We have just gotten back from a five-week trip to Croatia. Both Rich and I have travelled quite a bit in the past, but we have never taken our little people overseas before - needless to say we were a little apprehensive!
After having chatted to friends and other mums who have travelled overseas with their children, I left armed with lots of useful hints and tips. We had lollipops for the plane (to deal with any ear aches when taking off and landing), lots of books and activities, snacks, hand sanitiser, iPads - we felt up for the challenge! And generally speaking, the plane trips went quite smoothly. Both kids managed to sleep a little, and were more than occupied with the in-flight entertainment systems (read: lots and lots of movies!) What we did find quite difficult were the transit times; waiting in long queues in passport control and customs, waiting for luggage, navigating terminal transfers in large airports, these were the things that were quite difficult. We very quickly learnt that whilst adults are quite skilled at 'keeping it together' when jet-lagged and hungry, children on the other hand are not!
All that aside we arrived safe and well in Croatia, ready for our 4 and a half week adventure in this amazing place where my family is from. My parents had already arrived a week earlier and were there to greet us at the airport. It was a relief to have an extra couple of pairs of hands after almost 40 hours of travel!
Our first week was spend in Croatia's capital, Zagreb. We rented an amazing little apartment on Airbnb which was perfectly located in the middle of the city, in the picturesque Cvjetni Trg ('Flower Square"). Most of my family lives in Zagreb so we spent that first week catching up with lots of aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins, being fed lots and lots of soup and strudel, and exploring the old town of this beautiful city.
It was then time to embark on our two-week road trip around Croatia. We picked up our hire car and drove straight to the island of Pag, which is where my family have holiday homes. The weather was still quite warm and sunny, so here we were able to frolic a little on the beach, and the kids even went for a swim in the ocean (their mama, however was too chicken!) Before leaving Pag we took a day trip to the picturesque city of Zadar, where we saw the iconic sea organs and The Church of St. Donatus, which was built in the 9th century!
On to Dubrovnik! I have visited this amazing city before so I knew what to expect, however its beauty still managed to take me by surprise. The iconic orange rooftops paired with the almost-white stone buildings, set against the blue of the Adriatic Sea, it really is breathtaking. We were blessed with perfect weather to explore the old town and famous city walls, we swam in the ocean, and for the first time in our trip we booked ourselves into a fancy hotel and enjoyed the luxury (and prepared meals!) this had to offer.
After five amazing days in Dubrovnik we then piled into the car to head to Bosnia and Hercegovina, where my Dad is from. We visited family and saw where my dad was born and grew up - it was so lovely for him to share this with his grandchildren. They were fascinated by the fact that their 'Dida' was once a little boy, and didn't actually always have his signature moustache!
Following on from our trip down south we then headed north back into Croatia, to explore the city of Osijek, which is where my mum is from. Once again the kids were able to see where their 'Baka' was born and grew up, and we all fell in love with beautiful Osijek, which reminded us of one of our other favourite cities - Melbourne. Luka now often says that Osijek is his favourite place.
After an epic two weeks on the road it was time to head back to Zagreb where we would stay for the remaining ten days of our trip. We sadly couldn't book into the same apartment we'd stayed in earlier on, but were able to find one very close by and still within Cvjetni Trg. Here we developed into a routine of buying fresh croissants each morning for breakfast, going out for coffee and taking long walks around different parts of the city - experiencing it as the locals would. We visited family and the children were able to meet and play with their endless amount of cousins! It was so lovely seeing Luka and Mila playing and 'conversing' with their cousins, it didn't matter that they could barely understand each other. The universal language of play I suppose. Rich and I were able to leave the kids with their grandparents in Zagreb and we took a day trip to the breathtaking Plitvice Lakes and National Park. We went for a four-hour hike and experienced first-hand the stunning waterfalls and caves and aqua-coloured lakes.
And then, before we knew it our trip had come to an end! It was time to commence the epic, almost 40hour journey back home. Although we'd thoroughly enjoyed our time away and the wonderful people and experiences (and food!) we'd had along the way, it was certainly time to come home. The children were craving the routine of their every day, missing school and their friends, and of course all of their toys waiting for them back home. Rich and I too were craving the comforts of home, sleeping in our own bed and the vast expanse of space we are so lucky to have here in Australia however, which we sometimes take for granted I think. Europe is so compact and tiny, we really are blessed with a lot of room to move down under! Although we are definitely now back into the swing of 'everyday' life, we have returned with what I think is a more relaxed approach to things, a throwback to the European way of life I suppose. We are closer as a family unit and have realised that whilst difficult at times, travelling with small children is certainly do-able, and whats more very enjoyable! We have learnt a lot about ourselves, are trying very hard not to sweat the small stuff, and already planning where we will be going to next!!