Plitvice Lakes National Park – Croatia’s Crown Jewel

Plitvice Lakes National Park – Croatia’s Crown Jewel

Plitvice Lakes National Park is the oldest national park in Southeast Europe.

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It is also the largest national park in Croatia.

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The Park is a giant chain of sixteen lakes connected by cascading waterfalls.

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Plitvice’s lakes are separated into an upper and lower cluster formed by runoff from the mountains.

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The runoff descends from an altitude of 636 to 503 m over a distance of some eight km, aligned in a south-north direction.

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It is impressive that 16 lakes can help to form hundreds of little waterfalls with a difference of only 150 meters between the highest and lowest lake.

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The highest waterfall is the “Large Waterfall”, Veliki Slap (“Slap” means waterfall in Croatian) at the end of the Lower Lakes.

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There are hundreds of waterfalls to get your pic with besides Veliki though.

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My only knock on the Park is that at times it can feel a bit like “Disneyworld” with hundreds of people walking in front of and behind you.

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Plitvice attracts over 1,000,000 visitors a year and the “Disneyworld” problem is exacerbated by the fact that all the visitors in the park must stay on the narrow plank walkways that lead through the Lake System.

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Then you throw in the fact that everyone and their brother is stopping to take pictures and you have one giant cluster.  So at times it can feel a bit like you are cattle being herded into the Slaughterhouse.

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But these moments are offset by the nice moments you have to yourself.

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Plitvice has a series of “Routes” available to visitors.

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Each route offers a different perspective of the many lakes and some take longer than others.

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Many of the routes are connected or enabled by electric buses or boats to cross waterways.

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We did the popular Route H, which takes 4-6 hours.

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We had stayed in the nearby Hotel Plivitce and were able to get an early enough start to avoid most of the crowds but some backlog is simply inevitable.

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The clarity of the lakes is stunning.  Fish would have a difficult time hiding from airborne predators here, if there were any.

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Water-based life is abundant, from dragonflies to salamanders.

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The views from the cliffs above the lakes made for some of the best pictures I took in Croatia.

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On one of the days we spent in Plitvice we decided to hike the much-less-hiked Corcova Uvala trail, which is a nice hiking contrast compared to the Routes leading by the lakes.

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The 21km Corcova Uvala trail leads though dense forests…

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…. remote fields….

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….and trickling streams.

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The best part about the Corcova Uvala trail?

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Hiking for six hours without seeing another soul, especially after we had spent the previous day engulfed by fellow visitors on the boardwalks that lead through the Lake systems.

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I know that when most people think Croatia, they think of the incredible coastal cities, such as Dubrovnik, bordering the Adriatic.  But in this traveler’s opinion, even with the crowds, Plitvice is the true crown jewel of Croatia.

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Zadar – The weirdest instrument you’ll never play

Zadar – The weirdest instrument you’ll never play

Tourists come to Zadar like bees to honey.  Large yachts dock right near Zadar’s “Old City” port and drop off hundreds of curious vacationers.

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The fastest way to get from Pula to Zadar, both cities being on Croatia’s coast, is a boat ride on the Adriatic Sea.  It is far from a luxury ride but at least they have their boat rules in order of importance.

Rule Number One for boat safety...

Rule Number 1.

Zadar’s Old City still looks almost the same as it did in the 15th Century.

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With the addition of a few shopping malls and gelaterias.

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The Cold Stone Creamery of gelaterias

The Cold Stone Creamery of gelaterias

During the 16th century, the Venetian inhabitants of the city built a large water cistern with five wells so they would have enough water to withstand a Turkish siege.

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The cistern and wells remain in Zadar’s aptly named “Five Wells Square.”

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The massive gate to the Old City also remains intact.

Old City Gate

We arrived in Zadar in June, the high season, so prices and temperatures were high.

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We eventually bartered our way into getting this closet for 50 Euro/night ($67).  It was incredibly hot in the room and we had to empty the standing air conditioner every four hours during the night when the water tray would fill up.  The things I’ll do to save a buck…

50 euro closet per night

Shockingly, I found one of Zadar’s main attractions on Tripadvisor.com to be its Glass Museum (this is no joke).

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The museum itself was less than inspiring ( I do NOT recommend it ) but we had good enough timing to catch a guest lecturer delivering a brilliant speech.

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Zadar’s two best attractions are its “pipes” and its “greeting to the sun”.

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Zadar’s Sea Organ is a series of pipes located along Zadar’s boardwalk.  A system of tubes coupled with a resonating cavity turns the site into a large musical instrument, played by waves and the wind to create what no one would call a harmonic sound.

The sounds coming from the Sea Organ sounded a lot like a strangling goose to me

The sounds coming from the Sea Organ sounded a lot like a strangling goose to me

I heard rumors that since architect Nikola Bašić finished the Sea Organ in 2005, sea shells have gotten stuck in some of the pipes in the water, which may account for the unharmonious honking that the Organ was producing when I was there in June 2013.

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Zadar’s “Greeting to the Sun” is a bit of a misnomer because the photovoltaic tiles only really come on at night. During the day the tiles soak up the sun’s light energy and at night, they release the energy in a flashy way.

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The “Greeting to the Sun” attracts lots of tourists at sunset and we were no exception.

Enjoying an Ojusko during sunset

Enjoying an Ojusko during sunset

Rt. Kamenjak – A quintessential rocky Croatian “beach” (and park)

Rt. Kamenjak – A quintessential rocky Croatian “beach” (and park)

Rt. Kamenjak, a national park near Pula, came highly recommended by hostel employees and fellow backpackers alike.

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It is a big park, made bigger depending on the type of vehicle you have to get around.

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If you are someone with money the best way to get around is by boat, whereby you can hop from cove to cove without having to sweat yourself to death peddling up a gravel road.

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We had rented mountain bikes, which I strongly, strongly, do not recommend.

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The roads are gravel and hilly and the temperature can be a scorching 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) in the summer.

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It took at least 45 minutes from the rental location to finally arrive at the Croatian coastline and by then we were ready for the water.

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The Croatian coastline, particularly in Rt. Kamenjak where you can find a secluded spot for yourself, is fantastic.

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The water is blue and clear and refreshing.

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Worth it?  Perhaps.  I would recommend spending another day in Rovinj instead.  And if there is a next time for me, I’m renting a car.

Rovinj – How to spend a perfect day in a Croatian harbor town

Rovinj – How to spend a perfect day in a Croatian harbor town

I did not enjoy Croatia as a country to backpack in except for two places, Plitvice Lakes National Park and Rovinj.  If you are staying in Pula and looking for a good day trip, Rovinj takes the cake.

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It is a smaller, more charming coastal town than Pula and the fresh fish is legit.

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Before

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After

After a tasty lunch fresh from the sea you can rent a bike a take a ride through Park šuma Zlatni.

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Along the edge of the park there are rocky outcrops where you can take a nap or a dip, with or without clothing.

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Before you get too excited about the romantic idea of a nude beach, let me pop that bubble right quick.

Most of the swimmers that elect to forego a swimsuit in favor of their birthday suit are well over the age of 50 and are no longer in top physical condition.

If you can ignore these occasional “mid-50s-flashes” the bike ride is well worth it.

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Rovinj has a very artsy hill winding up its old town on the western peninsula.  The steep, diagonal streets act as a permanent art bazaar, with hundreds of local studios to choose from.

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Its not my thing – I’m not an art guy, nor a souvenir guy – but it might be yours.  Plus, it would be mighty difficult to tote a painting around in a backpack for three months.  If I buy any gifts at all while abroad, it is usually in the city I fly home from.

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At the end of the art hike and at the top of the hill in Rovinj’s old town is Saint Euphemia’s basilica, a baroque church, which you can see in the upper left in the above photo.

At the end of the day while waiting for the bus and watching old men play chess in the central square I realized I would have rather stayed in Rovinj than Pula.  If you’re thinking about making a trip to Croatia I would recommend you do the same.

Pula – A little bit o’ Rome in Croatia

Pula – A little bit o’ Rome in Croatia

Pula is a big town on Croatia’s northwestern coast with Roman architectural influence.

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Pula’s coliseum, or “Arena” as it is called today, is modeled after the one in Rome and though it is not as impressive, it boasts a similar gladiatorial history.

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Rome does not have a “China Town”, though admittedly (and oddly) Pula’s China Town is limited to one store.

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But the white architecture in Pula is far more memorable than its China town.

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The Temple of Augustus in Pula

And this is part of what makes Pula is a wonderful place to just sit and drink a glass of wine or an espresso.

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Under Emperor Vespasian, Pula’s amphitheater (6th largest in the world) was built  to seat 23,000 spectators. Back then it was the site of gladiator fights and other brutal amusements for the masses. Nowadays it satisfies a far less bloody purpose, operating as a venue for summer film and opera festivals.

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We stayed in a lovely hostel in Pula called Riva Hostel where we met two very cool French girls and the standard eclectic cast of “usual suspects” that you always seem to find in hostels.

Pula also has an industrious port.

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And nearby a spot to park your yacht if you are that lucky.

My yacht is the one on the left

My yacht is the one on the left

Maybe someday…

Overall I enjoyed Pula but one of the day trips we took from Pula ended up being more enjoyable.  Stay tuned for the next post!