It was a lovely start to a lovely day (06:00) and just the thought of should I or shouldn’t I at the back of my mind. I have been travelling for 10 years on and off and its always a similar choice; should I pack my dive gear or not? at other times it is a coat or a pair of boots or glossy shoes- I remember carting a 15 lb coat around Thailand when it was real hot a nd dry and I had only needed it to get to Heathrow.


It was just enough to take the edge off of that monumental feeling of starting a trip away, I hope that you know what I mean because It’s really hard to describe. But here goes; Its like breaking up for summer holidays or that Friday feeling x10 (unless you work in accident and emergency) its like that feeling that’s in your guts but a good one.

Not only is my dive gear bulky and expensive but it …no that’s it but it is enough. The plus side was the savings after my friend who had dived in Croatia told me of the rental costs. I decided to take it and it left a big doubt in my mind especially as we donned our packs and rucksacks. But I wanted to dive quite a bit, and was spurred on by fellow travellers who had dragged around more than me in the past. Also I had forgotten my trips with a surfboard in tow. How could that happen? We started to hike to the station for our first leg to Standsted. Laura –my  girlfriend was travelling alongside, and she had visions of a fried breakfast at the airport. We were going to Croatia and she was thinking of her stomach! Still a morning competitor she is not and I was overly protective of her responsibiities as we left the house.

I had been lucky with the baggage and didn’t get an excess charge; yipee we were early and had a good fry up and me I had a pint too! A lovely indulgence to go along with my feeling of well being, after the train not being delayed and all checked  nothing can go wrong, these things had taken the edge off- now it was full steam ahead.

Take off- looking outside it was late morning after a couple of hours on the plane we were finally starting our trip proper. I had never been to Austria and it looked positively green and beautiful from the window, I had ideas of touring around the area but we had to get to Pula in Croatia. A lift had possibly been waiting to go to Pula from Graz by car. Friends I had made in Roatan, Honduras were back (as we all seem to get pulled back) in Graz and were going there as well.

I had met Elke and Addi from Honduras. They were a couple at that time doing their divemasters in the same shop as me, and we shared some great experiences. Now they were good friends and were rendezvous-ing with a few others in Pula. I had a call from Addi on the train to the airport informing me that a lift wasn’t possible so we were going to make it by train. Elke had been cross with Addi about this for some reason, it was Elke whom I had planned this part of the trip with. We might have been cross ourselves but the truth was that we had time. I think as a group though the day and a half we would have saved would have been better to get to know them. But we had a great time from Graz to Pula as I shall now explain.

We landed at Graz and cleared passport control, got our bags including the dive gear and with that came the thought that I now had to be protector of it for the next 5+ weeks (what have I done !). Laura had passed her morning blues and was galvanised –her eyes were lit with an excitement I had not witnessed before. It was great I must admit to have that pack on my back again (I have had the same pack since 10 years-80 % of it still works!) There is something indescribable about having a pack on your back a passport and money in your pocket. If you haven’t done it and feel your whole outlook is wrong, I’d recommend it.

For some reason this dies as trips go on and for this reason I prefer having trips of less than 4 months. I think if I were locked into an eternal orgasm I would possibly get bored after about 11 days 2 hours such is my nature.

The sun was shinning and I had now to use public information boards as we had decided we didn’t need a guide book for Austria. We had to get anywhere inside Croatia and we then would always have our book for the country and a source of accommodation.

For now we knew we would go via train to Zagreb or Pula direct. If we went to Zagreb which would have been more suitable for us we would miss Elke and Addi in Pula. That would have been to big a shame so for me I wanted to get to Pula ASAP.

We had a small difficulty in locating the obvious position of the train station outside of Graz airport which is situated in a field next to a village, so very quaint hard to think Schwarzenegger came from here. We didn’t see any locality maps in the airport and were following directions given by a member of airport staff. I wouldn’t have minded so much but it had started! The dragging of the dive gear across the earth, it was tiring for whichever side I gripped the handle. It was my turn to get grumpy. I imagined missing a train by the time it took for our little detour. But Laura was off she was driving with energy for us both. She was a natural with her walking boots and backpack she had a huge big smile the fun had begun.

The airport station was a little walk past a field of sweet-corn and was pretty much just a platform the others (recognising some familiar faces from the flight) and ticket machine. For 5+ euros a 24 hour ticket for all of Graz and the trip into Graz was bought by us both. We took a chance knowing we had a couple of hours in Graz by the timetable. I had phoned Elke’s mobile and she had given me the info for getting on the train ok, in fact as she had correctly stated the train to Maribor across the Slovenian border goes via this platform, but initially we headed into the town of Graz.

Whilst on the platform we met Helen from England and Patrick from Pennsylvania in the U.S.A. we all took the same train to the centre of Graz. Patrick was on his way to meet his friend studying Biology in Ljubljana, he had not slept since Pennsylvania. Helen was on her way to Zagreb to visit a friend. Either way we all realised that we would be getting the same train from Graz and that the company would be nice. Well I think all Patrick wanted was a bed.

We stowed our larger bags at the station in Graz-phew! Graz we felt, was pretty compact and we liked it. Some nice old architecture and some bizzare architecture also looking like a metalic blue stuffed pig with fat cut off sticks protruding it’s the Kunsthaus building.

We needed to eat at an always inconvenient point but eventually found some amazing fast food. Why can we not do this in England? A great selection of freshly cooked fish and chip style foods served from a display counter on one half of the restaurants front end a happy mix of junk food but with healthier options and much more traditional and tasty than you know whose. We tucked these away for the train and went to eat at a more leisurely pace. One thing which stuck in my mind annoyingly instead of remembering what is brass made of (for a pub quiz), was the waiters well trimmed moustache/beard-It’s these little quirks which make Europe so fascinating for me. It was pretty hot and we were glad to be sitting and resting since the plane. We didn’t do much exploring and knew we needed to navigate back to the train station for our 18.40 train we just made sure we found the right bus lines for us. Once back at the train station after a quick look at Graz we met back up with our 2 new acquaintances Patrick and Helen and boarded the train into one of those old compartments with the corridor to one side. At this point I started to relax slightly, just how uptight had England wound me?

We chatted to a Slovenian guy who we found out was very much interested in chess and as soon as he found out Patrick was American talked at length about Bobby Fischer an old U.S. player. He wrote about sports for some magazine and was well travelled as such. I was reminded of my Father as this guy was ill with prostate cancer. Luckily for us he and other locals in our compartment knew that the train was to split, (which they hadn’t explained) and separate. Half going to Maribor in Slovenia and the other half to Zagreb. Not for the first time we were tempted to just go to Zagreb. Helen had to rush though as she was in the wrong half of the train. We bade farewell to her and wished her luck.

We had a 3 minute connection to make and this made us nervous knowing how things work in the U.K. if your late you miss it ! But here and this seems to be common it waits for you, but it was after being in the country a while and a few trains that we worked this out. We had to unceremoniously under dark skies and blackness jump off the train with no platform and run to the train we saw as imminently departing. We hoped the nuns who also departed were on the same train. I looked at Laura we had a chance, unspoken we agreed that overtaking the nuns would be in our favour in the hope that the driver surely wouldn’t leave the nuns?

And so it was done. Edging past the nuns in time who didn’t seem to be running we made it and a surge of relief washed over me, I’m sure my nerves didn’t help Laura but I knew that missing a connection wasn’t great and would dent our plans. I didn’t want that I wanted to get to Pula. Patrick started to look really tired and he was trying to sleep a bit. This next train was a complete change and had 2 levels, but never really on top of one another. Patrick’s friend was going to help us maybe locate a hostel as we had crossed the border into Slovenia now and headed for Ljubljana. We had since earlier realised that we could not make it to Pula directly so Ljubljana seemed the logical option, but we had no information on Slovenia it was nice if Patrick’s friend knew somewhere.

Ljubljana- I have never been anywhere like this before.

We got off the train and Patrick’s reunion with his friend was warm and was a nice sight to see. It felt spookily quiet all around and we were glad to have new friends who knew the city a bit.

With their help we checked out our first hotel at 80 euros, for just 3 stars the guy was clearly overcharging us based on our tiredness and the late hour. But we were disciplined (tight) in our current tired state and found the hostel and it seemed ok, with all my gear alongside we checked in and paid 7800 Tollares, which is the currency of Slovenia. The room was old and was for 4 people. Currently the room was empty, but we slept waiting to be woken at an even later hour by others but in fact we had the room to ourselves. So we were a little stressed but this was to be understandable after all the travel and mind filling images we had seen this day.

Laura didn’t sleep well, like me but I have been here before and it adds to the excitement. Today we would get to the sea, but first Ljubljana had something to offer.

I cant come to describe how Ljubljana is stuck between lush green hills and having an air that time has stood still here, signs are all old fashioned and taps and showers sometimes very eastern block. Not as fortunate as Graz but seemingly larger. Also saw the young very fashionable and the old very old fashioned. A leap has been made and Ljubljana is being dragged into it rather than moving into it. Essentials like beer were cheaper we noticed with glee. I always like to taste the local beers in any new country and I did this at various stops along wandering the streets. Ljubljana looked much friendlier now as we checked out the sights. We did ponder staying a day here but quickly decided to get to Pula, and then start relaxing, we were really ok to travel and we felt there was not so much to offer in Ljubljana itself but Slovenia seemed to have some really great tourist spots and adventure trails, but we were visiting Croatia and had to press on.

We boarded the train ok with our load and were comfortable. Everyone is helpful in helping us locate the right train when it isn’t clear and all went well, on the last train before Pula we had Para gliders flying around us as we skirted a hill. Earlier we saw forests and a forest of trees, I have never seen in England. I can remember being thoroughly dehydrated as we went hour after long hour in a boiling empty car pretty as Istria was. I can imagine it being a pretty good drive from Graz. We had used up all our water and 250ml would have made things 100% more enjoyable.

Pula- scuba diving Austrian style.

Meeting back with Addi and Elke was great for me and it was a relief to us both to be in one spot where we could regroup. The group had rented a house and it should work out at around 10 euros each. A very nice house in our trust (can’t imagine this kind of thing working in England) was to be our home for the next 7 days. It didn’t take me long to get in the water with the Austrian dive school there.  In fact I have been diving 3 times and I haven’t filled a single form in. You see diving is one of those extreme sports in which you have to sign to the effect that you hold not a single thing responsible to your dive shop, maybe my Divemaster status and that Addi and Elke knew me made a difference. In diving in, the first thing that got me was the water temperature, not so warm for this time of year and I was under suited! The diving as well was ok for Europe but nothing special in terms of fish. It’s topography though was very good. We spent or time mostly diving in the day but Laura was not a diver; I am indebted to her for her understanding and hanging around the shop which seemed a little overpowering at times as neither of us spoke Croatian or German. But it was friendly. Our Divemaster was Tony a Croatian of 50 plus years, and macho to boot. It seems they are a macho lot the Croatians.

During the week I managed to get Laura to have a go at a discover scuba diver experience with Addi. She was quite nervous; but like many as soon as she saw something she forgot about the difficult thing of breathing underwater and enjoyed it. She did great I was very proud; she was on her way to becoming a certified diver I hoped.

That week I helped out Richard who was doing his rescue diver course under Addi’s tutelage.  You see they need someone to be rescued from under the water as part of the course, and that was to be me. It’s bad to surface quickly from any dive and even a shallow dive has risk involved but a Divemaster is equipped to deal with such occurrences. I secretly took a tank and got into the water, it is beautiful diving alone, and I finned out towards our agreed spot and I descended about 6m. Laura played her part very well I was told as she was very panicky and informed Richard of my non return from the murky depths.

A week later (15 mins) Richard came and found me and brought me safely to the surface and started the rescue. By this point a large crowd had formed and initially they were not sure if it was real but the relaxed manner of the dive pros told them the truth, they watched onwards. Richard slowly removed his and my equipment as he towed me in. A hard part of course is the continual resuscitation as he towed me in, simulating breaths at the proper interval. We arrived and I had just my fins and wetsuit on. It was nice being freed of the equipment much like when my mother would undress me effortlessly for bed before I could speak. Then the tough part, a large lift was required to get me to the dock. I helped with a single fin movement and was reprimanded by Addi for helping. My guts were dragged therefore over the ends of the wood on the jetty, I was glad of my suit. At a point thereafter I had been saved and that was that, aside a few exams Richard was now a Rescue Diver.

Richard was our favourite Austrian in the group, and the funniest looking was Norbert who I thought matched his name he looked like a Norbert and I could tell he had met people before that had thought so too. And so I imagined his way toward me. We worked on it each in our own imaginary worlds and by the end of a few days we worked our imaginary feelings out. Otherwise there was Nika a singer in opera and Lida, Norbert’s girlfriend. So we were 8 in total.

We economised as much as possible and the house being nice wasn’t equipped for 8. Addi and Richard insisted on sleeping on the terrace outside on foam mats, which wasn’t so bad considering the heat at night. I could do nothing to swap with them. I don’t know if it was desirable but they wanted to pay less at the end because of this hardship which was annoying as we were readily prepared to swap with them and made it clear. And at the time they didn’t say “ah but we will pay less at the end so it’s ok”. Was I on the verge of learning about Austrians here? or was it me.  Don’t wish to reflect on this as we all had god times but people were leaving very soon after we left and the organisation was nonexistent apart from Elke who was a true star throughout. We had a very suburban position in Pula which seems to have 2 centres, one the main town part and one where there was our dive shop on the bay 13 minutes walk from our house, we were a 30 minute walk from the main town area I really wanted to discover.

There is a really good roman acropolis the best outside Rome I hear, but the one in Pompeii is rather good too I know, it’s bigger. But with the lighting in the evening Pula’s star attraction on land is very impressive.

We remember the hot daily walk back to and from the dive shop. We would stop by the supermarket and bakery there and back and get our various supplies. Apart from a couple of evenings we really didn’t see any more of Pula but had done the main things. We were a bit sad as Elke left early on and in the end we were last to leave by a few hours and we paced our rucksacks for the long 30 minute hike to the centre of Pula and the ferry terminal. We expected to get a ferry to Mali Losinj as we hit a new chapter and it was a change to take a boat and not the train.
It’s the 3rd of August and reports are that my dad is ok but tired. I wished I could be with him.

Mali Losinj
There were masses of people taking the ferry and some who came on bikes. Our destination was Mali Losinj a beautiful harbour with restaurants along one side and a few nice bars along the other. There were some houses stretching back into the hills and a floating vegetable market! A boat or two with adapted rear ends reversed into the harbour end and sold fruit and things, how cool. Our ferry docked a way back from this original harbour.

There are some nice coastal walks and one linking a small Losinj village which we didn’t get to because of the rain. We did one of the best thins we had done so far here on the trip. We took a smaller boat to Susak. Susak is a sand and clay formation off the coast here and we took a day trip. The beach was such a lovely texture and it was a nice warm day. We had a most memorable clay fight and that not only was a high point in the trip it was a high point of our relationship, a great moment if you want. The other thing about Susak is that they have a unique culture there; they don’t feel like they belong to Croatia being very independent from the main land in so many ways. At a point in time there was an exodus and a large delegate took a trip for the sake of survival. They went all the way to Hoeberk in New Jersey and set up there very own community there. Even on the ferry to Susak we saw family returning speaking with their American accents and on the beach that day. There were some amazing reunions on this small concrete ferry jetty/wall it was a weird moment in all. Susak had a timeless quality about it and I would like to have stayed longer.

We spent some quality time in Mali Losinj around the day trip out to Susak and had some dreamy evenings in cocktail bars. If only we had known the nightlife in general was poor in Croatia we might have partied on a little longer to get it out of our system. We met a Swedish couple who were gorgeous even by the Swedish standard, and I was hoping they were swingers, I would only then have to convince Laura but all we ended up doing was our cocktails !(That was a joke), there was no place to dance or anything so it was seats and conversation. Here it was a mission organising diving so I didn’t do any. For a stupid reason which I don’t recall we were unable to get a ferry down the coast, it was raining and we were both a bit pissed off. We had the hardest day of travelling to come. We had to go by road in this island part of the world %$£”, this was supposed to be island hopping heaven not
bus hell.

That day of travel.

It was a chain of busses and bus stops that brought us to to a very tired time nodding off on our last bus to Plitvice.
We had earlier met en-route in a rained out bus stop in Karlovac a mother daughter returning to croatia from Australia and they were helping us translate to the driver what we needed to do. You see the plitvice national park is in the middle of nowhere and that there is no easy way to do this tourist attraction means you end up like us.
We were so tired of busses and we didn’t have a plan for somewhere to stay. If it had been hot and dry that would be one thing but the cold and very heavy rain was driving into the bus windshield and piercing our brains. We wouldn’t have planed to arrive in the middle of the night either. So the rain beat down, I was nodding on and off to sleep and I was passing my nervousness onto Laura but at every point I reassured her with words.

So maybe we would have to break the budget and stay at a pricey hotel we had seen from the guide book. If you had your own transport one could find the local places the residents in the houses usually had an annexe they rented out. That was what we wanted.

We were winding through country the serbs had occupied including the park in the war a few years back. So very tired and dreaming of the time to come falling into a sleep on and off. Checking the guide book over and over to memorise the location of hotels, check every sign post for clues as to our location, if the bus dropped us wrong we were in the middle of nowhere with no shelter. I was relieved and jolted on by the brave Laura who was still there and our very real wet environment we now were in. Our Croatian / Australian translators had been good to us and dropped us right 100 meters from the hotel. We might be lucky and it might be open, I was dreaming of a warm corridor or room to curl up in and sleep I was so tired.
It was raining real hard and even with our backpacks on we ran fast and walked fast when we could no longer we rewarded with an unlocked door. 2 guys were sleeping on couches and I wondered if we could get a deal after all it was the next day it felt wrong to pay for a whole day when we would have to check out in less than 12 hours ! I did my best to look poor, a room I was told would be 850 kuna, or 85 pounds an exensive room by any standard, it was 1.40am. One of the guys said it was a hotel not a zimmer. I was not really 100% comfortable with these guys I have to say. Zimmer being one of those priate annexes I mentioned earlier. 1 of the guys told us he had  zimmer and woud take us there. I had wondered if it was really safe to go, but we decided we were two and had met the guys at the hotel, the guy who was taking us had a national park uniform on as well which gave a final…It is usual in this country for this to happen, we had been lucky. The guy had looked a bit worried but he was for sure risking his job. I knew as well I was paranoid with seep deprivation, had we really left an island earlier on today. This is an essential part of the backpacking experience I told myself. The guy picked us up in hs skoda, which I used to own similar-this was strangely comforting, his english was poor.

Laura was in the front, I asked her to help me remember where he was driving. We took turn after turn down small roads and nerves were settling back in but then we arrived. We got keys and got to or room very relieved and looking at the bed with joy, we did some usual things in the bathroom and Laura said that the people next door were English. How do you know I asked, "super drug on their bottles" she replied. We curled up close, the weather then finally was allowed back in to our sensory world after we blotted it out in favour of other more necessary things, two big bangs like a brick landing on the roof woke us about an hour apart. There were more what could it be, the first one sounded like someone trying to get in- to our overstretched minds. Somehow morning arrived without event and we were alive :)

We met the other 2 staying here they were 2 english guys planning on doing the park like us. They also like us didn’t have the waterproofs it looked like we would need. Should me and laura wait another day for better weather? No it might be the same again. Do we need 2 days to visit the park ? No in the event it can be done in one full day. It was so spectacular though 2 days wouldn’t be too much. We all paid for and had breakfast at the B&B, we met the guys wife and family through the course of our stay. It (breakfast) was nice and basic. We decided not to wait another day, we went for it we aranged for or lifts through the use of their car. The park sold little blue ponchos in clear see through blue and this was to be our saviour. The rain held off but mostly getting wet was ensured by the large waterfalls if one wanted. So off we went into plitviche NP, we decided to go the K route which was the larger, I was keyed up for this and didn’t want to miss any of it.

The park is stunning we had a spectacular walk for 6hours through the emerald paradise initially getting drenched by veliki slap (large waterfall). There was a route which looked impassable and Laura didn’t want to do it, she said was silly but she followed me-we had sturdy boots on for the trail was treacherous right next to this massive waterfall. The water was encroaching but even more as the wind caught it. We got through eventually.

As we walked by the lakesides we were joined by thousands of roach swimming alongside and almost certainly these have never been fished for except by maybe the occupational forces during the war. The park is way too popular and this is the main criticism, it is probably Croatia’s best known feature but it is so magnificent. The entry fee is 95 kn and very much worth it. There were some ferries which crossed some of the larger lakes and walkways which covered the smaller levels. It is a massive lake system, which has multiple levels like rice terraces only emerald green water tables. Waterfalls and forest like surroundings complete the charm. It was our favourite walk together of al time.

The forest air was gorgeous and we decided to stay another night now we knew we were safe in our lovely room. In the evening I chatted to the guy as best using sign language next to a 60 year old German tractor. The buildings were all new but without the outside coating of plaster or rendering. Or they were still burnt out shells. There had been a lot of horrible things happening here and this was a most saddening. The war seemed somewhat fresh and maybe the fear of the Serb or Yugoslav JNA returning was very real maybe the people were no longer alive to return or that memories were too horrid or they simply wanted a fresh start. In-between my flirting with these heavy moments in my mind it was nice to stop and relax after our big beautiful day. In fact it was such a relief to have done this attraction as it loomed and is so difficult to get to and get from for lack of bus station nearby.

The buses just pass the main road on the way to Zadar and in the other direction Kovach. We wanted to get to Zadar, and the last worry was to be sure to get a bus to Zadar. If they are full they pass by and don’t allow you to board. Croatia is full of full buses, never are they under subscribed. It is a poor country still. But back to the evening of relaxation and beauty as the region really was, even though there were smatterings of abandoned houses, houses normal people used to live in once upon a time. We never travelled further east to where the war was fought even more due to a lack of time, and it was just my morbid fascination that wanted me to go, but the tourism would surely have been welcome. We waited a long time, and I was getting stressed about not catching a bus. Were we standing in the right spot? We had gotten a lift here from the guy after paying up so we were sure he wouldn’t drop us in the wrong spot.

One driver made some motioning to the effect that we were doing something wrong. After 1 ½ hours we were picked up and then we were eager for the bus to take us away from there and that it did, 200 meters away down a small side road into a large car park next to a café, was this a bus stop? Should we have come here? Well we didn’t know if we were on the bus at it had stopped here and we were no longer on the bus and we had been standing with our packs for this jaunt round the corner. Our combined stress meant we were more than a little paranoid. The driver was a saviour as he allowed us to ride the 2 ½ hours. Laura is good in these situations and calmed me down.

Zadar

The bus dropped us in the new part of town, which was a 20 minute hike from the old part where we wanted to be. We had the travel agent from the book to consult about getting a cheap room.
For the first time I hated Italians and that I was going to stop learning the bloody language now and favour the much more widespread Spanish. They were seemingly everywhere, it’s an overnight ferry ride to Italy and they come in droves. But the problem was they were so pushy and rude in the streets of Zadar. We ended up staying in a lovely charming family run B&B with Slavicka and her Mother who kept telling Laura she had to kiss me lots and lots!

We stayed there 4 nights doing another national park and the Kornati Islands. We were glad of drier weather for once; we had been getting fed up being rained on for sure. Zadar itself is really attractive being very white stoned with water on all three sides not connected to the land, this makes up the old part of town. The dock is on one side and there is a new water organ on the other where you can swim instead of a beach I had not my trunks so didn’t descend the marble steps into the sea. The water organ uses the waves and underground tubes to make a very nice sound indeed, very clever and relatively inexpensive but a big draw it’s really a beautiful view too. I imagined myself to be in Istanbul with the boat traffic and general look of the corner, it was a marble corner and on both sides the sea. As we were exploring an old guy gestured to me, he had a bottle of beer he was struggling with. I was very pleased to be able to help him as I was sporting the reef flip flops with beer bottle opener on the underside! I hope to this day that he didn’t contract hepatitis. He was so impressed with the usefulness of the flip flops, and I wish I spoke Croatian.

We did a day’s excursion into the Kornati NP on a lovely boat with about 50 others. The other boats had much bigger parties on them of about 150. Our boat was also looking like a mini galleon. It was 250 Kn for the tour including Lunch which was great. The boat took us round the archipelago which looks like low grey and green hills without much cover. I wasn’t impressed I have to say but we were happy to be on the water again. We made a stop at one island which had a salty lake in it; I took in my goggles and proved that there was at least shrimp life in it. We motored off in the boat around a bit more and stopped at a really nice cove were we had lunch. There was good fish and wine and the area was really good for snorkelling, much different from the Pula experience. This made me want to dive the National Park but to pay 20 euros park fee alone per day put me off. Also again we didn’t do a destination because of the poor public transport connections. The dive shops being situated around Muerter. The boat ride back to Zadar was a really wet Return as it rocked on the surf, the GOTCHA for this boat, they definitely don’t tell you about that when they sell the tour, we made it a fun experience at first but after a while it became cold and we were using towels and whatever we had for shelter.
Paklenica National Park was not as impressive as Plitvice but the weather was as bad. It made the long gorge a tough 2 ½ hours up and 2 hours down. On the way We witnessed climbers and I renewed my respect for them as I have a fear of heights. The park had its good moments through the wet being close to nature again. The ever eternal problem of transport was a worry but it worked out ok in that respect to be fair but we were lucky. The best bit was watching the Italians struggle with their fashion not only in the wet but also in the terrain which might be fine in Rome but not in a gorge!
Preko meaning “next to” is a small village on an island a ferry ride away from Zadar and we decided to do this on our last day. It was quieter than Zadar and we managed to get in the sun and get our tans back. We had a nice game of Frisbee but otherwise had a walk around and lay on the beach. That last night we had some drinks in a bar outside with beds in a lovely large garden and good music system next to the port, so overlooking the wall you could see the boats, I liked this bar called something trendy and nice cocktails a trendy place the likes of which we hadn’t seen in a while. Again we were chilled by the wind as the sun set. This was our last night in Zadar which grew on me after the Italians had me thinking we would spend a shorter time than previewed. The day after we split for Split.

9th August 2005- Split.
Split was nice with mini pine forests a walk away from the centre and we had a lovely swim in the bay the other side. The Riva was nice and reminded me of Marseille. In fact every single large city has its own identity and they could all be in different countries! Its Olivia’s birthday today so my thoughts are drawn once again back home. We haven’t met people and along with the weather has been disappointing. We feel we have made good pace and can slow down a bit. We should meet some people like that. Part of the city is built on an old cathedral, but it didn’t inspire me like it could have. We were met upon arrival by a young guy who got us accommodation but the guy who’s place it was didn’t have any English and was a little Aggressive bringing out the like in me. I and Laura for not the first time were glad to leave after a couple of nights there. We were close by a recommended fish restaurant and it was amazing.

We took a ferry to Brac (bratch) the town of Supetar and I must have put the diary down for a while because I skip to a bike ride I’m sure which Laura would rather forget. A nice lady accosted us this time much better than that young Croatian buck in split and the room was lovely so we decided we would enjoy some quiet time. We hired some bikes and again we are plagued by rain. We were staying in the town where we landed it is the 12 August 2005. It started out ok we were going to see if we could get to Bol on the other side. There were some cool places in between. Laura had stupid shoes on and for this only struggled, but she didn’t give up. Struggled up some real good hills and coasted down the others. We ended up doing about 25 km’s. We first reached a very old settlement and had a look around its museum. It had some great views of the mainland which Brac faced. It was called Skrip and we ate there. After we headed for a beach called Loverice and was recommended by the book. We were not sure if we would make it, what did I put you through Laura. We passed 2 small ports and stopped to drink and heard kids having fun. Over the ridge we saw a rare sandy beach, I might add that we had been drenched earlier (again) we enjoyed our Frisbee twice and Laura ate loads and loads! I swam and had a massive shark phobia creep on! We made the most of this beautiful spot. We had a nicer ride back in lovely weather and a great view. The effort put into the cycle ride was surpassed only in that of her eating, to look at her would indicate she took the fat off a stick of celery. I lay next to her as she had overeaten this evening.

We went to see Bol today and it was pleasant except for the bus ride; I was sweating as much as I ever could remember. Forget any Thai bus or Central American chicken bus. The famous beach that Croatia get some mileage out of is a stony affair and had me feeling a little sorry for them! It is beautiful but packed to the fringes and a walk away from the centre of Bol. Depending on the currents the tail of the beach can swing either way! The bus home was no easier and we had to fight for a seat. You could tell those that had travelled a bit here. We didn’t get the ferry info we so desired but at least we could check Bol off the list if we decided to leave. The day after, we returned and stayed. Supetar was again quiet in the night. The next day’s bus was a surprise we readied ourselves for an hour plus of hell and it was the opposite. We struggled up and down for a while searching for a room and eventually got one for 360 kn. Nightlife was good and we had to plan. We checked out the dive shop and they needed a whole 7 days for Laura to do the open water. We would have to sacrifice something if we were to spend 7 nights here. That day we decided to climb the 780 m of vidora gora. I was not up for it but no choice.

It was 2pm and we were tired watching a film. It was 2 hours to the top. It was hot. Laura was going up ok and I struggled I had to push myself off the bed and it was for good reason. I was turning into a regular person. So I struggled my mental was not there. Maybe I am 32 and this is what happens. We made it and views were good, you can see the beach in Bol and the tail as it fades into the turquoise of the Adriatic. We had some of the best food so far in a restaurant at the top, lamb and chips that were lovely and salty. We drank water too. We realised that you could drive up here and felt a sense of superiority over those that did. We got down quicker the path was good, and did the sensible thing and went out for cocktails. We lasted until 0/50 shame as for once I liked the music. As I write we are now relaxing on that beach in the sun.

Later on we catch a ferry to Jelsom. It was a short and sweet ride and this made us feel like we had something hard ahead, is never this easy in Croatia! With no map of Jelsom just guide book directions such as the bus stop lies 100m east of the ferry…but without knowing where east is its pretty bad, come on rough guide! It’s famous for this we know by now. We were smug in or blue Plitvice coveralls as it had been raining earlier on the famous Bol spit, emptying it pretty much. And it was nice for that as the sun came out and for a while we had it quite quiet. But now I was trying to get us to Hvar a destination I was looking forward to in one series of trips, so we rally wanted maybe the last bus of the day hence why I couldn’t relax finding the station. It was now after Laura had spent 30 minutes on the catamaran sitting opposite the toilet that she wanted to go. This -amidst the last bus to Hvar search. Also her father always tells her never to pass a toilet!

To Hvar

It was amazingly hard to find the bus stop and it was evident we were not the only ones who had this plan. This did mean that everyone fought to get on the bus not even a seat ! This was a most unsafe journey indeed; obviously we caught the bus but had become separated. At one point I was on the bus sandwiched in and it looked like Laura the church mouse and 3 or 4 others would not make it bless her, but what was I to do, if I had been next to the door I could have said oh well and got off but I couldn’t move so I had to start to shout. She eventually got on.  There was a stop and she had to get off to let people off and couldn’t get back on, she had to run to the front of the bus-thank goodness she didn’t have to lie in front and show the driver her ticket. He let her on. There was a gang of young travellers who had found a cat which was playing around on their shoulders this was a nice thought among this old 40+ Milano who was taking up room sitting when he could have been standing so I mentioned this and his guilt got the better of him after a few minutes and reflection. Onwards we all squeezed to Hvar for an hour around about and around the very high cliff’s. If I ever hear of a terrible accident involving a coach load of tourists in Croatia on the way to Hvar I will show no surprise. Again with our million friends helping bottleneck all Hvar’s tourist resources as we popped out of the bus we were either going to relax and celebrate making Hvar that day or carry on stressing in search of a roof.

We did come up with a not too small typically decorated room with miniature garden and feeble locks. It was above the pizzeria on the square and the window to the shower opened up right on the square albeit one floor up. Handy if one was a flasher you wouldn’t even need to leave home. We budgeted 5-6 days in Hvar (the guide made it sound so good) as we had sacrificed Laura’s diving reasoning that she would do it one day and I knew she could find a better school. Instead of top destination we were assured of we had a marina equal only to the one in mali losinj and a similar bar scene not better. The restaurants were disappointing except for one white and blue place (do you remember it Laura?) and the notoriety of Hvar has served to install some more typical tourist traps. There were no decent dive shops only a dodgy German on a dive boat, since it seemed he used to have a shop and it even looked like he slept on the boat. There was no way Laura was diving with him. The theatre was good and the fort is worth a look more for the views than itself. The overall feeling was that we were sad to have sacrificed Viz and Korcula for this spot. We were therefore pleased to discover a catamaran to the island of Viz and the far side town of Komiza.

Komiza on Viz

We found a magnificent room right by the sea wall a couple of floors up with fantastic sea sounds and views. There were painted footprints on the ground to get there, nice. We should have stayed longer, I did a dive and we walked 24 km to view tito’s cave where the partisans or Yugoslav war effort was run from. I sacrificed a dive in the afternoon but it was because in part to the dive shop not being very friendly excepting the lovely aniska. The main guy was another macho with his semi rebreather kit. The dive I did was a fishing boat wreck and I got full on nitrogen narcosis at 42m. I did get to borrow a computer to dive this depth. I met a guy called Lauren who was French. The vis (visibility) was good on Viz! We left after 2 nights as I had some bad news on the condition of my father that he had months and not years to live. Laura was very supportive and I wanted to get on and get back.

We went to the other side of Viz, viz town because the boat back to Split was going from here and it sounded quite good. I could fly home if I decided to from Split. We didn’t think much of viz town either (the book was wrong about Hvar too) and would have stayed longer to enjoy the great restaurants of Komiza and the feeling of being in a remote Scottish sea port.  We actually had a good night out in viz which seemed to have quite a young crowd we hadn’t seen around during the day, in fact it had that ghost town feel. And that was what we didn’t like.  We stayed the night quite a way from the port in a large house and room and again an old lady was in charge of things and bless her she could hardly walk around the place. The British had made their mark on Viz and that was a reason to visit. There were two separate forts which really were ruins, one through time and one through sheer neglect and vandalism. Also on the other side of town there is a British cemetery for a few 11 souls who died at the hands of the French outside of Venice to e buried in Croatia. But seriously Komiza is 10 to 50 times (exactly) prettier more compact and has a great fast food place and many slow food places including a magnificent Lobster restaurant/farm where you dine over top of the sea on strong wooden beams.

Our room had been the best so far. I also got to watch some football held in nearby Split, Brazil vs. Hrvatska (Croatia) no less. Neither side were great as we watched outside at a restaurant in Komiza, they brought out the TV’s for this one. I managed the first half without sleeping then my tiredness came on! I was joined by a local kid at a table much at the disgust of the waiter as his friends came along and were putting the tourists (and this is another plus point about Komiza- you don’t see many) off, I had to buy him a coke. Fatigue beat me and the game was not the best I craved my bed by the sea.
We found time for a beach in both Viz and Komiza; the beaches around Komiza I felt had more character. Like a true love I think I could forgive Komiza of infidelity. There is a fabulous fishing museum for 11kn in Komiza and at the top great views of the town or port. And it isn’t too long or boring but all the text is written in Croatian.

So as I write now we are heading back to Split by ferry, my monumental news from back home dragging me towards civilisation. Onwards to Dubrovnik, or home from Split.
The weather has been kinder to us just of late. As a note had an incredible dream while in Komiza –I was young working in the supermarket and was taken outside which turned out to be outside of my childhood home in our small village- in the backyard. Two animals of our families were there hazy and trixie (my sister is responsible for the latter’s name). But the most eerie experience was unfolding in the clouds above. There was an atmospheric storm raging and there was a surround sound no one else could hear. A huge alien ship descended and took me on board. It felt very real like I was returning or going. I awoke with streaming eyes, it took some hours to get back to sleep.
Hopefully we will get a bus with ease. It was a rush to the supermarket and we were away. It pulled in to Dubrovnik at 8pm ish.

Mia- heart of gold but rubbish with directions.

Laura had been a holiday rep with First Choice and her friend (Mia) was working in Dubrovnik. Mia had been kind enough to organise us a room but despite sending a few texts back and forth containing something other than directions or an address for us we arrived without hope of getting to this place. The touting for private rooms was really intense so we took stock and settled on a private room with a woman who looked decent enough and who had transport there. Our bus ride had been a nice scenic one skirting the coast as Croatia got thinner and thinner at one point one is forced to leave Croatia and enter Serbia and keeping in the same direction one re-enters Croatia.

The Toilet Scene
Along the way was a toilet stop. It was not at all clear that one had to pay on the way in and on the way in I didn’t really want to go, but for some reason did just in case. Besides Laura’s dad always said never pass a toilet without using it. I took one of the smallest pees of my life then realised that I should now pay. No way even though it was just 3kn or 30p I would not have gone had I have known, so principle was at stake and via the worst trickery. There was a woman in a booth who’s sole care in the world was taking the tourists pee money. I had been her first of the day ? The non payer, how dare I? After I didn’t stop she started to shout quite loadly and the scene was set. Eventually that stopped shouting at me as I walked straight by I didn’t like to do it and if I had seen the charge for something I don’t think you should charge for (should be in the bus ticket-and most likely is) I would have easily not gone!

 Dubrovnik
That first night we took a walk into the town, the old town took 40 minutes and the walls with their lights looked amazing in the night as bats few around very Dracula like against the stars. We walked alongside Andy and Kate an English couple we had met on the ferry to Split who were mirroring our movements. They had come along to the same woman’s place to stay as we negotiated a better rate. We really hadn’t met that many people here while travelling and it had been backpacking as I didn’t know it. Was it because I was with Laura this time? So it was nice to chat and catch some Pizza with our new friends. (what was the conversation about Laura you remember the guy a the table next to us.). Seating was going to be a problem and so we chose an outdoor spot and settled on a table for 2 and we were 4. One of the nearby tables was a 4 seater with just 2 people on it and they were talking to one other guy dressed as a scout. After a while decided they might mingle and allow us an extra table we could place next to ours and be seated. (With the ever more overpopulated world in my opinion and countless millions more I’m sure please consider your ass prints more carefully Mine would probably fit on a sheet of a4 still to this very day !

We had a few drinks with Kate and Andy at an Irish bar and Arsenal were playing Chelsea tomorrow night which I decided I would watch. Fatigue came on strong again quite early and I think I slept most of the walk home. And so with predictability that goes with a Saturday Sunday came the next day and we decided to go to where Maya had us booked in. It would have been a quick walk across the water had there been a bridge but we would have to go around the long bay. It’s a very long U shape and Dubrovnik’s old town starts somewhere beneath the U we would still be away from the old town. We were heading towards and area called Babinkuk. We had reluctantly packed AGAIN and set off in the swelter. I was cursing Maya as we backpacked around the bay for she had booked us somewhere most unsuitable I felt. It was well served with buses though a 300 m walk away which we eventually got used to, although they stopped late at night, tickets were 8kn (80p). We did have a great bed with plenty of space and our own view of the harbour. We slept well there in this nice suburb of Dubrovnik the room was a lovely room with a good bed a bit of a treat in that respect. Our first following morning there we had a look around locally as we could walk to the nearest beach and I could check on the possibility of diving. We skirted around the water and passed by a dive operation and were greeted less than enthusiastically again. I took a flyer and after wasting some time hanging around for the right guy to show up we moved on being nowhere further forward. There was yet again a dive operation at the next beach. This area now was the hotel area and the holidaymakers were of the package type. There was a mini PADI operation here and it was staffed by a typical PADI representative like myself at one time, helpful and enthusiastic. However it didn’t seem likely that we could get Laura diving again for a few reasons. There really didn’t seem to be anyone doing it!

That evening we went back to the old town. I wanted to see the game. We met Andy and Kate again and had a few drinks. We (Arsenal) lost by a soft goal scored by Drogba’s knee, 1-0 to Chelsea. We bumped around some young Kiwis and gave them a break remembering how we were once. Laughing at the way they had been trying to chat up our girls! Andy being a squadi and looking the part probably saw them retreat finally. We did chat a bit and they were travelling for a shorter time period as were many. This is a shame because this really isn’t Croatia. I got Andy’s details and we didn’t see them again after that. Since then via email it transpired that their camera was missing in action somewhere recent and they lost all their photos this is a massive shame and we all need to be careful of this in the digital age. -of digital data it doesnt exist unless it exists in 2 places!

The next night (no nights were wasted as it was felt we really were missing nightlife what little there was) we met up with Maya and John both whom had worked with Laura as reps and she was having a good time meeting them again. The nightlife in the old town is shit, it needs recording and the festival is a tourist trap we felt as there is nothing in the streets themselves and all the entrance fees are a sky high price of 150kunas 15 quid.

In-between we visited Lokrum which was cute and relaxing if only the weather had been better. There was a nice restaurant in a monastery with peacocks in the garden around us. Also the standard fort built by Napoleons lot. We were really doing Croatia justice. There was also a salt lake but with the weather as it was it was useless. Tuesday we awoke to chase more ferries for the islands of Kolochep and Lopud. Lopud had the best beach so far but it was the last thing we got to so had only ¾ hour there due to crap public transport. How frustrating. The fort was a nice 200m climb great views before the beach. We only bothered doing Kolochep because of the write up in the guide book, the clouds were around again. It did clear for the afternoon and were appreciative.

We had to meet Maya for the late afternoon so had to catch the right ferry back. It took 15 minutes to get to the top and we set off through the houses and little allotments constantly climbing. The path was pretty clear with only a couple of moments where you are stuck in two seemingly correct directions to take there were good views now and again and the footing was good. At the top were great 360 degree views as suspected in amongst the ruin, to call it anything more wouldn’t be fair. You could see Dubrovnik and the sexy suspension bridge one crosses to get into Dubrovnik and the neighbouring Islands. Very nice thing to do recommended!

We were up there contemplating which ferry to catch in the sun and surrounded by the hum of a million crickets. We were aware this was our last beach side place. I had clearly made my decision not to return home and would finish the trip. I was keen to do some inland towns in Serbia/Bosnia but knew we might only get to do the capital Zagreb and the lands around. Laura was convinced and we could still meet Maya if we took the more expensive water taxi, but this was what we elected to do.  So off we headed for our last beach, and what a beauty.

It was like a mini Bol but with sand this time so better but as crowded. Italians Germans and Croats alike on the white plastic beds. There was also a bar. It had been a 2km trek to this beach and we had either ¾ hour or 5 hours and the latter missing the rendezvous with Maya. This is a good example of Croatia for us being governed by the poor frequency of public transport. At last a Country worse than my own in terms of public transport. We had an excellent game of Frisbee and ½ hour passed. Some others wanted to play an asked if they could borrow it. We very kindly allowed them to, and I was careful to show intent to kill if the lost or tried to steal it, which they took on board as we got it back. It couldn’t have been that they just were normal people now could it ? My very grubby white towel was placed down by a plastic chair. I wanted to stay I wanted to swim. Damn time. I decided to do the swim and then decide. It was so lovely and fresh and clear too. After 8 minutes I was had it! I decided that I wanted to catch the next ferry and took some sun before heading back but time was so short I couldn’t dry. That awful feeling of salt on the body rubbing made me not wear my shirt but off we left for the hike back to the ferry dock to meet Maya.

The Taxi was 40 Kuna each and the water choppy. We sped into the harbour and faced a 30 minute walk around the same bit to reach our place. We had taken so much energy from the sun and didn’t have our big backpacks on this time. I was in a silly mood as I was hot and tired. I like being in that mood it bodes well for the evening. We got cleaned up and that feeling is as good as the salt crystallising snagging the shirt is bad! After we met Maya in a café and headed out to a cheap Mexican joint. As it was we ended up calling it a day. It had been a good one in all and adventure around Dubrovnik. We still had the feeling that we hadn’t seen Dubrovnik itself. The wall is one of the guide books must do things and this was next up. The following morning we had a great breakfast (nut and fig slice) and coffee and then went finally to do the wall. You can circumnavigate Dubrovnik while walking along the top enjoying the sea views or the roof top views of the old town. It was a giddy at times experience because there were so many levels at any one time confusing my brain at least. You have the option of getting down from the wall at points around and at one of those points there was a gallery of images of the war which had been 10 years ago, didn’t really feel like it. Dubrovnik had been under siege from naval attack and artillery, the wall coming into use again.

One memorable time was with Maya at her 5 star hotel, it was really nice of her to invite us and we stayed by the pool with cocktails , it was also right on the sea with beautiful views. It felt really luxurious and was a lot of fun. There were some other less interesting times spent in the evening with a cool breeze often wondering why there really seemed to be a lack of nightlife, other than tourist pubs. It came time for us to start getting back, by now I was really getting impatient to get back to see dad. We decided to fly to the capital Zagreb as it was now a long way away and so was Graz our flight home. I knew once in Zagreb I would feel less homesick because of my dad. We said our goodbyes to Maya and John and boarded our airport bus.

Zagreb

Well there has never been such a contrast within one country for me, we arrived in Zagreb somewhat with our acquired beach style to be in concrete graffiti jungle. The walk from the central bus station (where we caught the airport bus to) to an agency who could find us a place to stay was horrid. I felt like not staying and I think Laura was still motivated thank god to check it out. Compounded by the fact that there were no reasonable accommodation solutions central after a long day my nerves became stretched. I wanted to try the hostel option which was cheaper but more so because it was more central. What was attracting me to this part of Croatia wasn’t really in Zagreb, it was the Veliki Tabor castle and countryside which was a don’t mss in our rough guide. We stayed 2 nights and the feeling got better as we came to trust the city was quite friendly although it looks grey and foreboding. The city had a nice brochure of clearly marked walking tours. These turned out to be very worthwhile and we saw some nice parts of the city which would be otherwise hidden (ghost tour? Laura) we did to fill our time and cross off our check boxes. We didn’t really meet anyone despite being in a dorm in a hostel. We decided there was no point prolonging things and we should head for the must do Veliki Tarbor.

Veliki Tarbor
An amazing looking architectural piece perched on top of a hill with is cone-ish red roof and cream exterior looks really well different from any Europe I had seen before. I don’t know what style it was and it had been remodelled at various times as various owners had been here. The countryside around is lush rolling hills with loads of clumps of trees, really splendid spattered with farm animals all around. We had a fantastic meal nearby and couldn’t finish off the mass of Turkey; we were glad and sure that it wasn’t going to waste. It was a nice relaxing time and walk, in our really unused much hiking boots we had carried around. I was also glad to be out of Zagreb.
We were ridiculously close to the boarder with Slovenia here and it was really undocumented in the guide book but a route I could see into the country, and why was it not given as a border crossing. I couldn’t resist the challenge of crossing here and so off we went with our border town bus. We had been staying at a farmhouse which was another nice experience after the eastern bloc type hostel digs in Zagreb and was a couple of miles from the castle. There are a couple of places like that here as the castle is one of the better ones. There were real farming activities all around here and for that I felt more at home. There was again an absence of backpackers here which was not a bad thing.

Back to the bus...
There was similar to Central American style a bus going all the way to the border and then you walk across, now I was feeling more comfortable, and there were to be no problems I thought. The normal way is said to go back to Zagreb and take a more direct route out but why. It had been of course a wet time not helping the look and feel of Zagreb but this day there was sunshine and the natural beauty of the area was amazing rolling hills and trees. I was trying to run down my Croatian Kunas and as always didn’t get it right so changed up what little was left at the border. We were ready and walking towards the crossing. There was some Croatian machine gunned to us and some exchanged looks, something was wrong. They spoke again and then one turned to me and said “this is not a crossing for foreigners it’s for locals only.” A nugget of anger was born in the depths of my intestines. Hope- a phone call was made, I think the stature of Laura who was half the size of her backpack (but very cute) helped the situation. How could they turn us away to go back to Zagreb now. That would be 2 hours plus IF there was a bus. This could prove the loss of a day. Disastrous and under the circumstances crazy. The flexibility of the east European law prevailed and we were allowed passage. The nugget was dissolved as quickly as it had come on and was flooded with the waves of relief.
I always say the best feelings in life are those of relief, quenching a thirst, peeing...

If you recall back Elke had my dive gear and we looked forward to seeing a bit of Graz from the standpoint of a local. We were now in Slovenia, Croatia was but a recent memory, experience so diverse you could cut it with a giant knife and call the bit in the middle the English Channel. Immediately my desire was to get to Graz as quickly as possible (did we manage that in one day Laura?) what were you thinking at this point. All this time Laura had been writing her own diary and it was better kept than mine. It was a very good consolation and fitting end to the trip as we spent a relaxing couple of nights on Elke’s floor and during the day wandered round a bit and got our minds ready to depart on our pre-booked Ryanair, thanks dear!

I think we spent a couple of hours in Ljubljana or Maribor again and had a nice meal with the minimum amount of Tolares we dared extract. We also went shopping at a massive store on the river, and Laura bought a gorgeous dress. The train ride to Maribor was in nice sunshine not darkness like on the trip out, we had made a massive loop around but were doubling back this single part. We could have had an extra week if we had flown into Croatia directly but like this we had to date the most diverse trip I have ever had.