Saturday, April 9, 2016

Slovenia & Croatia (Part IV of IV)

Sunday March 27-Saturday April 9

For our last big vacation as a family of 3 (well 3 1/2), we are spending 2 weeks in Slovenia & Croatia, staying 3 nights in Lake Bled, Slovenia (Part I); 3 nights in Rovinj, Istria, Croatia (Part II); 2 nights in Split, 2 nights on Hvar Island (Part III), 2 nights at Plitvice Lakes National Park, & 1 night in the Croatian capital Zagreb (Part IV).

Wednesday April 6 
Today we picked up some croissants and fruit at the bakery and market before our early morning 7:35am ferry departure from Hvar. This hour long ferry ride was much more enjoyable than our last one with a then crazed sleepy toddler. 
We retrieved our car from the apartment parking lot in Split and returned our keys. We began our hour long drive north of Split to the canyon of Krka National Park. The Krka River splits and cuts deep into the parched limestone. The nature lovers we are, we could have easily spent more than a day here on top of Plitvice Lakes National Park which is supposed to have Croatia's best waterfalls.
Krka National Park's claim to fame is the multi-tiered Skradinski Buk waterfall. It is bigger than Plitvice's cascades and less crowded. Also at Skradinski Buk swimmers are allowed to enter the lowest pool. Of course the park entrance ticket prices just went up in price. We did not have the best timing with arrival to take the boat from Skradin to Skradinski Buk so we drove straight to the Lozovac entrance. We had horrible timing here as well. The shuttle bus from Lozovac to Skradinski Buk was just departing as we bought our entrance tickets. We decided to not wait 30 minutes and make the hike the 875m down to the trailhead. It was all downhill so Jackie said we would definitely be taking the shuttle bus back up, no matter how long the wait. 
There is a circular 1.5 mile (1.9km) boardwalk trail that takes you around the various cascades. 
Brooklyn and Dad checking out the rushing waters of Krka
We walked along the boardwalks of the upper Krka falls
First viewpoint of the large waterfalls of Krka National Park

Selfie at the first viewpoint of the large waterfalls of Krka National Park
Boardwalks over the upper falls of Krka National Park
Another viewpoint on the north side of the large waterfalls of Krka National Park 
wall waterfall in Krka National Park
At the bottom of the falls, we ate our picnic lunch in the large outdoor eating area by the bridge that cuts across the swimming pool. 
The large lower waterfalls of Krka National Park

Joe was able to take these great photos thankfully, because Jackie had her hands full with Brooklyn in her arms because the very open railings and boardwalks were not toddler friendly. 
Jackie's best attempts at a selfie with this crazy child at Krka National Park 
Selfie at Skradinski Buk (waterfall) in Krka National Park, Croatia
Jackie and Brooklyn who is more interested in mama's ears than the waterfalls of Krka National Park
Jackie and Brooklyn at Skradinski Buk waterfall in Krka National Park
Skradinski Buk (waterfall) in Krka National Park, Croatia
Climbed off trail up some rocks for a few more views

Krka Hydro Dam, the first Croatian hydroelectric alternating current and the second hydro dam of its kind built on Tesla's design and patent following the American Forbes on Niagara River in Buffalo. It was operational up until WWI. 
View back down the river toward Skradin 
One more viewpoint of Skradinski Buk in Krka National Park near the hydropwer plant ruins

Even the algae moving rhythmically swaying in the moving water was beautiful 
Video of the movement:
We must have just missed the shuttle bus again because it was almost 30 more minutes before the next one showed up. Brooklyn stayed preoccupied with a stray dog. 
We continued our hour and a half drive from Krka National Park to the small hamlet of Mukinje, which is a 10 minute walk from Plitvice Lakes National Park entrance, where we would meet Jelena our Airbnb apartment owner. She was a very sweet lady and very accommodating. 
We stripped down to some cooler clothes and started some laundry. 
We drove to eat an early dinner at Restoran Degenija near Rakovica. Brooklyn just wanted to play on the nearby swing-set the entire time. 
The apartment was 2 bedroom and clearly built in the Communist era. The walls and floors were only thin concrete so we could clearly hear the neighbors and their screaming children enjoying the warm weather. 

Thursday April 7 
We started our day as early as possible to avoid the crowds. We took Jelena's advice and parked by one of the hotel's parking areas at the entrance and saved ourselves some parking money. We rushed down to buy our entry tickets so we can make the 8:30 shuttle bus ST-2 to ST-1 to the Lower Lakes. We chose to hike uphill from the Lower Lakes (Donja Jezera) to the most scenic stretch in the Upper Lakes (Gornja Jezera). 
Plitvice (PLEET-veet-seh) is arguably Europe's most breathtaking natural wonder, a forested canyon filled with crystal-clear lakes, stunning waterfalls, and easy-to-hike boardwalks and trails. It is a lush valley of 16 terraced lakes, laced together by waterfalls and miles of pleasant plank walks. It could be described as Niagara Falls diced up and sprinkled over a heavily forested Grand Canyon. 
This area is one of the poorest, remotest areas of inland Croatia and it shows. The people only care about their little part of their job. We could not buy our entry tickets until the park officially opened at 8:30. The lady there sent us to the info desk for questions about the train/shuttle buses. They were also not open until 8:30. Once we finally got our entry tickets, the shuttle bus was not there. Thankfully the lady at the front desk knew we were waiting so she made a call and the train came within a few minutes. 
Brooklyn testing out our hiking poles
We get out at the ST-1 stop and pass a few people hiking toward our direction. It was a 10 minute walk to Entrance 1. We had plans to follow route B trails. The trail that descends steeply down into the canyon was closed off. We questioned the Entrance 1 info desk to find out about all the closed trails. You would have thought they might have mentioned at Entrance 2 that certain trails were closed. Yet again another example of how if not asked or it's not part of their job, you get no individualized treatment beyond the norm of what is required of them. We start hiking back to ST-1 and realize that the camera battery has died and we did not pack the backup on us. We made plans to take the 20 minute boat ride back to Entrance 2 so that Joe could drive back to the apartment to get our backup camera battery. There was no way we were going exploring what we considered to be the highlight of our Croatia trip without our best camera not functioning. 
The 20 meter high cliffs tower above the Milanovac Lake with some views down to the boardwalk trail that literally go along the lake and is as close to the water as you can get. The boardwalk skirts along the rim of Kaluđerovac Lake. As we got closer, it was clear to see why the trail was closed. The water levels here were high and certain parts of the boardwalk were submerged in water.
Lower Lakes (Donja Jezera) of Plitvice Lakes National Park (Nacionalni park Plitvička jezera) from upper cliffside where Milanovac Lake falls into Gavanovac Lake. 

Lower Lakes (Donja Jezera) of Plitvice Lakes National Park (Nacionalni park Plitvička jezera) from upper cliffside where Gavanovac Lake falls into Kaluđerovac Lake. 

Lower Lakes (Donja Jezera) of Plitvice Lakes National Park near Kaluđerovac Lake.
Big Waterfall (Veliki Slap) plunges 250 feet over a cliff int the valley below, the biggest of Plitvice's waterfalls. 
We passed another closed-off small trail that leads down to Šupljara Cave ("Bottomless") where apparently several 1960s German and Italian "Spaghetti Westerns" were filmed. 
Falls from Lake Kozjak into the Lower Lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park 

As we rounded the corner on the trail between the Lower Lakes and Lake Kozjak, we clearly see the not-busy electric boat dock. We start to pick up our pace a bit to make this boat ride because they only run every 30 minutes or so. Yet again we are given the cold shoulder. The dockmen chose to ignore us and launch the boat with no wiggle room for allowing a pregnant lady and man with a toddler in a backpack on board the not full boat before departing. It was infuriating to watch the boat leave. No one else was around but us for miles and a very empty boat departing. So infuriating. 
Lake Kozjak is full of trout. 

We took a 20 minute ride on the low-impact electric boat across the biggest lake, Kozjak, from P-3 at the top of the Lower Lakes to P-2 at the bottom of the Upper Lakes. 
Upper Lake falls from the boat ride on Lake Kozjak in Plitvice Lakes National Park 

When Jackie saw the dock and trail conditions at P-2, she decided to ride over to P-1 with Joe for Brooklyn to have a safer zone to run and play while we waited for Joe to return with the working camera. 
The view of the falls from the Upper Lakes from the P-1 boat dock area. 
The Upper Lakes are a system of 12 lakes: Prošćansko, Ciginovac, Okrugljak, Batinovac, Veliko, Malo, Vir, Galovac, Milino, Gradinsko, Veliki Burget and Kozjak separated by travertine barriers.
We followed Route C for the Upper Lakes trails. After climbing steep stepped boardwalks from the boat dock, we passed deep clear blue pools with fallen trees stretching along the bottom. 

Momma and baby boy enjoying the Upper Lakes waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes National Park

We curled along the waterline of Gradinsko Lake and started to catch views of Veliki Prštavac. 

We stopped for lunch at a bench with a view of Veliki Prštavac 
Brooklyn saw Joe toss a rock into the lake so that's all she wanted to do until another couple with a dog showed up. 
As we approached Veliki Prštavac, we could feel the spray from the falls from Galovac into Gradinsko Lake. 

Thundering Veliki ("Big") Prštavac in Plitvice Lakes National Park 

More small falls of the Upper Lakes within Plitvice Lakes National Park 

Selfie in Plitvice Lakes National Park seconds before our daughter littered in the park dropping her plastic snack cup over a waterfall 
Momma and baby boy (29 weeks) at Plitvice Lakes National Park 
Mali ("Small") Prštavac 

Selfie at Mali Prštavac in Plitvice Lakes National Park 
Clear waters of Plitvice Lakes National Park 

Water rushing over the edge of the boardwalk at Plitvice Lakes National Park 

Loving Plitvice Lakes National Park, definitely the highlight of the trip! 
Upper Lakes waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes National Park 

Dad and Brooklyn at Upper Lake waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes National Park
We took a longer route toward shuttle bus ST-3 to allow time for Brooklyn to nap in the backpack. It weaves along the top of the best waterfalls and around Galovac Lake. 
Plitvice Lakes National Park boardwalk trails
Falls into Galovac Lake 

Boardwalk trail along Galovac Lake falls 

Had to take a selfie once our child finally zonked out in the backpack 
Panoramic view of the falls along Galovac Lake 
We took the ST-3 shuttle bus from the top of the Upper Lakes to the ST-2 stop at the Entrance 2 where we parked. Brooklyn's head was bobbing and swaying every which way trying to stay asleep in the most uncomfortable looking positions. 
After her nap, we took Brooklyn to the little town's shared children's playground to play for a bit. 

Friday April 8 
Today we had a 2 hour drive from Plitvice Lakes National Park to Zagreb, Croatia's underrated capital city, with interesting museums, lush parks, and a lively urban bustle. We checked into Hotel Astoria, a Best Western Premier, and parked the rental car. It was rainy but we did a little walking before grabbing lunch.
Jelačić Square (Trg bana Jelačić), the Times Square of Zagreb 
In the center of the square, is a statue of Josip Jelačić, a 19th century governor who did much to unite the Croats with the Habsburg Empire to put down the Hungarian uprising. During the Yugoslav era, he was considered a dangerous nationalistic symbol so the statue was dismantled and stored away. In 1991 Croatia Jelačić returned but now stars down the Serbs to the south instead of the Hungarians to the north. 
Cathedral (Katedrala) in Zagreb 
Croatia is devoutly Catholic. The full name is the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saintly Kings Stephen and Ladislav. 
We walked through Market (Dolac) in Zagreb.
Next we walked down Tkalčićeva Street among enticing eateries and people-watching. 
We sat and ate at a outdoor table on Tkalčićeva Street at Pivnica Medvedgrad Pub ("Bear Town"), a brewpub with several in-house beers and heavy, stick-to-your-ribs pub grub with a strong Czech feel. It was a pleasantly cheap and filling meal.
The hotel bathroom was large enough to squeeze the baby cot in so Brooklyn could take a better nap in a room where we weren't. 
We stopped for a drink again along Tkalčićeva Street. 
For dinner we enjoyed one last night of burek, our favorite Croatian pastry. 

Saturday April 9 
We drove the 20 minute drive to Zagreb Airport this morning. We arrived around 9:30am with no open parking spots at the location we picked up the Enterprise rental. Joe stayed with the car while Jackie went into the airport to question the desk agent on where to park the car. We had plenty of time to relax at the airport before our 11:55pm flight out to Amsterdam Schiphol. Yet again a poorly timed flight with a cranky daughter. She only wanted mom. Jackie tried her best to calm her down to sleep. The only way was when  a flight attendant tried to talk to her which made her desperately cling to mommy and give into sleeping on her. It was only an hour and half long flight and unfortunately Brooklyn awoke during deboarding. Jackie tried to keep her snuggled in and relaxed to see if we could get her back down once she was in her carseat. The problem was waiting for our luggage and then a long wait for the shuttle to the Park Plaza hotel to retrieve the car. We drove straight to pickup Chance from her 2 week stay at Joekelz dog kennel. It was nice to have the whole family back together again. It was a great vacation, but 2 weeks is a long time to be away from home. 

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