I had the entire day free, and was driven to Plitvice by Slaven's father and Marko, a festival volunteer, as my guide. Plitvice is a national park in the heart of Croatia, about a 2 hour drive from Zagreb. It is an incredibly beautiful area, a wonderland of lakes and waterfalls. It is amazing that such a place exists in our world. It really looks like it belongs in a fantasy, such as Middle Earth. We strolled on rustic wooden walkways that snaked throughout the area, and hiked up to the top of a waterfall. A ferry took us across a lake, where we caught a tram back to the entrance and our car. We explored just a small portion of the park. We passed a cave, that I would have loved to explore. Maybe next time.
We tried four restaurants on the way back, before we found one that served a spit-roasted lamb that is a specialty of Croatia. As with Mont St Michel in France, the sheep graze on grass grown in brine, so the flesh is much tastier. It was absolutely delicious, flavorful throughout, with the skin slightly charred with an intensity of taste.
We stopped at a war museum before reaching Zagreb. The Croatian/Serb war was less than two decades ago, and many houses still have the pockmarks from shrapnel and arms fire. I have been to many war museums in Europe, but this is the first one that is in a purely residential neighborhood.
A very short closing ceremony took place that evening. I learned the president of Croatia had visited the festival while we were at Plitvice.
I dined with Nebojsa and friends. I wanted turkey, as I had heard European turkey tastes very unlike our birds. However, the restaurant was out of it, so I had the biggest roast duck quarter I had ever eaten.
The Sunday paper had a very nice two-page spread on me. Lady Gaga, though, got more attention for her Saturday concert in Zagreb.
(photo via Steve Hubbell)
I checked out, and was picked up at 9 AM. Marko and I were booked for an 11:00 flight to Dubrovnik, a walled city along the Dalmatian Coast. I had a window seat on the left side of the plane, so had a great view of the deep greens and blues of the Adriatic, and the coastline and cities along the way.
We stayed in a private home in Dubronik. The owner was an incredibly charming woman named Maria, who scurried here and there. She spoke no English at all, so I was glad that Marko was with me. My third floor room had a balcony with a great view of the city walls.
It was an overcast and rainy day, the first such day on this trip. The weather had been unusually warm and sunny so far. I was surprised at the variety of plants here--palms and dates, bougainvillea, fig, hibiscus and oranges.
When I was invited to Croatia, I knew I had to go to Dubrovnik. The entire city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the most beautiful cities I have visited. We were in the off-season, so the streets were pretty empty. During the height of the tourist season, there could be seven cruise ships anchored offshore, each with 5,000 people converging on the city. Add that to day sight seers, and you've got a mob of people navigating the narrow maze-like streets and the ramparts.
We had an early dinner of prociutto and olive appetizers, I had scampi for main course, and local cake for dessert. The walls are lit up at night, so we had great views of the city even from our rooms.
Marko and I went down for an early breakfast of croissant and coffee, then climbed the fortress overlooking the city. It had a spectacular view of the city, as well as the rough coastline.
Croatia has more churches per capita than any other country in Europe, except Poland. We visited a few churches and a few museums, and a few churches that were turned into museums. Each church had holy relics to attract pilgrims, one church had the forearm of St Thomas the Apostle. I'm not current on the names of saints, but even I know who he was.
We walked on the city walls. There is a charge to do so, and a counter clockwise course. It is one way, because some parts are so narrow. We could overlook the city. Most of the buildings had the newer, red tiled roofs. Dubrovnik had been attacked by the Serbs and Montenegrians in 1991. The war ended in 1995, but the city was devastated.
Marko and me
We stopped at a small cafe where I had a marvelous seafood lunch, with mussels, shrimp, squid, and a whole sea bass.
We took the bus to the airport, and returned to Zagreb.
I spent the night with Slaven and his family. His mother made a wonderful Croatian dinner, including lamb and fried chicken. Before dinner, though, we had some schnapps. I'm not a drinker by any stretch of the imagination, but I finished off the thimble-full in my glass.
Before breakfast the next morning, she poured me another glass. I did okay with the schnapps the night before, and, besides, she said it is a Croatian tradition, for good health. I'm a sucker for tradition, so sipped mine. But it wasn't the schnapps from the previous night. It was a home brew that made the other seem like tonic water. I was a bit dizzy all morning. But she did give me a bottle of it to take home.
We met Nobojsa at the airport, and he and Slaven stayed with me until it was time to go through security.
The flight to Munich went smoothly. I made my connection with almost an hour to spare. Even passport control and baggage claim at LAX went quickly.
Croatia is a marvelous place. I was told there is no big manufacturing to speak of, so the country is pristine. The people are the most hospitable I have ever met. It is difficult to believe it was at war just 15 years ago. One thing I learned is that the Croatian people are very prompt. When they say they will meet you at 9, they will be there precisely at 9--not a minute sooner, not a minute later. This occurred throughout my stay. I can't wait to return.
the boardwalk from the ridge
boardwalk over a pool
me on the boardwalk
spit roasted lamb
scampi for lunch
city walls at night
view of the city from the fort
walking the city walls