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We sat and had wine with a German couple on their annual vacation. They had great difficulty grasping our lifestyle. Not having a home base, close to family and lifelong friends seemed most disconcerting to them. How did it make us feel not to have a place of belonging, comfort and security? We admitted times of loneliness and missing our loved ones, but at the same time we believe that being freed from the chains of domesticity gives way to the thrills of unknown experiences and the joy of adventure
We travelled slowly south, along the coast road. Glorious still bays to our right, sheer high rocky mountains to our left. On occasion we would stop for a swim, a stroll, or to lie and soak up the rays of the sun. At Karlobag we met Sergije, a local artist. He invited us to view his garden. He was building it in the relic grounds of a 15th century fortress. We sat on his balcony and watched as the sun set, making the stone walls change colour from gold to white. We drank Plumb Brandy graciously (as it had a very strong unpleasant taste about it) and listened to local Croatian music. In the morning we sat on the rocks at the shoreline and drank tea. A yacht set sail and we watched it until it was a mere spec on the distant horizon. We thought of our dear friends Mark, Talia, Emily and Tobey and contemplated where they sailed. Our pace had finally mellowed and we enjoyed its tranquility. Time to reflect, ponder, relax.
From Zada we took a cruise around the islands of Pag, Dugi Otok, Uglijan, Pasmam and many other smaller islands. We stopped at a salt lake for a swim and returned slowly to Zadar. The weather was perfect, 29 degrees, sunny and still.
The next day we took a tour to Plitvicka Lakes, the largest of Croatia's National Parks. The bus trip to the park was hairy, scary. The wind was so strong it rocked the bus sideways as it wound its way around the mountains. The driver slowed to a crawl. The Aussie couple sitting behind us were glad to have their passports with them, should we be blown over the edge they would be easily identified. The conditions continued to deteriorate and it started to snow
We trekked our way along the wooden footpaths through the Park in the rain. The Lakes are unique due to the sedimentation of calcium carbonate. Over time it fossilises tree branches and the like that fall into its depths. 75 endemic plants have been identified, these are species that are not found anywhere else in the world. The water was clear, pure and on a hot day it would be most inviting, but it is forbidden to swim. In the high season more than 30,000 visit the Park each day.
At lunch we listened to a German couple disgruntled about the Greeks. They didn't see why Germany should continue to help them. Their view was that the Greeks were too lavish and spent way beyond their means. In Greece, many professions were entitled to a retirement pension at the age of 50. There was talk that the Greeks were sick of being told what to do by the European Union (EU) and wished to leave it.
Meanwhile, the Croatians had signed to enter the EU, becoming official Mid 2013. Yet, the Germans said that the EU was not working
The Croatians were very well educated, it was common for a lawyer or other highly qualified person to be driving a taxi or working in a bar (our guide was a Latin and French Professor). The work opportunities were not available to them. A taxi driver told us he worked 12 hour days to earn 30,000 Kuna a month (around A$600) and rent for his apartment was 18,000/month (more than half his earnings). He believed he would never be able to afford to own a car, let alone a house.
Whilst the economic times were getting more difficult, the bars, restaurants and cafes were still overflowing. People were taking vacations, seeing new sights, hadn't forgotten how to laugh and appeared happy. 500ml cans of beer could be purchased for 35 cents and 50% Smernoff Vodka, (1 litre bottle) for around $10, we're sure this helps with the happiness barometer. He he he ha ha ha - burp.
The Australian couple on our tour travelled frequently and on a budget. Jim liked to hike solo. He had taken 6 weeks to walk the Bibbulmun Track in Australia and had also completed a number of Catholic Pilgrimages through Europe. Last year he had walked from Spain, through France to Rome
We made a call back home. All OK at Bill's parents, but Alo's Mum's getting a tad confused with 80 not being 18. She was standing on a chair to get a heater from the back of a cupboard and fell. Thankfully the local doctor knows of her folks dogged determination to remain independent (not to mention the good old Aussie spirit of 'she'll be right mate') and makes home visits. The doctor insisted an ambulance be called. Alo's Mum was taken to hospital where it was found she had broken her hip. Our thoughts and wishes are with her to make a speedy recovery.
We would have liked to stay in Croatia longer, but continued as far as Split then decided to split and head for Greece.