Croatia (2013)

The Krka paradise

We exchange Split for Šibenik, go to some effort to find a candycane pink appartment and the next day visit paradise on earth. It is called Krka and a bus service runs to it.

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As said, we moved to Šibenik yesterday. The morning is a quick frenzy of breakfast, packing and cleaning up. We close the appartment door for the last time, leave the keys at the place we agreed upon with Ivica and drag our travel bag over the already hot riva to the bus station at the harbour. There are regular services to Trogir and Šibenik, and upon purchasing two tickets we are allowed to hop on to one. The bag and a smaller suitcase are labelled and stowed in the lower compartment in exchange for 1 kuna. The bus is a rather nice touringcar with air conditioning, and the 1½ hours to Šibenik pass by quickly and comfortably.

Less quick turns out to be finding our new appartment. The street in which it is located does not appear to be on the map in our app, which means we have to resort to the very global map on our booking confirmation. We deduce that the appartment must be somewhere in the north part of town and drag our bag uphill for the next fifteen minutes. I am seriously wondering why we did not get a suitcase with four wheels, why does this one not have four, why is it so hot in Croatia and why does this hill continually have small stairs? Once at the top of the hill, we end up being stuck at the point of it having to be either “somewhere around here” or “maybe a little further down”, but definitely one of those!

We decide to call the owner on the telephone, which turns into a hilariously gibberish conversation: “Okay, is fire station on left? You must go down, but is not back. No, wait. Is very close. Wife is already at appartment, but has left phone. Uhm… okay, wait. You see this street?” However, we do eventually find the street we are supposed to enter, and not long after we turn into the side street where we are greeted by Lana, one of the owners. It turns out she is an artist with a gallery in town, who has decorated the appartments herself with some of her art. And she seemingly has quite the preference for the colour pink, for the appartment resembles a candy cane. It is very nice and modern, but very… pink.

After we have paid for our stay and Lana has left, we find a critical flaw in our travel arrangements: we have booked this appartment until Wednesday, but are not going to Zadar until Thursday. Oops. Fortunately it only takes a phonecall to confirm that our current appartment is available for an extra day and we can extend our stay for another night, not having to spend it homeless at the bus station!

I suppress the sudden and unexpected urge to paint my toenails (I wonder where that is coming from) and instead, we head into town to check the bus services to both Trogir and the Krka National Park. The former run quite regularly, but the schedule for the buses to Skradin, where one of the entrances to the Krka park is supposed to be, is rather vague. Fortunately we passed by a tourist information office and drop by to check, where it turns out that the schedule is, in fact, vague. Only a few buses go there and the last one returns at 17.00 already. The lady at the tourist desk does suggest we take the bus back from Lozovac at a second entrance to the park, which is shorter and gives us more time in the park. That sounds like a plan, and armed with one we return for dinner and a good night’s rest.

On the bus…

We wake up early the next morning to head to the Krka National Park. It is a nature reserve along the river Krka (which explains the name; the other vowels must have washed away long ago) and is known for its waterfalls along the course of the river. We notice that Croatian organisational skills leave some room for improvement: we purchase two tickets at the bus station, but the desk cannot inform us from which platform the bus will depart. We are directed to an information desk on the other side of the station. Once there, the girl behind that desk has equally little idea and tells us to wait. Then she starts blurting out information in nearly unintelligible intercom-Croatian, while the group of confused tourists who want to go to Skradin grows around us. Finally, at about the time that the bus should already be departing, we seem to discern the words “Skradin” and “platform ten” in the stream of Croatian and a bus has indeed pulled up there. It is soon occupied by English, Spanish, Scandinavian and Dutch (basically, us) tourists and a few random Croats. The latter occasionally get off the bus at equally random points where it stops without anything resembling a bus stop being near.

Amazingly, we arrive there, instead of at the restaurant on the flyers or some sort of cult building, for example.

Half the bus gets up and is ready to get out when the bus pulls up to the entrance of the Krka National Park, where big signs and a ticket office announce its presence, but it turns out to be the Lozovac entrance, not the Skradin one. The driver manages to convince everyone to retake their seats and continues the journey. After driving down a long and winding road downhill, during which two Croats once again get off the bus at entirely random and seemingly remote points, the bus finally arrives at Skradin. And there we find no indication whatsoever on where the Krka park or its entrance is supposed to be. Fortunately there is a woman nearby the bus stop, without any indication of who she is or who she is working for, who tells us where to go and hands out small maps printed on the back of flyers for a restaurant. According to her information, a few streets down is an information center where we can buy tickets to the park and from where a boat will take us to the park.

A few girls indicate that they wanted to walk into the park on foot, but the reply is that they should have gotten off the bus in Lozovac for that (growling, for that is what they had tried to do) since the entrance is quite a long distance from Skradin (news to us, too). The boat trip is included in the ticket price, however. So, on to the information center. Amazingly, we arrive there shortly later, instead of at the restaurant on the flyers or some sort of cult building, for example. In what is by now Croatian fashion, we are informed that they do not sell tickets there, but we have to purchase them on the boat. Which only runs once an hour and is leaving in a few minutes. Better hurry!

Once at the pier we follow the herd of tourists to what we hope is the right boat and board. The boat almost immediately sets off and heads across the river to the park, or so we hope. After a pleasant 20-minute journey the boat moors at a pier and we get off. We do a quick check with an English family next to us, but they have not been able to purchase tickets so far, either and are as confused as we are. Fortunately, things clear up quickly: the paths from the pier lead to ticket offices at this entrance. Odd fellows, those Croats.

Finally having our entrance tickets, we head into the park and suddenly everything is marked very clearly. There are large maps everywhere and employees in clear blue shirts are available for questions and information. You can walk through a good section of the park, but there are several boat trips up the Krka available as well, including ones to an island with a monastery on it and to several waterfalls further up the river. They do all depart from near the Lozovac entrance, however, so why that is not used as the main entrance, is a mystery to us. Of course, you miss a pleasant boat ride and scenic entry, but you do end up in the park an hour sooner.

…to paradise

At any rate, we continue from the entrance and soon find ourselves at the Skradinski Buk, the lowest and most spectacular waterfall on the Krka: instead of plummeting down thirty meters or so in one go, the river comes down over a long stretch of several plateaus, which makes for an impressive sight. It also runs down into a lake where you can swim, which makes it fortunate that we brought our swimming gear. The path goes up along the most scenic part of the waterfall, offering up one stunning view after the other. About halfway up there is a small village of cottages where old crafts are being performed, where we pause and watch a blacksmith hammering away on a horseshoe.

We arrive near the bottom of the Lozovac entrance and discover four things: 1. The start of the so-called educational route, 2. the bus station (read: a piece of asphalt where buses can circle around) where buses drive people up to the entrance and down from it, 3. the information center for the boat trips, including a man with a megaphone continually announcing that information, and 4. an icecream stand. After immediately crossing off number four on that list, we check out the boat trips. There are three available, clocking in at two, two and a half and three and half hours, which all go increasingly further up the Krka river. As we do not feel like spending the day sitting on a boat, and since the nearest departures were a while off anyway, we decide to head onto the educational route instead.

This foot trail should lead through a beautiful section of the park, according to the folder, so that is a bonus. The trail consists of a sturdy wooden walkway which winds directly through the area, with two different forms of education along the way: occasionally there is a big sign with information about the river, the rock formations or the flora and fauna present in the area. In addition, there are regular—and this must be once again one of those things Croatian logic came up with—sings with QR codes that you can scan for more information.

Of course, that is all very interactive and totally 2013, but the texts behind those QR codes were not exactly extensive. They were a bit in the category: “Did you know the Croatian tree frog changes its colour based on the available light, the temperature and the latest fashion?” And that in Croatian and English. The QR code itself, in addition to the explanation that you could download a free QR code reader on the Internet, but that your telephone provider might charge you for accessing the Internet (again, in both Croatian and English), took up quite a bit more space on the sign than the actual text behind the QR code would have. So instead, they could have put that text on the signs instead, and everyone could have read the additional ‘Did you know?’ information. A bit of a waste of time and effort, if you ask me. Definitely hip, though.

However, if you have a piece of nature like this, you can get away with anything. I do not want to use the word paradise needlessly, but here it applies absolutely. Imagine a lush forest with a lot of light and shadow, of which the floor consists of shallow waters filled with fish, small rapids, waterfalls and patches of dry land with sleeping ducks everywhere. Some parts are tranquil and serene, other parts have deeper water which rushes along rocks and whirls below the walkways. Even an information sign about the snakes living in the park (twelve species, including the venomous sand adder) could not sway our opinion of the park. We did indeed encounter one snake: a small dice snake was curled up around a branch just under water alongside one of the walkways, basking in the attention of the passersby. Which he repaid by staring at them intimidatingly before letting go and swimming off quickly.

Eventually the path led back out of the dream to the waterfalls near the Skradin entrance, and after quickly changing in one of the toilet stalls we were ready for a swim at the foot of the Skradinski Buk. Much like in Split, the bottom was quite rocky, making the first few metres an act of careful balancing and navigation, but once across an underwater ridge, you glide into the cool, refreshing water with the waterfall in the background. It might not be the most convenient or quietest place to swim in the world, but it is definitely one of the prettiest. After splashing around for a while and drying up in the warm sun, we headed back towards the Lozovac entrance, where we could take the bus back to Šibenik.

A bus which turns out to have yet another random and completely unmarked corner across the park entrance as its designated stop. Why not. That is how they do things around here. But the Croats are forgiven. They have Krka.

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