After Sail Croatia ended, six of our group booked a hostel together for one last night in Split. I met up with two of my Australian friends, Jess and Josh, for coffee and wifi, as I’d gone a week without reliable connection to the real world, and then headed back to the hostel to meet back up with the group.
While we spent most of the day napping and relaxing after the long week, we did go out to eat at a highly recommended restaurant called Fife with cheap seafood. The black cuttlefish risotto (which Shaunagh made fun of my American pronunciation of) and the fried squid rings were highlights of the meal.
We went to bed early that night and the next morning, four of us said goodbye to the others and picked up a car we had hired for the day and night for only €50 between the four of us. Stuart, an Australian who had never driven on the right side of the road (but knew how to drive a stick and had his license on him) would be driving for the day.
After a 30 minute struggle with the Bluetooth, we were finally able to connect my phone to the music and turned up the tunes. Our plan was to drive to Zagreb, making an extended stop at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Plitvice Lakes National Park and the “Old Mill Village” Rastoke.
Without getting lost (seriously), we drove out of Croatia’s coastal sun and into a grey fog that hanged over the country that sat past the mountains separating the coast from the mainland. The difference in the weather was stark and surprised us after driving through a long tunnel under the mountains. I was not aware of it at the time, but the tunnel marked my goodbye to summer and greeted me with autumn at its end.
Under the melancholy sky, we arrived at the Plitvice lakes around 12:45, donning sweaters, jackets and jeans for the first time in weeks (I’ve since worn my one pair of jeans every day). We bought tickets that were never checked and made our way into the park, not fully prepared for the stunning landscape we would be exploring for the next four hours.
To truly describe the lakes would be impossible; photos and words will never capture the feeling of being there. We were maybe 20 minutes in when we came to the consensus that it was the most beautiful place we had ever been. Waterfalls were everywhere you turned. The lakes range from small to large and are arranged in cascades, making them spill over into one another from dozens of angles. There’s a wooden log trail/bridge spanning throughout the entire park, somehow seamlessly integrated into the park and making the area still feel somewhat untouched (aside from the large amount of visitors). The trail often rests just inches above the water, other times even half an inch under the water. We guessed that the area must maintain a pretty constant water level.
There is one part of small, connected lakes spilling into each other that essentially make one long waterfall, and much of this area was closed off because the trail was partially submerged. Most of Plitvice’s visitors, including us, did not follow the rule and passed under the rope– how could we skip over the most stunning part of the park? The “closed off” area turned out to be a bit of an obstacle course, balancing on the rock-lined side of dirt paths and jumping between logs. We were headed for a site on the map marked “big waterfall,” and it was at first unclear to me whether it was just the series of descending small waterfalls that made the big one.
It was not. To my right, the small waterfalls let out into a waterfall a bit larger than the others we had seen. It was wide and impressive, and I reveled in the completion of a journey we thought might be hindered by closed trails. We walked a bit farther to get a better look when I glanced to my left and realized I was completely wrong about the “big waterfall.” To my left was a waterfall four times larger than what I thought it was, water rolling down the sharp incline at times and free falling at others. My mouth dropped two inches. I felt so lucky to be there, looking at something so beautiful and strong. There was nowhere else I would rather be.