Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Caribbean in Croatia?

We drove through Slovenia on the way to Croatia
(two new countries to add to the list!)
So, I have to admit that I didn't know much about Croatia before coming to Italy, and it has just recently jumped to the top of my list of places to see in the near future. I was reading online about Plitvice Lakes National Park and realized that we had to go there! As luck would have it, one of our new friends in Italy is originally from Croatia and her family still lives there. She was kind enough to invite us to her home and take us to the park. What a great weekend this was going to be!

Lunch and beer in Slovenia

We started by getting the official tour of Marina's parent's house. Her parents live in a town in central Croatia and are very proud of their home. Her dad was excited to show Josh all of his power tools, tractors, saw blades and sharpeners, pigs and roosters. They also showed us their huge garden and all of the handywork that Marina's father had done around the house. He installed the floor in the basement (which was previously dirt), and also built the table and chairs. He is quite the handy man! They cooked us an authentic Croatian meal and we all sat down to dinner. It was very fun and Marina's mother, father, brother, sister in law and niece joined us. It was quite the family get together! Her niece, Sara, was so excited to have a new friend! She followed me around and held my hand. She was adorable!! When I spoke to her in English, she gave me a look like I was crazy. Although, when she went to bed that night, after being promted she said "good night!"in perfect English. Andrea was impressive that night as well with his understanding of languages! He went from English to Croatian to Italian, then back to Croatian then English... He was an international ambassador that night!
Andrea was nice enough to drive us to Croatia

Traditional pig roast (we saw these outside of most restaurants)

Marina's parents- her mom made an amazing streudel!!

My new friend Sara
On Saturday morning I was supposed to run about 15 km for my training for the half marathon, but was only able to do 12 KM. It was a gorgeous run through the countryside near a lake, surrounded by mountains. The roosters were crowing and the farmers were starting their day by making their way to the fields on their tractors. What a great way to start the day. After a run and breakfast, we drove to Plitvice National Park. On the way Marina told us about her experience when the Yugoslavians invaded Croatia and her father went to war. It was an impressive story that started with the town going dark and avoiding an air raid from the invaders. She and her family had to go into a bomb shelter with the town residents while her father went to fight to keep the town safe. She wasn't sure if her father was coming home and over the next couple of months they fell asleep to bombs going off in the distance. Some of the towns we drove through still had bullet holes in walls of the houses. I didn't really know much about this war (admittedly, I was pretty shelterd living in MN) and hearing Marina's story was a reminder of how lucky we are to have grown up in a peaceful place.
Paprika at a local grocery store- Josh wanted a picture
After a sobering car ride, we arrived in Plitvice Lakes National Park. Wow!! This place lived up to its reputation of being a must see location! We entered the park around mid day, and walked around until dinner time. There are many trails and all together there are 16 lakes. The water flows from one lake to the next through amazing small water falls. The water is so clear and so blue that it looks fake! To me it looked like the Caribbean Sea with the forests of Minnesota. Josh had a lot of fun practicing taking pictures of the waterfalls. Of course, we took LOTS of pictures. Enjoy!
Marina hurt her knee that week so she was having a hard
time with all of the stairs. She's a good sport!

our first view of the lakes

the Caribbean in Croatia!

another Asian tour group behind us

Our new Christmas card??

The water was so clear!!

Dragon fly- this one is for Holly :)

A bunch of fish were following this duck as she swam by
I still can't get over the color contrast between the
trees and the water!

the "northwoods" feel of the lakes

the reflection in the water was awesome!
our last view of Plitvice

New FB profile picture for Marina?? I love this one!!

That night we had dinner at a local restaurant and had the local beef roast. At that restaurant a couple was celebrating at their wedding reception. It was fun to watch them dancing to the band! The folk songs were very popular and everyone got up to dance something like a two step. On Sunday, Marina's parents cooked an authentic Croatian BBQ for us. Her dad manned the grill while Josh and I enjoyed a beer. The BBQ was very similar to what we are used to- ribs, sausages, pork chops, etc. It was very good! And Marina's parents were so nice to open their home to us (even if we did stay at a nearby hotel). We really enjoyed our visit to Croatia and Marina's parents assured us that if we visit again in the fall, Josh would be able to go out in the fields and harvest potatoes with Marina's dad. Meanwhile I would join Andrea at the local pub for a beer :)

Grill master
the roosters

Things that I learned about Croatia- The country has many similarities to MN and feels like it is a huge nature preserve. The people are very in tune with nature and want to preserve it! Plitvice doesn't have railings on any of the walkways because they don't need it. The people are very respectful of nature and don't want to ruin the park. Also, the people are very proud of their heritage and proud to be Croatian because the war is still fresh in people's memories. They are warm and very welcoming people. Josh and I were like a novelty to Marina's family- they have had Americans in their town before, but they had never met an American before Josh and I. So, having us visit and learn about their culture was a big deal to them. It was a great experience! Thanks to Marina for inviting us and thanks to her parents for their hospitality!!

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