All pictures are courtesy of NinetySeventy Photography.
For some reason I’ve been having the hardest time writing this post. There is so much I want to say about Plitvice Lakes, but I just haven’t been able to find the words. Things have been a little bit crazy between getting engaged(!), planning a wedding, moving into a new place with Jason, and a million other little life distractions. If you want to catch up, or just reminisce, here they are: Milan, Trento and Cortina, Lago di Sorapiss, Lago di Federa, Slovenia and Krk, and Dubrovnik. Also, if you just want to check out the pictures from our trip, check out Jason’s website at NinetySeventy Photography. Anyways, on to the story, or at least the parts of the story I can find words for. The rest of the story will have to be told through the pictures.
Lavaredo was a painful experience. In fact, I think I’m still recovering from the emotional damage of that DNF. While in Krk and Dubrovnik I was content to just walk around and do the touristy thing. Even on the climb up Mt Srd on our last day in Dubrovnik I never felt the desire to really push the pace beyond a relatively casual stroll and didn’t even feel pangs of jealousy as someone ran past us on his way up the mountain while we were walking down. On the long drive from Dubrovnik to Čatrnja I felt antsy but didn’t have my usual urges to just get out and run. I was thoroughly enjoying the new cultures, food, and scenery we were experiencing but my confidence was shaken and I didn’t feel like my normal self.
When we drove through the national park on the way to our hotel in Čatrnja, I expected this part of the trip to be similar to the parts that had preceded it: gorgeous beyond words, fascinating in many ways, but missing that little spark of adventure I feel every time I go for a run.
Upon arriving at our hotel, we decided to have a quiet night and save the National Park for the following day. This was partly due to the face that we’d been in the car forever and really just wanted to relax, but was mainly a result of us wanting to use our two-day admission tickets to their fullest potential and going for a hour before the park closed didn’t fit that idea. Instead we had a nice dinner at the restaurant next to our hotel and set our alarms for early the next morning.
After a great breakfast at the hotel we drove the short distance to the park, purchased our tickets and determined which route we were going to take. The map at the entrance was extremely helpful, including color-coded trails on the map, distance and estimated hiking time. Even though I wasn’t feeling like my normal self, I still suggested that we take the longest route, “K”, so we could see as much of the park as possible. This turned out to be a great idea because it kept us away from the crowds for the majority of the day.
We started off by exploring the lower waterfall basin, which is home to a couple of the famous photographs from the park. The wooden walkways above the lakes were fascinating and I broke into a trot a couple of times for Jason to get some good pictures of me, but my running certainly wasn’t anything to write home about. After touring around the lower basin, we arrived at the boat dock. Whereas all the other routes recommended taking the boat across the big lake to the upper waterfall basin, route K suggested taking the trail around the lake.
Within seconds we left behind the crowds, noise, and annoyance associated with one of the most popular national parks in the area, and found ourselves immersed in the peace and solitude of the forest. The trail meandered along the edge of the lake, sometimes climbing a little bit in the forest but quickly returning back to the shore. In some parts the trail was so overgrown that it was easy to imagine we were the first people exploring the area. Right before the trail split that could either keep us on “K” or lead us to rejoin the crowds, we found a waterfall that looked like something out of a fairytale. Sitting by that waterfall while Jason took pictures stirred up my desire to run, and about a mile farther down the trail that’s exactly what I did. I told Jason I’d see him at the bottom of the hill and just bombed downwards. The thrill and exhilaration was back and I felt like my childhood self again. All throughout the rest of our exploration of the upper basin, which we purposefully cut short since we were planning to return before the crowds the following day, I took every opportunity to run through the waterfalls.
Once we made it back to the lower waterfall basin, again following the trail along the other side of the lake instead of taking the bus, we made the decision to return back to the hotel for a little rest and come back later for Jason to get his version of “the” photograph of the lakes that had inspired him to search out this corner of the world. While I was napping, Jason did quite a bit of research to figure out where exactly we needed to go to get the shot he wanted.
When we returned to the park (thank God for the ability to enter and exit the park as many times as we wanted), we headed up a trail that we had both assumed was just a maintenance trail. It quickly climbed above the big waterfall (the biggest in Croatia actually at about 60 feet) and soon we were gazing out on most of the lower waterfall basin. That wasn’t the right angle though so we continued on, hiking briefly along a road before spotting a sign for an overlook. The overlook provided a good perspective but it still wasn’t perfect so we followed the extremely overgrown remnants of an old trail that went down to the river as it exited the national park. I had a hunch that the view was out a thin spine of rock, so after striking out at every trailside overlook I decided to scramble out to and bam! there was “the Croatia picture”! I took a couple pictures on my phone to convince Jason it was the right spot, so he handed me his camera and told me to snap away! So technically I can take credit for the picture…right Jason!?!
Anyways, after I successfully scrambled back and assured Jason that I was ok, we went to another overlook we had scouted earlier but was technically closed. There were a couple people taking pictures past the “closed” sign so we just joined the crowd. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel for dinner at the same place we ate the previous night (just as delicious) and again set the alarms for an ungodly hour to make sure we could get to the upper waterfall basin before the crowds.
We were up and out of the hotel before breakfast even started and were waiting at the boat dock when the boat operator showed up. He ferried us across the lake (to save us about 8 extra miles) and we immediately took off for the waterfalls we had scoped out the day before. It ended up being perfect because I could run around like a hooligan, literally sprinting between waterfalls, stopping to take a picture, and sprinting again while Jason framed the perfect shot. For the record I do think his method works better but mine’s not too bad!
We finished up just as the crowds started arriving and were able to make it back to our hotel in time to eat breakfast before checking out. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, packed our bags, and headed back into Italy.
Plitvice Lakes was one of my favorite parts of our trip. It was beautiful beyond words and unlike any place on Earth I have ever seen. It also started the healing process from Lavaredo. Although that healing process is still continuing, probably prolonged thanks to the Rut, I really believe that Plitvice Lakes helped me in immeasurable ways. If you find yourself in that corner (or anywhere remotely close), make sure you stop in and see it for yourself. You will not be disappointed. And the Croatian hospitality will make you feel like you’re right at home.