Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Day #187 - The one with eastern Europe - Part 2

By the third day in Croatia we were really starting to settle into the groove of Dalmatian life. Our skin wasn't quite so pasty white (thank you cloudy London) and we were ALMOST blending in with the deep brown and beautifully tanned locals. Our pink cheeks and charisma were sure signs that our proper intake of Vitamin D was being rejuvenated.  And most importantly, our bodies had adjusted to being in a wet bathing suit for 12 hours a day. It was official - we were on vacation!

We picked up our car on Monday morning and headed NW up the Dalmatian coast. The drive was INCREDIBLE and Jake finally got to drive on the right side of the road. He was thrilled. In fact, he felt so comfortable behind the wheel, that our brief jaunt across the Bosnian coast that splits Croatia into two, came without worry, anxiety, or panic. We stopped along the way at a local farm vendor and purchased tomatoes, peaches, and a fabulous new fruit (we can't remember the name!) that looked like a tiny pear but had these delicious and juicy red seeds inside. We pulled off the road and had a picnic on the sand in Gradac. It was shaping up to be delightful day. Then we got the email....
Basically, our hotel in Brela for the next three days could not accommodate us. Our confirmation was going to do us no good, they had no room. Rather than get pissed, we went to plan B and insisted that they find a place for us and threatened to give them a bad review on and trip advisor. I ignored my fears that we were going to be homeless in eastern europe! As fate would have it, everything worked out for the best! We ended up at an all inclusive resort right on the water :) The best part...the previous hotel paid the difference - BOO YAA!
Crossing the border into Bosnia!
Our crazy Croatian fruit discovery - YUM!
The farmer's market.
On the road again...
Tomato montage #3 - Our picnic on Gradac beach.
We pulled off the road to get a photo of the bay our hotel was on.
Mike Braund, please note that we pulled over to get you a great photo of this crazy bridge. Enjoy!
Brela was a little piece of heaven. Tucked back in a cove, its' clear blue waters lapped up right against the massive cliff face. The town itself was built up from the sea and you could walk from one side to the other in less than 15 minutes. The small marina was beautiful, the little restaurants served fresh caught fish, they had tomatoes, and we discovered a miniscule beach shack that sold 2 pound beers (that's 17.22 kuna) and franch fries (that's french fries)...we were in heaven. Basically, we spent three days napping in the sun and watching the sun set from the rocks in our wet suits with our cheap beers! Many hands of Canasta were enjoyed of course; however, the highlight was the snorkeling excursions we created for ourselves. One day, we explored the entire coast line of Brela in the water and even swam out to the famous island Brela is famous for. The underwater topography was mind boggling! One minute we would be exploring the white rock shallows and the next, we would be in 40-50 foot drop offs with massive schools of fish congregating at the base of the rocks. We saw crabs fighting each other, beautiful fish including Needle Fish, and even shrimp swimming among the reeds. We didn't see sharks, barracuda, or Eagle Rays this time, but it was still fantastic!
I found a friend!  There was the cutest little donkey at our restaurant the first night!
Jake found the PERFECT climbing tree!
Brela cove.
The Brela sunsets were truly spectacular!

The famous Brela island at sunset.
Walking the cove at dusk.
This is the life!
Love...true love!
Our favorite photo from the ENTIRE trip!
Jake absolutely dominating at Canasta!
Tomato montage #4
Back in the water!
Jake at the base of Brela Island.
Check out that water!
Brela Island from the water. 
We sadly left Brela three days later and headed up the county toward Plitvicka Jezera. Within an hour we were in a totally different landscape. The white rocks and blue water turned to rolling mountains and pine trees. We tried to hold our breath through a few tunnels only to discover that these tunnels were the real deal. We were inside of some for over 20 minutes as we quite literally drove through the base of mountains. We cruised to the local jams by Danijela Martinovic, Severina Gibonni, and Toni Cetinski and pulled into our "hotel" a few hours later. When I say hotel, I really mean a private house. We stayed with a family who ran a private lodging right in the heart of Plitvice National Park. It was beautiful. They had a gorgeous patio with a few tables, an outdoor kitchen, and the biggest dog we had ever seen!
Our "hotel!"
The little outdoor kitchen where we stayed.
Jake on the patio getting ready for another round of Canasta.
The local beer.
Our last full day in Croatia was spent exploring the 16 lakes in the National Park. Let me try to describe this to you. The water in Brela was crystal clear. You could see the bottom through the sparkling water. The water in the park was a glowing turquoise! There were some parts that were so densely greenish-blue, we couldn't even see the bottom. It was absolutely insane! This majestic phenomenon only exists in Plitvice and has to do with the algae that grows there. We hiked around, over, and in some cases - through, all 16 lakes. We wandered into dripping caves and caverns and stood at the base of many roaring waterfalls. We even snuck off the path multiple times to discover an 'unreachable' spot of beauty. There is nothing like climbing over some barriers to see something amazing. Our trip to Plitvice National Park was icing on the cake! We both agreed we never imagined anything so beautiful could exist!
Our hike begins...
We found waterfall #1 of about 200!

Look at the turquoise water where the leaf meets the amazing H20!
Cave climbing!  So fun!

Standing at the base of these waterfalls was INDESCRIBABLE! 

If I could have jumped into ANY of the lakes or lagoons...this would have been my #1 choice.
My swimming hole!
Mini fall!
On the boat to the other side of the park.
Look at the water in comparison to my turquoise shirt!
Did you see it???  Look again!  AMAZING!!!

Tree climbing out over the water.
Love the caves!
This cave went back probably 50 feet into the side of the mountain.
SO buff!
This picture is looking down on the lakes from the top of the mountain.
Veliki Slap.  Translation: Big Waterfall
Veliki Slap Yo! 
We climbed over the barricades and ended up at the "Forbidden Falls!"
Life changing. Totally life changing!

On our last day, we loaded up the car and drove up to Zagreb. We loved winding through the little towns and were blown away by the huge city we pulled into a few hours later. Zagreb was massive and cosmopolitan in comparison to everywhere else we had been in Croatia. We used our few extra hours to see as much as we could before heading to the airport. As it turns out, eastern Europe does have a 'third-world' element to it! You can find it in the heart of the largest city in the whole county.  It's called the Zagreb International Airport. What a cluster-f*@#! To return the rental car, they told us just to leave it on the side of the road. I think we could have smuggled a gallon of sunscreen, water, saline solution, and hazardous chemicals through security, and the bus that was taking us to our plane got delayed on the tarmac because (we are pretty sure) there was a security breach and someone made it through security with a faulty passport. Ohhhh Zagreb!
Pulling into Zagreb we saw an add for  Karlovacko  - one of our favorite Croatian beers.
HA - there was seriously NOTHING more confusing than the machines on the Croatian toll road!

Jake could not resist taking a photo with Zagreb's monument to....well, do you see it too?
Cathedral art!
Bear Down Arizona!
The massive cathedral - we LOVED the renovation curtain on the spire on the right.
We had a moment with the corn cart!  In Brela, they would walk up and down the beach yelling, "Kukuruz!" We had a moment of silence in honor of our favorite beach cove.
The street sweeper accidentally brought his Nimbus 2000 to work.  Whoops!
Love the cathedral art!
Needless to say, Croatia was one of the best trips we have ever taken. Sure it wasn't the Jamaica/Cabo we had envisioned; however, it was even better in its own way! The people were amazing, the sites were exquisite, they drive on the right, the food was fresh and fabulous, the champagne mojitos were smooth, and the sunsets were unforgettable. No, we are not writing a travel brochure, but if ever given the opportunity, JUMP on that plane to beautiful Croatia!

Lessons Learned: 1. Eastern Europe is not as intense as we thought, 2. They could do an award winning building make-over show at the Zagreb airport, 3. Whole fish are yummy, 4. The world's best tomatoes are available ALL OVER Croatia!

To view all of our photos from the trip, you can click on our Picasa link: