Birthdays in London have not been that great for me if I’m honest – I used to really love birthdays. In fact growing up I basically had a party every year right up until my 18th. But now that I am firmly entrenched in adulthood and looking at a life that today looks completely foreign to what my life looked like 10 years ago – its just not the same as it used to be. But I guess this is one of the downsides of travel and living abroad, you make plenty of friends along the way (often fellow travelers) who have a tendency to just up and leave to go and some more. This constant influx of friends coming and going coupled with my past habit of changing jobs semi frequently means that when my birthday does come around it’s just another reminder that I don’t really have very many close friends over here. Which is fine and I have accepted the fact that this is more of a loner stage of my life, I cope with this by throwing myself into work which zaps most of the energy I would’ve used being sociable.

Which brings me to the reason why I decided to up and leave for my 30th birthday rather than sit at home in rainy old London and sulk over how many Facebook friends would or wouldn't post on my wall.

Croatia has long been on my list of places to visit so when we found cheap flights (might I add cheaper than alot of train tickets within the UK) it was settled. We were going to chase the summer sun all the way to Croatia. Surely it was far enough from London that we could escape the Jeopardy which is London in the Summertime?

Our hearts sank when we landed in Pula airport which is in the north of Croatia. Not only was it overcast like London, but at this stage it seemed to be pouring with rain. I guess the only consolation was that it was decidedly warmer.

After a bit of a kerfuffle trying to sort out payment for our hire car (a sign of things to come) we were driving along the highway at about the speed of a grandma’s pace due to the increasingly heavy rainy overhead. I was leant forward in the drivers seat trying to make out the road in front of me all the while the radio blaring out a mashup of Croatian and Italian music as it struggled to find reception. The rain teetered off, then came back, then stopped again, then came back. Wait a minute I thought we had left London?

We were all tired and hungry as we had been up since 4am to catch a cheap flight over. After taking a few wrong turns as I was confused by the GPS we ended up pulling into a restaurant by the side of the road just outside of a small town. We ordered beers straight off confident that the establishment would take a card, we were then informed by the shy waitress who spoke little English that the nearest cash point was in the town about 200 metres down the road. So Roberto left in search of money to pay for our meal and after he was gone a while she inquired as to whether he drove down. Then sheepishly said she meant to say it was 2 kilometers away not 200 meters and that he will need a car. To which point I ran after Rob as we had no way of contacting him should he get lost – it also occurred to us that he didn’t know the name of the restaurant so how on earth would he be able to make his way back?

I found him straight away as he had started walking back as soon as he realized, and he and Carlos drove the car into town. The guys decided to order a 1.5 kilo burger each which was larger in diameter than my pizza, of course they didn’t finish it and the burger got wrapped up and sat in the back with me on the drive to Zadar, where there it would sit in the fridge for the two remaining days. The stench of that burger will forever remind me of Croatia now. It wasn’t a particularly unpleasant smell but the sheer amount of meat in those burgers smacked you right in the nostrils and managed to linger even after the burgers had been removed.

Luckily the sun decided to come out by the time we had finished lunch and Croatia began to show it’s true beauty. Beautiful lush forests, wildflowers (including lavender) grew everywhere on the sides of the road and were dotted with red poppy flowers. The fragrance was lovely as i hung my head out of the car window like a dog. The water on the coast sparkled in the sunlight and there were loads of beaches dotted along the drive some absolutely tiny, but with the clearest waters begging to be swam in. Unfortunately we had a deadline and so the coastline became glorious mountains and long tunnels reminiscent of Madeira.

When we finally arrived in Zadar we were greeted by a lovely German couple at our apartment who didn’t speak an awful lot of English (Running theme) but just kept repeating ‘Hello, you are welcome here’ we were delighted to find we had a sunny terrace that looked out across the ocean and an adjoining verandah with a table and chairs for our use also. Rob went downstairs to settle the bill with the owners and disappeared for quite some time. I found him drinking coffee and asking the Germans advice in broken English so they could understand on what to do in the area. I was treated to a pedicure by the owners friend that Rob bought for me, and drank coffee and ate homemade Burek. Which is basically a savory Turkish pastry. The sunset that evening was incredible, that night we dined in a nearby restaurant and then drove into town to go and hear the sea organ that I had heard about online and was anxious to go and see/hear. When we arrived we were disappointed when we didn’t hear anything – we weren’t the only ones either as we witnessed tourists going up to the holes in the cement and stamping on them in a futile attempt to hear something.

Below is what we were hoping to hear – it’s the only one of its kind in Europe. We’re not sure but maybe the sea has to be a certain way to make the music work as the water was no higher or lower than in the video below. We went back on three separate occasions and never heard a thing.

Day 2

We decided to head to Korcula falls which is one of the national parks with lakes you can actually go swim in, after a late breakfast we began our drive and quickly learnt that there seemed to be an invisible force field around Zadar protecting it from the thunderstorms and lighting outside of the city. After having witnessed the weather change so quickly on day 1 we kept driving anyway in the hopes that it would do the same again that day and change again. By the time we reached the lakes it was decided that it was definitely not swim worthy weather, but even with the horrible overcast sky the lakes had a remarkable aquamarine color – when framed by the beautiful cliffs and tall trees and a small old village with terracotta rooftops it was still stunning to look at. So we took photo’s and jumped back in he car. By this stage I was feeling ill, the food in Croatia was a little on the rich side for me – and I think it was for the guys too as there was plenty of gas distributed inside of that car during the whole trip.

On the journey back the GPS decided to take us along a dirt road that with the weather became more and more unsuitable for driving. We drove past an old farmhouse and an old lady glared at us probably wondering what on earth these stupid tourists were doing driving down that way. After driving through some precarious looking puddles we found ourselves bogged and the situation getting more stressful by the minute as this brand new car was getting so muddy from our detour. Carlos found himself having to negotiate rocks and puddles that were difficult to determine the depth of. At one stage Rob was outside trying to decide which was the least damaging route to take – but the road just got worse so in the end we decided to head back the way we came. It was a tense ride back to a sealed road. But the scenic drive afterwards led us through loads of old villages again all with at least one old lady and so many abandoned farmhouses and buildings, most were ghost towns with only a small tavern open with perhaps one or two tourists sipping a beer out the front. Oddly the radio was playing american country music greats like Johnny cash and Dolly Parton which provided a peculiar soundtrack to the eastern European landscape.

As suspected when we finally got back to Zadar the weather was miraculously beautiful again – so much so we decided to find a beach near town and have a relax and a swim before dining at a nice restaurant that evening.

Day 3

I was really determined to see Plitvice lakes after our semi disastrous day before, and I guess Carlos was too as he picked up a speeding fine from a cop hiding on a side street in a tiny village on our way to the national park. We paid him cash after a brief negotiation and set off on a really beautiful drive to the national park. The weather was perfect that day so we had high hopes, as we drove higher and higher we ended up driving through the clouds through tiny remote villages surrounded by beautiful green pastures but shrouded by the white mist of the clouds. This seemed to go on for miles.

Another feature we noticed was the amount of little stalls on the side of the road selling local honey and cheese and fruit. And not all legitimate looking stores, some where just an old man sat next to a small table with a few wheels of cheese with his arms crossed looking like he’d been sat there for an eternity waiting for someone to stop. The higher we ascended the more the villages reminded me of Switzerland – there’s something out of this world about Croatia it just has such a unique charm about it that I cant compare to other countries I’ve visited. It has the history, beautiful nature and a culture and architecture which is a mix of Croatian and Italian and in some parts Austrian influences.

We saw sights I’ve never seen in other parts of the world. On our drive I saw a bear roaming around someones farm and I couldn’t believe my eyes, I also saw a deer teetering on the edge of a cliff and Carlos even saw a snake on the road. After making yet another wrong turn before Plitvice we were driving through remote properties (we were so close) we could hear and see the beautiful clear running water but because of our wrong turn it had added another 45 minutes to our trip. Plitvice though did not disappoint and was nothing short of breathtaking. The photo’s and video’s don’t do it justice (like most things in life unfortunately) We were lead along a wooden walkway that stretched on for miles that took us under and over waterfalls and on top of lakes for unparalleled views of the stunningly clear waters in all of these shades of blue and green you would never normally find in nature (though are all natural) It was one of those places where there’s just so much beauty to take in and so much to see you could spend an entire day exploring it all in awe. I would absolutely recommend it as a place to visit at least once – it was hands down the most beautiful national park I’ve ever seen and the most scenic walk I’ve ever taken. I felt like Oprah walking around exclaiming ‘Oh my God look how beautiful it is!’

That night we drove back up to Pula which used to be run by the romans, it was easy to tell looking around as it had a much more of an Italian feel than Zadar – complete with it’s own Colosseum. We all agreed that we wish we had longer to explore this town as it was really lovely and we had an amazing apartment right in the centre of it all.  I was so tired by the end of the last night that all I could think of doing was crawling into bed. I really am old now! We hope to return one day and explore more of Croatia as there’s just so much to see, but I’m really happy we did it despite all the setbacks along the way – at least we all have a few good stories to tell.

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