Monday, July 5, 2010

Balkin Fever, Croatia

            On the 23 Matt and I flew from London to Zadar Croatia, a Mediterranean paradise... la pais la bonita (I've had that madonna song stuck in my head for days.) We arrived on in Zadar int. air. knowing nothing about Croatia, no guide book or phrase book , i had expected that english would be vary commonly spoken (as it is in a lot of europe) but due to the fact that Croatia was part of the soviet union they speak: Croatian 1st, German 2nd, and if your lucky English comes in 3rd or 4th next to Italian. So we arrived and could hardly communicate with our taxi driver, thankfully i had the address of a "apartment" written down so we pointed, and luckily the strange series of numbers meant something to him. When we made it to our hotel 'Pansion Marta' in the little town of Bibinje the land lady of the house didn't speak english either so by this point we're a little bit worried about what we had dived into. We made some silly gestures to try and ask where to get food and she pointed us down the marina, and showed us 5 fingers which we assumed to mean 5 restaurants. Finding them was not hard even though it was dark by this point, but once we had found them the menus were written in croatian (everything but english) too. After a long debate and almost resorting to ice cream for dinner we decided on Scampi. Fairly ordinary, shrimp... that's what we thought at least until we were face by a stack of cray fish like things. Little lobsters maybe about 3 inches each, 15+ of them with claws and bogoldy eyes, and shells that we as foreigners had no idea how to remove. You can imagine how shocked we were, all we could do was laugh; we're both vegetarian and had made an exception for shrimp (they don't have vegetarian options here) to be faced will a platter of 8 legged critters. We probably looked absolutely ridiculous trying to get into these animals, and in the end all in all we got maybe a couple ounces of meat each.  As you can imagine we were pretty horrified that first night but it's only gotten better and easier since. 

      Bibinje was great, a small town where we spent our days laying in the sun drinking Korlovaska (croatian beer) but there wasn't much more than that to do so we split after 2 nights. At some point we joined up with these two awesome guys, Jens from Germany and Casey from San Francisco, I guess it was the Cali bond that brought us together. We were all leaving so hoped on the bus together to Zadar (Jens also is a great addition to language skills.) In Zadar we got a apartment together, sat on the beach for a few hours drinking more beer (there's a lot of beer drinking that goes on here) dipped in the Mediterranean, and then hit the city up for it's night life. It was independence day and there were hordes out in the city center where we found a smallish square to sit in, it had a bar on every side and tables with FREE SANDWICHES! Which is apparently the normal thing for independence day. You would not believe the amount of incredibly tall men here, the women too but the men are looming. I think on average their 6'+... Jens, our friend, is 6'' and there we LOTS of guys who had a good head or more on him. It's bizarre, a nation of giants. This is one of the first things we noticed in the city night. We hit up the clubs a bit, danced to euro trash and made a great night of it.

    From Zadar we hit up the costal island right off shore, Uglajn Pasnam, with our new crew of 4, nice ocean per usual but nothing too out of the ordinary for Croatia, I spent the day working on my tan. :)
    On the 28th the 4 of us rented a car and headed north to Plitvicka National Lakes park which was defiantly spectacular. It was a 2 hour drive, on the way we went through a tunnel that was 6 km long... they obviously don't play the game over here where you hold your breath through tunnels, it was truly a marvel of modern engineering. When we finally made it Plitvicka the environment had completely changed from arrade rocky and dry land scape to beautiful mountains covered in thick grass and scattered with wild flowers. It was quite a sight to see. Plitvicka Park itself is by far one of the most beautiful places I have and probably ever will see. A series of Lakes that fall from one to the next. The Water is electric blue and the water falls just spread for 100rds of ft across one side of the lake, crashing into the next still blue pool. I think there's around 15 lakes all in all. We walked for about 10 km  through this paradise on wooden board walks around and sometimes up straight through the falls never growing tired of the scenery. Also the wild life there is something else, it isn't in the least bit frightened of people as in most places. The lakes are FILLED with trout that you could reach down and grab, and the bull frogs just hang out singing on the trail, we also found a shrew type thing just sitting on the trail... that  thing was so adorable. The reality of Plitvicka lakes exceeds in beauty any idea you can get from a photograph.

    After making our way back to Zadar again, Matt and I thought that it would be a good time to check out an island, one a bit further away and smaller than the one we went to before. The locals here all seem to agree that Silba and Olib are two of the nicest islands, though you have to twist their arm to get them to tell you. Silba and Olib both sit in the far north of the croatian islands and are tiny. We said good buys to Jens and Casey and found a catamaran to ferry us there, after a 2 hour journey we arrived in Silba. The boat only goes once a day from Zadar at 2:00 p.m. and then leaves at 5:00 am from Silba, not much option on travel time.  Silba is a pedestrian Island, they have maybe 3 tractors to transport food deliveries and only a hand full of bicycles. We both loved this place, it is amazing, the wild life there is bursting out of every nook and cranny. On our second day there we decided to hike to the "most beautiful beach on Silba, Pernastica." We had been offered many boats but figured it was only 2.5 miles away so why not walk. We soon realized why the locals were so adamant about boat transport. The town on the island is a very small section and the rest is 'forest.' The first thing we found on our walk was a massive brown snake, I almost stepped on it as you usually do with snakes. The way out of the village was scattered with fields of beautiful flowers full of butterflies. We also managed to fine a lovely ass (donkey/mule) it was so charming, it ran straight up to me and let me stroke it. I am so disappointed i didn't have a apple for it, i guess it probably was too. As we got father away from the last houses the trees began to fill up with spiders, first a few on the sides until they crept onto the path with giant webs that spread over our heads. They spiders started off being maybe a 1/2 inch but honestly by the end of that excursion we saw 2 or 3 that had bodies the size of a ping pong ball. We probably made it within a 1/3 mile from this crown jewel of beaches before I saw another one of the big brown snakes. At that point my nerves had been on edge for so long to find an anonymous snake in the grass and be able to continue. We turned around, but were quite pleased to do so, the path had gotten so thick with spiders that you were constantly crawling under webs. The heat was sweltering and the sun was beating down on us, the glossy Mediterranean was glinting in the heat so we paused our walk for a dip, perhaps not at "the most beautiful beach" but this one was a god sent after the spiders and snake... that was until we found the sea urchins. They were everywhere, we couldn't get a break that day! We had water shoes so we stepped carefully and ignored them for the most part but we couldn't wait to make it back to the safe little village of Silba. Who knew that such a tiny island could be so wild? If there was someone to ask if the snakes, spiders, or sea urchins were poisonous i may have not felt so uncomfortable about them, but as it was english was hard to come by. Sounds a bit like a night mare but this was one of the loveliest places i have ever been to. Such a mellow vibe, as long as you weren't trudging through the woods.

    Probably the most acknowledged land mark of Silba is the Toreta, a hexagonal towner with a spiral stair case on the outside. It's about 50' tall and was built in the early 19th century by a captain of the Silba fleet for his sweetheart so she might watch and await his arrival. What they don't say unless you look closer is that she didn't wait for him and instead married and had a child, a little girl. When he returned he recognized the likeness of his sweetheart in her child and so married the girl instead. A strange little story, but the tower is still there and your still able to walk up it, though I have to say with the cracked steps and rust eaten rails i almost had a heart attack doing so. From the top you can over look the island and the surrounding ones so it was worth it. The rest of the time on Silba we stayed in the town and laid around on the beaches.

     Three days left and we're up at 4:30 to catch the ferry back to Zadar. When we got there we thought 'being that it's so early why not make it to Scibnick and then up to KRKA the other Waterfall park. Two hours on the ferry and then 3 hours of buses later we had made it to Krka National Park. Unfortunately our sheep mentality got the better of us at this point, every one got off the bus and we followed only to realize we were on the opposite side of the park from we wanted to be, surrounded by desert and with our bags in tow. We had no option but to start the trek on foot in the baking heat, we had about a 5 miles +/- walk to Skradine, a little town where we could hopefully find a room to rent.  We descended down the river, along the water falls and amongst the crowds. To our delight this park had a area where you could swim amongst the falls, we hid the bags under a tree and adorned our swim suits. The water was so refreshing, and magical to swim beneath the falls. This swimming hole was surrounded by post card stands and restaurants so we broke up our sweaty hike with a dip the the water and a meal, we got trout which is caught in the river and grilled... so delicious, i don't know if i've ever had trout before. After the grub and a few beers we picked up our packs and continued down the path, as we began to walk it started to thunder, then rain. That was something to complain about but I actually much prefer it to the dry sweltering heat. The road ran along the river and I found a tiny toad! It was about the size of my finger tip... so awesome. As we came into civilization, cars and houses, we found the local hang out spot. A massive bridge stretching across the river, perfect for jumping, scattered with little croatian groms. So as you can imagine we took another break and jumped into the water. Matt did the bridge with the approval of the little groms, there was about 8 of them actually on the bridge. They were really cool, offered us a smoke and helped us find a place to stay. We intended on making our way back that way but by the time we made it to Skradine with all our bags, our legs we jellied and all we could do is collapse. Skradine was a sweet little town, vary small, surrounded by desert but located itself right on the river. We found a great air conditioned room in a old hotel right by the town clock, the town was one of the few I saw in Croatia that still bears marks from the war. The Clock tower had big shot wounds all over it as well as the surrounding houses. Some seemed to have been hit with something more aggressive and had big holes about 2'sq. One of the first things that I was told about Croatia was 'do not mention the war' so I stuck by that and didn't inquire. The other unique thing we saw there was the baby swans!! I don't think I've ever seen a baby swan which is strange being as I've seen lots of big ones, but they were so sweet. This mama swan had maybe 10 baby's in all, ugly ducklings eh.

          After two quick buss trips it was back to Zadar, and by this time the novelty of the heat had worn off.  We were exhausted from cramming as much of Croatia into ten days as is humanly possible.  I don't believe the food has been mentioned since the crab/scampi incident, but I must say it was some of the best Italian food I have ever tasted, its Matt now , I took over at this paragraph, Nimas hands fell off from typing.  This night I had some kind of pasta, while Nima had fresh seasonal salad and a tomato and rice soup, our appetizer was stinky cheese and olives, and I paired it with a jug of red wine.  We watched a few excellent games of real football (aka soccer) as the World cup is coming to a close, and called it an early night at about 1 am.  The next morning it was back to London, where Nima breezed through customs.  I on the other hand did not have such an easy time, God one joint and everyone just FREAKS out! ...  How many of you did i get?  (reply on the Add Comment button at the bottom of this post)  But I think the coming and going from England while I'm getting close to the end of my three month visa must have sent up a red flag, but after 10 or 15 minutes of me stumbling over my own words they must have realized I was harmless.  So we are back to a surprisingly warm London at Nogas house for a few days till it's off to Cornwall.
             This is really Nimas post, so I'll spare you the annoying nonsense and simply say (cue the song 'Champagne Supernova') thanks for keeping up and hope all is well to our super sweet friends and family.  Bye for now.   



  1. got me bub! not really:) Wow what an adventure you two are on, I'm really enjoying following you, it's like i'm on the adventure with you and you know I am in my heart! love you two...old dad

  2. Definitely got me. My eyebrows raised and my eyes got wide... until I read the next sentence. :)

    Can't wait to see you two in Londontown!

  3. Excellent story-telling Nima, by the way! You had my enthralled!

  4. Ha Got me too. That place looks amazing...Adam super jealous.