Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Croatia: Zagreb and Plitvice Lakes National Park

By Melissa at 5:14 AM
July 8 - July 10

On our train ride from Bled to Zagreb we were sad to be leaving Slovenia since it was such a wonderful country, but excited about visiting Croatia and delving deeper into the Balkans. I've been wanting to visit Croatia ever since I read an article about it nearly 11 years ago and the beaches and scenery did not disappoint. I was also interested in learning more about the war since Croatia was one of the most affected countries. Croatia, or the Republika Hrvatska in the local language, has a tumultuous history typical of all the Balkan states. Throughout it's history the country has mostly been ruled in part or wholly by foreign powers and it's odd horseshoe shape is a result of wars for territory among those various powers. The Adriatic coast has a decidedly Italian feeling, while the inland areas display fine examples of Baroque architecture courtesy of the former Austro-Hungarian rulers.

More recently, Croatia declared it's independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, but was fighting a war with the Yugoslav army until 1995. They were also involved simultaneously in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, first as allies with the Bosnians and then as aggressors. Sadly, very few of the former Yugoslavian countries emerged from the conflict on what most might think of as the right side of history. As Brian so succinctly put it when I finished reading aloud a section about the wars from our guidebook, "So basically everyone were being assholes." If you want to learn more about this very interesting region and the break-up of Yugoslavia check out the Wikipedia entry.

We only spent one night in Zagreb, but were able to spend an entire afternoon and evening touring the old town, which is divided into the upper town and lower town. The upper town, an older settlement, has historic buildings dating back to the 14th century, while the lower town's historic structures date from the 18th and 19th centuries. Zagreb felt very active and alive with scores of people of all ages on the streets at night. It seemed like every public space was filled with outdoor restaurants, cafes, and other events. We even passed an Elvis cover band playing in the main square with a couple dozen couples dancing up a storm in front of the bandstand.

Tkalciceva street
From Zagreb, Croatia

Trg Jelacica
From Zagreb, Croatia

St. Mark's Church
From Zagreb, Croatia

We woke up early in the morning to catch a bus to Plitvice (prounounced Plit-vit-sah) Lakes National Park, one of the most beautiful and interesting landscapes we've ever seen. The park consists of 16 lakes separated by a series of waterfalls. The lakes span a linear distance of five miles through the forested hillside, descending approximately 400 feet along the way. The lakes are constantly changing as the travertine dams holding each in place are worn away by the water and new structures are formed by mineral deposits in the water. The best part of the park is the wooden walkways that run both alongside and over each of the lakes so you really feel like you're in the middle of the environment. The lakes are crystal clear, teeming with fish and surrounded by all sorts of interesting plant life. Brian and I spent five hours hiking the loops around the lakes and were in heaven. I highly recommend making this part of your itinerary if you visit Croatia.

Waterfall in upper lakes
From Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

One of the larger waterfalls in the upper lakes
From Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Extended exposure of a waterfall
From Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Another large waterfall
From Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

One of the larger lakes in the upper region of the park
From Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Fish.  This shot was taken above water
From Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

View of the lower lakes from the hill above
From Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

We'd had our fill of inland areas and were ready for the much talked about Croatian beaches. In our next post we'll talk about our trip down the Dalmatian coast.

More photos from Zagreb and Plitvice Lakes.