Croatia was a marvelous place to explore with Nova and friends, we saw many families with babies and toddlers throughout the areas we visited (Zadar, Kornati, Krka, Dubrovnik, Korcula, and Split). I felt safe everywhere we went and had help from locals and other travelers without even having to ask most of the time. The weather was absolutely perfect for packing light, water play, and getting gently sun kissed. The water was clear and full of fish and definitely warmer than the Pacific. Most beaches had rocky bottoms but some were sandy which made for easier toddler access. Grocery stores were plentiful and buying organic wasn’t hard, plus farmers markets were available selling similar items that are currently available in Southern California. In fact, the climate felt very similar to So. Cal’s Meditteranean like qualities, it’s no wonder that most of the foods growing in my backyard right now (pomegranates, figs, apples, tomatoes, kale, peppercorns) could easily be found there.
Surprisingly the only area of the trip that fell short of excellent was dining out. Most of the food offered in the areas we visited was… you guessed it, tourist food, with the exception of local fish dishes available almost everywhere we stayed as well as on boat tours. I did find trying to look up places while already there to be quite the challenge and learned to plan ahead in this area too, for the next time I travel solo with Nova. Maybe by then he’ll be a “googling foodie” and the tables will turn, I think I’d be more than okay with that.
Unique to Croatia, I did try a traditional pepper sauce called Ajvar which was bursting with bright and roasted red bell pepper flavor. Apparently, this sauce is a popular Croatian condiment which also explains why every time I saw locals grocery shopping they would literally fill an entire bag or two with peppers. After trying Ajvar I’m tempted to buy a couple of bags of red peppers too. I’m always looking for new roasting inspiration as well as ways to eat more aubergine. Once the weather cools down a bit I’ll fire up my oven and have my hand at bringing a bit of Croatia into my kitchen and if all goes well I’ll be sure to share the recipe with you.
For those of you interested in the logistics of our trip from where we stayed, what we did and how we got around you’ll find that info here:
- We flew Aeroflot which landed us a short layover in Moscow before landing in Split, Croatia. We then had a driver arranged in advance through our kind and generous host via Airbnb who took us to our apartment in Zadar a 1.5 hour drive from the airport in Split. Turns out Zadar was a great place to stay for a few nights to take day trips via boats to places like Kornati Islands or bus/car trips to Krka National Park, and to explore the sweet old town of Zadar to visit the Sun Salute and Sea Organ. However, we found Zadar to feel small and decided to head out a day earlier and asked our driver (Darko) if he’d take us to Dubrovnik a 5 hour drive south down the beautiful Dalmatian Coast, this turned out to be a great move. We booked one night via instant book on airbnb at a sweet apartment with exceptional hosts and had an afternoon and day to explore charming Dubrovnik.
- From Dubrovnik we took a pedestrian ferry to Korcula where we stayed for a few nights in an advanced booked airbnb. Once stepping foot on this island I knew I wasn’t going to want to leave anytime soon. I loved the food options here as well as the charm, warmth, friendliness, beauty, kid appeal, and relaxed vibe of this small island. On the island we rented bicycles with kid seats and helmets to explore more and visit nearby sandy beaches. Prices on the island were surprisingly not inflated and there wasn’t ever in all of the places we visited throughout Croatia ever anyone trying to over sell us something (well except for that one guy who tried to get us to dine at this one restaurant). We soaked in Korcula and made friends with locals who ironically also live two hours from Los Angeles and also have a toddler, they were kind enough to chat with us for a while and invite us to the most delicious vegetarian meal of the whole trip at Konoba Mareta. Mareta was so good that we went back for lunch one last time before leaving the island and even took food to go for the ferry ride.
- The foot ferry was how we made our way to our final destination which was Split. Not the easiest part of our adventure due to heavy rain in the evening with sick toddlers in tow. Being that we were back in a city most people appeared too busy to stop and help, including taxi drivers. This part of the trip was a real eye-opener for me, I felt as if the whole trip made me realize how I could step up to help others even more without needing to be asked for the help and I was eager to implement this side of myself immediately. Yet I was faced with the business of our times being there in the city rolling a large suitcase and stroller across town desperately trying to find our apartment at night, in a foreign city in the pouring rain. I saw these busy people as myself back in my usual reality, on a mission to be somewhere, do something and not noticing at times where I could be of help to others. I’m grateful for the awareness that night in the rain brought to me and for the opportunity to have seen myself on both sides of the helping and too busy spectrum. I’m aiming to be more aware of my surroundings in busy situations and to lend a helping hand along the way despite my own agenda.
- We finally made it to our apartment albeit soaking wet, but we made it due to a little help from strangers. Due to complications checking into our airbnb we had no choice but to knock on doors and ask for help, which was warmly given to us. Again the locals in Croatia are incredibly kind hearted people, especially when traveling with children.
- Our returning flight wasn’t until 8pm so we spent a day in Split, it was still quite wet from the rain and continued to shower throughout the day, so we set out for a breakfast and took cover most of the afternoon not fully getting to explore the city, but at this point we were excited to head home so we were okay with not doing too much on our last day.
- Had the boys both been feeling well and the rain not as heavy, we undoubtedly would have explored more. We were lucky enough to be staying two minutes away from a vegetarian cafe called Makrovega that someone had previously told us about and an excellent breakfast spot called Bokeria that we stumbled upon, so in the end the last day in Split was worth the effort. I found the back streets of Split to be quite charming, I enjoyed seeing the renovations taking place from a once abandoned area to a bustling rental community. Refurbished apartments and cats were abundant in the area and there was no shortage of places to shop and eat.
- It was inevitably time to catch our flight back to Los Angeles via Aeroflot Airlines. Since we had a twelve-hour layover in Moscow in the middle of the night we opted to stay in an airport hotel (as in, in the actual airport). Before this trip, I didn’t even know airport hotels existed, it was great to sleep in a bed and have a shower in between long travels and overnight layovers with kids. I highly recommend this option when it’s available and will seek this option for future trips.
Overall our adventure to Croatia went very smooth. I was pleased by having safely traveled with our son abroad and returning him home to daddy in one piece. I was grateful for the space our trip allotted Alex to just focus on himself. Thankfully modern technology helped us not feel too far away at times and still made the reunion very sweet!
I think what I love most about travel aside from the people I meet, the foods I experience, the culture and history of the place, as well as the nature and discovery is the ways in which travel always inspires and shifts my perspective, bringing me back a little more connected to something much larger than myself. The fact that I can share these type of trips with Nova at such a young age is exciting for many obvious reasons, and I think he’ll appreciate that I didn’t have to put the things that I love and that help me to grow, on hold due to being a parent. Instead, we can share these profound growth experiences together, walking hand in hand for as long as he’ll allow it!
P.S. I’d be leaving out a large bit of our trip untold, if I didn’t mention that the majority of the day, night, and basically any chance Nova got looked a lot like this:
It took about one week to get him off the whole day nursing train and back to twice daily. The convenience and sweetness of nursing him on this trip was well worth the slight weaning setback. Truth be told when we returned home, I was ready to have some self-care time and my body primarily to myself again.