“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”Confucius
The past week has been packed with fulfilled dreams, unimaginable beauty, and a plethora of cats. I have a whole lot to share, so buckle in for a long ride.
Last Wednesday we packed up Gesa’s little car and set off for a long road trip. We left Ostrava around 4 pm and headed south through Slovakia and into Hungary. As we drove through the farm land, we saw many deer grazing in the fields. Nearly every field had at least one, and I loved watching for them. I have greatly missed the deer and elk in Arizona. We also saw three foxes, one of which stayed right beside the road and looked at us as we stopped next to it. I have never seen more than a fleeting glance of a fox before, so it was very fun to watch it for a moment. We drove for over six hours and eventually reached the coast of Lake Balaton in Hungary.
We had decided not to book an accommodation in advance because we were not sure how long we would want to drive. We had several hostels in mind that we could find beds in which to sleep. However, what we did not consider is that April is still considered “off-season” for the lakeside villages and thus none of the hostels were open. It was nearly one in the morning and we were driving through tiny villages that showed no sign of life. We finally stumbled upon a small hotel with one light on out front. Unfortunately, the door was locked and there were no people inside. There was, however, a phone number. We called and reached a Hungarian lady who didn’t speak any English. Luckily she knew a little German so Gesa was able to communicate with her. She said she was on her way and her colleague came out of the building to take us inside. We quickly learned they only accepted cash, and only Hungarian forints at that. So we had to make a trip to the atm. After filling out paperwork and paying, we finally were led to our room, and before saying goodnight, the lady offered us coffee, and when we declined, she offered us Schnapps instead.
After a short night’s sleep, we woke and drove to Keszthely, a village directly on the edge of the lake. We were very hungry, so we walked around the shore in search of a café. Well, apparently when they say “off-season”, they mean it, and nothing is open. We walked for a long time and asked some locals for directions, but no one could tell us a nearby place that would be open. We eventually saw a small shop with a picture of bread on the window and we excitedly went inside. It was a magnificent Hungarian bakery full of different breads and pastries. We picked out at least 15 different items and went outside where we sat on a bench and ate to our hearts’ content.
We toured the village for a short while, where there was a palace and a church worth visiting. We then crawled back into the car and set off for Zagreb, Croatia, where we spent part of the afternoon. We mostly just wandered the streets and went wherever they took us. We weaved through the city and appreciated the greenness of everything. There were vines, trees, and plants everywhere, which breathed life into the city. We visited the cathedral and several other places before getting dinner and heading further south. We arrived at our small apartment on the edge of Plitvice National Park and settled in for the night. Again, upon arrival, our host offered us Schnapps.
We woke early the next day to be at Plitvice in time for opening. When we arrived at the park, we were told their online system was down and they couldn’t sell tickets, so no one could enter the park. After a small panic attack and several deep breaths, we went to the back of the line and waited until the system rebooted. Over an hour later, with tickets in hand, we entered the park and shook off our frustrations from the morning.
Immediately the scenery took my breath away. Imagine being surrounded by vibrant turquoise lakes, bright green foliage, and cascading waterfalls. The sun was shining and everything was sparkling in the beams of light and and dancing in the breeze.
We very slowly made our way along the path, taking in everything we could. There are few words to describe what it was like there, but I’ll do my best and then you will just have to look at pictures and the video below to get an idea of how incredible everything was.
The wooden path through the park was well maintained and quite impressive. It was sitting just above the water, and there was often water raging below my feet. It provided the opportunity for visitors to truly see the magnificence of the area by walking across the water, beside the waterfalls, and through the forests. Around every turn was something new and astounding, and my heart swelled with joy.
The never-ending waterfalls were not only beautiful by sight, but for all the senses. The sound of raging water drowned out all other noise and made everything both peaceful and impressive. The spray of water that came from the waterfalls cooled my skin in the warm sun and was very refreshing. The world smelled so fresh and pure, exactly as nature should. Everything was perfect.
We were very pleased by the lack of tourists, because we knew it is a very popular destination. I guess we were there early enough in the year to avoid the crowds because it was peaceful and calm the whole day. We also stepped off the typical path onto a hiking trail for a few hours, during which we never saw another person. It gave us a different view of the area and let us see more of the park.
After an entire day in one of the most spectacular places I have ever been, we were exhausted, but headed to our next accommodation. We drove two and a half hours and crossed a bridge onto the island of Krk where we found our next place. It was in a small village on the shore of the Adriatic Sea (part of the Mediterranean). We were, again, offered Schnapps.
The next morning, after a breakfast on the balcony overlooking the sea, we went for a swim. The water was cold, but not terribly so. After the initial shock I was able to swim for a long time before deciding to get out. It was amazing because it was salt water but there were no waves, so I was very buoyant and just floated around, looking up at the sky and the surrounding mountains.
I then set up the hammock (of course) and enjoyed laying in it for a while. Once I was dry and warm, we moved along to explore more of the island. We headed into the largest city, also called Krk. There we got lunch at an amazing little restaurant that served homemade pasta with fresh shrimp. After lunch we were given free Schnapps as well. Apparently Schnapps are a quite important in southern Europe. We then toured around the city for a bit and enjoyed the small, curvy streets, the old town walls, and the views of the sea.
After some ice cream (which, by the way, is “zmrzlina” in Czech) we drove down the coast to the southern part of the island. While most of the island was very lush and green, we found a rocky and mountainous area to go for a short walk. The hills around us were covered in sheep that constantly baaa-ed at us while we walked. We came across the ruins of an old church overlooking the sea and many small stone walls we believe must be the foundation from an old village.
We made it to a finger of land stretching out into the sea and went to the end where there was a great view of the upcoming sunset and a small cove for swimming. I went down to the beach and went running into the water. Only after being totally submerged did I realize there was an abundance of urchins all over the rocks beneath me. Thank goodness I was wearing my Chacos or I would have been in a lot of pain. I swam for a bit, but this area of the sea was colder, so I didn’t stay in terribly long. I did climb up onto some offshore rocks and experienced the magnificence of being a mermaid for a while.
I returned to shore and climbed back up onto the rocks for the sunset over the sea. It was quite breath-taking and was a lovely end to the day.
The following morning I woke to watch the sunrise from the balcony, but it was very disappointing and was not anything special, so I returned to sleep for a while. Then we drove north to Slovenia where we went to a the home of a friend of Gesa’s, named Teja. Teja’s family owns a farm in a village of 150 people, where they raise cattle and chickens, and have a large garden. Their farm is almost self-sustaining, with them consuming vegetables, eggs, beef, meat, and even alcohol they grow and create themselves.
A short distance away they also have a vineyard where they grow grapes and have a wine house where they turn them into wine. We tasted a lot of really good homemade wine. One of the specialties in Slovenia is a wine made from a mixture of red and white grapes and was very tasty. They also make their own Jagermeister, which requires 44 different herbs collected at different times throughout the year. They keep a calendar of when each is in season and go out in the surrounding areas to collect them. The Jagermeister was also delicious.
Because we arrived on Easter Sunday, Teja invited us to join her and her family for Easter lunch, which was incredibly kind of them. We ate a feast of traditional Slovenian food, including meats, salad, and vegetables (all from the farm). We also got several versions of a traditional sweet to taste. The entire meal was splendid and we had such a nice time with Teja’s family (who, by the way, don’t speak any English). Some of my best moments so far in Europe have been conversations with locals who speak little or no English, as well as meals prepared with love from friends’ families.
Teja took us to a fairly well-known place in her village where there is a thermal spring and a beautiful creek. The cold part of the creek rushes down a small waterfall and down past the thermal spring. The spring starts in the back of a large cave and runs out into a pool that is very popular for swimming.
I didn’t swim there, but I did cross the cold creek (in my Chacos) to take a look in the cave. Of course I then had to go into the cave, because caves are so heckin’ cool. I started just going in to my ankles, and then my thighs, and then I was belly deep in water. Using a headlamp I was able to walk to a high side about 50 yards into the cave. While walking I could hear the chatter (chirp-chirp-click-clickity-chirp) of bats. Upon nearing the small bank, I looked up and saw thousands of bats in a giant blob, some sleeping and some wiggling around. There were also some flying and others hanging alone but in the proximity of the blob. Not wanting to get rabies or another common bat disease, I ran away like a little scardy cat. I’m pretty sure I didn’t contract any bat disease, but I guess only time will tell. I also had a lot of contact with tick-infected grasses, so I may also die from tick bites. Stay tuned for updates.
The cave made me unexplainably happy and I loved exploring there. We then sat in the grass and soaked in the sun before heading back to the farm. We then had a tour of the farm and helped with a couple small tasks that they trusted us to not mess up. I spent time with the cows, who were much nicer than our cows. Teja and I discussed many aspects of raising cattle in our homes and learned about the differences in each other’s styles. I also fell completely in love with Mitsy, one of the cats. She was orphaned at only three days old and Teja raised her, so she is very affectionate and loves people. She spent many hours during those two days curled up in my arms with her face nuzzled into my hair. They also had an incredibly sweet German Shepard named Isha, with whom I also spent an extraordinary amount of time.
The next morning we went for a drive and a walk to a church positioned on the top of a hill. We got an outstanding view in every direction. I haven’t yet given Croatia or Slovenia they credit they deserve. Both countries are gorgeous. They both contain stunning forests, which were at their best for us because of the spring blooms. They both have large mountains and rolling hills. The farms are covered in green grass and beautiful yellow flowers (I believe from canola plants). The towns and villages are small and quaint. Every aspect of the countries was magnificent.
On our walk we passed several farms positioned high on the hill sides. I stopped to pet some horses over the fence. I reached over and they started walking toward me. Now, let me remind you that I am generally an intelligent person, but we all have our moments. It took not once, not twice, but three electrocutions before I realized I shouldn’t touch the top wire on the fence. I am not used to living with electric fences, and it was quite a shocking experience.
So we walked around and saw beauty on all sides. We then returned to the farm and went for a final short walk to a nearby creek where beavers live. There was quite a big wet-land area between us and the beavers, so we took the long way around. We made it to the creek and went for a short stroll while looking for beavers. We didn’t find any, but we did find the “beaver man” who essentially has taken it upon himself to live alongside the beavers to protect them from human development. Apparently, a few years back the private owners were considering selling the land to the government to create more houses, so he bought it and now spends his days studying and protecting them.
We decided we wanted to take the short route back to the farm and thought, “It’s probably not that wet and muddy”. Ha. We plowed through the waist high grass trying to step carefully on high spots and avoid getting too wet. Eventually we gave up and just began sloshing and slurping through the mud. Again, thank goodness for Chacos. However, the mud splashed and covered my pants completely. No matter, we laughed as we went deeper and deeper into the mud before emerging on the other side.
Alas, our time in Slovenia was coming to an end. After another delicious homemade meal (and cleaning off a lot with the hose), we said our goodbyes and I attempted to hide Mitsy in the car. We set forth on the long journey back and got back to Ostrava after midnight. It was one of the most amazing trips of my life and I will never forget it. I hope to return to Slovenia and Croatia again someday.
Other than Mitsy, I’ve had a lot of contact with cats this week. First, Gesa and I went to the cat café in Ostrava while we planned our trip. It’s a café…full of cats! I got coffee and chocolate cake and spent my time surrounded by cats. The cats have a plethora of places to climb, sleep, and play. They are allowed on the tables and counters. They make their rounds and spend time with all the people. It’s a dream come true.
Slovenia and Croatia also had a lot of cats. I chased and pet many of them. Also, this week I realized something interesting about myself. Well, actually, Gesa pointed it out to me. Every time I see a cat, I make this small, excited gasping sound. Every single time. It’s always exactly the same. And I never make that sound for any other reason. Gesa has now spent so much time with me that if we are walking and I make the sound, she immediately starts looking around for a cat. Even now that I know I’m doing it, I can’t stop.
Another week has come and gone, and I’m another week closer to coming home. This weekend I will be in Budapest and will have more to share when I get back to Ostrava. Much love to everyone.
Oh, and here is a video of my Croatian Vacation! Enjoy!