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Now that we are back in the United States, I wanted to post some of experiences & thoughts on my journeys through Croatia and having to do so as a gluten – free traveler:

1.  There are a lot of markets in towns so you can always find fruits and vegetables.  Sometimes they are more expensive than produce in standard supermarkets, sometimes not.   Often the supermarkets are tiny, local shops that won’t have a lot of selection.  So you’ll want to check both in the towns you are visiting.

2.  Supermarkets are generally abundant and every small town has at least one.  Names of markets we found are LIDL, KONZUM, TOMMY, & MERCATOR.  The Konzum markets were the most prevalent and often you’d find one every few blocks in the larger cities.

3.  Restaurants were mixed.  There are not a lot of gluten-free safe options.  I stuck to grilled squid (Ligne za naru) with a side of boiled potatoes (kuhani krumpir).  I ate mine with olive oil (found on all tables) and salt and it was great.   Another option was skewered pork/veal (raznjici) with the boiled potatoes – be sure to tell them to skip the “ivar” (a red sauce served on the side) by saying “bez ivar” (“bez” means “without).  Also good!  Once in the town of Sibenik, I explained my gluten issue to the waiter and couldn’t even recommend the grilled squid/boiled potatoes or pork.  While they did serve these meat dishes, the restaurant was a pizzeria predominately and the waiter said they had flour all over in the air back there.  So the bottom line is always to check with the wait staff to confirm the food is safe.

4.  Yes, you can actually find gluten free bread and snacks!  I didn’t discover this until the latter part of our trip.  What you’ll want to do is visit their pharmacy chain stores called “DM.”  DMs are actually German-based but are now found in most of the larger/mid-size towns over there.  Note that your selection won’t be large and the prices for the products are still expensive but it’s nice to find a loaf of bread!  That opens up the food possibilities for you with regards to sandwiches of meat and/or cheese.  And I found the staff in DM stores to be quite friendly.

5.  I traveled with a card I made, in Croatian, that explained what I can’t eat, why, and what I can eat.  There are other cards on the internet but I made mine to be very simple and to the point!  A picture is below (right click and “save as”) or use the following text:

—-

Imam bolest zvanu ‘celijakija’ i moram se pridržavati striktne dijete bez glutena.

Ja sam alergična na glutena.  Ja ne mogu jesti namirnice koje sadrže bilo brašno ili pšenica, raž, ječam ili zob. Mala količina će Muka mi je.

Molim vas recite mi ako niste sigurni što sadrži ova hrana.

—–

Ja mogu imati jednostavnu hranu – krumpir, povrće, meso, ribu i sir.

Ne brašno, tjestenina, kruh, krušne mrvice ili umaci. Hvala lijepa!

translated this means:

I have a disease called ‘celiac’ and I have to abide by a strict gluten free diet.

I’m allergic to gluten. I can not eat foods that contain any flour or wheat, rye, barley or oats. A small amount will make me sick.

Please tell me if you are unsure what these foods contain.

—-

I can have simple food – potatoes, vegetables, meat, fish and cheese.

No flour, pasta, bread, bread crumbs or sauces. Thank you!

gluten_cards

And I have to say that the cards worked great.  There wasn’t a single place where the waiter didn’t understand what I meant.

6.  As folks who have to eat gluten free know, it can be quite a bummer when traveling, especially in Europe with all the pastries and desserts.   Ice cream stands are everywhere!  But I learned my lesson a few years ago when traveling in Croatia… while the ice cream was supposed to be gluten-free, the guy assured me, he used a bucket of water to clean off his scoop.  Of course that was contaminated with cone fragments so when he scooped out my ice cream, it was contaminated.  Lesson learned.   *BUT* the good news is that you can find ice cream in the supermarkets.  Stick to the simple KING brand bars that are just vanilla ice cream in the center and chocolate on the outside.  I had no problems with them at all and they can be found everywhere.  If you need to ask, the Croatian word for ice cream is “sladoled.”

7.  Airlines…  while Air Canada did get me a gluten free meal on my flight over to Europe, United didn’t have a record of my request  on the journey back to the U.S. and so I had to stick to my own gluten free snacks I packed in such an emergency.  So always plan a back-up!  By-the-way, Air Canada’s meal was pretty good (I don’t remember what it was at the moment).  As an aside, I promised myself I’d never fly United ever again due to all sorts of issues with them… which always seems to be the case with United.

I hope this information is helpful to anyone traveling to Croatia who is allergic to gluten.  If you’ve found this blog post and have any additional gluten questions with regards to traveling in Croatia, feel free to contact me.  Have a good trip and know that you do, in fact, have some options and can still have a great time!

So, how expensive is it to go backpacking in Europe?

Here’s the answer for Croatia.  The figures below are for two people.

~ ~ ~ Overview ~ ~ ~

Plane tickets: $3,152.83

Pre-trip purchases: $1,821.18

While in Croatia: $2,885.69

Total: $7,859.70

~ ~ ~~ ~ ~

Divided by 35 days: $224.56

Divided by 35 but not counting plane tickets: $134.48

Moral of the Story #1:  Plane tickets are expensive and they cost the same whether you stay for 10 days or 30.  The longer you stay, the more that cost is spread out

Moral of the Story #2: All those little things you buy before you leave add up.  How on earth did we spend more than $1,000 on miscellaneous?  I’m not sure, and I wish we had kept better track!  Some big expenses were: three back-up specialty batteries for the camera, a nice windbreaker for me, and dry-quick travel clothes for Robert.  (He did find the latter to be worth it, as his clothes dried over night and mine didn’t.  When it comes to travel clothes, ‘cotton is rotten but plastic is fantastic.’)  Some of these items are re-usable.

Specific categories of in-country expenses.

 Food

Food costs vary widely and are one of the expenses that are easiest to control.

For example:

Dinner for Two Day #1  – 3 bananas, a packet of meat slices, and a tomato – $3

Lunch for One Day #13 – A hot ham and cheese pastry from a vender’s stall – $1.25

Dinner for Two Day #15 – Two meals in an ordinary, sit-down restaurant on the water – $36

Lunch for One- Frequently – A big slice of pizza from a bakery – 10 kunas or $1.80

Groceries – Food for two people for 4 or 5 days, including junk food munchies, from Lidl, a German supermarket came out to 433 kuna, or about $77.  That was an unusually large bill, though. Examples: One yogurt 53 cents; a carton of orange juice= $1.68, a tuna-fish-can-sized of meat patte to spread on bread- $1.15, a big hunk of homemade cheese from the outdoor market $2.70.

Staying with Robert’s parents meant we stayed in nicer digs and ate more frequently at restaurants than we would have on our own.  (His dad is in his 70s, so I think it’s pretty cool that he is still traveling!)  We were happy to do that, but those of you who are thinking straight back-packing, with the occasional indulgence, your numbers will be lower.

Moral of the Story #3 – Eating out and convenience foods raise your cost significantly, just like home.  The extra cost of a kitchen might pay for itself in cook-it-yourself savings.  For us, a kitchen was a big plus because of my husband’s food allergy.

Transportation

Bus to (or from) the airport to the city center in Split and Zagreb – $5 each, one way

Ferry between Split and Brač, one way, about 45 minutes – $6

Zagreb card – 3 days of unlimited travel on public transit – $32

Bus ticket for one person from Trogir to Sibinek, a couple of hours – $8.50

Bus from Bibinje to nearby Zadar – $3.50

Overnight train from Zadar to Zagreb, with couchette, for two people – 536 kuna or $95

Ice cream is a good barometer of how cheap or expensive a city is:

Supetar, on the island of Brač– 6 kn

Zagreb – 7 kn

Dubrovnik – 10 kn

Even in the most expensive city, ice cream is still just $1.80, cheaper than you’ll get in the US.

Lodging

All lodging was booked on-line from the US through hostels.com and booking.com.

All prices are total, for two people sharing a private room.  Sometimes we had a private bath or kitchen; sometimes we shared one or both of these amenities.

Prices are per night.  It was actually cheaper ($40 on average) to travel with three people in 2011 to Paris, Rome, and Prague.   Hostels and dorm rooms were often the same cost or only a few dollars cheaper than private pension accommodation.   So worth it!

Split – $25.60

Supetar (shared apartment with family, negotiated by my Croatian mother-in-law) – $36

Dubrovnik (inconvenient location)– $39.69

Trogir – $48

Šibinek – $47

Bibinje (no AC, only stayed one night)- $36

Zadar (very nice hotel- our one unplanned splurge) – $211

Zagreb (private apartment) –  $55

Zagreb (near airport) – $70

I hope this is helpful!  Bottom line: plan a financial cushion into your travels, splurge occasionally, especially on ice cream, and if you really want to go, find a way to make it happen!  (My first backpacking trip I quit my job to go, so I know whereof I speak.  I hated the job anyway. )

 

Remember, some expenses are for multiple days, like groceries and the Zagreb Card.  Also, because my husband bought special gluten-free food, like specialty pasta made from tapioca flour, our expenses in the grocery department are higher than for most folks.  All numbers are for two people.

 July 17

Transportation (Zagreb Card)– $32

Food – $85

Lodging – $240

Misc – $1.42

Total: $358.42

 

July 18

Transportation – $0

Lodging – $0

Food – $2.50

Misc – $2.50

Total – $5

 

July 19

Transportation – $32

Food (groceries) – $10

Misc – $4.50

Total – $46.50

 

July 20

Transportation – $0

Food – $1.80

Misc (internet and museum) – $13.50

Total – $15.30

 

July 21

Transportation – $0

Food – $10.50

Misc – 11

Total – $21.50

 

July 22

Lodging – $70

Transportation – $11

Food – $28

Misc. (internet) – $3

Total – $119

I hope this information helps anyone who is planning a trip!  Please feel free to leave specific questions  in the comments and we’ll try to be useful.

Test Results

Good news!

The test results were negative and I am starting to feel better.

 

I know you are all waiting with bated breath for the How Much Did It Cost post, but a post-tick-bite post is in order first.

Why?

Because I feel really lousy.

I just got the test results back from the doctor and I don’t have Lyme Disease. (Or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.  Or any signs of infection in my blood work.)

However, I am dizzy, nauseated, achy, and generally miserable, with a headache that won’t quit.

And the finances are a bit more complicated than just saying $7,000-ish.  (Hey, it was 5 weeks.  And half of that was airfare.  And we saved for four years.)   So I’ll get back to you on that shortly after I no longer feel like I’m on a Tilt-A-Wheel every time I move my head…… 😦

Most of these tips involve learning from other people’s mistakes.  For example… The first place we stayed, we were in a small, half-basement room with a tiny window high up at level with the street.  We were joking around that there was a remote control, but no TV.  Then we tossed our jet-lagged and exhausted bodies into bed, and tried to sleep in the sweltering heat.  Later we learned…

— In Croatia, the air conditioners are turned on and off with remote controls that look a lot like those for your television.  (If you’re renting an apartment, like we did in Zagreb at the end, you might want to test the air conditioner before your host leaves.  Ours said she and her family didn’t use air-conditioning, and we ended up having to swap out the batteries from the TV remote in order to get the air conditioner to work.)

Here is a photo with an arrow indicating the sole AC unit:

AC photo

— Speaking of hot and cold, outside of many Croatian bathrooms you will find three buttons.  Do not touch them!  One is for the lights, but there is usually a regular switch inside the bathroom you can use instead.  The second is for a heater coil over the door to help dry you off after your shower, but I rarely saw one actually hooked up and working. The third is for the hot water heater.  If, after a few moments of waiting, you have hot water coming out of the bathroom faucet, do NOT touch the third button unless you like cold showers!   I did some random “Gee, what does this button do” pushing in Bosnia and we ended up with cold showers and howls of laughter from my more travel-savvy in-laws!

— Unlike in most of Europe, buses in Croatia are faster and more frequent than trains.  The only time we used the train was to get from Zadar to Zagreb, and that was mostly so we were not dependent on however frequently the driver decided to stop for bathroom breaks.  (We ended up on an overnight train, and it is much easier to sleep in a couchette than on a bus.)

— There are multiple bus companies that share terminals.  Ergo, check before you transfer from one bus to another on a multiple city route.  Here is an example: let’s say that you bought a ticket in Split and you’re going to Šibenik, changing buses in Trogir.  You get off the bus in Trogir and there is one leaving for Šibenik right away.  You hop on it, it takes off, and once you’re down the road, the bus driver checks your ticket.  That is not a good time to discover that you have not only switched buses, you have switched bus companies, and the new one is understandably unwilling to honor of the ticket of its competitor.  You have to buy a new ticket, or get put out on the side of the road.  While we were traveling, we noticed that this scenario had happened to two French backpackers who were naturally not at all happy about it.

— Bakeries sell pizza by the slice.  Fast.  Hot.  Cheap.  Practically one on every corner.

— As one guidebook noted, Croatians call any place where the land meets the water a beach.  Most of the rest of us rather expect sand.  Do not expect sand in Croatia.  If you get some, consider it a delightful surprise.  Ergo, if you go to the “beach,” you will need to wear rubber shoes in the water or your feet will get all sliced up.  If you plan on spending a lot of time where the water meets the land, you will probably want some kind of mat to put under your towel as you will be a lying as well as walking on pebbles.  (For some reason, the rocks on the “beach” tend to be smooth white pebbles, while the rocks under the water tend to be jagged and unfriendly.  Not all of them — you can still swim there!  — but enough of them that you will want to protect your feet.)  Both shoes and mat can be purchased over there, and they aren’t expensive.  I didn’t even bother taking my shoes back.

While you are taking these extra steps, remind yourself that if you had sand, you would also have crowds.  When we were staying on the island of Brac, my beloved and I could reach a completely private cove simply by following the shoreline for an extra 15 minutes.  Try that anywhere else in Europe and see how far you get.

— Sometimes bakery items are by weight, and sometimes they aren’t.  So I was aghast at the price of 16 kunas for a croissant ($2.88), but when I gave in to my specific craving and bought it anyway, it came out to 5 kunas (90 cents) because the price was probably 16 kunas per kilogram or gram or whatever.

— Croatia has a strong Catholic identity, and you will still find many businesses closed on Sundays.  We personally loved this, and took it as an invitation to take it easy a bit.

— Gluten-free food is available at the German drugstore chain DM.  It was kind of odd to find spaghetti on the shelf next to face creams, but we were glad that we discovered where to buy it.  (DM is sort of like their Walgreens.  However, special food for people with allergies is considered a medical necessity, so that is why you can find it there.)

I hope this is helpful!  Any of our readers are welcome to offer other tips in the comments section.

Next post: How Much Does This Kind of Thing Cost, Anyway?

When we were reentering the United States in Chicago, some apples we had purchased in Croatia were confiscated.  (Right before we planned to eat them.)  Apparently, they were concerned that said apples could harbor insects carrying diseases.

Oh irony!  How I would rather have you in my books then in my life!

The next morning after our return, I thought I had an itchy mole.  My husband took one look at it and said, “That isn’t a mole.  That is a tick.”

It wasn’t bloated with blood, which I thought was odd, and after applying various unorthodox things to it like nail polish remover, my husband was able to extract it with tweezers.

After almost a week of intermittent flu-like symptoms, I decided to head to the doctor this morning to get tested for Lyme disease.  I am hopeful that I do not have it because the “bulls-eye” pattern around the bite that usually appears with the disease hasn’t.  I’m telling myself that I am getting tested mostly to reassure my mother.  I am fond of my mother — fond enough, even to the point of three vials of blood.  (I guess he is also testing for other tick-borne diseases.)

Not the kind of souvenir I had in mind…. Oh, well.  Everything worth doing involves risk, really.