After being gone for nearly a week in the San Francisco area, I am back and once again slowly grinding out these travel log posts. Now, where were we?
It was a scenic bus ride for most of the 3.5 hours between Rovinj and Zagreb. When I arrived it was late afternoon. Zagreb was exactly as I remembered it from my last visit and I hardly used the map as I made my way from the bus station to my hostel, which was two blocks off of the main square. As the capital of Croatia, Zagreb has a much more modern look than some of the other major cities in the country. Even the older parts of the city don’t feel that antiquated. For an evening meal I went to a fast food place that I had ate at on my last visit, though I think the shop went by a different name back then. Maybe it’s not the same shop, and it actually was replaced by the current one. Anyways, this place specializes in french fries with chicken nuggets and other things. Back at the hostel I made arrangements for a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park for the second full day in Zagreb. My throat was still bothering me and would continue to do so for the whole duration of my time there.
Clouds and rain moved in the next day. It was like the weather was trying to mirror my health. I knew that I just had to wait it out with my throat problems, but that didn’t make it any less unpleasant. My energy felt a bit sapped, but that wasn’t much of a problem because I didn’t plan on doing too much sightseeing in Zagreb. That wasn’t a judgment against Zagreb itself – the city is a nice place – but from my last visit I knew what the city had to offer and there was nothing I was dying to see. The main reason I was in Zagreb was for my day trip the following day to Plitvice Lakes. Still, even with my sickness and lack of motivation, I did a decent amount of sightseeing on the first full day. In the morning, after buying food and some cough drops, I went over to the main square and checked out the market that had been set up there. Outdoors was mostly produce and indoors was mostly meat and cheese and a little seafood. It’s rare for me to actually buy food from these markets but I always like visiting them. As it got close to noon I walked over to St Mark’s Square as I had read that on some Saturdays there is a mini changing of the guard ceremony. I got there late, so I don’t know if I missed the ceremony or if it wasn’t being done on that particular day. The church on St Mark’s Square has a colorful roof with the national and city emblems on it, though the church itself is closed to the public. Apparently the priest who administers the church does not want to deal with the hassles that come with tourism, which I can understand, even though it would be nice to be able to take a look inside. The Croatian national parliament is also on St Mark’s Square, though it too is not open to the public. I think I only saw two or three cops on patrol outside the building, so it struck me as under-defended, but maybe there’s more security than I could see. When I finished at the square I went over to the nearby Museum of Naive Art. In this case, Naive Art refers to art done by Croatian peasants with no formal art training. Most of them were poor and painted on glass, which was more available to them than standard canvas. There’s also a lot of winter scenes in their paintings because the rest of the year they were busy working their farms. The museum itself isn’t very big so I was done in half an hour and then I walked east, passing through a stone arch and by the altar of Mary that’s in the small tunnel connecting two of the main streets (sorry, I know these descriptions won’t mean much to most of you). A few people were praying at the altar and it reminded me of how Croatia is still a majority Catholic nation, which contrasts with the largely secular western Europe. With a bit more walking I came to the Zagreb Cathedral. The last time I was in Zagreb the city was doing restoration on one of the cathedral’s towers and while the work still wasn’t finished, I could see that they had made progress. Outside the church there’s an exhibit showing how badly the stonework of the church has been eroded over the years and what the restored exterior will look like. Part of Zagreb’s old city wall is also next to the cathedral, along with a large clock that was stopped at the moment the 1880 earthquake struck the city. In some of the crannies of the wall there were Legos that were filling the gaps. I’m not sure if it was some sort of art project or just people messing around. Inside Zagreb Cathedral it was fairly dark until someone turned on the church lights. On one of the walls near the exit you can see a strange looking inscription that looks like some sort of alien language. It is actually written in Glagolitic, a script created around the 9th century AD, probably by the missionaries Cyril (the same guy who created the Cyrillic Alphabet) and Methodius. Since the Slavic languages eastern Europe had sounds that didn’t match up the the standard Latin-based alphabets, Glagolitic and other scripts were created. These days Glagolitic isn’t used, but it’s considered an important part of Croatia’s national history. Once I was finished at the cathedral I returned to the main square and saw that some sort of ceremony was taking place. I couldn’t tell what it was for, but based on the emblems being flown and all the guys in wheelchairs, I’m guessing it was a tribute to wounded soldiers. A folk band and choral group performed and speeches were given. I started feeling really sick after a few minutes and returned to the hostel to sit down for awhile. When I was feeling better I went back outside and did one final bit of sightseeing by walking along the “Green Horseshoe” of parks, which is a long series of parks that look like a large U when viewed on the map. Along the way I passed through a small botanical gardens. Back at the hostel I researched and made reservations for some of my upcoming hostel stays in Spain and printed out directions to the next several hostels I was going to be staying in. I also got some blogging done and uploaded photos to social media. It struck me then that, for a vacation, I seemed to be doing a lot of work. That night I went to bed hoping that rest would do me some good, but I had a bad feeling about how the night was going to turn out.
As feared, that night was miserable. I got very little sleep and kept having to get up every hour to use the bathroom. There was no stealthy way to exit the room, so I probably woke up the others repeatedly that night. When morning finally came, I remember looking in the mirror and seeing bloodshot eyes staring back at me. I was tired and felt awful, but I had a trip to Plitvice Lakes planned and nothing short of being hospitalized was going to keep me from following through with it. To get to the bus station rode the tram and once there I found the bus and got on. It was about 2.5 hours to the lakes and during the ride the bus passed through parts of the Croatian interior still scarred by the war in the 1990s. If you go through there you’ll see a normal looking house and next to it will be an abandoned house with bullet holes and sections of the walls or roof blown out. From what I’ve read, most of the derelict houses belong to Serbians who fled the area during the war and have never come back. When the bus reached Plitvice Lakes National Park, it dropped me and everyone else off on the road, towards the west end and Entrance #2. My plan was to start hiking at the trailhead at Entrance #1, so I had to ride the park shuttle and then do some walking to get there. At Entrance #1 I made my way down a series of switchbacks down to the water. I had seen photos and video of Plitvice Lakes in the past, but being there is something else. When you’re not on a regular trail you’re on these wooden walkways directly over or next to the water, so you get real close to the scenery. There are also no guardrails on the walkways over the water, but they’re wide enough that I never felt in danger of falling in. I went over to the largest waterfall, called Veliki Slap and climbed up alongside it to an overwatch point. Not too many people make the climb, so I was by myself for most of the time I was up there. When I came down I followed the “B” route, which was supposed to take about three to four hours to hike. You could probably do this route in a little less time than that, if you can somehow stop yourself from pausing to take photos. I seemed to be stopping every few minutes, as every turn of the path yielded another great photo opportunity. Plitvice Lakes has the highest concentration of streams, lakes, and waterfalls I’ve seen anywhere. The water is also very clear and full of calcium carbonate, which explains much of the rock formations in the park. As I hiked along the trail I photo-bombed a group of middle-aged Asian women who were taking a group photo. Another item checked off the bucket list. The trail moving west from Entrance #1 towards Entrance #2 is uphill, but easy. Personally I think this is the better way to do it, because if you’re moving east then you’ll keep having to turn around to see the waterfalls. After some hiking, I came to the boat landing P3 and caught a boat across the largest lake to the landing at P2. At this point I was near the end of the B route but I still had over an hour before I needed to leave the park and go to the bus stop, so I looked at the map and decided to loop north around two of the upper lakes. There weren’t as many people hiking around the upper lakes region as the lower lakes. I hiked past the two lakes and a large waterfall, up to an intersection with another trail going even farther north. If I had more time I would have kept going but by then I needed to start making my way back. I arrived back at the P2 boat landing and got on a boat to P1, which is near Entrance #2, and from there walked to the bus stop. Generally it’s not advisable to be doing lots of physical exercise when you’re sick, but in this case I was feeling better overall when I left Plitvice Lakes. My throat wasn’t bothering me so much, though my nose was running a lot. Back in Zagreb I was able to get to bed at a decent hour and slept a lot better than the night before.
My bus to Split wasn’t scheduled to leave until 2:00pm the next day, so I slept in and after I got up I didn’t leave the hostel until the late morning. I made use of the guest computer to publish a blog post, print my travel visa for Turkey, and book a pair of hostels for my upcoming time in Spain. With the little time I spent outside the hostel I went up the Zagreb Eye, which is an observation deck on a tower on the main square. The guy operating the tower’s elevator asked me where in the United States I was from, and I told him Colorado. I don’t know if it’s funny or if I should be concerned, but the first thing he knew about Colorado was how we had decriminalized marijuana. After getting some photos from the observation deck, I came down and got a meal from a place nearby. Then I went back to the hostel for my backpack and went over to the bus station. It was time to head to the Dalmatian coast.