OK You’ve seen the proof, you now know where the most beautiful sites in the world can be found, so let me try and breathe some life into the pictures.
Just quickly to touch on the train trip between Prague and Zagreb. Enchanting! Travelling through pretty, small, towns in the Austrian Alps, coming in through Vienna to change trains and kicking back letting a beautiful world float past, was a great way to get from point A to B. Whenever in Europe I will try and do more train travel – I noticed it was also a particularly good way to leave and enter a country unnoticed in case you should ever have the need….
Well one, two, skip a few and voila, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia. Hands down THE most BEAUTIFUL natural wonder I have ever seen. Kerrie agreed and between us we have had the good fortune to see some beautiful places. This park is declared by UNESCO as a world heritage area, and may it be ever protected. It was hectically busy, so I would recommend a visit outside peak season. The impact of many people is keenly felt as the journey through the park is mostly on wooden bridges suspended over the lakes, so you only travel as fast as the slowest person. Highly annoying.
Kerrie and I are no novice bushwalkers or map readers but at any point we had absolutely no idea where we were as the provided maps bore no correlation to the signs at pathways. Unfazed, we found some stunning walks that got us away from the crowds. This is a place where getting lost just means more time to let the soul drink in it’s awe-inspiring surroundings.
Reluctantly leaving Plitvice we headed on the road to Split. We had decided the trip from the lakes to Dubrovnik was probably too much of a hurdle in half day and anyway we wanted to see the Diocletian palace – the oldest city area in Europe.
Split was not quite what we expected, though if you were to ask what we expected we probably couldn’t tell you. We arrived in the high season with no accommodation bookings so we parked the car in the first place we could find and prioritised the accommodation. With no idea what we were doing we found ourselves in an office agreeing to something , paying a ridiculously small amount of money for it and following a strange man into the unknown to find it. Turns out it’s good to put all your misgivings to one side as the place we found ended up being fantastic. We also snagged a car park right out the front – unheard of in Croatia! This was after being told by the accommodation man that we already broken three traffic laws by parking it where we had initially stopped, and I think we broke another two on the way out…
Anyway logistics taken care of we set of to explore Split. We headed down to the water first and were met with our idea of beach hell. Thousands of people, rubbish in the water, no sand, no rocks only concrete, an aussie nightmare! Too be fair I don’t think we found the nice swimming hole as on the drive on the way out we saw some stunning beaches. We then headed into the Diocletian palace and wow! What a site. At first we weren’t too impressed as there was graffitit and shabbiness but as we turned ore and more corners and walked down more and more enchanting skinny lane ways we started to love the place.
Having said that I won’t spend too long here as the highlight for us was really Dubrovnik. The drive there walked the line between, traumatic, spectacular, frustrating and amusing. Turns out you drive through Bosnia on the way, who knew? We got to a place where everyone was stopped and some frantic man was asking us for our passport. We explained it was in the boot and he then made a ‘Oh stuff it’ type of phrase and hand gesture and waved us through without checking. We were throroughly amused to be suddenly driving through a different country and spent time trying to figure out why it was that Croatia had allowed itself to be split in half.
We finally got to Dubrovnik and I kept knocking the steering wheel on my jaw I was so amazed. What a stunning city – I keep using this word but I really did find myself in a state of being physically stunned by what I was witnessing. Never have I seen such a mix of architectural, historical and natural beauty all jumbled together and setting each other perfectly like a well designed outfit.
We checked into our run of the mill, but very comfortable hotel, happy to be in one place for a few days. Parked our little red car and vowed never to move it again until the horrible day of airport departure arrived. Then we grabbed the bus and set out for the Old Town. We had decided that the priorty was dinner and sight seeing could wait, however we were highly distracted finding our way to the restaurant as we discovered lane upon lane of ancient beauty and wonder. Finally we tore ourselves toe by toe away from each new brillint site and found our proposed dinner location. Unfortunately so had everyone else, the restaurant was packed which of course made us all the more keen to eat there. We made a reservtion for 8:15 and oh what a shame we now had 30 minutes in which to explore. If it wasn’t for our rather intense hunger it’s possible we may not have made it back. However we did get back, sat down and opened up the menu to find that we could happily sit there all week and sample every last item written down.
The food was absolutely delicious and we promptly made a booking for another night. Afterwards we walked of our food by soaking up the busy happy ambience of the town which regardless of the time, still had people queueing for dinners up and down different alley ways. The atmosphere was electric, however our batteries were a little flat and we knew had to be early for the next days adventure so we jumped on the bus home and passed into happy dreams.
We had a delicious breakfast and were rather upset that we had to leave quickly as we could have spent much time sampling everything on offer. So we illegally stole some snacks and lunch for the road and headed off to the port to get a ticket for our day on the island! I was very excited about this trip as the pictures and write up about this place sounded like the thing dreams are made of. The island was called Mljet and we managed to get tickets fter some initial confusion and off we went.
High expectations frequently result in disappointment, but not so this time. Even as we pulled into the busy port I could tell we were about to have a magical day. We quickly hired some bikes from the first guy who offered and they were amazingly good, with the exception of Kerrie dropping her chain in the first 200m, but a replacement was found and we trundled on. Or trundled up I should say as the island s quite hilly and some rises must be conquered before one is rewarded with never before seen vista of salt water lakes, with crystal clear turquoise water, surrounded by lush vegetation and with an ancient monastery sitting on an island in the middle of a lake.
Kerrie and I really wanted to visit the island but didn’t want to cycle all the way back to get a boat. We could see that it was a swimmable distance but we couldn’t arrive at the monastery in just our swimming costumes, none of the diners at the al fresco cafe wanted to be put off their gelato by me strutting around in my bathers. So it was a condundrum and we had decided that the monastery would have to be missed. Until! I had the cracking idea that the zip lock bags carrying our snacks for the day could transport our clothes in a dry state and some plastic bags, checked for holes could transport shoes… So we decided to give it a go, with much giggling and feeling rather daredevilish we made it across to the other side and got out just where the no swimming placard was located. It worked! Well almost, Kerrie’s new shoes may never be the same again but everything else did just fine. So we joined the gelato chowing crowd, looked around the old monastery and swam back feeling very pleased with ourselves.
After that unforgettable day we hustled back into the old town for a movie, but there was no chance of making the movie before we could be seated at the yummy cafe we wanted to try. Food of course took priority and the movie could hang. We then joined the alcohol swilling public in one of the large out door squares and partook in some people watching and listening to the live music being played.
On our last day I was torn, having had such a glorious time swimming I was keen to dip myself into the Adriatic Sea again but there was too much else to do! We took more time at breakfast which allowed me to have two banana and nutella crepes and I only had to elbow small children out of the way once. We then did a thorough exploration of the lanes, alleyways, stairs and various adorable squares before plonking ourself at a bar just outside the walls staring at the Adriatic and watching people jumping from the rocks into the magic looking water. I seriously tossed up going and buying a bikin and towel so I could join them but choose to look on with a glass of wine instead.
After having had lunch and dinner in our favourite restaurant from the first night we then went to something called the National Lado which was a collection of music, song and dance from around Croatia. It was held outdoors in the ampitheatre of an ancient beautiful building and we sat there mesmerised by the display of dancing and atmospheric music. Kerrie and I just kept looking at each other with silly grins on our faces because we were lovnig it so much.
And so with much sadness we left, passing by all the blinged up party goers who were heading to the very building we had just came out of for a much more modern version of song and dance…
If you go to one European place in your next summertime trip to Europe make it Dubrovnik. I’ll be back and next time my reservation will be for weeks!