Rodent Currency? Hmmmm

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Flag of Croatia  , Splitsko-Dalmatinska,
Monday, May 7, 2012

North Croatia was like a wasteland, a moonscape terrane. It was rocky with sparse vegetation. Some areas had no vegetation whatsoever. The sun was shining, the days warm, the towns looked near deserted and sleepy. Quiet, placid, mysterious. We followed the coastline, pausing at Bakar. We sat outdoors and ate pizza. Ariel took Bill and Alo's photo. There appeared a full moon in the picture and yet there was no moon that night. There was no moon in any other photos we took - very spooky - do-do do-do.
We sat and had wine with a German couple on their annual vacation. They had great difficulty grasping our lifestyle. Not having a home base, close to family and lifelong friends seemed most disconcerting to them. How did it make us feel not to have a place of belonging, comfort and security? We admitted to times of loneliness and missing our loved ones but also believe the moments of being freed from the chains of domesticity gave way to the thrills of unknown experiences and the joy of adventure.

We wondered steadily south, along the coast road. Glittering still bays to our right, sheer craggy highlands to our left. On occasion we would stop for a swim, a stroll, or to lie and soak up the rays of the sun. At Karlobag we met Sergije, a local artist. He invited us to view his garden he was building it in the relic grounds of a 15th century fortress. 

That evening, we sat on Sergije's balcony as a large drop of sun lingered on the ocean before us and then dripped over the edge of the world and was gone. Drinking Plumb Brandy graciously, whilst tantalized by his Croatian music, we noticed an intense light hung here and there on the foliage of the garden squares, betwixt the stone walls of the fortress. Twilight began to fall, the sky turned a blaze of colour, oranges, pearly pinks, copper and peach... and then dusky purple settled in, littering the sky above with tiny silver stars.

In the morning we sat on the rocks at the shoreline and drank tea. A yacht set sail and we watched it until it was a mere spec on the distant horizon. We thought of our dear friends Mark, Talia, Emily and Tobey and contemplated where they sailed. Our pace had finally mellowed and we enjoyed its tranquility. Time to reflect, ponder, relax.

From Zada we took a ketch voyage, circling the islands of Pag, Dugi Otok, Uglijan, Pasmam and many other smaller islands. We had a spell at a salt lake, a quick dip and then leisurely floated back to Zadar. The weather was sublime, 29 degrees, beaming, sunny and hushed.  

The following day we took a jaunt to Plitvicka Lakes, the largest of Croatia's National Parks. The bus odyssey to the park was hairy, scary. The wind was so strong it rocked the bus sideways as it wound its way around the mountains. The driver slowed to a crawl. The Aussie couple sitting behind us were glad to have their passports with them, should we have been blown over the brink they would be easily identified. The conditions continued to deteriorate and it started to snow. Part of the road was closed as it was considered to dangerous to traverse. We were happy to have arrived late, but safely.  

We trekked our way along the wooden footpaths through the Park in the rain. The Lakes are unique due to the sedimentation of calcium carbonate. Over time it fossilizes tree branches and the like that fall into its depths. 75 endemic plants had been identified, these were species that are not found anywhere else in the world. The water was clear, pure and on a hot day it would be most inviting, but it is forbidden to swim. In the high season more than 30,000 visit the Park each day.

At lunch we listened to a German couple disgruntled about the Greeks. They didn't see why Germany should continue to help them. Their view was that the Greeks were too lavish and spent way beyond their means. In Greece, many professions were entitled to a retirement pension at the age of 50. There was talk that the Greeks were sick of being told what to do by the European Union (EU) and wished to leave it.  

Meanwhile, the Croatians had signed to enter the EU, becoming official Mid 2013. Yet, the German man said that the EU was not working. It would be impossible to ever unite Europe. So many countries with 27 different languages, this barrier alone caused consternation. Agreements must be translated into every language, which was tedious. Learning English, as the international language was beneficial. However, this also had its drawbacks. The French, he claimed, were too proud to learn and the Turkish simply created their own regions within countries and lived by their own rules, refusing to integrate at all.  

The Croatians were very well educated, it was common for a lawyer or other highly qualified person to be driving a taxi or working in a bar (our guide was a Latin and French Professor). The work opportunities were not available to them. A taxi driver told us he worked 12 hour days to earn 30,000 Kuna a month (around A$600) and rent for his apartment was 18,000/month (more than half his earnings). He believed he would never be able to afford to own a car, let alone a house.

Interestingly, we'd learnt that the Croatian currency, the 'Kuna', is actually a Croatian word for a ferret-like little bastard prized for it's luxurious fur.  As we'd been told the Croatian's were taking steps to join the Euro, it's likely this fuzzy little dude won't be the term for Croatian currency furever. Har har har!! 
Whilst the economic times were getting more difficult, the bars, restaurants and cafes were still overflowing. People were taking vacations, seeing new sights, hadn't forgotten how to laugh and appeared happy.  500ml cans of beer could be purchased for 35 cents and 50% Smernoff Vodka, (1 litre bottle) for around $10, we're sure this helps with the happiness barometer.  He he he ha ha ha - burp. 

The Australian couple on our tour travelled frequently and on a budget. Jim liked to hike solo. He had taken 6 weeks to walk the Bibbulmun Track in Australia and had also completed a number of Catholic Pilgrimages in Europe. The year prior he had walked from Spain, through France to Rome. For this the Pope resolved him of all his sins and issued him a passport guaranteeing his entry to heaven - that sounds too easy. They were used to travelling light. The total weight of their backpacks was only 8kgs each - amazing? Alo can't see how this could be possible even for a weekend, hairdryer and curlers alone weigh that much, not to mention shoes he he he.

We made a call back home. All OK at Bill's parents, but Alo's Mum's getting a tad confused with 80 not being 18. She was standing on a chair to get a heater from the back of a cupboard and fell. Thankfully the local doctor knows of her folks dogged determination to remain independent (not to mention the good old Aussie spirit of 'she'll be right mate') and makes home visits. The doctor insisted an ambulance be called. Alo's Mum was taken to hospital where it was found she had broken her hip. Our thoughts and well wishes were with her to make a speedy recovery.
We would have liked to stay in Croatia longer, but continued as far as Split then decided to split and head for Greece.

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