The final day of our holiday involved travelling from Dubrovnik to Split by bus. Our flight back home was at 1pm on Saturday from Split Airport and, because the travel time between Split and Dubrovnik is about 4.5 hours on the bus, we would have struggled to get to the airport the required two hours before our flight if we had stayed an extra night in Dubrovnik. We were sad to leave though, particularly because as soon as we woke up we noticed that it was the first time all week that there wasn’t an enormous cruise ship sitting in the port. The journey back to Split was spectacular though, with the main road following the coast for almost the entire route. There was a great view out across the Adriatic and the experience was enlivened by the New Zealand couple sitting behind us, who were engaged in a constant dispute about which islands we were able to see. The husband was particularly excited when he got a glimpse of the island of “Mill-jet”, more commonly known as Mljet (pronounced “mlyet” – all one syllable)!
While we were walking the walls in Dubrovnik yesterday, we had a great view of the island of Lokrum. We noticed it when we were in Dubrovnik last year, but didn’t realise that it was possible to visit it. Since then I’d found out that the island, which used to belong to the Austrian Archduke Maximilian, is supposed to be a good place to visit if you’re looking to avoid the hordes of tourists elsewhere in Dubrovnik. That was exactly what we were hoping to do on our last day in the town, so we decided to give it a try.
Ferries to Lokrum run from the harbour in the old town every half an hour during the daytime in summer. We paid 60 kuna each (about £6.60) each for the return journey, which wasn’t too bad and included some sort of entrance fee for exploring the island. The boat journey seemed like it was going to be nice and peaceful, until a couple of minutes before departure when a large group of extremely noisy Polish tourists came on board. By the time we pulled away, it was so busy that I was starting to worry that Lokrum wouldn’t be any quieter than the old town.
We woke up on Tuesday morning in Dubrovnik to two unpleasant surprises: firstly, that it was pouring with rain and secondly that one of the cruise ships which had been in Kotor the previous day had followed us here. Postponing a visit to the town walls until Wednesday in the hope of better weather, we instead enjoyed a relaxing day exploring the Lapad suburb where our apartment was situated. While buying stamps to send our postcards in the local post office, we chanced across a display of extremely cheap books in Croatian and ended up with four for about £10, which ought to keep me going for several months with my current reading speed probably being that of a six-year-old.
Fortunately there was a dramatic improvement in the weather on Wednesday, with brilliant sunshine and temperatures soaring back up to 34 degrees. We wanted to make the earliest possible start into the old town to enjoy the atmosphere before the narrow streets became swamped by cruise ship passengers. Although we got up promptly at 7am, we ended up setting off somewhat later than we had hoped because it turned out that the supermarket where we needed to buy bread for breakfast wasn’t open until 8am. I figured we had until about 10am before the centre of town became unbearably crowded, which turned out to be a fairly accurate prediction.
Sunday was a relaxing day in Kotor. We were slightly perplexed when we woke up and found that there was no electricity, but our landlady soon appeared and reassured us that there had been a power cut in the whole area. I was glad that in an idle moment I had memorised the obscure phrase “Is the heating gas or electric?” from the “Renting a flat in Zagreb” chapter of one of my Croatian textbooks, or I wouldn’t have had a clue that “struja” was the word for electricity. Our landlady was amazingly friendly but had taken my admission that I spoke a little bit of the language as a licence to carry on detailed conversations at full speed! My Croatian/Montenegrin was at the stage where I could almost always get the gist of what she was saying, but found it difficult to reply coherently in real time. We managed to communciate though, and the only time she lapsed into broken English was half an hour later when, with the power back on, she reappeared to say that she was baking us burek, but we needed to sit on the terrace for an hour and wait for it. The confusion on my face was more a result of the surprise that she was offering us a burek than that I hadn’t understood what she meant, and the general confusion only became greater when she translated this into English as “My cake is ready at one clock” (the word “sat” in Croatian means both “hour” and “clock/watch”). When the burek appeared they were amazing; enormous, still warm and filled with cheese.
In this part of the world the sun sets earlier than back home and so we knew that come 8 o’clock there wouldn’t be much light. We’d already been into the old town in the afternoon on our first day and were tired after the prevous days’ travelling, so we decided to stay in and watch Jurassic Park, complete with Croatian subtitles. We knew that the following morning would be hard work, since we intended to do a lot of climbing early in the day before the sun became too hot and the cruise ships inundated the place with tourists, so a leisurely night in was especially welcome.
Our day at the Plitvice lakes was amazing and exhausting in equal quantities. The scenery was so fantastic that it was tempting just to keep walking and walking in order to see as much as possible, and by the end of the day we had walked 15 miles and climbed the equivalent of 120 staircases. We were both extremely tired, and Tim had developed a sore foot after being unfortunate enough to tread on a sea urchin while at Kornati on Monday, so we decided to spend a less strenuous day in Zadar on Wednesday.
After a leisurely breakfast on our balcony, we went for a walk along the coast and into the town. Our ultimate destination was the bus station, where I wanted to make an advance purchase of our bus tickets for the following day when we would be travelling to Dubrovnik. There are only a handful of buses which run directly from Zadar to Dubrovnik (without having to change in Split) and I was keen to make sure we had a place on the 10am one. Booking a day in advance paid off, as we were allocated seats 3 and 4 at the front of the bus and so had a fantastic view of the coast for almost the whole 8.5 hours of the journey.
Our aim for today was a day trip from Zadar to the Plitvice National Park and back again. I use the word “aim” deliberately, because I had spent a significant amount of time in the weeks prior to the holiday trying to work out whether such an excursion was indeed possible as a day trip. The Plitvice National Park, which is both the oldest and largest national park in Croatia, lies approximately halfway between Zagreb and Zadar, and so is theoretically possible as a day trip from either city. The entrance to the park is just off what used to be the main road to Zadar, along which all the public buses from the capital used to run. Since the opening of a new motorway a few years ago, however, the number of buses passing through Plitvice has steadily decreased, so that there was only really one suitable bus we could catch in the morning and a bus back at 17.23 in the evening (which, if missed, would result in us being stranded for 12 hours!) On the one hand the journey sounded doable, but our guidebook had cautioned against trying to catch a bus from Plitvice, pointing out that there isn’t a bus station (just a bus stop by the side of the road), that the buses only stop if they are flagged down and that they may simply drive past if they are already full. The same advice was repeated in various places on the Internet, but whether it was because people had genuinely been stranded or just because everyone else had read the same guidebook, it was hard to tell. The safer option was undoubtedly to book onto one of the many organised excursions from Zadar, which ferry tourists to and from the park on private coaches before leading them around on guided tours. I had initially been tempted by the security of this, but as we weighed the options up for one last time on Monday night, we decided that it was worth risking the possible inconvenience of being stranded overnight in a national park inhabited by bears to avoid the certain inconvenience of spending a day being herded around by a tour guide in a group of sheeple. I think we made the right choice 🙂
Today we decided to something we have never done on one of our holidays before and go on an organised excursion. We definitely prefer travelling independently whenever possible, but today’s trip was to somewhere which we couldn’t have got to on our own: the Kornati National Park. The Kornati National Park is one of Croatia’s stranger attractions, being an archipelago of islands distinguished by the fact that they are almost barren and devoid of life. Entry to the national park, which lies a couple of hours’ sailing off the coast of Zadar, is only possible if you are on a registered boat with a permit. Unless you happen to have your own boat and obtain a permit, the only real option therefore is to join an organised excursion.
We suspected that organised excursions would not really be our cup of tea, so it was with some trepidation that we left our apartment for nearby Borik Marina at 07.15. The advertised departure time of the boat we were booked on was 8am and we were worried about being late as we struggled to locate the meeting point. We needn’t have worried, however, as it was about 08.15 before the boat even arrived at the harbour and gone 08.30 before it showed any inclination of departure.
It was a big boat, which was good, because there were a lot of people on the excursion. We managed to get a seat at the side, which gave us fantastic views as we pulled away from the old town of Zadar…