Having been to Dubrovnik before in 2008 and been dreaming of it ever since, we crossed the Croatian border with giddy anticipation. After Bumblebee was cavity-searched by the stern Croatian customs police, we zoomed along the curving coastline, overlooking the sparkling blue Adriatic ocean atop steep craggy cliffs. Waiting for us in Dubrovnik were Matt and Jenny, our friends who had already been on the road by bicycle for the last 6 months. Though we were amazingly not yet sick of each other, we were pretty excited to meet up with some actual friends and our messages back and forth with Matt and Jenny suggested they felt the same.We arrived in Dubrovnik around midday and after meeting up, having a tasty lunch in the old town and some quick interwebs research, we had found an apartment in which to stay for the next few nights. Irena, our lovely host, met us at the apartment and a paper/scissors/rock game ensued as soon as she closed the door for who would be first to shower and use the washing machine. Girls won on the shower front and cyclists on the washing machine. Just happy to be IN A HOUSE, we stayed in that night, draining the Bumblebee’s bar on gin and tonics and Cuba Libres.
Although we arrived in the sunshine, for the next day and a half Dubrovnik was plagued by a drizzly grey cloud cover that saw us spending a decent amount of time in the apartment, playing around on the internet and reading on the couch, which is actually a bit of a treat when you’re often stuck outdoors, as you can be on road trips, be they by bicycle or by van.But just as we were getting stir crazy, the sun showed its face and we quickly got outdoors and down to the nearby swimming spot we had spied on our wanderings the day before. Though the water wasn’t bath-like as it was when we were here in mid-August, it was still crystal clear and warm enough to wallow in, even in mid-October. Relaxing and reading on the rocks, this was the Croatia we had reminisced about during cold winter nights in Amsterdam.Matt struck up a friendship with the group of the budgie-smuggler wearing local men that congregated daily down at the rocks and enthusiastically joined their game of mini-football. The fun didn’t last too long however, as the sun had now been beating down on the concrete ‘pitch’ for some time, and Matt returned to us with his tail between his legs, and his bare feet blistered from the hot hard ground.
We walked and Matt limped back to the apartment for some quality free internetting time. We looked away in disgrace as Jenny live-blogged on location for Cycle Scribbles while we worked slowly on ours, trying desperately to remember details from the month before. Distracted as usual, we skyped Colin’s parents and got some hot tips on Northern Croatia from Robin, having travelled the area in late 1960’s.
The next few days were happily more of the same, wandering, swimming, drinking gin and tucking in to cheap-as-chips seafood platters.We sadly parted ways with Matt and Jenny after five lovely days as they jumped a ferry to Bari, Italy and we took up their suggestion to visit the Peljesac Peninsula. What we thought was going to be a quick drive ended up fairly long, but through beautiful terrain, passing golden grapevines being harvested for their wine, glistening mussel and oyster plots and leafy olive groves. Reaching the peak of the steep winding roads we were treated with views of the brightest blue waters dotted with tiny green islands.We tried but failed to find a spot to free camp and ended up at a B&B/hotel/campsite instead, with the most ridiculously luxurious private beach below it. We took full advantage of it for the last few hours of sunlight, as did the owner’s friendly dalmatian (in DALMATIA!), Rocky.The next day, after picking up some fresh mussels and homemade fig jam from Mali Ston, we started driving towards Plitvice National Park, as recommended by Robin. Somewhat underestimating the length of the drive north, we ended up in Skradin, a bustling port with a well-preserved and pretty old town behind it. There was a decent-sized wedding happening in town and we were afforded some good cover in a public car park filled with guests cars all endowed, as per Croatian tradition, with car corsages and ribbons.Waking in the morning, we were the last car left and quickly moved on to avoid being stopped by the local police for auto-loitering. We hit up the port’s café with seadogs drinking at 8am after a brisk morning walk then got back on the road again for our final Croatian destination.We’d already felt the temperature drop from ‘t-shirt’ to ‘cardigan’ the day before, and coats had to be fished out of the back of the Bumblebee’s storage area that morning for extra cover. But we weren’t expecting to enter a 5km long mountain tunnel at 15 degrees in late summer and exit at 3 degrees in full-blown autumn. Colin was having an LSD-flashback moment until he took off his (literally) rose-tinted sunglasses, but the effect was still pretty spectacular. Bee’s dubious heating got switched on and we watched in awe as we passed through the startling reds and oranges of the mountain range.We arrived at Plitvice at around 2pm and were told we were just in time to start and finish the 5km hike before the sun went down, which was approximated to take about 4 hours. We assumed that time frame was designed for the elderly and decrepit, but once we entered the park proper, we understood why it would take so long. Around every corner was another photo opportunity, a huge waterfall, a flame-red forest, a transparent lake. We agreed with a fellow Antipodean traveller that we had ‘snagged’ it, feeling we’d made it here at the most photogenic time.After hours of snapping away, we arrived at the park’s largest and most spectacular waterfall to find our camera battery dead. Admitting defeat, we hotfooted it to the Plitvice mini-bus then to a nearby campsite to snuggle in for a chilly night, our last in Croatia.