Less than thirty years ago, the country of Croatia was in the midst of a war with Yugoslavia in a quest to gain back its independence. For obvious reasons this brought Croatia’s once-high tourism numbers down to near-zero.
Yet, recently, through word of mouth and help from Game of Thrones and the upcoming Star Wars movie, Croatia is closing the gap of where its tourism was before the war. After meeting up with Greg, a friend from Sacramento who had been studying in Vienna, we took a bus down to explore Croatia for ourselves.
Quick history lesson. During the early 90s Croatia was in the midst of a war with the Yugoslavia in a quest to gain back independence. For obvious reasons the war brought Croatia’s once-high tourism numbers down to near-zero. Not to mention parts of the country were riddled with bombs! Yet recently, through word of mouth and help from Game of Thrones and the upcoming Star Wars, Croatia is closing the gap of where its tourism was before the war.
The first part of our trip was spent exploring Croatia’s most popular national park: the Plitvice Lakes. With a transfer from Wanderer Travel we arrived early to beat the crowds. Immediately we were stunned by the color of the lakes. The mineral composition of Plitvice creates a transparent teal in the water bordered beautifully by the thick dark green of the park’s many trees. The two came together in a stunning natural portrait.
For the next few hours we traversed from lake to lake on a serene walkway of wood taking in the views of waterfalls as they pushed their way through shrub and rock. The trip ended with a ferry ride through the middle of the largest lake where we were able to soak in the surrounding beauty one last time.
Following Plitvice, Greg and I took a short ferry out to the island of Hvar: a place known for its illustrious nightlife. As the ferry arrived to port we were pleasantly surprised to find a rustic old town sitting at the edge of the harbor.
After we got our bearings of the island we opted to join in on the Hvar Pub Crawl. The crawl usually begins with a cruise around the nearby islands, but due to a freak lightning storm we had to substitute the cruise with something just as awesome: one hundred minutes of open bar at a popular jazz bar in old town.
Once our thirst had been fully quenched, our guide Zizi informed us we were hopping on a ferry ride to Pakleni Island; a vacant islet where the only manmade structure is a large, open-air nightclub. We spent the rest of the evening dancing in the ocean breeze beneath the shine of disco lights and the buzz of music.
Scootin’ Through Scotland
The UK is packed full of amazing things to see whether it be history, nature, castles, or so on. But it does have one frequent downside; the rain. So what do you do if you find yourself in a hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, with rain coming down cats and dogs outside the window? I recommend you do as the locals and find yourself a pub!
Through the Scottish Beer Tours we were able to get a taste of history as our tour guide led us across the city explaining how, from the start, beer has made Scotland what it is today. Experiencing both the old and the new of Scotland’s breweries, we came to discover how a delight such as beer can shape the path of an entire country.
Next up, we took a bus to Glasgow where the weather was unusually kind to us (we got to see the sun!). Eager to experience the Scottish countryside, we hopped in an uber and took a windy road out to the famous Glengoyne Whisky Distillery where we were treated to a magnificent whisky and chocolates tour.
The distillery itself is tucked away in a vibrant, green hillside with a beautiful waterfall and pond beside it. Our tour guide Sasha led us through the facility, explaining how their brilliant whisky is created and letting us sample a dram of 35-year-old whisky that is listed on the “101 Whiskeys to Try Before You Die”. Without a doubt it is the best whisky I have tried. Only 100 more to go!
Belfast: The Tale of the Troubles
Many people have heard of the Troubles of Northern Ireland, but there are few who know the extent of its seriousness. With a tour from Paddy Campbell’s Black Taxis we got to see firsthand how dark the city of Belfast had become during much of the twentieth century.
Our driver had grown up in Belfast during the height of the Troubles and told us unimaginable stories of his experience as we drove through neighborhoods where religious and political hatred still exist to this day. Though the Protestant and Catholic groups are in a truce at the moment, there is still a felt segregation between them that blankets over Belfast.
It goes without saying that things are much better now than they were thirty years ago, but one can still see the city’s shameful history every July during the Orange Festival, when the Catholics and the Protestants build up ginormous bonfires to burn the British and Irish flags, respectively. We left Belfast hopeful of the growing peace yet deeply unsettled by its terrible past.