The plan after Split was to spend a couple of nights at my friend’s place in Šibenik before I finally head to my last stop, Zagreb. During my stay in Split a work colleague of mine reached out for me and invited me to spend some time in her hometown Imotski. So, there has been a last-minute change in plans. There were no direct buses from Split to Imotski which was kind of problematic. Despite that little pickle, Matija was able to figure out a way and so that short visit to Imotski made possible. And so it was, on the day of my departure from Split, instead of taking a bus to Šibenik I took a bus to Dubrovnik and asked the driver to drop me off at Zagvozd where Matija waited for me to take me on a quick tour around her hometown.
The bus driver though needed some convincing, probably because it wasn’t customary for people to get on the bus and alight at a highway pay toll. I had to show him what my friend sent me in Croatian so he would get my point and allow me on the bus. It went well eventually and after an hour or so, I was at the pay toll station and Matija was already waiting for me.
We started the day with coffee and some bakery at a local coffee shop before we went hiking around the Blue and Red lakes. There is a hiking trail connecting the two lakes which goes through a pine forest and offers nice viewpoints of the two lakes. You can go in either directions but we started at the Blue Lake and hiked our way to the Red one. We got off the hiking trail afterwards and used the paved road to walk back to the car. There was another view point over the road where cars would stop, have a look at the Red Lake then drive off. So if you don’t feel like hiking or you are just driving through, you can effortlessly have a quick look for a minute or two.
I have no clue why the two lakes are named blue and red when their water is a very tempting shade of emerald green. The lakes fall within a deep sinkhole, probably caused by a collapse of an underground cave or so. At least that’s what the internet says 😀 The contrast between the emerald green water and the earthy soil colors added to the beauty of the place. The pine forest was intense, I could smell the pine as we hiked along. I suffer from an addiction to pine-cones, I have quite a collection, and hiking through that pine forest was very enjoyable and daunting at the same time because I felt like taking all those adorable cones home 😀
We had lunch afterwards in a nice restaurant located near River Vrljika. We ordered grilled meats that were super delicious, I ate till I wasn’t able to eat any more! After such a lovely morning and early afternoon, it was time for me to bid Imotski farewell and head to Šibenik. Matija drove me to the bus station and made sure that I was on the right bus. I was really overwhelmed by her keenness to show me around a small part of her beloved country and the effort she put with the bus company to make that happen. She helped in showing me a part of Croatia that probably very few people tend to visit. Thank you for the lovely time and hospitality 🙂
The bus ride to Šibenik got more enjoyable as we got closer to town. The views of the Adriatic coast from the highway were stunning. The bus passed by small towns with piers that housed shimmering white sailing boats. I was left excited about that part of my trip specially when I found Sara waiting for me at the bus station 🙂
It took me that short walk to Sara’s apartment to fall in love with Šibenik. The apartment was located in the old town of Šibenik and navigating through those pedestrian cobble stone paths granted me with such a cozy feeling. The town had a homey atmosphere to it and I really liked that. Everyone seemed to know everybody else and Sara would stop every now and then to say hi or to reply to a greeting. It was the same with Matija in Imotski. I come from Cairo where you probably don’t know all the neighbors in your building so such an encounter was quite stirring.
Sara had us booked that evening for a concert at St. Michael’s Fortress but before the concert I had to indulge myself in a long warm shower after the mishaps I had with the bathrooms of the hostel I was staying at in Split. While I was making myself presentable for a night out with Sara and her friends, Sara treated the two of us to a homemade dinner that consisted of four-cheese gnocchi which was delicious. The concert was for the iconic, and very popular, Croatian singer Josipa Lisac. The musical event took place in the fortress of St. Michael’s which overlooks the Kanal Luka or the Šibenik channel which eventually merges with the open sea. It was sunset time when we walked ourselves to the concert’s venue and I don’t need to tell you how beautiful the sun was while setting against the blue sea. It was breathtaking. The open-air theatre setting of the fortress was great and the night summer breeze made the event so enjoyable. I had such a lovely time despite not being able to understand a word of what the lady was singing. The atmosphere was enough to put me in a pleasant mood.
I was introduced to some of Sara’s friends during the concert and after it ended, we went for a walk through town. In Croatia and during the summer months, various cultural events take place at different venues in some of the popular cities of the country. So while walking around that night, we ran into a couple of live music performances. It was nice to be walking around while having music playing at every corner. We grabbed a bite at a street vendor and Sara and I retreated back to her apartment to have a good rest before the eventful day that awaited us.
In the morning, after a nice breakfast at home and a short walk through the sleepy town, we took off to Krka National Park in Sara’s Smart. Krka is one of the most visited national parks in Croatia and it is not that hard to figure out why. The lush green, the greenish-blue clear water, the landscape, and of course the waterfalls are a few reasons why. We started our visit with a boat trip through the lake of Visovačko jezero that eventually took us to Visovac Monastery.
The monastery was firstly built by Augustinian monks in the 14th century but in 1445, the Franciscan monks took over and expanded the property to what it is today. The boat trip was enjoyable on its own and the monastery was worth the visit. It has a museum which holds historic church exhibits, I even found documents that were written in Arabic, probability letters from the Sultan.
After the monastery we had another stop at the shore of the lake where one could take a quick swim or hike for an hour to a high view point. It was sunny and quite hot so we decided against the hike and instead, relaxed in the shade over coffee.
The boat ride back was as relaxing and enjoyable as the outbound. After the boat trip, we took on the hiking trail that walks the visitor through the greenery of the park and its waterfalls. It eventually leads to the waterfall where you are actually allowed to swim nearby so you better pack a swimsuit with you. The walk wasn’t demanding and mostly shaded so you are bound to enjoy it. Unfortunately that summer, the water levels were not that high and that caused some streams, small waterfalls even, to dry out! It was still enjoyable nonetheless and the quick dip we took at Skradinski buk in the end of our hike was quite refreshing and pretty much needed.
Kraka was simply beautiful and there is more than what can be done in a one-day visit if you have more time on your hands. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for me, so I was happy with what I experienced on my one-day short visit. After the national park, I had the pleasure of meeting Sara’s family for dinner. Sara booked us at a nice restaurant with an outdoor area which was perfect for dinner time weather. They had me try Peka that day and that was just super. Peka is not a dish or type of food. It is actually a method of cooking different types of meat that are accompanied by some vegetables. It is mainly popular with veal, lamb, and octopus. The meat along with the vegetables are to be placed in a dish with a metal lid. The dish is then left to cook slowly in an open fireplace after covering the lid with hot coals. This method of cooking takes time but the meat gets cooked in its own juices and that makes it tender and juicy to eat. We have something similar in Egypt which is called “Madfuna”. It literally translates into “buried” which totally makes sense because the food is put in an aluminum cooking pot and then the pot gets buried in a hole in the sand that has hot coal in the bottom. It also gets covered with hot coal from the top and the food is left to cook slowly sandwiched between hot coal and wrapped in hot sand. You are missing a lot if you haven’t tried either, be it Peka or Madfuna. I’m not really a meat lover guys but the food was absolutely delicious! I did eat a lot that day!!
We drove back to Šibenik afterwards and went out to meet some of Sara’s friends. I was too tired that evening that suddenly I became quiet and my head dropped while sitting with them. Sara took pity on me and walked me home then returned to her friends. I dropped dead once I hit the bed, I was extremely exhausted and all I wanted was to sleep! ZZZZZZ!
The following day we had an early start as well. We were driving a little further this time to a place I had on my list for a very long time. Can you guess what that place might have been?
You probably guessed it right. That place was Plitvice Lakes National Park. I have wanted to visit that waterfall park from the moment I knew about it and it was finally happening that day. I was super excited.
We packed ourselves some breakfast and hit the road stopping for coffee on the way. The drive to the park was enjoyable. We had greenery on either sides of the road even when we were driving the highway. There are two entrances to the park that are 3 km apart. The parking at either entrances is for a fee and the ticket office offers maps to the park in a number of languages including English of course. We parked at the first entrance and queued for some time till we got ourselves two tickets.
I was mesmerized by the beauty of the waterfalls and the turquoise-green colors of the lakes. I love waterfalls. I love how they seamlessly cascade over rocks finding their way through into a river or a lake. Their continuity is imposing, it feels endless the way they keep on going on as long as there is a “breath” in them. Maybe we can learn a thing or two from waterfalls. Things like perseverance and not permitting ourselves to be idle over some obstacles! Instead of being motionless, maybe we need to learn how to flow through difficulties and keep on going on. Like a waterfall does!
There are 8 different walking trails around the park that range from easy to difficult. The national park map explains them all. We started with the Great Waterfall, explored the lower and upper lakes, sailed through Lake Kozjaka, and had brunch in one of the picnic pavilions available throughout the park. It was a mixture of 2, maybe 3 trails, but I can’t seem to have any recollection of which ones they were exactly. We just skipped the long difficult ones since we were under a specific time schedule. Nonetheless, we had such a great time. I would do it all over again in a second.
After the national park, we had an early dinner in a nearby restaurant before Sara drove us to Rastoke to drop me off at my accommodation for the night. The last stop on my trip was Zagreb, and Rastoke being closer to Zagreb than Šibenik, was a perfect choice for a one-night stay. Rastoke is a tiny town that resides on both sides of the Korana River. It has a tourist information office, a supermarket and a bus station that is surrounded by buildings which host different kinds of shops and restaurants. I couldn’t find any available rooms in a hotel or a hostel, probably they were already packed. I was able though to book myself for a private accommodation in a residential house which was up for rent by the owners on Booking.com. That was super cool because for the first time ever, I spent the night in the attic of an old house 🙂
The house had an amazing location near a small river stream and it was a short walk to the bus station and the tourist information office. I was feeling the exhaustion by that time of the day, so I showered and slept soundly till the sun was up and the birds were singing.
I woke up to a nice sunny day and had breakfast outside by the river stream and a baby waterfall. That was lovely. I had a couple of hours to kill before the bus took me to Zagreb and what was a better way to pass the time than to walk around and explore this charming village.
Rastoke is known for its canyon and waterfalls and they can be viewed by visiting Slovin Unique. Slovin Unique is a recreational site that houses a bar, a souvenir shop, and a spacious green area that overlooks the canyon and waterfalls. It is a suitable place to chill and relax in the shade with a book or an iPod. I took my time walking around checking every angle till I needed to head back to the house to check out and walk myself to the bus station. Remember the over-packed suitcase I was travelling with that trip? I struggled, again, with some stairs that I needed to climb in order to reach the street level. On a very, very, rare occasion a gentleman came to my aid. Thank you kind sir.
The short walk to the bus station was a tad tiring with the sun shining mercilessly over my head while I was dragging that plump suitcase behind me. I made it to a very crowded bus station in a full sweat to find out that the bus to Zagreb has been cancelled and that another one was being expected! The station was full of hippies as it turned out that some sort of a festival took place a couple of days earlier and now everyone wanted to head back to the city including myself! The bus finally arrived, and everyone crowded on to it to get themselves a seat. I’m not a person who would force her way through a crowd putting those elbows in motion so I was a little alarmed by how everyone was forcing their way closer to the bus ! I did my best to come as close to the door as possible and there, the ticket officer decided who will be going on the bus and who would have to wait! Damn! I don’t need this I thought to myself! Luckily, I was able to secure a seat. It was probably the last available one, thank God for solo traveling I thought to myself. And just like that, I was finally on my way to Zagreb.
The bus ride to Zagreb was just a couple of hours and from the main bus station in the city, I took the metro to reach the hostel I booked for my last two nights in Croatia. The location of the hostel was great, the room was nice and clean. The hostel staff were also friendly and helpful. Now, let’s call it a “post” here and leave the talk about Zagreb to another publication. Stay tuned for the upcoming, and last, part of my trip to Croatia 🙂