Our final two stops on this trip would both be in Croatia. The first stop for one night, is Plitvice National Park-about two hours from Zagreb.
We left mild windy weather and arrived to…snow?! Wait, what? It was snowing-or had recently snowed at the National Park because everything was covered in a pretty white blanket. We knew the next morning we would be hiking through these woods and actually preferred no snow in April-shocking, right?
It was pretty from the view from our room and luckily we weren’t doing any hiking until the morning-and all the snow melted away and gave out to almost perfect weather for our day amongst the most beautiful waterfalls and treacherous paths!
The park is huge and we brought the stroller, unsure how long Nathan would last walking. So we asked a guide before entering the park the best route for strollers. Turns out one route is impossible with a stroller-but has the most beautiful waterfalls. This is the upper lake. So we decided to take the boat over to the upper lake and leave the stroller at the base and do a 45 minute circle (instead of continuing to hike up). Once we came back we would head towards the lower lake with the stroller.
The upper lake started with an ascent on these rickety wooden planks with no guardrails, over waterfalls. I had no idea that most of the upper lake would be this type of walk. It was absolutely stunning-but I am pretty sure I made permanent grooves in Nathan’s wrist due to the Mama Death Grip I had on him. He is a naturally clumsy kid so I was really worried he would tumble into one of these waterfalls! It was the most beautiful part f the park-so completely worth it-but it was a little scary at times!
In between the upper lakes and lower lakes is a picnic area where you can buy lunch. The government run BBQ felt like throwback to communism. The food was terrible, the people working there might have been the most unfriendly people we encountered on our whole trip and the women’s room had four stalls and three urinals with a line out the door while the men used porta-potties. We ate fast and kept walking.
The lower lakes were stunning and a bit more crowded-Nathan was ready for the stroller since he spent the whole first half of the morning in walking (45 minutes with a toddler is really more like 90 minutes).
Some parts were super tricky and tight with the stroller and there were some of those rickety wooden planks again. The big highlight is the giant waterfall-Dan had to carry the stroller while I carried Nathan since it was a slippery hike down to the giant fall. The views were totally worth it!
After that we hiked up a steep hill to get back to the bus that would take us to the hotel so we could start our three hour journey to Rovinj-in the Istria peninsula for our final three nights.
I was looking forward to this oasis more than any other part of the trip. We had a gorgeous apartment on the water in this cobblestoned village across the sea from Venice. This place felt more Italian than Croatian in its architecture, language and food. The locals did nightly strolls and the whole place just felt italian to me.
The first night in Istria was slightly stressful due to crabby toddler, late arrival and hunger in all three parties. After our host gave us the keys to the apartment and told us the name of a great pizza place–we were off…and lost. We had to park the car in an area above the pedestrian zone-far from the apartment, so when we walked back at night, having never seen the town, we got very turned around and lost. It was Nathan’s bedtime and he had not had dinner and the parents couldn’t manage. It was one of those nights. Everyone was short on patience and long on hunger pains. When we finally found the pizza place-we took our food back to the apartment and scarfed down the best pizza I’ve had since I was in Italy last fall. It was amazing. With Nathan fast asleep, the adults decided to enjoy the seaside apartments and sit and people watch as everyone strolled by our place in the heart of town.
The next morning we were happier-I set out to find the grocery store to stock up for breakfast and snacks while Dan and Nathan hung at the apartment. We decided to spend that day in Rovinj in the morning and Motovun-a small hilltown in the late afternoon. We wanted this part of the trip to be a little more relaxing so we took our time. We took Nathan to a playground that was on the edge of the town where we could watch the sea and the market come to life.
Motovun is a hilltop town that Mario Andretti was born in-so yeah, he is Croatian, not Italian! (Ok at one point Istria was part of Italy). This tiny hilltop has scenic views and cobblestoned streets and church-what more do you need? Lunch would have been stunning-we had the most stunning view from our outdoor table. But the heavens opened up and the waiters forced us indoors to a stifling hot little restaurant. We had the local specialty-truffles-mine in a risotto and Dan’s in an omelette while we sadly waited out the rain.
Come rain or shine-we decided we were going to tour this town-of course five feet to the left of the restaurant and you are about done. The town is very tiny-we saw the church, Nathan jumped in rainy puddles (“muddle puddles” as he calls them-and quite frankly the highlight of his entire day) and then we headed back to Rovinj after buying some local wine.
That night we dined at the pizza place, instead of taking it home and it was just as delicious. A cultural observation: on the table was a stack of car magazines. Nathan saw cars and got very excited and started to leaf through the magazines. I was half paying attention-when suddenly I noticed out of the corner of my eye-a completely naked woman in the magazine. I mean full frontal porn. Nathan wasn’t paying the least bit of attention to it and it was small and on the bottom corner of the page-but I was still shocked this was just sitting out on a table at a local restaurant! Pizza & Porn….
Once again, after Nathan went to sleep, the adults participated in their new favorite activity-drinking wine and people watching on the front porch.
The next morning was Easter Sunday. I ventured out to find coffee and came across a marching band playing the town’s square and free cakes being set out for the townsfolk. It looked like Rovinj was going to be a fun place on Easter Sunday. We decided most of Rovinj would be closed on the holiday so we were heading to Pula-to see a Roman Colosseum (Amphitheater)-figuring a giant tourist attraction would be open on the holiday.
On the way out of town, we took some free cake (delicious) and headed into centuries past. Pula is another seaside town but not nearly as charming as Rovinj. However, it was better than I expected and the Amphitheater was amazing. I’m a sucker for Roman ruins and find their size and history fascinating. It was built in the First Century AD and took several decades to build-it was built around the same time as the Colosseum in Rome. It remained active until the 5th Century when Gladiator battles were outlawed.
The basement of the Amphitheater is open but while I was hoping to see the cages they kpt the lions in, it’s actualy been turned into a museum about ceramic jugs called amphorae-jugs used to transport goods in the Second century BC when Greeks ruled.
Once we left the Amphitheater, we did a Rick Steves guided walk (from his book) through the town to see everything else. The Cathedral dating from the Fifth Century AD located in a main square with both Venetian and Roman influences.
The Temple of Augustus-built in the first century AD, it was hit during WWII by the allied forces-who rebuilt it after the war.
We saw an amazing mosaic floor that was uncovered by locals while cleaning up after WWII bombings. This mosaic is a third century floor from Roman times.
Lunch in Pula was surprisingly good. We went to a place that looked like just a gelato shop but had pizzas and gyros as well and we had the nicest server. (I was on a pizza and gelato diet at this point). After lunch we headed back to Rovinj to stroll and enjoy the Easter festivities.
The square was bustling with people and we had decided we would eat at the local stands set up for Easter. On the menu was lamb and calamari. Since we were literally on the sea-I thought calamari would be outstanding. And Dan thought lamb for Easter would be perfect. We were both wrong. This may have been the worst food we have had. The lamb was fatty and not edible and after one bite of calamari I was done. It was incredibly fishy and not what I was expecting. Maybe my palette is too American when it comes to calamari and I want it fried and drowning in marinara.
So while Nathan ran in circles throughout the square we chose a touristy place with awesome views of the sea. The awesome views were the reason we chose it and the food was a tourist trapper’s dream. Expensive and bland. My pasta honestly tasted like Chef Boyardee. Nathan ate french fries. We enjoyed the views and decided not to let bad food (twice) ruin our last night.
After dinner, we hiked to the top of the church to see the views (in the dark) of the sea.
We ended the night (and our trip) with another evening of wine and people watching while Nathan slept.
A quick note about our drive home the next day: never ever come home on a German holiday. Ever. Rovinj is about 9.5 hours from our house. We knew it would be a long day. It took us 13 hours because of the holiday traffic. The traffic in and out of Munich was horrible (and we went around Munich). Nathan lost it after ten hours-luckily he was only screaming for his bed and pajamas for 20 minutes until he conked out for the rest of the drive (guess we found his car time limit). It was a very long day and I don’t recommend that again with a toddler.
Overall, Croatia & Slovenia-two countries I’ve never been to-were absolutely amazing. I can’t wait for part two of Croatia when we go South and head to Dubrovnik, Split, Bosnia and Montenegro! (not planned yet but dreaming of it!)
Next up: Hotel Review on Holland!