10/03/2014 - 10/04/2014
Rijeka was the next to last overnight stop on our itinerary to get settled. I waffled between Rijeka and Cres until the last minute, and then finally chickened out of tackling the island ferries so early in the trip. I had bad memories of getting stuck in an uninteresting town in Sulawesi for three days waiting for a ferry, and I couldn't figure out how to get the ferry schedule in advance. In retrospect, I'm glad it turned out that way because we got our share of island hopping later in the trip and found that they didn't have much atmosphere in the offseason. Meanwhile, Rijeka had the best market we found in Croatia.
Because of numerous stops during the day, we got into Rijeka fairly late but fortunately found the B&B without much difficulty. This was despite the fact that it was a poorly signed turnoff from the main road and a steep downhill drive with several turns. The B&B was comfortable and friendly, although the mosquito presence was somewhat irritating. As usual, we had to head out quickly for dinner and chose a restaurant in nearby Volosko called Konoba Tramerka. We located the restaurant without much difficulty and parked with considerably greater difficulty in a spot which barely afforded other cars room to pass. The grotto-like restaurant was lovely both inside and outside but the food was very disappointing, a notch below unmemorable. This was actually the first in a string of lousy dinners that we had on the Croatian coast.
We had a lot more difficulty finding our way back to the B&B than we had finding it the first time, mainly due once again to Google Maps misdirecting us down smaller and smaller roads until we reached a dead end. Overall we found Google Maps to be much weaker on this trip than we had previously. We eventually found our way back which Cleo celebrated by jumping on the bed until I tackled her.
The next morning we made our way to downtown Rijeka for the produce market. We didn't have very high expectations, but this ended up being the second best market of the trip after Padua. Aside from fruit and vegetable stalls covering an enormous area, there were large covered meat and fish markets. Our prize from this market was a foot long sausage of bear meat that we still haven't found an occasion special enough to consume.
After getting some snacks at the market we briefly explored the surrounding area, where there were some beautiful ornate buildings. I didn't want to get to Plitvice Lakes too late in the afternoon, however, so we took some quick photos and got back on the road.
When I researched Croatia, Plitvice Lakes came up over and over again as a top destination if not the most rewarding in the country. I hesitated because it was difficult to ascertain how strenuous hiking in the park would be, and even if it might be dangerous for the kids. Eventually I read enough accounts from people who had brought small children that I decided it would be safe and worthwhile. The first three quarters of the trip from Rijeka to Plitvice passed easily enough, but once we were far from any urban area I lost my phone signal and often had to navigate based on the confusing road signage. Furthermore, the air was becoming misty and the roads were starting to become narrower and curvier. The once attractive forest around us began to appear foreboding and oppressive. The overall effect was very uncomfortable and upsetting to Mei Ling as well, although the kids didn't seem to be bothered as long as they had their iPads. When we got into the park itself, I had great difficulty finding the entrance. We encountered a lot of travelers on foot who were mostly lost themselves, which didn't do much for our confidence either. We actually considered giving up and driving on to the next city but fortunately the last direction I tried turned out to be the correct one and we located the main parking lot. It was already after 3pm so we hurriedly put the babies in the carriers and bought our passes after confirming that we still had time to see the park. My research indicated that there was a confusing array of options regarding what paths to take, but once we were inside the sequence seemed straightforward. We crossed a pedestrian bridge over the highway and eventually reached a shuttle bus comprised of many small cars. After a long wait the bus took off, whizzing up a narrow winding road at surprising speed. Through breaks in the trees we could see lakes and waterfalls in the distance. Suddenly we arrived at the bus stop at the upper section of the lakes and we disembarked.
The lakes are formed by a confluence of small rivers that arise from runoff from the surrounding mountains. The lakes and waterfalls are shaped by the continuous action of the running water against the porous karst and travertine limestone that comprises the surface of the ground in that area. The lake at the highest level of the park conveyed a sense of serenity that contrasted sharply with the pounding waterfalls further down.
There were paths of wooden planks on either side of the lake system, with occasional transverse pathways connecting them. These transverse paths allowed us to walk right at the base of several waterfalls. The number of shades of green and blue seemed infinite here. Plitvice is where I regretted my lack of photographic skills and equipment the most, because our best photographs seem very washed out compared to our memories of what we saw.
We walked the paths for an hour and a half, and just when we thought our backs would break from the weight of the sleeping kids we arrived at a boat which would take us back across the lake to a dock below where we had caught the bus.
We still had to climb a seemingly neverending stone staircase, retrace our path to the pedestrian bridge and across to the parking lot before we could finally unstrap the kids and crawl exhausted into our car. There was no question in our minds that all the difficulties and hard work we had encountered that day was more than worth it for the lifelong memory of one of the most beautiful natural places we had ever seen.
As it turned out, leaving the park was much easier than finding it. We were already practically at the entrance to the highway and even though I continued to have no phone signal the route to our next destination Zadar was well-marked.