Thursday, June 23, 2011

Plitvitze National Park, Croatia -- Day 6

Last day in Croatia.  Breakfast consisted of fruit and the last of the Dalmatian version of Cocoa Puffs.  As we drove northeast, higher into the mountains, we watched the car thermometer: 12*C... -1*C... until, finally, as we pulled into the parking lot of Plitvitze National Park, it read -4*C.  A thin layer of ice covered the pavement... and stairs.  We giggled quietly as we joined the spectacle of a large tour group gripping the stair railing, stepping left foot, followed by right foot, left foot, followed by right foot... a single file line, their huge cameras dangling precariously around necks, sailor-style and straw garden hats on heads, moving at snail's pace. 

After patronizing the Visitor's Shop for still-warm baguettes and an extra sweatshirt we set off... not quite knowing what to expect... 

Plitvitze is a series of 16 lakes interconnected by waterfalls and surrounded by woodland with deer, bears, boars, and wolves, plus rare birds.  "Croatia's landscape is similar to New Zealand," our host told us... which planted a little seed in my brain that perhaps we should visit New Zealand when we get a chance...

This was our first view as we followed the narrow, steep switchback trail leading to the bottom of the ravine.

We walked across, behind, and sometimes right up the middle of waterfalls as we followed a boardwalk...

...seeing clear to the bottom of each lake... wondering about the occasional boat or anchor lying there...

...marveling at the icy aqua and emerald green colors...

...crossing the largest of the lakes on an electric boat...

...reading our brochure about the different carbonate minerals in the water, the minerals that make these lakes what are called travertine lakes... extremely rare...

...known as "Europe's most beautiful lakes."

It took us almost three hours to walk from the lowest lake to the highest lake...  Three hours of wonder as we took in the paradise-like landscape.  (And no one fell in!!  ...Such wonder, indeed!)

On the first day that we had arrived in Zadar, our hosts told us to help ourselves to the outdoor barbeque... then must have had second thoughts when we asked them precisely how to operate the "grill" because they quickly offered instead, "Never mind.  We'll cook it for you sometime during your visit."

Ryker explained -- his thick Australian accent as fun to listen to as his stories -- that every Croatian household still uses this ancient method of cooking.  He pointed to the ovens in the nearby backyards.  "The process is simple," he told us.  "It just takes time and attention."  We watched as he carefully stacked red hot coals on the lid covering the roasting pan.

He explained how he had built this oven himself, using bricks made the same way out of the same clay that had been used for centuries.  "There is a unique method with which the bricks are made and a particular way they must be stacked to hold in the heat so that it cooks the food evenly."  His mannerisms were nonchalant, though we could hear the passion in his tone.

After the food was completely surrounded with hot coals, he offered to give us a tour of the house he built -- the one we were staying in on the main level.  But there were four more floors and he wanted to show us the top floor, the project he was currently working on.

So, as the sun took it's time setting, Ryker and his wife, Nives, gave us a tour, all the while fascinating us with stories of their lives, their hopes, and dreams.  Their passion, contagious.

The children played, content, by the water, skipping rocks, looking for treasures... and crabs...

...playing with the scorpion they found. 

We stood on a balcony facing south and Ryker said, "There, see that hill right there?"  We looked east in the direction he pointed.  "The enemy attacked our village from the top of that hill.  They had cannons," he paused, smiling slightly, as he pointed his thumb over his shoulder toward the water, "but they were too powerful and most of their cannons landed in the water."

"Not all of them," Nives said in her soft voice with the strong Australian accent like her husband's.

"No, not all..." he pointed to a few remaining shells of houses nearby.  "The villagers didn't have the ammunition we needed to fend them off, but we kept fighting anyway and finally they turned back."  We looked at him, wanting him to tell us more.  He obliged.  "Most of the people in this area fled to Australia for safety." 

He told us about another war in his childhood and the memories of his parents fleeing to Australia with him and his brothers.  Different wars.  Different times.  Ryker has memories from both of them.
He affectionately put his hand on his wife's shoulder, quietly mentioning that he had to check on the meal.  Nives smiled as she took over the storytelling.  She, too, had parents who fled from Croatia to the safety of Australia during the bombing that took place during WWII.  And although she is a soft-spoken woman, her fierce love and loyalty for her husband and children is evident in her composure, in her stories.

Evening waned on.  A good thing since we weren't ready for our visit to end.  We longed to linger extra long in the moment and it seemed we were being indulged in our wish.

Did you notice there are five children in these photos?  Ryker's and Nives' son, about Israel's age, played with our children.  They were fast friends in no time and by the end of the night, there was an exchange of e-mail addresses and the comments, "Man, I wish we had more time!"

I know this is bad, but I honestly can't remember what kind of meat Ryker cooked for us!  All I know is that it was some of the juiciest, tastiest meat I've had in a long, long time!  I guess I was so caught up in the stories that I forgot to take note of some of those finer details.  What I remember is that everything was delicious!  The whole evening!  These people who I so quickly came to love, respect, and admire.

Over dinner we talked about politics, culture, and family.  We talked about Jesus and the significance of Easter.  We talked about marriage and parenting and the values of our day and the cultural war.  We talked late into the night exchanging stories and memories, laughing together... becoming friends. 

Our entire time in Croatia was filled with wonderful memories.  But this last night was definitely the highlight of our holiday.  It always comes down to relationships, doesn't it?


  1. Wow, this is beautiful....once again!! Thank you for taking me with your family!!

  2. What beautiful lakes, and what beautiful people! Thanks for sharing, and giving me a bigger picture of the world.

  3. Hi Sharon, I really enjoyed what you wrote I honestly think that the croatian tourist board should employ you & use what you have written for its summer campaign & advertisement for our beautiful country.The meat we cooked was veal.
    I hope you & your family are all good,Hope to see you again sometime.
    & thankyou for staying at our place
    Nives,Rajko & Josip