Starigrad-Paklenica, Croatia

It’s like Greece but different.

I yet again started a tour without having anything planned. In fact I hadn’t even left the UK before making a hash of travelling. I have passed through airport security many, many, many times in my life and I take great pride in being organised and passing through the scanners in a fast and hassle free manner. However, on this occasion at Gatwick airport I had joined the flock of numpties that can’t interpret signs and hold the job up, as I passed through the body scanner and realised I had forgotten to take my laptop out of my bag. Oh how the security guy took great pleasure in emptying my backpack and swabbing everything for explosives before rescanning the laptop. I obviously have an excuse for my innocent mistake! There were no queues for the scanners and so I walked straight up without having time to think what I had to do. I also glanced at a notice that told passengers to put their smart phones in their bags and so I automatically shoved everything in my backpack which over-rode the memory to remove my laptop. Also, flying from Saudi direct to London at the moment requires passengers not to carry any electronic item larger than a smart phone in their hand luggage and all other electronic equipment must go in the hold. Easy jet, who I was flying with to Croatia demanded that all electronic equipment must be in your hand luggage and not go in the hold!!?? No wonder people get tied up in knots.

My trip to Croatia was driven as much by the activities on offer as the destination. I had heard great things about the country but had no idea what to expect. As it turns out it, it is a lot like Greece which isn’t too surprising because Greece is just down the road. It is therefore very rocky, bushy, sunny and, poor looking! But on saying that Croatia is definitely experiencing some good times right now which could be seen from the large shiny new highway that took us ninety minutes north form Split airport to Starigrad on the edge of Paklencia national park which would be our home for the next seven days. The highway was empty and either side of it was a rocky landscape with a mountain range looming on the horizon. On arrival in Starigrad we discovered a simple but charming little town which stretched along the coast with the Paklencia National Park towering over her from behind. It could be described as a typical Mediterranean town. Old stone houses scattered around falling to bits, terracotta roofs, new concrete buildings, restaurants dotted around that all appeared to have the same menu outside, offering pizza and pasta. The charm these places have to offer though is driven by the pure peace and quiet of it all. Sat outside of the apartment sipping on cheap, good, cold beer, listening to the birds sing and a rooster crowing in the distance. Any restaurant you walk into offers simple, decent food and every local is super friendly with no one trying to drag you in through the door. Everything happens at a slow pace which, is a fantastic thing.

The first order of business was a twenty kilometre hike around one of the canyons in the national park which took us up 850 meters. The park isn’t the biggest or most spectacular in the world but it was nonetheless stunning, offering wonderful hiking trails that were wild and not over used. The first part of the hike was spent trekking up, up, up before we popped out of the trees and things levelled out a bit. Our motivation was the promise of goulash at one of the mountain huts for lunch and we were rewarded handsomely on our arrival. The locals love a shot of schnapps at any time of day and our lunch time host had the shots lined up as soon as he saw us walking up the hill towards his hut. Several shots later we were sat at the table with bottles of beer looking out across a stunning valley awaiting the goulash. There is nothing romantic in the word goulash but what got served up was delicious. Bread, pasta and plenty of meaty goulash. What more could a man possibly need when starving after a good morning hike. My worry was that we would run out but, after my fourth helping that worry soon diminished! After lunch we hiked downhill into the canyon and headed on out back into town passing a little restaurant that looked abandoned on first appearances. On further inspection we discovered a waiter who was more than happy to serve us all cold beers, sat out on some wooden decking under some trees enjoying the late afternoon sun. It would appear this is yet again another group that enjoy working hard and equally enjoy a cheeky beer along the way. Perfect!

The following day was spent rafting down Europe’s second largest gorge. Rafting has always been hit and miss with me but I have come to just accept that not every river will be like the river Nile with adrenaline fuelled grade four and five rapids. I have learnt to just enjoy being on the water bobbing over little baby rapids and enjoying the scenery which, apart from a three meter waterfall that we went over, was what the rafting was all about this time. The plate full of bbq meat, french fries, salad, fresh bread and, cold beer for lunch afterwards well and truly added to the day!

The highlight for me so far has most definitely been the mountain biking. Our guide did the usual thing of looking at me, telling me he had a special piece of equipment for tall lanky people, and then disappearing into the backroom to fetch, on this occasion a mountain bike which, in all honesty looked like any other mountain bike! We kicked off by heading up a steep ass hill out of town, stopping at a viewing point offering great photos of the town below and the bay on which it sits. Speeding back down hill we passed old ruined villas, over grown with trees while trying to avoid the odd suicidal squirrel that chose to ran in front of the bikes. Heading down into the national park we turned off the paved roads and went off road, bouncing up and down stoney tracks, holding on desperately not trying to fall off. The tracks narrowed to the width of the bike at times, flanked by thorny bushes and stone walls, dropping down into dry river beds and zig zagging up steep stoney tracks. It was wicked fun! Eventually we popped out by the sea, parked up and took a dip to cool off. It was a moment of contrasts. I was bloody roasting, my t-shirt dripping in sweat, the sea was bloody freezing, I got a bit of sun burn on my back but all the while we were watching a massive thunderstorm unfold over the mountains in front of us, resembling the same kind of views as that of Mordor.

So far this trip has been the most relaxing, adventurous trip I have done to date! The perfect balance of beer and sleep, exercise and rest. Bring on the second half.

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