The Big Slap
Hello from the Mountains. This week I took a road trip, renting a car for a day and visiting one of Croatia's famed national parks.
Renting the car was its own adventure and the first real sign I have seen of the impact of Covid here along with two huge cruise ships sitting idle in the harbor. I first took a taxi out to the airport to pick up the car. Although open, the airport was completely empty (no tourists). To my confusion, the place I had rented the car from online also had shut down its office there. Eventually, I tracked down a number to call. Some guy came and picked me up and drove me to a car dealership in a scruffy industrial suburb. I did manage to get a car but still not sure if it wasn't the guy's personal vehicle. When I returned it at the end of the day, he used the same car to drop me off and then drive himself home.
I drove from Zadar to Plitvice National Park about two hours away. I got a better sense of the local landscape on the drive, moving from the flat, scrubby plain of the coast into a wall of granite known as the Dinaric Alps. The countryside was mostly empty too, no villages or towns really, except for occasional wooden stands selling cheese and honey.
Plitvice National Park is considered the crown jewel of Croatia's National Parks. The park is series of crystal clear lakes lined with waterfalls. Much of the geology is limestone and other porous rock, allowing the water to flow from one lake to the next and creating the many waterfalls. To explore, you pick one of four routes and then follow a path that includes trail and pontoon boats. I chose a two-hour trip in the Upper Lakes section. Following along trails and boardwalks, some of them over the tops of waterfalls, I made good use of the park map (particularly appreciating the German word it used for hike, 'wanderweg') to figure how to get to my destination. Eventually, I arrived at the greatly named Veliki Slap (Big Waterfall, pictured at the top), considered the tallest waterfall in Croatia. I had a picnic lunch there and then made my way back to where I started. In addition to the waterfalls, the blue-green color of the lakes, created in part by the chalky soil, was quite striking.
Returning the car in Zadar, I had a good chance to explore a bit of the rest of the city. While the Old Town is like its own little island on a small peninsula, the mainland part of the city is where most people live. It's a spread-out mix of socialist-era apartment blocks, warehouse-like shopping malls, office buildings, and so on. For all its thrown-together qualities, the area does have its own great sunsets and views of the port and the Adriatic. I asked the car rental guy, what he liked about Zadar, and he said the size of the city (at about 75,000, not too big not too small), the comfortable climate, and friendly people.
Also driving through the mainland side of Zadar, I saw many murals for Tornado Zadar. Basketball is big in Croatia, with several Croatians in the NBA. Last week Zadar's team won the Croatian championship (with the help of two Americans from the DC suburbs) over their archrivals, Split. In the Old Town square, just down the street from my apartment, hundreds of Tornado Zadar folks and others turned out Saturday night to sing songs, chant, light fireworks, and sing some more.
Also in the early evening on Saturday, many in the Old Town strolled out to the promenade on the Adriatic. This is a popular activity. People gather at a spot that has an art installation involving waves pushing wind through openings in the pavement similar to those of a flute. With this as background music, kind of like being serenaded by drunken whales if you ask me, people watch the sunset. After the sun sets, nearby is another art project, an oval-shaped grid of solar panels, which lights up from energy stored during the day (also used to power lights in the harbor apparently) and reflects the sky and the many colors of Zadar. .