By: Anna Tucker
Following in a fashion that one would say Croatians, if not invented, then truly mastered, we decided it was time to experience the Croatian long weekend, i.e. a public holiday in the middle of the week turned into a 5-day vacation. For all public employees, not taking advantage of this notorious custom would be like being invited to a feast, only to stop short just after trying out the frozen shrimp. For the unfortunate rest, and especially since the advent of blackberries and laptops, this would be a feast perhaps more deserved and certainly dreamed of, however, not likely to be attended.
So, boozed and bruised, literally & figuratively, from the night that preceded this wonderful holiday ahead of us, we set out to our chosen destination: the coast.
With no rush in the world, the usual 3 hour ride from Zagreb to Sibenik became a 6 hour scenic journey, where the decision to avoid the highway and revisit the old route brought back some good old memories and a fresh outlook on places to check out in Croatia. And a few extra experiences nature threw our way.
Somewhere around the 60th km into our trip, i.e. after barely passing the city of Karlovac, the healing powers of the spring-infused, lush surroundings started forcing our lingering everyday worries – work, family, love & money – out of focus.
Enticed by this outburst of green colours brought about by the recent arrival of spring and determined to enjoy the scenery before our arrival into the more rock-dominated landscapes of Dalmatia, we decided to make our first stop about an 1,30 from Zagreb, in the small village of Rastoke. Another destination enjoying a comeback on the tourist map thanks to high pay-toll prices, this picturesque historical center of the Slunj county tempted us to cut our route short and spend the next few days finding our ideal spot on one of the many terraces right above of the small waterfalls of the Slunjčica river (pic above) on which this village is nested. However, after a wonderful apple strudel and an ice-cold glass of water from a nearby spring, we decided to continue on with our original plan, still thinking, however, how wonderful it would have been to have fallen asleep in this magical place, listening to the soothing sound of the cascades and small waterfalls.
We continued along this picturesque road, deciding to pass the bustling May 1st Plitvice Lakes, perhaps because it was the obvious stop one would make when deciding for this route.
Our next stop was another 140 km or approximately an hour and a half further down the road in Obrovac (pic above), if not known for anything in particular, then for the fact that it is the hometown of Luka Modric, Real Madrid’s recent star acquisition. This peculiar town split in half by the Zrmanja river seemed almost deserted at the early evening hours, which enhanced the desolate feel of a place whose beautiful natural surroundings dominated by the pristine Zrmanja canyon are so sharply and unfortunately contrasted by its unusually robust, industrial architecture. Overshadowed by an enormous vacant and never completed building that was, in its better days, perhaps to grotesquely epitomize man’s conquest over nature, the view from the café – ironically called Relax – also extended to a closed down hotel and the town’s only other open establishment – a local gas station. Had we arrived somewhat earlier, I am sure we would have run into plenty of adventurers who visit the Obrovac area because its surroundings offer ideal opportunities for rafting, kayaking, free climbing, cycling, etc.
After a quick drink at Relax, we were finally ready to continue on straight to our final destination. However, well into the nightfall, we entered the town of Benkovac (pic above). Although it was not the 10th in the month, which is supposedly the peak day to visit Benkovac due to its famed attraction – a monthly fair, which, according to a local website, is a more enjoyable and traditional alternative to a shopping mall (yet it neglected to mention that this “mall” sells mainly livestock), there was in fact one thing that caught our famished eyes and made us make a U-turn on the unpaved main road that was under construction. Well hidden behind a 100-year old Mulberry tree, with only a warm lantern light discreetly revealing there might be a hidden gem in this, again, not very tourist oriented town, we felt prompted to check out this place. To our pleasant surprise, the small courtyard belonged to a charmingly decorated pizza place, whose deliciously prepared oven-baked pizza should be put on the map as the town’s attraction worth stopping over for, right after its only other peculiarity – the ruins of the lost Roman city of Asseria.
Finally, in this rugged, harsh environment that is home to one of Croatia’s most important limestone quarries, nature showed us its true brute force. Observing a bunny that was hopping alongside our car, our faces turned into horror as a hawk all of a sudden appeared from the sky, literally stopping this delicate little creature dead in its tracks.
We continued on without further detours to our final destination, where, just as we thought we have had enough adventures for the day, we had one more rather bizarre situation to deal with. Namely, imagine the situation of having to save a startled hedgehog from throwing itself of a balcony in a suicidal attempt prompted by the sight of two pairs of human legs. And so our long weekend began, by nature showing us its many faces, from an inviting friend to a potential for many perils, leaving us in awe at how much life there is once you decide to take a break from what often seems, a very lifeless daily city routine.