Channeling My Inner Leslie Knope [National Parks of Croatia]

I think the best compliment I’ve ever received was being compared to Amy Poehler, in both looks and, more importantly, personality. I can’t even pretend that I care about the national park systems as much as her Parks & Rec character Leslie Knope, because really who could rival that passion? But there is no doubting that nature is lit.

Plitvice Lakes (Plitvička Jezera) National Parks has been on my wish list for far too long – something like eight years. It didn’t make logistical sense to do so the first time I visited Croatia, plus it was winter, so it remained an empty checkbox until recently. Who knew it’d be good enough to go to twice?

And it’s like “Oh, hey! Look how pretty I am!”

The first time we made the day trip from Split while our friend Will was visiting. It was early fall so a #basic must… Sadly they weren’t selling PSLs to really lean into the latte hiker persona. But alas, it was still a white girl heaven! Or if you’re like me, you may spend as much time gawking at the droves of adorable old people (makes sense that the easy-going boardwalk and trail system draws a solid senior crowd.)

We started out the day picking up a rental car – with four of us, it was cheaper and faster than buying individual bus tickets, though that would be a good option for solo or paired travelers. The rental agent laughed at us when we said we were making the six hour, round-trip drive in a day, which made sense once we found out we had to be back by 6pm rather than 8 like the internet reservation said. A little salty about the misrepresentation but such is life.

We arrived around noon and took longer than you would think to figure out the intermingled trails, eventually choosing one we could get through with the time alotted. None of us were outfitted to run so that meant we could only see the lower lakes. If you’re just ‘nature liker’ like Chris, that’s enough to get the gist of the crystal clear lakes, waterfalls, and enjoy a leisurely boat ride.

This was one of those things that I’d maybe romanticized a bit more than necessary having waited so long to see it so I wasn’t satiated with just half. Another good Chris analogy: when it comes to cookies or running, if there’s more to be had, he’s going to go the distance. That said, we put the upper lakes back on the list for the impending road trip, and I’m glad we did.

Fall colors!

Minus another comical motorcycle tipover, which gave all the nice parking staff a panic, it was quite a lovely day. In my humbly biased opinion, the upper lakes were prettier (home to the iconic waterfall you’re likely to recognize the park by.) The couples weeks’ wait gave the leaves more time to do their fall thing, so my favorite color (yellow) was a lot more prevalent. AND the sun managed to burn off much of the cloud cover we arrived to over the four-ish hours we spent meandering!

Krka National Park was another stop on our tour. I’d liken it to something like Plitvice’s younger sibling; You can tell they’re related by the similarities in their natural beauty, but in most aspects, Krka is simply smaller. I should note, the main fall is nothing to scoff at, but it only took about an hour and a half to make our way around the loop, including waiting out a very serious instgrammer’s selfie shoot 🙃

Never said younger siblings didn’t have some amazing things up their sleeves.

Our third and final park of the weekend was quite the eyebrow raiser. When we were researching where to go, I spotted an island (aka Brijuni National Park) off the Istrian coast touting fossilized dinosaur footprints. The story about how I came to love dinosaurs runs almost two decades deep & far too long for this post, but the history meant I was pretty much obligated to go.

We were surrounded by families with small children as we waited to board the ferry out of Fazana. This was the first confirmation of the likely underwhelming nature of this island. Second was the choo choo train waiting at port to cart people to the “dinosaur park” and “safari.” We came to find out the island was a previous dictator’s summer getaway, so at least it was funny to be a poor all over his land.

Craving physical activity before and after lots of sitting, caused us to accidentally hoof it in some unpleasant heat along longest route, through a golf course, to one of a few spots you could see the fossils. If the dinosaur park was hilariously over-named (it had one dinosaur statue and a couple miniscule signs accompanying the footprints), at least the safari was okay.

Sorry, no banana for scale. Confirmed, dinosaur size!

Unlike most zoos, low bar I know, the animals had a decent amount of area to roam! The ultimate prize for the day was that the zoo had one of my favorite animals – an elephant!! If we weren’t trying to catch the next ferry back, I would have remained enthralled watching it for hours.

Outside of the parks, I must note that driving through idyllic little Croatian villages, and winding along the coast was absolutely beautiful. The necessity of holding onto the motorcycle for dear life kept me from taking any pics of one of the more beautiful sunsets in recent memory. Use your imagination – pink cotton candy clouds strewn across the sky above slate blue mountain peaks, all reflecting off the calm Adriatic! Maybe one day I’ll have the skill to paint from memory – this would be one view I’d attempt to recreate.

Until next time, Croatia!!
(July 2022, if you’re wondering)

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