What joy to wake up to stunning sea views, waves lapping at your tyres (D forgot the handbrake again!) and to be able to breakfast outside in the sun taking it all in. We really are absolutely making the most of every opportunity now, with the ferry booked for our return to the UK in June.
But for now and today it was on our bikes bikes and over to sample one of this island Pag's most famous things - cheese. We have had Pag cheese, or Paski Sir as it's known locally, twice before as a starter and we both loved the texture, slightly nutty taste and very slight saltiness. It’s not a cheap date and as we cycled to the factory closest to our campsite and saw the small flocks of sheep and the terrain that they live on, we could understand why.
The island of Pag is also known for being quite moon like, with vast amount of rocks and boulders forming its foundations and therefore making farming very difficult. But as we know, sheep are as dumb as they look and are also very hardy and this cheese has been in production since the 18th Century and is rated as one of the world’s top 10 cheeses. Why? Production traditions are still more or less continued and you won’t see mass production, the flocks are small in numbers and the sheep are much smaller in size perhaps due to the conditions.
Another contributing factor is apparently due to their salty diet caused by the islands famous Bora wind which is strong, dry and covers the vegetation in salt dust when it dries after tumbling down to the sea. Most of the plants that do survive these harsh conditions are aromatic (lots of sage) as well again giving more flavour to the sheep’s milk.
We spent a pleasant few hours in the factory and then having a lovely chat with a local ‘lass’ who worked in another cheese shop and gave us the full history, her father owning a flock of the Pag sheep so therefore first-hand knowledge. It’s lovely to hear these stories especially when told so passionately and we came away armed with a good stock of the cheese, plus 2 little china sheep as well, just to add to our collection (and they say sheep are dumb!!)
It was with difficulty that we left our lovely little seaside spot and the island of Pag but onward we must go and this time inland to one of the islands oldest national parks - Piltvice Lakes.
The journey after our short but expensive ferry hop was the norm with me driving when crossing over a mountain range with cries of “OMG! Don’t look down!” “Oh God I’m going to die” and my heart pounding away, with all kinds of thoughts of brakes failing, us tumbling over the edge haunt me - but thankfully it’s Croatia, not Italy, and the road was in good condition ... and there weren’t any maniac Italians drivers adding to my fear.
Once up we then drove through more surreal landscape that was very bleak, remote and almost Alpine-like as we made our way to the park. The final approach to the park was a lot like what I remember of Grand Canyon - a gradual but definite build-up of restaurants, hotels and tourist trappings.
The park is all about the lakes, some 16 that tumble into each other via a series of waterfalls and cascades and there are a series of walks that you can do around them all or some. The weather had turned on us slightly mid-week and of course it was worse here being higher and inland, so we delayed our visit until the Friday when the weather was due to be slightly better, us being fair weather walkers, plus we wanted to get the colours and the crystalline waters that a sunny day provides.
So we set the alarm (that being a shock sound for us) on the Friday morning and headed into the park to make the most of the day walking and to get ahead of the crowd, both of us wondering slightly what to expect from a lot of water and greenery, how amazing can it be?
Within about 100 feet and less than 10 minutes we were won over and as we made the walk via a series of stunning walkways over, around across the lakes and falls. We were, by the end, in total agreement that this was a truly awesome experience and all done so wonderfully by the Croatians apart from perhaps the slightly institutional-style eateries – but having said that a picnic would have added to the experience, had we not been too lazy to get one together this time!
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
And so to Zagreb!
So, with our love affair with Croatia continuing and the falls not being far from the capital Zagreb, we decided to drive straight there when we had finished our walk and so we could get a full weekend 'Zagreb experience'. As ever, for big cities the nearest campsite was slightly outside the main action and as we approached - having by now stayed at quite a few really lovely sites in Croatia - our moods dropped slightly. No sight of old town or transport into town ... and a campsite that didn't look up to much at first glance to be honest. “Gets rave reviews” David kept repeating like a parrot as we approached!
With reception shut we made an inspection of the facilities starting with the bar and restaurant, as you do. Well the pizzas coming out, the restaurant looked and smelled divine and had us both drooling. The terrace had wonderful views over the lake. A drink was partaken in the downstairs bar, which again had a wonderful outside area, before I dragged David back to the van to have left over coq au van (yes I know its vin but van is the motorhome take on this dish!).
Saturday morning became sunnier again and David trotted off to register us and to get the lowdown on how to get into Zagreb central. By this time with its location, excellent bar and topnotch wash and toilet areas, we were already over our slight downer on arrival yesterday, this coupled with the excellent cycling and recommendations from the owner plus the high speed lift he gave us to catch the train into town, we were both totally in agreement about the rave reviews for Camping Zagreb.
Zagreb, another city, same things - cathedrals, museums, old buildings? Yes, but each has its own magic and Zagreb certainly does as well. The Dolac market was huge and packed with meats, smoked hams, amazing fruit and veg - but unlike so many other city markets it wasn’t so much of a tourist stop and photo trap, with a huge amount of locals shopping and buying their daily groceries - good to see. The mini metropolis is great for strolling and people watching in the many cafes and bars. It’s a mix of very modern and innovative but still slightly dated in other ways, an absolute pleasurable place. We have as usual eaten as much of the local fayre as we can, but for the Saturday we were drawn away from tradition by a lovely little Sri Lankan café called the Curry Bowl in one of the main strolling streets.
Zagreb by Night
The menu wasn’t huge but very authentic to Sri Lanka and we both ordered full spiced dishes. Neither disappointed and we left very happy, very full and with hardly a dent in our lunch budget at just under €20 including drinks.
On the Sunday we tested out the cycle lanes and cycle friendliness with a 15K or so pedal back into town to visit an unusual museum – The Museum of Broken Relationships. Some of the last 16 months have been testing at times so this might not have been the best place for us to visit, but we survived the heartbreak stories and mementos, deciding however that if we were to go our separate ways after Croatia we would donate our Lonely Planet guides as our memento! Joking aside, the museum is unique, quirky and worth a few hours of your time ... better than a Barbara Cartland novel! A not-so-romantic chicken kebab from one of the street vendors set us up for our way back, before we hit the restaurant back at camp.
Another full week of surprises and delights gone in Cracking Croatia. Next week Easter by the sea before heading into Slovenia!
Keeping my options open after our visit to the Museum of Broken Relationships. Here with 'the strong and silent type'!!
Our route this week: