Rijeka, Croatia

I’m taking a brief break from Tenerife related content to fill you in on my recent trip to Croatia! Now that we’ve covered the basics of how I found my Workaway and what it was like, I’ll be back soon with more specific posts on the island itself. Think beaches, think hiking, best activities and road trip itineraries. But for now we’re taking a brief holiday to Croatia, much like I did!

This trip really was miraculous. Not because where we went was breathtaking or because I had a great time amongst friends, even if both are true, but because it even managed to get out of the group chat phase in the first place. I took this trip with my university flatmates. We all met in halls in first year and then lived together for our remaining three years in a flat in Edinburgh. We have thrown out many ideas for trips or adventures over the years but very few have actually come to fruition. I don’t really know what was different this time but the idea for this group trip was thrown out and really gathered momentum.

We started by finding some dates that worked for everyone in our very mixed group. We have two people with ‘big boy jobs’ as I call them, proper 9-5s down in London, two students finishing their final year or masters and myself, the English teacher who would be floating around Europe all summer. We settled on the weekend straddling the end of July and the start of August that coincided with a bank holiday. Next we threw out places that we would be interested in. Croatia was in there from the beginning as was Budapest. Once we started looking at flights, we were actually quite fixed on Milan because we found flights for something ridiculous like €20! In the end we swerved away from that because Milan in the height of summer would be packed for one and boiling for another. We found slightly more expensive but still very cheap flights to Zagreb in Croatia and that was it! Zagreb is a city in the centre of Croatia and we wanted something on the coast so we decided on Rijeka as a final destination, just a couple of hours on the bus away from Zagreb.

The view over Rijeka

Because some of the group are working full time while others are students or on holidays, we made our way to Rijeka in dribs and drabs. I travelled from London with Lizzie, one of the students. Luckily we were both there already, Lizzie spending some time with her family while also doing research for her master’s thesis and me doing the rounds of my friends that are down there. Our flight was at silly o’clock in the morning but we were hoping that this would help us avoid the worst of the airport chaos that has been plaguing the British travel industry this summer.

Our journey was pretty plain sailing (or should it be flying) until we landed in Zagreb, if very crowded along the way. We made it out of the airport just in time for the 1pm shuttle bus from the airport to the bus station. It took about half an hour and cost 45 kuna. It had to be paid in cash but you could also use Euros which would come out at €7. The issue here was that we were booked on a bus to Rijeka at 1.30pm. We pulled into the bus station at exactly 1.30pm and then couldn’t find the right platform so no luck in trying to jump on our bus at the last minute. Luckily there was another one with the same company at 2.15pm that we were able to use our tickets on so just a short wait. It cost an extra 10 kuna to put our wee suitcases in the luggage area below the bus. After our early start I slept away most of the two hours to Rijeka but the glimpses that I caught of the Croatian countryside were beautiful.

At this point we all know that I’m a big fan of staying in hostels but we had booked an AirBnB for our stay so that we could make the most of our time all together again. The AirBnB was literally 30 seconds away from the bus station which was great because the last thing you want to do after a day of travelling is trek to your accommodation. The apartment was really nice, plenty of space for the five of us with a nice living room and most importantly – air con!

Because it was just the two of us for our first night, we had a pretty chill one. We grabbed some groceries and made pasta for dinner and then took a little siesta before heading out for a wander. We made our way down the main street of Korzo and found a cute square through the arch under the city clock tower. Fun fact, the clock face on the tower has remained unchanged since the 1600s! After an early start and a long day we decided to call it quits early.

The clock tower on Korzo

We were joined the next morning by Georgia who had already been travelling in the Balkans for a few weeks and arrived in Croatia on an overnight bus. After taking Georgia to the apartment and catching up a little we decided we wanted to spend the day at the beach until the last two arrived in the afternoon. We grabbed a taxi from the bus station to take us to Sablićevo beach, just outside the centre of Rijeka. We hadn’t done much research into good beaches in the area other than a quick Google search but it did the job. It was small and very crowded as well as pebbled which was a bit annoying but there was a cute little beach cafe and space to swim and lie in the sun. The water was so beautiful, bright blue, warm on top and then freezing down below. We chilled on the beach a little and then moved into the cafe for a beer and an ice cream. Classic holiday behaviour.

Dina and Pippa were arriving at the bus station at around 4pm so we walked back from the beach with plenty of time to spare, grabbing some groceries on the way. Finally all together, we celebrated by making pesto pasta and taking a collective nap. Just kidding, we did do that but we also sat around a lot, catching up and enjoying each other’s company. Speaking for myself, I’ve seen each of them since we finished university but this was the first time that we had the five of us all in the same place since we moved out of our apartment in Edinburgh in May 2021.

We headed out for a few more drinks that evening, back to one of the bars that Lizzie and I had found the night before and then onto a place Georgia discovered. Here I have to admit that the nightlife in Rijeka is not exactly the most lively. However we did stumble upon a cool spot by accident, Klub Mladih. It was a youth bar and we pretty much stuck there for the rest of the weekend. It boasted something like 60 cocktails so we had a great time sampling as many of them as we dared!

The next day we all gradually surfaced from the night before, starting the day at our own paces. Dina and I were up a little before some of the others and decided to go out in search of coffee. Me and Lizzie had found a cafe just around the corner the day before that was literally called a book cafe. Is there any better place? We sat there for a bit and then headed back to make a nice brunch of scrambled eggs and avocado on toast. The plan for this day was to explore a bit more of the actual city of Rijeka. We started wandering back down the main street of Korzo in the daylight this time and found ourselves by St Vitus Cathedral. This is one of the well known symbols of Rijeka and actually appears on the 100 kuna banknote! Just beyond the cathedral we stumbled upon a tunnel that was built by the Italian military in WW2 as an air raid shelter. It’s 330m long and snakes beneath the old town, coming out by a primary school back in the direction of our apartment. It was free entry so we decided to go on a little adventure, even just to enjoy the much cooler temperatures underground!

St Vitus Cathedral

Continuing on, we passed by the Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Coast and then carried on down towards the river. Our eventual aim was to walk up to Trsat Castle that sits above Rijeka but we stopped for a drink and a rest at a cute cafe called Bar Striga right by the river before embarking on the 128m climb. Now here I have a tip for you. If you follow Google Maps or even just the signs in Rijeka for the castle, you will be taken up a brutally steep set of stairs and you’ll be so dead by the time you get to the top that you won’t be able to enjoy it. Instead I suggest searching Križanićeva in maps and taking this windy road up the hill to the castle. Not only is it a much gentler incline but you will also be taken down this passageway filled with incredible street art. I mean, just look at that!

Bar Striga

About halfway up the more languorous route, you can actually cut onto the steps heading up which is what we did. Stairs in 30º+ heat are as bad as they sound but the views back down across Rijeka and out to the Adriatic sea are (maybe) worth it. Thankfully, you are welcomed to the top of the trek by a water fountain so you can replenish all the moisture you’ve just aggressively sweated out of your body. A couple of hundred metres more (along flat ground) will take you to the castle itself. Again entry is free which I think is good because it’s quite small and there’s not really much to see. The real benefit are the views, again back down over Rijeka and out to sea but also out the other side and over the hills that back the city. We had the obligatory photo shoot and then explored the parts of the ramparts that you can climb up before our stomachs demanded we find some food.

There are a selection of bars and restaurants at the entrance to the castle, and even one inside the main building, but none of them were serving food. We walked on a little more and tucked away next to sleeker, more modern establishments, we found Konoba Papalina. It was the rustic charm that drew us in and the warm welcome of the server that made us sit down. There were only a few specialty dishes on offer, no menu, and all fish or seafood. A couple of people went for the seafood risotto and a couple for the fresh mussels but I asked what our waiter would recommend. He refused to tell me but promised that it would be good so I sat back to wait for my surprise dish! It turned out to be the grilled sea bass served with blitza, a traditional Croatian side of chard and potatoes. The sea bass was delicious but I had to share with everyone because a whole fish proved to be a little too much for just me!

We headed back home, all ready for a shower and a nap, not necessarily in that order. We returned to our old faithful Klub Mladih where highlights of the night included a strawberry mojito and a dog! When you can pet a dog in the bar, a night out immediately gets better.

The plan for our last full day in Croatia was to head back to the beach! The initial plan was to head further afield to a new beach but after a later start than anticipated, we ended up back at Sablićevo. It was a great place to waste away the day. It was even more packed than Thursday, if that was even possible, but we marked out a spot and settled there. Rotating between lying on the beach and reading, a little swim and chilling in the shallows and chatting was exactly what we all needed. After a while, I had had my fill of sun and moved to the cafe again. I managed to get one of the deckchairs that faced out onto the water and sat there with a coke and a Nutella crepe – perfection. I even had a little kitten dancing around to keep me company. After we’d had enough of sun, sea and sand we got the bus back into town. We didn’t have it in us for another night on the town so we ended our time in Rijeka with a MacDonalds and a showing of Freaky Friday.

Monday morning meant that it was time to leave Rijeka. We weren’t actually leaving Croatia until the next day but our flight was from Zagreb and super early so we had decided to spend the night there. We got the bus again from Rijeka to Zagreb but all together this time. We had another AirBnB about 20 minutes from the bus station in Zagreb. We ended up chilling there for a while before heading into the centre of the city to explore a little and get dinner. The centre of Zagreb was cute, with some beautiful colourful buildings and churches. Dinner was ramen followed by ice cream for dessert, one last holiday treat. It was an early night because we had a taxi booked for 4am the next morning.

Main square in Zagreb

And now some final thoughts on Croatia. It’s a beautiful country that I definitely want to see more of. It seems like everyone I know was in Croatia this summer but in the more popular spots like Dubrovnik, Split or some of the islands. While I would definitely like to make it to those places one day, I’m glad that I avoided both the crowds and the heat for now. I think Croatia in the off-peak season is the way to go. Getting to know somewhere a little less popular like Rijeka was a nice taster. Even in that area, there’s now more places I want to go like the island of Krk or Pula, a town just around the coast known for ancient Roman buildings including the Pula Arena, one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters.

Something I was so impressed with was the level of English everywhere. Even in a less touristy place like Rijeka, everyone we spoke to had a great level of English. We had attempted to learn a few words in Croatian, like hello and thank you, but there were limits on how much we could communicate. I really hate not being able to talk to people in their own language but I still felt really welcomed by everyone we spoke to, taxi drivers, waiters, people we met in a bar. It really made me think about how bad the British system is. It is impossible to learn a foreign language to fluency just through the British school system without some kind of outside help or experience yet it seems that in Croatia, the language skills do primarily come from school. It’s not just in Croatia that this is the case either.

Finally, just being amongst such good friends was so refreshing. I had been in London for a few days before we left and was really tired from that. I love visiting London because I have so many friends there that I love to catch up with but I find the city really draining. I was a little worried about going on a trip immediately after that as my social battery was already feeling depleted from a few days running across the city. I would describe myself as an extroverted introvert, in that I love being social and seeing friends and meeting new people but I then need to recharge with some alone time. Despite having lived together for four years, this was actually the first trip that the five of us had taken together and you never quite know how that many personalities are going to mesh together in a different situation like travelling. Despite all this, I came away from a busy five days feeling refreshed. My university flatmates are friends that feel like family and after being surrounded by them for a few days, they actually did fill my energy up again. Thank you ladies for a lovely few days!

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