So, the Plitvice lakes.
YEAH. So, what are they and how can you get there? Well, you can turn up at Zagreb’s bus station and buy a ticket on the day, but being a little too organised I found that one company – Croatia Bus – lets you buy tickets online in advance, so that’s what we did. Our ticket was around 100Kn (£10), with an extra 7Kn to store a bag in the luggage hold. It’s only a 2 hour journey to Plitvice Jezera, although we were booked in at apartments that were 5km or so away, near a stop called Grabovac. We weren’t quite sure of how we would get there, but our bus happened to silently stop there on its way – when I saw the sign, I quickly got up and asked the driver to drop us off there. Hey presto – we were a few metres from our accommodation. It turns out that you have to walk along the main road, dangerously close to zooming cars.
We stayed at the Apartments Kristic, where we were given our own small apartment with a bathroom, kitchen and balcony. My best friend, Hermione, joining us from London, was due to meet us there after flying into Split the night before. We arrived a couple of hours before her, so we wandered around the Grabovac area to find lunch. It’s a little expensive out there, but we still managed to find delicious lasagne for 40kn and beer for 15kn, so it’s hard to complain.
Hermione arrived at 1pm or so, and we made our way to the lakes. Buses don’t run frequently, but the hotel owner was willing to drive us there for a small fee. In case you are wondering, the entire Plitvice area is a big national park, and the lakes are its most popular highlight. I’m not sure if anything exists there beyond mountains, hotels and restaurants, but if you want seemingly untouched nature, this is the place for it. The lakes themselves are a big attraction, keeping their beauty perhaps because swimming in them is forbidden. It costs 110Kn to enter the lakes park for a day, or 180Kn (yeah, £18) for a two day pass. We decided to take a two day pass, as they estimate 8 hours to walk around everything, and we were starting late.
The park? Well, let’s start with day one. Upon entering, we were struck by the beauty at once. Water cascading down a steep mountainside. Little wooden paths guide you downhill until you are inches away from bright, turquoise lakes, the water crystal clear and the fish everywhere. Be wary of the “waterfall observation point”, as it’s at least 200 steps up, but the views are beautiful. A map will direct you on the best walking routes, and there’s also a bus and a boat to help you move around. We went in through entrance 1 on the first day and walked up there, down again, cross one of the lakes with a boat and walked along it on the way back. Anyway, they say a picture is worth 1000 words, so I’ll shut up now and let you just gaze in wonder and awe…
So that was that. What a beautiful place. You don’t realise that you’re walking for four hours, either, which is a good work-out. A couple of things of note – we saw a SNAKE EATING A FISH. A water-snake, apparently… and on the way back to the entrance, we walked through some kind of cave (apparently where water had once flowed). The weather was stunning, but a little too hot for so much walking, and we were glad to get our lift back to the apartments and crash.
As I said, there wasn’t much around the hotel area apart from a few restaurants and other hotels, but the owners directed us to a nice one up the road, where we had a lot of nice beer (I recommend Tomislav dark) and a pizza the size of the world for 80kn (£8 or so). We had a lot of fun and probably broke local courtesy rules by being a little too loud… The next morning, we found breakfast at a nearby hotel (the Hotel Grabovac, I think), where it was 35kn to partake in buffet breakfast. Not bad at all.
We headed back to the park, asking our hotel owner to take us to entrance 2 – but, he informed us, we wouldn’t be able to store our bags there. Too bad, as we had checked
out and were planning on catching a bus to Split from the park. So, back to entrance 1 we went, left our heavy bags there, and tried to follow our map to the “bus” station within the park. It’s clearly signposted for a while, until you reach what looks like a café with outdoor seating and a kind of roundabout leading onto a tarmac road. What we didn’t realise was that the tarmac road was the bus road and definitely NOT for pedestrians. Cue us nearly being run over by a very angry bus driver and having to hang on to nearby trees to get out of the way. Nice!
Crossing ourselves and starting to worry about time, we followed the bus back on its tarmac track until we reached the café and realised that it was a bus stop. And that buses only ran every 30 minutes. There was nothing for it but to buy ice cream and/or beer and wait for the bus to come. Eventually, it arrived and took us to the next station, where we had to change onto another one to take us to the top of the park. Each person is allowed one bus ride and one boat ride on their ticket, by the way, so use it wisely.
Upon finally reaching the top of the park, we made our way slowly down. The path essentially circles several lakes, each one flowing into the lower one, and you can walk around them completely or take half-circles. These lakes were a lot larger than we’d imagined, so we took the shortest possible route (which took a good 3 hours). By the end we were almost overfed on beauty – every corner turned into a new stunning scene, every turn of the head called for the camera to come out, every waterfall brought an awed sigh – but we were tired of it! (“Yes, it’s beautiful, can we sit down yet?” ) Still, you can enjoy our pictures with us and, from the comfort of your own home, contemplate the beauty of nature.
I couldn’t help but marvel at how preserved this place was. If Japan had been given the same lakes, waterfalls and mountains, no doubt those wooden paths would have handrails, vending machines every five steps and speakers announcing that it is dangerous to lean over the rails or throw yourself into the lake. They would have paved the rivers and lakes with concrete, replaced the trees with new ones and installed a few lifts to help you view the waterfalls. While a lot of those things might sound convenient, it also makes the pursuit of something real, raw and natural a little pointless.
So, that was Plitvice. At around 15.45, we reclaimed our bags and stood at the bus stop in hopes that the Split bus would show up. Eventually, it did, and there were plenty of seats…