A Travellerspoint blog

Back to the real world


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All that remained of our epic adventure was to drive ourselves across France and Belgium, filling ourselves with baked goods and filling Gav with wine. We took the opportunity to reflect on the things that defined this leg of our trip before jumping on the ferry to Hull and reaching our first winter for two years!

Sunshine
One of the advantages of being mobile is that you can adjust the speed or even direction of your journey to maximise any good weather. That said, we rarely had to think about it, so reliable was the sunshine. Our trousers, jumpers and coats spent most of the time stowed away in the recesses of Gav’s storage. It was not until October that we started wearing warm clothes with any regularity and, even then, the sun still shone. In the height of summer, it was so warm that we actually bought a small paddling pool so that we could bathe our feet in cold water to cool ourselves down. It wasn’t until our final week travelling home through France that we had a prolonged period of cloud. We were even forced to turn back because of snow whilst driving across the Vosges!
Winter! What is this?

Winter! What is this?

Languages
Whilst English is certainly the second language of choice virtually everywhere we went, we still tried to pick up the basics of each of the languages we encountered if only to manage “hello” and “thank you”. Spending so much time in The Balkans made things simpler as the former Yugoslav languages are more like different dialects than different languages. The Balkan languages are also relatively straightforward to read as each letter pretty much makes one sound regardless of what comes before or after it. We hardly covered ourselves in glory, but our feeble attempts certainly helped raise a smile, although all too frequently the words would stumble out in the language of the previous country as our brains took time to adjust.
Translations aren’t always reliable

Translations aren’t always reliable

Driving
Perhaps it’s obvious that driving is an integral part of a road trip, but with seventeen different countries visited, getting to grips with the nuances of each one made for some entertaining moments. The rules for each country were easy to look up, but working out the application of these presented various challenges. For example, the speed limit in built up areas was 50kph in every country, but each country has a different way of telling you that you’re entering a built up area. Occasionally, they adopt the radical approach of actually telling you the speed limit. Usually, though, you just get the name of a town to indicate a built up area, although in some countries a different coloured sign indicates that, whilst it is a town, it’s not a built up area, so you can go faster. You just have to work this out, though. Because these signs are in a language that’s foreign to us, or worse, in a non-Roman alphabet, this can make distinguishing between the name of a town or a sign advertising the local shop even more problematic, and that’s before considering the numerous missing signs or the plethora of vegetation that frequently obscures the signs altogether. Looking to other drivers for clues was a tactic employed with varying degrees of success. In Switzerland, this is foolproof as the Swiss conform to a national stereotype and obey their rules. In most countries, however, the other drivers are almost certainly speeding and looking to them as an example is a bad idea.
Not sure if he’s the driver, although it might explain the parking skills

Not sure if he’s the driver, although it might explain the parking skills

Alcohol
Whilst we tried local beer in all of the countries, they were all fizzy lagers of varying quality. What was perhaps surprising was the range of local wine on offer in these places. Most of the countries we visited have their own wine industries but, with the obvious exceptions like France and Italy, they don’t produce enough of it for it to make its way into the international market. We had wine from Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia, some of which was surprisingly good.
The local drink of choice in eastern Europe is rakija (essentially schnapps). It comes in a variety of different flavours, depending on what it’s made from. The most common is plum, but we also had apple, pear, grape and apricot. A huge proportion of the rakija drunk is homemade. It’s also a very common sight to see people selling it at the side of the road. Depending on the country, you can pick a litre up from between 50p and £3.
It wasn’t Chivas in the bottle...

It wasn’t Chivas in the bottle...

Activities
We spent a huge proportion of our trip in the mountains and so we did lots of walking - we’ve now got a small collection of walking maps (of varying quality!) from across Europe. Most of the mountains we visited were quite steep and so there tended to be two sorts of walk: a gentle stroll round a lake at the bottom; or a steep ascent to the top. Medium length walks were hard to come by without sleeping in mountain huts.
We also used our bikes a fair bit. It wasn’t always for a massive ride. Sometimes the campsites are rural and the easiest way to get to a town is by bike as it saves packing Gav up, plus the parking is free!
Whilst this leg of our trip was less action packed than our time down under, we still managed a fair few activities. As well as the hiking and cycling, we went canyoning, kayaking on both flat and white water, SUPing, rock climbing, rafting and via ferrata climbing.
Braving a selfie on the cliff face

Braving a selfie on the cliff face

Food
What trip of ours could be complete without food! Last year we made a point of eating out once in each country we went to, but that was Scandinavia and so expensive. In eastern Europe and The Balkans we didn’t need to be quite so restrictive as you could get a full on meal for the same money that a beer would cost you in Norway. Having spent a lot of time in the mountains, a lot of the food was rib-stickingly stodgy. A meal didn’t seem to count as food unless it contained at least two out of meat, cheese and pastry. Whilst the food in eastern Europe isn’t going to win many culinary awards, that’s not to say that it’s bad quality. They just have a more limited supply of ingredients, the upside to this being that everything is fresh and local. Much like with the booze, it’s common to see people growing their own vegetables and selling them at roadside stalls. Conditions must be right for growing cucumbers and tomatoes because we seemed to eat a lot of them.
It wouldn’t be right to talk about food in eastern Europe without mentioning doughnuts. From the moment we entered Romania, we had over a month of doughnut-based cuisine until we arrived in Croatia. Who would’ve thought that doughnuts, jam and feta would be a winning combination?
A light breakfast in the mountains

A light breakfast in the mountains

With our fourth trip of our break complete, and with it being twenty two months since we last did a day’s work, it was time to park Gav on our drive and begin the task of reintegration to the real world.

Posted by aliceandguy 03:03 Comments (0)

Switzerland


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We had originally intended to visit Lake Como in northern Italy but, chasing some good weather, we drove right past and into the Swiss alps. The town of Engelberg was well located to provide us with a mountainous stop-off without being too much of a detour from the most obvious route north. It was also a good choice because it had a campsite that was open year round - many shut in the autumn and reopen for the ski season. The town is situated in a deep glacial valley and provided us with three walking opportunities, one on either side of the valley and one at the end. We weren't in the mood for anything too strenuous so we caught various cable cars, chair lifts and gondolas along the way to help take out some of the ascent. What little cloud there was gathered in the valley beneath us, leaving us in bright sunshine. This made for some beautiful views and lovely walking conditions. It also meant we could take our time over our lunchtime rolls and sit outside for a drink after we'd finished our walks.
Still water on an alpine lake

Still water on an alpine lake

Lovely clear skies

Lovely clear skies

Lunch in the sunshine

Lunch in the sunshine

Late blooming alpine flowers

Late blooming alpine flowers

Hot chocolate at the end of a walk

Hot chocolate at the end of a walk

Gondola back down into the cloud

Gondola back down into the cloud

Despite the pleasant feel in the sunshine, the actual air temperature wasn't even in double figures so, when the sun disappeared behind the mountains, the temperature fell rapidly. Our campsite had a rather unfortunate position in the valley such that it only got one hour of sunshine a day which meant that it was permanently cold and dropped below freezing overnight. There was a heavy frost in the mornings and we were even scraping ice off of the inside of Gav's windows!
Beautiful, but cold!

Beautiful, but cold!

Dressed for bed in the mountains!

Dressed for bed in the mountains!


Still cold at 9am!

Still cold at 9am!

After the mountains, we spent a couple of days resting in Lucerne. We strolled into town alongside the lake, visiting the famous wooden bridge which used to be really old until it burnt down in 1993. In true Swiss style, it only took them eight months to rebuild it. We also visited a section of the city walls that you can walk along, giving us a view over both the city and the lake. Other than that, we didn't do a great deal, although we did treat ourselves to coffee and cake, which is a genuine treat at Swiss prices! Before long, it was time to continue north into France and finish our journey home.
Building in central Lucerne

Building in central Lucerne

Not so old wooden bridge

Not so old wooden bridge

Lucerne lion

Lucerne lion

Quick pause for coffee and cake

Quick pause for coffee and cake

Posted by aliceandguy 05:25 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Italy


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With the focus of our trip being on eastern Europe and the Balkans, we only had time to scoot across the top of Italy as we started to make our way back home.
Venice was our first destination, although we obviously had to camp on the mainland and take a bus across to the city itself. We arrived in time to catch the afternoon walking tour which gave us a really nice overview of the city and got us away from the crowds, which given the number of cruise ships in port, were considerable. We were there right at the end of their tourist season. From the end of October, the city starts to flood at high tide and so visiting becomes more challenging. We saw several piles of planks around that they use to build raised boardwalks down some of the key thoroughfares in the low-lying districts. We also visited a really cool bookshop which combats the floods by displaying its books in a variety of vessels such as bath tubs and a gondola that runs the length of the shop.
The next day, we visited St Mark’s Square and its cathedral before jumping on a boat to the island of Murano which is famous for its glass. Murano feels a bit more spacious than Venice’s main islands, probably because there are more paths alongside the canals and because the buildings are not as tall. Pretty much every shop sells glassware, varying from jewellery and trinkets to chandeliers and sculptures. The whole island is like one giant art gallery. After strolling round for a while, admiring the wares, we returned to Cannaregio District for lunch and a boat trip down the Grand Canal. We even squeezed in a (very short!) ride on a gondola.
Typical Venetian canal

Typical Venetian canal

Entrance to St Mark’s Basilica

Entrance to St Mark’s Basilica

Venice selfie

Venice selfie

Winter is coming

Winter is coming

Building on the Grand Canal

Building on the Grand Canal

Popping to the shops is a pain in Venice

Popping to the shops is a pain in Venice

Gondola ride

Gondola ride

Cheeky aperitif

Cheeky aperitif

An hour’s drive east on a busy motorway brought us to the city of Verona which was a nice place to spend a day. The city is a real mishmash of architectural styles, but that’s not to say that it’s characterless. In fact, it adds to the experience with a changing feel at every turn. After grabbing breakfast in a cafe we adopted our standard tactic of joining a walking tour, the guide for which was completely mental. She also had the most incredibly stereotypical Italian accent and mannerisms. We could just about understand her, but how the non-native English speakers or the Americans coped, we’re not sure.
Italian breakfast

Italian breakfast

Palace in Verona

Palace in Verona

Our final stop was at Lake Garda in the town of Peschiera del Garda at the southern end of the lake. We took the opportunity for some R&R, doing very little with our time there. We did manage to cycle to nearby Sirmeone, a small town at the end of a peninsula. The old town was very quaint and a nice place to wander round. Its key tourist attraction appeared to be a street of ice cream shops. Everywhere we looked there were people holding oversized ice creams; one child had one that was almost as big as her head. The temptation was too much for Guy, who couldn’t leave before indulging, although he did restrict himself to three scoops. We said our farewells to Italy by treating ourselves to a nice meal out.
Sirmione

Sirmione

Small ice cream

Small ice cream

Sardine starter

Sardine starter

Posted by aliceandguy 07:37 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Slovenia


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We arrived in Slovenia at the northern end of the Istrian Peninsula, heading straight for the town of Koper which was hosting its annual dessert festival, “Sweet Istria”. It was a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon and the town was full of people enjoying all the different desserts on offer. We quickly bought some tokens and joined in the fun, having skipped lunch to leave plenty of room for cake. We lost count of the number of desserts we tried, most of which were excellent, although there were one or two ropey ones including one by a Slovenian Masterchef finalist which tasted like it contained smoked cheese and truffle oil. It was vile! As well as the desserts, there was also “Land of Wine”, so we were able to sit on the wall of the marina and try some local wines.
Decisions decisions

Decisions decisions


Intricate chocolate work

Intricate chocolate work


One of many, many desserts

One of many, many desserts

By sheer coincidence, some friends of ours from home, Andrea and Chris, were passing through Slovenia in their campervan and we were able to engineer meeting up with them for the evening near the town of Izola where we went out for some excellent pizza. We ended up spending the following day with them as well, as we both wanted to visit the nearby Škocjan Caves. These caves are in Slovenia’s Karst region and are accessible only by guided tour, which would normally put us off. In this case, however, both the extensive limestone features and the vast size of the cave were great, certainly making it a worthwhile trip.
The post-pizza free shot of booze wasn’t universally well received

The post-pizza free shot of booze wasn’t universally well received

The mouth of the cave

The mouth of the cave

After the caves, we headed to Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital. We stayed on the very outskirts of the city but it took us less than an hour to walk right into the centre where we joined the most compact walking tour that we’ve ever done. Despite the tour lasting two and a half hours, we were probably never more than 300m from our starting point. Ljubljana is a really nice city with grand Viennese architecture, reflecting Slovenia’s history under Austro-Hungarian rule. Its large student population gives it a lively feel with plenty of riverside bars and cafes where we were able to sample some traditional Slovenian food. We were so keen to try the best food available that we tried three different dishes in three different cafes. We also walked up the hill to the castle to get a bird’s eye view of the city.
Ljubljana dragon

Ljubljana dragon

Ljubljana Cathedral

Ljubljana Cathedral


It was a bit chilly to sit outside

It was a bit chilly to sit outside


Štruklji

Štruklji

Slovenian sausage

Slovenian sausage


Prekmurska Gibanica

Prekmurska Gibanica

An hour or so north of Ljubljana is the town of Bled which is famous for the lake on which it sits. Bled lies next to Triglav National Park at the eastern end of the Alps and so, unsurprisingly, has a rather alpine feel to it. The lake itself is beautiful and, being well within day trip range of Ljubljana, it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular place. We’d barely been there an hour before joining a canyoning trip with Jerry, a local guide. It was great fun and a much shorter trip than our all-day epic in New Zealand, but that was probably a good thing given that the water was only seven degrees!
Dropping into the canyon

Dropping into the canyon

The final jump out of the canyon

The final jump out of the canyon

The next morning, Jerry and his brother, Mato, picked us up from our campsite for a morning of rock climbing. We realised that we could be in for a tough time when we discovered that we were the only people in our group of six without our own climbing shoes. We’d been to climbing walls before and Guy had climbed outside, but not for nearly twenty years, so this was a fresh challenge for us. Whilst we weren’t as quick as the others, we certainly didn’t embarrass ourselves, coming away from the day very proud of what we’d managed to do.
Tricky bit...

Tricky bit...

Starting a climb

Starting a climb


Intense concentration

Intense concentration


Don’t look down!

Don’t look down!

Our next day was spent hiking. The weather was forecast to be good and we’d found a nearby walk that looked like it would be nice. Because of the clear skies and the altitude, it was a chilly start, but we soon warmed up, not least because the path up into the mountains was pretty steep. After climbing through a forested section past deserted summer farming villages, we turned up a valley where the terrain became steadily rockier as we ascended to the pass. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the views grew better and better as we climbed. It was very quiet. Other than a few people near the beginning who were doing low-level walks, we only saw one other couple on the mountain. We did, however, see an inquisitive marmot who popped up out of his hole as we passed by. After eating our lunch at the closed mountain hut at the top of the pass, we descended down the pretty Seven Lakes Valley, looping back to our start point. It was an incredibly beautiful walk, but we were shattered by the end of it, having walked 26km with over 1,200m of ascent.
Leaving the trees behind us

Leaving the trees behind us

Crossing a snowy bit

Crossing a snowy bit

Fabulous view from the top

Fabulous view from the top

Late afternoon at an abandoned village

Late afternoon at an abandoned village

Rock climbing, followed by our hike meant that our legs were quite tired, plus a band of rain was approaching, so we decided that a rest day was probably in order. When we woke up, however, the rain hadn’t yet arrived so we walked round Lake Bled, stopping halfway for a coffee and to sample some kremna rezina (Slovenia’s version of a cream slice). When we got back to Gav, the rain still hadn’t arrived so we scoffed down a sandwich and jumped on our bikes for a short (but uphill!) ride to Vintgar Gorge where we followed the standard tourist boardwalk along the gorge to a waterfall. We had just about enough time to roll back to Gav before the rain finally arrived. It was another typical “rest” day with 10km of walking and 10km of cycling!
The sun sets at Lake Bled

The sun sets at Lake Bled

Cake at the lake

Cake at the lake

Waterfalls in Vintgar Gorge

Waterfalls in Vintgar Gorge

As the weather remained decent, we continued with the outdoor activities. We hired some harnesses and helmets and set off to the town of Mojstrana which is host to a couple of via ferrata routes. The easier of the two climbs said that it was suitable for children over eight, so we set off up the harder route which went straight up a cliff at the edge of town. We made it about a third of the way up before accepting that it was too hard for us. Luckily we could switch to the other route which was much more enjoyable, although frankly, you’d have to be nuts to take an eight year old up there. After lunch, we drove about ten minutes up the road to Gozd Martuljek where there is another via ferrata which takes you from the valley floor up a gorge towards the Austrian border. Whilst this climb was less precipitous than the routes above Mojstrana, it still rose steeply at times and the gorge’s stream meant that the rocks were often slippery forcing us to take our weight on our arms a lot. The route also crisscrossed the stream so there were a number of fun bridges to negotiate.
Via ferrata above Mojstrana

Via ferrata above Mojstrana

Overhanging ladder

Overhanging ladder

Made it!

Made it!

Bridge crossing

Bridge crossing

Jumping across the gorge

Jumping across the gorge

Our next couple of days were spent walking and cycling. Our walk was a loop from the cable car station above Lake Bohinj. The bottom lift station was in dense cloud but, by the time we reached the top, we could see across the valley towards where we’d done our Seven Lakes walk. The first part of our walk was through the trees which were in full, vibrant autumn colour. We then climbed up to the ridge, managing to keep just below a second layer of cloud, to the summit of Mount Vogel.
Our bike ride was a simple route up and down Vršič Pass from Gozd Martuljek. At 1,611m, Vršič is the highest paved pass in Slovenia and, seeing as it’s quicker to drive around, the road is only really used for scenic reasons, which meant that there was very little traffic. Other than a couple of short sections, the incline varied from steep to painful. All in all there were 24 hairpins which, for some reason, they’d decided to pave with cobblestones making their ascent a little bumpy and their descent outright terrifying! It was a really beautiful morning ride and we definitely deserved our lunchtime doughnuts. Oh, and our afternoon beers.
Cable car ride above Bohinj

Cable car ride above Bohinj


Walking amongst the autumn colours

Walking amongst the autumn colours

Good job we had a map!

Good job we had a map!


A section of nice smooth road

A section of nice smooth road

At the top

At the top

After our ride, we drove to the other side of the mountains on a journey which took us briefly into Italy and then out again. Our destination was the town of Bovec which sits on the valley floor surrounded by towering peaks. The region hasn’t really taken off as a skiing destination but, come the spring melt, the stunning Soča river draws people to the area for rafting and kayaking. By the time autumn arrives, the rafting is rather serene, but there was enough water in the river that we thought we might give white water kayaking a go. We signed ourselves up at a kayak school for a two-day crash course (literally!). The scenery was absolutely stunning, although we weren’t always able to look around as our focus was on the water and rocks in front of us. We learnt a lot, sometimes learning the hard way! We both capsized twice plus there were several close shaves and one or two moments of utter terror.
Before we said our goodbyes to the Soča valley, we took a gondola ride up from Bovec for a short scramble up to Prestreljenik Window, a hole in the ridge line right on the Italian border. We also visited the WWI museum a little further down the valley in the town of Kobarid.
The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm

Bovec in the afternoon

Bovec in the afternoon

Rock window

Rock window

Looking through the window to Italy

Looking through the window to Italy

Slovenia was an absolute joy. We spent nearly two weeks there, immersed in beautiful scenery and a friendly atmosphere. We could easily have stayed even longer but it was time to move on and experience somewhere else.

Posted by aliceandguy 10:52 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)

Croatia


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We returned to the Adriatic in Croatia, catching a ferry for twenty minutes to the island of Korčula. We knew we were now in low season, but we weren’t really sure why as the temperatures were still in the high twenties and the sea was lovely to swim in. There were only two other couples on our campsite which was right by a private beach. They had bigger vehicles than us which meant we could nab the prize spot right by the water. Normally, when you camp next to the sea, you go to sleep listening to the sound of the water lapping on the shore. Here, however, the water was so calm that the only sound you could hear was the occasional splash from a fish.
With traffic at a minimum, it was time to dust off our bikes for a pedal round the island. We had to do a bit of guesswork in terms of where the roads were sealed and where they were gravel, but we made it across the island to the to town of Lumbarda where we visited a local winery before looping back to Korčula old town for a coffee. Korčula has a pretty small old town with no real tourist sites, but it’s a quaint little place to potter round and watch the world go by.
We decided to leave the island the next day, but not before returning to Lumbarda to rent SUPs for an hour. They were good quality boards and, with the calm seas, we even managed to stay upright for our paddle out and round a small island.
Camping by the sea at Korčula

Camping by the sea at Korčula

Quick rest on our ride

Quick rest on our ride

Cycling hazard!

Cycling hazard!

SUP at Lumbarda

SUP at Lumbarda

Back on the mainland, we drove north to Makarska. We didn’t see much of the town itself, but we were there to visit the nearby Biokovo Nature Park whose mountains rise sharply from the sea and tower over the towns below. We didn’t fancy the six hour climb from sea level (actually, we were more worried about the five hour, near vertical descent), so we drove up into the park to start from higher up. The drive itself was a bit of a challenge with an uneven road surface and only an occasional, flimsy safety barrier between us and a huge drop. We lost count of the number of hairpins as we followed the single track road ever higher. Fortunately, the road was fairly quiet as any oncoming traffic required some tense manoeuvring! Our walk itself was enjoyable, although steep in places and there was virtually no shelter from the intensity of the sun. The views from the various summits were excellent, however, looking over to Bosnia in one direction and, in the other direction, out over some islands in the Adriatic.
Treacherous road in Biokovo Nature Park

Treacherous road in Biokovo Nature Park

Looking down on Makarska

Looking down on Makarska

Back when we went hiking in Bosnia, the other couple that were with us were Croatian. They’d inadvertently left some personal items at the rafting camp and we agreed to return these to them when visiting their home city of Split. In return, they kindly offered us an apartment to use whilst we were there and also gave us two bottles of their homemade wine. Split is Croatia’s second largest city, although with only 200,000 people or so, it’s not exactly massive. Once again, its main draw is its old town which used to be a Roman palace - it was built as the retirement home of Emperor Diocletian. We followed the coastal path from our apartment past numerous beaches to get to the palace where we joined one of the many walking tours. The city has a nice vibe to it, despite the hordes of tourists, and our guide was a former history teacher and so very knowledgeable. By the time we made it back to the apartment, we’d walked over 16km and were delighted by a cold shower and the chance to collapse in a chair on the balcony with a bottle of surprisingly good, homemade wine.
Inside Split cathedral

Inside Split cathedral

Statue in Split

Statue in Split

We rose early the next morning and drove to the town of Skradin in Krka Nature Park, which is about an hour north of Split. We parked Gav at a campsite and jumped on our bikes for a 40 mile loop around the area. It was a great ride with a few tasty hills in there (not least the one to the campsite at the end!). We had some lovely views of the river down below us and we stopped for a shady lunch in a restaurant by some cascades. After our ride we walked into town to meet a boat to take us to Skradinski buk, a series of waterfalls which is by far and away the most popular sight in the park. The waterfalls were still in good flow, despite it being the end of summer. We went for a short walk which took us in and amongst the falls that sprawled over quite a wide area. After our walk, we cooled off with a refreshing dip in the pool at the bottom before our boat ride back to town.
View from our bike ride

View from our bike ride

Skradinski buk

Skradinski buk

A large storm arrived the next day and, whilst it didn’t rain much, the wind went a little crazy - we subsequently discovered that this isn’t unusual. In fact, the wind has a name, Bora. It was so bad that we couldn’t make it to our intended destination because they’d closed a load of the roads. We managed to find a way through the following morning but had to drive pretty carefully as the wind was still strong getting over the mountain range that runs parallel to Croatia’s coast. Fortunately, the wind inland was much more gentle, although by the time we’d driven up to Plitvička Lakes National Park, the temperature had dropped to eight degrees which meant that we could wear trousers for only the second time since leaving home. Plitvička is Croatia’s oldest, largest and most popular national park. Its main area comprises a series of lakes that are connected by waterfalls of varying shapes and sizes. There are walking paths round the whole area and they have built a network of boardwalks that take you right up close to the falls. We chose to walk a full circuit, which was about 18km, but most people skip bits by taking boats across the lakes so our walk was a strange mixture of very busy and very quiet, depending on where we were in the park. It was a really lovely walk with varied scenery and it was a nice change to not be too hot and sweaty by the end.
Plitvička lakes

Plitvička lakes

Plitvička waterfall

Plitvička waterfall

Waterfalls under the boardwalk

Waterfalls under the boardwalk

Area of gentle cascades

Area of gentle cascades

On a boardwalk section

On a boardwalk section

After a chilly night in the van (there was ice on the roof when we woke up!), we drove west to the Istrian peninsular and the city of Pula. Istria is incredibly popular in the peak season, but our arrival in late September meant that Pula was lively but not crowded. We spent most of our time in the city visiting its main attraction, a Roman amphitheatre, which has been periodically pillaged for stone and restored again through its 2,000 year history. We chose a campsite a few kilometres further south in the town of Medulin. It was a massive holiday park with over 1,000 pitches - not normally our sort of place but there were only about fifty people there so everyone was spread out and, once again, we were able to pick a space by the sea.
Pula amphitheatre

Pula amphitheatre

Another terrible view to wake up to

Another terrible view to wake up to

From Medulin it was an easy cycle to Cape Kamenjak, Istria’s southernmost tip. We couldn’t cycle to the cape itself as the roads became gravel, but we got most of the way there and walked the last section through a nature reserve.
Whilst in Medulin we also found another cooking course that we wanted to do, this time based around fish. After purchasing our produce at Pula’s fish market, we returned to Medulin for an introductory “marenda”, which was essentially brunch, before getting stuck into the cooking. We gutted and filleted some sea bass which we used to make a carpaccio before using the leftover bones and skin in a stock for a seafood risotto. We also cooked some sea bream with aubergine in a metal pot on a fire and made a dessert which was basically ricotta, cream and figs topped with grape juice. It was a very relaxing day with lots of delicious food and free-flowing wine.
The beautiful Adriatic at Kamenjak

The beautiful Adriatic at Kamenjak

Filleting a fish

Filleting a fish

Fish on the fire

Fish on the fire

Sea bass carpaccio

Sea bass carpaccio

Seafood risotto

Seafood risotto

Dessert

Dessert

The next morning it was time to leave Medulin and head north to see a bit more of Istria. We dropped by Pula to pick up some olive oil, for which Istria is a big producer, and also some bits from the market for lunch. Our road north out of Pula just happened to pass the vineyard of the wine we’d drunk on our cooking course. It seemed wrong not to stop and buy some on our way past! Our main focus for the day, however, was the town of Rovinj a little further up the coast. Its cobblestone streets and pastel buildings give the place a real Italian feel which probably isn’t a great surprise given it’s less than 100km from Italy. We walked up the hill to see the town’s church and wandered down Grisia Street which is lined with art galleries trying to sell their wares. We then drove into the hills of central Istria to the fortified hilltop town of Motovun where we had a drink in a bar with a sunset view and had dinner in a fancy restaurant.
The following morning was our last in Croatia. On the drive out, we stopped at Grožnjan, another hilltop town. Grožnjan suffered a post-WWII population exodus and so in the 1960s, to keep the town going, the Yugoslav government offered some of the property there to artists. Nowadays, it maintains a sense of this arty history. In fact, by complete chance, there was a public art exhibition and competition the day we were there. As we wandered round the town, people were arriving with their paintings and hanging them around the streets. You could even pick up a voting slip to help pick the winner.
Grisia Street in Rovinj

Grisia Street in Rovinj

House in Rovinj

House in Rovinj

Motovun

Motovun

Climbing the hill to Motovun

Climbing the hill to Motovun

Typical street in Grožnjan

Typical street in Grožnjan

Public art exhibition in Grožnjan

Public art exhibition in Grožnjan

Croatia is certainly a much more visited place than the other Balkan countries, but catching it after the end of the season meant that it never felt too crowded. We felt like we saw it at its best and were able to enjoy some summer sunshine on this beautiful coastline.

Posted by aliceandguy 00:08 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

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