Croatia! The land of beautiful waterfalls and old Roman ruins

Even though I still haven't written about my travels to Amsterdam or Krakow, I want to skip ahead to what I've been doing in the past weeks, so I can get back on track with this blog!

We we're getting a little sick of wandering north into the for the first time we ventured south of Hungary into the beautiful Balkans. The time spent here has been full of beautiful surprises! 

Luckily one of my friends could drive a stick shift, so we were able to road trip through the Hungarian countryside and into Croatia! It took about 5 hours to go from Budapest to or first stop in Plitvice national park!! (I hope you guys are ready for a lot of pictures!! This park took my breath away).

The park itself isn't very big, but it sure is stunning!!! The waters were so green and clear, and we weren't expecting to be greeted by such amazing sunshine. We woke up quite early in the morning and managed to snag some time with a very empty park. 

Walking the whole loop (with a ferry ride in the middle) took only a few hours, so we decided to take one of the hiking trails that was a little off of the beaten path! The forest and ecosystem surrounding the lakes was almost as stunning as the "falling lakes" themselves. 

As we were about halfway done with our hike, my friend Erik turned to me and said "the only thing that would make this better is a heads of goats". While not quite goats, we did happen upon a tiny town and a heard of sheep! 

When we came back to the park entrance, the waterfalls were full of tour groups. I was so glad that we were able to enjoy the waterfalls when they were empty! My friend Ki Tae was able to help an eighty-year-old Korean woman and her daughter down the mountain and help her find her tour group! It was lucky we found them!! As a side note, they offered us free room and board if we ever find our way over to South Korea!

In Plitvice we stayed at a great hostel! We met some super friendly people, including an English teacher from Boston who was living in Spain. He did kick our butts in Settlers of  Catan though!

After Plitvice we continued to the coast! We stopped in Zadar to listen to the sounds of the Sea Organ! It was pretty quiet but it was so cool how the water was used as a part of the instrument. The moment we reached the ocean I felt an immediate sense of calm. I couldn't believe how close this coastal city was to the urban center of Budapest! 

We spotted the coast for the first time!

The sea organ is just under this concrete pier.

Ancient church in Zadar

We walked around the old town of Zadar and ended up receiving free bread in a square for the Eater celebrations! Everyone was sharing this particular kind of bread. It was almost like cake, and it tasted like lemon. We were a little late to our accommodation later in the day, and I saved a loaf to bring to our host! 

We continued down the coast and the views were stunning. It was better than I could have imagined and even the photographs here don't do it justice. We found an English radio station and rolled the windows down. The ocean air had finally warmed up enough for me to wear shorts and sandals. I couldn't stop thinking about how close we were (only a few hours) from Hungary! This was a different world! 

The cities are a mix of beautiful white and red buildings, with frequent abandoned or ruined structures in between. Even though this beautiful area was a large tourist attraction, it was clear that the country still had a long way to go to fully recover from the civil wars about twenty years ago. Throughout the rest of my time in the Balkans, me and my traveling companions have been absorbing this lesson from the locals. The conflicts of these countries is very recent, and affects everyone who lives here. 

We arrived in Split after a few hours, and it was truly a highlight! Even though we didn't have much time in the city, I was immediately enchanted by the old Roman ruins, beautiful marina and fantastic gelato! (Photo Credits to Erik on some of these photos!) 

A Datamation spotted on the Dalmatian coast! 

We even stuck our toes in the Adriatic Sea, but is was pretty chilly!! 

There were quite a few tourists, and Americans. As we were walking though the city, I even saw a girl wearing a Sigma Kappa sweatshirt! Even though she was just borrowing it from a friend, it still made the world feel a lot smaller!

We enjoyed some seafood and sat near the marina well into the evening. After the cruise ships left for the day the town got a lot quieter! What a relaxing way to end a day of road tripping! 

We woke up to a very rainy Easter morning, and went to church in an Ancient roman cathedral. Inside the arches and decor were striking, even though the church itself was quite small. The service ended with a triumphant Hallelujah chorus! We left just I time to run into more free food in the squares. This time is was bread and Easter ham! What a fabulous time to visit this very catholic country, as everyone was in such a festive mood! 

Free Easter Breakfast in one of the main historical squares

After the service we managed to drive out of the rain and into another stunning National Park! The waterfalls of Krka national park were out of this world! Even though the water was flowing too fast to allow for swimming, we wandered leisurely through the park and really took it all in. I even purchased some olive oil from a nice lady, after passing so many olive trees on the way there. I am going to try and bring it all the way home to Denver before trying it! 

This watermill is still making grinding corn into corn meal! 

We drove from Krka to the capital of Zagreb before heading home the next morning. The highways in Croatia are very nice, but the tolls can get pricey. This is for a really good reason! We drove through several new tunnels in the country, including one that was just over 6km long! We did have to stop in a McDonalds for breakfast. As much as I hate seeing these golden arches in every new and exotic place, even I have to admit it's really impressive that they were able to make an egg-mcmuffin taste exactly the same halfway around the world. 

What a fantastic weekend! I'll post about what I did this weekend in Montenegro very soon!!



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