Monday, October 10, 2011

Road trippin' through Croatia's Central Coast

Just a little note: Because I ended up with a ridiculous amount of photos of Croatia in just one month, I am going to break it down into four rapid-fire parts: Istrian Peninsula, Central Coast, Southern Croatia & Montenegro, and end on a flourish with the Croatian Islands. This blog is the second installment, covering the Central Coast.

A Happy Birthday.
We left Pula on Vinko's birthday. Armed with a bottle of French Champagne that we've saved since picking it up on my birthday in France, we snake along the coastal road heading for Plitvička Jezera (Plitvice Lakes) National Park. We had visited these breathtaking lakes in 2008 with Vinko's parents, and we were very excited about spending a blissful day enjoying the scenery and strolling through the lakes and waterfalls...

...but we got lost. Not massively lost, just a little bit. We took a "side entry" into the park and ended up facing a locked gate on the outskirts of the park. Which turned out in our favour because swimming inside the park is illegal, but there was no mention of  swimming on the outskirts of the park. The silence and peace that we found in that little piece of paradise left a great impression. It was the definition of "getaway".

From Plitvice Lakes we drove over the Velebit Mountains towards the coast
 (I am glad I wasn't on a bicycle) 

The town of Nin, being the first Croatian royal town (around the 7th century), has a rich historical background, particularly because the struggle for a national language and therefore independence has its roots here where the Bishop of Nin was seated. (Much fuss is also made about its sandy beaches, which we avoided because it was blistering hot and there was no shade.) The tiny town has a bizarre collection of even tinier Romanesque and Pre-Romanesque buildings, including the Church of the Holy Cross - also known as the Smallest Cathedral in the World.

Nin old town is technically a little island

Lots of statues everywhere... although I will admit I forgot why this one is important!

Grgur Ninski (the Bishop of Nin), who pushed for a national Croatian language.

Church of the Holy Cross... the smallest cathedral in the world

(Tiny) Church of St. Nicolaus. According to folklore, seven kings were crowned here.
But not at the same time. They wouldn't fit. 

Just after we arrived, 3 different groups showed up and all clambered to get their respective photos taken.  There were many exasperated sighs and dirty looks, which I found rather entertaining. 

Zadar is the capitol of the region and we were surprised just how much we loved it. It might have been because of the spectacular hospitality we received at Apartmani Petra (along with some delicious homemade cherry brandy!) or just the great way this old city was merged with modern functionality. There was an open air film festival playing in the central park of the old town, the streets were of polished stone, the sights and impressive buildings were exceptionally well- marked and described (in multiple languages) and overall it was a very lively, cultured and welcoming place to find ourselves. There were two amazing features in particular that blew us away. The first was the Sea Organ, an architectural and musical work of genius. The motion of the "waves" pushes air through a series of pipes, making an experimental symphony of somewhat harmonic sounds.We sat forever on the organ steps that night, dreaming of whale songs and faraway winds. It is magical. The second achievement by the same Croatian architect (Nikola Bašić) is the Salute to the Sun installation, a solar-powered, shimmering technicolor display of our solar system, with the sun in the middle and the planets lined up in order and relevant distances along the promenade.

This is half of "the sun". Each planet has its own circle of animated lights
in its respective size to and distance from the sun.

Poor Pluto did not get a solar display of its own so we made one from sticks and stones.
We commemorate you, Pluto!

Another big attraction of this area is the Krka Waterfalls National Park. In my opinion it is not quite as awe-inspiring as Plitvice is (that's not really fair to say - few things are), but it is still very beautiful and it is an important wetland wildlife area and water system for the region. It was a sweltering day, and Krka is perfect for splashing and swimming and general water-based fun. Krka is also the site of the first hydro-electric plant in Croatia (or the world, depending on which dates you use).

The wetland area of Krka

The Visovacko Lake, which connects with Krka

The most handsome water fountain I've ever laid eyes on

One of the smaller waterfalls. We were spellbound by the volume and speed of the water.  
Looking down onto the island of Visovac, which houses a beautiful Fransiscan monastery. 

There were massive fires in the area and I captured this waterbomber flying low after a discharge

Middle-left you can just about make out the waterbomber taking off from Krka lake
with a fresh load of fire-fighting H2O

I don't want to give anything away, but in hindsight this part of the trip was where everything started getting better. The food, the scenery, the people. And it keeps getting better and better the longer we stayed in Croatia so stay tuned for the next installment!


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