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Published: October 20th 2010
As I had mentioned in the last blog, we left Italy for Slovenia, but were only there for one night as we passed through the small passage of land that is Slovenia's coast. This largely consists of the charming port town Piran which is still a small marina village at heart but after a few hours wondering around we were beginning to see its value as a potential holiday destination. The Slovenians, on first impression were a charming bunch, cheery and amused by our attempts at some Slovenian phrases. At a population of 2 million, they have their own unique language, but are also masters of other languages. Slovenian schools offer students the option to study English, German, Italian and sometimes French. At a minimum it seemed most people were bi-lingual. Even the lady at the bakery was switching languages trying to pre-empt our nationality. We left Slovenia pleased with the knowledge that we would be returning and spending more time in such an interesting country.
A spontaneous change of plans meant that my Mum would happily be joining us in Croatia. We had agreed to meet in Pula, a town at the head of the Istrian Peninsula. We got
Fancy a Coffee and then a Swim?
Quite a few people were lounging around eating croissants in the their bathers before heading out for a swim
lucky with a brilliant camp site which was full of trees and surrounded by ocean. Despite it's beautiful setting it had been endowed with the name 'Camp Stoja'....sounding a bit more like military base than a luxury camping resort. We had arranged for Mum to have one of the on-site cabins which meant that as soon as she arrived Phoebe abandoned Lentil for the comfort of Grandma and a proper bed. Although the weather was still sunny and warm, and the water looked incredibly inviting, I was scared off swimming as some fellow campers had told us of the jellyfish issue in Croatia. My thoughts returned to Malaysia and my run if with a jellyfish I'd rather not repeat. As it was, the beach was well, non-existent. There were just rocks....big rocks, flat rocks, small rocks and rocks with jagged edges. It was a common sight to see some European couple sprawled out on beach towels lying on some big rock they'd found, looking not unlike a pair of desert lizards.
We had high hopes of getting a boat out to the nearby islands but when the day came to do that the weather turned bad, complete with grey
Port town of Rovinj
We free camped here for one night on the way to Pula
skies and a drizzle of rain that later turned into a downpour. As weather forecasts continued to provide us with bad news we decided to abandon the coast in favour of the a national park, called Plitvice Lakes to do some earnest walking ourselves this time. As we took the long journey inland we became accustomed to the Croatian countryside. Small towns with huge blocks of flats and then small villages, more commonly with abandoned houses, either burnt out, or simply falling to pieces. Some were definitely safety hazards and had a few lines of warning tape wrapped around them. We kept wondering why so many houses were abandoned and while it is understandable that there was possibly a general shift from country to city, it did not explain why the houses were still standing completely neglected. Later we discovered that these houses in fact belonged to one time Serbian minorities who had fled during Croatia's War of Independence. The Croatian government has been slow to move on post war land reclamation and currently Serbians wishing to reclaim their land and houses have to navigate through a labyrinth of bureaucracy (with confusing 'new laws' that do not supersede 'old laws'
Before Setting Out on Our Walk
Fully prepared for the weather!
which discriminate against minorities) that does not always end in the desired outcome anyway. So in the meantime, until a clear and transparent process exists, the houses sit there, a blight on the landscape and a haunting reminder that war on these lands has not been too long past.
Reminders continued as we found Mum and Phoebe and place to stay in the Plitvice Lakes which was once used as an army barracks for Krajina Serb Rebels and was the site of the first fatalities of the war. However, these days it's a comfortable hotel, which while it certainly displayed hallmarks of communist era decorating and architecture in all it's retro non-glory, it was inviting enough (or maybe the weather was bad enough) that Nick and I decided we too would abandon Lentil and enjoy it's comforts.
The following day we all set off for a walk around Plitvice Lakes despite the rain. We had decided that it now seemed useless to wait for clear patch as by now it was raining constantly. We donned the goretex jackets and off we went in a truck that took us down to a drop off point. Spending a night in
the very functional black and red room had clearly started affecting my Mum as she couldn't help but make a few cheeky remarks and calling me 'comrade'. For my part I kept thinking back to George Orwell's 1984 and the community hikes described that it seemed we were about to embark on.
The Lakes were stunning, totally stunning. The area is a natural weir, or series of weirs which result in a series of spectacular waterfalls. The Lakes themselves were often turquoise or even green having been naturally coloured by the minerals in the rocks. Walkways wound through the park and often turned into board walks which would wind almost miraculously over or around the waterfalls. Often the paths would be water logged, or the lakes would be so full they were level with the paths. For times like these we had to carefully hop from rock to rock and hope we didn't fall in. Luckily we all managed ok. We finished our walk in a few hours and happily went back to what my Mum was now calling 'Camp Comrade' for a warm shower and change of clothes.
Our last stop was Zagreb where my Mum insisted
she shout us to a night in Hotel Dubrovnik. The hotel was plush and we revelled in the luxury and comfort, able to completely forget about the realities of Lentil and the one shower ever three nights regime. That night I think I never slept better. The following day, after an explore around town, we headed off for Slovenia. As Croatia is not part of the EU this would require a border crossing, but this was merely a formality and usually just a show of passports. On the drive we started to see trucks lined up, first a few, then the line kept going and going. The whole emergency lane was taken up with trucks. What was this truckies party?? Soon enough we found ourselves in our own line of cars....hundreds of cars, all waiting and gridlocked. It appeared that we chose the perfect time to cross into Slovenia, just as all the customs officials had gone on strike. Three hours wait and a passport check (by some reluctant policemen) later, we were in Slovenia and managed to make it to the capital city of Ljubljana just as the clock struck 9.30 pm.
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