For the past 12 days, we've been chilling in Croatia.
Now, Croatia was not one of the countries I had oringinally been longing to visit on this trip (compared to New Zealand or Spain, for example), but I had heard many people talk about the Dalmatian Coast and its beauty, so we decided to include it. When we looked at our options for visiting the Dalmatian Coast, we settled on the idea of doing a bicycling trip there, and then built the rest of the days around that.
As a primer, it helps to know that Croatia is shaped like a sideways V pointing to the west. The top part is inland, the bottom part is a thin strip along the coast and includes a number of islands.
We came into the country from the northeast as we were in Budapest and traveled by train to the capital: Zagreb. The whole population of the country is just over 4 million people and 1.1 million of them live in the Zagreb metro area.
Our 1.5 days in Zagreb consisted of a lot of walking around, relaxing in parks, and finding food and bakeries. We did have to spend a morning doing laundry, so we didn't get as much time in this lovely city as we wanted...alas.
Then we packed up and traveled south about two hours by car to get to one of Croatia's most popular national parks. It's called Plitvice Lakes and it's a series of small lakes and waterfalls that are just beautiful. This area gets a lot of visitors and it's easy to understand why. The blues of the lakes and the greens of the surrounding forest are brilliant. There are boardwalks to walk on out over the lakes and practically through the waterfalls, so it really feels like you're in the middle of this natural beauty.
You know what didn't feel as beautiful? The big tour groups all coming through the paths at once. I know they want to visit as well (and they should!), but getting stuck behind of a group of 40 people on a small path always pulls me out of my groove. To avoid them, we did some of the less popular trails and found much more solitude.
We stayed at the rustic hotel in the national park and it was delightful and relaxing. After our high-speed trip around of the past few weeks, the time in Plitvice was a welcome break.
Continuing south after Plitvice brought us though the mountains, away from the green trees and onto the coast. Now the terrain looked more like California. We spent a day in the historical city of Split gawking at the beautiful old white buildings and our first glimpse of the Adriatic Sea. Split is where we met up with our 6-day biking trip AND our two special guests for the week....our dads! We invited them to join us to explore this part of the country by bike and they were both willing to come! It was awesome to see familiar faces of family after being away for so long.
Early May is the very start of the main tourist season in Dalmatia, so it was still a bit chilly, and a lot less crowded most days. For biking, that was perfect!
We visited three islands off the coast: Brac, Hvar, and Korcula, and then finished up in the city of Dubrovnik.
All three islands were charming. They had little towns with white limestone buildings, tons of small individually owned grape vines (and lots of wine), and a lot of hills. Yep, the biking was not easy. Luckily, the views made it totally worth it. I've never seen ocean that color before - it was amazing!
I couldn't narrow down my photos quite enough, so here are a few too many of the sights along the way.
We finished up in Dubrovnik (famous these days for being the filming location of King's Landing in Game of Thrones). I liked it a lot! The old walled city had a lot of charm and didn't feel overly packed with tourists, probably because it was so early in the season.
Aside from all the sightseeing and beauty, we learned a lot about the history of this country from our biking tour guides. As expected, Croatia's path to its current status was long and extremely complicated. It was especially fascinating and upsetting to learn about the war that destroyed a lot of the area in the early 1990's. Croatia had been part of Yugoslavia, but as it fell apart, there was fighting and shelling in a lot of the country. You can still see remnants of the damage in Dubrovnik.
So that was Croatia. Now, on to ICELAND, the last country on our trip.