John Gooden

Presenter. Commentator. Writer

John Gooden is an international presenter, sports commentator, voice over artist and writer

Visiting the home of Mirko Cro Cop

This title is misleading as this is about as far as it goes with any links to mixed martial arts.  Well actually, I did find out that Split is the hot-bed of mixed martial arts talent hosting a big annual fight show and that Mirko is less popular than years gone-by.  I also found out he has sat in the Croatian Parliament representing all things sport!  Aside from discovering a little more about a man that innocently went to battle with  gay anthem ‘wild boys’, this was my annual holiday with my wife, in part for our first anniversary.  A very important almost sacred occasion which would require lots of thought and planning so that it would be remembered as a very special vacation.  When I put my mind to it I'm pretty good at things like this and our island hopping adventure in Croatia looked set to deliver.  BUT, as with anything I do, there is always a misdemeanor lurking around the corner however big or small.  And this one pretty much topped all others....we missed our flight!  We didn't miss it by a few minutes. We weren't even in the airport to hear the 'final call to all remaining passengers'.  "No biggie" I hear you say, "just catch the next flight", which we did...2 days later!  I'll never forget that sickness feeling and vision of my disappointed wife in tears.  The very moment the not-overly-bothered Whizzair rep uttered the words suggesting there are no other flights for 2 days, embarrassment, helplessness and anger consumed my body - not a crowning moment.  It wasn't just the flight but the transfers, hotels, excursions etc etc, would all suffer.  Anyway, at a significant cost all got rebooked and we enjoyed the Croatian experience very much.  It's the new Ibiza for the ravers, but a real haven for those that enjoy beautiful coastlines, clear waters and historical towns.  Don't expect the highest level accommodation as these guys are just above African rates for standard of living, even with a combined 28% tax rate!  You don't visit Croatia to stay in your room though.  For a fiver you can hire a snorkel mask and help a fellow tourist retrieve his sunglasses from the sea bed (I love a holiday challenge). Or for 40 quid you can hire a boat and take an adventure stopping in at various mini-ports and developing boat jealousy...I mean, as if I'm ever going to be in the market for a Sun Seeker!  Oh and do be careful not to speed as you will be arrested!  There are lots of Scandinavians and Germans in Croatia, which according to my Dad is a good thing as they expect better levels of quality than us Brits.  Not sure where he developed that yardstick, but it has served him well avoiding Benidorm.  Note that it’s also hot.  So hot in fact that it reduced my East-End quiff to a floppy side parting that a Little Britain character would've been proud of.

If you too visit the homeland of  Mirko Cro Cop, there are a few essentials one must pack; high factor sun cream for obvious reasons; Vibrams (or similar) as everything is rocky including the sea bed; a copy of YourMMA/ Fighters Only for a good read and a camera as there are plenty of sights, boats and beautiful people to snap.  Oh and take Kunas, not Euros as its the preferred currency.

Read on if you are particularly interested in Croatia otherwise stop back next week for more tales of travel, sport and misdemeanors as I sit behind the mic for Shock n Awe and Cage Warriors 48.

So we first visited the party island of Hvar which caters for an eclectic mix of people and nationalities.  The harbour at Hvar Town is great for people watching and site seeing but after 11pm it transforms into party central...and still remains a people watchers paradise.  Well actually the Hula Hula Bar is the warm up act from 6 and if you sit and eat in the harbour, you too may witness a young English partygoer stagger and fall between some boats and into the sea- nice one lady, proudly flying the flag.  More congrats to her fella who stood by laughing whilst she nearly drowned trying to retrieve her shoes.  All the same, there is plenty of action throughout the evening.  One of the islands hosts the full moon party which is a must for those wanting to get a little wild till 5am.  Otherwise, just wander around taking in the endless historic constructions whilst munching on ice creams.   By day you can mix your time in Hvar by lazing around the amazing coastline that is lined with pine trees and hiring a boat to explore the neighbouring islands.  Word of warning, do not expect sand.  There is no sand here!  But it really doesn't matter.  I actually enjoyed the lack of faffing around rinsing sand from my size 12s.  Not sure why but the sea in Hvar becomes your pool.  Clear, warm and inviting the actual hotel pool became defunct.  We stayed at Hotel Podstine which was located perfectly.  A 20 minute walk from the town, it was private and ahead of its competition, particularly in price!  More about these islands then...they are tourist destinations themselves so they have their own restaurants, bars, hotels etc.  Some are that small that the only inhabitants are the sea gulls.  It’s still worth a look though to claim your own bit of rock.

After 5 nights we left for Trogir via Split.  Trogir is beautiful and cranky.  We stayed at the Princess Derossi hotel where I successfully pulled the toilet seat clean off of the bowl and did a similar thing with the towel rail.  But it didn't matter.  Everything is tightly packed and intimate here. Trogir oozes character with 14th and 15th century buildings and streets which drown the eyes.  The most impressive of which is the cathedral which is riddled with character including the work of a most excellent stone mason lining the doors.  Just an hour’s drive away is one of the most incredible natural wonders: waterfalls.  Krka National Park is a superb day out where you can climb and descend the route of River Krka through the gorges and canyons.  Eventually, you'll find your way to the mini-waterfalls where you can swim in the tumbling water, buy ice cream (again) and devour pancakes.  Also at Trogir, you can catch a boat to a number of beaches after you have had your fill of history.  We took the 20 minute ride to Okrug which was lined with beach bars and sun beds occupied with many locals and of course the all important Dalmatian Sun and Adriatic waters.

If I was forced to complain, my only gripe (and its only a small one) was the 'smoking allowed' rule which affected my mouthfuls of grilled tuna and Dalmatian pizzas.  Oh, ok, while we're at it the 4 hour delay on Whizzair sucked #**$ too.  You do not want to be stuck in Split's airport as it lacks anything decent to eat or even a newsstand.  Also, I’ve always struggled to get my head around delays that are longer than scheduled flight!  Needless to say, I will not be selecting Whizzair as my carrier next time.  The pilot and crew were less than sympathetic to us and more interested in telling the passengers that they wouldn’t get home till 5am.  What they didn’t consider was that the UFC prelims were due to start in 3 hours and we hadn’t left Croatia yet! #priorities!  This took the gloss off an amazing trip, but I’ll get over it.  Thanks to Alison at Completely Croatia for sorting everything…twice.  She has restored my faith in travel agents (other than my friend Nadine at Lear Travel who is amazing too).

Eating info:

Hvar Restaurants to eat in: Dalmatino and Divino.  Don't eat at Bounty or Amo.  According to others, Bonjour les Bains didn't deliver either, but Macondo gets good reviews.

Palmizana restaurant to eat in: Zori

Trogir restaurants to eat in: Varanja.  Trogar is supposed to be good but we never tried it.