Cities / Towns Visited: 59
Countries Visited: 16
Steps Taken Today: 26,415
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,078,568
Our last full day in Dubrovnik involved both another early morning, and not being in Dubrovnik at all. Thus we rose, briskly downed some breakfast and scurried off to the docks to catch our ferry. Today we were headed to Mljet, another of the many Croatian islands, but this one was different in that the majority of its surface is taken up by a national park, at the centre of which are two lakes.
Another rather stuffy and nausea inducing ferry ride brought us to its shores. and we alighted. Initially we had intended to hire bikes for the day to ride around the lakes, but as the bike hire was quite pricey, and the entrance fee to the national park was also costly, we decided against it. Besides, the entrance fee included a shuttle bus down to the lakeside, as well as a free boat ride out to the island in the lake, and we reasoned the island, and a little walking around the lake would suffice at keeping us occupied until our return trip.
Jumping off the bus we found ourselves beside a rather picturesque azure blue lake, which we would later discover is quite unique in that it is actually filled with saltwater which became landlocked and thus formed this beautiful isolated body of water. Across the rather vast distance, it was possible to make out a church spire on the small island just off the far shore, and hopping onto the awaiting small boat we made our journey towards it.
Much like that at Krka National Park, the Benedictine monks had chosen this secluded and pristine spot to build a monastery many centuries ago. Stepping onto the island it was easy to see why they selected this location for quiet prayer and reflection. The light stone walls offer a perfect canvas to highlight the lush green foliage surrounding the monastery, and the crystal clear waters which encircle it. We took a moment to step inside the small chapel and admire the simple beauty of its scantily decorated space, offset by a number of side altars displaying beautiful biblical paintings, and a few feature stained glass windows. The way the light shone down from the skylight onto the main altar, and the stunning scene framed by its old wooden door made this humble space seem closer to God than many of the larger, more ornate cathedrals.
We took a little time to wander the circumference of this tiny spit of land, admiring its stone ruins both Roman, and more recent. It’s amazing to think this little slice of paradise has been within human knowledge for millennia, and yet it sits here so little disturbed by human hands. A couple of small single room chapels, a pair of handsome donkeys, and a small fenced off cemetery for the monks, all sit seamlessly amongst the native pines and other hardy plants braving the harsh summer sun.
Another short boat ride found us back on the main shore, and off we headed, down the rather rocky and overgrown dirt track that weaves its way along the bank of the large lake towards the inspiringly named ‘small lake’. Passing more than a few bathers claiming the many secluded swim spots, and walking through a tiny lakeside town (by town I of course mean a couple of shops and a few houses), we eventually found ourselves amongst the throng of locals and tourists alike setting their bikes aside and alternating between eating ice cream, sunbathing, and wallowing in the cool waters to escape the oppressive heat. We had no intention of joining them in their noble endeavours, and thus reasoned we had enough time to walk the entire way around this substantially smaller lake, before needing to meander back to catch our ferry home, or risk being stuck on the island overnight.
The walk was rather arduous, and sweat inducing, but the picture perfect view over the water, and the soft rustle of the trees helped to soothe any associated agitation. Pausing briefly to relax in the shade when we finished the circuit, we then headed back from whence we came. Arriving back at the lakeside visitor centre, we discovered we had more time left than we had expected; I swear estimated walk times are for people sauntering at some inperceivably slow pace. We decided that instead of waiting mindlessly for the bus for forty minutes, we would simply walk back along the more scenic track.
We were soon to find that the aforementioned track was anything but well signed. With a fair amount of guessing, and a little help from Google and GPS we eventually made it back. I swear the people who make walking trails really need to test them with people who don’t know their way around, because I can guarantee you they would be instructed to add a lot more signs. If your track comes to a fork or an intersection, I know it’s hard to believe, but you need to instruct people which way to go. You know, unless tourists getting lost and mindlessly wandering in your national park until death offers them sweet release from their nightmare is what you’re going for.
With a little time to spare we sat beside a bike hire shack and ate our snacks while people watching a family (I’m talking extended family; like two brothers, their wives and children, and their parents) which had just been dropped off on shore from their cruise ship, trying to organise themselves and decide whether or not to hire bikes as they only had a few hours before the national park closed for the day. After realising that they couldn’t hire motor scooters and take them into the protected nature reserve (surprising, I know), they eventually, and after much deliberation and squabbling, decided half of them would get bikes, and the rest would just take the shuttle bus and do some walking. To be honest, it was almost more tiring watching them sort themselves out than all of our walking combined.
Eventually our ferry arrived and the trip home went much the same as our trip back from Korčula. Our night in saw us relaxing on the bed watching Croatia play and win in the semi-finals of the World Cup. The most amusing part of course being going outside after the siren went and hearing the roar of the city celebrating their first entrance into the finals in this highly sought after championship. We may not follow the sport, but it was hard not to root for them, having spent the last couple of weeks amongst their friendly people and immersed in their beautiful country.
As I reviewed our time in Croatia it was with much joy. I hadnt known what to expect on coming here, and although much of our journey had seen us swanning around amongst the throngs of other English speaking travellers, I personally understood much more of this country and its people than I had when I arrived. It’s easy to think that this country is doing incredibly well, but if you bother to look beneath the surface, go a few streets back from the shiny front of the tourist centres and major cities, and talk to the locals who work here, you will see that this is still a nation struggling with the damage caused by a war more than two decades ago. Sure the coastal towns make money in the high season, capitalising on the expendable incomes of we who live in more fortunate locations; but come the winter, these people are often barely scraping together enough money to survive, let alone thrive. Their economy is built on a fickle industry, and an picturesque environment which risks being damaged by the high influx of tourists. It’s not hard to understand why so many of their citizens are seeking opportunities in foreign lands, often much to the disdain and annoyance of the privileged locals of first world countries who would rather shut their borders to those who simply seek a better life. Sure immigration is a delicate balance between allowing those in need in, and protecting the infrastructure and security of the host nation, but I honestly believe that the anti-immigration nuts, who want to kick them all out because they get all of their information from fear mongering media and politicians, would benefit from visiting the places these immigrants are coming from, and talking to them about why it is they are searching for a new home to begin with. People generally do not wish to completely uproot their whole lives without on a whim, or without a decent reason. If you live in a country to which those in danger, or struggling, would dare to ask for asylum or aid take a moment to truly consider their position. Not everyone has the same security and privilege as you; have a little empathy.