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After six hours of trains from Slovenia, I arrived in Rijeka, the largest city on Croatia's northern coast. Christmas Eve was pretty uneventful. Supposedly everyone goes out when church lets out at 1am, but I was tired so went to sleep early. Woke up Christmas Day and got on a bus to the island of Krk. After 2 hrs on the bus, everything I had seen was fairly uninteresting looking and I started to think that if I kept low in my seat the bus driver wouldn't notice if I stayed on board for a free return trip to Rijeka. Luckily the valley in which Baska (my destination) sits is pretty amazing, and before we reached the town I was already plotting out my next day's route to the top of the mountain ridge above.
Baska is on the Adriatic Sea and has a nice beach with granite cliffs extending out on either side. I was excited to get off the bus and look for a hotel, throw my stuff down and start hiking. Unfortunately, though the town is clearly a tourist hotspot in the summer, every hotel in town was apparently closed for the winter, as no tourists come this time of year. Luckily a guy at the restaurant called around and found me a room to stay in at the Konoba Lucia, then drove me to it, as it was at the far end of the beach. Both heaters turned all the way up maxes my room out at 10 Celcius but the hospitality can't be beat.
I had a quick snack then headed out down the beach to see how far I could get before dark. Four degrees Celcius and the wind ripping 20 knots. So here are the photos of one of the most enjoyable hikes I've ever taken, in a really fantastic part of the world...
Finished off my day with a nice meal of spaghetti ai frutti di mare at the local Italian restaurant.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: BOXING DAY 12-26-2008
In the morning the wind had clearly picked up. I put on 7 layers of upper body clothing and took off down the beach under the sunny sky...
Headed down the coast until I found a good route up the mountain. It was cold, windy and steep, the rock was loose and there was no chance of anybody coming my way...perfect climbing conditions.
The wind picked up to 30+ knots near the top, threatening to knock me off my feet. I kept low.
At the top it turned into boulders. I looked to my right and saw those naked kids from the cover of Houses of the Holy.
A line of cairns greeted me at the ridge.
The leeward side of the ridge was relatively calm, a balmy 7C in the noontime sun. Wondering why it was so damn cold on the Mediterranean I pulled out my GPS to get a latitude reading...45N, the same as Bangor, Maine or Queenstown, New Zealand. Had a nice lunch of bread and cheese. Thanks to the wonders of GPS and satellite imagery, you can see where I ate lunch...
The leeward sides of all the islands appear to be a lot less steep.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: 12-27-2008
I caught the noon bus out of Baska. We crossed the bridge connecting Krk to the mainland. The girl beside me told me that sometimes the wind was so strong that cars could get blown off the bridge. Our bus made it and I got off in Kraljevica. It was blue skies but snow was blowing, which I thought was strange. I had to catch a bus south and there was no bus station. I thought maybe winter backpacking wasn't a very good idea. Luckily the bus came within a few minutes. I got on and after a while the driver told me that there were no buses headed down the coast today, not past where he was going anyway, which was just 45 minutes further. The winds were too dangerous on the coastal road. The ferry to the island I wanted to get to was cancelled anyway because the winds were too strong. The woman beside me told me they had a name for this wind, the bura, it blows from the north for a few days at a time. She offered me a room for a night in her place. The town, Selce, looked nice and I had nowhere else to go. Selce is a picturesque Mediterranean town. She told me it never snows here, that the snow blows in on the wind from the mountains. She gave me cherry brandy from Dalmatia and then proceeded to tell me the history of Croatia from the 7th century through to the bombing of the Dubrovnik arboretum.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: 12-28-2008
I woke up before sunrise and walked out to the road to catch the bus. It came on time. Buses always come on time in this country. The wind had died. Temporarily anyway. It picked up as we drove, and was whipping up water off the ocean.
We stopped for a while in Senj.
And then got to Jablanac, from where the ferry to the island of Rab departs.
We had some nice views of the mainland on the ride across the channel.
Everyone in Croatia knows somebody with a room. We got to Rab and when I got off the bus a nice woman Vlasta asked me if I needed a place to stay. She took me to Sonja's place, which was definitely the best spot in town.
Rab is 1500 years old and has some pretty cool buildings.
I headed out for a walk. I started walking down a fire road but roads are boring so I cut into the forest. It got thick and I had to bushwack a bit but eventually came to a nice beach. They say Rab is the warmest place in Croatia. It's protected from the wind and for a brief moment it hit 16C.
Most towns in Croatia are pretty damn nice looking.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: 12-29-2008
I woke at 4:30am and caught the 5:25 bus out (there are only 2 buses a day). Changed buses in Senj and then headed inland up a mountain pass and changed buses again in Otocac, an agricultural/industrial town that definitely didn't get too much tourist money coming in.
I had the next bus to myself. It took me to Plitvicka Jezera, Croatia's most famous national park. It was snowing, and seven below.
I felt compelled to play some flute until my fingers no longer functioned
I was going to stay here the night but most of the trails were closed. The first bus to come by was headed to Zadar, which I'd never heard of, but is has a cool name and is on the coast, so I figured it would be a bit warmer. The old city of Zadar is on a narrow peninsula and made me wonder why American cities are so damn ugly compared to European cities.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: 12-30-2008
I got a ferry to the island of Dugi Otok. It took an hour and 15 minutes and went to the fishing village of Sali. The hotels were closed but a few calls were made and I got a room at Lawrence's place.
Everyone in Sali is related. I hung out with the friendly natives at night and drank some moonshine-like distilled liquor as they sung karaoke.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: 31-Dec-2008
I woke up early and my friendly host Lawrence (aka "the little snail") gave me a ride out to Telascica National Park. His car had no plates and there were empty beer cans in the back.
I walked a few km into the park, following the bay, then cut up the hill to get to Telascica's famous cliffs. The cliffs were about 100m high and stretched for several km in either direction, with open sea to Italy on one side and a calm bay on the other.
I realized Croatia is definitely one of the nicest countries I've ever been to.
I walked a few km along the cliff's edge. I had the whole park to myself, minus a silboat that sailed past in the distance.
I got to where the cliffs end by the Salt Lake. There were a couple hundred cairns piled all around.
It was a 12 km walk home, but there were some nice views.
I hitched the last couple km with an olive farmer. I slept a few hours then had a New Year's feast and drinks with the natives.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: 1-Jan-2009
I woke up at noon feeling horrible. It was raining. The thought of boats and buses wasn't good. Lawrence made some hot soup and I hung out at home all day. Eventually one of Sali's wierdos (of which there are many) came over and we played some music.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: 2-Jan-2009
I woke at 530am and got the ferry to Zadar. From there I got a bus to Sibenik, the next city down the coast. I found a place to stay then took a boat ride out to Prvic Luka to check out some of the surrounding islands. Sibenik was pretty dead at night. Not the best town in Croatia.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: 3-Jan-2009
I got the local bus to Krka National Park. It was all old people on the bus and we passed through some ugly aluminum mining town. Krka has some nice waterfalls, but definitely not as nice as Plitvicka Jezera, mainly due to the amount of development (old hydroelectric plant, souvenir shops and churches surrounding the falls).
I hiked out of the park and hitched a ride back to Sibenik with an old guy in a Mercedes. Not the first time I've gotten a ride in a Mercedes. That was with an old lady in Noosa, Australia. The next time was with a beautiful blonde machete-wielding girl in El Valle, Panama, whose first question was if I planned to kill her (she'd never picked up a hitchhiker). I got a pizza at Tony's (why do all guys named Tony open pizzarias?) then got the bus to Split, one of Croatia's largest cities. I had an hour to blow before my ferry to Brac left, so I walked down the harbor and played music in front of the Diokletian Palace, which has some nice acoustics.
Half of the Croatian Biospeliological Society was sitting beside me on the ferry to Brac. They were on a caving expedition for a few days and offered me a place to stay at their place in Milna, on the west side of Brac.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: 4-Jan-2009
The biospeliologists dropped me off at a crossroads and the first car to drive by picked me up and brought me to Bol, on Brac's south side. Bol I think is Croatia's most famous beach, a spit overlooking Hvar (a big island across the channel), with mountains behind. The beach is nice, but I still haven't seen a sandy beach in Croatia, only gravel. Sunny day though, and quite peaceful.
I caught the ferry across to Hvar. Croatian ferries are government subsidized, so you get a huge ferry more or less to yourself.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: 5-Jan-2009
Sven, who I met on the ferry, gave me a free floor to sleep on for a couple nights, so I stayed an extra day in Hvar. The weather was nice and I climbed up to the castle above town.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: 6-Jan-2009
Croatia has some of the most poorly heated houses anywhere, and too many nights at 8C finally made me sick. I slept most of the ferry ride to Dubrovnik, which gave me enough energy to wander Dubrovnik's walled city that night.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: 7-Jan-2009
CAPTAIN'S LOG: 8-Jan-2009
Still feeling bad, but good enough for a walk.
And then to Bosnia and Herzegovina...