After an 11 hour flight from Seoul to Munich, we picked up our awesome Ford station wagon (seriously better than any in the states) and started the 6 hour drive down to Croatia though Austria and Slovenia.
Word to the wise, Slovenia and Austria both require you to buy toll road tickets to use their highways. Though Croatia is part of the EU now, it still checks passports at the border and if you don’t have a toll road ticket when leaving Slovenia you’re going to get hit with a hefty fine (which we did). Ouch!
We spent the night in a national park on the north side of Zagreb. Getting up the mountain into the park was a harrowing adventure because our GPS sent us the wrong way up a one way road – for five miles. Luckily we only passed a couple cars on the narrow road, as it was nearly 2am by the time we arrived a full 24 hours after leaving Seoul. Kate wasn’t scared at all and Evan was really wide awake. ;o)
The next morning we went for a nice hike and found ourselves with a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside at the top of a small slope used for skiing in the winter. There were some teenagers also enjoying the view as they sipped white wine from a box mixed with sprite. We would find out soon that this was a common Croatian breakfast.
The next day, after meeting up with Dan and Nicole, we headed out for some wine tasting. In another post, we give a detailed report of wine tasting outside of Zagreb called Pleševica. We had so much fun there that we drove into the Croatian countryside in search of another “Pl….vica” landmark. It turns out this isn’t tough to do in Croatia, as we stopped at an awesome national park called Plitvica. This is a group of freshwater lakes in the middle of the country that are connected by a series of small streams and waterfalls. They have small wooden paths that connect each of lakes, one more beautiful than the next.
Later that day we made it onto the ferry in Zadar that took us over to Pasman Island where Mark Juravic’s family house is located in the sleepy town of Zdrelac. His family was generous enough to let us crash in their gorgeous guest house for several nights. Thank you Juravic family!
Island living is as idyllic as you would expect. Everyone seems to know each other, and everyone is very friendly. What’s not to be happy about? The water is clear and cool, the sun is warm and the views are amazing.
Internet and email is sparse and people use their phones only for an occasional call and text. On the island there are much better things to do. For instance, eating the fresh fish is pretty incredible.
People gather every morning at the local café to mingle and start off the day with an espresso or a “Radler”. This was actually really tasty…imagine a Zima with more orange flavor and less sweetness. Croatian men drank this without any shame at all, often with a light breakfast. Yum!
We spent several days just exploring the islands. One morning, starting from the small dock next to the Juravic family house we swam around a small peninsula to a sandy beach. The swim (dashed line below) to the beach was about the coolest 600 meters we’ve ever swum. The swim back to our house later that day (in choppy seas and against the current) wasn’t quite as relaxing but a good workout.
As a side note, google maps is pretty sweet. Mark gave us directions to his place that even included street view of this small, mostly undeveloped island off the coast of Croatia! Below you can see all of busy downtown Zdrelac:
One day we did the 90 minute drive down to Split and tasted some wines at a great wine shop called the Art of Wine and at a wine bar called Paradox. The tasting with Igor at was nearly perfect: we got to taste great cross-section of Croatian wines and learn about their history with an engaging and enthusiastic teacher. Overall Split was hot medium sized port city with a series of nice cafés along the water and an interesting old town. The climbed the ancient bell tower for great views of the city.
After five of the most relaxing days we’ve ever had, we headed back to Munich and spent one night close to Lake Bled in Slovenia. It was right off the highway, breathtaking and fairly reasonable comparable to similar places in Switzerland. There was a gorgeous church built in the center of an island in the middle of the lake, and Bled Castle perched atop the mountain above.
It made for a lovely morning run around the 6-km lake, and was so beautiful we wished we’d had more time to spend there.
From Lake Bled we miscalculated the time it would take to drive to Munich and missed our flight. Oh well, this was a good chance to drink some awesome German beer.
On to Italy!