Entering from Slovenia, Croatia was the first country on this trip where we had our passports checked. Hannah got an entry stamp, as Croatia is not in the Schengen zone, but Heiko didn't, as Croatia is part of the EU. Maybe if he had made a sad face, he could have gotten a stamp too...
From the border, we made our way south. On the way, we passed through Varaždin, an ancient Croatian capital and Central European Baroque town. From there, it was over some hills and down to the capital Zagreb.
In Zagreb, we joined yet another free (tips-based) walking tour of the city, that promised not to be yet Another Boring Church (ABC) tour. The tour took us through the Upper Town, the medieval core of the city. The Upper Town developed as two separate towns on two adjacent hills that were often at war with each other: Kaptol, where the cathedral now stands, was the seat of the Bishop, and Gradec, on the larger hill next to it, was the free town where tradesmen and artisans lived. Our guide shared with us many stories from medieval past to recent history as we walked these streets.
We also visited the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, one of the most unique museums in the world. Founded by two Zagreb-based artists after their own relationship came to an end, the museum began as a traveling collection of donated items from failed love relationships, and found its permanent home in Zagreb in 2010. Some of the stories that accompany the items are funny, some are sad, and some are just odd, but they all reflect on the fragiliy of human relationships, and provides a way for the donors to move on.
From Zagreb, we continued south towards the Plitvice Lakes National Park. On the way, we passed through Karlovac and Slunj, two towns that turned out to be more interesting than expected. Karlovac was built by the Austrians as a six-pointed star fortress to strengthen their defences against the advancement of the Ottoman Empire, and the star shape can still be seen in the town today, though unfortunately most buildings in this historic core are now vacant and run-down. In Slunj, we discovered the old milling village of Rastoke, that was built on the top several small waterfalls, cascades, and basins at the entry of the Slunjčica river into the Korana river. Because of its unique location, the beautiful village is also sometimes known as "the Small Lakes of Plitvice".
Plitvice Lakes National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage listed park and one of the most popular attractions in Croatia. Visiting in November, we had the advantage of less crowds, and lower entry fees. The Park is known for a chain of 16 terraced lakes, joined by waterfalls, separated by tufa or travertine barriers that are formed by the sedimentation of chalk. There is also a big waterfall, where the Plitvice river falls into the Korana river. It was foggy when we visited, so we could not see the landscape of the lakes in sharp detail, but it did give the area a fairytale-like atmosphere, and was equally beautiful.
The Plitvice Lakes are located in the middle of the mountains, so it was a tough few days for us as we made our way to the coast. The last mountain range we crossed was the Velebit mountain range, that separates the temperate climate from the mediterraneran climate. Crossing the pass, we experienced quite a sudden change in climage: before the pass, it felt like winter was definitely coming, with almost no leaves left on the trees, increasingly colder weather, and a fog that seemed to be following us for days. After the pass, it was suddenly much warmer, with bright sunshine, green vegetation, and the sight of the sea!