Six city trip through Croatia, Slovania and Venice - Apr/May 2014

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  1. Slow_Mustang
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    We are not travel trailblazers by any stretch of the imagination, but we do get around to lot of places based on the TR’s of fellow travelers. When we were looking for a new place to visit, Croatia screamed out from the forums. So, we planned for a six city tour and made reservations for spring ’14. A United biz flight to London along with a couple of connections through Frankfurt brought us to Dubrovnik. The United plane at LAX left the gate to taxi to the runway on time but had to turn around as one of the doors did not seem to be properly secured. And this little maneuver required a topping off the fuel tank. The final late departure made me very nervous as we had a tight connection at Heathrow. Fortunately, United was pro-active in sending their reps to the arrival gate at Heathrow for escorting passengers with connecting flights to their respective terminals. Needless to say that the luggage did not get transferred to our connecting flight at London and we had to file a missing luggage complaint at Dubrovnik. With the arrival time at Dubrovnik being late in the evening, we chose to take advantage of Hilton’s pickup service. A half an hour ride brought us to the hotel, located in the center of the town. A room on the street side with a balcony and a view of the Fortress Lovrijenac and Adriatic Sea became home for the next six nights.

    Dubrovnik Hilton Review:
    http://milepoint.com/forums/threads/hilton-imperial-dubrovnic-croatia.87818/

    We have no personal experience with the following alternate options for the airport to hotel transfer:
    Booking a taxi online - http://www.dubrovnikcity.com/guided/taxitransfers.php
    Negotiating with a local taxi driver for a fixed price ride to your hotel.
    Taking a bus run by a private company. The buses are synchronized with the flight arrivals and leave the airport 20-30 minutes after each arrival.
    Late in the evening, we did not see too many taxis at the airport. So, they could name their price for the ride.

    The Hilton Hotel
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    Fortress Lovrijenac - View from the hotel balcony
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    Fortress Lovrijenac - A stairway inside the fortress
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    Last edited: May 14, 2014
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  2. Slow_Mustang
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    Dubrovnik

    The rainy season was not quite over yet in Croatia and we had rain almost every day during our stay there. The UNESCO world heritage listed old town is a fabulous place to visit. From the end of the main city drag one needs to walk down few steps and then pass through a gate to the main street Placa of the enchanted old town. On the left side, every 25 or so steps is another street running parallel to the main street while on the right side the streets ramp up a bit before the stairs show up, that lead to a maze of interconnected winding streets.

    The old town is encircled by a wall and walking on this wall is one of the activities that every tourist does. The ticket for entrance to the wall also includes a visit to the Fortress Lovrijenac if done on the same day. The main street Placa through the old town ends at the old harbor where Lokanda restaurant awaits you to spend an afternoon with some seafood and beer/wine at the waterfront. A climb up the steps on the left across from the church towards the end of Placa in the old town brings you to the base station of the cable car for ascent to the highest point in the city for a breathtaking view. There are a couple of places along the way to buy the tickets for the cable car and it is advisable to buy them there rather than at the base of the cable car as the ticketed people can walk right up to the entrance instead of having to wait in a line to buy the tickets, which can run to an hour’s wait at midday during the summer rush.

    Lot of tour groups and the folks from the cruises show up during the middle part of the day making every corner of the city look very crowded. Some of the other things to do in Dubrovnik are visiting the Promenade and shopping area in the Babin Kuk area where cruise ships dock, taking day trips to the neighboring countries and taking boat rides from the old port for a trip around the nearby islands. There is also a hiking trail to the upper station of the cable car. Sea food is served everywhere. There are quite a few restaurants on Prijeko street, which is one flight of steps above Placa on the left side. Nishta restaurant on Prijeko takes care of the vegetarian/vegan visitors to the old town. Orhan restaurant is located by the steps leading to Fortress Lovrijenac.

    Old Town
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    A view of the rain soaked main street in the Old Town from the top of the wall
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    Old Town main street with the day-crowds thinned out in the late afternoon
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    Table for two at the Ragusa restaurant
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    Seafood platter at the very informal Lokanda restaurant
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    Last edited: May 15, 2014
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  3. Slow_Mustang
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    Split

    Dubrovnik’s main bus station for long distance buses is located near the new port and is accessible via a short taxi ride; or if you don’t have much luggage, via a city bus. The Split bus schedules are available at http://www.ak-split.hr/EN/vozni.red/index.html . This bus makes detours to touch different towns along the way and takes 4-5 hours to reach Split center.

    Perched 299 steps above the Split waterfront/harbor is a bar and a viewpoint with a commanding view of the city and the waterfront. We accessed the viewpoint from the back side by walking on a sloping street and then came down on the steps to the harbor. Promenade is a very lively place with lots of cafes, bars, hotels and restaurants. Walking down the promenade one reaches the entrance to the Roman Emperor Diocletian‘s Retirement Palace. The major part of the palace that is still standing, consists of the Cathedral and Mausoleum building and the structures around it. At the end of the promenade is a narrow street on the left with a whole bunch of souvenir stalls, which opens into a flower/fruit market. Making a right turn on the marina, at the end of the promenade leads to various ferry docks on the right side and the long distance bus station on the left.

    The following apartment building is fairly decent for a short stay and is located 10-15 minutes from the promenade. If informed about the bus arrival time, they do provide a free pick up service as well as drop off at the main bus station.
    http://www.splitapartments-peric.com/

    Split city from the viewpoint
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    Some of the 299 steps connecting the city street to the viewpoint
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    Split Waterfront/Harbor
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    A Croatian folk dance being performed at a stage set up at the promenade to celebrate 10 years of something or the other
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    An unassuming entrance to the Emperor Diocletian's Palace on the Promenade
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    Last edited: May 14, 2014
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  4. Slow_Mustang
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    Day Trips to Mostar and Trogir

    We took a day trip from Dubrovnik to Mostar, Bosnia. It was a van trip and not a bus trip, so it was a bit more intimate. It was very educational to learn about the religious divide in the nation that has created stagnation because of the main groups - Christians, Muslims and the Christian Orthodox - not agreeing on anything. The group dominance is measured by the height of the main church tower and the main mosque minaret. Our tour guide was a christian Bosnian, living and working in Dubrovnik and the local Mostar guide was a muslim Bosnian; both had some interesting insights into the cultural and historical aspects of Bosnia.

    A historic bridge that divides the city of Mostar into the Muslim and Christian quarters
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    From Split, we took a trip on our own to the nearby city of Trogir. The long distance bus stops there and involves less travel time. Alternately, the Split city bus, available from the city bus station, may be used to get to Trogir. The long distance buses run less frequently though.

    Trogir, Old Town Castle
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    Trogir, Old Town administration building
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    Trogir, Old Town Center Square
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    Last edited: May 15, 2014
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  5. Slow_Mustang
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    Plitvice Lakes

    After a two night stay at Split we took a bus to the Plitvice Lakes National Park from the main bus station. It made quite a few stops and even went off the established route to pick up and drop off people. We made sure to tell the bus conductor to drop us off at the Mukinje station, which comes about a mile before the Park entrance 2. The Jezerce village is home to 23 inns and is the most convenient place for a brief stay outside of the National Park. The National Park does have 2-3 hotels inside its perimeter and a longer stay at the Park would justify being closer to the lakes. A 5 minute walk to the Plitvice Miric Inn from the bus station, check in and we were ready for dinner. You have to pre-order the dinner for them to cook the desired items and have them ready at dinner time. The family run Inn functions very smoothly and the whole family is very friendly and helpful.

    Review of Plitvice Miric Inn: http://milepoint.com/forums/threads/review-of-plitvice-lakes-inn-plitvice-croatia.88043/

    One of the many Plitvice Lakes
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    Another lake and associated waterfalls shrouded in mystery on a misty, rainy day
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    Nature's wonder
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    It is advisable to start the park visit by taking the park bus to the highest point, coming down to the midway area and then taking the ferry for the rest of the lakes downstream. Next time I am here, I will make sure to come when the rainy season is over, but then I will have to fight the crowds. Even on this rainy spring day, many day-visitors had been bused in from the nearby port and perhaps from Zagreb too, making the middle part of the day quite crowded.
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    Last edited: May 23, 2014
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  6. Slow_Mustang
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    Zagreb

    After enjoying the Lakes, we bade goodby to the scenic but soggy Plitvice area and took a bus to Zagreb. The Zagreb bus station is located about a 15 minute walk from the Hilton doubletree hotel. On check-in, just by being gold members, we were accorded the privilege of a complementary breakfast in their restaurant.

    Tram #2 from in front of the hotel takes you to the main train station. Across from it is the King Tomislav Square and long city parks. A 15 minute walk along these city parks leads to the city center square (Jelacic Sq.) with a monument to a general/nobleman Ban (a title of noblity) Josip Jelacic in the middle of the Jelacic Square. On the first evening that we were there, they were having a rah-rah gathering in support of some national political leader. To make the description of the layout simple, I will detail the three paths from this square. Walking up along the right end of this square leads to the cathedral and the bus stop for bus #106 to the mirogoj cemetery. Walking up along the left side of the square leads to Tkalciceva, a pedestrianized street with lots of local shops, cafes and restaurants. Also, walking along the left side, straight up are some 30 steps which lead to Dolac Market - an open air fruit and vegetable market open only in the morning; up another 10 or so steps at the end to, I believe, Opatovina Street. This street's claim to fame is that it still has the old style gas lamps for street lighting and a city employee comes around every evening after sunset to light these lamps. It too has some restaurants/bars, but is not well traveled. These three main paths are interconnected by side streets.

    The Cathedral and the cemetery were impressive, got some fresh strawberries from Dolac, had a drink on Opatovina and saw the man light up the lamps, and ate at Tkalciceva, where the crowds were glued to TV sets for some soccer game. Did not get to take the funicular or visit the Zagreb Eye or the Museum of Broken Relationships. To visit St. Mark's church and the old town was quite a walk. On the left side of this church is the Governor's Palace which houses the Prime Minister's office/residence and the Parliament. May 1 is a national holiday just like in the rest of Europe and trade unions in Zagreb host picnics at various places in the city where they provide music, free food and soda pop. From Zagreb we took a train to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

    Hilton Doubletree Hotel review: http://milepoint.com/forums/threads/hilton-doubletree-zagreb-croatia.87816/#post-2364529


    The Main Train station
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    The City Center - Jelacic Square
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    The Cathedral
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    The Mirogoj Cemetery
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    St. Mark's Church
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    Last edited: Aug 3, 2014
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  7. Slow_Mustang
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    Zagreb - Some more pictures

    Old style gas lamp for street lighting - a streetlighter comes around to manually light them every evening
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    It is easy to catch parking violations in a downtown residential private parking lot
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    A Zagreb mailbox
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    Graffiti artists seem to have taken liberties with this local train
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    Last edited: Jun 8, 2014
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  8. Slow_Mustang
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    Ljubljana, Slovenia

    After an uneventful train ride along the scenic river, we arrived in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The Grand Union Executive hotel was a 15 minute walk from the train station. After checking in we set about seeing this great city.

    The pedestrianized city center is a joy to walk around in. The city center, walk along the river, taking the funicular up to the castle with its associated museum and viewpoints were all enjoyable. Arranging for travel for our next segment from Ljubljana to Venice turned out to be bit of a challenge, as there is no direct train service to Venice and the two buses for that destination were both scheduled for early morning departures. One helpful person at the front desk was able to book us on a shared van ride, operated by the GoOpti company, for which we were grateful. The gods of rain did not let up and partly cloudy days were punctuated by periods of heavy downpours.

    Review of Grand Hotel Union Executive: http://milepoint.com/forums/threads/review-of-grand-hotel-union-executive-ljubljna-slovenia.87867/


    Monument to the national poet Preseren in the central square named after him
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    Preseren Square
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    Monument to Ivan Hribar - a noted banker, diplomat, journalist and a one time revered mayor of Ljubljana
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    Funicular station for a ride to the Ljubljana Castle
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    City as viewed from the Ljubljana Castle
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  9. Slow_Mustang
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    Bled, Slovenia

    We took a half day trip to the city of Bled. It offers a beautiful lake with a church on an island within the lake, a castle on a hilltop built during the German occupation and lots of hotels and restaurants. The multi-lingual driver/tour guide was well informed and courteous. She made us all feel like special guests in her country.

    Lake Bled
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    A boat on the dock at the far end of lake Bled takes visitors to the church on the island in the lake
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    The Castle
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    Printer's press in the castle - such old style presses were used at one time to print material by the rulers and the clergy to get their message to the masses
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    The city casino
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    Walking around the lake, which would take 2-3 hours could be a tranquil activity, but the motorists turn the lake visit into nothing more than a tourist attraction.

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    Last edited: Aug 3, 2014
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  10. Slow_Mustang
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    Venice

    The GoOpti van service from Ljubljana dropped us off at Venice from where we took a water bus to the Venice Hilton. This hotel is located on a small island away from the maddening crowds, and is separated from Venice by a lagoon. With Hilton Gold or Diamond you do get a room upgrade, but it might not have a view. The best rooms are along the lagoon across from Venice.

    Review of Molino Stucky Hilton Hotel, Venice: http://milepoint.com/forums/threads/review-of-molino-stucky-hilton-venice.87812/

    This was planned to be a relaxing 4 day stay and we kept it that way. Last time we were here, we missed going to Murano, so, this time we made sure to take the water bus to take care of that.

    Hilton hotel as viewed from across the lagoon in Venice
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    The crowds near St Mark's Square
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    All the bridges over the Grand Canal are still there
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    Colorful Blown Glass Objects in Murano
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    Glass blowing demos on Bressagio street 25 and 41 in Murano
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    Last edited: May 21, 2014
  11. LAM

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    If you had to do your trip again would you take your side trip to Mostar? I may be visiting Sarajevo next year and have thought about a day trip to Mostar if my friend I will visit has to work one day I am there.
     
  12. Slow_Mustang
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    LAM, it is very subjective. There isn't much to do or see there, but I learned something about the history of Bosnia and its current situation as the most dysfunctional and the poorest country of the six republics that Yugoslavia split into. Having been there once, I would definitely not go back.
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2014
  13. Slow_Mustang
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    Good Bye Venice - Water Taxi to the airport
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    Obligatory Points and Miles Info and other notes/observations: The reservations were made with the pre-devaluated United miles, about 11 months out. The outbound flight was a United Biz one to London, with connecting flights on Lufthansa to Frankfurt and on Croatian Airlines to Dubrovnik. The connection from London was tight But we made it. The security re-screening at London is a major pain. If anything (gels, liquids) is left in the carry on bag, they hand check the bag thoroughly, wasting precious time. In our case, the amenity kits from United were inadvertently left in the carry on bag and they rifled through the bags as well as opened the amenity kits and checked every little thing. The connection time at Frankfurt was adequate and we even had time to visit the Lounge there. The Croatian airlines plane that we flew in from Frankfurt to Dubrovnik was special, as Pope John Paul II had flown in it in 2003. We were the only two people flying in their Biz section.

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    The return flights were Lufthansa Biz from Venice to Frankfurt and then United F to LAX. With award stays at Hilton hotels in Dubrovnik, Zagreb and Venice, our points balance took a major hit.
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    Last edited: Nov 5, 2014
  14. Rakuten06

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    But I bet that it is worth the trip to Croatia, Slovenia, and Venice? :)
     
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  15. Slow_Mustang
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    Yes, it was, and we are thankful to Hilton Surpass and the Citi CC's for that.
     
  16. Alex (Easy Award Booking)

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    Slovenia is the little hidden gem in Europe!
     
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