The day the road trip truly began.
Writing retrospectively, I think this was one of my favourite days. Ever.
This is partly because Plitvice is such an incredible place, but also because of the journey. As mentioned in a previous post, I went all out on the organisation front for this trip. We had a schedule of when we were picking the car up, what bus we needed to get to get to it at the right time, opening hours of the park, etc etc. (not that I’m anal or anything. I’m not going to lie, a call sheet style schedule was even in place. For anyone that doesn’t work in TV, it’s basically a document that holds any and every piece of useful information you might need when on a shoot/on the road. It takes a long time. Thankfully, Hamilton is a patient soul, and put up with my detailed messages about anything from car rental insurance to ferry times.)
Of course, there were always going to be hiccups, such as us waking up/leaving late but we knew what we were doing roughly nonetheless, and this made the day so much more easy. Even though we still had to get up, check out of the hostel after finishing packing and prepping our paperwork, get a tram and then bus to the airport before collecting our car, we knew all this before, so just had to physically do it.
To be perfectly honest, Hamilton and I could have a laugh together inside a rock, but this day was still innumerably fun for us. I’d never been to this part of Europe before, and so had no idea what to expect. I’ve driven on the other side of the road before, so felt pretty confident with that, but had no idea what the roads would be like. Basically, everything to me seemed completely new – because I had already researched all the practicalities – all I had to do was enjoy what was happening as a result. Some of the people along the way didn’t necessarily make it that easy for us, but who doesn’t love a challenge, eh?
To start with, we had the most confusing rental car desk assistants, who explained nothing to us and simply had a long conversation between the two of them for about 20 minutes, whilst we stood meekly waiting to understand what on earth was happening. Then they handed us the keys, pointed us in the direction of the car and we left.
We had paid for a type A car with the idea that a lot of Croatian streets can be narrow, but we got a Skoda Fabia instead. And we loved it. It was FAB ulous. And got us from A to B with few upsets.
The drive from Zagreb to Plitvice is gorgeous, going through little villages where it seems everyone has a tiny tractor and sells olive oil, up mountain sides and through valleys, until you arrive at the prodigious Plitvice. (Don’t worry, videographic evidence of this is coming. Our beautiful car-aoke included.)
For me, Plitvice was truly magical. It was Jurassic Park; other worldly; overwhelming.
It seems fairly unassuming upon arrival, then (press play on the Jurassic Park theme now) it opens out and takes your breath away. Walking into the park down the winding path, you could be anywhere, then suddenly, your eyes can reach from one side off the valley to the other; huge waterfalls spill down ledges, the crystal clear water reflecting the unspoilt sides around it, aside from the winding man made wooden paths that allow mere humans like ourselves to cross from one side to the other without getting too damp.
There are different places you can park, and routes you can take, we parked at the lower lakes and then walked down through the cave with no floor or roof, out across the lake. I’m unsure which specific route we took, as the path we were going to walk down was shut, but it was quite nice anyway. At first we thought we might not be able to walk across the famous board walks because they were still in the process of building some of them at the time, but thankfully they were just about done by the time we got down there.
I will say that obviously we went in late April, so not at peak season, but it still felt busy enough with some cross overs on the board walks (which have no rails fyi) so I don’t know what it’s like at peak times. I imagine bringing your pointy elbows for some pushing through may help you out. People must fall in sometimes, they just must.
We walked around the park for a good 3 hours, up many of the many, many steps and around the top, back down and across another board walk around down to some of the upper lakes. It wasn’t that hot, but it was hot enough to warrant shorts for the both of us, and the walks weren’t too challenging, but enough so that we were glad to be wearing hiking boots.
It was all very pleasant. We saw fish in the lakes, stopped for lunch at a weird broken bench, and felt like we had the whole park to ourselves for the most part. That is, until we encountered some of the local wildlife.
The park is really quite large. The largest in Croatia, in fact. We thought we walked most of it, but in fact, we walked about half – we went all around the lower lakes, and it was on the way to the upper that we had some company.
For a while I’d felt like I could hear something in the bushes, but ignored it thinking I was hearing things. We saw a lizard and put it down to that. Until a man ahead of us stopped in his tracks and stared silently at the floor… Hamilton was walking ahead, and strolled on confidently. I intended on following him… Then realised that actually the man had been staring at snake, which was a couple of inches from my feet.
And with that, I became a true girl for a couple of seconds, and freaked out. Like screaming and panicking. Then we saw loads of snakes. They’re probably everywhere, but until you look or appear hissing in front of you they’re pretty good at keeping to themselves. I looked them up, and they’re called dice snakes, and they aren’t venomous. But if you don’t like snakes, be aware.
I’m afraid we did not encounter any bears though, even if they are on the parks logos. It’s like Yosemite all over again.
I wish I could say we then got to the tops of the lakes and walked back, but in all honesty we were knackered so we jumped on one of the parks many buses and went back to the entrance just before closing (it shut at 4pm – make sure you look up opening times before visiting to be cautious. The website is fab.)
Then we jumped in our little Fabia and drove the whole 3 minutes to our lodgings. (I’ll post a list of all the places we stayed in a later post altogether, because seriously every one of them was great and deserves a recommendation.)
We arrived at this one, to find out we had been upgraded to the biggest rooms because it was out of season and no one else was there, and because the other places didn’t have heating… She did mention she would “open the heating” for us, but it was plenty hot without it.
It wasn’t luxury, but it was so close to the park and had a place to eat (staying inside the park is very expensive and outside there isn’t much around, so finding somewhere to eat is like gold dust).
It was great if you liked meat, if not, then pancakes for you (A Croatian favourite, and one of ours.) Genuinely the whole menu consisted of different meats with potato and veg. We went for sausage and were given enough for three weeks. Everything you want after a long day hiking tbh. We ordered pancakes too. ( #hungryhikers)
Hamilton also got given a shot of slivovitz. Which is an especially potent Croatian Liquor. Lucky boy.
Honestly, the hosts in Croatia were all just too lovely. Honest. She could not do enough for us. She was even watching a Croatian tv show when we walked in, but turned it onto something English for us immediately. (We didn’t ask her to. She just knew.).
I realise this doesn’t sound like the best day ever as I describe it, but the whole experience was just so lovely. It had everything I love about travel: amazing people, beautiful views, fun journeys and new experiences. I’ve probably said it a million times now, but since we were only there a week planning was so ridiculously key – we really did see a lot. I shall prove this to you in the next post, where we entered Split and met our new hosts/wannabe best friends.
Abi and Hamilton