Many apologies for not getting back to you sooner, both immediately after our trip--as we had planned--and for the several day delay in responding to your email! Immediately after we returned, we celebrated our middle son's 5th birthday; then school started for the older two boys; and I'm leaving tomorrow for a trip to Estonia... it's been very busy!
I can't tell you how much we adored Croatia, and the personal touches we found along the way meant so much. Firstly, thank you for the lovely bottle of wine that awaited us in Korcula. What a perfect way to end the day! It was wonderful. We really enjoyed meeting Diana in Split--she was so helpful and we felt an instant connection :) It's so hard to put into words all of the great feelings and memories we made throughout the country; we're just sorry we couldn't meet you there as well. By the way, I really want to say our guide in Split was wonderful, but Timea in Dubrovnik was absolutely a gem. If there is a way that she could be mentioned or given additional business I wouldn't hesitate at all to recommend her. We made our connections to Mljet without too much trouble; we fortunately found a cab that could take us to Polace from Pomena--though the most unfriendly person was the woman in the tourist office. We couldn't leave our luggage there but the friendly woman who ran the konoba next door let us leave our luggage there (of course we had lunch and even invited some new friends there too and they enjoyed a couple of bottles of wine there). I got into a minor bicycle accident on the road between veliko jezero and polace but I'm healing up fine.
Renting a car and driving from Zagreb down the 1 road (instead of the A1) to Plitvice was the way to go. We stopped for lunch in Slunj, which was gorgeous and the food was excellent. It was a great way to see a lot of the countryside. We found no problems at all in terms of a language barrier. Not to be annoying Americans but it was convenient to be able to get by mostly in English and when that didn't work, Russian--sprinkled with as much Croatian as I could possibly use--filled in fine (and people didn't seem to be too annoyed by that, either). Plitvice was stunning, as you know. We wandered around the top of the park where you don't have to buy a ticket on our first evening there, and when we returned to the hotel, our room was very comfortable and the desk clerk was so friendly. We hiked for nearly 5 hours the next morning (got there bright and early before the park filled up) and were amazed by all the beautiful sights to see. Driving further south we were solemnly aware of the impact of the war on the countryside as we drove through empty village after village down to Knin, where we stopped again for lunch and a quick tour of the fortress (can I say that driving the road up to the fortress was NOT for the faint of heart?!) We then went to Sibenik for the afternoon and for dinner, where we were able to get a reservation at Pelegrini. It was FANTASTIC! Great view, great food. We toured around the St. Lawrence monastery gardens and walked up to St. Michael fortress/St. Ana cemetery--amazing views over the countryside and down to the coast (and the islands right off the coast). We watched a MASSIVE yacht pull into harbor and could tell that Croatia is very popular for those living the Really Good Life, too :)
We made it to Split around 9pm but because it was a holiday finding parking was an absolute nightmare. Even the hotel's reserved parking spot was gone. Trying to get into the Perestil to get assistance with the parking was a significant challenge since their recommended temporary lot was completely full; and returning the car to the rental agency took almost an hour to navigate (our garmin REALLY wanted us to go for a swim.) We were glad to have the car so we could go to Solin but I would definitely advise ditching the car as soon as possible upon arrival to Split for future tourists as you are no doubt aware! The accomodations in the hotel Perestil were excellent, and the room was lovely--I was amazed to see you were able to help us secure the room recommended in the guidebook as the best in the hotel :) So thanks again for your thoughtfulness and your knowledge about the hotels/restaurants.
Diana's assistance in making the ferry was invaluable. It docked in Hvar and another island as well before arriving in Korcula. We had a tasty lunch at Adio Mare and a wonderful dinner at LD restaurant and enjoyed the olive oil tastings they offered there, with exceptional service. We rented bikes and rode out a ways, and found a nice place to go snorkeling for a while. By the way, when we were snorkeling in Mljet, I was thrilled to see so many pen shells growing--I had no idea they were so big!
Dubrovnik was a fascinating, wonderful city. Since my ankle was pretty messed up we took it easy the first night and went to the Taj Mahal Bosnian restaurant nearby--the food was tasty enough we ducked in a second time on our trip. We went to Nautika and the views were just amazing. (They were out of a couple of things on the menu but nevertheless the experience was fantastic). As I mentioned, the tour was fantastic. Timea directed us to a store off the Stradun for gifts (Medusa) where we found the shopkeeper to be very knowledgeable; she helped us pick out some souvenirs. The cable car was another good way to get a great view of the city and gain appreciation for its strategic location. We also went to the War Photo gallery; it is a sobering but important stop if anyone is interested in the history of the Balkans conflict.
Overall, my friends have been drooling about my photos and the stories we came back with. It would be extremely difficult to pick a favorite place or event. We really appreciated your assistance in lining up all of our accommodations. Now, the only question is what to do NEXT time we're able to come! :) I friended Secret Dalmatia on facebook and I'll continue to read your blog with interest.