I’ve lived a very sheltered life. I’m so sheltered that even wars that have happened during my lifetime are just words on paper or images on screens that are about as real to me as a Bruce Willis action movie. Being in Mostar made me realize just how lucky I’ve been.
Based on our first post about Mostar, you probably have some idea of how recent their history of war violence is. Besides the sniper tower, you can see numerous other remnants of war just by strolling around the city. The most infamous one is probably the Stari Most. The Stari Most, Old Bridge in English, connects two parts of Mostar and is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the country. For such a simple looking bridge, it’s strangely captivating and I just couldn’t seem to get enough pictures of it. Every time I walked near it I had to snap a picture. Weird.
The bridge that we see now is actually a reconstruction of the original that was built in the 16th century during the Ottoman Empire. It lasted for 427 years through many wars, but was finally brought down on November 9, 1993 during the Croat-Bosniak War. After the war the Croats admitted to deliberately targeting and destroying the bridge although their reason for destroying it, strategic importance, is highly disputed by academics who argue that the destruction of the bridge was symbolic since it represented the shared cultural heritage between the people who have occupied the city for so many years. There’s a tiny museum in the old town area where you can learn more about the history of Mostar and the bridge if you’re interested. It’s free so you’ll probably go even if you’re not that interested. And, if you like to tempt death, there’s an annual diving competition in the summer where you can hurl your body from the bridge into the shallow, frigid waters of the Neretva River below. Don’t come crying to me if you die.
I was 14 when the Bosnian War ended in 1995. I remember hearing about it, but it was a world so far removed from my world that I didn’t bother to learn about it. Later, we all heard and read about the genocides, the mass rapes and the ethnic cleansing that went on as the rest of the world turned their heads. It’s one thing to read about it and another to be in the places where these atrocities happened.
We occasionally came across abandoned, bullet-ridden houses in Croatia, but seeing the remaining damage in Mostar was shocking. Rows and rows of pock-marked buildings stood next to brand new ones as silent but sobering reminders of the war. One especially notable place left over from the war is the “sniper tower”, a former bank building that was occupied by Serb and Croat forces.
As we made our way to the sniper tower in the afternoon (before the junkies go to the building in the evening to get high), we ran into a traveling American couple we met at the bus station on our way to Mostar the day before. THANK GOD. We wouldn’t have to explore the creepy abandoned building by ourselves!
Dubrovnik is beautiful, but you’ll probably get bored of walking around the old town and playing guess which Asian country that group of tourists is from after a few days. Because we’re not all from China, you know. When you’re done playing your travelers’ games you should head over to Lokrum Island. It’s a quick and cheap ferry ride from the old town port and a great way to get away from the cruise ship crowds for the day.
One of the main attractions on Lokrum are the free roaming peacocks and peahens. We thought we’d have to wear camouflage and stealthily hide behind a bush to spot the elusive birds, but they greeted us as soon as we landed on the island. They are pretty much everywhere so you can’t miss them.
Dubrovnik was the last stop on our “Lesbians Gone Wild: Croatia” tour and as we approached the entrance to the city in our baller rental car I finally realized why everyone has been going gaga over Croatia.
When people talk about how fabulous Croatia is, they mostly mean the coastal cities along the Adriatic Sea. And, they probably mean Dubrovnik.
We had our foodie friend with us from New York, and we were missing out on some serious eating in Croatia. With Zagreb being disappointing food-wise and the Plitvice Lakes area offerings being not that much better, the three of us made our way to the coastal town of Split for fresh seafood. This being the Dalmatian coast, we arrived in the city and immediately spotted a Japanese tour group cross the street in front of us and cruise ships docked in the distance. Palm trees lined the main promenade, and people sat outside sipping coffees and cocktails. How did we end up in Miami?
Being the hungry hippos that we are, we dropped off our bags at the apartment and immediately made our way to our first traditional Croatian tavern experience at Konoba Hvaranin. We’ve long stopped trusting any reviews on Tripadvisor, and instead found a review on Foodie International of a konoba recommended by locals so we put our faith in this girl. We were glad we did. After taking sufficient food porn photos, we dug into fresh pasta with clams, grilled shrimp and grilled baby squid with ink sacs inside.
After dinner, we took a walk around the Old Town to digest and more importantly, to have a nightcap. Split used to be Emperor Diocletian’s summer palace. I don’t know anything about him, except that he was the only Roman Emperor to retire and he hated Christians. We walked through the narrow, maze-like streets and finally found Ghetto Club, which was the only gay-friendly bar in Split I was able to find on the internet. Unlike what you would probably imagine from the unfortunate name, it’s a nice, spacious place. We had the whole place to ourselves, but I can imagine this place must be pretty busy in the summer months.
I wonder if we’re the only people in the world who went to Plitvice and weren’t blown away by its beauty. Ching-I, N and I drove there from Zagreb in a rental car full of excitement and anticipation. I had seen the photos online of the crystal-clear, cascading waterfalls, and the still pools of blue water surrounded by cliffs. Well, it seems like everyone else including the entire older Japanese population from Japan heard the same rave reviews because they were all there in what was supposed to be non-peak season.
The three of us made our way through the waterfalls and lakes on the weaving boardwalk, slowly bypassing gray-haired European tourists with their big DSLRs and hordes of Japanese tourists following young ladies waving JTB flags. As a Zagreb local told us, October is Japanese tourist season in Croatia. Believe me, it is.
If it weren’t for the crazy night we had last night, Zagreb would’ve been just another unmemorable city on our travels. But first, how we got there.
We had planned to meet our friend Ching-I from New York in Croatia, and decided that Zagreb (the capital of Croatia) would be the most convenient place for her to fly into to start exploring the rest of this weirdly-shaped country. After a day of sightseeing around Zagreb, the three of us quickly realized that the city itself really wasn’t anything special. There weren’t any really notable landmarks or tasty food to distract us from the blandness of the city.
Since we spent the weekend in Zagreb, we decided to check out the only “queer-friendly” bar (that wasn’t a club) I could find on the internet. We had some time to kill so we watched “Gravity” in IMAX for a mere $9 (not as cheap as Tallinn, though) and then walked back to the bar.
Café Vimpi is a cozy bilevel bar/café with a narrow spiral staircase that is a deathtrap for drunk people. But there weren’t any accidents that night, and the three of us settled around a small table and were served by the friendly lesbian bartender. Groups of queer people started trickling in, but we’re shy and we kept to ourselves. After a round of 0.5L Radlers, we looked around and ordered Tomislav beers, what the locals seemed to be drinking.
Pula was our third destination in Croatia and one of the more interesting cities, historically speaking. Unlike Rovinj, the action in Pula doesn’t happen down by the water. Actually, there is no action in Pula. It’s a pretty quiet place and we only saw one medium-sized Chinese tour group while we were there.
From what we could see Pula didn’t have much of a waterfront scene. We did walk along the marina area one day and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the fish and fantasizing about how nice it would’ve been to have our fishing poles with us.
Pula is best known for its ancient Roman ruins including the sixth largest Roman arena and possibly the best preserved of the Roman arenas. The Pula Arena is the only remaining Roman amphitheatre to have four side towers and all three Roman architectural orders preserved, according to my trusty source, Wikipedia. It was constructed between 27 BC – 68 AD and is older than the Colosseum in Rome. Like other Roman amphitheatres, Pula Arena was used for gladiator combats and fights between death row convicts and wild animals. Nowadays it’s used for concerts; Michael Bolton, Seal, Elton John, just to name a few, have performed there. If I had to choose, I’d rather see a Roman convict fight off a wild lion than see a Michael Bolton concert. As a matter of fact, I’d rather fight the wild animal myself than be subjected to a Michael Bolton concert.
We arrived in Groznjan on a cold and rainy day and we left on a colder and rainier day. The original plan was to take a cab to the bus stop in Buje and hop on a bus to Rovinj, but once we climbed into the warm, dry taxi we decided to splurge and pay the extra $35 to have the driver and her teenage daughter take us all the way to Rovinj. This saved us a 2+ hour wait in the rain at the Buje bus stop and a potentially wet walk to our apartment once we arrived in Rovinj. Sometimes it’s just worth it to spend the extra dough.
The rain stopped by the time we arrived in Rovinj so we dropped off our bags at our AirBnB apartment and went out for a walk to explore the old town. Since we stayed in the heart of the old town we were able to explore a good amount of it the first evening.
The old part of town, where most tourists stay, is quaint and charming. Its pedestrian streets are all slippery stone, perfect for killing the hordes of elderly cruise tourists who descend upon the small town every summer. If you do manage to survive the walk through town then you can enjoy listening to the romantic saxophone musician who plays everything from Broadway show tunes to The Jackson 5 while you dine al fresco with your beloved.
It’s not hard to find a beautiful place on the Istrian coast of Croatia. We knew we were going to be spending more time on the coast in the coming weeks, so we found a small, secluded hilltown of Groznjan as our first stop.
We took a bus to a tiny town called Buje on a cold and rainy afternoon and paid an idle old man we found in a café to drive us the rest of the way (about 8.5km on an uphill). Perched atop a hill overlooking farms and smaller villages below, Groznjan is a cluster of the cutest stone houses with a population of less than 100. When the town’s population dwindled and was on the verge of becoming a ghost town, a colony of artists moved in and made it their home and workplace. You can see the artists’ influence on the town in the brightly painted shutters, the beautiful plants decorating the houses and the ateliers dotting the place.