31 May 2011

And here is where my day got awesome [Croatia... Take II]

After my few days in Bosnia I trundled back into Croatia for the second time on this trip. The plan was to hook up with Mike and Andrea, two crazy cats I met on the sailing trip. I got a bus from Bihac to Grabovac, a small town just over the Croatian border. From there I could have either waited 40 minutes for a bus, or hitched the 10kms to Plitvice. I chose the latter. I was picked up after only about 10 minutes by a guy driving one of those tiny Suzuki flat-bed trucks. As we were nearing Plitvice I saw two people walking on the side of the road - it was Mike and Andrea! I got the guy to pull over, jumped out of this tiny truck, grabbed my backpack, and ran over to meet them. They were like 'Uhh, what the f just happened? Did you just get out of that tiny, weird truck?'. Yeah, it was awesome.

We found a cool place to stay just down the road from Plitvice National Park (the reason for us being there!), and after a bit of bartering got an awesome room with a sweet balcony. As a bonus we got a whole van load of German tourists who were also staying at the same place. One night we sat up drinking and chatting with them - most of them having children that were older than all of us - but they were still awesome people to hang out with.

We spent the next couple of days exploring Plitvice. This place is beyond amazing. Basically it is a series of lakes connected by waterfalls, set in-amongst the greenest, most lush forest land. The park is really well set up - with plenty of well maintained walking tracks, bridges etc. A lot of the time you are walking over fast flowing rivers and waterfalls... very cool. Fishing is not allowed - so there are hundreds of thousands of fish filling the lakes, as well as birds, butterfly and all kinds of other animals and insects. If you are looking for somewhere that will take your breath away - this is it!

My next stop was Zagreb to meet up with my friend Maja, but as she wouldn't be arriving until the following afternoon, so I had time to burn. I was on a roll, so I decided to hitch again; get a ride in the general direction and see where I end up. Someone pulled over after about 10 minutes and was heading for Karlovac, a small town about an hour from Zagreb. Sounded good to me!

We arrived in Karlovac about an hour later, and here is where my day got awesome. I was sitting outside a block of apartments where I had found an unsecured wifi network (scouring the net for a hostel or couchsurf host) when a guy cycles up to me and asks if I would like a juice or cold beer. 'Hells yeah!'. So five minutes later I am sitting on a bench outside Ivans house sharing a beer and just chatting about life in general. I am not exactly sure why he came up to me, maybe he just saw my backpack and decided to show me some charity, or maybe he just liked chatting to a native English speaker. Either way I enjoyed both the company and the beer.

Soon afterward I got a SMS from a couchsurf host in Karlovac - PERFECT! We organised to meet later that afternoon. In the meantime, Ivan invited me into his house to meet his two boys and to share lunch and a coffee. I have been to a few places in the world, and it is rare to experience such random charity. Nice work, Croatia. After lunch I met up with Jelena, a cool Croatian girl with a friendly and inviting extended family. They have an awesome little cottage about 50m from the main house for guests to stay in, so that was to be my pad. That evening was the most intense electrical storm I have ever experienced in my life. It was SO close, SO loud and SO freakin' bright! I was sure it was going to strike my little cottage.

After my short stop in Karlovac, I hitched a ride up to Zagreb and met up with Maja - another super-awesome Croatian girl that I had met in Rome. She was an amazing host... making me amazing food and giving me a great tour all over Zagreb. Highlights - the markets in the upper-town, the HUGE cemetery (said to be one of the most beautiful in Europe), the Church of St. Mark (with its beautiful tile roof), drinking AMAZING dark Croatian beer, and the strawberry sellers that can be found literally everywhere; all over the city! (Oh, and they are dirt cheap - like €1.20 for a big carton).

I cut my stay in Zagreb a day short - mainly because I wanted to apply for a Belarus visa in my next destination - Belgrad, Serbia. From past experience, these visa things take time, so I thought arriving first thing on Monday morning would help speed things along. Impressions from my second visit to Croatia - the inland area is definitely more 'inviting' than the coast. Not that the coast is unfriendly, it is probably just that the inland areas are less touristed. It has been amazing, hanging out with some great people, seeing more of this beautiful country. I am so glad that I changed my plans and made the effort to see the north of Croatia.


  1. You should have changed your plans even more and head for Slovenia, that would be a blast, I can assure you... :))))) Oh well, next time maybe. Have fun Neal!


  2. And now I want to go to Plitvice. It's a pretty version of my Gooseberry Falls. :)


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