
local favorites and Croatia it’s an octopus salad. First time I had it I was
very skeptical but it’s actually quite delicious. They use chopped onion
and tomato and capers and they spritz it with lemon and it’s a really
delicious way to taste some local flavors. There’s also a big influence from the
Bosnian part of the former Yugoslavia which means kind of Turkish style food.
That means grilled meats. So when Slovenians and Croatians have a backyard
barbecue, they don’t have hamburger and bratwurst, they have cevapcici and ražnjici,
and these kind of minced meat patties and links and that’s sort of the
good kind of alternative to fish and pasta if you need a break. You can have a
mixed grill where you get to try a lot of these grilled meats. Of course in our
guidebooks and our tours we always look for really local-style places. This is
one of my favorite places. It’s in Istria. Alma is the one
we’re seeing here. She’s the wife of the owner and chef. She does a lot of the
cooking right there on an open fireplace in the middle of the restaurant. It’s
really authentic, it’s really delicious. There’s a lot of great food to be had
here. As you can imagine, anywhere in Europe, especially in Croatia which
tends to be pretty resort-y and tourist-y, you don’t want to go necessarily to the
restaurant that’s right there on the main drag with the big obvious tables.
You’re going to probably find lower prices, better quality food, and better
service if you duck down some back lanes. In my guidebook I’ve gone to great pains
to find some really good choices in each town and a lot of times they can
literally be just a 2-minute walk around the corner down a quiet back lane from
the big fancy place on the main square that costs a lot more. So just be sure to
sniff out some good choices there. We’re gonna head into the interior and
that means the capital city of Zagreb. I think Zagreb might be the most
underrated destination in Croatia. It’s a really wonderful city. When you think
of Croatia you might think of islands, you might think of the coastline,
but actually Zagreb is a really good excuse to head into the interior. It’s a
big, bustling city. It’s the home of basically one out of every five
Croatians, and it gives you a nice kind of urban contrast to the romantic kind
of time-passed coastline. There’s also some really fun and
interesting and offbeat sightseeing in Zagreb. Right in the corner of town up on
the hill there is the Old Town. If you take a funicular up you’re on this
beautiful square called St. Mark’s Square with this beautiful mosaic roof
church and just a few steps from that church are two of my favorite museums in
this part of Europe and both of them are quite off-beat, quite unusual, and really
worth seeking out. One of them is called the Museum of Naïve Art — not Native Art,
but Naïve Art. This originated in the early 20th century. It’s a
specifically Croatian school of art. It’s based on the idea that art world
insiders wanted to demonstrate that art talent is an inborn skill. It’s not
something that can be taught. So they would go to little poor villages and
find artists who had no formal training and elevate them as artists, and there’s
this fantastic little gallery of paintings by these self-taught peasant
artists, again, just right here on the main square. And then there’s another
very different museum that’s just across the street. This is the Museum of Broken
Relationships, and it kind of shows the irreverent modern urban spirit of
Croatia. Basically someone had the idea of finding an object that symbolized the
end of a relationship, and then they had the participants of the relationship
write a little description of why this is important to their relationship, so
you walk through a few rooms and you can find out why this smashed garden gnome, for
example, encapsulated a bad relationship, a relationship gone bad. That’s really a
fun, creative approach. This has actually gotten a lot of international attention. It was
in the New York Times. They’ve taken their show on the road. It really shows kind of the Croatian creative
spirit. For a big city Zagreb is also very people-friendly, very relaxing. There’s a wonderful green belt of parks
where you can go and sit out and enjoy, do some people-watching. It’s also got some of the most lively
kind of fun urban cafe culture that you’re going to
find in Croatia. There’s a couple of streets, pedestrian-only streets, right in
the downtown where you can just sit out nurse a coffee for a couple hours, and
just feel like you’re surrounded by life. Really good restaurants here in Zagreb
as well. Every time I go I’m impressed by how much nicer and better and
and more exciting it’s getting — it’s a city that’s really being
revitalized. A couple hours south of Zagreb is, I think, one of the most surprising
and most spectacular natural wonders anywhere in Europe. This is a place that,
if you’re going on a tour, for example, that goes here, you’ll say, “I’ve never
heard of that place.” Well I guarantee after you leave you’ll
never forget it. It’s called Plitvice Lakes National Park. Plitvice Lakes
National Park is basically a grand canyon that basically consists of 16
terraced lakes scattered around this canyon. The lakes are all connected by
these spectacular waterfalls and the entire thing is linked up by an
ingenious network of boardwalks and paths that take you across the lakes —
literally close enough to feel the spray. As you’re walking through Plitvice, first
you hear the waterfalls, then you see the waterfalls, and then you feel the
waterfalls. It’s an absolutely amazing place. Some cases the boardwalks
literally take you right up the middle of a rushing waterfall. One nice thing
about Plitvice is it’s extremely well-coordinated, it’s well set-up. You can
see the best parts of the park in just two or three hours. There’s no need to spend several days
here. That means it’s also a little bit crowded. There’s a lot of tour groups that
come through, but it’s really worth any hassle that you go to. It’s a little tricky to
get to. It’s again about two-and-a-half hours south of Zagreb. If you have a car
it’s perfect. You can also get there by bus, it’s a
little bit trickier but that’s all described in the guidebook. Oh and did I mention the water at Plitvice
between all of those amazing waterfalls is absolutely crystal clear? This is one
of those places where it’s — after you’ve been there it’s
just amazing that you’ve never heard of it. Rick likes to say that for many years he
traveled around Europe when he was younger, and he thought he’d seen it all,
and then he went to Plitvice and was proven wrong. It’s a remarkable place. Right near
Plitvice is the part of the country — one of the parts of the country — that was the
most severely damaged in the war that took place between 1991-95. I haven’t
talked about this much, so I’m gonna get, a little bit later, into some of the
details of that war — the causes and effects. The first thing I want to say is
it’s very safe to travel in Croatia. The war is long in the past. It’s very safe,
very stable, there’s no danger or threat whatsoever to travelers there, but there
are a few little areas in the countryside near Plitvice — deep in the
interior is one of them — where you are going to see buildings and houses that were
bombed out. You might see memorials to people who were lost in the fighting. It’s a very complicated, very wrenching
situation. Basically this part of Croatia was very much mixed between Croats and Serbs
when Croatia declared its independence. The Serbs who were living in this part of
Croatia forced out the Croats — first there was a wave in that direction. They
kind of held it tensely for a few years and then later the Croats came back and
push the Serbs back out. So you had two waves of devastation, two waves of
warfare, two waves of fighting, and sobering as this is, it’s one
more important component of a trip to Croatia and Slovenia, particularly Croatia.
This is a very complicated region. You’ve got delightful beach towns, you’ve got
natural wonders, and you’ve got this really heavy weighty recent history. I
think that’s one of the reasons why this is such an exciting place to travel and
even though it might look a little bit startling to see the bullet holes in
this building, one thing I take away when I visit a town like this — this is a town
called Otocac — if you pan down from this you’ll see that there’s a lively
little produce stand that’s moved back into the ground floor. It’s inspiring to
see people putting their lives and their towns back together after so much
hardship. We’re gonna head south now, down to the Dalmatian Coast. The Dalmatian
Coast is about the southern third of the Croatian coastline, and for most folks
this is kind of the main appeal of Croatia. This is the place that they
think of when they think of Croatia. We’re going to focus on the stretch
between the big city of Split which is here near the left side of your map and Dubrovnik which is here near the
right side of your map. Those two big cities kind of bookend the Dalmatian
Coast and then there’s some great islands in between. Split. I think of
Dubrovnik kinda as the the glamor girl, the covergirl of Croatia – but Split is a
really interesting counterpoint to Dubrovnik and really well-worth
considering. For one thing Split is a big urban city.
This is the second biggest city in Croatia. It’s got a lot of sprawl, it’s
got a lot of, kind of, concrete industrial stuff on the outskirts so it feels like
a real world antidote to all of the cutesy and quite touristy little island
villages that you’re going to see elsewhere in Croatia. It really feels
like a vital city of today. Even though it’s surrounded by all that sprawl, the
city center where you’ll spend most of your time is very romantic, very
appealing and very visually charming. There’s a wonderful promenade that runs
right along the top of the harbor in Split called the Riva and they’ve just
recently renovated and restored this whole thing so all day people are
sitting out, people-watching, enjoying watching the ships come and go in the
distance. After dark this becomes the promenade zone for the city of Split.
Croatia is a Mediterranean culture like Italy or Spain. In Spain they have the
paseo, in Italy they have the passeggiata. In Croatia, they have the exact same thing.
Every evening as the sun goes down, people take their families and go
wandering aimlessly up and down the streets, licking an ice cream cone,
greeting their neighbors. It’s a very Mediterranean scene and Split is
best place, I think, in Croatia to find that. Because it’s a big city it has
tourism, but there’s a lot of local people that keep it very vital. From a
historical and a sightseeing perspective Split is fascinating in terms of the
Roman ruins that you can see there. I already showed you the amphitheater in
Pula. This is the other place in Croatia that has the great Roman ruins. The old
town of Croatia is the retirement palace, the former retirement palace, of a Roman
emperor. Now I didn’t say that the palace is in the Old Town of Split. Literally,
the Old Town is the palace. What happened was, back in the fourth
century the Roman Emperor Diocletian had come from this part of Croatia. He rose
through the ranks, became Emperor. When it was time for him to retire he came back
to his native Split and built a big, sprawling, gigantic palace right on the
sea. Over the centuries after Rome fell, that palace kind of fell into disrepair and locals started to move in
and they turned the hallways of the palace into the streets of Split and
they turned, for example, the main hallway that we’re seeing right here into the
main square of Split. It’s a really amazing opportunity to see people living
within and among actual Roman ruins on an everyday basis. This is that Roman Emperor Diocletian
who built this palace. He was notorious among other things for torturing
Christians, and there’s this wonderful kind of poetic justice. This blocky
building we see here was the mausoleum of the Roman emperor Diocletian.
Centuries after his death it was turned into the cathedral, the Catholic
cathedral, of town and there’s this kind of victorious belltower that’s been
added onto one side. And that’s really the story, not just of Split, but all of
Croatia. There’s this fascinating layering of history – if you’re interested
in that, there’s a lot of that to be seen here. You can also go into the cellars
underground. It’s kinda like a modern daylight basement. They had to level out the
foundation in order to build this palace. It was forgotten for many centuries, and
finally, in the 20th century they excavated this. They realized that there
were these amazing Roman cellars that you can now walk through and tour
underneath the entire Old Town of Split. When I’m traveling as a tour guide,
and also in my guidebooks, I like to introduce Americans to artists that they
have probably never heard of, or very likely haven’t, and just through the fluke
the fact that Ivan Meštrovic was born in Croatia instead of France – he’s probably
not on your radar, even if you’re something of an art historian. But Ivan
Meštrovic is one of the the great talented Croatian artists. Obviously he’s
a sculptor. He worked in the early 20th century. He was a contemporary of Rodin,
the French sculptor. In fact Rodin was a great admirer of Ivan Meštrovic, he
considered him a peer. Ivan Meštrovic has giant monuments and statues all over
Croatia. During the heydays of Yugoslavia, for example, he had a lot of
commissions to build a lot of things. This is a self-portrait of Ivan Meštrovic
and, like Diocletian before him, Ivan Meštrovic retired to the area
of Split – this is just on the outside of the downtown of Split – and built a giant
retirement palace, and it’s now been turned into a museum and gallery of his
works. So if you’d like to know a little bit more about this extremely talented
Croatian sculptor, Ivan Meštrovic, you can – while you’re in
Split – take a look and enjoy this very underrated talent. If you have heard
of Ivan Meštrovic, you’re probably from Chicago, and that’s because there are two
giant Native American statues in Grant Park in Chicago. Those are by Ivan Meštrovic. When things
got a little bit dicey during the war he actually ended up living in exile in the
United States where he was very prolific here as well. I want to talk a little bit
about accommodations, and this bears a little explanation because the situation
for sleeps in Croatia is quite different from a lot of other places. This is a hotel I really like in Split. It’s
called Villa Ana. It’s a charming little stone house, five rooms, family-run. It’s a
classic Rick Steves-type accommodation. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of
classic Rick Steves-type accommodation in Croatia. They have a tradition here
for big giant hotels, especially during the Yugoslav period. This was a place for mass
tourism. They would build big giant 200-room resort hotels with the
conference rooms and they’re really designed for people coming on an
excursion from England, for example, or Germany and spending two weeks. Not
really a Rick Steves-style accommodation. And worse, a lot of these big giant hotels
have been renovated but have been renovated to 4- or 5-star class, which means
they’re very expensive. $200-300 a night, and they also
tend to be kind of on the outskirts of town. They’re not right in the heart of
the Old Town. They’re a 15-minute bus ride away. This is Dubrovnik for example –
from here you have to take a 15-minute bus trip to get into the city center.
There is salvation though and it’s the in the form of the word “sobe.” “Sobe”
is simply the Croatian word for rooms. You’ll see sobe and apartments, or
“apartmani,” advertised all over Croatia. These are basically entrepreneurs
who are renting out rooms in their house, a little bit like British
bed-and-breakfasts except that they usually don’t include the breakfast. It’s a great way not only to save money –
a really nice hotel-esque sobe where you have your own bathroom and you have air
conditioning and satellite TV might cost more like $80, $90, $100, $110,
as opposed to $200 or $300 or $400 like the big hotels.
And the nice thing about sobe is it really connects you with local people.
These are a couple of my favorite sobe hosts who live in the city of Dubrovnik, which we’ll talk about in a couple of
minutes. Coincidentally they’re both named Pero. They’ve assigned themselves
numbers, I think based on my order in the guidebooks. The tall one is Pero 1 and the
short one’s Pero #2. Wonderful guys, they’re the kind of guys you
want to hang out with and sip coffee with all day long. If you’re staying at
their place they’ll give you a little coupon so you can come down to a cafe
that’s right here on the main drag in Dubrovnik and sit out and have
breakfast and have coffee. They come and hang out there too. They used to call this
cafe their living room because it was the place where they would connect with
friends and hang out. The last couple years they have a new nickname for it –
they call it Facebook. They’ll say, “I’ll see you at Facebook,” and they mean this cafe
that’s right out here on the on the main promenade here in Dubrovnik. This is
another family that rents out sobe. This is in the island of Korcula.
You’ll never guess what this guy’s name is: Pero, and that’s his wife Lenni. I
think just about everybody in Dubrovnik and Dalmatia is named Pero, just like
everybody in Hungary is named István. There’s certain names that get
reused that way. Anyway, Lenni and and Pero also rent out rooms
in their wonderful stone home right in the center of the Old Town of Korcula
for a very affordable price. You might be worried about, “You know, I don’t
really want to be staying at somebody’s house.” A lot of these are actually very
upscale, very hotel-esque. You have a lot of privacy. You can interact with your host
as much or as little as you want. If you want to just do your own thing they’re
very cool with that, but if you want to hang out and get to know these folks,
they’re really welcome to do that as well. I spend more time in my guidebook
looking for great sobe and great people renting rooms than I do anything
else when I do my guidebook research, so I’ve got dozens of wonderful folks just
like these, and I’ve got of course all their information – I’ve got their phone
numbers, their websites, their email addresses. You can book direct – I would
highly recommend that. You can also search on a booking engine like or TriPadvisor. I will caution you: if you do this approach – if you book
through – it costs your host about 15%. They really prefer
if you book direct, and if they’re listed in my guidebook, I know ’em really well
and I recommend ’em and vouch for ’em, and haven’t had, I can’t think of
any complaints I’ve had with folks who had a reservation fall through. So you can have some confidence just
emailing them directly and saying, “I’d like to book a room for these two nights” It’s also a great chance to have that
personal connection even before your trip. Let me give you one more example of why
these sobe are a great option. This is the wonderful Old Town of
Dubrovnik. You can see the Dubrovnik town wall here on the right side. You remember
I showed you that picture of that distant bay where the big resort hotels
are – that’s about a 15-minute bus ride over the top of the hill that you see at
the top of the screen there. One of my favorite sobe in Dubrovnik, though, is much
closer – it’s just outside the Old Town wall. This big giant thing on the
right-hand side, sitting on a hill, is the Hilton hotel, and if you go out past the
Hilton hotel and take a left and climb a few stairs, you’re going to be at the
house of Jadranka Benussi. Jadranka for $100 will rent you a
really comfortable room with a terrace that has a great view over the rooftops
of Dubrovnik. Every time I’m in Croatia and updating my guidebook, I walked past
the front door of that Hilton hotel and I can feel the air conditioning hit me
in the face while the doors open and close and I think to myself, “Why would
you spend $500 or $400 at the Hilton when you can walk up 20
more steps up the street and go and stay in Jadranka’s place for $100,
and she’s a wonderful person – fun to sit around and chat with. I’m telling
you, this is really the way to go. If you are going to Croatia, your instinct might
be, “Let me look for hotels.” Hotels are usually a dead-end in Croatia. Instead I
would suggest looking for sobe and apartments. By the way, this tip applies
mostly to Croatia. Slovenia actually does have some really nice hotels and
pensiones, more kind of Rick Steves-style places, so that advice is very
specific to Croatia. We’re going to set sail. So we’ve seen the big city of Split,
which is at one end of the Dalmatian Coast and we’re gonna head out to the
other end of the Dalmatian Coast. You know, there are so many islands in Croatia –
I think I heard somewhere there’s 1,000 if you count them all
together, including the uninhabited ones. Everybody has their favorite island. I
promise you anybody you know who’s been to Croatia’s going to tell you, “You have
to go to Mali Lošinj. You have to go to Rab. You have to go to Krk.” I’m not
saying that they’re wrong, but I’m not saying that they’re right. In my experience,
all these Croatian islands are kind of variations on the same theme. You really can’t go wrong. There is no
particular reason why you have to go to one over the other, but if I had to
choose, if I had to pick two – and these are the ones that I put my guidebook – I’m
going to pick the two that are probably the most appealing. They have
the most sightseeing sort of heft, they have the most and best opportunities for
relaxing, and they’re also very conveniently right on the boat line.
These two islands which I’ll describe now are called Hvar and Korcula. These are
right on the way from Split to Dubrovnik, so you can hop on a boat, hop off in Hvar,
even later that same day, continue onto Korcula and eventually work your way
down to Dubrovnik. Hvar is the first one I’ll talk about, and I say they’re all
kind of variations on the same theme, these islands, but each one really does
have its own kind of claims to fame, its own personality. In the case of Hvar, it’s
really aggressively courting kind of the jet-set dollar. It’s trying to become the
Saint-Tropez of Croatia. So you do see a lot of luxury yachts pulling in. Prices
are quite high on Hvar, so just be aware of that. For hotels and restaurants and
accommodations in general it’s a pretty pricey place but you get a little bit of
a ritzy cachet, you get a little more happening nightlife for that reason. Like
a lot of these coastal towns it’s got a beautiful church right on the main
square. In the case of Hvar there’s a fortress that’s that’s perched on a hill
high above town. You can hike up and have really spectacular views over the town
of Hvar, looking off to the offshore islands. You can also hire an excursion
boat to take you out to one of those islands for a day of swimming. There’s no shortage of ways to have fun.
The thing about these little towns, by the way, is they’re not about sightseeing.
It’s not about going to museums or churches. If there are museums, I’ll mention ’em in
my guidebook, but these are places to really take a vacation from your
vacation. You’re really here to relax. Another island that I like to highlight
is Korcula. This is a really appealing island. It’s kind of a mini Dubrovnik.
It’s got that kind of walled Old Town that sticks out into the sea and you’ve got a
dramatic mountain backdrop. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to jump for
joy. It’s really a delightful town. It’s a
little bit more lowbrow – I think in a good way – than Hvar. It’s not trying to be
pretentious, to be something it’s not. It’s just a basically a fishing village
that has a few tourists coming through every so often. And again it’s a very
pretty situation sticking out into the Adriatic. You’ve got a little church
that’s got a a fun little treasury collection
if you’d like to do some sightseeing. One of its claims to fame is that they
do this sword dance called the Moreška. I mentioned earlier, each town kinda has
its own local costumes and customs and dances. In Korcula it’s the Moreška, where the forces of good and the forces
of evil do battle and the guys dance around and clash their swords
against each other. Ultimately the forces of good prevail and save the fair
princess and so forth. They perform this one or two nights every week during the
summer so just be sure you’re aware of those cultural opportunities. If you do want
to take a nice vacation during your vacation, one thing you might want to do in Croatia is
go swimming, and boy, there are few places that are more delightful to take a dip
than the Adriatic. The water is absolutely crystal-clear. Croatians have kind of
bragged to me. They say, “Well yeah we don’t have the sandy beaches like they have in
Hawaii and Florida, but the problem with all that sand is it makes the water
really muddy.” In Croatia it’s rocky limestone that’s underneath the water,
which is a kind of a natural filter so the water is just stunningly
crystal-clear like nothing you’ve ever seen. You can go and just sort of
lounge around, go for a swim. This fellow here is very smart. He’s got
wading shoes, you notice, sticking out of the water there. If you are going to be
swimming in Croatia you want to get good wading shoes. It’s rocky. There are sea
urchins. Once you have shoes on you’re great, you’re good to go, but it’s not a
place I’d try to swim barefoot. I also mentioned it’s not really sandy beaches,
there’s a few sandy beaches but mostly it’s rocky beaches, and this is how
Croatians and Europeans who are on vacation in Croatia like to enjoy the beach. They
just find a patch of rock that’s as flat as possible – which often isn’t very flat
at all – and they just spread out, get some rays. When they get a little too
hot, they climb down the ladder, go for a nice swim, come back. Great place to be on
vacation. You never know what new friend you’re gonna make when you’re relaxing at a
Croatian beach. You can also do any kind you can imagine of the resort
activities that you’d expect. You can rent sea kayaks, you can go for boat
trips, excursions to other islands, lots of great ways to have fun here. I will
say I would caution you as you make your itinerary. Don’t overdo the islands. I think a lot
of folks think, “I’m going to Croatia. I want to have a good five or six days on
the island.” If you really want to be on vacation and relax, that’s great, max out on the islands. But
I think a lot of folks, most Americans I think going to Croatia, are not necessarily
there to swim. They’d like to get some cultural experiences, they want to see
some sights, they want to understand the culture. It’s a little bit
harder to do those in these little island towns, and I would say for a lot
of folks, one or two different islands – one or two days on the beach is enough,
especially if that buys you a little bit extra time for some more interesting
things. More interesting things, for example, going to Bosnia or going to
Slovenia, which I’ll talk about in a moment. We’ll talk a little bit about the
best time of year to go to Croatia. This is a very seasonal, very
weather-dependent destination, and your timing is important, more so, I think, than
a lot of European destinations. July and August are the major vacation time –
that’s when Europeans are on vacation – so Croatia is incredibly crowded during
those times, and it’s also hot, sometimes uncomfortably hot, and boats are crowded,
and accommodations are more expensive. It’s peak time. If it were totally up to
me, I would actually try to avoid Croatia in July and August. If that’s the
only time you can do, that’s going to still be a great trip. My favorite time to go is in “shoulder
season” – before and after peak season. Let’s say from the end of May through
the better part of June, or from, say, the middle of September through the very
very beginning of October. Now if you go too far off-season, all these cute
little beach towns basically shut down. In Korcula for example, I’ve been there
updating my guidebook in late October or in late March, early April, and half of
the restaurants are still closed for the winter. These places go into hibernation. So I
would say there’s a kind of a sweet spot. You don’t want to go too far in-season,
too far off-season, and those windows that I just mentioned – September, late May,
June – are really the best things to aim for. Also you get good weather, less
crowds, things are a little bit cheaper, things are a little less stressful in
terms of connecting the dots on a Croatian vacation. Obviously as you can imagine, for all
these islands, boats are a great way to go. You’ve got boats big and small, high-speed
catamarans, car ferries to connect the dots. Beyond that, once you’re on
land, Croatia is really not a train culture. Croatia and Slovenia have a few
trains, but it’s really a place where you’re going to take buses more often
than trains, and bus schedules work pretty well. Between any two important
destinations there’s at least one or two buses a day. Between big cities they go
every hour. There’s good websites where you can find
the schedules. Even if you’re going from an island or
to an island, check the bus schedules, because there are buses that take the
car ferries. You might be surprised, “There’s no boat on this day” from, say
Korcula to Dubrovnik, but there’s always going to be a bus that uses the car
ferry. So be kind of versatile in how you check your schedules. There are parts of Croatia and Slovenia
that are ideal for a rental car and there are parts where the last thing
that you want is a rental car, and unfortunately those twos are kind of
scattered all over the place. What I find for the best strategy
for traveling here: don’t do just one or the other – don’t do just public
transportation or just a rental car. Use public transportation for places that it
makes sense and then rent a rental car strategically for a few days in the
places where it really will help you see the things that you want to see. By the
way, if you’re driving in Slovenia they have a system of toll stickers. In Croatia
they actually have toll booths, so you just pick up a ticket when you enter the
freeway and then you pay the ticket when you leave. In Slovenia, as soon as you
cross the border, you have to buy a toll sticker that you display in the window,
and if you don’t know to do that, you can get pulled over and given a hefty ticket,
so make sure you buy your toll sticker in Slovenia. Flights are also a good way
to connect long distances in Croatia and sometimes very affordably. So if
you’re going from Zagreb to Split, it’s a five-and-a-half hour express bus trip,
but you can fly in 45 minutes. And if you look far enough ahead on Croatia
Airlines, you can often get a ticket for less than $100 and it could
be worth the time savings for that. Now I’m just throwing a lot of information
at you about when you want a car and when you don’t. Let me just talk you
through a few challenges a lot of folks have when they’re planning an itinerary
in Croatia. Places that you probably don’t want a rental car: well, this
Dalmatian Coast area – it’s okay to have a rental car, but you’re much more
versatile if you don’t have a car. You can hop on a passenger ferry, for example,
instead of having to wait in a long line for a car ferry. So I would say I
probably don’t want a car down south of Split. I do want a car for Istria to see
all those hill towns up in the north. I do want a car for some of the mountain
stuff in Slovenia. Plitvice, that national park, is easier to reach right in the
middle there if you have a car. The biggest challenge is you notice some
of the car places are in Croatia and some are in Slovenia. If you pick up a car
in one country and drop it off in another, they usually charge a huge
international drop-off fee – I mean, it can be hundreds of dollars. Some car rental
companies sometimes have a deal on that, so you should check it out. So you should
be strategic when you think about renting your car. For example, maybe I’ll
pick up my car in Ljubljana. I’ll use it to see Slovenia and I’ll use
it to see Istria, the northern part of Croatia. You can cross the border no problem. You just don’t want to drop
it off in Croatia. Then I go back up to Slovenia, drop my car off in Ljubljana,
take a train to Zagreb and a bus down to Split and boats along the coast. So I’ve
used the rental car in Croatia and Slovenia without incurring that big fee. There’s about 20 different ways you can
do this. I’ve kind of worked them all out and tried them all out myself. It requires a
little bit of creativity and it’s a bit of a challenge. There’s more tips in the
guidebook, but just be aware that that’s something that comes up. The other thing that I’ve noticed is
people go to this class and they come up to me afterwards and they say, “Hey, I’ve
got a week and I’d love to go to Lake Bled, up in the northern corner of Slovenia,
and Dubrovnik, way down here in the southern tip of Croatia, and while I’m at it,
maybe I’ll stop off at Plitvice Lakes National Park right in the middle.” If
they only have a week, they don’t realize they’re gonna spend an awful lot of the
time on the road in buses and cars and boats to connect the dots. I would say if
you have a week or less, focus either on the northern part of this area – Slovenia, Istria, maybe Zagreb – or the
southern part – the Dalmatian Coast, Mostar, Bosnia, Montenegro. If you have 10 days
or two weeks, you can really try to squeeze it all in, but you’re gonna spend a lot of time in
transit if you try to cram too much in. If you want to travel on your own, of
course, all this is covered in the Rick Steves’ Croatia and Slovenia guidebook. I
really enjoy working on that, updating it every year. If you do want a little bit
of extra help connecting the dots, we have a variety of tours that go to this
region. We’ve got our Best of Eastern Europe Tour, which is a 16-day tour. Most of it is in other countries – Czech
Republic, Poland, Hungary – but we do end up with a little taste of Croatia and Slovenia.
As a tour guide on this tour, I noticed that people on this tour really love
that lasts three days and were craving more time. So me and a couple other
guides brainstormed a new tour. I say “new” but we’ve already been doing this for many
years, and it’s it’s one of our top sellers. This is our Best of the Adriatic
Tour. Whether you’re going on a tour or independently, this is a great two week
plan, so I’m going to go through it very quickly. If you’re doing this on your own,
this is pretty much exactly how I would do it. You start off in Slovenia – Ljubljana,
the capital city. You go up through the mountains of Lake Bled in the Julian
Alps – on our tours, we spend one night in Kobarid. Then you head down and have
a couple of days in Istria, head inland and go to the waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes
for a night, then we head on down to the Dalmatian Coast. The second week
of this tour is basically on the Dalmatian Coast – two nights in the big
city of Split, we do a little island- hopping through Hvar and Korcula, spend
two nights on Korcula. We do that little detour into Mostar for one
night, and then we have our grand finale for two nights in Dubrovnik. This is a
great two-week plan, again, whether by tour bus or on your own. As you probably
know, at Rick Steves we pride ourselves on having small groups, and I really love
our tour members. We get a really great group of folks. They’re fun-loving, they’re
easy to spend time with, and people on our tours – as a tour guide in this region –
I really enjoy. They’re very intellectual, they’re smart, they’re inquisitive. They
want to really learn about the complicated recent history, but they also
want to have fun. They want to do wine tastings, they want to have a day at the
beach, and our tour, I think, is a great balance of those things, and really helps people
connect with Europe that they came to see. So consider that as a possibility. If
this all just seems too complicated and if you really want that extra help
navigating the recent history, all of this is described in much greater detail,
of course, on our website, along with lots of other travel information about our
books, free articles, you can watch all of Rick’s TV shows for free on the
website Alright, we’re gonna
finish up our time in Croatia in what is really a suitable grand finale. This is
Dubrovnik. And if I had to pick one place to send you in Croatia, I think I’d
probably send you to Dubrovnik. This is a really wonderful town at the southern
tip of the country. They call it the “Pearl of the Adriatic” for the way that
it juts dramatically out into the sea. You can see it’s protected by thick
walls. You can climb up on those walls and get wonderful views over the
rooftops of town. We’ll talk more about that in a moment, but this is a really
wonderful town. It actually was its own little independent city-state
for most of its history. When you think of, for example, Venice, the Venetian
Republic – it wasn’t exactly a country but it was a city, but it had a lot of
territory. Dubrovnik was actually a big rival of
Venice for the control of the Adriatic during a lot of this time and so there’s
this very distinct history that’s something separate from Croatia. It’s a
really enjoyable place just to go for a stroll and wander. You head through the main gate here and up the dramatic main
drag. It’s just one of the most enjoyable pedestrian streets anywhere
here. Sitting out, enjoying a coffee, doing some people-watching is one of Europe’s
great $5 bargains. It’s really worth some time just to
relax on the main drag there. Lots of interesting museums and squares and
landmarks. Like the little Croatian towns, this is not necessarily a place with a
lot of sightseeing, there’s not must-see museums, but there are some interesting
little sites if you want to get in out of the sun. There’s a couple of the
monasteries that have interesting museums attached to them. You’ve got some really beautiful
churches that you can tour. There’s a port. That’s the the old historic port
right in the heart of Dubrovnik, and from here, if you want to get out of town,
especially if it’s getting crowded with a lot of cruise passengers, you can
hop on an excursion boat and it will take you off to some secluded islands
that are just offshore. You can go down the port and there’s 20 different
captains who are all trying to sell you a seat on a different boat excursion.
From that main drag that I just showed you, Dubrovnik kind of climbs steeply
in both directions up toward its wall, and that drag can be extremely crowded
if there’s a lot of people in town, but if you walk just literally one block –
literally 10 seconds off of the main street – you can disappear into these
really atmospheric tight back lanes. They also have a great cable car that
you can hop in from the top of the Old Town and it zips you up to a spectacular
view looking down on the rooftops of Dubrovnik, and from this location you can
actually see three different countries. Dubrovnik is at your feet. Bosnia is
over on our left-hand side as we look at this, and those mountains off in the
distance are Montenegro. Tells you a lot about the sort of troubled and epic
history of Dubrovnik. This is a place where a lot of cultures come together.
You can understand why they were so proud of their independence for all
those years. This is a great place to watch the
sunset. I’ve already made a couple of references to the cruise ship crowds, and
Dubrovnik has become an extremely popular cruise port destination. And I was
there this year – last year, sorry – in September, I think, and I heard on the
news it was the biggest cruise day in Dubrovnik’s history. There were six
ships in town with 20,000 people in a city of 50,000 people. It can be a little
stressful if you’re trying to enjoy Dubrovnik and all of a sudden here’s several tens of thousands
of extra people kind of competing with you for the their share of the street. If
you’re on a cruise, you just have to kind of deal with it. If you’re not on a
cruise, be aware of what’s coming. Any local person knows which ships are
coming tomorrow and how many people they’re bringing. There’s even websites where you
can check day-by-day what’s the most crowded day and get out of town. Go to
the beach. There’s some delightful beaches just outside the Old Town. Actually there’s beaches near and far
from the Old Town depending on how far you want to walk and how much peace and
quiet you want. You can even go swimming right off of the Old Town wall and do a
backfloat looking up at Europe’s finest medieval walled city looming up in front
of you. So if it’s crowded there’s other options outside of the
main part of town. My favorite activity in all of Dubrovnik is walking (takes
about an hour and a half) all the way around the top of that wall.
It circles the town all the way around and you can go on a nice slow stroll and
just enjoy the incredible ever-changing scenery. You’ve got a sea of rooftops on one
side and the actual sea on the other side. Just breathtaking. And as you walk,
especially if you’re a student of history, you might notice, “Well, the roof
tiles look quite different.” You’ve got mostly these kind of glossy new roof
tiles, and then you’ve got some older roof tiles. And you wouldn’t know the
difference unless someone pointed it out. Well this is a sign of that recent war
that I mentioned, 1992-93. 85% of Dubrovnik was bombed during
that war. Most of the towns on the coast were completely unaffected but Dubrovnik
was attacked, and much of the city that you see today was under siege for
several months, and the city was bombarded with shells from the hillsides
above. One thing, again, that’s really uplifting about this tragic part of
recent history is just seeing how well they’ve recovered and put their city
back together. Really an interesting place to learn about that chapter of
recent history. So you’re walking along the top of the wall and you look down
and you notice that clinging like a barnacle to the outside of Dubrovnik’s
wall is a little drink bar on the rocks like the one we saw a Rovinj – except to
get to this one, you literally have to climb through a hole in the wall to get
there, and that’s what the bar is called: Buža. “Buža” means “hole-in-the-wall.” You
squeeze through that hole in the wall and you have a beautiful place to sit and savor a drink and look out at sea
and watch those cruise ships sail off into the horizon. Really, really delightful.
Dubrovnik is also a great home base for day-tripping. There’s lots of little
towns and islands and interesting sites that are an easy day trip away, and it’s
a great place to come home to at the end of the day. I don’t have a lot of time to
get into detail with this, but I wanted to give you a quick orientation to the
history of this region. We’re about to head into some other parts of the former
Yugoslavia. I wish I could really lavish time on this, but this is the very
oversimplified, as basic as possible version of this Yugoslavia and how it
fell apart and these wars that rack this region. This part of Europe is called the
Balkans – well, Balkans is literally the name of a peninsula. It’s the peninsula
that stretches between the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea. And the former
Yugoslavia was sort of the western strip of the Balkan Peninsula. For much of its
history this peninsula was divided by lots of different, competing kind of
forces. For example, the line that separated the Roman Catholic Church and
the Eastern Orthodox Church ran directly through the middle of what became
Yugoslavia. So people on the west side of that line are Catholics, later became
known as Croats, and the people on the eastern side of that line were Orthodox, later
became known as Serbs. And then you had Muslims – the Ottoman Turks – pushing up
from today’s Turkey and camping out in the middle of this region for hundreds
of years, and a lot of people under Ottoman rule converted to Islam, so you
have Muslims called Bosniaks in Yugoslavia. Very complicated ethnic mix.
By the way, all of these people are cousins DNA-wise. Genetically they’re all
from the same gene pool. The only difference is which religion their
ancestors happened to adopt. So Serbs, Croats, and Muslims – or Bosniaks – of the
former Yugoslavia, they’re all basically cousins. They just have different faiths.
This was really a mess, by the way, and for most of its history this region was
part of different empires and shifting borders. Finally at the end of World War I, all of these different states kind of
came together and created the first Yugoslavia. It was never successful. It
was always kind of an artificial union, the least of all evils, “let’s just kind
of come together and see if we can make it work.” It looked like it was doomed for failure.
World War II came. It rearranged the map of Europe once
again. But from the ruins of World War II emerged a war hero named Josip Broz –
better known by his nickname “Tito.” Tito, after becoming a war hero in World War II,
became dictator – for life – of Yugoslavia. And this was the really
interesting period and unique period of Yugoslav history. Yugoslavia under Tito was
communist but it wasn’t Soviet Communism. It never joined the Warsaw Pact. It was
never officially allied with Moscow. Tito sought a system between East and West. He had
diplomatic relations with both Moscow and Washington DC. He was really a brutal
dictator at the very beginning. He really came down hard to get people on board,
but after the first 10 or 20 years, for the last few decades of Tito’s rule, it
was actually a time of relative peace and prosperity in Yugoslavia. A lot of
Yugoslavs have a lot of sentimentality and a lot of respect for Tito. Tito died in
1980. Even before he died he knew that this was a tricky place. He
tried to set up a compromise where there were six republics that were kind of
semi-autonomous, a little bit like the Swiss canton system, although a little
more entwined than that. But sure enough, it didn’t take too many years after
Tito’s death until the Yugoslavia post- Tito began to unravel. It was mostly
because the different groups within decided that they wanted a little bit
bigger piece of Yugoslavia for their own interests. Slobodan Miloševic – you see there in
the center of this picture – the Serbian ruler in that period of Yugoslavia did
some things that were very provocative to other members – Slovenes and Croats. And
so these other countries declared their independence. And that’s when things got
pretty ugly. In Slovenia it was pretty straightforward – they had a 10-day
skirmish for their independence, and they were allowed to be free. Croatia, though, was a much more diverse
country. As I mentioned earlier you had Serbs and Croats. From about 1991-1995
there was a lot of fighting, a lot of destruction, you start to hear the term
“ethnic cleansing,” where one group tries to remove another group from its territory, or
what it considers its territory. Bosnia was probably the hardest hit. Not
coincidentally, it was also the most diverse. You had a lot of Serbs and a lot
of Croats and a huge contingent of Muslims – Bosniaks. And there was a
three-way war that raged for many years. I won’t get into all the details, but it was a
really tragic chapter of the history and something that’s really worth reading up
on and studying to understand what you’re gonna hear about when you’re
there. Now at the end of the war in 1995 a ceasefire drew the borders that
more or less still exist today. There are seven countries where there once was
one, Yugoslavia. We’ve already been to Croatia, and Slovenia is where we’re
headed in a few minutes, up to the north. You’ve also got – south of that – Bosnia,
Montenegro; to the east Serbia; Kosovo is actually, now it’s also its own
independent country; and then south of that is Macedonia. These are the seven
countries of what was Yugoslavia. There’s still a lot of hard feelings. There’s a long memory of not just the
recent war but going back centuries. People are really struggling to get
along. What I will say is they are very
welcoming. All of these groups are very welcoming to outsiders. It’s actually
something that’s very fundamental to their culture throughout all of these
countries. What’s between them is between them. It’s
been very peaceful. There have been no outbreaks of violence in 15-20 years,
but you are going to hear about it and people are often very forthcoming to
tell you their opinions and if you’re like me and you’re interested in this
stuff and find it fascinating to connect with people and hear different
perspectives, it’s an amazing opportunity to travel in
a place where you have that chance. Sorry to make that so quick and
rudimentary. I have a long chapter, 20 pages, in the back of my Croatia and Slovenia
book called, “Understanding Yugoslavia,” which I wrote to explain exactly all of
this. The real takeaway from a traveler’s perspective: safe, stable. Things are very open and
accessible, but it’s something you’ll hear about quite a bit. We’re gonna head to
a couple of the countries that came from that breakup of Yugoslavia that are very
close to Dubrovnik, and I mentioned earlier: you don’t want to overdo your
time on the islands. I would easily trade a day, an extra day on the islands, for a
day in Bosnia, for example. In two-and-a-half hours from Dubrovnik or from Split
you can be in some really interesting places that help you experience a whole
other facet of the former Yugoslavia, and a whole other faith. Of course, in
Bosnia-Herzegovina, more than 50% of the people are still Muslims.
This is where you’re going to feel, in just a couple hours from Dubrovnik, like
you’ve gone all the way across the continent, from Italy to Turkey. It’s a really amazing
diversity in a small geographical area. The easiest place to get to is Mostar.
This is sort of, I think of it as kind of the wading pool for Bosnia. It’s
Bosnia with training wheels. It’s very easy to get to. It gives you a taste of
Bosnian culture. It also has this very famous landmark
old bridge, which, for many years — it was built by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman
the Magnificent — and for many years it kind of symbolized the diversity of Mostar.
Muslims and Croats and Serbs living together in harmony and then during the
war it was the symbol of the exact opposite. First it was bombarded from the hilltop
by shells. Eventually a direct hit actually destroyed the bridge completely,
and now they’ve rebuilt the bridge and it’s become again a symbol of
reconciliation and resurrection. And there’s a great — kind of to make it a
little less serious — there’s a great tradition that carried on even through
the war, where young men like to stand on the top of the bridge and they kind of
do a little show to try to get tips and once they have enough money they’ll take
the plunge and they’ll dive all the way down into the frigid waters of the river
below. It’s really a fun thing to see if you’re there. It feels like a tourist trap but they’ve
been doing it for years. Again you’re in Bosnia. You feel like
you’re in Turkey. You’ve got these mosques everywhere, you’ve got a shopping
street that feels like a Turkish bazaar, you can go into a mosque and learn about
Islam from a Muslim. I remember the first time I went to Mostar. I got in the bus
in Dubrovnik and two hours later I was in Mostar, and here’s — this was years
ago — this is the first Muslim person I could ever remember talking to about
their faith. And she took me into a mosque and told me about all of the
symbolism and what it meant to her. That’s amazing. You’re two hours from the
tourist hordes of Dubrovnik and you’re having that kind of an experience. A lot of
people do go just for a day trip from Dubrovnik. I really recommend spending at
least one night in Mostar. It’s really well worthwhile and it’s about half as
expensive as Dubrovnik. Hotels and restaurants are much cheaper. If you’re a
little bit more adventurous I highly highly recommend continuing a couple
hours deeper into Bosnia to the capital of Sarajevo. I’ve added this to my
guidebook the last few years and it’s the site of some of my most meaningful
experiences traveling in this part of Europe. It’s not a beginner’s sort of thing, it’s
an intermediate or advanced thing, but if you’re fascinated by what I’ve told you
so far and you want to take off those training wheels, Mostar’s the place to do it — it’s a
bigger — sorry, Sarajevo’s the place to do it. It’s a big thriving city with lots of
mosques and cafe culture and a complicated story. Lots of war damage — hillsides up
above Sarajevo that are just — used to be delightful tree-filled parks and now
they’re just covered with the graves of people who were killed during the siege
of Sarajevo during the war. One of the most powerful, I think, cities to visit in
Europe. Not for everybody, but if you’re in the area consider extending your
little trip into Bosnia a little bit. Further down south of Dubrovnik is
another great place to consider, another great day trip from Dubrovnik. You
could see the best part of the country of Montenegro in an easy one-day side-trip
from Dubrovnik. From about, if you leave in the morning from Dubrovnik,
in about an hour-and-a-half, you’re at the border, and then you’re going around this
spectacular Bay of Kotor. It’s actually a fjord. It’s a Norwegian-style fjord down
in the Adriatic. There’s a road that goes in and out all of these inlets. You get
to stop in the little town of Kotor, which is a very charming little town
that’s huddled under a mountain. You can climb up the fortifications above Kotor
and have a view over the spectacular scenery. This is also very different culture. This
is Montenegrins, but it has a lot of ties to the Serbs, so this is more of an
Orthodox culture. Dubrovnik: Catholic Croat culture — all of Croatia
really. Bosnia: you’ve got the Muslim culture. And then here in Montenegro you have the
Orthodox Serb culture, all within a few hours’ drive of Dubrovnik. A very powerful
chance to learn about a lot of different things. It’s also, as you can see,
absolutely breathtakingly dramatic scenery. I always say, “As spectacular and
beautiful as the Croatian coastline is, the Bay of Kotor is kind of the encore,
and gives you even more, even better.” We’re going to finish up our trip
through this region in Slovenia. As I mentioned earlier, I think little
Slovenia at the northern tip of the former Yugoslavia is probably the most
underrated and one of the most delightful countries in Europe. You might
not have thought you were going to Slovenia when you showed up and started
watching this talk, but I hope in about 10 minutes you’ll decide that you have
to go to Slovenia, ’cause it’s a really wonderful place. Tiny
little country. About the size of New Jersey, two million people. But in that
tiny area there’s so much to see and do. One thing I love about Slovenia — first of
all, it’s incredibly scenic. The Alpine mountains in the northwest are just
breathtaking. It’s also at the intersection of
cultures. You’ve got Austria in the north, you’ve got Italy in the west, you’ve got
Croatia in the east and the south. This is where those three great cultures —
Germanic culture, Italian culture and Slovak-Croatian culture kind of come
together and mingle, and it always seems to me that Slovenia decided to keep only
the best bits of each of those cultures. Another thing again that people are I
think surprised by. Slovenia is very surprising, how delightful it is. People
are surprised at how beautiful it is. You might think, again, “Slovenia used to
be part of Yugoslavia. Rusting factories, Yugos.” Then you go to Slovenia and you
see it’s every bit as beautiful as Austria or Switzerland. Just breathtaking
mountain panoramas. So let’s start in the capital city, right in the middle of the
country, Ljubljana. Ljubljana, I think, is the most delightful small city in Europe.
I would say it’s a great place just to relax and enjoy. There’s some great museums,
but it’s really mostly about ambience. It’s the kind of place where people seem
to be out on a Sunday stroll any day of the week. Each one of these countries has
its own local heroes. Here on the main square of Slovenia in Ljubljana you
learn about France Prešeren. He was the national Romantic poet of Slovenia,
and he’s sort of their cultural standard bearer. I love learning about these names –
Prešeren – that I’ve never heard before and hearing how important he is to the local
people. It’s a very charming kind of old-world town. There’s lots of cobbles,
lots of old Baroque churches, lots of pedestrian zones. There’s a mayor, the
last few years, who’s on a crusade to pedestrianize every inch of the town
center, and he’s had a lot of success. Delightful riverfront embankments, and my
favorite people watching anywhere in Europe is on these cafe embankments
overlooking the river. You can just camp out for hours and watch people go by. The
university campus is just a couple of blocks away from here, so it’s just
packed with young stylishly dressed Slovenes who speak perfect English. It’s just got a real creative spirit.
Ljubljana’s often compared to Salzburg because you’ve got a castle on a
mountain surrounded by a river at the base, and you’ve got Alpine
peaks in the distance. I think that’s a pretty good comparison. You can head up
to the castle, there’s some fun little museums and nice viewpoints. I just love
exploring the streets of Ljubljana. The mascot of the city is the dragon, so
you’ll see that symbol all over the place, but also it’s got wonderful
architecture. The city was damaged by an earthquake in 1895, so they rebuilt in
the styles that were popular in Vienna, which was the capital at the time. Sort
of Art Nouveau, sort of historicist styles. Even if you don’t know anything about
architecture, it’s a delight just to stroll the streets of Ljublana and look at
the beautiful buildings. This one is — an architect in the early
20th century who tried to come up with a unique Slovenian national style, and
maybe it’s a good thing this one didn’t quite catch on, but it was a valiant try.
The main name in Slovenia for architecture is Jože Plecnik. He worked
in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. He trained in Vienna and gained
fame throughout Europe, came back to his hometown and he basically lived in the
city, walked through the main part of town every day on his way to work, and he
wanted to design a city that would be livable because he had to live with it. So what he created was kind of like feng
shui on a grand urban scale. He designed bridges like this one, embankments — this is
the market hall that overlooks the river. It’s very eye-pleasing, kind of the clean,
modern-meets-classical sort of style. Lots of symbolism in his works. This is
the national university library and the symbolism here is all about overcoming
barriers for the attainment of knowledge, of enlightenment. So, for example, here’s a Moses, who led
his people through 40 years of hardship to the Promised Land, in this case the
Promised Land being knowledge. When you walk in the door you take hold of a
doorknob that’s shaped like Pegasus, the winged horse that whisks you off to
high levels of enlightenment. Then there’s one last challenge as you walk
up through the hallway. You have to go through what feels like an Egyptian tomb.
It’s the last kind of dark challenge. I don’t have a picture because they’re not
allowed, but you open the door at the top and it’s this bright beautiful
light-filled room that’s just crammed with students studying and reading and
sucking up information. really a wonderful example of Jože Plecnik’s style.
That’s a name you’ve probably never heard before, but if you’re in Ljubljana you’ll
hear it again and again. A few day trips from Ljubljana: just to the south you’ve got a wonderful area with some of
the best cave systems anywhere on the planet called the “karst.” There’s a couple
that are worth considering: Škocjan and Postojna. These are
described in our guidebook, but basically it’s a chance to see some really
dramatic underground formations, rock formations. You go on a guided tour at
either of these caves and get to see some really amazing formations and
gigantic caverns, until you emerge like animals coming from a cave and squint as
you come back into the daylight. Some of the best caves anywhere. If you’re horse
lover, you know about the Lipizzaner stallions. These are the performing
horses for the Vienna Spanish Riding School. Lipizzaner stallions
actually were bred here in Slovenia and the Stud Farm is still open for visitors. Even though Austria keeps its own now,
this is where they originated and you can learn all about that there. And then
there’s dramatic sites like this castle, Predjama, which is burrowed into the side
of a cliff. My favorite thing, I think — much as I love
Ljubljana — my favorite place to relax, I guess, in Slovenia is Lake Bled. This is the
leading mountain resort of Slovenia. It’s a lake. It takes about an hour, hour-and-a-half to
walk around it. If you’re here in Seattle it’s about the size of Green Lake, just to
give you a sense of scale. It’s an absolutely beautiful and idyllic place.
There’s a little island in the middle of the lake, there’s a church on top of the
island. You ride out to the island on a pletna boat. This is a unique type of
boat you find only here. The way for making this boat, the method, is passed
down generation by generation from father to son. So you hire a boatman to oar you out to
the island. You end up at the base of a very long flight of 99 stairs. This is a very popular place for
weddings, and the tradition is after the wedding, the groom is supposed to come
here and carry — or try to carry — his bride up all 99 steps, thereby proving himself
fit for marriage. Tourists can’t resist trying this themselves. Then you
go to the top of the island. There’s this church. You go in. You ring a bell. You
make a wish. It’s just perfection. You can also walk
on the path all the way around the lake, enjoying the ever-changing views. A really
dramatic place. Every time I go, it looks completely different, depending on the
light, whether the leaves are changing, whether
it’s raining, whether it’s sunny. You can go up to the castle that overlooks the
lake. You can go for a swim. This is crystal clear mountain water.
Enjoy some of the cream cakes. This is one of the specialties of Lake Bled.
They’re very proud of their cream cakes. And also, it’s a great home base for
heading into the Slovenian mountainsides. It’s great to go up into the mountains
from here. This is, as you’ve seen from these pictures, one of the most beautiful
mountain ranges you’ll find anywhere. There’s a lot of fun little mountain
culture hiding out here as well. Slovenia has this very unique form of
hayrack. The hayrack has a roof on it because it’s very rainy, so they hang
their hay to dry and they have a little roof to prevent it from getting soaked in
the rain. Another bit of folk art are these
beehive panels. Slovenia is a big beehive, beekeeping center. Basically, the
beekeepers believe that if you draw a little scene on the panel, it’ll help the
bee find its way back. So there’s this folk art that emerged for hundreds of
years where beekeepers paint these clever, whimsical, sometimes religious,
sometimes historical scenes. Some of them are not quite PC. This is the devil
sharpening the woman’s tongue. You know those 19th century Slovenian beekeepers.
There’s a great little museum of these that’s just near Lake Bled and it’s also
a great souvenir. They make replicas that you can buy and take home. The best day,
though, spent in the Slovenian mountains is to go up and over the Vršic Pass —
dramatic mountain pass. It’s a road with 50 switchbacks: 24 on
the way up, 26 on the way back down. And you’re surrounded the entire time by
great scenery. Interesting sights. There’s a little Russian Orthodox church made of
wood. That’s because this was built by Russian
Prisoners of War during World War I. There was an avalanche here and it
killed several of the Russian workers, so they built a little chapel. You summit at
the top of the pass, come down the other side through this beautiful Soca
River Valley. Crystal clear — I mean absolutely crystal-clear water.
The Soca Valley, in addition to having these beautiful rivers and springy
suspension bridges where you can get out and go for a little bit of a hop, is also
known among historians as the site of some of the fiercest fighting in World War I – not World
War II, World War I. This was called the Soca Front,
sometimes called by its Italian name, the “Isonzo Front.” This was some of the worst fighting in
the history of warfare, partly because it took place not down in the valley, but up
on the mountain tops. They were fighting each other for control of the valley, but
they were doing it in terrible conditions, with soldiers imported from
all corners of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And there’s some really sobering
sites that you can see. For example, there’s a mausoleum where you can see
where 7,000 Italian soldiers who were killed are now buried, speckled between
this mountain grandeur. It’s an amazing contrast between the
history of the Soca Valley and just some breathtaking mountain scenery. One
of my favorite days that I spend doing anything in Europe is driving
up and over this valley. One more stop in Slovenia. Slovenia has its own tiny
little coastline — 29 miles — and the best town there is a beautiful little beach
town called Piran. It’s very similar to Korcula or Hvar, which we talked about
earlier, but like everything in Slovenia, it’s a little bit tidier, a little bit
quicker, a little bit friendlier. It’s got a gorgeous main square, a great promenade
where you can go for a swim, and some of the best sunsets you are going to see
anywhere. Folks I hope you’ve really enjoyed this, and I hope you have a wonderful
trip to Slovenia, Croatia and the rest of the former Yugoslavia. Thank you very
much, thank you.

17 thoughts on “Croatia & Slovenia Travel Skills

  1. He likes to say it was one country, but forgot to say that Yugoslavia was federal republic, so that mean that in Yugoslavia there already was republic of slovenia, republic of croatia etc… but nice presentation

  2. Excellent presentation. Congratulations.
    We planned to visit slovenia, croatia, montenegro and Bosnia (Mostar) next summer. The information we got from this talk was very, very encouraging. I will continue to study the history of the countries before our trip.
    António Moreno

  3. every story about Montenegro begins and ends in Kotor. That is sad. But the best of sights are little more far away- closest to Kotor is Perast ( old traffic free coastal town with beatuful bay and sea views ), outside bay on the coast you have Budva old town (like a smaller Dubrovnik) , Sveti Stefan island, Ada Bojana for both sea and river experience ( it has nudist part so you can enjoy skinny dipping), above coast- Lovcen national park, Rijeka Crnojevica, Zabljak mountain with breathtaking Lakes, Tara river canyon (second largest canyon in the world- after Grand Canyon), Biogradska gora national park, and one of the most impressive monastery I have ever seen, built in the mountain rock- Ostrog. Please, don't make Montenegro just a half a day excursion from Dubrovnik, stay few more days, its two times cheaper and not crowded with tourists.

  4. Croatia has one of the best food in the world. It depends where you eat ofcourse, but it preserved its authenticity and everithing is made with fresh ingredients. Avoid touristy places. And the reason why we don't have a lot fast food places is because we eat at home.

  5. Thanks for sharing. I have two options to go the Balkans or Eastern Europe,I can't make up my mind, please give some advice, appreciate it very much

  6. "Coastal Istria was part of Italy for most of its history" .wrong ,it was only from 1920 to 1945 and gifted by the allies for Italy invading Austria in WW1. From 1400 to 1800 it was part of the Venetian Republic and which was not part of Italy.

  7. My husband is from croatia. You are wrong about the food. The food is delicious. Alot of the food is better then itialian food. I have tried dishes made by itialian cooks and croatian cooks. Croatian is much better.

  8. They were always their own separate independent countries until… now they are once again their own separate independent countries

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