Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hvala Plitvice!

We still had four days left of our Croatian adventure when we left Vis at 7am...arriving in Split at 8:15am, after a very rocky ferry ride. Apparently the Adriatic isn't always calm. We had a 6 hour layover in Split before our bus ride to Plitvice Lakes National Parks--and since it took both of us about an hour to get over our early morning sea sicknesses, we had 5 hours left.  It really is an amazing city and definitely worth at least an overnighter.

Split: here you can see the 60' walls of Diocletian's Palace and the Cathedral of St. Domnius
Rendition of Diocletian's Palace in 305AD (Wikipedia)
Split is the 2nd largest city in all of Croatia, one of the oldest cities in the area, and has some of the best-maintained Roman ruins in the world. Most famously, it is also home to Diocletian's Palace, built in the 4th Century.  The Roman Emperor Diocletian wished to retire from politics in luxury, and that he did. His palace took 12 years to build, finished just in time with his retirement in 305 AD. The palace consumes nearly 10 acres (4 hectares) of land with 50-65' walls (15-20m) on all sides and made from white stone brought over from a nearby island, marble from Greece and Italy, and columns from Egypt. It's made up of 220 buildings and still home to 3000 people! 

White stone from neighboring island of Brač; Roman bath ruins
One of the dramatic entrances to Diocletian's Palace; yummy pizza
After some delicious pizza/focaccia bread, we wandered the narrow alleys within the palace walls and completed the walking tour that the tourist office recommended. I loved the towering columns of Cathedral of St. Domnius, the surrounding Roman bath ruins, and the white stone square right in front of the cathedral. Aromas of espresso from neighboring cafés and lavender from the little old ladies selling satchels of the herb wafted all around us.

Lavender satchels; Cathedral of St. Domnius
Within the Palace walls
[right] part of the ancient imperial residence--even though the ceiling fell in at one point,
they really don't make 'em like they used to!
[Plitvice Lakes]
Around 7pm the same day, after a 5-hour bus ride, we arrived in Seliste, a small town about 5km from Plitvice Lakes National Parks – though, with  it really seemed like we arrived in a village somewhere between Bavaria and the Swiss Alps. Again, almost every license plate boasted their Deutsch origins, all the hotels were straight out of The Sound of Music, and and even our Croatian hotel hostess greeted us with 'guten tag'!

Originally, I was planning on us walking to the lakes' entrance, but with no sidewalk and a narrow one-foot shoulder and huge buses whizzing past at 60mph – no way were we walking three mountainous miles. Lucky for us, a very nice German family was just returning from their day at the lakes as we were arriving. We chatted for a few minutes and they ended up offering us a ride to the lakes the next morning. That evening we ate a hearty meal of Wiener schnitzel and potatoes and set off to bed early for early breakfast appointment in the morgen.

Around 9am we met up with the Biller family. We all got cozy in their cute car; I sat next to their 9-year-old daughter who had the biggest smile on her face. I was convinced she either put a whoopie cushion under my seat or was about to tell me the funniest joke ever even though she didn't speak any English. Two seconds later, the Beach Boys' California Girls blared from the CD player and she squealed with giddy laughter as she sang the song. Hilarious!

In the middle of Barbara Ann, the Billers dropped us off at the entrance and we bid each other a lovely day – such a nice family! We immediately bought tickets and headed into the park; we could tell it was going to be a packed day at the lakes (as we already eyed two Japanese tour buses at the entrance!).

Photo of the map of the lakes with an elevation section at bottom right
Run off from the mountains and two major river force the flow of enough water to create a series of 16 cascading lakes and numerous waterfalls making up the Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO heritage site. All the lakes vary greatly in altitude, area, and depth. The park is huge and attracts almost a million visitors per year. The lakes are generally divided into the upper and lower lakes and we decided to start at the lower lakes and make our way to the upper lakes via our 'free' electric-powered ferry ride across the mid-section.

[ALL] The lower lakes

The gallery of colors, flora, fauna, and even the superbly-maintained wooden walkways took my breath away. Apparently, the special combination of air, water, plants, and bacteria produce travertine barriers that not only create some of the most beautiful waterfalls I've ever seen, but they also grow about one centimeter per year and subsequently change how the water flows. The combination also breeds algae, which give the lakes their unique and changing colors.

After the lower lakes, we took the electric ferry to the upper lakes. We sat and ate a small picnic lunch, downed two espressos and then kept hiking. It was getting pretty crowded at this point in the day – with all the day-trippers just getting in from Zadar and Zagreb – and a little frustrating with all the stop and go. Nevertheless, the views were incredible. And I assure you, these pictures have not been enhanced or altered besides some cropping! I swear!

Throwing 'bows with all the other tourists
The upper lakes
Our Lonely Planet recommended at least three days in this park and the surrounding area and we had to do it all in one day – well, maybe not all, but at least all we could do. I thought one of the highlights was hiking above the upper lakes. Most of the tourists kept to the wooden walkways, so fewer folks took the time to hike. It was so much more enjoyable without the hoards of people bumbling around. And what views!!

View from the hiking trail above
After we'd hiked enough and saw what we could see, it was still only about 3pm. Transportation from the park back to Seliste was a little confusing – apparently, you just have stop every bus and ask if they'd drop you off at Seliste. After a few tries of that, and another few tries of hitch-hiking, a bus driver finally agreed to take us. We got back to our hotel, changed into our swimsuits, and set out for the local lake. All that gorgeous water made us miss our Vis Island beaches! We finally found the right trail, and it lead us to a simple, humble pool of fresh (cold!) water surrounded by grass. It was lovely! I couldn't believe we had only two more nights in this wonderful country!

The little swimming hole we found near our hotel

Before we left our Plitvice pansion we had another very German breakfast with our German-speaking Croatian hostess speaking German to us. The German family who drove us to the lakes was also eating breakfast and we all recounted our previous day. It turns out they are from a town not far from my German aunt, who lives in Bavaria. In fact, just a week ago they were boating on the Chiemsee – where Elliot and I visited just a few weeks ago. Small world! Their daughter, Carola, is such a doll and drew us the most adorable picture of Elliot and I and the lakes. I wish I had a photo of her to share!

Well, we were back in Zagreb by 2pm. Once again, we did not have reservations and tried our luck at a LP-recommended agency. It was a pretty good deal and the location was also pretty good, close to the central pedestrian area, Tkalciceva. We took it.

The tram dropped us off and we followed the directions from the map the lady gave us. We kept walking...and walking...and walking. We recognized the area a little from our first days here, but as we kept walking, fewer and fewer people were around. We were definitely in a nice neighborhood; the mansions reminded me of Pacific Heights, with a little more ivy. But no one was around! We finally spotted the address...and then the house:

Uhhhh, this is straight out of a R-rated version of Hansel & Gretl. We were instructed to go inside and the first door on our right was our room; ring the bell and Ms. Kranovicac will greet you. And, so, here was the front door...already open.

And yes, of course, the rusted iron gates creaked so loud as they opened. I'm just glad we saw this place in the daylight! We met our sweet, old Ms. Kranovicac, who rambled on and on in Croatian about this and that and finally said, "Ok, ciao!"

And with that, we were alone (or were we...?) in the creepy, old mansion. We immediately decided that we'd spend as much time as possible not in this room.

So we grabbed some coffee at a hip little joint, discovered an antique market where I purchased an old coffee grinder, wandered up and down the Tkalciceva again, and finally got a few beers and found a nice comfy bench.

Eventually, we had some dinner and chatted about our favorite times over the last 15 days. Stiniva beach on Vis, for sure. The lakes, definitely. Motorbikes, awesome. The Lungamare in Lovran, wonderful. And there are still so many places we didn't get to: Brac, Bol, Hvar, Dubrovnic, Makarska, Brela...just to name a few.

We ended the night, and Croatia, with a fine, cold glass of Pelinkovac aperitif, and none other but the sounds of the Pink Pather – Hrvastka style.

Hvala, Hrvatska! Thank you, Croatia! We had a wonderful time!

P.S. The room was fine, totally freaky, but we lived.


  1. Mom said:
    Now I regret that we did not have the time to visit the lakes while we were in Croatia.
    Looks like totla bliss!


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