Thank you for the invitation to share my impressions of our Secret Dalmatia excursion through Croatia. Molly and I have been reviewing our photographs from the journey. Though a picture cannot replicate the smells, the tastes, and the conversations that occurred, they do powerfully evoke the memories of the experience that you designed for us. Aside from the big "wow" of the major sites and cities we visited, it is typically the small, wondrous moments of discovery that conjure indelible impressions of place and people that we find ourselves recounting to others.
The itinerary you constructed for us in working with Bob Albus was excellent from beginning to end. As importantly, the driver/guide assigned to us, Toni Vranjic, provided context, humor and personal history that placed all that we experienced in high relief. He provided the highest altitude of service, always prepared to react quickly to our wants and needs, and skilled at making adjustments that greatly enhanced our enjoyment and comfort. Always mindful not to preempt the guides at the various sites, all of whom were excellent, Toni shared additional information and context from his direct experience that deepened our understanding and knowledge. We were in great hands.
The highlights are too many to recount. Great hotel experiences were well chosen and beautifully located, like the Esplanade in Zagreb that evoked the luxuries of the fabled Orient Express or the Palace Juditha in Split that looked over a beautiful piazza just beside the Diocletian Palace. The tour of historical sites was balanced with the wondrous natural sites: the dramatic Skocjan Caves, the flooding of Plitvice and enjoying the diversion from there to Krka. We saw ancient forts, beautiful vistas and perfect coastal towns. There were many other small joys: strolling through baroque Verazdin, walking though Zagreb to the Kaptol for beer on a rainy evening, lunch at the Cobbler's Bridge along the river in Ljubljana, and poking through the palace in Split. We enjoyed consuming peka and sampling local wine and grappa with resident Croatians. We gathered foods at the open market just outside Trogir and then assisted Tatjana Ciciliani in preparing and consuming a meal of those foods in her ancient home. We sipped coffee waiting for the ferry in the beautiful little port at Sucuraj. Who could forget the boat ride to Vis and Bisevo, the beautiful beaches, the grotto, and the minor urchins stings I received as a souvenir of snorkeling the the crystal water at Stiniva beach? We received an excellent primer on wine-making and the history of salt-making at Ston from the exuberant Maro Bartulovic (who also receives my vote for "best peka").
It was also about beginning to understand the complex history of Croatia -- the impact of the sweep of empires from the north and south and the struggle for independence. We were witness to the sobering displays of the Homeland War at the military museum at Karlovac, a quick stop that Toni arranged on the basis of our questions, and the war museum on Mt. Srd above Dubrovnik, both underscored by the personal experiences and the obvious national pride of many whom we met.
Secret Dalmatia's response to the very few issues that inevitably arise on such an extended trip was pretty phenomenal. From a rained-out outdoor venue for which there were quickly arranged and excellent alternatives, to dealing rapidly and efficiently with a hotel room problem, the coordination among Toni, Mirna and Allan was superb.
The mix of experiences was spot-on and left no room for boredom. From my own personal perspective, perhaps fewer hours devoted to guided tours would have provided more unstructured time to wander and connect with locals. Perhaps one less peka meal would have permitted a broader sampling of local fare. But these are very minor compared to the overall impression of an outstanding tour, beautifully planned and executed. Our Secret Dalmatia tour was excellent from beginning to end, and we are grateful for all of your efforts to make it so.
All the best,