Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia

A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante

The island of Hvar seduced me as soon as our ferry from Split drifted into the harbor. I felt an inexplicable pull, similar to what I've felt in Santorini, Porto and Paris - three of my favorite places that were especially quick to win me over. It was love at first sight.

My good gut feeling about Hvar was not mistaken. With each corner I turned and each fresh meal I devoured, I became more and more infatuated with the majestic island. Suffice it to say, having to leave after just a few short days tugged on my heartstrings.

A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante
A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante
A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante
A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante

From the seaside charm of Old Town to the lush fields of wild lavender, Hvar effortlessly took my breath away. I could have easily spent weeks wandering through its narrow cobblestone alleys and basking on its shores.

Hvar is notorious for celebrity sightings, and after witnessing the island's unassuming glamour, I can fully understand why the rich and famous flock here. Although Hvar emanates sophistication, it's by no means pretentious. It's a juxtaposition of classy and casual. Therefore, it's no surprise the island's natural beauty attracts luxury travels and backpackers alike.

A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante
A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante
The true definition of paradise
A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante

Of its many alluring assets, Hvar's dazzling jewel-tone waters are especially inviting. The dreamy cerulean sea practically begs you to jump in.

Seeing as we were short on time but wanted to take advantage of the island's picturesque shores, my mom and I stayed close to Old Town and wandered over to Hotel Amfora's beach. Though we chose our beach based on convenience, the atmosphere was decidedly relaxing. 

A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante
A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante
A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante
Gariful's mussels in white wine and garlic

Naturally, I spent ample time eating my way through the island. It's not a true vacation unless you sightsee through your tastebuds, right?

Our most decadent meal was enjoyed at Giaxa, where we savored carpaccio with black truffle and Parmesan, lamb rack with white polenta, and green beans with pancetta. After an extravagant meal and several glasses of Pošip wine on the cozy terrace, Giaxa goes down as one of my favorite restaurants in all of Croatia. (Reservations recommended.)

We also indulged on a seafood feast at Gariful, where the sparkling waterfront views were almost as sublime as the mussels. Though the prices were steep, the locale and fresh fare were worth the splurge. 

A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante
A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante
Lush fields of wild lavender

Perhaps the most memorable part of our stay was escaping Hvar's Old Town for an evening of wine tasting and a home-cooked dinner in a private olive grove. As we crossed the island and zig-zagged through lavender fields, we found ourselves in the quiet town of Jelsa.

We started off at Vina Tomić, where we sipped on phenomenal local wines in a cellar modeled after Split's Diocletian's Palace. Our next stop was Duboković, where we tried a selection of no-frills boutique wines in a quaint, candlelit cellar.

Once we worked up an appetite, we winded uphill to a family-owned olive grove with striking views of the Stari Grad Plain. Our gracious hosts prepared an authentic Dalmatian feast for us, complete with homemade cheese, tapenades, and wine. Though I'm not usually a huge fan of fish, I happily devoured freshly caught sea bass, cooked to perfection in a wood fired oven.

As the sun lazily sank into the rolling hills below us, we chatted with the family about their olive grove, their families, and Croatia's tumultuous history. Amid the hordes of tourists abounding in Croatia, genuinely connecting with locals was a refreshing change of pace. 

A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante
A private dinner in a family-owned olive grove
A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante
A Glamorous Getaway to Hvar, Croatia | Adelante

After only a few days in heavenly Hvar, it immediately soared to the top of my list of all-time favorite places. While I'll always cherish my memories from this trip, a part of me will always dream of going back.

Have you ever been to Hvar?
What are some of your all-time favorite places?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia

A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia | Adelante

While Croatia abounds with dreamy escapes and enthralling adventures, there's nothing quite like the dramatic beauty of the Dalmatian Coast. Among coastal Croatia's many gems, the effervescent hub of Split is one of the go-to destinations for ancient history, fresh cuisine, pulsing nightlife and unabashed sun-worshipping.

Breezy, vibrant and serene, Split effortlessly embodies the spirit of the Mediterranean. In between chasing waterfalls and island hopping, a stop in Split is an absolute must for any Croatian itinerary.

However, seeing that Croatia is quickly becoming one of Europe's most popular destinations, Split harbors its fair share of tourist traps. In order to avoid the overpriced, overrated and downright tacky, here are my tried-and-true recommendations for authentically enjoying Split.

A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia | Adelante
A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia | Adelante
A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia | Adelante
A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia | Adelante


A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia | Adelante

Old Town

Though Split is acclaimed for its sparkling waterfront and inviting seas, much of its charm is anchored to the historic old town. Half of the old town resides in the ruins of Diocletian's Palace, a 4th century Roman fortress that once dominated the city. Inside the labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets, quaint outdoor cafés hug the stone walls, the pungent aroma of olive oil wafts through the air, and cascades of bougainvillea drape over weathered shutters. Every alley is a feast for the senses.

Diocletian's Palace

While Diocletian's imposing fortress has transformed into the beating heart of Split's old town, the palace's original design can still be found in the basement. Accessing its lower floors from Split's seaside promenade, the Riva, allows visitors to see the floor plan and envision what the palace could have been like during Diocletian's glory days. Though the remains of the fortress are scarce compared to what it once was, Diocletian's Palace still boasts some of Europe's most impressive Roman ruins.

A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia | Adelante

The Riva

Sauntering down Split's sleek promenade is a rite of passage upon arrival. With sublime seaside views and a plethora of waterfront bars and cafés, the Riva is an ideal place to grab a cocktail and people watch. While its restaurants are of seemingly dubious quality, a quick coffee or fresh-pressed juice makes for the perfect pit stop during your stroll.

Cathedral of St. Domnius

This well-preserved Roman edifice was originally built as a mausoleum for Diocletian, who was notorious for persecuting Christians. After his death, the Christians got even by destroying his sarcophagus and turning his tomb into a cathedral. The church's bell tower flaunts resplendent views of the city, while the interior's crypt and treasury equally captivate visitors. Your ticket also covers entry to Diocletian's Temple of Jupiter, which was converted into a baptistry.

A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia | Adelante


A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia | Adelante
Bokeria's savory carpaccio

Domaldova 8

Named after Barcelona's most iconic market, Bokeria is a mecca of modern Mediterranean cuisine. This bustling restaurant thrives in a former hardware store, where contemporary flavors are reflected in the fittingly sleek and industrial decor.

After our first lunch here, the heavenly flavors and impressive wine list convinced us to come back for a second meal. I still dream about the carpaccio with pickled onions, candied walnuts and honey mustard, along with the pear, asparagus and gorgonzola risotto. (Reservations recommended.)

Ulica Bana Josipa Jelacica 3

My rooftop feast at Paradigma was the crown jewel of gastronomic experiences in coastal Croatia. Perched atop an elegant terrace with inviting views of the sea and old town, Paradigma serves a blend of traditional Mediterranean gastronomy with unique contemporary twists. Indulgence is the name of the game here, as exemplified by our decadent feast.

We started our meal with champagne and fresh oysters, which were served in a variety of flavors including raspberry tapioca, cucumber foam, fresh watermelon, burrata, and jamón ibérico. The unconventionally sublime flavors effortlessly seduced my tastebuds. Next, we savored a Jerusalem artichoke and rose soup, followed by baba ghanoush risotto with green olives, goat cheese and eggplant espuma. (Reservations recommended.)

A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia | Adelante
Fresh, flavored oysters from Paradigma | Pear & gorzanzola risotto from Bokeria 

Uje Oil Bar 
Dominisova 3

Pioneered by Croatian olive oil retailers, this trendy bistro is hailed for its seasonal Dalmatian fare. The interior is cozy yet refined, while its romantic alleys offer picturesque al fresco dining. You can also sample a variety of Uje's extra virgin olive oils, which may tempt you to pick up a bottle of liquid gold on your way out. Whether you're in the mood for cheese and charcuterie or hearty Dalmatian classics, look no further than Uje Oil Bar.

Luka Ice Cream & Cakes
Svaciceva 2

A local favorite for sweet treats, Luka serves fresh and exotic flavors of ice cream using all natural ingredients. Seeing as Croatia is famous for its lavender fields, Luka's beloved lavender ice cream is a decadent must-try. They also offer light and refreshing flavors to beat the heat, such as peach and cucumber sorbet.

A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia | Adelante


A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia | Adelante

Maruliceva 1 and Subiceva 6

The same olive oil experts of Uje Oil Bar sell edible souvenirs at their gourmet gift shops. Aside from their quality oils, they also offer flavorful tapenades, local wines, fig products, chocolate, and a colorful assortment of kitchen accessories. Among its many traditional treats, Croatia is celebrated for Hvar's iconic lavender fields and Istria's rich truffles. Be sure to pick up some lavender and truffle based treats, like lavender sea salt or aromatic truffle oil.

In Galerija 
Subica 2

With all of the kitschy trinkets that abound in the touristic center of Split, scouting out quality souvenirs can be a daunting task. That's why I was so thrilled when I stumbled upon the hole in the wall art gallery of In Galerija, nestled in the old town's maze of narrow streets. The cozy shop is overflowing with original pieces of art, all which make for unique and memorable keepsakes. My favorite memento is a small painting of Split's harbor, hand-painted by a local artist on a piece of wine barrel.

A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia | Adelante


A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia | Adelante

Ovčice Beach 

Just a ten minute walk past the popular Bačvice beach, the calm shores of Ovčice are a stark contrast from the frat party atmosphere of its next door neighbor. Beach chairs and umbrellas are available to rent, and a nearby beach bar offers snacks and libations. If you're looking for a beach close to the city center but prefer to avoid Bačvice's crowds, murky waters and repetitive thrums of electronic music, peaceful Ovčice is a convenient alternative.


For more picturesque spots to soak up the sun in Split, the pebble beaches beneath Marjan hill offer a quieter retreat. Some of the most popular beaches include Kasjuni, Kastelet and Bene, but keep in mind that these are much farther from the city center compared to Bačvice and Ovčice. Not all beaches have chairs or umbrellas available to rent, and beach bars may be far and few between. Consider packing a picnic, and bring plenty of water.

Because most of Croatia's beaches are notably rocky, you'll see many locals adorning water socks. Though they may not be the most fashionable, they'll save your feet from plenty of pain and discomfort. 

A Guide to Savoring Split, Croatia | Adelante

Have you ever visited Split?
If so, what other recommendations would you add?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Repatriation is Like a Bad Breakup

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

About a month ago, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when a photo of a familiar street in Madrid popped up. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the blogger's profile, and I was immediately inundated with images of the stunning city I had just departed. This girl was frolicking through my favorite streets, sipping on tinto de verano at my favorite rooftop bars, and even brunching in my old neighborhood.

At first, I started tearing up. Then suddenly, envy began to pulse through my veins. "Who is this b*#@%?", I seethed with spite. "Why is SHE in Madrid? That's MY city. It should be ME that's there."

I had never even heard of this random girl's blog, and in reality I'm sure she is a great person. (And given that she was visiting all of my favorite spots in Madrid, we can assume she has good taste.) My childish, unwarranted rage made me feel like a jealous ex-girlfriend. And that's precisely when I realized that Spain broke up with me.

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

During my first month home, all I felt was heartbreak. My heart literally hurt. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat, and the throbbing aches in my chest stubbornly overpowered the jet lag I was so desperately clinging onto. I thought I had run out of tears when I cried all the way to Iceland, but apparently I was mistaken.

I had a lot of valid reasons for leaving Madrid. But now, blinded by the nostalgia of the past three years, I can't really seem to remember them. Something to do with sustainability, finances, and pursuing the next step in my career. Or whatever. I suppose since I left Madrid voluntarily, it was actually me who broke up with Spain. Either way, break ups suck. The fact that it was my decision to "end the relationship" doesn't make it hurt any less.

Repatriation is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

When you leave a place you love, you feel like you've left a chunk of your soul behind with you.

The process gets exponentially more complicated when you transition between cultures. When I first came to Madrid, I was worried about adapting to a new culture, functioning in an entirely different language, and essentially starting a new life from scratch. But after spending three years immersed in the language, culture, and quirks of another country, I've adopted countless Spanish customs as my own.

I've been stretched and challenged, I've expanded my world view, and ultimately, I've become a little bit more madrileña along the way. Coming home and being expected to feel like a star-spangled American again is like forcing a puzzle piece into a space that doesn't quite fit.

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

But this time around, it's more than just reverse culture shock. The rug has been ripped out from under me, and gone are the days of two-hour lunch breaks, three-day weekends, and 30€ Ryanair flights whisking me off to my next destination. Since coming home, I've been forced to come to terms with the bitter realities of job hunting, buying a car, saving for grad school, and planning for the future.

Everyone in the USA is probably rolling their eyes and thinking, "Welcome to adulthood, Courtney. It's about time." And it's not my intention to sound entitled or pretentious. But it's a lot to digest at once, especially combined with changes in friendships and the social sphere, as well as those nagging reminders of how leaving Spain absolutely shattered my heart.

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

I want to be wandering the streets of Malasaña, sipping on vino tinto in Plaza de las Comendadoras, and going on last-minute getaways with my fellow expat friends. I want to be sinking my teeth into a gooey pincho de tortilla at Bodega de la Ardosa. I want to savor vermouth before lunch, tapas crawl in La Latina, and sobremesa for hours afterwards. 

I miss the way Spanish words roll off my tongue and dance languidly in the warm air. I miss watching the street lamps ignite at dusk, making you feel as if the day’s adventures are only just beginning. I miss the feeling that anything is possible, and that seeing the world is a tangible reality. Madrid helped me become the best version of myself, and right now, I’m not sure how I'll be able to preserve that.

I might not sound very original, considering countless other ex-expats have already shared this quote, but it's a frighteningly accurate portrayal of how I'm feeling right now:

"You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place."- Miriam Adeney

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

It's been about seven weeks since I returned to the States, and I'm pleased to report that I'm doing a lot better than when I first moved back. Since this feels like a breakup, my natural instinct is to lie on the couch, eat guacamole and binge-watch Seinfeld. However, I've been keeping up a crazy schedule of job hunting, interviewing, reconnecting with friends and family, stepping up my exercise regime, and conquering my irrational fear of driving. (But in full disclosure, I still watch Seinfeld.)

And I'm thrilled to announce that I've just accepted a full-time job that feels like the perfect fit for me! (I promise to divulge more details soon!)

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

The Madrid-shaped hole in my heart has yet to heal, and I doubt anything will ever completely fill it. But I'll continue to try to embrace this new chapter, plan more adventures, and be present in Seattle. Closing the door on my life in Spain has shaken me to my core, but my gut is telling me that this is where I need to be right now.

Fellow ex-expats, what has helped you cope with repatriation?