Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Plitvice, Croatia

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We flew from Istanbul to Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia.  We rented a small car there, and were very happy to be in charge of our transportation again—it had been four months since we last drove, in Australia (if you don't count the scooter we rented in Hoi An, Vietnam for a day).  We drove into the city and bought a sim for our phone, which was much easier than we feared, and then bought ingredients for a picnic lunch, which surprisingly, was harder than we hoped.  While the man at the phone store spoke English, the women behind the deli counter at the grocery did not.  As we traveled further into Central Europe (which many Westerners refer mistakenly to as Eastern Europe), we became more accustomed to English being somewhat uncommon.  It was not a bad surprise, and we got along fine with gestures and smiles, but it was the first time since leaving South America that we’d encountered a business where English wasn't spoken.  We ate our picnic lunch at a scenic spot on our way south, towards Plitvice (Plit-veet-say) Lakes National Park, in the middle of the country.  It wasn't a place that had been on our list to see, but we read about it in one of our travel books, and we had time so we thought we'd add it to our itinerary.  We're so glad we did.

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We stayed at a small B&B (they’re called sobe in Croatia) just above the Plitvice lakes, in Poljanak.  The rooms had a very Scandinavian style, and our room, at least, had a very amusing toilet seat.  Lana was the first to use the bathroom, and was giggling enough to make David wonder what the heck was going on in there.  The owner was very warm and welcoming, and after sitting down to a cup of tea with us, she gave us directions to see the lakes from above that afternoon from a little known back road.  We had some of our best views of the waterfalls thanks to her.  She also made an incredible breakfast for us each morning, and Jackie, her Jack Russell terrier gave us some much needed dog time.

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The photos pretty much speak for themselves, but there is something so special about coming across natural beauty that exceeds all your expectations. 

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The food (and the beer) at the only nearby restaurant exceeded our expectations as well. We made the mistake of ordering the “jumbo” pizza for dinner.  Our waiter looked surprised, but not as surprised as we looked when he returned with a 24” pizza.  It, and the beer were excellent and we had leftover pizza for lunch the next day.

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The following morning we set out for a full day of walking through the national park.  The river flowing through the lakes has a high calcium content from limestone, and it precipitates when agitated by the falls.  The calcium then coats the bottoms of the streams and lakes, creating a hard layer between the water and any sediment, resulting in extremely clear water, though with a greenish cast at certain angles, from the remaining minerals in solution.

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At some angles, the water was nearly invisible, and the fish looked like they were just hovering in midair.

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We’d started early in the morning, and walked into the park from the back entrance, which is far from the main road, but close to where we were staying.  We had the park to ourselves for the first half hour, until we met the tour groups making the circuit from the main entrance.  Even then, the crowds weren’t bad, but Lana started to feel sick, and we returned to our room around noon.  While she rested, David went back and took a little more time than usual taking photographs, since he didn’t have to worry about boring Lana.

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It was a beautiful afternoon, with plenty of interesting things to stop and photograph.  Fortunately, Lana felt much better after a nap that afternoon, and a good night's rest.  The next morning we bid farewell to our host and her dog, and headed south to Split, where we were excited to be able to meet some friends who were honeymooning in the Dalmatian islands on a bike tour there at the same time.  We weren't able to make their wedding, but we were lucky enough to hook up with them on their honeymoon.

The drive down to Split gave us another opportunity to practice our use of gestures when we headed down a backroad to see some more of the country, and came across road construction signs. We stopped at a restaurant that looked closed, but there was a woman inside sweeping the floors. For the life of her Lana could not get any traction in communication, and eventually the woman shook her head, used the universal gesture for "shoo," and hustled off out of view.

So we turned around and headed back to the main highway, which was certainly a faster, if not as scenic, drive.  But we weren't complaining. The sun was shining, we were on our own schedule in our own little car, and we had the whole day to explore.  Our first couple of days back in Europe were filled with unexpected views and treasured memories. After all, who could forget that toilet seat?