dubrovnik + otok mljet + split + hvar, croatia

Bari to Dubrovnik:  We knew getting from Italy to Croatia was going to be a struggle, but we didn't realize that we were attempting to tour Croatia at the very, very end of the season. Or that being out of season meant that everything was actually closed. But, we were about to find out. We took a bus from Naples to Salerno, a train from Salerno to Bari (on the east coast of Italy) and a $100 ferry on Jadrolinija Ferries from Bari, Italy to Dubrovnik, Croatia. Go ahead and say Jadrolinija 5 times fast. The bus and train situation went relatively smoothly. We followed the crowds and the small printer paper on the bus that told us we were headed in the right direction and had to run a little bit to not miss each one, but we made it to Bari with time to spare. A lot of time to spare. When we arrived it was light out so we walked around the town and figured we'd see what Bari had to offer. I don't want to show my ignorance too much here, but it's not a whole lot. We tried to find something to eat for hours, we walked up and down streets that were covered in Gucci and H&M, but not one restaurant. We sat in a park for a bit to catch our breathe and when we finally decided to just eat at the first place we saw, the universe spoke and we came across ANOTHER gyros shop. What is the deal!? Is this the only thing they eat in Europe? Brandon, happy as a clam, ordered his 5 Euros dinner, as I hangerly pouted in the corner and refused to eat another gyros. We continued on walking and finally came across a small chinese restaurant that looked closed, but agreed to serve us. Thankfully two couples soon joined and it felt less like we were about to get murdered.

As we wrapped up dinner, it was already dark and we had no idea where our ferry was leaving from so we walked towards the water, looking for a port. We were really far, but eventually we made it through the entrance, into the lines of the ferry, took the shuttle to the building where we had to get our tickets, a mile away, then back to the boat, and on to the giant ship. I don't think Brandon had ever been on a cruise before, and I've only been on one as a child, where our 5 family members all crammed into a room the size of my closet, with beds that folded down from the wall.This one wasn't much better but it was our home for the night, so there was no sense in complaining. We drank some wine with the guests, I took some sleeping pills and woke up in a different world. B woke me up around 6am, and said we were about 30 minutes from docking, so we went up to the deck and watched the sun rise over Dubrovnik.

So, we're here, but we have no idea where our apartment is. We went and had lunch and stole some wifi but realized we didn't exactly have the address of where we were staying. We had booked an in-law unit with an old couple that were adorable but didn't speak a lick of english. Our maps we're still in Bari and wouldn't load Dubrovnik so we couldn't see the star where we had dropped a pin. I remembered it's general place on the map, and we we're pretty much out of options so I just told Brandon to follow me and started walking in that general direction. Don't ask me how, but I followed my Shami senses and after walking through a small alley way, and up some stairs, through a school, I suddenly noticed we were on our street! Hallelujah. The home we stayed in belonged to an adorable couple, but unfortunately, that was the only good thing about it. We were meant to stay here two nights, but they were doing construction right outside our room, we had no wifi to research or book our next few days, and the sheets..were wet. Like damp, and wouldn't dry. It was hard to sleep and mostly just uncomfortable. So we paid, and bolted.

But not before spending the day walking through the Old City of Dubrovnik. "The 'Pearl of the Adriatic', situated on the Dalmatian coast, became an important Mediterranean sea power from the 13th century onwards. Although severely damaged by an earthquake in 1667, Dubrovnik managed to preserve its beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains. Damaged again in the 1990s by armed conflict, it is now the focus of a major restoration programme co-ordinated by UNESCO." For us, it was as simple as the fact that we'd filled our hours on the train with season 1 of Game of Thrones, and could not WAIT to walk through King's Landing. We stopped for ice cream, watched an epic sunset, and some crazy people jumping from rocks, and snuck through the old city walls where we had nice dinner before turning in for the night. I remember passing the church where the 'red wedding' from Season 4 was filmed, and having no idea what that meant, but I couldn't wait to find out. I also remember the sandwich sign outside the restaurant that said in huge letter "FREE WIFI" and just underneath in very small type... "just kidding...you might actually have to speak to each other". I love you Dubrovnik, I'll be back.

The year before, for my birthday, I had received a book called Gypset Travel by Julia Chaplin. Among the beautiful pages filled with her travel adventures were inspiration about taking the road less traveled. She spoke of her summers in Montauk, and the way things used to be, before everything was a Instagram opportunity. While planning this trip, it was really important to me to incorporate some of that attitude. As much as I wanted to stand under the eiffel tower, or see the London eye, I also was looking for a little quiet, some clarity, to make sense of it all. That's what I found in Otok Mljet.

We took a Ferry to the island of Mljet, just off the coast of Dubrovnik. The town we were staying in was named Polače, which is also the name of the street. That's right, there's only one. Polače is a village, and a port, in the western part of the northern coast of Mljet. It has just over one hundreds permanent residents. It has a couple of restaurants and cafes, as well as one super market. Well, maybe just a market. We only spent one night here, and one full day, but it was enjoyable. So relaxing. Some moments, I forgot there were another 98 people on the island. We ate dinner at the one restaurant down the street from our house, with the other 5 people who were out that night, as they explained that we were there on the very last night of the season and tomorrow they would be closing until the new year. As luck would have it. Every time we walked past someone we thought, they must all know each other, so they're just wondering who we are. The place we were staying was a families guest house, it had a small patio and an incredible rooftop, I've never seen so many stars in my whole life.
In the morning we walked to the ancient ruins that dominate the village, and hiked through the park until we found what we deemed as our own private beach. The water was so clear, the boats reflections mirrored underneath them. We watched schools of fish swim around, ate our salami sandwiches and took Julia's advice, to get off the beaten path once in a while.

Unfortunately, we couldn't stay in this fantasy forever, and before we knew it it was time to take the ferry back to Dubrovnik and the bus up to Split. Did you know you have to drive through Bosnia to get there? Did you know Bosnia is now called Bosnia and Herzegovina. Me neither. Split was gorgeous, the water was equally clear, and it was also very much a port city. We spent a day at the beach, drank some beers and took long walks around the island. It was hard to imagine that these beach cities that were relatively bare at this time of year, were the same, covered in a sea of people during Yacht Week, just a couple months prior.

From Split we went onto Hvar, and spent a few days in the rain, but somehow it didn't bother me. It was a nice change. I took a solo hike one day, up through the cities small streets, and passed every color door you could imagine. At one point, I found signs leading to the fortress. I met a little girl, dressed head to toe in pink and sparkles and her matching backpack told me she was on her way home from school. As I climbed up the maze of streets, we played a little hide and seek. Every few turns, I'd lose her, and then find her again. Finally, I reached a long stretch of stairs, and she joined me on my walk. She didn't speak a word of english, but she didn't seem to mind. We walked together and she told me - something. Maybe how her day had gone, maybe where she lived, maybe that she didn't understand a word I was saying. But it didn't matter. We walked together, and when we parted ways, she ran back and gave me the biggest hug. I like to think we became good friends. 

I reached the top of the mountain, and entered the fortress, just as the storm broke. The clouds parted and I watched the sun set, over a sea of small islands, in Croatia. The world is such a beautiful place.