Early to bed….early to rise.
We had a quick breakfast and started our self-guided walking tour of Mostar. Yesterday’s walk, in the areas near the Stari Most bridge, showed a vibrant city with few remaining scars. Today’s walk was different. Just a few streets over, the damage was conspicuous.
But life goes on….cars were speeding by on their way to work, people with market baskets were out shopping, mothers were walking their children to school….all seemingly blind to the wounds around them. But our eyes, unaccustomed to the ravages of war, took it all in…. bullet holes, shellings, abandoned buildings….so much destruction, so much devastation.
Then we saw a sign of hope….an empty field encompassed by a wire fence with menorahs in the grill work of a gate. A sign in the field explained that this was to be the home of a new synagogue….built on land donated by the city in appreciation for the aid the Jewish community provided to all religions during the past conflict.
As we were checking out of the hotel, I asked Adi how these communities are dealing with the aftermath of a war that pitted neighbor against neighbor. He looked thoughtful as he replied, “the hard feelings linger but the young people party together, maybe they will date and marry…..so time will heal.”
We loaded up the car, let Adi drive it up the short, steep driveway and headed back toward Croatia and today’s destination…Plitvice Lakes.
Driving through these two countries, we couldn’t help but note some similarities and some differences. Many homes in both countries were beautifully pastel-hued….is this part of their culture or a reaction to years of Communism? Or maybe to years of war? The biggest difference was garbage…..literally. Bags of it littered the highways in Bosnia-Herzegovina while Croatia’s roads were pristine. The war in B-H lasted longer and left much of the country in shambles….perhaps their infrastructure hasn’t yet caught up?
Crossing into Croatia was easy….after a perfunctory look at our passports, the Croatian guard waved us in. The drive to Plitvice Lakes took us away from the coast and into the country’s interior. We drove for hours through rolling pastures….delighting in the little stands and tables that families had set-up next to the road to sell their homemade specialities….cheese, honey and medovina (honey brandy). Sadly, we passed by each and every one….we couldn’t use the honey and we didn’t trust the unrefrigerated cheese. The brandy? Hmm…..you always need a reason to return.
It was mid-afternoon when we finally arrived at Plitvice Lakes. We were upgraded to a suite at the Hotel Jezero. The room was average at best, but the view of the forest from windows that ran the full length of the room was amazing…..and was even more so when we opened the windows and heard the gentle chirps of birds and the soft wind rustling through the trees. We could have stayed there, mesmerized, for hours…..but the lakes and waterfalls of Plitvice were beckoning.
Transportation in the park is limited….there’s a tram or a boat…..we decided to take the boat. From our hotel, we walked down stone steps to the park entrance (where the tram departs). The lake and the boat were further down…..down more stone steps…..275, to be exact. The only thing worse than going down these steps was knowing that I’d have to come back up them.
The boat deposited us at the far end of the lower lake. We started along a path toward the waterfalls. Before too long, we came to a fork in the road. A signpost listed two choices….the high road led to “View” and the low road led to “Parking Lot.” We took the obvious choice and headed to the “View.”
The path became a small road….with a car or two passing us along the way. This didn’t seem right but before too long, another sign marked “View” appeared. We veered off the road and onto a narrow dirt path that did, indeed, lead to a beautiful view of the lower and upper lakes.
From that point on, the signage was minimal (i.e., non-existent) but we kept following the little dirt path hoping for the best. Finally, another sign appeared…. once again, “View” pointed up and “Parking Lot” pointed down….down rustic and broken stone steps.
By now we had realized that the “View” path led to the top of the waterfalls and the “Parking Lot” path led not only to the parking lot, but also to the busy lower path that meandered along the waterfalls. Deeming that viewing waterfalls from the bottom up is preferable to looking down at them, we started our descent down the long, winding, spooky steps.
With my gimpy gait, it took us a while to reach bottom but it was worth it. We were now on a boardwalk that led us through lush woodlands with water rushing down countless rivulets…..enveloped by the sound and spray of cascading waterfalls.
The boardwalk seemed to go on forever….past ponds, creeks and caves….until it finally joined the path that led back to the boat. We hurried along, afraid we’d miss the last boat of the day, but it was still waiting at the dock when we arrived. We boarded for the short ride back to the hotel…..and it’s unforgiving steps.
Going down 275 steps is taxing…..but going up 275 steps is exhausting! We were both panting by the time we reached the hotel. All these stairs had stirred up quite an appetite. We cleaned up and went to the hotel’s dining room for dinner. It was a cavernous room, replete with long tables for the multitude of noisy tour groups visiting the park.
In these surroundings, we ordered dinner with some apprehension….Pork Stew for Craig and Grilled Trout for me. We needn’t have feared….it was delicious. Even more delicious was the house dessert….. “Plitvice Pastry.” We weren’t sure what to expect but we’ve never been disappointed in house-made specialties…. so we ordered it and waited anxiously. It arrived on a big platter looking like a white football! We delicately cut into it and took a cautious bite…..YUM! Crepes were folded and enveloped with creamy soft cheese….to create it’s unique shape, more of this sweet cheese was mounded on top…..then it was baked to perfection. I’d go back for this alone…..it made all those stairs worthwhile.
“Never look backwards or you’ll fall down the stairs” ~ Rudyard Kipling