A Little Travel Memory … That Tree Has Something to Say

Walking the wooden boardwalks around Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia I looked up and saw this dead tree with a very clear thought bubble  painted across the sky by mother nature; like something out of a comic book.

I think the tree has something to say

What would a tree say? Even more pointedly, what would a dead tree say on a beautifully sunny day with a bright blue sky like that as a backdrop for the conversation?

This is a question that my bestie Jenn and I chatted about for several minutes from the wooden boardwalk snaking through the pretty waters of Plitvice. Travel has made me more observant that I ever was before I left—I find myself really looking at each new place and experience for the elements and parts that make the experience a whole.

Which is the reason I noticed this tree in the first place. My friend Jenn and I both had our cameras with fully charged batteries and empty memory cards and we tasked ourselves with taking heaps of time on our walk through the National Park to photograph the nature and the creatures we found along the way. It can be easy to get overwhelmed by too much sightseeing on my travels, so tasking myself with new assignments provides myself with an interesting way to engage with a new place.

And sometimes you get moments like this, my best friend Jenn and I staring at a tree and wondering what that tree has seen over the years.

So, what would this tree say? Any ideas? :)

Mulberries Stains from Eating

A Little Travel Memory … Foraging for Your Food, Mulberry Style

Spotting a huge mulberry tree on the side of the road after hours (okay, barely two hours really) of biking uphill read like salvation – like a thirsty man in the desert spotting a mirage this seemed too good to be true. It was hot, I was sick and forced to pull over frequently during the bike ride and the last steep hike to the top of the Bribirska Glavica archaeological ruins outside of Krka National Park in Croatia were just no longer worth the exertion. At least not when the alternative was foraging for perfectly ripened berries on a towering mulberry tree offering sweet treats, shade, and more importantly an excuse to stay behind while my two traveling companions hiked the last 20 minutes.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="655"]So Juicy and Delicious Juicy and delicious mulberries fresh from the tree in rural Croatia.[/caption]

I can’t begin to tell you about the archaeological site but I can share that mulberries are softer than a blackberry (though that’s what they most closely resemble) and about ten times as naturally sweet. No tart puckering no matter how under-ripe and just picking a berry softly from the tree sends the sticky purple stains running down your fingers!

Quick Travel Tips: Picking Berries (and other fruit from the side of the road)

Is it safe?: Depends on what you’re eating! But it can be great fun on a bike ride or hike to forage for berries as a break if you spot some on the side of the road…just beware of other people’s property, pesticides, and that they’re edible!
How do you know? Ask a local. Our guide hiking in the Himalayas pointed out a delightfully mild orange berry – once I knew they were edible I stopped to pick them whenever I needed a break.
When in doubt: Don’t eat it. The mulberries were pretty obvious but err on the side of caution if you can’t actually identify the food.

Visting Plitvice Lakes

A Little Beauty… Visiting the Waterfalls of Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia is one of those places that absolutely and totally lives up to its hype—it is stunning. Just stunning. When I visited there, my Croatia Lonely Planet at the time used a photo of this UNESCO World Heritage site as the main image to promote tourism to Croatia. It’s changed now, but at the time of my first visit to Croatia, the country was only just entering the public mind and the captivating blue waterfalls of Plitvice were enough to compel most curious travelers to at least consider visiting Croatia.

But Plitvice Lakes was just the start of the reasons I wanted to backpack the country. Croatia boasts miles of coastline, other gorgeous waterfalls like Krka National Park, and the stunning city of Dubrovnik. Truth be told, after skimming images of Plitvice Lakes, I didn’t even need the nitty-gritty travel planning details to know that I was adding Croatia to my round the world route, and I knew for sure that the country’s gorgeous waterfalls would be a highlight of my time there.

Plitvice lakes national park in Croatia Guide

Getting to Plitvice Lakes National Park

The bus from Krka National Park dropped us off in the middle of dense and verdant forest—what a change from the gray and rocky coastline! It shocked my senses to find myself in the middle of such lush forest environment after weeks on an island near split soaking in the coastal waters and sunshine. The last time I had hiked in a forested area was traveling through Nepal a month earlier when my cousin and I trekked in the Annapurna range.

The bus dropped us two kilometers from our guesthouse, but we were saved the hike by our kind guesthouse owner at Villa Jezerka—which is truly one of the best guesthouses in Plitvice and comes highly, highly recommneded. The owner zipped up to the curb just as the bus pulled away. We had taken several cramped buses all day, so it was a relief to drop our bags at the guesthouse and then frolic through the forest for a bit before dinner.

Yes, I said frolic.

With a bit of fresh, cool forest air cleaning out our lungs, we all slept soundly. Visiting Plitvice is a trip into nature before you even arrive, and part of why we slept so well was due to the peaceful town and quiet atmosphere.

Exploring the National Park

The next morning, my friends and I packed healthy snacks we had snagged at the store so that we could bring our own lunch into the National Park. As a vegetarian traveler, preparing my own food is not only easier, but cheaper, too. Plitvice is larger than Krka, so we packed a hearty lunch: hard boiled eggs, bread, cheese, and an apple.

With our lunches stowed in daypacks, and with a bit of an adventurous skip in our step, we hiked to the entrance to the park on foot.

And we nearly got had by scalpers at the entrance. The scammers surrounded my cousin and pushed me and Jenn to the fringes while they tried to pressure her into buying a park ticket. Each one shared a sob story and a reason we should buy their ticket.

My cousin was overwhelmed—they had isolated her and bombarded her senses with too much information. But Jenn and I shook our heads when she looked at us with a questioning look. It didn’t feel right and we were all feeling hemmed in by their tactics, so Jenn and I grabbed my cousin’s arm, pulling her from their circle and refusing to make eye contact or respond to the scammers.

Quick Tip: The only way past the scammers at the Plitvice Lakes park entrance was to completely ignore the scalpers until we were safely ensconced in the ticket office. 

turquoise waterfalls at Plitvice
Gorgeous waterfalls and turquoise waters wait around every bend in the path.

A Croatian tree with a thought bubble!
Doesn’t it look like the tree has a thought bubble?

A pretty path that hugs a stunning blue lake at Plitvice National Park
A pretty path hugged this a stunning blue lake in Plitvice National Park.

Turquoise waters so unreal - one of my favorite plitvice images!
Turquoise waters so unreal. I can’t even. This is one of my favorite plitvice images!

Once safely inside, we breathed deeply and calmed down. It’s nerve-wracking when they bombard with stories while entering your personal space. The ticket lady, however, was great. She helped us pick the four- to six-hour loop around the park, which was advertised as mildly strenuous but with beautiful viewpoints.

Like Krka, boardwalks zig-zag throughout the entire park as a way to minimize the potential negative impact of the park’s growing tourism industry. Also like Krka, tourists fill every inch of the National Park during the summer months. But for good reason.

Plitvice Lakes is indescribably pretty.

Each lake and waterfall dotting the park is distinctly different in color than the others because the living karst rocks and travertine dams shift and change.

Blindingly brilliant blue hues filled our walk. Vivid green plant-life and deep, blue-gray waters contrasted with azure lakes and turquoise waterfalls shimmering in the sunshine.

view of several of the lakes and sets of watefalls

My bestie Jenn and I pause for a snapshot to remember our time!

summer flowers in Croatia

Croatia waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park

spontaneous hugging on the boardwalks

Shannon in front of one of the larger waterfalls!

At the end of the hike, which was mostly flat for hours, the path changed abruptly. We took a strenuous uphill ascent to the top of the park, and the views proved beyond worthwhile. One side of the peak contained a view over the largest waterfall in Plitvice Lakes. The other side provided dramatic views of several of the lakes in succession. All of the shots that look down on the lakes from above are a result of putting in the hard work of hiking to the top!

Since we were traveling other areas of Croatia, it was a long journey into the center of Croatia. It’s far removed from the beaches and coastline that many prioritize when visiting Croatia, but it’s stunning. When we decided to take the time to visit, we didn’t know if it was worth visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park. A lot of places on this planet are pretty, but should you take the three-day break from beaches and sunshine to visit?

A resounding yes.

We walked back to our guesthouse in a daze after such a fun and pretty day. We made a pit-stop for ice cream and then ate it silently as we processed the brain overload of such blatantly gorgeous scenery.

https://youtu.be/cuQx-XM-y0Q

Quick Tips: Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Explore the stunning turquoise lakes and waterfalls at #Plitvice Lakes National Park in #Croatia. One of the prettiest places in Europe in every season, #Plitvice offers travelers a chance to enjoy the region's most stunning beauty.   #TravelTips #TravelGuide #Wanderlust #Bucketlist #Europe

Best guesthouse in Plitvice Lakes National Park: Most travelers will stay in Jezerce, which is 2km from the park. Of those many places there, Villa Jezerka is a great place for anyone visiting the area on a budget. They had a triple room, which sealed the deal for us, along with the free wifi and the assurance that we could walk to the park entrance. If you’re more of a mid-range traveler, B&B Millennium was our runner-up choice and just gorgeous.

If you’re traveling to Croatia, my free online Croatia Travel Guide shares more advice and firsthand tips!


Reading: Still reading Out of Africa by Karen Blixen.

Listening to: Death Cab for Cutie

Status: My friend Jenn is leaving the trip to return to Los Angeles. Sad face.

daytrip to ruins outside of Skradin, Croatia

A Little Misadventure… Biking to Bribirska Glavica from Skradin, Croatia

Traveling is one of those activities that trains you to make the best of any situation. And that’s what happened when my friends and I took a 20 kilometer bike ride to visit a set of ruins outside of Skradin, Croatia. In this case, what started as an outdoorsy day of adventure, history, and exploration turned into a misadventure as I battled with a case of travelers’ diarrhea. And while I used to find talking of these things mega embarrassing, that has long since passed. Long-term travel means contending with getting sick on the road. And travel in developing countries even more so. While Croatia is a long ways from the tiny towns in Laos where I faced down the worst sickness of my life, there are no guarantees anywhere in life.

Biking out to  Bribirska Glavica from Skradin.

bike day trip from Skradin

Skradin is a small Croatian town and one visited for a single purpose, to visit Krka National Park. Beyond the park — which is stunning and worth visiting — the only other thing you can possibly do to pass time in Skradin is visiting Bribirska Glavica, a set of archeological ruins from 1st century AD perched on a 300 meter high plateau.

Our hotel confirmed the ruins are easy to find and a mere 10 kilometers in each direction, which sound liked good fun from the comfort of our cozy hotel the night before. But five kilometers into the bike ride, that’s when I knew I had a problem that would not be easily fixed in on rural backroads in Croatia. And it didn’t help that the road created a slow but consistent slope for the entire kilometers — difficult on a good day, but pure torment when things internally aren’t flowing well.

The strenuous ride was made all the harder at the 45 minute mark when I indicated that I needed to hide behind the bushes. We had passed neat rows of quaint cottages and pretty farm houses, but we had entered a stretch of farmland and trees.  It took longer than expected to make the 10 kilometer ride once I needed to stop every 10 minutes.

And, of course, it didn’t help that we had no clue how to find the ruins. The man who rented us the bikes gave us cryptic directions in poor English. When we pressed for a hand-drawn map or further directions, he gave us a few careless hand waves to indicate that we should head west out of town. That meant that as we progressed slowly uphill toward the ruins, a refrain of doubt and uncertainty also played in my head.

At one point, my cousin and Jenn waved down two young, excited kids who had just exited their school bus. They were ecstatic and giggly to talk to us travelers so far from the tourist trail. When the giggles subsided, they confirmed that we were, in fact, headed in the right direction.

Eventually, the ruins appear and there is small signage to indicate the path to the top of the plateau. The entire site is poorly maintained, but the ruins have an interesting history. This spot was home to the most famous and noble princes during past centuries. While little remains, the ruins and foundations represent 2,000+ years of Croatian history and through countless time periods: Illyrian, Roman, Medieval, and Venetian. Plus, the views over the valley are vast and sweeping according to my cousin and Jenn.

Views of Croatia from Bribirska Glavica, a set of ruins near Skradin.

biking daytrip from Skradin

ripe mulberries on a tree

croatia skradin day trip

juicy fresh-picked mulberries

a handful of mulberries

krka river

I don’t actually know what it looks like from the top because the prospect of hiking uphill for 300 meters to was unappealing considering the state of my stomach. We parked our bikes under a huge old mulberry tree, and I decided to camp out in that spot while my cousin and friend ventured onward to the site. It was also fun to sit and snack on the fresh, ripe mulberries while reading under the shady tree.

The illness had passed by the time my friends returned, and we all enjoyed the return bike ride much more. It was cooler in the late afternoon, and we coasted downhill the entire way. By the end, we were sweaty and hot and ready for a dip in the cool waters near Skradin. We found a small sandy beach and took a refreshingly brisk — and by that I mean freezing cold! — dip in the Krka river. Illness aside, it made for a fun way to spend an extra day in Skradin.

[box]Heading to Croatia? My free online Travel Guide Croatia offers all of my firsthand tips and advice from my travels through the country.[/box]

A Little Daytrip… Visiting Croatia’s Truly Beautiful Krka National Park

Summer in Croatia is beautiful. It’s exactly the weather you wish for when planning a vacation. We had a rough travel day getting from to Skradin from our tiny town on an island off the coast of Split. It involved confusion with the train, a packed bus ride, and we missed the final bus into town and paid for a taxi to take us to our hotel, the very lovely Villa Marija.

Skradinski Buk waterfall in Krka National Park
The main waterfall in Krka National Park: Skradinski Buk.

After a good sleep, I was the first up and ran. I’m a “morning person,” as they say. My internal clock sets to sunrise. Here in Croatia, that’s 7:00 am on the dot. In Nepal, I woke with the sun at 5:30am. It makes for a nice start to the day. I enjoy waking early while everyone dozes, I make tea, enjoy bread and cheese, and I don’t have to talk to a single soul. On a round the world trip, sometimes it’s these quiet, alone hours that are cherished and lovely.

Plus, I had extra hours to plan and plot for our hike through Krka National Park. Puffy cotton-ball clouds filled the sky and the sun baked the landscape warm. In short, my Florida-girl self considered it the perfect hiking day.

By 8:30 am, my cousin and friend Jenn had started moving, so it was go-time to eat and leave for the hike. Jenn and I had hiked together for years while we lived in Los Angeles, and my cousin and I hiked together in Nepal’s Himalayas. Having talked to other travelers in Italy, we had heard the hiking in Croatia is gorgeous. And in anticipation of our full day of hiking, we prepared packable snacks: bread, cheese, and tomato sandwiches, with an apple each.

ferry to Krka National Park
Views from the ferry en route to Krka National Park.

One of the many waterfalls along Krka River
Pretty, pretty waterfalls in Krka.

krka waterfall
At every turn there are new vistas with walls of waterfalls.

calcium carbonate in krka waterfall
The calcium carbonate in creates that class turquoise-green that makes Krka’s waterfalls so pretty.

The ferry from Skradin to the National Park entrance was included in our ticket price and was a lovely 20 minute ride upstream and across the Krka river. The nature and wildlife started right when we left port; we passed a happy family of swans. Birds soared over head. Everyone was happy for the lovely weather.

As we entered the park and grabbed a map, we were all surprised to learn that it the entire circuit takes just two hours, and the park has installed wooden boardwalks along the route. This is great for accessibility, but it’s not what we had anticipated after having chatted with others. We even asked at the information booth and thoroughly stumped the woman, who reiterated what the map indicated—the park has a lower boardwalk route around the falls and an upper track near the monastery. Visitors are not allowed to take off from the boardwalks and actually hike.

That wasn’t the plan, and we were all disappointed to discover we had to stay on a set tourist course around the park that took in all sides of Skradinski Buk, the largest and famous falls. That said, as we started out, we all lost ourselves in the sheer beauty. The boardwalk laces around seven stunning falls. The Krka River is powerful that starts in Slovenia and runs through Croatia, making falls at this part of Central Croatia.

Intriguingly, the waterfalls never look the same on any given day. The falls flow over calcium-carbonate rocks, which shift and change in color. Some days the water turns stunning shades of brilliant blue and turquoise. Other days, like the day we were there, the waterfalls appear through patches of brilliant greens—every shade of green imaginable!

Because we had our launch and extra snacks packed, the three of us took our time walking around the park. The tour groups plodded past. The gaggles of teenagers on field-trips skipped by quickly. And the three of us fanned out to snap pictures of the metallic blue dragonflies. We found a riot of colors in the bugs, insects, and wildlife around the boardwalks. Anything interesting, we were game for photographing it.

blue dragonfly

frog

dragonflies mating

waterfalls

As the day progressed, we lost the sunshine. It rained a bit, and many people left the National Park. But we are not easily deterred. We stripped off our hiking boots—they were completely unnecessary, we could have walked the park in flip-flops—and waded through the swimming area for more photos, this time of us in with the pretty waterfall.

And there is just nothing like a nice fellow traveler willing to commit to the shot. We met a fellow American who had stripped down to his trunks so he could capture great shots of his daughters near the falls. He took this awesomely-framed shot of the three of us, which is one of the few that we have from our time traveling together! Both Jenn and my cousin were leaving my round the world trip, so I am happy to have this fun and beautiful reminder.

the three amigos

Krka National Park

The rain was light and passed quickly. We enjoyed snacks at the picnic tables and then ran to the entrance to catch the hourly ferry back to Skradin. The day turned out differently than we had hoped, but visiting the gorgeous waterfalls at Krka National Park was a clear highlight no matter. And later, we would find a similar situation at the beautiful Plitvice Lakes.

Free Croatia Travel Guide

If you’re planning a trip to Croatia, use this free collection of tips and resources from my time traveling through the region, as well as advice compiled from ALA readers!

Planning a trip to Croatia? Use the free Croatia Travel Guide for my personal tips and advice about what to see and do.

A Little Adventure… Overcoming Language Difficulties to Explore Milna, Croatia

When I first imagined renting a cottage on an island of the coast of Croatia, I had visions of sparkling waters, warm sunshine, and a quaint village. My cousin, friend, and I arrived in Croatia after a long travel day on the ferry from Italy to Split, Croatia, then navigated days of heavy rains, and now we’ve had a few sunny days and explored. And Milna is different than I expected. It’s a touristy hub for part of the, and then it transforms into a sleepy village by mid-afternoon.

boats in milna habor croatia

Small cruise ships pull into the harbor by late morning and a few dozen tourists disembark. They spread through the town like a colony of ants, converging on the single strip of shops along the harbor. And during that time, it’s a crush of people and hard go about daily life. But nobody stays long. This is a cruise port and has few other tourist facilities. Only by renting our little cottage could we see an alternate side to Milna, Croatia. Once the cruise ships motor out of the harbor, an eerie and quiet peace settles over the town. Each evening, I would stroll along the harbor, eat ice cream, and chat with any locals who happened past my spot.

But mostly, everyone just passed by with a steady stream of Croatian conversation between them. English is not a given in Milna, nor in all of Croatia. When I would later travel the rest of Croatia, I noticed that the older generation in particular hasn’t taken on English as the tourism language. Or perhaps there is no need since the cruise ship tourists are so fleeting.

According to Magda, the hair stylist in Milna (she gave me a fantastic haircut), the coming generation of kids learn English in school, but that is only a recent development.

One of the funniest interactions of the trip happened on my very first day in town, when the rains drenched the town and my cousin, Jenn, and I popped into the local pizza parlor for a quick lunch. We were all eager to learn basic pleasantries in Croatian as a way to ease the communications with the locals and make the trip more enjoyable. It was our first day in Croatia, and as the waiter served our food, we thanked him in English, and then ask him how to say, “thank you” in Croatian. We hadn’t bought a guidebook yet, so we didn’t have a single word between the three of us.

We confused the server with our question, so he was puzzled and asked us to repeat the question.

In response to our repetition, he told us something along the lines of “Žao mi je,” with a bit more after it.

We dutifully repeated the phrase when he said it again. This went on a few times, and we always repeated it. We were quite pleased with ourselves.

Then as we paid at the register, we busted out our new phrase when a different man handed us our change.

And he burst into laughter. Gales of laughter. Great eye-crinkling and tear-inducing laughter.

We repeated the phrase and asked him what it meant.

Delighted, he said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

For the briefest second we were confused, and then we joined the guffaws. The poor waiter hadn’t understood a single word we were saying! Then he must have been completely confused when we started repeating him in Hrvatski (Croatian).

As we all recovered from the side-splitting laughs, the cashier informed that a simple hvala would take care of our future thanking needs.

The language difficulties were very real, and while they added fun, we were also ready to relax and enjoy sunshine — which is why we traveled to this tiny island in the first place!

flower

Things to Do in Milna, Croatia on Brač Island

The weather cooperated and rewarded us with clear skies and warm, fresh air. Our Croatia guidebook covered few things forBrač Island, so although we knew it would come in handy on mainland Croatia, we decided to ask the locals for advice on what to see and do. With their help, spent a day exploring. We walk to a nearby beach, visited the cemetery, and also spent time visiting the historic and older parts of Milna.

The Beach

Just a 30 minute walk from Milna’s harbor is a secluded beach area located on the other side of the bay. Jenn loves laying out and when she saw sunshine through our window, we knew it was the perfect beach day. I usually hide from the sun, so I wore a coverup over my swimsuit and lathered on sunscreen. We gathered our books and set out for the easy walk to the beach.

The water was a fantastic shade of blue and the Adriatic sparkled in the beating sunlight. Brač Island is pretty and well located, with coastline and ocean views on one side, and coastline and city views on the other side. We loved the beach spot the locals had recommended. We found a small inlet from the road and it had a huge slanted rock gently dipping into the ocean. With few others in sight, we spread out and soaked in the much-welcomed sunshine and vitamin D.

brac island croatia

beach on brac island

The Cemetery

While walking to the beach, we passed a beautiful cemetery. It’s placed on the hillside that overlooks the harbor, allowing the city’s ancestors to watch over their descendants. It’s also one of the higher spots in the area and would surely make a beautiful and tranquil place to watch sunset over the harbor.

The cemetery is over 200 hundred years old — we found a gravestone dated 1817! Cemeteries provide insight on smaller communities and often reveal everything from the dominant religion to the the language. They can also reveal periods of famine, art trends, and more. This cemetery is small, but with many pretty and tended gravestones to respectfully observe.

We puttered around and enjoyed the serene setting with fresh air and sunshine and views of the town.

cemetery milna croatia

Milna Harbor

The row of shops and bobbing boats in Milna harbor is about as far as most tourists venture. And it’s understandable — the harbor is surely the area most built for tourism. We sampled all of the restaurants during our week on the island, and we most loved hanging out at Cafe Bar Mille Naves and we all craved pizza, so we made a habit of eating at Pizzeria Slika.

There are many high-end seafood restaurants along the water and harbor and they are similar in price and quality. Your best bet is to walk along and find one with open booths outside so that you can enjoy the fresh breezes and harbor views.

milna harbor

Milna harbor sunset

As our time drew to a close, the three of upped our outings to the ice cream shop. His gelato is tasty and provided a lovely reminder of our past weeks traveling in Italy. We would venture deeper into Croatia to visit Plitvice National Park and Krka’s gorgeous waterfalls, and we all knew we would miss our quiet week on one of Croatia’s many coastal islands.


Friends and family: Check your mailboxes, I postcarded a lot of people from Bosnia, so you should have one arriving any day now.

[box]Planning a trip to Croatia? Use my free Travel Guide Croatia is for insider’s advice and my first-hand research from backpacking Croatia, as well as advice from A Little Adrift readers about their favorite spots too![/box]

A Little Pampering… DIY Manis, Pedis, and a Haircut to Beat the Rain

After eight months of traveling the world, this trip is taking a toll. It’s a mental toll for sure, but physically too. Over the months, I’ve carried small bottles of nail polish and other small luxury items. But with six days in a rental cottage on a Croatian island in the middle of the Adriatic, it’s time for pampering.

And even though Jenn joined the trip just two weeks ago, she is always down for a girly day and greeted the idea with great enthusiasm. It’s been good fun to have a close friend on the trip. We’ve not seen each other since I left Los Angeles eight months earlier. I’ve missed having friends around. And so our girly day was about more than grooming, it was also about making the best of the rainy days to still bond and have fun while I had a friend visiting me on my round the world trip. And so we went all out with home-made manicures and pedicures using things from nature, and a haircut at the local salon on the island.

turquoise waters of Adriatic

The Haircut

In the tiny town of Hongsa, Laos, I had a haircut for the rock-bottom price of a mere 50 cents. It was in Hongsa that I faced down the worst illness of my life. But there were good moments in Laos too. And it was at a tiny salon in Hongsa that a kind woman who spoke zero English snipped my ends.

It was not a good haircut, but it was a haircut. I had been so desperate for a trim that I sought out the local Laotian lady who offered 60-cent scalp massages. My guesthouse recommended that she could likely snip my ends too, and not knowing what to expect, I successfully pantomimed to her for a haircut. At that point, she combed my hair onto my back and cut my hair in a straight line across my back, all for the princely sum of just 3,000 Laos kip.

Four months later, and my hair was looking tattered and battered. This is where Magda enters the story. She is the local hair stylist in Milna, Croatia. My cousin needed her hair thinned as we moved into summer in Europe, and I needed shape and style, and even Jenn was game for a trim.

Magda was quite the character. My cousin went first and Magda thinned out more hair thinned off than I possess on my entire head. But my cousin looked great, so I hopped into the chair next. Magda frowned deeply at my terrible hairstyle and enthusiastically began to add personality to the cut. She shortened it, and added weird, funky long pieces.  Jenn’s trim was  quick, and Magda raved over Jenn’s long locks.

Throughout our stylings, half of the town popped into the salon for a quick chat. Magda was hilariously animated as she greeted everyone and chatted, all the while her scissors snipped and cut.

Magda hair stylist milna croatia

The Manis & Pedis

Once our hair looked fabulous, we bought fixings for dinner and returned to the cottage to finagle pedicures. This is where the day had to get creative.

Brać is known for its lavender and this would form the base of our soaks. We boiled hot water, added a splash of our hippy all-natural soap, and then floated a few sprigs of lavender — we had the whole cottage smelling like an aromatic and delightful five-star spa.

Then we just needed an exfoliator. And that was tougher. I pack lightly and I don’t travel with a pumice stone (funnily enough). We were at a loss until we thought of something genius—rocks!

My cousin headed out front and returned with three rocks.

Perfect. Jenn was skeptical, but after we soaked and scrubbed, all of us agreed that the rocked worked fabulously well in a pinch.

foot soak

By the end of the day, our feet and toes looked stupendous. We had prepared a tasty dinner, so our bellies were full of yummy food, and our hair looked fabulous thanks to Magda’s creativity and mad skills. The pace of travel has be heading toward travel fatigue, and it was so nice to step back from rapid travel and instead enjoy my friends and the locals, and a slow pace of life on the road.

[box]Planning a Trip to Croatia? Read my full Croatia Travel Guide for details about my favorite national parks, beaches, and cities.[/box]

A Little Rain… Passing the Time During Our First Days on Croatia’s Adriatic

One question I am frequently asked concerns how I picked my route around the world, and how I decided on the mix of countries I would visit during this yearlong trip. Family members were baffled by my decision to add countries like Slovenia and Bosnia — places they had never really known much about in recent history. I’ll even admit that I would have waffled a little on pinpointing Croatia on a map. But then I grabbed every Lonely Planet off of the bookshelf at my local library, and with that massive stack, the Croatia Lonely Planet offered a gorgeous would of blue oceans and green forests — it looked like a slice of paradise.

The pictures did it for me. Croatia has miles of stunning coastline along the Adriatic, in addition hiking opportunities in the pristine national parks. As a happy coincidence, when I asked my cousin if she wanted to travel with me through Croatia, she confirmed with a family friend and confirmed that, yes indeed, there was a small cottage in on Brać island awaiting our presence for a nominal fee. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity, so we planned six solid days on the island to take it slow and soaking up the sun.

We arrived in Milna, a small town on Brać, after some serious misadventures in travel when we took the ferry from Ancona to Split. We were ready for sunshine and blue waters on the Adriatic.

The problem? There was no sun!

We arrived in Milna during a drizzle. Over the following days, that progressed into a full-out storm. The rain would blow through in waves, however, so would dart out from our cottage for the three-minute walk to the harbor’s edge, where we could buy groceries. With a full kitchen, we cooked warm, hearty food. My cousin prepared a tasty five-bean soup that simmered on the stove all day and made the cottage smell divine.

We spent our first days in Milna cloistered inside, avoiding the wet and cold. We would take brief outings in the evening to stroll the harbor, buy more food, and sample our favorite treat, gelato!

sunset in milna

gelateria in milna

eating gelato with a friend

It didn’t take the three of us very long to sniff out the local gelatería. We became instant friends with the owner, and at every parting he gave us a hearty “see you later,” rather than a “see you tomorrow,” because we had made it a habit to buy gelato twice a day. Gelato-man was my savior throughout the days of dreary rain. The sun would shine briefly, and we would all grab raincoats (just in case) and run outside to soak up any possible sunshine and fresh air. We also wanted the exercise since we needed to stay in good shape for the hiking we had planned in other parts of Croatia.

Although we made the best of it, the rain was a bit of a big downer. Jenn had visions of heading back to Los Angeles with a dark tan from hours of laying out on the beach, but she shelved those plans once the storms raged during our first days in Milna.

hiking around Milna

wifi in milna

Throughout the rain, we had consolation prizes: internet and home-cooked food. The gods smiled on us because we managed to pick up a Wifi internet signal from the front stoop of the cottage.

The faint signal was available in three key places, and so we camped in these spots those first rainy days. Jenn camped out with her tiny netbook perched on the front windowsill. My cousin sat on the porch with her laptop facing one particular direction. I wedged myself into a tight corner behind the front door, and to access the signal, I actually had to face into the corner like a child in time-out.

We had all taken care of business at the internet cafe before we left Italy, but I was so grateful to have wifi for the week on Milna. Julie, the woman from whom we rented the cottage, told us that we would have to walk 25 minutes every day and pay huge fees to access the internet on the island — what a a nice surprise to have signal to help pass the time!

[box]Planning a trip to Croatia? My free Croatia Travel Guide shares advice, tips, and suggestions for anyone traveling and backpacking Croatia.[/box]