A new country, a new currency. Although currently being integrated within the Eurozone and Schengen Area, Croatia still used the kuna, and we still had to go through passport control between Hungary and Croatia. This is also the first of two countries where our T-Mobile international roaming data plan wouldn’t work, leaving us bereft of even a 2G network link for the next week.
The currency exchange place was directly behind the spiral staircase.
The first half of our tour was focused on the larger urban areas and the recent history of the region: World War II and the Soviet times were a frequent focus. As we entered the second half of the tour, we switched to a more scenic perspective.
The rain embraced us as we entered Croatia, and our destination that night was Plitvice National Park. Isolated in the countryside, we would stay the night in a Soviet-era hotel on-site before getting up early the next morning to visit the park itself.
Driving through the Croatian countryside, you’ll quickly notice that many homes had bulletholes covering the exterior walls: scars of the liberation war fought two decades previous. In many small towns, one or two buildings would be hollow bombed-out shells and a small memorial would be placed along the road with a Croatian flag flying proudly in the wind. It was a poignant reminder that war was not too far distant for these people. The first shots of the Croatian War of Independence were fired in Plitvice, where forces ambushed a bus full of Croatian police officers.
Arriving at our hotel in a steady downpour, we explored the grounds for a bit. It was clear that the park had experienced a downturn in tourism, and many buildings were abandoned and slowly rotting away.
The following morning, armed with rainjackets, we ventured forth into the thick fog that had enveloped the entire area. Plitvice is one of the most unique places I’ve ever been: I won’t try to describe it with words.
After a mystical morning, we headed back to our tour bus to head towards the Croatian coastal town of Rovinj. Part of Istria, this town has a strong connection to Italian culture, and it seemed fitting that as we crossed the mountains towards the coast, the fog burned away into a brilliant Mediterranean sun.
We stayed in an island hotel not far from the city, and took a 20-minute ferry ride between the island and the mainland. Rovinj was not a large town: the old center could be explored in under an hour.
Renting bikes, we toured away from the main part of Rovinj and along a gravel path while exploring the crumbling Soviet-style recreational facilities that dotted the seaside.
A bunker, not a recreational facility, but you get the general idea?
Our first night in Rovinj we arrived late and had a delicious seafood dinner along the waterfront. For the second night, we headed back to the island hotel after exploring the mainland. The island was large, had a decaying military facility, church, mausoleum, and plenty of pheasants. There were also some great sunset views, as we had a whole chunk of the beach to ourselves.
Rovinj confirmed that we didn’t really know how to relax, and that maybe this was ok.