We left Hungary and drove to Croatia, stopping at the border for passport inspection. It turns out Croatia, while sort of part of the EU, is not a full member and is not part of the Schengen Zone so its borders with neighboring EU countries like Hungary (which is higher up the EU food chain) are controlled. I am still pretty unclear about the logistics of the EU – what exactly it takes to become a full member. I had no idea before traveling in Central Europe how complex the EU structure is. Of the countries we have visited, only Slovenia uses the Euro (i.e. is a full member of the EU) – all others still have their own currency.
Once past the border, we continued on to Plitvice National Park, a beautiful area with 15 lakes and a multitude of spectacular waterfalls. We stayed in the Hotel Plitvice, a park hotel built in the 1950’s that had a slight feel of Soviet utilitarian design aesthetics but it was in a great location very near the park entrance. The next day we started early on a five-mile hike through the park. It was just us and a gazillion tourists! What stunned me was to learn that it was a pretty quiet day (it’s the tail end of the high season). The park is full of trails and since a lot of them are over marshy areas they have raised trails made from wood railroad tie-type logs. They were all about 4 feet across and the drop off on either side was either marshy bog or flat out lake. We were told that the best way to walk was single file and it became immediately clear why that was such a good idea. The volume of people moving in both directions on these fairly narrow trails meant that if you didn’t keep in single file and stopped to, say, take a photo everyone came to a grinding halt. As an aside: whoever invented the selfie stick deserves to be consigned to one of the circles of hell. The number of people armed with these things stopping and taking photos in the middle of a crowded trail section was too great to count and drove me crazy! The footing was treacherous enough without this added complication. The scenery was lovely – and in the first half of the hike (we started very early before the big influx of people hit the trails) we had a great time taking photos and enjoying the sights. The second half became increasingly crowded and hazardous. In fact, one of our group ended up falling off the trail and had to be rescued by a large and strong young German guy who hopped into the water and was able to heft her up and out. Thankfully she was just really shaken up and not seriously injured.
We survived the hike and stopped for lunch at a little café where we had burgers and hotdogs and enjoyed sitting in the sun after the cool shade of the trails. There were a lot of bees about (it was the season, apparently) and one managed to catch a ride on my hotdog into my mouth where it stung me on my tongue. Ouch!! I’m not allergic so wasn’t too alarmed, but my whole mouth got sore and too painful to eat. It took a couple of hours for the pain to wear off and Chuck took out the stinger later in the afternoon when we arrived at our hotel for the night.
We had a day off when we reached Rovinj (and got to stay put for three nights), a town on the Croatian coast. We were scheduled to stay at the Hotel Katarina on an island just off the shore, but they closed early for the season so there was a last-minute change (two days prior to our arrival) to another hotel on another island a little further offshore. It turned out this was a major upgrade – the replacement hotel (the Istra Island Hotel) was a fancy schmancy resort. Our rooms were all suites with views of either park grounds or the Adriatic. A boat ran every hour to take people to and from the island to Rovinj. Rovinj had a lovely church (St. Euphemia’s) and lots of small shops and restaurant. It’s is super close to the Italian border so almost everyone spoke Italian and there was lots of great Italian food to be had. On the night we arrived we had a group seafood feast which was quite good.
The next day was a free day and Chuck and I went exploring Rovinj (and did our obligatory climb to the top of the church tower for a spectacular view of the town. We ambled about doing some window shopping then stopped at a little Italian restaurant for lunch. All went well until it came time to pay and then the waiter said “cash only” when we took out our credit card so I made a mad dash over to a nearby ATM for more kunas. Then it was back to the island and time for a swim in the (freezing cold) Adriatic. Chuck wimped out but I made it to a buoy and back so get bragging rights. Before dinner we took a brisk cruise out around the islands near Rovinj and encountered several dolphins who put on a good show, jumping and splashing near the boat. Then it was back to the hotel where we enjoyed a buffet dinner that was beyond any buffet I have ever seen. They had tables of meats, pasta, breads, salads and unlimited kegs of beer and wine (with signs saying “no filling of bottles”), and even an ice cream cart. Phew! I have to say, everything I had ever heard about the beauty of the Croatian coast was true – it truly is THAT pretty.
The next morning we said farewell to Croatia and headed for the final country on the tour: Slovenia.