Leaving Romania was a little sad but we still had more adventures planned. Next on the list was Croatia and it’s national parks but to get there we had to leave the EU and drive across Serbia. We had heard a few bad things about border crossings out of the EU, in particular long waiting times and bribes. We arrived at one of the minor border points early in the morning and had our passports and car documents ready. The only disconcerting part was the man without a uniform who asked to see into Trevor and asked us if we had any drugs. Thankfully the border crossings and drive across Serbia were pretty straight forward and we made it to Croatia.
Our first town in Croatia was the town of Vukovar, which is where the Seige of Vukovar took place when Croats were fighting for their independance. As we drove into town it was obvious that heavy artillery had been used by the Serbs in fight for Vukovar. The most astonishing fact in this seige was that ordinary Croats held the Serbs at bay for 3 months before they were overcome and many of the them murdered. The town was almost entirely demolished but what was left standing is still spattered by bulllet holes including the towns huge water tower. We were particularly shocked by how recently the wars of independance in this area of Europe were, since we don’t learn the history of these nations in either the UK or Germany. There isn’t much more to do in the town except visiting memorials or a museum but it’s a reminder to everyone that events like these should not be repeated.
Moving on we finally reached our destination of Kopački rit, a national park on the Western border of Croatia. We visited the visitor centre and booked the 9am small boat tour for the next day for just 190 Kuna including 2 Coca-colas thanks to a promotion. The park consists of a large marshy area around the Danube which is home to birds, frogs, snakes, wild pigs, jackals and deer. The area floods when the Danube rises and creates a fantastic habitat for water birds and a great stopover for migratory species. Following a recommendation from the lovely people at the visitor centre we went to a local restuarant to try the local specialities. We ordered a fish platter which included pike, cat fish, carp and rather dubiously frogs legs, which we were assured by the waiter were the best part. Well the pike and cat fish were pretty tasty for fresh water fish, even Zoë liked them. The carp was decidely muddy in flavour and as for the frogs legs they are something we won’t be having again. A frog pelvis with two legs attached and deep fried isn’t anywhere as tasty as the waiter promised, but the restuarant cat loved them.
At 9am the next morning, we went to catch our boat tour. We walked along the board walk which was defintely lacking water and started to worry that there wouldn’t be any water for the boat to float on. We left the boardwalk and climbed over the dyke flood barrier to find 4 boats floating on a large lake. Three of these boats were large tour boats and one was our small 5 seater complete with tour guide and two park wardens. Normally there are two accesible channels but with such low water levels only one was open for boats. Setting off on our tour was quite exciting, we were immediatley in a world full of cormorants, herons, little egrets and greater egrets. As we drove along the channel we came across river turtles, ducks and a huge number of white tailed eagles. We also saw kingfishers, night herons and a sadly deceased wild pig. It was great being on the water speeding along and racing herons and egrets. The only disappointment was the the noise of the boat engine scared off a lot of the birds. We definitely recommend the first private tour of the day since we saw so many fabulous birds, but if you do visit, call up before and check the water levels.
With temperatures in central Croatia hitting 40 degrees Celcius every day it was hard to do very much after about 10am, so we decided to visit a local swimming pool to cool off and relax for the rest of the day. We had hoped to spend longer in the national park, but without much water there isn’t much to do. Instead, the next day we drove onto Ljonske Polje, a national park south of Zagreb which promised kayaking, cycling and many birds online. Already knowing we weren’t visting at the best time of year we expected to see fewer birds but still be able to enjoy the wooden villages and outdoor pursuits. We visited the national park office and were given hope that there were still birds at the hide and we could still go kayaking so we bought a 2-5 day ticket costing 60 Kuna each and set off in search of a campsite. We stopped at Plesmo where the least recommended campsite was and got a bargain stay for 10€ for a night but had to share the facilities with 15 very messy Belgian scouts.
We got up early to visit the bird hide which promised a colony of herons and the only population of European Spoonbills that nest on an ox-bow lake. At the hide we climbed the stairs, opened the windows and found a beautiful purple heron preening right in front of us. The spoonbills were a little less forthcoming but made a few flights across the lake to their feeding sites although we are sure they were trying to hide amongst the large number of egrets too-ing and fro-ing. Unfortunatley a noisy Swiss family turned up and reduced our chances of spotting much more; still not sure why you would bring a very young child to a quiet place. After a late breakfast we drove on to check out the kayaking lake. Disappointingly it was a stagnant green ox-bow lake which would be full of mosquitoes but little else so we gave it a miss. At the next visitor centre we got a map of a 4km walk to see the landscape, dyke and local farm animals. We completed the walk but it was far to hot and pretty uninspiring walking between fields of maize.
Our plans were pretty flexible from here so we decided to leave the centre of Croatia to bake on its own and drive to the coast. Since the last journey on a motorway cost over €16 we opted for the scenic and budget route to Istria. Four hours of driving later we got to our campsite in Moscenika Draga, a seaside town on the eastern side of Istria. We knew this area was going to be expensive for campsites but we felt we needed some time to cool down and relax for a few days. We are totally hopeless at doing nothing but we decided to try it anyway. Find out whether we were successful or not in our next post…