Hvar, Croatia

Hvar, Croatia

We slept in a little bit this morning – I mean who doesn’t need 11 hours of sleep per night on their honeymoon?! Today was a day at leisure, so we were able to explore. We grabbed complementary breakfast at the hotel and then packed our back to set off on the beautiful walk from our hotel to the water taxi area to catch a ride to the island of Palmizanga.

 

Palmizana island was recommended to us by our travel agent, Andrea, and is supposedly home to the best beach around Hvar. We walked to the water taxi area and Ryan was in a bit of a hurry to get on a boat so he hustled us onto the first taxi we saw. I kept thinking that I should ask the driver if he was, in fact, driving the island we wanted to visit, but Ryan kept reassuring me he was and I couldn’t remember the island’s name in time before we motored out to sea.

P.S. For some reason, and despite by best persuasion techniques, my new husband would not buy me the multi-million dollar yatch in the background of this photo as a wedding gift. I mean, I wasn’t even asking for THAT much. It’s not like that was the biggest one we saw (it was just the second biggest). Hehe!

Anyway, we eventually stopped at an island where the driver gave us our tickets. The tickets showed two islands on his route, neither of which were Palmizana. I kept kicking myself – I knew I should have asked! If you ever get the “I need to ask directions” instinct, always follow it!

We got off at Carpe Diem island. It had some fun tree sculptures of pirates and lots of cabanas looking over a very rocky beach. The island club was pretty empty, I really wanted to go to Palmizana, and the staff wanted $15 per lounge chair (which was basically all seating), so there was no use getting a drink and investing in chairs if we were going to just transfer to another island. Ryan wasn’t too happy that I was making us move but I was determined to check out the “perfect island”, so we hopped back in the taxi and said good-bye to Carpe Diem. I mean, who wants to seize the day when you can seize an island that’s name sounds like parmesan cheese?

We journeyed back to the water taxi station and decided to hit the ATM before getting on the boat – rookie mistake. The woman at the ATM in front of us tried 4 different cards, all of which got declined, and we ended up missing the boat to Palmizana by 1 minute! We had to wait another 30 minutes for the next boat to take off, so we filled that time with some scrumptious ice cream.

Finally, it was our time to jet off to Palmizana. It took about 20 minutes in the water taxi to get there and we had a marvelous view of all of the sail boats around! We had to walk from the boat dock across the island to get to the beach area, but there was a beach! Most of the water fronts so far had been super rocky with very choppy waters, but this was an actual beach with sand and calm, clear waters for us to hang out by. We laid our towels down and Ryan napped for about 1.5 hours while I “people watched”, soaked up the sun, and took in the view.

Eventually, we wanted to grab a drink, so we walked across the rocks to this awesome bar called Laganini where all of the furnishings were made out of cool, white tree branches. It even had a tree house lounge! I was in heaven. The prices on the island were a bit much, we so opted for the house wine at $5 a glass. It was surprisingly really tasty! We were only going to have one glass each but then we got to talking with our NYC neighbors and, three drinks later, it was time to brave the rocks back to the water taxi.

We left around 4 PM and sat in the middle of the boat to avoid getting soaked on the way back. Ryan was really hungry so, instead of doing dinner at a restaurant, we grabbed two slices of pizza in the harbor and ate while we watched people in the square. I tried to Snap my pizza with a clever “Dinner of Champs” title but my wine-influenced spelling led to a pretty funny typo that I thought was too hilarious not to reference the entire rest of the night…

As we sat, a random dog came over  and hung out with us for a while we ate. Somehow, he got quite a bit of my pizza. I guess missed our puppy too much not to indulge in some puppy love.

After our early dinner, we walked back to the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort  to rest for a few minutes, eat the rest of our candy form Dubrovnik, and figure out the plans for the rest of the night. I took a power nap and awoke to a knock on our door with fresh towels. We popped open the prosecco bottle that the hotel gave us and we decided to check out the spa.

In my robe and hotel provided, cardboard hotel slippers, we walked to the top floor where I thought the spa was. Instead of a spa, we found huge, drab, dirty room divided into two segments. One had a lack-luster gym with maybe 4 pieces of weight training equipment (and that is being generous), and the other had a ping-pong table without any ping-pong balls.

Disappointed that we couldn’t play ping-pong, we followed the “spa” signs down to the pool level and, after talking to a pool worker, learned that the spa was at a “sister hotel” in downtown. Like, what?! We couldn’t walk there with our champagne or in my hotel slippers that were falling apart, so we went back to the room to finish our drinks and watch movies instead. The Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort was beautiful and in a great location, but was definitely skimpy on some key amenities.

 

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Dubrovnik to Hvar

Dubrovnik to Hvar

Today was so relaxing – even with the trip from Dubrovnik to Hvar, Croatia! It started with 11 hours of much-needed sleep, a few snooze buttons, and a 9:30 wake-up. We grabbed a delicious breakfast at the hotel, and then changed into our swim suits for some spa time. It was supposed it rain all day so we decided to stay in at the Hotel Dubrovnik Palace spa and relax – boy was that needed! The hot tub was the perfect temp, and we experimented with the wet and dry saunas before hopping into the heated pool. Fortunately for us, the spa had an amazing outdoor view so we were able to relax while looking out over the ocean.

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We enjoyed the spa until 11:30 and then it was time to pack and freshen up before our 12 check out. Since the spa at the hotel was fully booked for the day, we took a cab to Touch of Thai day spa for massages. Since it was a Thai spa and we’ve been to Thailand, we got to use some of our Thai language skills on the staff and they seemed to be delighted when we said hello and thank you in Thai! How cool was that! I had a very relaxing aromatherapy massage while Ryan got a deep tissue massage. He, unfortunately, refused to wear the super sexy, shower cap looking undies that the massage place provided (haha!). The massage was excellent and lasted the entirety of the rain storm that rolled though!

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Once we were finished, we ran through the remainder of the storm to a shopping area to wait on a Uber.  Ubers are 1/3 of the price of cabs in Dubrovnik so I highly recommend them over taxis.

We arrived back to the hotel and were welcomed by the warmth inside as the rain brought the chill. We decided to go to the “Thin” restaurant for lunch, thinking it would be lighter and cheaper, though it was not cheaper. Who charges $20 for spring rolls?! Ryan and I split a delicious French onion soup and Thai noodles but they were not worth what we paid for them…

After lunch we grabbed our bags from reception and hopped in another Uber to the port to catch our boat to Hvar. The boat was huge and had an excellent view off of the bow.

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The ride to Hvar was about 3 hours and 30 minutes. We mainly napped and read some books that we brought along with us. Before we knew it, the sun was setting and it was 7:30 PM as we sailed up to the Hvar dock. There was a bell boy from our hotel waiting to take our luggage from us so we could walk the ten minutes to the hotel. The half-mile walk along the shoreline was beautiful. We passed multi-million dollar yachts and catamarans filled with people enjoying wine, the view, and each other’s company, a huge castle atop the mountain overlooking the harbor, and beautiful gardens. There was even an awesome bar overlooking the water that was hosting a wedding! We were already in love with the city of Hvar!

We walked up to the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort and couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. It had an amazing view of the coast (even in the dark of night), a luxurious pool with day beds, and was right on the water. I was relaxed just walking up the steps to check in. We even had champagne delivered to the room in congratulations for our recent wedding!


After a quick refresher, we decided to head back to the harbor for dinner and some shopping. We walked the shoreline until we found a string of cute little pizza / pasta restaurants and came upon Posteni. It was the right price and Ryan was tired of looking at menus so we decided to try it – and were we glad we did! The menus were covered by cute little framed paintings of the coast and, per our waiter’s suggestion, we opted for the truffle linguine and shrimp and the Bravos pasta with muscles. The house wine was the best we had in Croatia so far and Ryan swore his pasta rivaled our meals at Gagan and Nobu. My muscles were scrumptious, we were in food heaven.. and it was at that time that I realized any of my pre-wedding fitness achievements were going far out the window on this trip!

The restaurant’s owner, his wife, and daughter were all sitting across from us and we cheers’ed them for such a great meal. Our waiter even brought a complementary shot for Ryan and a honey infused desert wine for me! Yum!

In fantastic spirits, we walked the coast line home and listened (/danced) to the near by wedding’s music until it was time for bed. In my wine enhanced enthusiasm, I accidentally brought down one of the window curtains while dramatically closing them, so Ryan and his height helped me Velcro the curtain backup. It was quite the silly way to end a perfect evening.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia

After 11.5 hours of much-needed sleep, we woke up at 8 AM to get ready for our Dubrovnik city tour. We had a delicious breakfast at the hotel and then hopped on the bus for a 15 minute ride to the Pile Gate to meet our guide, Tomislava. She grew up in Croatia and was born in 1991 during the Croatian War of Independence  against Yugoslavia. She told us all about the war and its effects on the city. Apparently, a good portion of Old Town was destroyed in the war by grenades, but UNESCO donated money after the war to restore and protect all of the old buildings. You can still see the shrapnel damage on quite a few of the buildings and the effect the war had on the people there 25 years later. Hearing Tomislava’s stories and seeing the war’s impact on the walls in front of us was so surreal and hard to comprehend considering how sheltered we are in the US.

Tomislava guided us into and through the streets of Old Town, telling us interesting factoids or historical tidbits as we walked. For example, many of the arched doorways are shaped like a “P” so that the owner could lock one side of the door and sell goods outside of the waist-high ledge of the other door. A lot of the merchants we saw sold jewelry specific to their region out of these doors. It is tradition that mothers give their daughters earrings in the style of their region so that the bride can proudly indicate where she is from by wearing the earrings.

We also got to see some areas where Game of Thrones was filmed, including the Red Keep, Tyrion Lannister’s secret entrance to Kings Landing,  and the “Shame” scene path.

We toured with our guide for a little over an hour before she said “Chow” and we were on our own to explore. We opted to buy a City Pass so we could walk the wall along the border of the city and gain access to the various little museums. It took us a while to find one of the four entrances to the wall, but once we were up, we had an awesome view!

We walked about 1/4th of the wall before we opted to stop for lunch at this cute sea food place that our guide recommended. Ryan tried an octopus burger, which was so legit as the octopus was only caught a few hours beforehand, and I had tempura shrimp and oysters (yum!). We even marked our visit with a personalized “we were here” fork declaration for the wall.

After lunch, we took a water taxi to Island Lokrum. The waters were quite wavy, but we got to the island quickly and without any seasickness (thank goodness). Apparently, the island was cursed by monks centuries ago. After years of living there, the monks were kicked off of the island. Before they left, the monks circled the island three times with candles facing down and dripped wax on the ground, placing a curse on the island for anyone who decided to live there until all of the wax eroded from the island. Because of that curse, no one lives on the island and everyone leaves it before night fall.

During the day, the island is a beautiful place! There are wild bunnies and peacocks running around everywhere. I definitely had, as Ryan put it, my “Disney princess moment” while petting some of the wild bunnies.

We walked up to the cliffs and were blown away by the view and the insane wind!

It even started to rain on us and, since we didn’t have an umbrella, we had to follow the peacocks under a tree to shield ourselves from the rain. Fortunately for us, the rain only lasted about 5 minutes, so we were quickly back on our way to hike the island. We walked up one of the steepest hills I’ve ever come across and up to the top of the fort in the middle of the island to see an amazing view of Old Town…

The view of Old Town on the Island of Lokrum, Croatia

After taking in the view for a while, we headed back to the water taxi and across the bay to attempt the monorail up to the top of a near by mountain for another spectacular view of Dubrovnik. Unfortunately for us, the tram was closed because of the wind, so we opted for some cookies and cream gelato instead. The gelato was black and made for some messy faces after eating!

We decided to walk the streets for some window shopping before dinner and took a quick Rosé break at a little wine room down one of the many alleyways. Finally, hunger took us over and we browsed about 15 different restaurants before settling on Spaghetteria Toni. The restaurants in Old Town are pretty expensive and tourist oriented. While I wanted to get something “Croatian”, Ryan was in the mood for pizza, so Spaghetteria Toni had the best of both worlds. Ryan got a giant pizza loaded with everything you could ask for, and I got a Mediterranean gnocchi – pesto gnocchi with tuna and shrimp in a creamy white wine sauce. It was probably the best gnocchi I’ve ever eaten!

After dinner, we hit a grocery store for some take-home Rosé and candy, and hopped back on the bus back to the hotel for a relaxing evening with another amazing view.

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Honeymoon to Croatia and Italy

Honeymoon to Croatia and Italy

What a whirlwind the weekend has been! After marrying the love of my life at the Trinity River Audubon Center outside of downtown Dallas on Saturday, my new husband and I set off Sunday afternoon for our honeymoon to Croatia and Italy.

We decided to honeymoon in Croatia after hearing that it was just as beautiful as the Amalfi Coast in Italy, but with fewer tourists and lower costs.  After, seeing photos of Plitvice Lakes National Park online and being avid watchers of the best show ever, aka Game of Thrones, which is partially filmed in Dubrovnik, we set our hearts on Croatia and started looking at flights.

We wanted to book through American Airlines to get points, however, American’s site said the fastest route to Dubrovnik was +$3K with 40+ hours of travel and 3-4 stops! I couldn’t believe that was our only option so I started researching alternatives. I found some reasonably priced, direct American flights to various places in Europe and then researched European airlines that flew from those hubs to Croatia. The cheapest and quickest route was via a 10-hour, direct flight to Rome and then a cheap, 50-minute flight to Dubrovnik on Vueling airlines, for a total travel time of 14 hours and a few hundred dollars in bonus savings. We also decided to utilize our layover destination by tacking on another week to our honeymoon in Italy! When in Rome, right?

I find trip planning to be an essential part of the travel experience because it gives me months to daydream with excitement about all of the fun things planned, however, with all of the wedding planning on top of a busy work load, I gave myself a break from honeymoon planning and went the travel agency route for the Croatia part of our trip. Zicasso tours, a luxury travel site that curates top travel agencies across the world and matches you with the best agencies in the destination you are looking to go to, had some amazing Croatian itineraries. I filled out my travel interests on the site and was introduced to Andrea, a Croatian travel planner living in the US. She put together an amazing itinerary for us. I compared the cost / details of her plan against what I could book myself to make sure we were getting a good deal, and things lined up perfectly so we booked the trip!

When booking through an agent, I always suggest price comparing their recommendations as they can up-charge by hundreds to thousands over the same trip if you booked on your own. The cost of connivence can be expensive! For example, when I looked into offers for the Italy portion of the trip, the proposal was over $2K more than what I could book it for AND I found 5 star hotels within my lower budget when the proposal only had 4. Since I have been to Italy before and knew what I wanted to do that, I decided to save money and plan that leg on my own.

Since we were leaving around noon on the day after our wedding, we had all of our gear packed for our trip beforehand so we could grab our bags and head straight to the airport. With all of the “marrying my best friend” excitement, I literally could not fall asleep and I watched the clock until 6 AM the morning of our trip. Unfortunately for me, my alarm was set for 8 and I was so exhausted. Thank goodness for travel induced adrenaline!

Check-in at the airport was easy and we found some awesome massaging neck pillows to relax us on the plane. Yes, they were 100% worth it and I am ashamed of my previous judgement of neck-pillow enthusiasts.

Best purchase ever- massaging neck pillow

After a quick bite to eat, we were on the plane and ready for take-off. I tried to sleep for al little while but ended up watching 3 movies instead. While the 9 hour flight to Rome went quickly, our 3.5 hour layover in Rome took a while. We didn’t have our gate information so we took the airport tram to a central terminal, went through security, and sat by a coffee shop to wait for our 11:45 AM flight gate to populate. An hour later, we still did not have gate information and were falling asleep, so we decided to walk around. We went the wrong way and took the tram back to our original terminal. We still did not have gate information and we couldn’t find a Vueling counter so we decided to hang by an information screen for a while. There was nothing to do and we were pretty unimpressed by the Rome airport. We twiddled our thumbs there for about 2 hours and, with one hour until takeoff, we were concerned that our flight info was still missing. I went to the restroom and returned to a frantic husband exclaiming that our flight started boarding already at gate E9 while we were at E-61! We had 45 minutes to switch terminals, go through security (again), run to our gate, and check-in for our flight since we could not do so online. Talk about a panic! When we finally ended up in the right terminal, we saw it was filled with awesome shops and restaurants which would have easily made our layover much more entertaining. That was a bummer but at least we got to the gate right in time. We took a shuttle to our Vueling plane and got two aisle seats next to each other. I tried to get some sleep on the 50 minute flight and ended up using my neighbors shoulder as a pillow – oops!

Our walk on the run way in the Dubrovnik airport

The flight went quickly and our plane was literally the only one at the Dubrovnik airport. While all 5 airplane terminals were open, we deplaned on the runway, took a 2 minute shuttle (it honestly would have been quicker to walk) to the security line, and were out of the airport in 15 minutes or so. We had a driver waiting to take us to the Hotel Dubrovnik Palace and were pleasantly surprised when the driver lead us a suped-up Mercedes. Living the lux life, right?!

The view on the drive to the hotel was astonishing and we got a glimpse of Old Town Dubrovnik (aka King’s Landing from GOT). We drove another 10 minutes or so from Old Town and to our hotel which was right on the coast. Boy was it beautiful!

We got upgraded to a junior suite and were flabbergasted by the room. There was champagne waiting for us, we had a living room, 2 bathrooms, and a huge balcony with the most beautiful view. We unpacked and relaxed, finally able to be on our honeymoon officially.

After freshening up and popping our bottle of champagne, we decided to explore the hotel. The hotel had a beautiful spa, quite a few restaurants, a scuba shop, and a pool with a swim up bar right next to the water. The ocean looked a little too choppy for us to take a dip, so we went to the bar by the water for some cocktails before dinner.

Dinner was at the hotel’s Maslina Tavern restaurant that overlooked the ocean. The restaurant was so romantic with live music and an amazing view of the sunset.

Our first dinner on our honeymoon at the Our view from our room at the Dubrovnik Palace Hotel, Croatia

We enjoyed a delicious squid ink seafood risotto, crispy sea bass, and duck with roasted sweet potatoes, plum sauce, and red cabbage. The seafood was caught that day and, boy, it was delicious!

With full stomachs and a little wine in our system, it was time for some much needed sleep at a scandalously late, 8 PM bed time.

Continue reading this adventure…

Hiking 101

Hiking 101

Going on a hike soon and don’t know what to expect or can’t remember all of the things you need to bring? Don’t fret! Below your will find some tips about hiking prep and packing so you will have all of the tools you need for an awesome trek!

Pre-hike prep:

  • Pick a trail – Most trails are rated for their difficulty and length. Before you head out on a trail, check the trail’s website to see how long the trail is, the average time to complete the trail, the elevation change, and the level of difficulty, to ensure the trail meets your hiking goals.
  • Find a map of your trail – Most parks and trails will have trail maps available online. Print out a map before you go so that you have directions if the trails are not clearly marked or in case you lose cell signal.
  • Research where to park, park entrance fees, and park hours before you go. Some parks open at a certain time but, due to popularity, close once they hit capacity. Most hiking trails will tell you the optimal hours to arrive at the park. Additionally, while more and more parks are taking cards, some are still cash only, so be prepared to pay the park fee either way so you aren’t turned away at the gates!

What to bring on your hike:

  • Packable backpack – A good bag to carry extras is essential to any trip. A packable backpack fits easily into any suit case or car pocket, has supportive, padded straps for comfort, and has extra pockets for water bottles and other necessities you don’t want to hold by hand. My backpack (shown below) folds up to be about 5×6 inches:

  • Water bottles – Swell or Hydro Flask bottles are great. Not only do they look cool (no pun intended), they keep your water cold for hours and hours so you can be refreshed while in the heat.
  • A hat and UV protected sun glasses – Make sure your sunnies stay on when you tilt your head back and forth. You will be looking at the ground a bunch so you don’t want a pair that constantly slips down your face.
  • Hiking boots – Along with a good pair of socks, shoes are the most important part of a hike. Invest in a good pair with support, ventilation, and decent grip. REI is a great place to go try on boots with some expert help, but you can find a bunch of options on Amazon with rave reviews. If you are going on a hike and can’t buy a new pair of shoes right now, wear sneakers with a lot of tread and ankle support.
  • Hiking socks – Investing in a decent pair of socks will prevent painful blisters down the road. REI has comfy and soft hiking socks that come with either high and low tops and will keep your toes warm without blister discomfort. If you are still nervous about blisters on a long hike, check out BodyGlide. I use it when I go on long runs (8-20 milers) and it prevents blisters wherever you feel a chafe. Also, if you are going into grassy areas, wear higher socks and long pants so you don’t get dirt, bugs, or poison ivy on your legs.

  • Protein bars for extra energy – No one wants to hike on an empty stomach! If you are going for over an hour, bring a healthy snack, high in protein and  / or healthy carbs, to pick you up. My favorite are Quest bars, especially the white chocolate raspberry and cookies and cream flavors, almonds, and apples.
  • Bug spray – A must if you are a mosquito magnet like I am!
  • Band aids or a small first aid kit – Target has a bunch of travel sized first-aid kits with a little of everything you may need.
  • Camera / phone for pictures – Don’t forget your selfie stick! You may also want to bring a portable phone charger just in case.
  • A light and comfortable jacket – Just in case it gets cool
  • Umbrella – Check your local weather before you go to make sure you don’t have any rainy surprises!

Have questions? Feel free to comment them below. If not, happy hiking!