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Opatija, Croatia – A Hidden Gem

When most people think of a coastal town in Croatia, their first instinct is usually to name Split. And for a good reason – it’s the second largest city in Croatia and it’s full of beautiful sights, sounds, and smells, both outside and in its night clubs. However, a lesser known to travelers, but equally as beautiful, town on the coast is Opatija. Farther north than Split on the Adriatic, it rests at the foot of Učka mountain.

Now, when I arrived in Croatia on a delayed flight coming from a layover in Munich, I’m not going to lie, all I cared about was how exhausted I was. I had difficulty paying attention to what I was seeing in my tired haze, and all I really remember are the street lights. Myself and the group I was traveling with had landed in Zagreb, the capital, but we were staying in Opatija for the first two nights, which was about two hours west on the coast. Thankfully, I wasn’t the one making the drive in the middle of the night fresh off an international flight, so we rode on in the night as the majority of us slept.

Source: Google maps.

Source: Google maps.

I don’t even fully remember going to my room and plopping down on my bed, but I absolutely remember waking up. It was just before 8am and I slowly started to realize a few things all at once:

1. My body ached. It was sore as if I had worked out really hard the day before. What this really meant was that I wasn’t drinking enough water. Rookie mistake.

2. I could smell salt. Overwhelmingly so. The first peek of my eyes alerted me to the fact the hotel room window was open. We’re still not sure whether I or my roommate opened it.

3. I could hear waves. The kind of peaceful waves I imagine masseuses play in massage parlors, lulling you into a meditative state.

When the third realization really hit me, my eyes opened again. Waves? I hadn’t expected to be able to hear them so clearly. I had known Opatija was on the coast, but I hadn’t realized we were staying on the water. I darted out of bed and ran to the window, and that, my friends, is the moment I fell in love with this country.

At the window, I foolishly realized I had been too hasty. There’s a reason I wear contacts. Oh yeah, I had thought, I still can’t see. Everything in my line of sight at the window was blurry, a mixture of blues and greens and white. But for a moment it hadn’t mattered, the colors had blended together in such a way that I almost forgot my poor eyesight. And when I closed my eyes I could feel the wind, hear the waves and birds, smell the saltiness of the Adriatic, and I knew. I knew I loved Croatia.

I grabbed my iPhone off of the bedside table and snapped a picture right then and there, without actually knowing what I was taking a picture of. The result, as I saw later and you see now, was as breathtaking as I imagined it.

The view from my hotel room overlooking the Adriatic Sea.

The view from my hotel room overlooking the Adriatic Sea.

As quick as I could muster my protesting limbs to get ready, I was dressed for the day and down in the lobby, ready to explore.

In a second post coming tomorrow, I’ll detail some of the finer points of Opatija. Stay tuned!

 

Worst-Case Scenario

It’s not an overstatement to say that, to date, the summer of 2013 was the best summer of my life.

In mid-May I crammed my backpack and got on a plane to Croatia, knowing that I wouldn’t step foot back on American soil until mid-June. In that span of time, I would get to know the kind and genuine disposition that every Croatian I came across seemed to possess. I would see the modern day world and historic ruins come together in Budapest, Hungary. I would discover gruff appearances aren’t always what they seem at a closet-sized bar in Bratislava, Slovakia. I would even wake up to the smell and sounds of a daily 6am market in Prague, Czech Republic. And all of that would only be the first two weeks.

From there, I would continue on to many towns and cities throughout Austria, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany before eventually returning home. And I’m not skipping over the details – I’ll get to those in time. I’m just pausing to take a comprehensive look at it all for a moment.

Before my trip, I had about a thousand reasons to be excited and eager for it all to get started. I knew the trip would be like nothing I had ever experienced before, and for some time after my plane first took off to take me overseas I felt liberated. But if I’m completely forthright about how I felt, I have to admit I was honestly a bit of an internal mess. I was worried about spending money, worried about hostels, worried about getting on the right trains, worried about getting lost without a map, worried about theft, worried about making one backpack of clothes last a month. The reasons I thought I had to be worried seemed endless.

Then I came across a quote right before I left for my European escapade, and it couldn’t have shown itself to me at a better time. It read,

“I would rather own little and see the world, than own the world and see little of it.” My internal concerns had been at an all-time high when I read that. But for some reason, the words put me at ease.

Yes, spending money would be tight after converting from the dollar to the euro, but I’d make it work. Yes, some hostels could potentially be gross and crowded, but I’d put in earplugs and get through it. And yes, trains might be confusing, I might get lost, someone might steal my headphones when I fall asleep, and yes at the end of the month all of my clothes might stink – but really, how bad would all of that be?

I became acutely aware how right on the money the “First World Problems” jokes were. I was traveling with two other people while in Europe, and learning to poke fun at ourselves was sometimes the best thing to do.

“You mean worst-case scenario we skip eating lunch so we can eat wherever we want for dinner? How horrible.”

“So worst-case scenario we miss our train and have to spend an extra night in Budapest? How awful.”

“Wait, worst-case scenario we get into Rome an hour late because we got on a local line instead of an express? Poor, poor, us.”

I really don’t think worst-case scenarios get any better than that.

Despite anything bad or inconvenient that could happen – and trust me, some things absolutely would go wrong – I was still experiencing parts of the world that some people will go their entire lives without ever even getting the chance to see. And at the end of it all, if the stench from my clothes made people around me uncomfortable, if I was completely broke, and all I had to my name was a rich plethora of stories and encounters, it would be worth it.

Which, by the way, it was.