Way too early the next morning, we jumped on the ferry from Korcula to Hvar to Split. It was a tranquil journey, and I got to watch the sun rise over the water while Hozier serenaded me-"Sit back and watch the world go by." We were headed to the mainland to meet Mate, our private driver, who would take us from Split to the stunning national park of Plitvice (PLEET-veet-seh).
Mate is way over six feet tall, used to play for the Croatian basketball team, and drives an Audi sedan. "It is amazing!" he says about everything in his country. We learned a lot from him over our 3-4 hour drive: about the geography of Croatia, the history, the currency, the people, and more. He also showed us real, live bears, which are a symbol of Croatia (probably because of all the honey they produce!), and are kept at a private "zoo" of sorts. Really, it's just a guy that likes (hates?) animals and has set up some pens next to a parking lot with deer, bears, warthogs, etc. It was pretty bizarre.
Next, we made a quick pit stop at our Airbnb to drop off our luggage and meet our host, before Mate took us over to the entrance of the parks. We could "smuggle you in," he said to us, but we preferred to buy our tickets, thank you very much. After saying goodbye to Mate, we headed on our way into this spectacular park. The 16 lakes are terraced and nestled in a valley between hills, lush trees, and cascading waterfalls. The lakes are crystal clear; each a varying shade of blue, turquoise, and green, and there are small boats connecting you to the lower and upper lakes.
One of the most interesting things I learned about the park was that the first shots of Croatia's war with Yugoslavia were fired here in 1991, and subsequently the park was held by the Serbs until 1995. During that time, hardly anyone visited the park, allowing it to grow wild and recover from the tourism that had trampled it in the past. "It is amazing!" to see the unexpected beauty that can come from such conflict and suffering.
At one point Brittany's sunglasses fell into a small babbling brook. We were both stunned for an instant as they began to sink, before I yelled "grab 'em!" and she managed to. Close save. I'm telling you, Plitvice is an exciting place.
Here we are, looking sporty in front of the tallest waterfall in the park (Veliki Slap):
I think I saw more selfie sticks in Plitvice than anywhere else on the trip, and we were really happy towards the end of the day, as we made our way around the upper lakes, to see the tourist rush abating, allowing us some time to enjoy the beautiful scenery (and fishes!) in peace.
After a quick dinner at the only restaurant around, we trekked back to our apartment and met our host in the street. We told her we were just going to stop at the market across the way and she exclaimed, "Oh no, it has just closed!" When told her it wasn't a big deal, since we had only wanted some ice cream, she told us that she had just bought some that day ("Croatia's best!"), and she would bring it to us to enjoy. So hospitable and sweet!
With visions of waterfalls and bellies full of ice cream, we finally got a really good night's sleep (at least I did-Brittany said it was "too quiet"). In the morning, I enjoyed the view out our window of this sweet old man tending his lush garden:
You can almost hear Julie Andrews singing now!
Our Airbnb was a little off the beaten path, so that morning we had to make our way, luggage and all, down to where the buses pick up (at one point, Brittany was actually carrying her suitcase in arm over gravel). This was the only transportation of our trip that we hadn't planned and booked months in advance, and while we were nervous of this, it made for a good adventure (as always). It would have been more fun searching high and low for the bus stop sans luggage, but we finally made it there, dripping in sweat, and ready for a gripping ride to Zagreb, the capital.