Week 2 of our year of traveling has flown by. We saw some great waterfalls – normally not really our cup of tea -, got to think about adjusting to the flow of mass tourism in Croatia, incurred some damage to our car and entered the third country of our trip, Bosnia.
We left off the last time at a campsite and beach near Rovinj that were both under construction. We had planned for a day of relaxation here, but left early after being again woken at 7 AM by construction noise. On a Saturday no less! So we packed up our tent and drove across Istria to the Plitvice Lakes.
The drive was great, following some amazingly quiet roads through rolling countryside. We passed small villages that time seemed to have forgotten and stopped in the colorful and serene hilltop village of Labin. Best of all: there were just a few other visitors.
South of Rijeka we drove along the coast with views of the islands of Rab and Krk, before heading inland negotiating some hairpin roads. We stayed in the town of Korenica, not far from Plitvice, where we’d booked a small and cozy apartment. The owners even brought us pancakes in the evening. So nice!
Plitvice consists of a chain of 16 terraced lakes. The waters flowing over the limestone and chalk have, over thousands of years, deposited travertine barriers, creating natural dams which in turn have created a series of beautiful lakes, caves and waterfalls. It is a Unesco World Heritage site and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Croatia.
We got up at 6 AM, to beat the crowds and indeed had some relative solitude the first few hours. The falls and turquoise lakes were beautiful. But then all tourist hell broke loose as tour buses arrived unloading their cargo into the park. At times people had to walk single file on the walkways across the water. Ugh. And summer hadn’t even begun yet.
But there was an exception: two viewpoints high up above the falls. Since not many people know about them there were just a few people there. During the 45 minutes or so we spent at the viewpoints we saw only seven other people. The view of the lower lakes and falls is the same image you see on the entrance ticket and most promotion material about Plitvice Lakes. But as no reference whatsoever on how to get to the viewpoints is made hardly anybody gets to see it. We’ll write a post about this soon.
Krka National Park
At Krka National Park things were far more relaxed, with fewer people, but the park is also much smaller, so at the end of our visit around noon this park was rather crowded too. Here too were some impressive falls, Skradinski Buk being the star attraction. We even swam in the pool in front of the falls. The water was still very chilly, but we braved it!
The pics of the falls at Plitvice and Krka were taken using a variable ND filter for the first time. We had bought the filter before our trip in the hope to create the smooth, silk like water streams that we love so much in photos from others. We didn’t have time to experiment before we left, but we were pretty pleased by the results.
Also included in the entrance ticket to Krka National Park are the Roški Slap falls, that can be visited by paying extra for a boat tour or just drive there yourself. Roški Slap consist of some minor waterfalls and a series of cascades that only can really be appreciated by climbing a set of 500+ stairs to see it from above. Of course we did this. Tough since the steps were fully exposed to the sun, but worth it for the view.
Bumping our car
The day ended on a more sad note as we had a little accident today as we drove into a wall with the back of our car in a small side street near the apartment (60% discounted!) in Split where we were staying for three nights. Steep, narrow, winding streets, may, many walls (high and low) and a car that stalls easily when it has to climb in reverse proved to be an unlucky combination. We have to continue our journey with a big dent in the bodywork of the car (and in my soul). Shit happens…, we don’t let this keep us from enjoying the rest of our trip.
A lowlight: Trogir
From Split we visited Trogir, a small town built on a tiny island. Unlike nearby Split’s Roman pedigree, Trogir’s heritage is Greek. The partially-walled old town and is enlisted as Unesco World Heritage. The pics that we saw looked great, but we suspect that they were taken before the town had surrendered itself to the tourist kuna/dollar. We felt that we’d walked into some kind of theme park, with almost every available nook and cranny filled with tourist shops, restaurants and terraces with parasols. A lowlight on our journey so far.
The possible beauty of the town was completely hidden from view. Maybe we visited at the wrong moment. After a slow start of the day we’d arrived around noon with tour groups streaming in, probably for a quick look around and lunch at one of the many restaurants. Maybe it’s better early in the morning before the tourist trade sets up for the day. Maybe it’s better to visit in the real off-season.
Or maybe it requires a completely different state of travel mind from us: more tourist instead of traveler. It’s a question we’ve asked ourselves a few times in Croatia, being confronted by so many heavily touristed places. Maybe we should change our perspective and go with the flow: sit on terraces (which can be costly during a year on the road) and relax instead of wanting to see a lot of special stuff. The jury is still out on that one.
Split, however, though very busy with tourists as well, agreed with us much better. A little to our surprise. Maybe because it’s a city – the second largest in Croatia – and cities are supposed to be alive with people. Maybe a city, because of its size, absorbs large numbers of visitors more easily. Or maybe it’s the lively city itself.
The historic core of the city is a Unesco World Heritage site dating back to 305 AD, when Roman emperor Diocletian moved in. The ‘palace’ he built – a labyrinth of streets with all kinds of religious, governmental and defensive structures – has been remarkably well preserved. It was great fun wandering around the ancient structures, the rest of the old town featuring some picturesque squares and the seafront boulevard.
Views of Omiš
From Split we drove past picturesque Omiš before leaving Croatia temporarily for a one week loop through Bosnia. Omiš, just 30 kilometers south of Split, has changed hands many times in the course of history, but is most notorious as a hideout for pirates in the 12th and 13th centuries.
We first climbed the stairs to the top of 12th century Mirabella Fortress, an easy 15 minute climb, an amazing view over the town and the mouth of the Cetina river. Later in the day we hiked to the ruins of Starigrad Fortress, much higher above town. Even though we parked our car in the village of Baučići so we didn’t have to do the first part of the 45-60 minute hike, it was still pretty grueling to get up the steep, rocky trail in the hot midday sun. But the views from here were fantastic too.
Driving into Bosnia
In the afternoon we drove for 3,5 hours to get to the Bosnian town of Jajce. The drive was gorgeous, with the scenery changing dramatically as we drove from the coast inland, our piece-of-shit Garmin sending us over many scenic backroads. The border post we passed clearly didn’t see much foreign visitors – one of the officials didn’t even speak English or German – and our Dutch number plates made heads turn on more than one occasion.
Not one kilometer seemed straight and we negotiated countless switchbacks as we drove from the dry rocky coast of Croatia into the green and fertile hills of Bosnia, sometimes looking like Austria, sometimes like the Belgian Ardennes and other times like the empty jaloos of Kyrgyzstan. Meanwhile minarets and the call to prayer as we drove through a small town just before 5 PM reminded us that we had entered a culturally very different part of the Balkans.
Jajce: Pliva waterfalls and lakes
Our first stop in Bosnia was Jajce, a pleasant historic town in western Bosnia. The main sight here are the 22 meter high Pliva Falls. What makes them unique is that they are located inside the town itself on a point where two rivers meet. Most people see the falls from the platform on the left in the photo or (if they don’t want to get wet or want to pay the 1 euro fee to get there) from the viewing point above it. The disadvantage is that you don’t get to see the view of the old town center perched above the falls. For this you had to go to a little visited viewing point across the river.
The town itself was nice to visit as well, with the ruins of a 15th century fortress affording some nice views of the surroundings. What we liked best after Croatia was how few tourists were around! The day started out great, got sweltering hot around noon and we were lucky enough to be at the youth hostel we stayed at to eat our lunch when a heavy thunderstorm with torrential rains kept us inside for a while.
After waiting this out we went to the nearby Pliva Lakes to have a look at 20 small wooden watermills that sit on a limestone partition that separate the Great and Small Pliva Lakes. They were once used by local farmers. The lake seemed like a nice place to relax a bit when the sun is out, but with grey skies, dropped temperatures and a little drizzle we had to pass on this. We’ll have enough opportunities for that later on in the trip!
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