Split, Croatia.

Our time in Novalja left us feeling a bit worn out and the 6 hour bus ride to the Croatian city of Split was the last thing we needed. Crowded, stuffy and hot the bus made it’s way down the Dalmatian Coast stopping occasionally for the drivers to have a smoko.

While there were some amazing views to be seen along the coast like water seemingly clearer than glass, jet black rocks against the bright blue sea, and families enjoying the small coves and beaches, time practically stood still.

The harbour front with Diocletian's palace in the background.

The harbour front with Diocletian’s palace in the background.

When we did arrive in Split, it was hot and sticky but it was teeming with thousands of people in transit to other Croatian islands. There were tourists and travellers everywhere!

The city of Split was almost entirely contained within the walls of Diocletian’s Palace until the 1960’s when the socialist federations of Yugoslavia experienced huge economic growth. Diocletian, a Roman emperor from 286 to 305AD, built himself a rather lovely holiday palace on the water which became the centre of Split.

Split’s harbour is full of ferries, cruise ships and super yachts, which at times made it feel like a place to ‘be seen’, but not overly pretentious.

Part of Split harbour.

Part of Split harbour.

By chance we were able to catch up with our lovely friend Amanda and her travelling buddy, Erin. We spent our last day in the city with them and walked to a beautiful beach where the locals enjoyed cooling themselves during the 37 degree day!

Novalja, Croatia.

The small beach in front of our apartment.

The small beach in front of our apartment.

Novalja has been thought of as Croatia’s answer to Ibiza. It took us 5 hours to reach Novalja by bus from Zagreb and when we arrived at the bus terminal, it was chaos.

At first it was a visual assault. Lots of guys with shirts off darting on and off buses to different parts of town. Then, as our ears became accustomed to the buzz of the bus terminal, we realised that almost every person in the entire bus terminal was English.

We were visiting Novalja for Hideout festival that is held at the four main clubs on Zrce beach. In short, it was a three day, 72 hour, non stop party. The day time was for pool parties and the evenings were spent dancing and looking out to the beach. The most impressive time of the festival was watching the sun come up and looking at the surreal and barren landscape of the beach, with the soaring cliffs of Croatia’s mainland coastline in the distance.

We rented an apartment about 15 minute walk from the centre of Novalja which was a lovely little base for our time there. It was a relief to finally have an apartment to stay in so that we could spread out and relax. The view wasn’t bad either!

Given the sheer volume of foreigners descending on the Island, we wonder what the locals thought of the festival. There were lots of restaurants and bars in the town, as well as countless shops selling slices of pizza. These piping hot pizza slices were sold almost 24/7 along the main street and being cheap and tasty, we ate our fair share!

We enjoyed our time in Novalja and think that spending more time island hopping in Croatia would be absolutely amazing. While the island of Pag and Novalja were quite commercial, this isn’t the case everywhere.

Zagreb, Croatia.

Zagreb didn’t fall under our ‘top places to see’ category, nor could it be found on our ‘might be interesting’ list. Instead it was relegated to ‘stop over’ on our way to the Croatian island of Pag.

What we thought would be a sleepy old town was, in fact, a small but beautiful city.

Zagreb park at night.

Zagreb park at night.

The city of Zagreb has all of the quintessential elements of a European city: picturesque surroundings of mountains, forests and a river; town square with attractive buildings and a daily market where people sell their fresh produce.

We happened to arrive in Croatia on the eve of their ascension to the European Union, which meant that there were festivities and celebrations on July 1st. It was clear that the city’s usual rhythms were interrupted as there were roads blocked off and barely a car to be seen!

We spent an afternoon on a bike tour of Zagreb where our guide, Alida, was able to show us around both the old town and New Zagreb. Like always, we are amazed at the history that surrounds the places we have visited.

Roof tiles showing the national symbols of Croatia, located in the parliament square.

Roof tiles showing the national symbols of Croatia, located in the parliament square.

Istanbul, Turkey.

How can one describe Istanbul? The city that sprawls across three peninsulas, two continents, two empires and two religions? What words could possibly give justice to the things this city has seen.

When we arrived at Istanbul airport in the early evening, the bus ride to town was our first glimpse of the enormous city. As the sun went down, we could see the valleys of houses around the water light up with brilliant beams of the pink and orange sunlight. Alongside the slow bus, cars sped past in a split second, overtaking here, there and everywhere. If there was one thing that I could count on at that moment, it was that this city moves at a lightening pace.

We found Sulthanahmet Square to be full of tourists and Istanbullu’s alike, with restaurants and souvenir stores stretching for as far as the eye could see. It wasn’t exactly how I had imagined it (if there were any more flashing neon lights I could have had a seizure) but so often the expectations you hold things to are too lofty for reason.

View from Galata tower. Left to right: Aya Sofia, Blue Mosque, New Mosque.

View from Galata tower. Left to right: Aya Sofia, Blue Mosque, New Mosque.

We visited the Galata Tower to take in a spectacular view of Istanbul from above and felt the salty sea winds from the Bosphorus along the foreshore of Eminiou, where the phalanx of fishermen stood patiently for a catch. The Aya Sofia took our breath away as we looked at Islamic inscriptions alongside Catholic mosaics and the scars that transformation has left this iconic building with.

Blue Mosque from the square

Blue Mosque from the square

Inside Aya Sofia.

Inside Aya Sofia.

Even though Istanbul’s monuments have withstood tests of time, much of the city has been shaken in recent times with the protests in Taksim Square. In hindsight, it is lucky we visited at a brief period of quiet as demonstrations and protests have once again escalated. We walked from Taksim Square down Istikal street (a main shopping thoroughfare) and saw reporters holding gas masks as well as a police water cannon waiting patiently. Even though things felt normal as we browsed the shops, I guess it could have changed at any moment.

We liked Istanbul and the exciting energy it has, we loved the food (oh man did we ever…), the people were friendly and hospitable. The clash of popular culture and conservative religious values was one element of the city that was hard to adjust to and I wonder if the generations of travellers before us encountered this as well.

We have found that the only way to describe Istanbul is: ‘endlessly fascinating’.

Spices at the spice market.

Spices at the spice market.

Feel free to comment on my ‘Istanbul, Turkey.’ post below! I would love to know what you thought of the city of Istanbul or your own experiences there!

Mykonos, Greece.

We caught the ferry from Santorini to Mykonos because that’s apparently what you’re meant to do between the islands. We were waiting at the port for our ferry to arrive and when it did, my heart sank. It was dwarfed by the huge ferries and looked a little old.

Getting on the ferry was an experience in itself, with crew stacking bags on top of one another in a game of luggage Jenga while they shouted “free seating” at those looking at their tickets with puzzled faces. We sat in the middle section of the lower deck and settled in for our two hour ferry ride.

Now I’m not familiar with traveling by water over long distances, but this one has turned me off ferry travel completely. Not only was the weather ‘inclement’ but the waves were as tall as I am! We bounced and bounded across the water in our fun-sized ferry, every so often being thumped by a wave to which most passengers would gasp or squeal. The crew put their sea legs to good use by offering sick bags to half the passengers.

Jez and I tried to distract ourselves from the seasick noises and smells with the mini-tv that was playing an episode of what looked like ‘Extreme Deep Sea Fishing Adventures’ complete with a montage of boats being swamped by monster waves. Surprisingly, this did not help!

When we arrived at Mykonos a good two and a half hours late, we met with the owner of the hotel who was collecting us from the boat. “Oh yeah,” he said, “this boat is always late. But your crossing wasn’t so bad, I don’t see any ambulances around. There were two last week!”.

Mykonos town

Mykonos town

We immediately decided that renting a quad bike was the thing to do for our first day on the island. We zoomed around the island, about the same size as Santorini, to scope out the beaches we would want to return to. There were beautiful sandy beaches that we earmarked for the next few days, but we really wanted to spend time at at Paradise and Super Paradise beaches.

Beautiful bays.

Beautiful bays.

Our Friday night we spent at Paradise club (on Paradise beach) which was hosting a Ministry of Sound night. We met a few Aussies there and danced the night away under an almost-full moon and by it’s reflection on the water. We polished off the night with a tasty gyro (yeeros kebab) – we felt it was the right thing to do!

View from the hotel!

View from the hotel!

Mykonos definitely had more nightlife and things to do than Santorini but we loved the relaxed and laid-back feel of the Islands.

Santorini, Greece.

The white buildings and blue roofed churches are symbols of the Greek Islands, splashed on websites, screen savers, posters, everywhere!

I thought that it would lessen the impact when we saw them in real life, but it didn’t.

The caldera view at sunset

The caldera view at sunset

At night!

At night!

We stayed a couple of minutes from the main square of Thira, the main town on Santorini. This was a perfect location for our stay because it was calm, close to the bus station (to get to the beach) and most importantly away from the millions of tourists! I couldn’t believe just how busy this little town was!

We spent two perfect days at the black pebbled beaches of Kamari and Perissa, gazing out into the bright blue water. The water was crystal clear and the perfect temperature for a quick cool down before lying like lizards again.

We had an amazing meal at a restaurant near our place, Fix beer and all, while watching the sunset over the Caldera. Who knew that such an ordinary thing could be so beautiful? My favourite time was when the sun looks a strange, almost alien, orange colour. We happily celebrated the sun going down with cocktails!

Sunset cocktails = fun!!!

Sunset cocktails = fun!!!

On our last day in Santorini we hired a quad bike to see the rest of the Island. Jez was a great pilot while I did some backseat navigating. We zoomed up and down small winding paths to hidden beaches as well as the breathtaking view from the highest point where you could see all corners of the island.

Quad bike fun!

Quad bike fun!