Ms Skinnyfat

A Food & Travel Blog from Singapore

Central and Eastern Europe is pretty much misunderstood by the typical Singaporean. When people heard that I was going to Croatia, questions that inevitably popped up were - “Is it safe?” “Do they have proper roads?” “What are you gonna eat? Peasant food?” “Is the water drinkable?” "Don't die there please."

Well... I came back in one piece. In fact, I came back a bigger piece because the food was awesome and I had a ball of a time. 
One of the best meals in my life. That's me mopping up the last bits of my shrimps dish.
S marveled at how this is one of the rare times that i actually finished all of my food without being forced to. 

And seriously people, Croatia is a developed country just without all that huge commercial brands and overly touristy stuff. AND we felt much safer here than in the typical crime ridden European countries like Spain, Paris, Greece and Italy or London. We walked around late at night and had no issues at all.

I suppose that is just the “Paranoid Singaporean” syndrome kicking in. The distrust and wariness we have of all things foreign and strange. I’m not saying it’s not good; we have only our upbringing and artificially safe environment to blame for that. But sometimes you just got to live a little, be a little trusting even when gut reaction tells you to pick up your slippers and run in the opposite direction. 

So anyway, it was 1 awesome trip to Croatia. 11 days. Left footprints in 6 countries. Transited in 2 countries, Qatar (Doha) and Hungary (Budapest), visited 3 countries, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro and threw in a pit stop in Bosnia
View from Dubrovnik Old Town.

The stops went like this. Singapore-Doha-Budapest- [Croatia] Zagreb- [Slovenia] Ljubijana (day trip)- [Croatia] Plitvice National Parks- Zadar- Sibenik(day trip)- Split- Hvar & Pakleni Island (day trip)- [Bosnia] (beach stop)- Dubrovnik- [Montenegro] Sveti Stefan & Kotor- [Croatia] Lokrum Island- Zagreb- [Singapore]. It seems like a crazy packed to the brim kinda holiday but it wasn't. We had lots of time to chill out at caffe bars, chase waterfalls, sunbathe with a bunch of naturalists, catch sunsets, do nothing at all. 

Chilling out at Buza- Bar on a Cliff in Dubrovnik 

What's cool is that we didn't break the bank for the trip. Well i never break the bank unless there's shopping involved. Here's a breakdown of how much we spent.

Air ticket-approx SGD1.7k (Qatar Airways)

Travel expenses (food, accommodation, car rental, sights)- 1000 Euros each. We had a range of meals from budget to high end but 1 good meal a day is guaranteed (by good i don't mean it has to be expensive). 40-50Euros would get you 2 mains, 2 starters and drinks. 

Accommodation- Mid range apartments and 1 4* Hotel (which wasn't fantastic). 70-100Euros/night
Currency- Croatian Kunas. Bring Euros for currency exchange in Croatia (that's if Euro is still in use then). Current exchange rate 1Euro:1.613SGD. S$1: 4.5KN approx. You do the math.
Our lovely apartment in Zadar. Huge and rustic with Wifi, AC, Satellite TV and Jacuzzi shower.
The best time to visit Croatia is probably early to mid June. Get a golden tan. Swim in the cool sapphire Adriatic sea. Party hard at cross country festivals. Trek under the shade of vast green canopies. Hop on and off ferries with efficient summer schedules. Avoid high season prices and 3am parties at overbooked hotels.
My very own swimming pool in Bosnia.

I'm really glad that we went on this trip before too many Asians and Singaporeans hit the beautiful Adriatic coast and before it's marred by all the cut throat tourism and scams. We were practically the only Asians/Singaporeans in some towns.
Sunset at the top of Dubrovnik at our secret spot
Croatia has got to be one of my favorite countries at the moment (because i will never stop exploring cool places). Travel to Croatia, will you?
Croatia, the lovely gem in the Adriatic Sea, remains as one of my top travel destination thus far and I'm glad that it's getting a lot more attention from the international travel community these days! Since my trip 2 years back (has it been that long?!), many friends have explored this Central European country, no thanks to my recommendations and her gorgeousness of course. So yes, I'm revisiting her awesomeness with more posts! So here's highlighting a must visit city which is Dubrovnik.
Well, if you've heard of Game of Thrones, then you'd probably know that this is the city that inspired the set. But before that game was made popular, this hidden/ well kept secret has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. You'll only get its beauty when you see the pristine walled city glistening in the summer sun.

There are plenty of 5 star hotels and they are about 10-15 mins walk from the Old City. They are sorta nearer to the beach but they're not beachfront and hotel chains are way too uncharismatic for a place like Dubrovnik! So where to stay then? Well, here is our hidden find.
Villa Adriatica! If something appears in every postcard of Dubrovnik, you know you're guaranteed a good view. It's located right outside the city gate and we wake to the gorgeousness of Dubrovnik every morning on our huge terrace! There's no need to squeeze with the 1.7million cruise ship tourists to see this beauty and we could always easily escape back for a shower or a cat nap. Yawns. 

Food options are plenty in Dubrovnik. Well it's a tourist city. We were fearful of walking into tourist traps but the prices of food are reasonable and the quality decent due to the heavy competition. If you are doubtful, it's time to get lost in the labyrinth of alleys which hide small restaurants, cafes and bars that you would never have found ordinarily. One of which is Lucin Kantun.
Lucin Kantun is a tapas/restaurant tucked away in Od Sigurate. We went with our regular Croatian order of squid ink risotto, calamari and grilled seafood. There are other small delicious morsels including a variety of cheeses, hams, dips and more. Prices are reasonable and the atmosphere lovely.
For hearty and freshly made pizzas and pastas, Mea Culpa Spaghetteria and Bistro is a good choice. I believe this is a chain but they do their thin crust so well! I absolutely loved the ham and blue cheese slice.
While the restaurants in Dubrovnik serve good drinks, nothing beats Cafe Buža for its cliffside location. We walked through little alleys and a hole in the stone to arrive at this spot with a view of Lokrum Island. And yes you may jump into that azure blue. 

If you happen to be in Croatia in the height of summer, the only way to avoid the crowd is to visit the city during the off peak hours eg. in the early mornings or late afternoons.
City Wall Walk. Dubrovnik is one of the best-preserved medieval walled cities in the world and a tour around it is a must. See Fort Revelin, Minceta Tower and other Dubrovnik landmarks on this 1.5h leisurely stroll. If walking is not an option, then the kayak tour around the walls will show you a different side of the ancient city.
Cable Car ride. As cheesy and horribly touristy as it may be, a cable car ride to the top gives you a unparalleled view of the city. On a clear day, you can see up to 60 km (37 miles). You may also choose to hike up/down (it's a good workout). We scooted around the viewing platform and went up higher to get a quiet and undisturbed view of the sunset.
Lokrum Island. To escape the cruise-aders, boat over to Lokrum Island to frolic with peacocks and sunbathe on the rocks. 
This is a much preferred option than to squeeze with the gazillion tourists on the sad piece of sand outside Dubrovnik. Pack a picnic with you and just hang out by the Adriatic sea.
Dubrovnik is a certainly a must visit for Croatia but the tourist crowd could get really annoying. I'd suggest that you take things easy here to avoid them at all costs. 

What would you do to get a unique experience in a touristy city? 
Split is Croatia's 2nd largest city and also the largest coastal city in the Dalmatian Coast facing the Adriatic Sea. We dropped by for 2 nights while journeying along the coast (read about it here).
The most famous sight would be the Diocletian's Palace, a retirement home for the Roman Emperor Diocletian in the Middle Ages. Since then, it has been transformed into a museum/entertainment hub/bars and pubs catering to the 3000odd living within the compound, as well as the rest of the 166k people in Split.
Spend a little time wandering around the palace. We explored the underground museum but it was nothing very impressive, just big empty cavernous stone walled spaces that are damp and cool. Within the boundaries, there are shops that sell knick knacks, souvenirs, jewelry and the sorts. They are really better known for their pub crawls that cater to the many hostels located within.
Or hang out at the Dioklecijanova (Cardo Maximus). When night falls, you can sit on the cushions at the steps, get a drink and chill out to live music. I believe there is some exotic Egyption themed restaurant nearby as well. 

Take a side trip to the many different islands around the area where you can enjoy the beaches privately and intimately ;) The more popular ones are Hvar and Brac. We took a ferry to Stari Grad and from there a bus to Hvar.
There's nothing much at the city area so off we hopped onto the little charter to brought us to the beaches. 
1st stop Jerolim. Love the clear blue seas which are pretty cold even in June. Baked for a while with the naturalists and then to Stipanska next.
Stipanska has a built up area which is occupied by a beach bar. You don't have to patronise them. We were terribly ripped off because we didn't know of an extra charge to lie on the day beds (even if u get a drink) :/ 

Our accommodation at Split Inn Apartments was very confortable. The centrally located office was easy to find and the person in charge led us to our apartment (on foot) which is only a couple of minutes away from the Diocletian Palace. 
Love the loft style apartment which is more than big enough for the 2 of us. It could probably accommodate another person on the couch. We paid about 70 Euros a night. The stone walls in our apartment prevented us from getting much of a signal but the wi-fi strength was quite strong on the first floor patio. 

My last meal would have to come from Villa Spiza in Split. This is undoubtedly the best meal in my life (so far) and we chanced upon it after S heard some guide mentioning it on the streets. There isn't a menu here. The chef simply goes to the market and picks out whatever that is available and fresh. 
The set up is essentially a home kitchen with 1 cook who is also the boss. We perch ourselved on the wooden bar chairs and waited eagerly for the food to be prepared. Menu for the night, shrimps, steak and squid ink risotto. Quite our standard fare in Croatia but we didn't know the surprise that lies in store.
The simply done shrimps in garlic, parsley, butter and perhaps some white wine. So much joy just eating with my fingers and sucking the luscious roe from the heads. Da yums. 
Lovely steak with a creamy beans and mushroom side. You cannot miss the squid ink risotto that is so flavorful and full of squid freshness. 
I was standing on the bottom rung of the stool and he's still bigger than me! The food was so good we finished every single morsel as you can tell. MUST TRY THIS!
Villa SpizaKružičeva 3, Split, Croatia

Konoba Marjan was recommended by the manager at Split Inn Apartments. Apparently you need a reservation to get a table here. We went early and were lucky to get a table much later. 
Perhaps our taste buds have been spoilt by Villa Spiza the previous night, the food was kinda bland and not that tasty in comparison. It's regular but just not WOW? I was slapping myself for not going back to Villa Spiza. 
There are a couple more interesting restaurants around the area we lived in. Do check out Sperun. We had brekkie at Sperun Deva which is just opposite. 
A quick meal before driving off to Dubrovnik. Roasted Tomatoes (only organic here).
Some Parma Ham, smoked salmon, omelette and anchovies (because S wanted to try). 
So yea.. this kinda concludes our Split visit. It's pretty but it's really quite a tourist spot i feel but i'm glad to have found that hidden gem in the Diocletian Palace. Even if you're not gonna stay for the night, you gotta at least have a meal at Villa Spiza. LOVE IT. 

Ice cream. What's not to love? Imagine an cold creamy sweet liquor sliding down your throat, cooling that internal inferno caused by our sweltering and humid environment. Ahh. We do have pretty decent ice cream in Singapore, but Croatian ice cream? They blew me away with their intensity in flavor, the smoothness in texture and generosity in their servings. Is it better than Italian Gelato? I'll leave it to you to find out. Travel to Croatia, try them and then let me know. ;) Here is my Best of Croatian Ice Cream list! Definitely amongst the Best Ice Cream in Europe.

Masarykova 4, Zagreb Upper Town, Croatia
This was a stumbled upon but it turned out to be a well known slado establishment in Zagreb. Long time favorite place for pancakes and other sweet temptations, Slastičarna Zagreb was refurbished in 2011 and is now one of the swankier city-centre spots for a little (or not so little) desserts indulgence.
Huge servings of Croatian ice cream (slado). Slastičarnica Zagreb does these interesting sundae creations that we couldn't get enough of. Individual scoops are merely priced at 7KN (1Euro or S$1.40).

Zadar- Slastičarna Donat Review
Trg. Sv Stosije 4,  Zadar 23000, Croatia
Located just around the corner of the St. Donat lies this famous slado parlor, reputed to have the best ice cream in Zadar. People know them from all around ice cream crazy Dalmatia due to their creative flavors and funny (sarcastic is my funny) scoopers. We had 2 scoops each per day when we were here. Go figure.
When S and I looked back on our Croatia trip to pick our favorite town/city, we both had the same place in mind- Zadar. Funny thing is, we both can't put our fingers on what exactly we love about this Romanesque Dalmatian city, precisely because there isn't much to do or see here. Then again, the best travel experiences aren't always based on physical/quantifiable items. Sometimes it's more emotional. 
Zadar was beautiful because we had it all to ourselves. Just a couple in love, wandering down the white marbled streets, building shared memories. It didn't matter where we were, as long as it's just the 2 of us. Then again, Alfred Hitchcock would say that it must have been "the world's most beautiful sunset" that drew us in.

This was the first coastal stop we took after Zagreb and the scenic Plitvice Lakes in the mountainous North. Driving was easy and smooth and it took us 2 hours to get here from the waterfalls.

Old Town is where all the sights are and a great place to base yourself. Everything from Roman ruins to restaurants and the great blue is within walking distance. You could finish viewing them on foot in an hour or so. In the center of Old Town is The Forum, where the famous Church of St Donat stands. The St. Anastasia Cathedral, Archaeological Museum, St. Mary's Church and Monastery are in the same corner as well.
My favorite is however the Sea Organ, an award winning art installation along the promenade. A strange but enchanting string of chords could be heard as you approach. They soothe or alarm, depending on the mood of the ocean and the temperament of the winds.
Hang around the Organ to catch the said sunset. When it turns dark, the Greeting to the Sun art piece (by the same artist) transforms the harbor into a disco ball with its multicolored photovoltaic cells. 
We stayed at Accomodation Gina, a lovely apartment above a caffe bar. It is situated at Varos, and also considered 'downtown' of Old Town. It's quite funny because it's just a stone's throw away! As it was off peak season, the caffe wasn't opened when we arrived and we had a hard time identifying the place. However, with the help of a kind hearted passerby (Croatians are really friendly and helpful), we managed to get to our very cosy room.

There are 4 rooms available in total and ours was the double one with an en suite bathroom. For 70 Euros a night, it was a steal for the beautiful space we had. The Jacuzzi shower was a plus too. Some rooms come with a bathtub. Wifi and air-conditioning included. 

Another place that you may want to consider would be Apartments Donat, which has a slightly more central location. But really, if you are already in the Old Town, everything is within a 5-10mins stroll. Use this opportunity to explore the churches/monasteries along the way.

Dining options are easily found but it would be a challenge if you don't have a reservation. The famous ones include The Kornat, Niko and Fosa but there are plenty of traditional Konobas and pizzerias that serve hearty and affordable meals. For other dining options, check out Tripadvisor or the Croatian travel sites.

We had dinner at Seafood Restaurant Fosa which is just outside the city walls. The harbor facing outdoor terrace is a perfect spot for dining but the interior is also very chic. Fish lovers would be pleased with the wide variety of fresh seafood available. Set menus are between 115-185kunas (approx S$25-30) for a 3-4 course meal. This is cheap for fine dining in fact. Can i say that truffles are terribly overpriced in Singapore? Here you can get 6g of Black Istrian truffles for S$10. Sliced black truffles. NOT truffle oil.

After dinner, remember to get the most famous slado (ice cream) at Slastičarna Donat. You have to save space for this one i swear. One of the best we've had.
The next morning, we woke up a little earlier to explore the rest of Old Town and the city walls. To our delight, we noticed that the caffe bar downstairs was packed with locals. Coolios. If you notice the orange coloured walls in the above right picture, Accommodation Gina is just on the left of that corner.

The Varos area is as shown above and you can just hang out anywhere in the neighborhood. Kult Caffe, a popular cafe bar with the younger generation, is just around the corner from our place and they serve really good coffee. I think in general the coffee in Croatia is better than what we get in Singapore. That kinda explains why their cafes are packed at all times of the day!
Just across from Kult is another popular pizza and pasta place. It's hard getting a table here especially at night when this street really comes to life. It's nice to know i'm in the heart of the action but not affected by the noise when i need to snooze.
The local markets in Croatia cannot be missed because they are full of fresh organic produce. Some of them are even home grown in little gardens. They are a photographer's dream with the vibrant splashes of colours and textures. As usual, we went away with bags of cherries and other fruits.

Just beyond the city walls lies a famous tradition that you can't miss and that's the boat ride that connects the shores of the city port. The boatmen of Zadar, called barkarioli, have been rowing their wooden barges and ferrying loyal customers for over 800 years and more recently clubbers visiting The Garden in Old Town. This tradition has been carried from father to son for centuries and they can be identified by their well worn, sea battered blue and whites.

Zadar is also famous for their Maraschino, a bittersweet, clear liqueur flavored with Marasca cherries. I'm not sure if you can visit the factory that produces it but you should be able to get a bottle from the souvenir shop. I don't think it's widely available at the caffe bars, perhaps they're not really popular with the locals . I'm not a fan so i didn't look out for it. 
However, if you are looking for a drink, a good place to check out would be The Garden.
This is an open air bar owned by a British music producer. In the day, it's a great place to chill out on the day beds and watch the ferries go by. It's easy to forget about leaving when one is a little high on Moscato.

At night, it transforms into a chic club with groovy beats. I guess this is one of the better places in Zadar for partying. If you prefer a slightly more laid back and casual scene, head to The Arsenal, an ex-military warehouse that now houses a café, bar, restaurant, art galleries and shops.

This concludes our 24 hour rendezvous in Zadar. Barely scratched the surface on this one but i think it's sufficient for a short day trip. Now, it's time for you to get yourself there.