The Budapest Baths: Our Guide to the Széchenyi Fürdő

Budapest's Amazing Széchenyi Baths!

Budapest’s Amazing Széchenyi Fürdö (Fürdö means bath in Hungarian)

Budapest is famous for its many thermal baths, which are these huge, centuries old, awesome indoor/outdoor pool/spa facilities where locals and tourists go to relax and unwind. The entire city sits right on top of a whole bunch of thermal hot springs (as evidenced by the occasional VERY strong smell of sulfur).

We visited the Szechenyi Bath, which is located out in City Park. This is arguably one of the most tourist-friendly baths for a handful of reasons. First and foremost, most signs have been translated into English and many of the bath employees speak English. That is ALWAYS good news when you don’t know the Hungarian word for “Men” or “Women”. I shudder to think what would I would’ve seen if I wandered into the wrong dressing room.

The Szechenyi baths are also in a really awesome, old, beautiful building that is located in a wonderful area. The beautiful Vajdahunyad Castle is located right across the street (definitely worth a quick visit), Heroes’ Square is nearby, and, if you’re staying downtown, you can either walk up Andrássy Út (Budapest’s Champs Élysées or Broadway) or take the Metro to get out here. Easy as pie. Or in Budapest, I suppose I should say easy as strudel.

The Szechenyi Baths, the place where other bathers will get awkwardly close to you, especially when you're taking a photo. (See the guy near me in the pool in this photo.)

The Szechenyi Baths, the place where other bathers will get awkwardly close to you, especially when you’re taking a photo. (See the guy near me in the pool in this photo.)

There’s something intimidating about the Budapest Baths, though. I had all these unanswered questions before we went. Am I supposed to go naked? Will it be weird if Kevin wears trunks instead of a speedo? Is a bikini ok? Are there changing facilities or do you just get naked in the locker room? Can I bring beer or food? Should I bring my own towel? Can I rent a swimsuit? Where do I enter the baths? Is it ok to pee in the pools? (Spoiler alert: the answer to that last question is always, ALWAYS a resounding NO.)

In this post, I’ll share our experience with the Szechenyi Baths and answer some of the burning questions I had before we became resident Budapest Bath experts.

Question 1: Am I Supposed to Go Naked?

You may think I’m being silly, but this is actually a very valid question. Remember, Budapest has a bunch of bath facilities, and some of them are nudie-friendly (like the Rudas baths). Usually, nude thermal baths are gender-segregated. They’ll either have separate areas for men and women, or different days of the week will be for men or for women only.

You may be thinking, “Gee, but nudie baths sound like such an authentic experience.” I assure you, though, you’ll see PLENTY of skin at the Szechenyi Baths without the pressure to avert your eyes. Honestly, speedos don’t cover nearly enough skin for my liking. I am now fully topped up on my man thigh quota for the next decade or so. If you’re more into chest hair than man thigh, the baths definitely have you covered. They’ve got the whole back hair thing covered, too. Something for everyone, right?

Kevin was the most covered-up man in the entire Szechenyi Baths. Silly American... :-)

Kevin was the most covered-up man in the entire Szechenyi Baths. Silly American… :-)

The bottom line of what to wear? Whatever makes you comfortable as long as you wear something. Kevin was easily the most covered man there with his American swim trunks on. Women will fit in just fine in a bikini or a one-piece suit.

Question 2: Can I Rent a Swimsuit or Towel?

Yes and yes. But I feel like we should talk about the first thing. Do you really want to RENT a swimsuit? This turns me off for obvious reasons. I’m even more turned off now that I’ve been to Szechenyi and seen the swimsuit rentals. Men get one choice: speedo. It’s actually hilarious to try to pick out American men who had to rent a speedo and are clearly uncomfortable with it. Women are issued a pretty modest one-piece, but it’s made of alarmingly thin material. Make of that what you will. In short, pack a swimsuit. It hardly takes up any space, anyway.

An Awesome Sunny Day at the Baths!

An Awesome Sunny Day at the Baths!

Towel rental at Szechenyi is easy. Choose from a small towel for about $1.50 (plus refundable $5.50 deposit), a Big towel for $2.50 (plus $15 deposit), or treat yo’self and rent a bath robe for $4 (with $40 deposit). YOLO, right? We brought our own towels, but I sure would’ve felt fancy wearing around a robe.

You can pay for towel/swim suit rental at the cashier desk with cash or credit card and pick it up at the towel/swimsuit rental office once you’re inside. If you wait to pay for your rental inside, it’s cash only.

Question 3: What Else Should I Bring with Me?

If you’re fair skinned and headed to the baths on a hot day, bring along some sunblock. Part of the baths are outdoors and there isn’t much shade. The other half of the bath facilities are indoors.

We also highly recommend bringing along flip flops, a water bottle, and snacks. People didn’t really go barefoot at the baths – most wore flip flops from pool to pool. We definitely needed the water bottle after spending so much time soaking in hot water and sitting in saunas. (There are water fountains in a few places to re-fill your bottle.) And obviously, I know myself well enough now that I never, ever, ever go anywhere without snacks. We spent almost four hours at the baths, and I can tell you I would’ve been one angry lady without some food towards the end.

There is a snack bar at the Szechenyi baths where you can buy snacks and drinks if you’re desperate. Prices are reasonable, too! They also sell beer, though you can bring in your own. Just don’t bring anything glass into the baths and you’ll be fine.

Question 4: How Much Do the Baths Cost? Should I Get a Locker or Cabin?

The baths are not as cheap as I thought they’d be. With good planning and time management, though, you can definitely get your moneys worth. It’s important to realize that there are two very different areas at Szechenyi, and they each have different hours. The outdoor pools are open 6am-10pm every day, but the indoor thermal baths and saunas close at 7pm! Many, many tourists have been disappointed when they arrived to find the indoor part closed.

The Southeast Entrance to the Szechenyi Baths. We didn't go in this way, but it's definitely the best side to take photos. I love the spring tulips!

The Southeast Entrance to the Szechenyi Baths. We didn’t go in this way, but it’s definitely the best side to take photos. I love the spring tulips!

The latest bath prices are available on the Szechenyi website. In general, it costs slightly more (about $1 extra) to visit on weekends, and costs slightly less (about $1 less) if you visit super early in the morning or after the indoor pools close at 7pm. Go when it’s convenient for you, but realize that crowds will be smaller on weekdays, especially before about 3pm.

When you buy your ticket, you choose either a cabin or a locker. You cannot enter the baths without paying for either a cabin or locker, you have to choose one or the other. There is a “Visitor Ticket” available for 1650 Forint (about $6) if you want to take a 15-minute tour of the baths without swimming; check out the Széchenyi Baths guided tours site for details.

Lockers are exactly what you’d expect and are located in gender-segregated locker rooms. Cabins are more private – you are essentially renting a tiny private room where you can change and leave your belongings.

Cabins on weekdays cost 5000 Forint ($18) and lockers are 4500 Forint ($16.25). If you’re going to the baths with a friend, you can share one Cabin. In this case, one person pays the Cabin price and the other pays the locker price even though they don’t use the locker. Cabins are not gender segregated – Kevin and I shared one without any problems.

Question 5: Where/How Do I Enter the Baths?

I’ll tell you exactly what we did, because I would do things the same way if we visited again. This is based heavily on Rick Steves’ recommendations.

  1. Enter the baths on the Northwest side. This is the side nearest to the zoo. If you’re heading towards the baths from the Metro exit, or if you’re walking towards them from downtown, this is the far left-hand side of the building.

    The Northwest Entrance we used looks like this.

    The Northwest Entrance we used looks like this.

  2. Once you’re in the lobby, go to any of the cashiers. Some take only cash, some also take cards. Check the sign on their window and make sure you’re in the right line.

    The lobby looks like this. Beautiful, right?!

    The lobby looks like this. Beautiful, right?!

  3. Pay the cashier for your cabin or locker, and he/she will issue a bracelet that you’ll use to enter the baths and open your locker or cabin. If you choose a cabin, he/she will go ahead and give you a cabin number.

    My Széchenyi Baths Bracelet.

    My Széchenyi Baths Bracelet.

  4. Head towards the turnstile and scan your bracelet to get in. Once you’re inside, follow the cabin number signs to find yours. Cabins are on the main floor or upstairs. Locker rooms are downstairs. We left our belongings in the cabin and felt totally safe doing so.

    Our cabin was the last one on the left!

    Our cabin was the last one on the left!

Question 6: What Are the Baths Like Once You’re Inside?

Once you find your cabin or locker and change clothes, it’s time to enjoy the baths! Before you get wet, we recommend walking around to get your bearings. After all, there are 18 pools and 10 steam room / saunas to explore! Go upstairs to check out the view down of the baths to get the classic Széchenyi baths photo. There are also sun decks and a fitness center to check out, though they were closed when we were there.

This one is the "Relaxation Pool". It's the one with the chess boards!

This one is the “Relaxation Pool”. It’s the one with the chess boards!

Walk around and check out the outdoor pools. Each pool is a different temperature; the pool temps are usually posted on a plaque nearby. The lap pool is the chilliest of the outdoor pools, and is the one in the middle where everyone is wearing swimming caps (they’re required). Fun fact: apparently bringing a flimsy shower cap from your hotel meets the swim cap requirement. Who knew?!

Dip your toes in the Relaxation Pool and the Fun Pool. The hottest of the outdoor pools is the Relaxation Pool. This is also where the chess boards are located! On any given day, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see some older Hungarian gentlemen sitting here playing chess while they soak. The Fun Pool is a bit cooler, and is filled with jets and currents to play in.

The Outdoor "Fun Pool". The circular thing in the center has a current going around the circle. If you go in, you can float leisurely around in circles!

The Outdoor “Fun Pool”. The circular thing in the center has a current going around the circle. If you go in, you can float leisurely around in circles!

Head inside to explore the thermal baths! Room after room after room has pool after pool after pool. They vary in temperature from an super cold 16 Degrees C (60 F) to a nice and hot 40 Degrees C (104 F). Each of the indoor pools have different mineral contents in the water. Some are a murky green and stinky, others are eerie blue, and some are crystal clear, but none of them are chlorinated. Lots of locals use the thermal baths for medicinal purposes – there’s even a special medical entrance to the Szechenyi bath complex! Doctors will sometimes send their patients here with a prescribed list of baths to soak in!

One of the many indoor pools at Szechenyi.

One of the many indoor pools at Szechenyi.

And of course, definitely DO NOT MISS the steam room and the saunas! Each steam room or sauna is located next to a cold bath, so you can heat yourself up then dunk in the cold water. It is absolutely wonderful – you should definitely give it a try. I didn’t want to, and it ended up being my favorite part os the whole bath experience! I loved the steam room and the aromatherapy sauna. There is also a light therapy sauna, and a super-hot 100 deg. Celsius sauna that was absolutely roasting inside!

Probably the coolest room inside the baths! In the pool in the very back of this photo, you sit inside a big, bright room with tons of windows in the dome. It was amazing.

Probably the coolest room inside the baths! In the pool in the very back of this photo, you sit inside a big, bright room with tons of windows in the dome. It was amazing.

Whatever you do, just remember: be bold and explore! You might get some funny looks, or you might feel awkward wedged between two large Hungarian gentlemen in the hot tub, but you’ll be glad you gave everything a try. I know we were.

We Want to Hear From You!

Have you visited a thermal bath anywhere around the world? Leave us a comment and let us know!

No More Tuesday Blog Posts

Hello from Budapest!

Hello from Budapest!

It’s crazy to think that Kevin and I will be home in Seattle just two weeks from tomorrow! What does that mean for us? It’s job application season. *SIGH*. What does this mean for the blog? It means I’m devoting so much time to writing answers to the question “Why would you be a good fit for our company” that I need to go back down to writing just one blog post per week. It also means that chocolate consumption in our household has seen a recent uptick. I have a hunch that these things are all related…

In lieu of a “real” post today, I thought I’d just throw some information at you. Here goes!

Where in the World Are We?

Kevin and I are currently based in Budapest, where we’ll be based for just 1 more week! Here’s where we’ll be for the next couple of weeks:

  • Now – April 28: Budapest
  • April 28 – May 1: Vienna
  • May 1 – 5: Prague
  • May 5 – 6: Frankfurt
  • May 6: Fly home to Seattle!
  • May 6-7: Olympia, WA with Kevin’s folks
  • May 7 or 8: Back in our wonderful home in Wallingford. YAY!

Do you have any tips for our upcoming time in Vienna, Prague, or Frankfurt? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Curious where we’ve been? Here’s an interactive map showing our travels over the last year:

 

Kevin Has a Milestone Birthday This Saturday

That’s right, this is the year that Kevin and I both turn 30. I’ll save my gripes for later this year since my birthday is in December, but I will say, 30 sure looks good on my wonderful husband.

Be sure you send some birthday love Kevin’s way!

Calling All Beer and Cider Drinkers

You should see the list of beers Kevin plans to brew once we get back home. It has everything from a Watermelon Wheat to a Chai Hard Cider to an Experimental IPA made from an experimental hop variety.

Clearly, we cannot drink all this beer and cider ourselves. Consider this our public service announcement that we need your help, family and friends. If you live in Seattle, you better plan to stop by often. If you don’t live in Seattle, be advised that our basement has a “rustic” guest room. :-)

We Spent 4 Months in Europe for Less than $29 a Night. Here’s How to Save Money on Airbnb.

Reason #1 to visit Split, Croatia in March? It's a beautiful waterfront city. Reason #2? We found an awesome Airbnb for $23.24/night.

Reason #1 to visit Split, Croatia in March? It’s a beautiful waterfront city. Reason #2? We found an awesome Airbnb for $23.24/night. For more about our Split apartment, see my previous post.

There’s a lot of press out there right now about how strong the US Dollar is becoming against the Euro. I just about can’t log onto Facebook without seeing some sort of article in my News Feed about why now is absolutely the time to travel to Europe. I totally agree with the articles – now is the time to go! But there are a few other tricks we’ve learned that can save you a ton of money on European travel.

We’ve traveled through France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Croatia, Hungary, and are heading soon to Austria, the Czech Republic, and Germany. In our four months here in Europe, we managed to spend an average of just $28.95 per night on lodging!

Reason #1 to visit Florence, Italy? The crazy food/wine scene. Reason #2? Our Airbnb cost us $42.79/night.

Reason #1 to visit Florence, Italy? The crazy food/wine scene. Reason #2? Our Airbnb cost us $42.79/night.

If you pull out solely the Airbnb Apartments we’ve called home (this is definitely our favorite form of lodging in Europe), our average nightly rate drops down to just $27.89.

In our entire four months here, we’ve spent 7 nights in small Guesthouses or Hostels (averaging $37.85/night), will have 1 night in a hotel in Frankfurt for a whopping $91.80 per night, and spent a night on an overnight Ferry from Italy to Croatia which set us back $196.62. We also managed to spend 6 nights in Paris with family friends for free.

Reason #1 to visit Budapest in April? It's a beautiful city with beautiful weather! Reason #2? Our Airbnb costs us $20.65/night.

Reason #1 to visit Budapest, Hungary in April? It’s a beautiful city with beautiful weather! Reason #2? Our Airbnb costs us $20.65/night.

To put all this in perspective, the average 1-bedroom apartment for rent in Seattle right now is $1,434. (Remember, that’s an unfurnished apartment that doesn’t include utilities. Airbnb rentals are furnished and you don’t pay utilities.) That works out to about $47.80 per night, which is about $20/night more than we’ve averaged here in Europe. That is bananas, AMIRITE?

Willy Wonka, you're so smart.

Willy Wonka, you’re so smart.

Clearly, Airbnb rentals are the way to go. They are certainly cheaper than hotels in the long run, and are almost always more comfortable and have more amenities. Our current 1-bedroom apartment here in Budapest is huge and bright, has a great kitchen with dishwasher, a sunny balcony, and a washing machine, and we’re paying just $20.65 per night.

Reason #1 to visit Sevilla, Spain in January? It was always sunny, even though it was Wintertime. Reason #2? Our Airbnb cost us $28.86/night.

Reason #1 to visit Sevilla, Spain in January? It was always sunny, even though it was Wintertime. Reason #2? Our Airbnb cost us $28.86/night. For more about our Sevilla apartment, see my previous post.

I hope this post will help save you money on your travels in Europe. Read on for my tips on how to save money on Airbnb.

Reason #1 to visit Zagreb, Croatia? The Pizza and Beer specials at Pivnica Medvedgrad Bar. Reason #2? Our Airbnb cost us $43.23/night. (This one's a bit higher because it was only a 4-night rental, not longer term.)

Reason #1 to visit Zagreb, Croatia? The Pizza and Beer specials at Pivnica Medvedgrad Bar. Reason #2? Our Airbnb cost us $43.23/night. (This one’s a bit higher because it was only a 4-night rental, not longer term. Don’t worry, we made the difference back in what we saved on pizza and Beer during Pivnica Medvedgrad’s Happy Hour.)

First, Sign Up and Create Your Profile

Sign up for Airbnb. If you use this link, you get a $25 credit towards your first Stay and I get a credit, too. Win win!

Vacation Step 1: Sign up for Airbnb.

Vacation Step 1: Sign up for Airbnb.

One of my tips below is to ask for discounts. Airbnb Hosts are MUCH more likely to lower their rate for you if they think you’re a solid person who will treat their apartment with respect. So you should spend some time creating your Airbnb profile. Add a photo, write about who you are, what you do, and what your hobbies are. Trust me, this will help, and it only takes a few minutes.

How Far in Advance Should I Book Airbnb Lodging?

Seriously. Plan Ahead.

Seriously. Plan Ahead.

I start my Airbnb searches at least 1 month ahead of time for low-season trips, and at last 2 months ahead of time for high-season trips or for super popular destinations (like Rome, for example). I also recommend 2 months for smaller cities, like Split, Croatia, because they won’t have as much selection on Airbnb.

Why Monthly Airbnb Rentals are Amazing

I cannot convey enthusiastically enough how much money monthly rentals will save you. There are huge savings on month-long rentals for two reasons:

  1. Most listings on Airbnb have a much lower per-night rate for longer-term bookings (4 weeks or longer). For this apartment, let’s look at the numbers:
    • A 2-night stay for June 1-3 is $118, or $59/night.
    • A 2-week stay for June 1-15 is $762, or $54/night.
    • But a month-long stay, from June 1-30 is just $692. It is cheaper to stay for a month than to stay for 2 weeks! That cuts the rate to just $21.31/night!
  2. Airbnb and Cleaning Fees. For a 2-night stay in the same apartment we just looked at, the Airbnb fee is a whopping $12. That’s $6/day! Extend the booking through June 30th and the fee increases to $74, which works out to just $2.55/day. Much better. Some apartments also charge a Cleaning Fee, which is the same whether you stay for a few days or a few weeks.

If you can’t stay a full month, many Airbnb listings offer a weekly rate that’s much better than the daily rate, but not as awesome as the monthly one.

What’s the major takeaway? If you can, book your Airbnb for a whole Month! Often times, it will cost the same amount of money to book a full month as it would cost to book 2 weeks. Even if you plan to spend a few nights away from your Airbnb making day trips to other destinations, it usually still makes sense to book longer-term. We frequently book a rental for a month, then end up spending a few nights away on a little weekend trip.

This is Success Baby. He's the best.

This is Success Baby. He’s the best.

There is one single dark side of monthly Airbnb rentals you should know about. Airbnb’s Long Term cancellation policy applies. This essentially means that you can not cancel your reservation once you book it without losing all your money. If you’re booking a monthly Airbnb, you gotta make sure your ducks are in a row and the trip is really, really, really happening.

My process – How I pick an Airbnb

You’ve created your profile, and you’re ready to start searching. This can be overwhelming! Search almost any big city in Europe and you’ll be met with an absurd number of Airbnb listings – usually well over 1,000 of apartments to sort through. How can you possibly narrow these down? Here’s a peek into my process, which has been honed by many months of obsessive travel planning…

Let’s say I want to spend the month of June in Budapest, Hungary.

Step 1: Enter your Location, Dates and Number of Persons

For Budapest, this gives me 822 results.

For Budapest, this gives me 822 results.

Don’t open a SINGLE listing up yet. Seriously, you’ll go down a rabbit hole and spend the rest of the day there. You shouldn’t look at any specific apartments until after Step 5. Trust me.

Step 2: Select the “Room type”

For a month-long stay, I insist on having the entire place to ourselves. We tend to prefer to have the entire apartment to ourselves for stays longer than 1-week, and will book a Private Room for shorter stays only. I would never, ever, book a “Shared Room”. I’m almost 30 years old; that is too old for “Shared Rooms”.

That narrows things down to 712 rentals.

That narrows things down to 712 rentals.

Step 3: Select Your Must-Have Amenities

Click on “More Filters”, scroll down to “Amenities”, expand that section by clicking on the black triangle, and check off your must-haves. I always select Wireless Internet and Washer. (You do NOT want to try to send out your laundry in Europe. Just don’t do it.) If you absolutely insist on having a 1-bedroom apartment (we usually consider a studio to be acceptable for us), now is the time to add that filter.

Choose your Amenities.

Choose your Amenities.

Then click on Show Listings.

That narrowed us down to just 530 rentals! (Sarcasm, that's still a LOT of rentals...)

That narrowed us down to just 530 rentals! (Sarcasm, that’s still a LOT of rentals…)

Step 4: Narrow Results by Location

Zoom the map in to narrow down the search area. Do your legwork and figure out vaguely which neighborhoods are okay with you. On the map, make sure “Search When I Move the Map” is checked, and your results list will only have apartments in the area shown on the map.

Zooming into the Downtown Core of Budapest narrows us down to 320 rentals.

Zooming into the Downtown Core of Budapest narrows us down to 320 rentals.

Step 5: Narrow Results by Price

For a month-long rental in Budapest, a good budget is $600. I like to add a little padding to my budget because I usually ask Airbnb Hosts for a discount (explained later in this post). Narrow your Price Range until you end up with about 30 results – in this case that ended up being about $705.

Just 33 Results once we filter for Amenities, Location, and Price. Perfect.

Just 33 Results once we filter for Amenities, Location, and Price. Perfect.

Step 6: Manual Filtering. Ugh.

This is the most tedious and frustrating step.

This is the most tedious and frustrating step.

Your goal in this step is to reduce these 30 options down to just 15 apartments. This has to be done manually, because a lot of these things are total judgement calls. This part can be really annoying and painful. I recommend a bottle of Pinot Noir.

I open each of my 30 results into its own browser tab, then start a tedious process of elimination. At first, I don’t even look at photos. We all know that’s the fun part, but I always get sucked in and lose hours and hours staring at my computer screen, muttering things like “Why would ANYONE paint a bedroom that color?!” or “My God! look how dirty this bathroom is!”

Here are ways to quickly eliminate some apartments:

  • Is Smoking Allowed? If you prefer non-smoking accommodations, you should never, ever compromise on this. We rented a smoking-allowed apartment in Florence in February and it was nearly a disaster. Don’t do it.
Look for "Smoking Allowed". If it's grayed out and lined through like this, the apartment is non-smoking.

Look for “Smoking Allowed”. If it’s grayed out and lined through like this, the apartment is non-smoking.

  • Scroll down to the Reviews area. If any of the review scores are less than 3.5 stars, I eliminate the apartment. If the score for Cleanliness is less than 4 stars, I eliminate that apartment from the list immediately. (Airbnb reviewers tend to be generous with their Cleanliness scores, so that one definitely deserves a higher bar…)
Check the Star Ratings

Check the Star Ratings

  • If an apartment has zero reviews, I eliminate it unless the photos are absolutely stellar.
Zero reviews + Loft Bed + Old Sofa = Not making the cut.

Zero reviews + Loft Bed + Old Sofa = Not making the cut.

  • Sometimes there aren’t enough reviews to show a Cleanliness rating. Time for a judgement call:
Only 2 Reviews - not enough to show average stars. But the apartment is so close to my budget and the reviews are both very positive, so she makes the cut.

Only 2 Reviews – not enough to show average stars. But the apartment is so close to my budget and the reviews are both very positive, so it makes the cut.

Only 1 Review, it's $80 above my budget, and the furnishings look old. Definitely eliminate.

Only 1 Review, it’s $80 above my budget, and the furnishings look old. Definitely eliminate.

Step 7: Time to scrutinize photos.

There are a few key things I look for:

  • Red flags, like unmade beds or dirty-looking kitchens or baths. Airbnbs are never, ever, ever cleaner than they look in the photos.
  • Bed Type. I don’t know about you, but I cannot sleep on a futon for a month. I also don’t want my husband and I to have to sleep in separate twin beds for a month. I also eliminate elevated loft beds because the steps hurt my feetsies.
  • Apartment Brightness, size, and layout.
  • If you plan to work a lot while you’re there, are there adequate work spaces? Desks or a large dining table?
  • Bath/Shower type. Would being forced to take a bath each day slowly drive you insane?
  • Old furnishings. No one wants to rent an apartment furnished entirely with things the owner picked up off the curb. It should look like they spent at least a little money furnishing it. Trust your gut.

Step 8: Glance at the reviews.

If there are any obvious negative trends, eliminate the apartment. I look for comments on bed comfort, noise, and internet speed.

Step 9: Contact Hosts!

Once you’ve narrowed your search down to 12-15 acceptable Airbnb Apartments, it’s time to contact Airbnb Hosts and ask for discounts. Details are in the next section.

How to Ask for Airbnb Discounts

Even Squirrels love a good deal on an Airbnb.

Even Squirrels love a good deal on an Airbnb.

At first, I was nervous to ask for discounts on Airbnb listings. But then I realized how much Hosts are willing to lower their prices if you just ask! Discounts tend to be easier to get on month-long rentals, but I also got our host to come down by about $80 on our 13-night stay in Florence, Italy.

Discounts are especially easy to come by in low season. Our Host for our January Airbnb rental in Spain gave us a discount of $165 off of the list price for our month-long rental. All I had to do was ask!

Here’s how to ask for a discount:

  1. Go into each of those 12-15 browser tabs that you now have open with all your Airbnb options. Double check your dates and guest count. Then click on the “Contact Host” link:

    Don't use the "Request to Book" button! Use the "Contact Host" link!

    Don’t use the “Request to Book” button! Use the “Contact Host” link.

  2. I use a template like this and send it to each host:

    Hello <Host Name>!

    My husband and I are planning a month-long visit to Budapest. We’re both software developers, currently based in Split, Croatia, but we’re looking forward to heading to Budapest in early June.

    We’ll be in town from June 1st thru 30th, and we’re hoping you might be willing to negotiate on price a little bit since we’re planning to stay for a month. What’s your best price?

    Thanks so much!

    Melanie

     

  3. Sit back and wait for the responses to roll in. Almost all hosts will respond within 48 hours. Some apartments won’t be available for your dates (hosts don’t always keep the calendar updated). Some people will refuse your request for a discount outright. Most hosts will send you a “Special Offer”, with a special price.

    This is what a Special Offer looks like.

    This is what a Special Offer looks like. (Obviously this one is expired, because it’s for a stay that occurred in the past.)

  4. If internet speed is important to you, we recommend asking the host to run a speed test before booking. Most hosts will happily go out of their way to run an internet speed test for you if that will clinch a month-long rental.
  5. Pick your best apartment option, book it via the “Special Offer” the host sent you, and enjoy your cheap stay in Europe!
Woo hoo vacation!

This is usually how I feel once I get my Airbnb all lined up and booked.

Tips for NOT Using Airbnb

Sometimes using Airbnb just doesn’t make sense. The options are crap, the prices are too high, or you’re booking last-minute. Or maybe you’re only booking a 3-night stay, and the Airbnb fees mean it’s cheaper to look at hotels/hostels/guesthouses. Here are a few money-saving tips:

  • Whenever possible, use Hotels.com. They have the best rewards program. (Though they don’t always offer the lowest prices.)
  • Always compare prices between Agoda, Hotels, Booking, and Expedia. More often than not, one site has a much lower price than the others.
  • Pay close attention to taxes and fees on all of the travel booking websites, or you’ll end up comparing apples to sweet potatoes. Some sites don’t include taxes/fees in the booking price until you navigate into the hotel listing. Others show them up front. Also, many European hotels/guesthouses (especially in Italy) require you to pay a per person occupancy tax on arrival. So be sure you read the fine print before booking!

We Want to Hear From You!

I assume you’re planning a month in Europe now. Where do you want to go? Leave us a comment and let us know!

The Beautiful City of Zagreb, Croatia

The Beautiful City of Zagreb, Croatia.

The Beautiful City of Zagreb, Croatia.

Zagreb, Croatia is not your average capital city. It flies below most tourists’ radars, which means you’ll encounter fewer crowds, lower prices, and might have a more authentic experience than other made-for-tourist towns like Dubrovnik or Trogir. If you take a walk down the pedestrian-only Restaurant Row street, where you’d normally expect to encounter hoards of tourists, you’ll be surprised to hear almost everyone speaking Croatian!

But fewer tourists also means fewer attractions and activities. Zagreb has a good Museum scene, if that’s your thing, but it’s really just a very livable city that’s a lot of fun to explore. A visit here will undoubtedly be low-key, relaxing, and inexpensive. For some, that’s a great reason to visit Zagreb. For others, it’s a reason to avoid it. If you’re passing through anyway, it’s definitely worth spending a few nights here. We certainly enjoyed ourselves!

So what should you do while you’re in Zagreb?

Visit the Dolac Market

One of the best ways to experience a town or city is to visit their produce market! Looking back on all of the places we’ve called “home” over the last year, some of our favorite people were local folks who had booths at the fresh markets where we bought our groceries. It’s SO MUCH FUN to become a regular at the market while you’re in town! Everywhere we go, we end up with a “fruit guy”, a “veggie lady”, an “egg gal”, and a “baker”. It’s such a fun feeling when they start to recognize you and greet you with a huge grin!

Zagreb has one of the biggest fresh market’s we’ve ever visited. If you’re ever in town, visiting the Dolac Market is an absolute must.

The outdoor area of the Dolac Market in Zagreb.

The outdoor area of the Dolac Market in Zagreb.

Look how packed the place is!

Look how packed the place is!

There are dozens of produce vendors, a huge section devoted solely to soft cheeses, countless meat booths, flower vendors, and bakers, and there is more sauerkraut than you’ll know what to do with.

Cured meats, anyone?

Cured meats, anyone?

A bakery booth in the cavernous indoor area of the market.

A bakery booth in the cavernous indoor area of the market.

There are even booths selling hand-made wooden kid’s toys and wooden kitchen utensils! I could spend a whole morning just walking around at the market taking in the sights and smells.

Dozens of flower vendors selling beautiful bouquets.

Dozens of flower vendors selling beautiful bouquets.

Don't want a bouquet? Buy flowers for your garden!

Don’t want a bouquet? Buy flowers for your garden!

Visit the Museum of Broken Relationships

I’m not really a museum person, but when it comes to completely offbeat museums that feature something totally out of the norm, I am 100% in for a visit. Zagreb has one of the weirdest museums I’ve ever heard of, the Museum of Broken Relationships. This museum was actually created by a couple who had just broken up, with the idea being that it can be therapeutic to “overcome an emotional collapse through creation” by donating an item to the Museum’s collection.

The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb.

The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb.

Each item on display was donated to the museum by someone who recently ended a relationship. Each exhibit is accompanied by a story sent in with the item about the relationship or the breakup, and many of them show how long the couple was together.

The museum is at times extremely depressing (think multi-decade marriages ended in cheating and divorce, or others ending in suicide), but the overwhelming majority of the stories were hilarious and witty or just plain heartwarming.

A few of our favorite exhibits:

An Ex Axe from Berlin, Germany. No, this isn't a murder weapon. A man sent this in after his woman left him for another woman. She had recently moved in with him before she found someone new and ran off on a 2-week vacation with this new girlfriend. Every day of his ex-girlfriend's 14-day holiday, the Axe man chopped up a piece of her furniture. When she returned from her holiday and came to retrieve her belongings, all she found was a pile of hacked up furniture!

An Ex Axe from Berlin, Germany. No, this isn’t a murder weapon. A man sent this in after his girlfriend left him for another woman. She had recently moved in with him before she found someone new and ran off on a 2-week vacation with this new girlfriend. Every day of his ex-girlfriend’s 14-day holiday, the Axe man chopped up a piece of her furniture. When she returned from her holiday and came to retrieve her belongings, all she found was a pile of hacked up wood!

A Linksys Router, from a 7-month relationship in San Francisco. The sender's note reads "We tried. Not Compatible."

A Linksys Router, from a 7-month relationship in San Francisco. The sender’s note reads “We tried. Not Compatible.”

A champagne cork from a 2.5-year relationship in London. The sender's note reads: "I was due to get married on 6th August 2011, but discovered 6 months ago that my fiancé was cheating on me. This is the cork from the champagne I used to celebrate my lucky escape."

A champagne cork from a 2.5-year relationship in London. The sender’s note reads: “I was due to get married on 6th August 2011, but discovered 6 months ago that my fiancé was cheating on me. This is the cork from the champagne I used to celebrate my lucky escape.”

And finally, my favorite, the Toaster of Vindication. This one came from Denver, Colorado after a 4-year relationship ended. The note reads "When I moved out, and across the country, I took the toaster. That’ll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?"

And finally, my favorite, the Toaster of Vindication. This one came from Denver, Colorado after a 4-year relationship ended. The note reads “When I moved out, and across the country, I took the toaster. That’ll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?”

The Museum also has a sassy gift shop and a cute little cafe. They have some creative souvenirs, my favorite being their chocolate selection:

Chocolates in the Museum of Broken Relationships Gift Shop.

Chocolates in the Museum of Broken Relationships Gift Shop.

Hit the Pivnica Medvedgrad Happy Hour

This won’t surprise readers who know us well… We found THE BEST BARGAIN in Zagreb. A local microbrewery called Pivnica Medvedgrad and a pizzeria named Mali Medo have joined forces to become a delicious, wonderful, behemoth presence in one of Zagreb’s best pedestrian zones. They have something like four different storefronts (all located around here), all offering the same food and beer.

Enjoying beers at Pivnica Medvedgrad!

Enjoying beers at Pivnica Medvedgrad!

For a magical 1-hour window each day, their beer and pizza Happy Hours overlap. It. Is. Amazing. Each day from 4-6pm, the Pizza of the Day is half off. And everyday from 5-7pm, they offer at least one half-liter beer for just 9 Kuna (that’s about $1.25!). So, obviously, the hour between 5 and 6pm became a big deal to us. We were in Zagreb for 4 nights, and had dinner at Pivnica Medvedgrad Mali Medo THREE TIMES.

Delicious Mali Medo pizzas for a mere $3.50 apiece during Happy Hour.

Delicious Mali Medo pizzas for a mere $3.50 apiece during Happy Hour.

As an added bonus, their beer is actually pretty delicious! We especially loved their Wheat Beer. Though I wouldn’t say the waiters know much about the beers – one guy pronounced “I.P.A.” as “eepah” instead of saying each letter like you’re supposed to! I still chuckle every time I think about it. And then I feel really sad, because these guys work in a brewery and don’t know about beer. Sigh.

Tasty beers at Pivnica Medvedgrad. Our fave, the Wheat Beer, on the right.

Tasty beers at Pivnica Medvedgrad. Our fave, the Wheat Beer, on the right.

Eat Brownies a la Mode

A Fudge Brownie with Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream.

A Fudge Brownie with Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream.

It should be clear by now that Kevin and I are incapable of visiting a city without seeking out at least one dessert, especially if a city we’re visiting has a cafe called The Cookie Factory.

If you’re in town, be sure to stop by for their 18 Kuna ($2.50) Brownie a la Mode. Pick any brownie from their huge menu:

The Cookie Factory's Brownie Menu.

The Cookie Factory’s Brownie Menu.

In our opinion, the optimal combination is a Fudge Brownie with Peanut Butter and Jelly Ice Cream. We almost went back a 2nd day in a row, before we realized we’re adults and can’t behave like that anymore.

A Cream Cheese brownie with Peanut Butter and Jelly Ice Cream. SO SO GOOD.

A Cream Cheese brownie with Peanut Butter and Jelly Ice Cream. SO SO GOOD.

Visit Maksimir Park

One of the recurring challenges we’ve had in new cities we’ve traveled to is where to go running. I’m training for a Marathon in June, so I had a big 18-miler to tackle in Zagreb. Luckily, they have a wonderful outdoor area called Maksimir Park that’s just a couple of miles East of Zagreb’s main tourist area.

I'm the runner off in the distance there.

I’m the runner off in the distance there.

It’s great for running if you have a Fitbit to track your mileage, but it’s tricky to map a run here with online tools like Map My Run because the trails aren’t super well-defined on Google Maps. But you can’t beat the scenery, and there are free bathrooms! (Never thought I’d see any of those in Europe, anywhere, ever…)

Maksimir Park has a seemingly endless amount of trails to choose from.

Maksimir Park has a seemingly endless amount of trails to choose from.

Even if you’re not there to run, it can be a great place to stroll on a sunny day. They even have a zoo.

Beautiful Maksimir Park.

Beautiful Maksimir Park.

Walk Around… A Lot

Zagreb is a city of fun pedestrian-only zones, huge busy piazzas, and gardens and flowers galore. Seriously, someone in the Parks Department has the gift of a green thumb. Spring has sprung here in Zagreb, and there’s no better way to experience it than on foot. The area of interest to Tourists is all within a fairly compact neighborhood, so most sights are within a 25-minute stroll.

To give you a taste of Zagreb, here are a few photos we snapped on our 4-night stay:

Jelačić Square, the heart of Zagreb.

Jelačić Square, the heart of Zagreb.

A Beautiful park in Zagreb.

A Beautiful park in Zagreb.

Zagreb is home to the shortest Funicular in the world! It takes just 55 seconds and costs about $0.50 to use the Funicular. (The stairs are an easy option, too!)

Zagreb is home to the shortest Funicular in the world. It takes just 55 seconds and costs about $0.50 to use the Funicular. (The stairs are an easy option, too, and free.)

The view out over gorgeous Zagreb from the top of the Funicular.

The view out over gorgeous Zagreb from the top of the Funicular.

Following Rick Steves' Walking Tour around town. Because I cannot resist one of Rick's walking tours. Because I am an old lady at heart...

Following Rick Steves’ Walking Tour around town. Because I cannot resist one of Rick’s walking tours. Because I am an old lady at heart…

Zagreb's Church of St. Mark. What a cool roof, right? On the left is the North-Central Croatia coat of arms, and on the right is the Seal of Zagreb.

Zagreb’s Church of St. Mark. What a cool roof, right? On the left is the North-Central Croatia coat of arms, and on the right is the Seal of Zagreb.

The Croatian Prime Minister's office building. This building was targeted in the war in the 1990s, and was damaged by air raids by the Yugoslav forces in 1991. You can see the bright orange tiles that replaced the ones damaged in the war.

The Croatian Prime Minister’s office building. This building was targeted in the war in the 1990s, and was damaged by air raids by the Yugoslav forces in 1991. You can see the bright orange tiles that replaced the ones damaged in the war.

Did you know that Nikola Tesla was born in Croatia? This plaque honors him. Also, notice that the streetlight by the door is an old fashioned gaslight! In fact, Zagreb has 217 functioning gas lights around the city, and all of them have to be lit and put out each day by a couple of city employees.

Did you know that Nikola Tesla was born in Croatia? This plaque honors him. Also, notice that the streetlight by the door is an old fashioned gaslight! In fact, Zagreb has 217 functioning gas lights around the city, and all of them have to be lit and put out each day by a couple of city employees.

This used to be Zagreb’s red light district! (Prostitution is now illegal in Zagreb) Locals are quick to point out that the front balconies of these houses have great views of the town’s Cathedral.

This used to be Zagreb’s red light district! (Prostitution is now illegal in Zagreb) Locals are quick to point out that the front balconies of these houses have great views of the town’s Cathedral. Oh, the irony…

The main pedestrian drag in Zagreb. Tons of fun bars, great restaurants, and cute shops.

The main pedestrian drag in Zagreb. Tons of fun bars, great restaurants, and cute shops.

Be sure to duck inside to see the chandeliers that came from Las Vegas in the 1970s. Gaudy, right?!

Be sure to duck inside to see the chandeliers that came from Las Vegas in the 1970s. Gaudy, right?

Why you should not use limestone for building churches in a cold climate. The spire on the left is made of limestone and was worn down from years of harsh winters in Zagreb.

Church Building 101: Why you should not use limestone for elaborate buildings in a cold climate. The spire on the left is made of limestone and was worn down from years of harsh winters in Zagreb.

When you walk out of the train station, this is what greets you. Not bad!

When you walk out of the train station, this is what greets you. Not bad!

Beautiful Magnolia trees in Zagreb.

Beautiful Magnolia trees in Zagreb.

Someone here has a green thumb.

Someone here has a green thumb.

More parks and green spaces in Zagreb.

More parks and green spaces in Zagreb.

If all that walking wears you out, stop by Eli’s Caffe for a good Latte. We told the barista we were from Seattle, and he wanted to talk our ears off about Vivace Coffee. (Vivace is a great spot for coffee if you’re ever in Seattle, by the way.)

Lattes at Eli's Caffe.

Lattes at Eli’s Caffe.

Celebrate “America Day”

We accidentally had an “America Day” celebration in Zagreb. After having Brownies a la Mode (a classic American dessert, in my opinion), we decided to try Zagreb’s best Burger. We’ve been jonesing for a good burger, especially after going nearly 8 months in Thailand without beef (pork is a lot cheaper and tastier than beef in Thailand). We haven’t even LOOKED at a gas or charcoal grill since leaving Seattle in April 2014, so it was high time we remedied the problem.

A delicious American Pale Ale, brewed at a tiny microbrewery here in Zagreb. Tasted just like what you might order back home in Seattle!

A delicious American Pale Ale, brewed at a tiny microbrewery here in Zagreb. Tasted just like what you might order back home in Seattle!

Enter Rocket Burger, allegedly the best burger available in Croatia. They use an indoor griddle to cook up their burgers, but we’ll take what we can get.

A delicious Cheddar Bacon Supreme at Rocket Burger. A beef patty, slice of cheddar, beer-caramelized onions, a couple pieces of bacon, ketchup, tomato, lettuce, and a secret sauce. YUM.

A delicious Cheddar Bacon Supreme at Rocket Burger. A beef patty, slice of cheddar, beer-caramelized onions, a couple pieces of bacon, ketchup, tomato, lettuce, and a secret sauce. YUM.

We ordered up a couple Cheddar Bacon Supremes with fries and American Pale Ales. Nothing says America like Bacon and Cheddar on a delicious slab of ground beef, AMIRITE? To top it all off, AC/DC was playing on the radio. We miss home!

How to Get from Split to Zagreb

If you talk to any local in Split, they’ll tell you to take the bus to get from Split to Zagreb. It can take anywhere from 4.5 to 8 hours, with a one-way ticket costing between 90 and 175 Kuna (or about $12.60 to $24.50). However, we learned in Spain that not all buses have an onboard bathroom, and a reconnaissance mission to Split’s bus station confirmed our fears. I’m neurotic about drinking SO MUCH WATER everyday, so I’m not super fond of being trapped anywhere without a bathroom.

That’s where trains come in. I love trains in Europe! In general they’ve been impressively clean and pretty darn comfortable. We lucked out and got in on a half-price sale on our tickets from Split to Zagreb, so we paid only 112 Kuna/person (about $15.70).

Split's tiny, sunny train station. Off we go to Zagreb!

Split’s tiny, sunny train station. Off we go to Zagreb!

The train journey is scheduled to take 6 hours, but is frequently late. We arrived about 40-minutes behind schedule. Part of that delay was due to a 20-minute smoke break halfway through the trip:

Talk about a mass exodus from the train. Smoking is a lot more common here, and almost everyone got out at this stop.

Talk about a mass exodus from the train. Smoking is a lot more common here, and almost everyone got out at this stop.

The scenery train ride to Zagreb is beautiful (and impossible to capture from inside of a moving train). We wound our way past dramatic limestone cliffs, had beautiful views of the Adriatic sea, and even climbed through a snowy mountain range!

Snow on our train ride to Zagreb.

Snow on our train ride to Zagreb.

We started to get cabin fever before we arrived in Zagreb. Do as the locals do and bring a bunch of snacks and entertainment:

Folks on the train playing cards!

Folks on the train playing cards!

We Want to Hear From You!

Have you visited any towns that fly below the average tourist’s radar like Zagreb does? We’d love to hear about them. Please leave us a comment and let us know!

Eating and Drinking in Split, Croatia

Split is the perfect place for a scenic picnic!

Split is the perfect place for a scenic picnic!

Split’s food scene has a little something for everyone. With bargain basement prices, Eating and Drinking in Split, Croatia is a complete joy. We didn’t have high hopes for this small city based on things we had read in guidebooks, so we were pleasantly surprised with the restaurant and wine options. While the food definitely won’t hold up if you measure it against places like Italy or France, it’s got a few hidden gems that will satisfy any seafood craving or sweet tooth.

If all else fails, you can hit a supermarket to pick up sandwich supplies and hike to the top of Marjan Park to have a wonderful picnic with unparalleled views. I mean, LOOK at the photo at the top of this post. Incredible. Now, onward to the eating and drinking!

First, Booze.

Have you ever seen a Croatian wine at your local grocery store? No one has! So we were surprised to find that Croatia produces some really fantastic wines. Anthony Bourdain even came to Croatia to do an episode of his show “No Reservations” and visited a bunch of the wineries up and down the wonderful country of Croatia. I don’t know much about wine, but I’m told the weather here is great for wineries. Something about how the hot sun and cool wind is like a magic playground for grape vines to live in. (News flash: being abroad hasn’t made my wine palate more refined…)

We tried some nice wines, like this one from the little island of Hvar:

Juho'v wine from Hvar.

Juho’v wine from Hvar.

But we found a place that was REALLY our speed after living in Split for a couple of weeks. Come with me to the magical place that is the Iločki Podrumi winery store. It’s a bit hard to find online, at least for English speakers, but it’s located here on a map. For between $2.25 and $4 you bring in your own 1 Liter bottle and they’ll fill it up with the wine of your choice!

Wine Heaven

Wine Heaven

If wine isn’t your thang, then boy have I got a surprise for you. You can buy a giant 2-liter plastic bottle of beer at the grocery store for just $2.50!

Enormous beer from the Croatian grocery store.

Enormous beer from the Croatian grocery store.

I honestly can’t imagine a better drink to be sold in a beach town than these plastic 2-liter bottles of crappy beer. I bet they sell like hotcakes in the summertime in Split. Just grab yourself one of these puppies, throw on your speedo, head to the beach, and you’ve got the perfect Saturday on your hands.

If you value quality over quantity, Croatia has you covered (barely). The best beer we found in Croatia was Tomislav:

Tomislav, a dark beer. Turns out, this is the only Croatian beer we tried that we'd deem worth buying again. We miss Seattle beer!

Tomislav, a dark beer. Turns out, this is the only Croatian beer we tried that we’d deem worth buying again. We miss Seattle beer!

Our advice with regards to booze in Croatia? Focus on the wine, skip the beers.

Paradox Wine and Cheese Bar

Since we’re focusing on Wine, let’s talk about one of wine’s best friends: cheese. If you’re not going to order Paradox Wine Bar‘s Island of Pag cheese trilogy when you’re in Split, you might as well stay home. If you come here and do not get it, I will never speak to you again. For realsies.

Allow me to share with you a few quotes from Kevin and I when we shared this cheese plate: “I’ve died and gone to heaven“, “OMG SO GOOD I WANT TO EAT ALL OF IT“, “Holy **** this **** is amazing“, “This is better than our wedding day“. Ok that last one is an exaggeration (albeit a small one), but I’m serious, this cheese…

The Island of Pag is famous for its cheeses, so famous that it has its own Wikipedia page. The reason their cheese is so stellar is that Pag has very, very special climate. The weather apparently makes the island a mystical wonderland full of unicorns and rainbows for the happy cows and sheep that graze there. They produce the milk that is turned into this delicious cheese that I would happily eat for every meal for the rest of my life. (Alas, one cannot survive on cheese alone… can you even IMAGINE attempting that?!)

Without further ado, here’s a look at the glorious plate of goodness from Paradox:

The Island of Pag Cheese Trilogy.

The Island of Pag Cheese Trilogy.

It has three types of cheese (hence the name “trilogy”). Bottom right is Pag’s most famous cheese, Paški Sir, which is made from sheep’s milk. Our favorite was the top left, an aged cow’s cheese. Also included was the delicious mix of cow and sheep’s milk cheese on the bottom left. Each one was paired with its own jam (strawberry, fig, or quince), and it came with dried fruits and a basket of bread. All of this for about $12.

While you’re at Paradox, you obviously have to try some of Croatia’s wines. They have glasses ranging from about $3 all the way up to $8.

Enjoying some wines with Kevin.

Enjoying some wines with Kevin.

One of the best thing about Paradox, though, was the friendliness and unpretentiousness of the waiters. They were super knowledgable of their wines and didn’t make you feel bad for not being a wine expert yourself. On our first visit, one guy even told us all about what makes Croatian Pršut (Prosciutto) so special and gave us a free sample plate cut fresh off the house pork hock. (Pršut is smoked before curing, giving it a distinct flavor when compared to cured Iberican Ham in Spain or Parma Ham in Italy.)

Best Menu: Villa Spiza Restaurant

The inside of the small but mighty Villa Spiza restaurant in Split.

The inside of the small but mighty Villa Spiza restaurant in Split.

I am a HUGE fan of places that base their menu on what was freshest at the produce and fish markets that morning. Villa Spiza‘s constantly changing menu is handwritten each day based on what they got from the market. They specialize in seafood, which is definitely what you should eat when you visit coastal Split. We had everything from boiled shark to shrimp pasta to the freshest most enormous prawns I’ve ever seen in my life.

Enormous prawns!

Enormous prawns!

Awesome pasta with shrimp.

Awesome pasta with shrimp.

Boiled shark! Can't believe we ate shark!

Boiled shark! Can’t believe we ate shark!

Villa Spiza also serves a local Croatian specialty, Bakalar. Locals go nuts for it. In fact, we walked up to a different restaurant one day and were looking at the menu when a group of folks walked up and looked at the specials on the chalkboard. When one guy saw Bakalar, he raised his arms in the air and hollered “Bakalar!!” with the biggest grin on his face you’ve ever seen.

Bakalar at Villa Spiza

Bakalar at Villa Spiza

What is Bakalar? It’s dried salted cod, rehydrated and cooked in a tomato sauce with potatoes. I prefer my fish fresh instead of dehydrated, but you gotta try it once. Kevin had this at a different restaurant, and said it was MUCH better at Villa Spiza.

They also make amazing soups that look ugly but taste great:

We also had fabulous meatballs there. Comfort food at its finest:

Delicious meatballs at Villa Spiza.

Delicious meatballs at Villa Spiza.

But the ONE thing that kept us coming back is their sandwiches. Oh, the glorious, wonderful sandwiches. They’re a little different each day depending on who makes it, but that’s half the fun.

The best sandwich ever: ham, egg and cheese.

The best sandwich ever: ham, egg and cheese.

Runner up: braised pork with brie. YUM.

Runner up: braised pork with brie. YUM.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little hungry now.

Best Desserts: Luka Ice Cream & Cakes

I’ll keep this brief, because honestly it shouldn’t take much convincing to get you to go to Luka. A scoop of ice cream at Luka costs just 7 Kuna, or just shy of $1. ONE DOLLAR! With tasty “normal” flavors like tiramisu, chocolate, and pistachio, and “adventurous” flavors like carrot and pink lemonade, there is something at Luka for everyone. I also love that they make their ice cream in-house with high quality ingredients; this means flavors are constantly rotating and their ‘scream is always the freshest.

A terrible photo of their wonderful Ice Cream.

A terrible photo of their wonderful Ice Cream.

If you don’t like Ice Cream (though seriously, who doesn’t like ice cream?!), try their cakes:

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake and Tiramisu. YUM.

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake and Tiramisu. YUM.

Drinkable Coffee: Viva Cafe

A "Coffee with Milk" at Viva Cafe.

A “Coffee with Milk” at Viva Cafe.

First, let me say, there is a LOW coffee bar in Croatia. In fact, there’s a pretty low bar for coffee in all of Europe from what I can tell. This may be my Seattle roots talking, enhanced by my time in the coffee mecca that is Chiang Mai, Thailand. (Who knew Chiang Mai would have SUCH a huge coffee scene?!)

However, if you’re in Split on a sunny day, there’s really nothing better than hunkering down and having yourself a mediocre latte while soaking up some sunshine. (Okay, maybe soaking up sunshine while having a delicious latte would be better, but I take what I can get.) If you care more about the views than the coffee, pick any place along Split’s waterfront “Riva” area.

Soaking up some sunshine at Viva Cafe on People's Square. Split's clock tower is there over my left shoulder.

Soaking up some sunshine at Viva Cafe on People’s Square. Split’s clock tower is there over my left shoulder.

If you prefer to have a coffee that’s drinkable and not like a cup of burned mud, we recommend Viva Cafe, located here on People’s Square in the heart of Split’s Old City.

Must Have Snack Foods in Split

I’ve probably said enough already to cause any traveler to gain at least 10lbs on a visit to Split, but I’m going to step completely over the line into greasy Snack Foods. Come on this journey with me; trust me, these foods are worth it. You can eat healthy when you get home.

What is the snack-food theme in Split? It’s anything cheesy, greasy, and starchy. In short, it’s the perfect vacation food, or hangover food, or it’s-a-sunny-day food. Make up your own reason to have these treats, I won’t judge. I would consider any of these snacks to be the perfect sinful companion to a huge 2-liter bottle of Ojuško beer.

The single best treat-yo’self snack food in Split is Burek. It comes in several different varieties, but traditionally is just salty cheese baked inside a puff pastry.

"Burek Sir", or Cheese Burek. Definitely yummy.

“Burek Sir”, or Cheese Burek. Definitely yummy.

The best place in Split to get Burek, hands down, is St. Burek, located here. It’s just 10 Kuna (about $1.40) for each enormous piece of Burek. Be sure you try their Apple variety (totally our fave) and the Spinach and Cheese version.

Look for this little hole-in-the-wall place called St. Burek to get the tastiest best value Burek in town.

Look for this little hole-in-the-wall place called St. Burek to get the tastiest best value Burek in town.

Spinach Burek from St. Burek. I kid you not, this pastry was the size of my face.

Spinach Burek from St. Burek. I kid you not, this pastry was the size of my face.

The clear winner, Apple burek. This is only my half what Kevin and I split. This one, too, was the size of an adult face. We weren't hungry for like 6 hours afterwards...

The clear winner, Apple burek. This is only my half what Kevin and I split. This one, too, was the size of a fully grown person’s face. We weren’t hungry for like 6 hours afterwards…

If you want something a little lighter, but still a bit greasy, I recommend Soparnik. It’s a local Croatian specialty of swiss chard, onion, parsley, garlic and olive oil inside a flatbread. The best place to get this snack is at the Green Market on sunny days in the morning.

Soparnik, one of Croatia's favorite snacks. Fair warning, after eating this you'll smell like garlic for approximately 83 hours.

Soparnik, one of Croatia’s favorite snacks. Fair warning, after eating this you’ll smell like garlic for approximately 83 hours.

We Want to Hear From You!

What is the BEST food you’ve ever eaten on any of your travels?! Crêpes in Paris? BBQ in Texas? Tacos in Mexico? Lobster in Maine? Curry in Thailand? Leave us a comment to let us know!

Krka National Park

Beautiful Krka National Park

Beautiful Krka National Park

In the last couple weeks, I’ve been posting about the day trips we went on during our month when we were based in Split, Croatia. I wrote about our wonderful trip to Dubrovnik and about our foray into Bosnia, but I’ve saved the best for last.

Kevin and I in front of the falls!

Kevin and I in front of the falls!

We were so surprised at what we found on our day trip to Krka National Park in Croatia. During our drive to Krka, we started wondering how there could possibly be waterfalls in this area; all we could see were rolling hills and not even a hint that there were any lakes around. Lo and Behold, a few minutes after we got off the expressway, we found the enormous lakes that are part of Krka National Park:

Lakes near the Krka entrance in Skradin, Croatia

Lakes near the Krka entrance in Skradin, Croatia

Krka National Park is often overshadowed by Plitvice National Park, a bigger park with more waterfalls located further North in Croatia (about a 3-hour drive from Split). Most people will tell you that Plitvice has the best waterfalls in Croatia, which means they also have more crowds. We were planning to visit on our way up to Zagreb, but got discouraged based on the park’s lack of services in the Winter time.

A Fun little platform for viewing the falls.

A Fun little platform for viewing the falls.

The climate at Plitvice is much colder than Krka’s, so there was reportedly still snow on the ground when we were in Croatia in March. Also, only half of Plitvice is accessible in the Winter because park boats and buses aren’t running, so we decided to add it to our later-in-life travel list and visit Krka this time.

Beautiful Skradinski Buk Falls inside Krka National Park

Beautiful Skradinski Buk Falls inside Krka National Park

Luckily for us, Krka is the perfect place to visit on a sunny day in March! It wasn’t warm enough to swim (many people visit Krka specifically for the swimming), but we had the park almost completely to ourselves. We saw only SEVEN other tourists in our 3-4 hours in the park! SEVEN. Plus a dog.

We visited Krka in the Spring, on March 17th. The trees are starting to bloom in the park!

We visited Krka in the Spring, on March 17th. The trees are starting to bloom in the park!

This blog post will be filled mostly with photos (which totally don’t do the park justice, by the way) and some helpful hints for tourists.

Krka’s Main Attraction: Skradinski Buk Waterfall

The Breathtaking Skradinski Buk Waterfall

The Breathtaking Skradinski Buk Waterfall

The Skradinski Buk Waterfall is THE reason people visit Krka. It’s a huge, impressive, multi-tiered waterfall with a “rustic” swimming area at the very bottom. Even Kevin was impressed with the waterfall, which is saying something since he grew up in the Pacific Northwest (home of tons of beautiful waterfalls).

Skradinski Buk Waterfalls. Notice how there are NO other people on the bridge. Hooray!

Skradinski Buk Waterfalls. Notice how there are NO other people on the bridge. Hooray!

A fantastic 1.5-mile boardwalk path makes a loop around the whole Skradinski Buk area. I loved the boardwalk so much we almost walked it twice!

The Boardwalk is amazing.

The Boardwalk is amazing.

Loving the Boardwalk.

Loving the Boardwalk.

Check out how empty the park is! Jackpot.

Check out how empty the park is! Jackpot.

Krka. <3

Krka. :-)

The water was running really high when we visited - almost over the top of the boardwalk!

The water was running really high when we visited – almost over the top of the boardwalk!

So beautiful!

So beautiful!

Visit Krka, it's the best!

Visit Krka, it’s the best!

Last boardwalk photo, I promise.

Last boardwalk photo, I promise.

The park is dotted with a few restaurants and shops, or you can find a great little spot for a picnic:

We sat on these cute little tree stumps and ate a picnic lunch. Not a soul was around - we had the falls all to ourselves!

We sat on these cute little tree stumps and ate a picnic lunch. Not a soul was around – we had the falls all to ourselves!

If you get tired of the falls, there are also plenty of exhibits there are part of the park’s “ethno village” that explains some of Croatia’s history:

The Boardwalk loop feeds you right into the Ethno Village exhibits.

The Boardwalk loop feeds you right into the Ethno Village exhibits.

Hitting on a mannequin at the weaving exhibit in Krka's Ethno Village. Not weird at all.

Hitting on a mannequin at the weaving exhibit in Krka’s Ethno Village. Not weird at all.

Using water to power lots of Croatian contraptions.

Using water to power lots of Croatian contraptions.

One such contraption - this is used to soften fabric for wearing. The water powers the legs, which basically beat the fabric to soften it.

One such contraption – this is used to soften fabric for wearing. The water powers the legs, which basically beat the fabric to soften it.

The diagram helps make a little more sense of it.

The diagram helps make a little more sense of it.

The washing area in the Ethno Exhibit. We learned that up until the 1970s, people still used the Krka river to wash clothing!

The washing area in the Ethno Exhibit. We learned that up until the 1970s, people still used the Krka river to wash clothing!

Grain mills at Krka National Park.

Grain mills at Krka National Park.

And here is Kevin with a plastic donkey...

And here is Kevin with a plastic donkey…

There's even a blacksmith exhibit.

There’s even a blacksmith exhibit.

The Ethno Village exhibits are all built right into the Krka river. At the very least, it's fun to look at.

The Ethno Village exhibits are all built right into the Krka river. At the very least, it’s fun to look at.

Krka National Park Entrances

Skradinski Buk Waterfall

Skradinski Buk Waterfall

Krka National Park covers over 42 square miles, so you want to be sure you know where you’re going. If you’re mainly interested in the Skradinski Buk Falls like we were, you want to use either the Lozovac or Skradin entrances.

Krka National Park is well worth the drive from Split.

Krka National Park is well worth the drive from Split.

To get to Lozovac, you take the “Šibenik” exit from the A-1 expressway and drive 7 miles to the entrance. It’s pretty well-signed and easy to find. From about April through October, a shuttle bus runs from the free Lozovac parking lots down to the waterfall. During Winter months, you can just drive your own car down to the falls, which is what we did.

The pictures will never do Krka justice. It is so beautiful.

The pictures will never do Krka justice. It is so beautiful.

To enter in the park in the town of Skradin, take the “Skradin” exit from the A-1 expressway, then drive just 3-miles following signs to the park. From Skradin, you board a boat by foot to get to the Skradinski Buk falls. During summer months, the boat runs hourly. In the winter months, I don’t think boats run. In spring/fall (roughly October, March and April), the boat only runs every 2 hours. Like everything in Croatia, there isn’t much concrete info online regarding the boat. When we arrived at 11:30am in Skradin, we found we had just missed the 11am boat. In 2015, Spring/Fall boats run at 9am, 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. If you have your own car and just barely miss the boat, you can easily drive over to the Lozovac entrance and enter there instead of waiting two hours for the next departure.

If you miss the boat in Skradin, the views on the short drive to Lozovac are amazing!

If you miss the boat in Skradin, the views on the short drive to Lozovac are amazing!

No matter where you enter, you pay the same entrance fee. The price changes depending on the season, and includes the boat ride if you choose to enter at Skradin. Nov-Feb costs 30 Kuna ($4.30), March-May and October is 90 Kuna ($13), and June-Sep is 110 Kuna ($16).

A not-to-be-missed day trip from Split.

A not-to-be-missed day trip from Split.

For the latest Krka National Park information, visit their website.

For Pete’s Sake, Rent a Car

Kevin finds his second calling as a Park Ranger.

Kevin finds his second calling as a Park Ranger.

I’m going to reiterate what I wrote in my post about our day trip to Mostar. If you’re staying in Split and want to do day trips, you just need to rent a car. It takes only an hour to drive yourself to Krka National Park, while using public transportation takes about 4 hours and involves taking two different buses. It’s especially nice to have a car in the low season, because buses run on a reduced schedule, as does the Krka Park ferry.

A Stopover in Trogir

If you’re driving to Krka, you might as well make a pit stop in Trogir on your way home! When you leave Krka, head towards Šibenik, and hop on Highway 8 to drive the beautiful winding road down the coast to get to Trogir. The views on the drive are worth taking the road less traveled, but Trogir is a big bonus.

Trogir's fun little "Boardwalk" area.

Trogir’s fun little “Boardwalk” area.

The Historic City of Trogir is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List, which means so darn cute and historic that you won’t want to leave. (Disclaimer: I’m pretty sure UNESCO has more stringent requirements than being “cute”, but hey, work with me here.) Trogir is a town soaked in medieval architecture, surrounded by water, and full of tourist traps. They even have a sexy shop, because obviously every medieval town needs its own Sexy Shop?

Trogir's "Sexy Shop".

Trogir’s “Sexy Shop”.

In spite of the tourist traps, it’s just a fun little town to meander through. All of the cute little lanes inside the old wall are pedestrian-only spaces, so it’s nice to just wander around and see what you find.

A Beautiful church in Trogir, Croatia.

A Beautiful church in Trogir, Croatia.

Trogir's Fortress, now primarily used for musical performances.

Trogir’s Fortress, now primarily used for musical performances.

Trogir's Fortress

Trogir’s Fortress

Walking along the water in Trogir.

Walking along the water in Trogir.

The Trogir Cathedral

The Trogir Cathedral

If you’re tired of seeing old-ass buildings, you can sit yourself down at a park and watch a group of gentlemen gamble on Bocce Ball and Chess games.

High Stakes Bocce Ball. Money changed hands after every game!

High Stakes Bocce Ball. Money changed hands after every game!

Crazy chess games happening over there right now.

Crazy chess games happening over there right now.

At the very least, stop by Trogir to enjoy its slow pace and take in the beautiful views:

Beautiful views from Trogir.

Beautiful views from Trogir.

We Want to Hear From You!

Have you visited any National Parks abroad? How have they compared to our awesome National and State parks in the States?

Our Day Trip from Split to Mostar

The Beautiful City of Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Beautiful City of Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

One of the reasons we chose Split for our home base in Croatia is because it is the perfect launch point for tons of day trips! Last week, I posted about our day trip to Dubrovnik. This week, I’m posting about a Day Trip across the border to a country I never thought I’d ever visit – Bosnia. (While most people just call the country Bosnia for short, its full name is technically “Bosnia and Herzegovina”. I’m going to refer to it as Bosnia in this post.)

My love of doors continues. Sometimes wear and tear makes a door even more beautiful. There is so much to look at in Mostar, it is overwhelming.

My love of doors continues. Sometimes wear and tear makes a door even more beautiful. There is so much to look at in Mostar, it is overwhelming.

Our destination was the small city of Mostar, a beautiful little town that still has plenty of very visible scars from the terrible war of the 1990s. I’ve never been somewhere where the scars from a war were still so raw. Buildings were pockmarked from bullets, some high rises still had gaping mortar blast holes, and ruined abandoned buildings seemed to be around every corner.

On our Day Trip from Split to Mostar, we learned a lot about the war, enjoyed some good food, and learned a thing or two about how people from different cultural and religious backgrounds live together peacefully now in Bosnia.

Armed with a self-guided walking tour on my Kindle, we explored Mostar.

Armed with a self-guided walking tour on my Kindle, we explored Mostar.

I hope you enjoy seeing Mostar through our eyes! Happy travels, friends.

Lessons on War

Mostar has been a very diverse city for hundreds of years, dating all the way back to the Ottoman occupation which brought a strong Muslim influence to the area. Leading up to the war in the 1990s, Mostar was home to three main ethnic groups: the “Bosniaks”, the “Croats”, and the Serbs. Bosniaks practice Islam while the Croats are Catholic, but both groups have mostly Slavic ancestors.

For years and years, Mostar took pride in the fact that these three ethnic groups lived together peacefully in their beautiful city. In fact, Mostar had one of the highest rates of mixed-ethnicity marriages in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Before the war in the 1990s, Mostar was about 35% Bosniak, 34% Croat, and 19% Serbs, and everyone lived in harmony.

Then everything fell apart. In April of 1992, Bosnia & Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia, which threw the country into chaos. The Yugoslav People’s Army, mainly dominated by Serbs, moved to take control of Mostar and began occupying the mostly-Bosniak East side of the city. Bosniaks and Croats took refuge together on the West side. A few weeks later, when the Serb forces withdrew from Mostar, some extreme factions started gathering up the Serbs left in town, torturing and murdering them.

War Ruins in Mostar.

War Ruins in Mostar.

Most Bosniaks moved back to the East side of town, while many of the Croats stayed in the West, sometimes even moving into apartments that used to house Serbs. A tentative calm fell over the city until May 1993, when the Croat military began bombing the city. Any Bosniaks left on the West side of the Neretva river were forced to move to the East side. Bosniak men were sent away and forced to work in concentration camps. The Bosniaks left in Mostar were forcibly confined in what amounted to a ghetto on the east side of the river.

An abandoned, ruined building in Mostar.

An abandoned, ruined building in Mostar.

In a City that previously saw past a person’s ethnicity, it was a drastic change to this place where neighbors were fighting neighbors, friends against friends, even cousins against cousins. Families were torn apart. The Mostar siege of 1993 and 1994 was terrible, and at times strange. The Croats laid heavy siege to the Bosniak side of town, sometimes blaring annoying music and propaganda speeches from loudspeakers. Bosniaks avoided venturing out during the day time, and were in constant fear of sniper fire. If people were killed on the street, their bodies were sometimes left to rot for months for fear that someone would be killed if they tried to recover them.

This fence marks the site that the city donated to Mostar’s Jewish families so they could build a Synagogue. The land was donated in recognition of the courageous work they did during the war as aid workers and intermediaries between the Croats and Bosniaks.

This fence marks the site that the city donated to Mostar’s Jewish families so they could build a Synagogue. The land was donated in recognition of the courageous work they did during the war as aid workers and intermediaries between the Croats and Bosniaks.

Nowhere in Mostar is damage from the war more evident than the East side of the Neretva river. We wandered past a park-turned-cemetery called the New Muslim Cemetery, where every grave holds someone who was killed during the siege in the 90s. The park was covered by trees, so it was relatively safe to venture out at night-time to bury soldiers and civilians killed by shells or sniper fire.

The New Muslim Cemetery, which used to be a park, now holds graves of soldiers and civilians killed in the war.

The New Muslim Cemetery, which used to be a park, now holds graves of soldiers and civilians killed in the war.

On the Bosniak side of Mostar, we wandered past abandoned buildings pockmarked with holes from bullets. It’s hard to believe the war ended 20 years ago when there are still so many visible scars on buildings. Just uphill from the New Muslim Cemetery stood this abandoned structure:

Further North, we ventured through the town’s hopping cafe scene where lots of young people were out smoking and drinking coffees. Looming high above the cafes was a building that had huge mortar holes in it. Seeing it was like getting kicked in the stomach; it just takes your breath away.

Huge holes from mortar fire. These holes are over 20 years old now.

Huge holes from mortar fire. These holes are over 20 years old now.

Why is there so much damage on the Bosniak side of the river? We learned that there are still so many ruins standing here because of some confusion over who owns what building. The Yugo Bank held mortgages on many of these properties before it went out of business, and no one wants to invest in any construction on these buildings until clear ownership is established. Until ownership gets figured out, many abandoned structures with giant mortar holes gouged in their walls tower above the coffee shops in this side of Mostar.

The juxtaposition of new buildings against old, condemned ones is enough to give a tourist whiplash. Here’s a new construction next to a building that needs demolished:

This building would've been on the front lines of the war. It sits right up against the Neretva River.

This building would’ve been on the front lines of the war. It sits right up against the Neretva River.

It’s hard to wrap your head around what the people of Mostar have been through. But they are rebuilding. New Mosques have been rebuilt all over the city:

A new Catholic Church named the Franciscan Church of Saints Peter and Paul was built in 1997:

Mostar's new Catholic Church

Mostar’s new Catholic Church

It feels like Mostar is slowly healing from the awful year in the 1990s, putting itself back together again.

Graffiti on a new building in Mostar.

Graffiti on a new building in Mostar.

Mostar’s Famous “Old Bridge”

Mostar's Old Bridge, spanning the Neretva River.

Mostar’s Old Bridge, spanning the Neretva River.

In spite of the terrible scars left in Mostar from the war, it is still a beautiful city. It’s situated in the gorgeous green Neretva river valley, surrounded by mountains. No landmark in Mostar is more beautiful or more loved by the city’s residents than the Old Bridge, spanning the Neretva river. Because the East side of Mostar is predominantly Muslim “Bosniak”, and the west side is mostly the Catholic “Croats”, the bridge is considered to be a powerful symbol of the point where East meets West, a metaphor that very different cultures and religions can live in peace together.

The view under the bridge to the cute row of shops on the East side of the river known as Coppersmiths' Street. It gets its name from the many vendors who sell hammered-copper decorations. You can also buy old things from the Yugoslav Army, like spent bullet and shell casings.

The view under the bridge to the cute row of shops on the East side of the river known as Coppersmiths’ Street. It gets its name from the many vendors who sell hammered-copper decorations. You can also buy old things from the Yugoslav Army, like spent bullet and shell casings.

A closer view of Coppersmiths' Street.

A closer view of Coppersmiths’ Street.

Sadly, the bridge did not escape the horrors of the war. It was repeatedly caught in the crossfire, then in November of 1993 the bridge was hit directly by a shell and collapsed into the Neretva river below. The river turned red after the collapse because of the color of the mortar used in between the stones; locals said the bridge was bleeding.

Kevin's out there in the center of the bridge, if you can spot him!

Kevin’s out there in the center of the bridge, if you can spot him!

After fighting ended, the bridge was rebuilt exactly the way it was before. The huge project was funded mostly by private donors (costing over $13 million!) and was overseen by UNESCO. They built the bridge using old-fashioned methods (wooden scaffolding and old iron hooks to fasten blocks together), and even went so far as to hand carve blocks from the same exact quarry used for the original bridge.

Beautiful buildings next to the Old Bridge.

Beautiful buildings next to the Old Bridge.

Finally, in July of 2004, the reconstruction of the Old Bridge was finished and opened to foot traffic once again.

Here's Kevin on the pedestrian-only bridge. Interestingly, we met a guy on the bridge from Missouri who was currently stationed over here in Sarajevo for the U.S. Army! Small world.

Here’s Kevin on the pedestrian-only bridge. Interestingly, we met a guy on the bridge from Missouri who was currently stationed over here in Sarajevo for the U.S. Army! Small world.

Fun fact: there is a Mostar diver’s club of folks who daringly jump from the bridge into the Neretva river 75 feet below! There was no one diving when we were in town because it was February, but it’s a big thing in the Summertime. Divers will solicit money from passersby until they get about 30 euro, then they’ll make the jump!

Eating and Drinking in Mostar

Hindin Han

Hindin Han Restaurant in Mostar.

Hindin Han Restaurant in Mostar.

By the time we reached Mostar, I was at hunger emergency level Orange. That is near crisis level, and comes with grumpiness, mood swings, and a big fat frown. Luckily, we wandered past Hindin Han, one of Mostar’s top reviewed restaurants. It’s located a very short walk from the Old Bridge and has a fun outdoor deck that looks down on the Neretva River. We lucked out with a warm, sunny February day and sat outside

Enjoying some warm February weather on the deck at Hindin Han!

Enjoying some warm February weather on the deck at Hindin Han!

We ordered a Balkan specialty that we’ve seen on menus in Croatia and Bosnia – Ćevapčići. It’s sort of like kebab, but the minced meat is instead shaped into small sausages then grilled. It was only like $3, but it came with TEN little sausages, all hiding under a delicious somun flatbread. It also came with fries which were sprinkled with what I’m prrrrrretty sure is knock-off Red Robin seasoning. Delicious.

Ćevapčići at Hindin Han. DELICIOUS.

Ćevapčići at Hindin Han. DELICIOUS.

We also ordered the dish recommended by our waiter called Sarajevsko Točendo. It was a veal cutlet stuffed with smoked meat and cheese, covered in a mushroom sauce. Because every steak deserves to be stuffed with cheese and more meat, right?

Sarajevsko Točendo at Hindin Han

Sarajevsko Točendo at Hindin Han

Bosnian Coffee

When in Bosnia, one must try Bosnian coffee. Sure, it might feel like you’re drinking battery acid. The bitterness of the incredibly strong coffee is only made worse if you oversweeten it with a whole sugar cube.

So what is Bosnian coffee, anyway? Similar to Turkish coffee (though definitely different – never call it Turkish coffee unless you want your barista to hate you), it’s unfiltered and strong. It’s made by pouring hot water over coffee grounds, and is served in a cute metal cup. The metal cup has a handle so you can pour it into your ceramic drinking cup once the grounds start to settle!

Bosnian Coffee!

Bosnian Coffee!

If you take your coffee with sugar, you’re supposed to put the sugar cube in your cup before pouring the coffee over it. As a bonus, it usually comes with a piece of Turkish delight!

Bosnian Coffee 101

Bosnian Coffee 101

We didn’t know it came with turkish delight, which is the sweetest thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. Had we known that, we might have skipped the Baklava:

Baklava with our Bosnian Coffee. TOO MUCH SUGAR.

Baklava with our Bosnian Coffee. TOO MUCH SUGAR.

I was so hopped up on sugar and caffeine that I couldn’t stand still! Luckily, Bosnia has a cute little bar known as the…

Black Dog Pub

Nothing helps you come down from a sugar/caffeine induced high like a pint of beer. We wandered over to Black Dog Pub, a little dive bar that serves locally-brewed Mostar beer. We enjoyed a couple beers:

A Hefeweisen and a Red Ale at Black Dog Pub, brewed locally in Mostar.

A Hefeweisen and a Red Ale at Black Dog Pub, brewed locally in Mostar.

The beers weren’t that great, but you go for the scenery. The pub sits right on the small Radobolja River, with a view of the Crooked Bridge.

The view of Mostar's Crooked Bridge from Black Dog Pub.

The view of Mostar’s Crooked Bridge from Black Dog Pub.

The Crooked Bridge is a miniature version of the much bigger Old Bridge. It was supposedly built to practice for the construction of the big bridge! It was damaged in the war, but wasn’t destroyed. It wasn’t until severe flooding in the late 90s that the bridge was destroyed and swept away. So the bridge in the photo above is a newer reconstruction. Hard times for bridges in Mostar.

A Stopover in Počitelj

Počitelj, a fun stopover en route to Mostar.

Počitelj, a fun stopover en route to Mostar.

If you’re driving to Mostar, it’s fun to make a quick stop in the tiny town of Počitelj. Since we were making our day trip in February, Počitelj was nearly deserted, but we hear that it’s a popular stop for tourist buses in the Summer. If it looks crowded, it’s skippable. But if you have the town all to yourself, it’s amazing.

A quick hike in Počitelj.

A quick hike in Počitelj.

The cute, nearly-vertical town of Počitelj is built right into the hillside. Getting to its most worth-visiting sight, the fortress on the top of the hill, is a bit of a hike up uneven cobblestone paths. Fair warning: these cobblestone paths would be deadly in the rain. We hiked up, passing an old hammam:

An old hammam (bathhouse) in Počitelj.

An old hammam (bathhouse) in Počitelj.

The fortress that looms high above Počitelj was built by a Hungarian King in the 15th Century, and used to help push the Ottomans out of the area for a brief time.

Here's the fortress behind Kevin.

Here’s the fortress behind Kevin.

There’s not a whole lot to see inside the Fortress – I think it’s used mostly as a hangout spot for teens in Počitelj now. But it’s worth the hike for the gorgeous views of the Neretva river valley.

The other sight in Počitelj is its Mosque. Unlike most Mosques in Mostar, this one is free to enter.

The view of Počitelj's Mosque from a window high up in the Fortress.

The view of Počitelj’s Mosque from a window high up in the Fortress.

How to Get to Mostar from Split

I would never make this trip without renting a car. It’s especially worth it if you’re not a solo traveler. Buses to Mostar run about $17/person each way, so you’re looking at round trip bus fees of almost $70 for two people. The buses also take 3-4 hours depending on the route, while driving takes less than 2.5 hours. If you take a bus to Mostar, it’s not worth making the trip unless you spend the night because it involves 6-8 hours round trip on a bus. If you drive, you can leave in the morning, have lunch in Mostar, and easily be back in Split in time for dinner.

Here we are in our Renault Compact Rental Car!

Here we are in our Renault Compact Rental Car!

We rented our car (an automatic) from Oryx. We recommend them because they don’t charge a fee to take the car across the border into another country. Many companies really ding you for this! Their rates were the lowest we could find; we booked directly through them, not a third-party website like Priceline/Expedia.

Look out for tractors on the road.

Look out for tractors on the road.

Here’s how our rental car costs broke down:

Cost (USD)
Compact Automatic Car with full insurance coverage $48/day*
Gas $30
Toll Roads $15
Parking in Mostar $5
Grand Total $98

*Manual cars are MUCH cheaper!

Beautiful views on the drive to Mostar.

Beautiful views on the drive to Mostar.

Ok, so we clearly spent a little more than the bus fees would’ve cost us, but we saved $25 by not staying in a hotel. Also, we rented the car for a second day (extra $48 plus $12 more dollars in gas) to visit nearby Krka national park. It’s damn near impossible to bus to Krka, especially in the winter. Save yourself some heartache and just rent a car while you’re in Croatia. Better yet, learn to drive a stick shift on hills before coming over. If you can parallel park a manual on a hill, you can handle Croatia and it’ll save you a ton of cash.

The sunset view on our drive back to Split.

The sunset view on our drive back to Split.

Traveler Tip: You’re legally required to have an International Driver’s License to drive in Bosnia. (There is currently no requirement for one in Croatia.) It’s easy to get an International License, just contact AAA to obtain one, it only costs $15. We did not have an International Driver’s License, which prrrrrobably would’ve been bad news if we’d been in an accident or had trouble at the border crossing.

We Want to Hear From You!

Beautiful Mostar

Beautiful Mostar

Have you visited any cities that have been through a major war? Which ones? I remember watching footage of the war in Bosnia in Middle School. Did walking around a place you had seen so much on the news seem as surreal to you as Mostar did to us?