• We are redefining what living well means: Savoring our meals, laughing over a glass, and appreciating the joy of life through travel.

Croatia: An Epic Journey Awaits

I am throwing caution to the wind and following my gut; I’m about to take the least planned expedition of all time. All of my time, anyway, thus far. I’ve come to a place in life where I can’t be bothered to do what I should do, like visit parents or apply for full-time employment, and instead plan to do what I want to do. What I could do. And friends, what I want to do is take my earnings and head east.

With my employment ending on October 15th and my freelance writing thriving on such trips, I’ll abandon Boston just as the leaf-peepers flood in and I will post up in Istanbul. Through AirBnB (you can’t scare me off with one poorly-timed press release!) I’ll have an apartment, or a room, in a central residential neighborhood. This will put me in skipping distance to anything I want to see: Haghia Sophia, the Bosporus, the Grand Bazaar, hamams, the city walls, and Europe and Asia in one place. I have the Lonely Planet Guide, and yes, will read parts of it eventually, but part of this excursion is to figure it out as I go. To get there and decide what feels right next.

Things I am very excited to see in Turkey are piling up though. I want to see the relatively new modern museum, Istanbul Modern, which will be hosting a Women Artists of Turkey exhibition called Dream and Reality. I want to ferry up the Bosporus and swim in the Black Sea. I’ll sail over the Sea of Marmara to visit Buyukada and see for myself a tiny island trapped in centuries past. I want to eat everything I can find, and not be fearful of lamb, spice, or new fish. I want to sit in a café, all day, and listen to Turkish being spoken around me. I’ll see the sites tourists are supposed to see, and hopefully more that most do not. In hopes of meeting locals, I’ll couchsurf and stay in neighborhoods less populated by hotels. I’ll see the fairy chimneys and cave hotels in Cappadocia, my friend James demanding I take a hot air balloon ride at sunrise to fully appreciate them. I’ll meet my friend Cengiz in Ankara, I’ll buy sandals in Bodrum, and I’ll swim in the Mediterranean and Aegean too. I also say all of this with barely having researched a thing; I’d rather not depend on large cities, when I get there, I’ll figure out how to get off the map.

Next, since proximity is very hard to argue with, I’ll ferry to and through Greek islands. Should I see Santorini? Mykonos? Crete? My friend Johanna says that in November, I should spend all my time in Crete, but I know I’ll not be able to say no to other islands once I am surrounded by them. What if I never come back? I’ll spend a day with Johanna in Athens, getting the local’s tour, then fly off to Dubrovnik, for I can’t imagine missing the opportunity to see Croatia again.

When I was last in Croatia, two years ago, I spent only a few days in Istria, on the very northwestern coast. Having learned more about the country since, my list of sites there is expanding. Starting in Dubrovnik, I’ll walk the walls and dip my toes in the Adriatic, walk the Stradun and day trip to the beach in Cavtat. From there I’ll see Hvar and Vis, islands off the Croatian coast, where weather permitting, I shall never leave the beach. Then, in quick or leisurely succession, I will venture on to Split, Zadar, and finally the Plitvice National Park. The lakes in Plitvice are among the more beautiful sites in the world—so I’m told— and while the photos I’ve seen are mostly taken during the lushness of summer, I’ll just have to use my vivid imagination in November.

From there I’ll beeline it to Ljubljana, Slovenia, because a recent New York Times article made it sound as if you’d be a fool to skip this city. I will walk the river and cross the many bridges, including Butcher’s Bridge with padlocked love messages attached. Here I’ll sit in cafes, listening to Slovene and pondering my travels. Will I have written much? Is there a book in here? Have I found something I’m looking for? Slovenia may be my last stop, with a jaunt over to the coastline and a day trip to Trieste (again, you can’t argue with proximity). I could be persuaded to go to Budapest, to Rome, to anywhere, really, should a travel partner entice me to do so. So, friends and readers, advice? Attractions I cannot miss? Food I’ll never forget? Volunteers to join me on this journey? Please send me your thoughts.

Editor's Note: Have a question or comment? Leave a message in the comments below.

Lauren BellLauren's interest in travel and food started young; she spent her childhood dreaming of living abroad, speaking foreign languages, and discovering the food of other places. While she's spent her time working toward attaining those goals, she has also gotten properly distracted at home in the US. She's lived all over California and New England: seeking out small farms, delicious eateries, and creative chefs and artists. She's enamored of all things artisanally made- be it food, wine, art, crafts...anything small scale, by hand and with love. She's the artisanal admirer. In an effort to emulate her talented friends, she has learned to make cheese, ran an urban, edible schoolyard garden, cooks, cans, and bakes pies. She dreams daily of moving to Europe to do the same there. Until then, she travels frequently, at home and abroad, works as a pastry chef, sells wine and cheese, and helps run a farm-to-table restaurant. She lives in Brooklyn with her Siamese cat, Henry.

  • Dennisgray

    Love reading your articles Lauren

  • Lauren Bell

    Thank you Dennis Gray! That is encouraging to hear!

  • Bunk

    hi Lauren! I’m doing Croatia in November and not having much luck nailing down an itinerary from Dubrovnik. I’d love to hear more about your trip!

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