Croatia is a standout
My wife and I like to travel to different places and are always looking for travel bargains. Croatia was a wonderful trip to a destination that will only become more popular as war memories recede.
We actually traveled through five countries, beginning and ending our trip in Venice. In addition to Italy, the other four countries, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Montenegro are all part of the former Yugoslavia. While we have wonderful memories from the whole trip, Croatia is a standout.
Crossing the border into Croatia gave insight into the country. The border guards were not looking for illegal people so much as illegal produce. The country bans genetically engineered food. Clean living permeates society. The countryside is clean, the Adriatic coast is clean, the water is clear and the skies unpolluted.
We started on the Istrian Peninsula, the western side of the Adriatic. Some towns, like Opatija, are relatively new (1870s), built for Venetian tourism. Others, like Pula, are ancient Roman towns. Pula has an oval coliseum that is the third largest and most complete in the world. There is an interesting mix of old and new. Past a Roman gate on the walking street, we saw a ship in the harbor being built for Japan to transport 7,000 automobiles at a time, most likely to the US market.
Before our trip, my image of Croatia was of buildings with red tiled roofs in walled cities clinging to the mountainous Dalmatian coast. That describes Dubrovnik. Walking through the city gate is like stepping back in time. Dubrovnik has a long history as a free city, buying its freedom through annual tributes. Its wealth came from salt, a valuable commodity in the Middle Ages. It is ironic that the city walls were never used to defend against invaders, until the 1991-92 siege of Dubrovnik during the break up of Yugoslavia. Just outside the wall, a wonderful shop sells handicrafts made by war refugees.
We visited many wonderful walled towns, but the natural beauty of Plitvice Lakes National Park is worth a brief mention. The park has spectacular waterfalls along a string of terraced lakes formed by calcium-rich deposits. Wooden walkways cross the fast flowing river barely above the surface, often at the edge of these waterfalls. While visited by over 750,000 tourists a year, the park road is only open for brief periods between land mine sweeping. Near the border with Bosnia, this was at the front lines of the war.
Created beauty, natural beauty and the stark reality of war that is Croatia.
by Jon Durbin
Originaly published on www.statesman.com