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Croatia

Curious what backpackers do in Croatia? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
  • Plitvice Lakes had been recommended to us by several people. It is the largest National Park in Croatia and follows the course of a river valley over numerous waterfalls.

    The day was blanketed in a very thick fog, so some views weren't quite as spectacular as they may otherwise have been and others were non existent. Autumn entry prices were cheaper than summer but we were given no information about the land train and ferries that transported visitors within the park and we assumed that like so many things, they had stopped for winter.

    From the entrance high up on the valley side, we could hear the roar of water. As we decended the zig zag track, a view of a waterfall feeding into a small, clear green lake emerged. We were able to cross over the lake and waterfalls using a boardwalk that ran close to the water surface. Once we were within the valley, the fog gave the place a mystical atmosphere. The route taken by the downriver boardwalk was incredible. It led us along the side of a vertical cliff face and over the head of a high waterfall. We could almost reach out and touch the water as it bubbled and splashed up, before dropping tens of meters into the plunge pool created by it and several other waterfalls. Around the corner we found ourselves at the foot of three long thin falls, the white water the same colour as the fog obscuring the clifftop over which it spilled.

    Turning upstream we crossed a wide section of river, past a shallow cave and up steep stone steps cut into the rock. To our right we found the entrance to a far deeper cave. Luckily Will had a torch because otherwise it would have been pitch black. Inside, a narrow track led around large stalactites and stalagmites to a depth of about 25m. Shining the torch around, the surroundings seemed really quite alien, with the deposits left behind from water flowing down the walls, forming bulbous projections from every side, above and below.

    Back in the open air, we climbed up the cliff track and along the top of the valley which was covered in beautiful Beech forest. Either side of the path was thick with rich brown leaves and dead wood that supported small bracket fungi of a similar hue.
    Dropping down ready to return along a riverside track, we found our way barred without any explanation. There was no other direct route back so we retraced our steps, only to be overtaken by a shuttle bus. We caught up with it where it had stopped but there was no room and the driver was shut in a separate cab so it was difficult to ask when the next one would be along. As Will's plantar fasciitis was beginning to hurt his feet, we just walked back to the van instead of seeing any more.

    On reflection we were a little disappointed by the lack of information and closed path had restricted what we saw, but we certainly weren't disappointed with what we did see. The park is unique and magical; we'd definitely recommend a visit!

    As we left we kept our fingers crossed that tonight's stopover would be open and have the water we needed. Camp Korana was at the end of a 1km gravel track down the side of a valley. Our hopes rose as we saw there was a car with its lights on outside the log cabin. Our arrival was greeted by 5 cats who leaped from the cabin's 1st floor windows and trotted up to the van mewing. The owner said the stopover was closed but that we could stay for free and take the drinking water we needed from his log cabin. As Will was filling our water bag from the tap in his bathroom, he offered us schnapps so we joined him in his living room and were introduced to the 5 cats!

    When he left for the night, his cats came over to the van. They were very friendly and Vicky fussed 3 outside while a fourth sneekily evaded Poppy's detection on the van step. When Poppy went out later, the same cat snuck in and stealthily explored her bed! When they were shut out, one cat took up residence on the bonnet, staring in at us through the windscreen and another climbed on the roof, giving Vicky a real start when it mewed at her through the fly screen of the open roof vent in the toilet!

    Apart from the feline antics, our last night in Croatia was very quiet and still. The loudest sound was that of the river and its small waterfall a little way upstream. The sky was clear and the stars bright - lovely!
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  • Bosnia Herzegovina is excluded from the list of countries our van insurance allows us to drive in but with the border so tantalisingly close we didn't see the harm in driving up to it and walking across!

    The campsite manager of a few nights ago had shared his thoughts on Bosnia Herzegovina. His home town was in North East Croatia and to get there he could either drive 400km through Bosnia Herzegovina or 800km within Croatia. He had decided he would rather undertake the longer journey than take the 'shortcut'. His thoughts were that Bosnia Herzegovina was really two countries, the predominantly muslim Bosnia and the mainly catholic Herzegovina. Whilst he had no problem with the Herzogovenians, he had felt extremely uncomfortable when in Bosnian areas, as if he was being watched. He said the muslim faith was very hard line there and that about 300 ISIL fighters had returned to Bosnia from Syria. We don't know how much of this was fact and how much was chinese whispers, nor do we know how much his experience was shaped by his preconceptions. However we found it very interesting to listen to his perspective. The creation of national borders has too often been done by removed politicians seeking an advantage, or as a compromise in the face of a feared situation. The interests of groups of people on the ground have often played only a small part and whilst it is almost impossible to please everyone, there are obvious tensions between groups with different histories, cultures and beliefs.

    The road in the sat nav seemed to end at the border but as we weren't wanting to go further, that didn't matter to us. We didn't see a single other vehicle as the route took us up higher into the hills. The further it got, the further the vegetation spilled over onto the concrete. Cow pats splattered the road and Vicky had only just told Will not to be surprised if we came face to face with a herd of cows, than we turned the corner and there was a cow, glancing with a bamboozled expression between us and the other 3 further up the hill. Rocks littered our path, some of them sizeable.

    We got to a point 1.3km away from the border where bushes closed in and the concrete ended. The track beyond was stoney so we decided to park the van up (there was no room to turn it round) and continue on foot. It was only as we were setting off we saw that the gravel track was actually a 'repair' where it looked like the road had been washed away. Driving on, we found there were several patches like this but we took it slowly and kept our fingers crossed that the tyres would hold out.

    The border was marked by a small sign saying 'state border' in Croatian. It didn't look as if it wanted pedestrians to continue along the path so we took some photos, reversed back to a point that was just wide enough to shuffle the van round and headed towards our second border of the day -Montenegro!
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  • Dodging dogs in the road and holding our breath as we drove under low hanging telephone wires we drew closer to Montenegro. We know nothing about the country itself but it is another place we aren't insured to drive so today's breif visit is likely to be the only time we spend there.

    Parking up at a litter strewn patch of concrete just before the border controls, we grabbed our passports and struck out on foot towards what would be the third country of the day. There was a group of uniformed officials and one stayed around when he saw us approaching. Luckily he spoke English, although we could see him questioning his understanding of the language when we handed over the passports and explained what we wanted to do. "You want to walk to Montenegro?" he asked. We nodded eagerly and he let us through. About 500m further on there was a 'Welcome to Montenegro' sign with a view of a valley winding down to the sea beyond which we thought as good a point to turn back at as any.

    The officials were ready for us on our return. One diligently checked our passports asking with mock seriousness that didn't quite come over in translation "So, where are you going?" We started to answer until he cut in with a grin "And where have you been?". We guess they don't get many British people crossing the border on foot!
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  • We'd come as far south as we could and it was time to travel back up north to more Christmassy climes.

    As so many sites were closed, we retraced our steps trying to stay at the ones we'd found on the way down. After a night among the olive trees at the closed Brijesta site we drove along the Pelješac Peninsula, dropping in at a small wine tasting bar where we tried a local Plavac Mali made by the woman standing there pouring it. It was very dry so Will loved it. We bought a litre from the large metal keg and a pre bottled middle range red along with some homemade olive oil. After we'd paid, the woman (who had also made the oil) insisted we shouldn't use it for cooking as it was too tasty! This didn't come across as a sales technique but as someone who cared about and was proud of what they made; with good reason too!

    We took the ferry back over from Trpanj to Ploče (it was warm enough to sit outside this time) and again stayed with Robert at the Dalmajica resort. Instead of using the facilities in the large toilet block, he gave us a key to one of the wooden chalets whose facilities were a lot nicer!

    Moving on, we reached Camp Kalebić, from where we'd canoed around the islands. Unfortunately it was dark and the gates locked. We spent the night on the dead end road outside where we weren't disturbed. Bright and early the next morning we drove to Sibenik where Vicky had previously spotted some waterproof sheet material at the market. We now needed it to make suitable beds for Poppy to help us deal with her incontinence. Vicky was enjoying trying to communicate a little more in Croatian. She was pleased when she managed to ask for 1.5 meters of the desired material and very relieved when we actually got 1.5 meters! It was morning, so the food market was open and we made the most of it, stocking up on clemantines, cheese, figs, dried camomile flowers and a fresh that Will filleted and marinaded in garlic, oregano and olive oil for tea - yum! The market had a real vibe about it, it was purposeful instead of gimmicky or touristy and the sellers called out as you passed.

    Camp Jaz near Starigrad was our next stop and we were relieved to be able to park up in our favourite spot looking out over the bay. When we went to pay, the owner said no payment was necessary! Unfortunately the water was also turned off, so although we managed to empty the toilet, our water tank was in need of a top up!

    Travelling on, we left the coast behind. The land became more fertile and more trees deciduous, making it seem as if Autumn had bounded on quickly. Shepherds, many of them women in traditional Croatian headscarves, hearded flocks of between a dozen and 30 sheep along scrubby fields that had no fence separating them from the road. We passed a tractor with a pig in a crate and a cow being led by a rope.

    Hopes that our next planned stopover would have water were dashed when we translated the 'closed' sign on the door. The 'Marina' restaurant had been taken over by a Chinese restaurant and although it still advertised a free stopover in the car park if you ate with them, it looked as if they had gone for their own holidays! In an effort to conserve water (at least that was a good excuse) we went to a local bar for a beer but the air was so thick with smoke that Vicky couldn't get out soon enough!
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  • We spent a very peaceful night in amongst the olive trees at Camp Zakovo. We hadn't seen anyone since we arrived but there weren't any operational toilet emptying facilities so we decided to move on. Will collected 4 windfall clementines before we went and with there not being another car on the road, we were able to stop and pick some wild pomegranates.

    We were again treated to amazing views from the coast road that now ran about 200m above sea level.
    Numerous high rising islands were sillouetted against the sun spilling over their horizons and sparkling silver on the blue sea. At times the metal barrier was the only thing dividing us from a sheer drop down the cliff face to the sea far below.

    On our left, barren, rounded mountains looked like the backs of sleeping elephants, the sparce covering of leafless trees giving their old grey skins detail.

    The number of campsites were few and far between, with one being advertised from 40km away! We passed by Dubrovnik and followed signs to Camp Kupari. There was a printout in the reception window saying it was open until September 2016, although the barriers weren't closed. We cautiously drove in and came face to face with an old red double decker London bus! It looked as if it was being stored there between the rows of long grass and Plane trees. We decided we'd try the same approach as last night and park up. If anyone asked us to pay or move on we could oblige.

    Morning and the time to move on came round. Only a cat had come calling at our door, a big tabby and white tom with half a tail, a scratched up nose and a loud mew. Vicky of course took pity and gave him some milk and fuss.
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  • Camp Matkovica was a large back garden of a family home. Old birch trees, daffodil and snowdrop leaves pushed up through the patchy grass. The area was busier than others we'd stayed at in Croatia. A huge supermarket formed the basement level of a three storey shopping centre over the road. A portion of the garden had been rented out to a construction company who were using a towering crane and other heavy machinery to build something large on the corner plot next door. There were the normal small shops but also large, puprpose built hotels alongside the familiar, individually produced signs for 'Apartmenti'.

    As we introduced Poppy to the owner's 3 month old black spaniel Laya, she explained how she used to have a 16 year old dog whom everyone in the area knew and who used to wander everywhere by himself, until one day he just disappeared. Her friends told her that sometimes when a dog is ready to die they go and find somewhere quiet to be alone, but she didn't believe this was the case with her little dog. She believed someone from outside, who didn't know him and didn't know the Croatian culture of letting dogs have similar freedoms to cats, had taken him. She said there had been many changes here in the last 16 years and it was evident to us that a lot of new tourist orientated developments had grown up quickly around the old community.

    One thing we were looking forward to when travelling, was gaining insight into different perspectives. As the owner interacted with Poppy we got the impression she thought Poppy wasn't happy 'locked away' inside the van and that she should be roaming free by herself.

    Evening came and we saw the streets were lined with hundreds of candles burning inside red glass vases with silver metal tops stretched out in single file. We later found out that this was a yearly sight in towns all over Croatia to remember those killed in the siege of Vukovar, a town that fell to Serbian fighters 25 yests ago. When we saw the candles Will wanted to find out if they were real and being Will, came away with two quite badly burned fingers to prove they were!

    They say bad luck comes in threes, well on our way out on a day trip to Cavtat the next morning, trying to avoid grounding the towbar on the steep concrete ramp, Vicky scraped the underside of the van on some metal construction rods sticking up from the concrete. When we got to the characterful village of Cavtat the road ended in a car park with a barrier. The prices weren't obvious and it was only once we'd sorted the dog and van out and were on our way to explore that we passed the barriers and saw it was nearly £10 an hour! There were 15 minutes free and not wanting to pay what we saw as a rip off rate, we returned immediately and tried to drive out, unfortunately finding we were 3 minutes over the deadline and having to fork out!

    Back at Camp Matkovica we took a relaxing walk down to the shingle beach and harbour, following a path past a large abandoned house that looked as if it had bullet holes in its walls. Further round the rocky shore we came across another bay surrounded by abandoned hotel complexes that were crumbling in places. It was a beautiful bay and contrasted vividly against the dereliction on its shores. This too was a reminder of the war of just 25 years ago.

    Whilst we've only had little snapshots of Croatian culture, we can see a lot of tourist driven change and get the impression of a country struggling to keep hold of its roots. There are so many old abandoned homes and new, partially completed ones. Unfortunately many houses lay empty this time of year.

    We treated ourselves to a drink at a bar terrace above the beach then at a local bar a bit further up the road. The TV was on in the latter and images of war flashed up on screen.
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  • Our final project before heading back up north towards Austria, was to visit Dubrovnik Winter Festival on its opening night. We'd been advised by the campsite owner to travel the 10km in by bus to avoid parking difficulties. We haven't used public transport much but thought we'd give it a go. We got the right bus (even though it displayed a different number to the one on the timetable) and got off just after the closest stop to the Old Town. We failed to find a stop to return from, but set off down the hill on the 2km walk to the festival. We worked out on the way that there were shuttle buses within the Dubrovnik area that linked to longer distance bus routes (one of which we'd used to get there).

    It was about half past 3 when we reached the festival and the imposing stone fortress walls of Dubrovnik Old Town. Alongside the usual Christmas decorations there were garlands made out of bay leaves arched over entrance ways and wound around stone pillars. Olive and orange trees stood in large hessian wrapped pots with a carved wooden decoration hanging from their base. Oh, and it was warm - 18°C warm! White wooden huts lined the main street selling snacks, hand painted baubles and other trinkets.

    While it was still light we took in the beautifully ornate stonework on the churches, halls and towers. The city oozed history and grandeur and while the crowds assembled in the main street grew, we seemed to be the only ones winding our way through backstreets soaking in the city's charms, watched only by the numerous cats!

    Returning to the main square we were just in time to see a newly wedded couple emerging from the church to a corridor of friends and family holding sparklers. They stood for a while then threw brightly wrapped sweets into the crowd from a wicker basket.

    Dusk fell as we sipped tea and coffee at a table in a side street. The Christmas lights had been turned on while we were there and re-emerging to their festive glow brought forth 'oohs' and 'ahhs'. Dubrovnik had pushed the boat out with very tastefull decorations, many of which made use of and enhanced existing grand buildings.

    Food was next on the agenda and due to the lack of traditional Croatian cuisine at the wooden huts, we chose hotdogs, only discovering after we'd ordered that it was an 'Irish Pub' stall - they get everywhere!

    Leaving in plenty of time, we waited for a shuttle bus to take us to the main bus station. The stand we waited at said the bus we needed stopped there, but after watching another that was supposed to stop there, pick up passengers over the road then fly by, we switched over and hopped on the one we needed. The driver waved us past when we tried to pay. We waited patiently for the bus to pull into the main bus station, but became increasingly worried as it drove further and further away from Dubrovnik. In a panic Will asked the driver, who told us we'd missed the stop but if we got off now and hurried, there was another bus coming in the opposite direction that would take us back. We legged it over and down the road with the driver shouting "Quick! Go left!" There were no street lights as we ran along the dark country pavement but we could hear voices ahead and managed to get to the stop just in time. It turned out the shuttle buses were free, perhaps to encourage people to the festival. We kept a vigilant eye out for the bus station that Vicky thought she'd seen on the way out. It was 3 minutes until our next bus was due, when we got off outside the station, found our way in and on to the bus bearing the same number that had brought us in. This time we asked the driver to tell us when we got to our destination!
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  • South eastwards into the hills, perched on an outcrop of rock, surrounded by tall, thin, pointed conifers, lay Sokol Grad or 'Hawk Castle'. We visited it partially because of its situation, it being only a few kilometres from the borders with Bosnia Herzegovina and Montenegro. Not expecting to have access to the interior, we opened the gates of the adjacent churchyard to explore its perimeter, only to find someone at the ticket office. They asked if we wanted to visit and it seemed churlish to say no, so we bought a couple of tickets and followed him up the steep stone steps to unlock the dark wooden doors with huge metal keys. It reminded us of a slightly less grumpy version of Filch the caretaker in Harry Potter!

    As the only visitors we were left to explore at our own pace. Whilst not as large or ornate as some of the castles we saw in Germany this compact, purposeful and carefully restored castle helped breathe life into the region's medieval battles.

    The views over the valley and up the stony grey mountains that separated us from Western Herzegovina were awe invoking. The quiet surrounding us, broken only by a dog barking at a canyon echo of its own bark, made for an atmosphere where the imagination could run wild!
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Croatia, Kroatien, Croatia, Kroasië, Krowehyia, ክሮኤሽያ, Croacia, كرواتيا, ܩܪܘܐܛܝܐ, Xorvatiya, Харватыя, Хърватска, Kroasi, ক্রোয়েশিয়া, ཀུརོ་ཤི་ཡ།, Kroatia, Hrvatska, Croàcia, Chorvatsko, Kroatsia nutome, Κροατία, Kroatio, Horvaatia, Kroazia, کرواتیا, Korwasii, Croatie, Croacie, Cravuazie, Kroaasje, An Chróit, ક્રોએશિયા, Kurowaishiya, קרואטיה, क्रोएशिया, Chorwatska, Horvátország, Հորվաթիա, Kroasia, Croasia, Króatía, Croazia, クロアチア共和国, ჰორვატია, Korasia, ក្រូអាស៊ី, ಕ್ರೋಯೇಶಿಯಾ, 크로아티아, کرۆواتیا, Kroati, Хорватия, Kurowesya, Kroatië, Krowasi, ໂຄເອເຊຍ, Kroatija, Horvātija, Хрватска, ക്രൊയേഷ്യ, Kroazja, ခရိုအေးရှား, Kroaitsiya, କ୍ରୋଆଟିଆ, Croasya, Chorwacja, Croassia, کروواسيا, Croácia, Hurwatsuyu, Korowasiya, Croația, Croazzia, Kroasïi, Chorvátsko, Hrvaška, Korweeshiya, Kroacia, குரோசியா, క్రోయేషియా, ประเทศโครเอเชีย, Kroasya, Kuloisia, Hırvatistan, كرودىيە, Хорватія, کروشیا, Crô-a-ti-a (Croatia), Kroasän, Orílẹ́ède Kòróátíà, 克罗地亚, i-Croatia