After spending a few months in the states for various weddings and celebrations and seeing our people, we left for Croatia! Three flights, a morning in the Moscow airport spent sleeping on the floor, and some terribly expensive airport sandwiches later, we zombie-walked out of the Zagreb airport and into our rental car unsure of what day or hour it was.
After getting all the sleep we possibly could at our tiny studio for one night, we were off to Plitvice National Park (Plitvička Jezera in Croatian), a three hour drive away. Well, we were off after a few hours of waiting and then a stop to the closest rental car office: our car’s “check battery” light turned on that morning and the power steering went out so we traded it in for a sure thing. Then we were off! I count it as true progress that neither of us were fazed by this. Set back? Change of plans? No big deal. Guys. I think I’m really growing.
Our apartment near Plitvice was wonderful. We drove up assuming the worst, because that’s how you get by on round the world trips, but we entered our own super clean, super new, well decorated three bedroom apartment and smiled big happy smiles. Airbnb FTW. There was even a wood stove, which kept us cozy – it’s cold up here in northern Croatia!
We drove 8km to the park the next morning and bought a two-day pass. Most people see Plitvice in just one day, taking a tour bus from a major city and spending a few hours, but we wanted to be able to take our time since there are numerous walking paths in the area. Plitvice is a series of 16 terraced lakes, with barriers formed by travertine limestone formations, that flow into one another from countless waterfalls. These travertines grow around 1cm per year! The water is a bright, completely clear blue. Wooden paths and trails lead over the water and through the forest.
The forecast for our two days in the park predicted rain. And rain it did. We explored the Upper Lakes over a couple of hours as the dark clouds threatened rain but held back. There was water everywhere, going every which way. Most of the wooden paths were really flat bridges, so you could peer over either side into the crystal clear water below.
When we had a choice to take the shuttle back down to the boat we took in, we decided to walk the path a few miles back instead. It was lightly raining, but it wasn’t enough to deter us. Almost exactly as we headed down the path, the thunder and lightning we had been hearing in the distance was on top of us and the sky began pouring down. We were so, so wet. Calling it quits for the day, we trooped the few miles back to the boat, then back to our car.
As soon as we got back to our apartment and showered, the afternoon sun came out in full force. Our plan had been to cozy up and watch movies and blog the rest of the day as we waited out the rain, but the sun was inviting us to go and explore more. So we picked a nearby town on the map, Rastoke, that looked cute as we drove by it the day before and went exploring!
It was as if the town was built on top of a tiny Plitvice; there were waterfalls everywhere. And even though the town consisted of a few dozens houses, pubs, and hotels, it was made up of three islands in the middle of two rivers. Very picturesque and a great place to watch the sun set in the chimney smoke-filled air. This is also where we learned that no pubs in Croatia (or caffe bars, as they are called here) serve any food whatsoever. When I asked if the pub had snacks, our waiter told us in a friendly but terse manner, “No. What do you think this is? This is a BAR.” Oh. In America, we like our beer with a side of nachos. Here, they like their beer with a side of beer.
Though the weather predicted thunderstorms, we had a day gorgeous second day in the park. We got there nice and early but there is still no way to avoid the throngs of tour groups that descend onto Plitvice, even in the low season. As usual, we opted for the trails less taken and ended up in some spots I think few people get to see.
At the foot of the largest waterfall, everyone stops to take pictures and then exits the way they came in. We saw a path straight up to our left and took it, finding a cute little tunnel to take us up above the whole park.
From up above the lakes, we were treated to some amazing views. One of my favorite moments was waving at the people on the upper trail across the canyon as we all paused to take in the views. I’ll never know who they were or where they were from, but for that moment, humanity and communication were simple and uplifting. So good for the souls of travelers.
As we headed back down to the lakes, we found a few caves, one of which went really deep!
Our reactions in this particular cave were pretty different.
I was feeling freaked out and frustrated with myself for not being brave enough to enjoy this creepy geological gift. Then I remembered that being brave is always preceded by being scared. You can’t be brave if you aren’t scared. So I celebrated being brave enough to go to the end at least!
As we made our way back to the main gate, we were treated again to some stunning views along the wooden footbridges.
Plitvice was a lovely beginning to our second chapter of travel. As with any unique natural display, I’m in awe of the creativity of the Creator who made you and me and of these places. It tells me that this Creator thinks joy and beauty are just as important as justice and redemption; that they are a part of it. I find myself whispering “why?” to the wind as I ponder what purpose this place ultimately has in the world and I hear the response in the water falling all around me: “why not?”.