Category Archives: Croatia

Molunat, Dubrovnik & 12 miles of Bosnia

Our unexpected exit from Montenegro left us feeling deflated. For all of ten minutes.

The gorgeous village harbour of Molunat, washed by blue aqueous waters and scented by jasmine and tamarisks lulled us over the two days we spent camped at the waters’ edge. Welcoming locals in the busy village wine bar were interested in our adventure in Montenegro and keen to know more.

Autokamp Adriatic II at Molunat

Their reticence to stray over the nearby border was borne out of the memory of the Balkan Wars and the fact that Croatia, unlike its immediate neighbours, Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro was safely tucked inside the EU and decidedly Brussels-looking.

This remains the case in 2020, although all three have applied for membership and are negotiating terms.

Blue waters at Molunat

The view from our camp pitch was sublime and we sat outside swotting mosquitos until well after midnight, after cooking up giant sweet scampi (smuggled across the border), washed down with Jeruzalem Ormoz wine.

We stayed for just two nights at Molunat and probably should have stayed for a lot longer. In 2011, we were young and keen to explore. Now, with 12 years’ experience on the road, we’ve learnt to embrace and pause in the best places and not dash off.

Autokamp Adriatic II view from Bertha

Travelling north along the coast it was immediately obvious how Croatia has benefited from its EU membership. A smoothly tarmacked highway took us quickly and efficiently the 45 minutes’ drive to Dubrovnik.

We passed the modern harbour where gigantic cruisers were berthed up and disgorging thousands of tourists into luxury tour coaches.

First glimpse of Dubrovnik Croatia

Our campsite was in the smart manicured suburbs and boasted a fabulous swimming pool, sauna and spa. Bemused, we pitched up quietly in a corner and set off to find the local bus stop.

The walls of Dubrovnik have stood unbreeched since the Middle Ages and are considered one of Europe’s greatest fortifications. In both bright morning sunlight and late-night golden lamplight, they are impressive, protective and secretive. Running an uninterrupted course of nearly 2,000 meters they encircle the old city and reach a towering height above the sea of 25 meters.

Rooftop view to Kolocep Island

Their purpose was to protect the freedom and safety of the sophisticated Republic of Ragusa that flourished in peace and prosperity for five hundred years.

The walls were reinforced by 17 towers, three of them circular, five bulwarks and the large St John’s Fortress. On the landward side the walls were defended by Fort Okar, the oldest preserved fort of its kind in Europe.

A moat ran alongside the land walls armed with more than 100 canons. Above one of the gateways into the protected city, the motto “Non Bene Pro Toto Libertas Venditur Auro” was inscribed – “Freedom is not to be sold for all the treasures in the world.”

St Lawrence Fortress

Dubrovnik was intended to be, and indeed proved, utterly impregnable to potential invaders.

We spent two days wandering the walls and exploring the flagstoned streets of the Stadrun, the Old Town. It was busy with international tourists, newly arrived from gigantic cruisers berthed in the modern harbour.

We were struck by the numbers of elderly Asian tourists. Toting paper parasols the elderly women wore layers of linen clothing and the men traditional tunics over trousers. They were simply thrilled with delight at being in the city.

We wondered how long they had wanted to visit, if they could have imagined as younger people ever being able to do so? Their delight seemed so spontaneous and was often in contrast to the sulky expressions of younger family members who seemed keen to embrace the wilder side of Western clothing and pop culture.

The Jesuit Stairs are one of the most representative examples of Baroque architecture in Dubrovnik.

On our early evening stroll, they were empty of visitors and we wandered up to the impressive Jesuit church of St Ignatius. Well known around the world since 2015 as the scene of the ‘walk of shame’ by a naked Cercei through King’s Landing in season five of Game of Thrones.

Seafood menu amid the walls

Dubrovnik would prove, in time, to be the first of many locations of the enormously popular series which we happened upon.

We’ve since encountered the settings of massacres in bullrings, murders in Andalusian water gardens, seaside caves of dragons, and the impressive Prague Orchestra recording incomprehensible sounding vocals in a medieval wooden theatre. We remain, as far as we know, amongst the very few never to have seen a single episode.

A little-known fact about Bosnia, and one which irks Bosnians greatly about other people’s perception of their country, is that it has a coastline and you can swim in the sea.

Familiar to us from the nightly news reports of the atrocities perpetrated upon the Muslim population during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, Bosnia was a place we were cautious of.

We were travelling without insurance to cross the country, along the 12 short miles of its coast which was settled in a treaty involving the Ottomans and Venetians in 1699.

Harvesting mussels in Bosnia

To our left the sparkling Adriatic was dotted with sailboats, fishing boats and… swimmers. To our right the roadside was dotted with tall posts topped with yellow caps. We found out later that these marked areas of likely land mines, still active and buried beneath the sandy earth.

We stopped at Neum, the only town along the coastal stretch and the country’s only access to the sea. It had a small-town Mediterranean feel to it, and we tucked into a tasty pizza lunch at a busy beach bar.

Now in 2020, Neum has boomed into a smart coastal hotspot with luxury hotels trading on TripAdvisor and welcoming people from around the world. The landmines have been cleared and yes, together with the locals, international visitors can freely swim in the sparkling waters of the Bosnian coast.

A Bosnian pizza lunch

 

 

 

Split & the ancient Roman city of Salona

The drive north from Dubrovnik to Split was one we had planned for three years.

Swooping along and around the Adriatic coast above the sparkling blue waters we admired lush, green and craggy islands and the morning mists rising from pine trees above us toward the high cornflower blue skies. It was dreamy.

A tempting stop at Omis

We decided to break the journey for coffee at a beach town of Omis and joined a largely German crowd at a pretty bar by the river Cetina where it flows into the sea. A mistake.

Back at Bertha, innocently parked in sight of the bar, we discovered we had been ticketed and the fine was a massive €50, reduced to €15 if we paid within a week. In 2011, the quest for an internet connection and online banking was on. The fine was more than our daily trip budget!

Split Autokamp Stobrec

The Split Autokamp proved to be huge. Travelling vans from across Europe were squeezed side by side and we were lucky to find a place within sight of the tiny beach and before a rally of French motor homers claimed the final spaces.

Catching the local bus, we passed through acres of ugly high-rise blocks of flats. It contrasted strongly with the breezy and open harbour, where we got off, in view of the tourists arriving from Italy on ferries, and further afield on cruisers.

Split marina

Old Split is, incredibly, Diocletian’s Palace. Built for the Roman Emperor around AD 305 it later fell into Byzantine hands and ultimately Venetians’.

All three epochs have left their mark architecturally upon it and wandering around the white marble-floored streets, we admired still-standing Roman columns and pedestals, Romanesque churches, balconied merchant houses, domed palaces and grand central squares.

Expensive boutiques and jewellery shops had eye-catching window displays and coffee houses proffered brightly cushioned and canopied terraces from which to watch the crowds. It had a relaxed and extremely confident feel to it.

The tallest hill in Split, Marjan, offers a wonderful view across the old palace, Venetian centre and modern harbour. Topped by the simple Romanesque St Nicholas Church it’s a popular place for walking in the shade of dense pine trees.

Split view from Mt Marjan

The winding streets below were home to the bohemian crowd who seemed to live in converted churches and old, arcaded shops. We enjoyed a never-to-be-repeated Sunday Lunch at a café called Peron.

For three hours we were variously ignored, flattered, proffered deep fried frogs legs, sung to, toasted with a green aniseed firewater (several times) and eventually served a platter of divinely smoked fish from the moody and constantly toting chef at the griddle.

Somehow back on the bus, and eventually back the camp, we went straight into the sea to bathe off the smoke and inertia. It was a trip experience to remember!

Diocletian was born, not far from his eventual palace, in the town of Salona, the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia. It took us four buses to find the site hidden amongst the outer-Split suburbs of apartment blocks, and upon the higher hills, urban streets of houses.

Roman city of Salona

A huge park, Salona boasts a basilica with early Christian graves at its entrance from which we walked a cypress tree-lined route past Roman sarcophagi and limbless statues. It’s resemblance to Les Alycamps in Arles was marked.

We passed through the city walls and explored the early Roman baths, Caesar’s Gate, temples, a commercial centre and forum.

We had to cross under the modern highway to reach the steep and singed brown grassy banks of an unmistakable amphitheatre.

The site was vast and under hot skies, registering 34 degrees, it was singing with the sawing cicadas and buzzing of honeybees on clover flowers.

We were finding our way around and ended back, inevitably, at the old harbourside with the company of locals in a tiny park quaffing cheaply bought bottles of beer from an ‘alcohole’.

It was our second day, and second visit, and we were greeted convivially!

 

Trogir & Krka National Park

Filip’s water taxi service sped us across the crystal blue waters to the tiny island of Trogir.

Founded by the Greeks in 300BC, later became part of the Roman Empire which was expanding through Dalmatia. Later ruled by Hungarian and Croatian dynasties it was claimed by the Venetian Empire until its fall in 1797.

Trogir was absorbed into the Austrian Empire until the end of the First World War when it was part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (which became Yugoslavia). In 1991 the town was part of Croatia when it declared its independence.

Trogir by water taxi

Munching a Pelatina (or pasty) lunch we strolled along the Riva embankment, between the palm trees and listening to clinking of the masts and rigs on the sail boats berthed at the tiny marina. Looking it up online in 2020, Captain Filip Kadric and his family now rent out a fabulous luxury charter boat, the Princess Mary, from the marina as well as offering day sailings and trips.

Trogir’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, its original Medieval core boasts churches and palaces in Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque styles.

Out of the bright sunshine and into the cool labyrinth of narrow streets, we spotted Venetian merchant houses decorated with motifs proclaiming their wealth and heraldry. The old cobblestone streets are paved with local white stone, worn slippery with the passing shoes of ages.

Flights of stones stairs lead up into the first floors of the palaces of minor dignitaries, and we peeked into tantalisingly open wooden doors at courtyards decorated with pots of bright flowers and home to sleeping cats.

Trogir town hall and bell tower

Our visit was before the renovations to the gothic Cathedral of St Lawrence, so we were not able to see the intricate stone portal carved by the Master Radovan or climb its bell tower. Instead we wandered around the pretty central square gazing up at the Romanesque arched balconies of the Cipiko Palace, the ancient stone columns of the town’s Loggia, and the wide clock face on the domed bell tower.

Guarding the centre, the old town walls circle the seafront and are dominated by Fortress Karmelengo, built by the Venetians as a naval base for their forces in the13th century.

We stocked up on foodie treats at the market on the mainland, a famous cornucopia of fruit and vegetables, honeys and olive oils, wines and grappas.

Autokamp Belvedere

Later, and perched up on our terrace above the coastal waters at Autocamp Belvedere, we tried to send a nephew a birthday video showing our fabulous surroundings. Despite recording just 20 seconds on our digital camera, we couldn’t send the message from the tiny internet connection on the ancient desktop computer staffed at reception by two cheerful girls.

They couldn’t believe we were only staying the one night, telling us that we would regret our decision to leave ‘the best camp in Croatia’. They turned out to be right. It was another early exit from a place that as older, seasoned travellers, we would have stayed longer to enjoy.

Homemade cevapis with a seaview

We drove north on the E65 toward Sibenik, a scenic route which hugged the Adriatic coast. Peering down we spotted a flotilla of fir tree-lined islands and wooden sailboats moored in the turquoise waters of their pretty coves.

Our destination was the Krka National Park which covers more than 100 square kilometres and two thirds of the wide, green Krka River which flows from its source in the mountain range of Dinara to empty into the Adriatic Sea.

The boardwalk into Krka National Park

Just 5kms from the entrance, we were waved off the road by an excited Autocamp owner and enthusiastically welcomed in to her lovely, terraced campsite by smiling Marina. We were just one of only six campers on the cosy camp.

We cycled the 5kms back along the straight road in the searing late afternoon heat. It was 4pm and 33 degrees when we paid the entry fee of 85 Kunas each (£10), at the park gates. It was a discounted price as the gates would close in three hours and the park was emptying of visitors, being ferried in small minibuses.

In 2020, the visit would cost us 200 Kunas each (£24), emblematic of Croatia’s continuing success story attracting growing numbers of travellers and tourists.

We walked the shady trails along the river’s side and across it on wooden planked bridges for more than two hours.

The park has a unique eco system and is home to many varieties of water-loving grasses and plants, as well as reptiles, thankfully we only spotted the odd darting gecko. Its highlight is the Skradinski Buk falls, a series of 17 waterfalls over rocky precipices more than 40 meters high.

Swimming in the Krka falls

The thunderous scene of crashing green water was otherwise quiet as not many people were around. It was possible for one of us to head in for a swim, the other guarding our bag of worldly goods – a camera, mobile phone, Bertha’s keys, passports and money. We were cautious but not expecting of trouble, and careful not to attract it.

The waters were silky green and cool, frothing white where they plunged down their steep drop to hiss and steam on the hot rock faces jutting up of the riverbed below. There was a strong current and the vaporous air thrummed with a loud vibrating roar. A delighted swimmer returned feeling refreshed and elated!

Croatia’s Skradinski Buk falls

We returned to Camp Marina as the sun set on another hot day in central Dalmatia.

Marina had been very successful in luring campervans in to her homely site. It was now full – all 30 pitches had been taken and Marina was now busy cooking dinner for her guests on the Peka (grill).

We had a date with a plate of cevapi, inspired by the spiced finger-shaped meatballs we tucked into at Ulcinj Bay in Montenegro. In fact, it was the third time we had made, grilled and chomped them since arriving in Croatia!

A cosy pitch at Camp Marina

That evening we talked late with our neighbours, a retired British army officer and his wife who he was taking on a tour of his active duty in Bosnia as a member of NATO’s force during the Balkan conflict.

We learned much about the violence of those times, and were touched by his memories of the rural landscape he grew to love, and the kindness of strangers.

We headed west off the mainland across the wide toll bridge, paying 35 Kunas to drive onto the island of Krk.

In 2020 the toll was abolished, in favour of a two-year investment programme by the Croatian government to reconstruct the bridge. The toll barrier was lifted for the last time at midnight on Sunday 14 June. Locals apparently welcomed the news but noted that it was during a national election campaign.

Krk marina

In 2011 it wasn’t one of our better decisions. We struggled to find anywhere with space for us to stay and ended up badly parked behind a thorny tree on a steep sloping campground. A windy and fractious night revealed nasty lines scored along the side of Bertha’s snub from the scratching of the tree’s branches.

We marched down to visit the island’s harbour but then hastily packed up and  returned to the mainland for our last afternoon in Croatia. We had one last chance to find a way of paying the €50 parking fine issued at Omis.

Republic Day at Bakar

Dropping down off the motorway to the clear waters of the Bay of Bakar, we had the good fortune to meet Melina, a charming and bright young tourist information officer. She told us of the history of the pretty bay town, based on copper mining, ‘bakar’ means copper in Croatian. She also let us know that it was a national holiday so the local town council offices were closed, meaning we could not pay our fine.

Seeing our dismay, Melina offered to do it for us on the following Monday. Gratefully, we exchanged email addresses and gave her €10 towards a treat of her liking.

Which way next?

In two days’ time in the mountains of Slovenia, we would receive a cheery email from Melina with the receipt for our paid fine and her thanks for a bouquet of flowers and a box of her favourite chocolates. It was a happy end to our Croatian adventure!

 

The Kvarner Gulf

The gulf stretches north from Senj to the Istrian peninsular with Italy. We ventured along the increasingly busy coast road to bypass huge, industrial Rijeka before winding our way along a jammed tourist route towards Lovran.

Motorhomes, caravans and tour coaches all vied for space on sharp corners against local buses and lorries and through busy coastal resort towns, in the rain. It was with relief that we arrived in the quiet cove of Medveja and pitched up at a surprisingly empty camp.

Now officially ‘end of season’ it felt depressing to be sat on an unkempt and overgrown scrubby patch of land with strange half dismantled pavilions and cabins around us. The weather didn’t help as it stayed overcast with low-slung grey clouds and gusty rains, however we were doing better than  southern Croatia which was having flash floods and violent thunderstorms hurled at it.

The pretty white shingle cove was empty save for litter, a broken parasol and some wooden boarding that may or may not have been a summer beach concession. Its position in a steeply wooded valley of misty fir trees and dotted with Italianate villas is ravishingly romantic and worthy of Shelley, although neither of us could remember if the ill-fated poet ventured along this stretch of coast.

Kvarner gulf coastline
Kvarner gulf coastline

We ambled along a coastal path that alternated between being well paved and marked out to vanishing entirely into the submerged rocky shore.

With wet shoes and trousers we arrived at Lovran, an old harbour town with winding streets of closely built and colourfully-rendered houses sporting wooden shutters in shades of green and blue. Outside of its 14th century ‘stari grad’, it is ringed with handsome belle époque villas which hail from the time that this part of Croatia was included in the Habsburg Empire.

A coastal walkway named in honour of Kaiser Franz Joseph winds from Lovran through the harbour villages of Ika and Ičići to the swanky resort town of Opatija, famed for the excellence of its fish restaurants. We mooched to the town and back and were struck by the variance of the beachside villas.

Some were turn of the century and Venetian in style and had been beautifully renovated and opened up as boutique hotels. Others were derelict 1960s tower-block constructions in sore need of demolition. Considering the likely eye-watering value of their seaside plots, it seemed odd that so many monstrosities were just being left to rot.

Opatija is an architectural lesson in how to squeeze as many buildings as possible into a small bay, and extend the available shorefront with raised concrete walkways and lidos. Behind the vanguard of characterless communist-era hotels and promenades of cafes and bars, plenty of Austro-Hungarian palaces and villas stretch up into the hillside.

We enjoyed an ice cream and were surprised by the price-tag (equivalent of 75p each) and went to visit the manicured public park and abbey, which gives the town its name.

The fish restaurants were plentiful but pricey, so after dodging a few tour groups of Germans and the odd American, we headed back to a locals seafood bistro in Ičići where we were warmly greeted by a charming young and multilingual waitress and possibly the best plate of fried squid and chips in Croatia!

Cheap, cheerful and delicious (50 Kuna or £4.85) – it was our farewell to Croatia.

Squid lunch by the sea
Squid lunch by the sea

Dilapidated and delightful Senj

Having packed Bertha up for a second time we nearly didn’t leave the island again due to a country-wide internet connection issue, “computer says no” at every Bankomat and counter. For the morning at least, Croatia dealt only in hard cash. We found this out when trying to buy a ticket for the passage back to the mainland.

A hasty search in pockets, purses and the glove compartment yielded 140 Kunas, 10 Euros and some shrapnel, which the ferry captain accepted in lieu of the necessary 226 Kunas and cheerfully pocketed our small change.

The twisting scenic road alongside Croatia’s coastline was a treat to wind slowly along in the bright morning sunshine. High above rocky coves we picked out tiny harbours and fishing boats, boutique hotels and restaurants. The sea was a beautiful dark blue.

The steep forested slopes of the Velabit National Park towered over us inland. We drove the length of Pag and Rab islands then pulled off as we saw the southern end of Krk island to stay in the small coastal town of Senj.

The scenic D8 coastal road
The scenic D8 coastal road

Senj is dilapidated and delightful. It is famous for its vast stone fortress that squats on a rocky outcrop and was built in the 16th century as a defence against the Venetians and Ottomans by the warrior residents of Senj, the ‘Uskoks’.

The town sits around a pretty fishing harbour and is a maze of winding alleys and piazzas, all of them oozing an atmosphere of historical importance but all seemingly in desperate need of renovation.

We meandered around the cool, cobbled streets squeezing through narrow passage ways and spotting decaying palatial facades, Romanesque windows, squat watch towers, grand Habsburg entrances, stone icons, fountains and porticoes.
We both fell in love with the place and its romantically faded appeal.

Proud of its Croatian history
Proud of its Croatian history

It seemed evident that private investment is lacking in the town and restoration work is focussed on public buildings such as the Romanesque cathedral, town hall and the Nehaj fortress. EU money is funding some of the improvements and also building a new sports stadium.

Over a boule of the cheapest ice cream of the trip we wondered whether the state financing would attract property developers. Two smart and competing supermarkets have opened side by side outside the walls of the old town.

The town’s position on the Rijeka to Split coastal highway means tour buses regularly stop, and the fabulous harbour side aire was full of more than 40 vans on the day we stayed. There are certainly some tempting ‘projects’ to consider!

Senj is also known for the power of its ‘bora’, a mistral-type wind which blows fiercely down the coast funnelled by the offshore islands and blasts the town so violently that it is said it literally takes your breath away.

Our daily budget doesn’t normally allow for eating out, but we chose to spend some money in the town at dinner time and tucked into fresh squid and fries over a chilled glass of Graševina wine to toast a lovely discovery and to wish Senj a bright future.

Beached on Pag Island

Driving Bertha up and through the Sveti Rok tunnel we suddenly recognised the barren landscape and windswept heights from our travels along the Dalmatian coast four years ago.

That time we had missed out on Pag Island and its famous resident sage-eating sheep, and were determined not to do so again. We were over the bridge at the southern end before we knew it, and marvelling at the bizarre lunar landscape of rock, stone and dust. We drove through, and then above the island’s main town, Pag.

Pag town
Pag town

We pitched up at a busy campsite to the obvious annoyance of our new surrounding neighbours. Escaping their Germanic grumbling for the late afternoon we endured a couple of hours on concrete beach beds before enjoying the sunset with a drink in hand at the beach bar, making a decision to move on the next morning.

It was a gamble and by noon we had driven Bertha the entire length of the island in search of a blissful beach stop. Some small ‘autokamps’ offered idyllic surroundings but were situated at the bottom of steep stony paths and not possible for us to camp at, despite Bertha valiantly skidding down and then struggling back up from one (stressing the increasingly noisy exhaust rattle).

We spotted a group of sheep at a stony small holding, whose milk is used for the famous cheese known for the sage and salty flavour it has from the sheep’s island diet. At the far north end of the island the landscape was greener and dry stone walls were built around scrubby fields. At Lun we saw two thousand year old olive groves with large knotted and gnarled trees in fruit.

We drove back to the centre and pulled up at the largest campsite at Novalja. ‘Trip luck’ returned as the charming staff let us bag a huge seaside pitch under the shade of olive trees and with its own supply of electricity, water and wifi! Gratefully we meandered along the pebbly shore of the pretty cove enjoying the blues and greens of the clear sea and the picturesque horizon of islands and sail boats in the afternoon sun.

The next two days were spent on the beach reading and swimming. We were more than half way through our trip and in need of some time to slow down and take stock of all that we had seen and experienced. The weather was glorious and lent itself to a slow pace and the fellow German campers were equally relaxed.

Simon perfected the Balkan dishes of grilled pork and stuffed cabbage parcels and created delicious cheese pies with Pag sheep cheese. In between feasting and toasting the sunset we made plans for the remaining weeks of our trip.

It was with reluctance that we packed up on Monday morning after a disturbed night of high winds and crashing waves, so we greeted cheerfully the news that the island’s ferry and bridge links to the mainland were closed.

We were marooned on Pag for at least another day…

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park is Croatia’s biggest natural attraction and comprises sixteen dazzling turquoise and green lakes fed by waterfalls set in steep forested gorges. It is enchanting and is home to myths and legends of folklore and romance as well as wolves, bears and wild boars in its wooded heights.

Narrow planked walkways wind alongside the lakes and up and through the gorges alongside the waterfalls. We had dressed for a day’s hiking so were in sturdy boots and walking gear, but were in the minority as most of the many visitors tottered about in flip flops and high heels.

The park is networked by ferries and shuttle buses and the majority of people used the transport to get between the main sights, and the many restaurants.

Our planned six hours’ hike was done in four, and really wasn’t at all taxing other than the need to dodge large charging herds of organised tour groups and the many posing ‘selfie’ takers, many with the now ubiquitous and frankly comical ‘sticks’ (cameras on the end of a plastic pole).

We spent considerable time waiting for the opportunity to take photos, just of the landscape, and being asked to take photos of others (the ones without the ‘sticks’). We spotted several haplessly-discarded cameras rusting gently away in the clear waters.

Veliki Slap, or ‘big waterfall’ is the main attraction and we made that our last destination. Standing under the 78 meter drop of icy green water was inspiring, and its spray was refreshing. We then assailed the steep climb up the side of the gorge on its opposite bank to look back at the falls.

The streams of people, of which we of course were part, busied along the paths to and from the drop and around the reed-lined lake at its base.

Having to wait an hour and a half for the shuttle back to the camp meant time to regroup on a sunny bench and people-watch. Large numbers of Americans and Japanese milled about waiting for coaches back to their cruisers docked at Split and Dubrovnik.

Australian backpackers joked over (several) beers and chain-smoking Slavic men and women noisily jostled each other, whilst Italians enacted their usual mini-dramas. It was clear that the park was taking a lot of money that day, just a regular Tuesday in September.

We felt regret for Serbia that it does not have a comparable natural attraction, or indeed coastline. The difference between the numbers of visitors drawn to Croatia, and their own countries of origin was starkly evident to us after just two days. We mused on Serbia’s likely future in comparison with Croatia’s well established and tourism-boosted economy, whilst chuckling at the antics going on around us.

Crossing into Croatia

The border crossing at Croatia was surprisingly tense. Bertha was searched twice by guards, one of whom seemed bewildered by our entering from Serbia, another of whom clearly mistrusted us. The officials were relatively young and very stern.

We had intended to stay at Lipovac just inside the border. However the ‘campsite’ was right alongside the motorway behind high rusty fences and without any campers. A small group of colourfully dressed and Arabic speaking women and children sat in the middle of its empty carpark.

In 48 hours’ time the news would show a mass improvised camp of thousands of people near Lipovac, having entered the country just before its borders with Serbia were closed in response to the mass of migrants trying to find a new route to Germany, and avoid being registered in Hungary.

It’s strange how simply crossing a border can fundamentally change the environment. After bumping along largely by ourselves on Serbia’s motorway, through vast arable plains of cornfields, we were now suddenly travelling in the midst of busy traffic and beside dark forested fields.

The 250mile drive along the well surfaced toll road was easy but hot in the day’s heat. For a large part of it we skirted the border with Northern Bosnia, seeing domes and minarets in villages behind the line of forest and up in the hillsides.

In some places we made out the telling markers identifying areas not cleared of land mines, and signs advising no entry. We’d seen these markers four years before when crossing Bosnia’s south coast borders with Croatia. It was a stark reminder of the wars of the 1990s.

Bertha had developed a rattle which we understood to be a bracket holding the new exhaust. We didn’t see any other campervans until we made the Zagreb ring road. Then we joined a procession of mainly German vans heading south towards the Dalmatian coast. We left them by turning into the ‘interior’ and taking the old main road to the Plitvice National Park. We both enjoyed the late afternoon light and the quiet rural road that wound gently up the rolling hillsides alongside the Korana River.

Autokamp Radonja
Autokamp Radonja

After a peaceful night in a small autokamp, with two other vans, we arrived in the national park before noon. The gigantic and busy car park was a shock to the system. It was also full, meaning we had no choice but to leave after fruitlessly waiting around for half an hour in the hope of a space. Typical of the car parks at big attractions many large motorhomes had parked across two spaces simply to gain room.

A smug Czech ‘helpfully’ advised me in German that there was no parking to which I replied in German that there were indeed spaces but the selfish parking of other campers meant they were not free. He hastened back into his van, in some surprise!

We needed a new plan so drove south through the park to a large bustling campsite where we could use a free shuttle bus back to the entrance the next morning. It proved a good decision as we spent the afternoon relaxing in Bertha and catching up with writing, both of us a bit rattled by the sudden busyness of our surroundings and surprised by our collective lack of patience for it.