Croatia was our next stop. Pictures of Plitvice National Park drew us to the heart of Croatia and was our only planned stop in the country. Originally, we hoped to hit Dubrovnik, but the thought of a 9 hour drive back to Vienna deterred us. Instead, we planned four days staying at the Plitvice Lodge so we could explore every nook and cranny of the park and make sure we shot during the best light and hopefully the least crowds. Our ordeal started when trying to find the lodge. The GPS took us to the Plitvice Hotel. Strike one. The receptionist pointed us in the right direction and said we were about 5K away. After driving 4K we stopped and asked again. We were pointed in the same direction and given exactly the same directions and told we were still 5K away from the lodge. At this point we plugged the lat and long into the GPS. PAIN! It said we were an hour and a half away. So we trusted the 2nd set of directions and continued on. We found the supposed turn by the blue bridge and were dumped into no man’s land. After winding around for a few kilometers we stopped and asked for directions again. Surprise, we were 5 km away, “just follow the road,” he said. Can you say “Blair Witch!” Fortunately, the third time was the charm and we arrived at an amazing little lodge.
The lodge came with a reputation and it didn’t disappoint. Carlo, the owner came out, bottle of what appeared to be homemade hooch. Pshttt, Pshttt, he directed us to down a quick welcoming shot, then another. Each of the two buildings had about 6 rooms with a common area and plenty of seating around outdoor fireplaces and stoves. Our room had an amazing balcony constructed from freeform slats of wood interwoven to form walls and dividers. They also had the best beds of the trip! The lodge was advertised as not having Wifi, it did. We asked Carlo and he explained that it didn’t work all the time, so he didn’t want to advertise having it. Loved his integrity! In addition, the location couldn’t be better. For the most part, we parked our car and walked less than a kilometer to reach the park.
We literally spent the first three days wandering in near paradise. There were only two challenges. First was the near 100 degree temperatures. So we headed out early, took a break in midday, and headed out again in the latter afternoon. The second challenge was people. Endless streams of people poured over the park with far too many selfie sticks and complete unawareness of the people walking around them. Each night we ate at the lodge. Carlo was an amazing host. The free shots didn’t end with check in, they continued for every dinner. He walked up to each table, “where are you from?” “Italy”, “Ok then Pshttt, Pshttt!” and the drinks flowed.
The park was a dream. Rustic boardwalks were constructed lifting you inches above the waterline and winded you around cascading fall after fall of Caribbean blue water. The park was divided into sections and paths labeled by letters. The problem was we couldn’t figure out where anything was. The upper lakes, accessible by a ferry, were more atmospheric. Small pools over spilling into and endless set of additional pools. We didn’t hover in one spot long or take many photos, we just explored and enjoyed.
One afternoon, when we came back for a break, Carlo invited me for a ride to see the “local” wedding spot. How could I resist. A few kilometers down the road was a rustic water wheel next to a waterfall. While not as grand as the park, the allure of a local wedding spot was irresistible. Jennifer and I drove back to it, ok with a few wrong turns, and did our first Croatia shot.
We continued exploring. The lower lakes were grander. They were larger bodies of water, bursting from the seams in every direction. One could view the falls close up or from way above. We decided on one photo shoot with myself perched high as Jennifer would cross the lakes on the boardwalk. The second location we wanted to shoot at was still a mystery to us. We finally gave asked at an information booth. The women knew where but warned us about the challenging climb and poisonous snakes. What were we getting into? We followed the directions, climbed up the stone steps we had been climbing for days and picked up walking sticks just in case we had a snake encounter. When we reached the top of the steps, we scanned for an obscure trail. Like any forested area, you can imagine trails anywhere. None seemed right, so we headed for the road. Walked about ½ kilometer and whamo, a site seeing sign appears. A little bit down the trail and a wonderful perch opened up to the grand lakes, giant as well as smaller waterfalls. This was the spot we were searching for.
The challenge was balancing light so too much wasn’t in shadow and people. Too early, everything would be too dark, too late and the hordes of people would present a challenge. On our last full day in the park we planned the two photo shoots. The first we shot as early as we could, which was about 10:00. Jennifer descended the “dangerous” steps and I swung around to the trail. We communicated via the walkie talkies, but truth be told it wasn’t as good of a location for a wedding dress shot as the one we planned for the afternoon. To really get a great shot from this vantage point, one needed to come in the spring or after the rains. The middle waterfall was only a trickle.
No worries. We regrouped, climbed to the top and had a little lunch while we waited for the sun to climb over the river. Once it did, we went into action and were happy with the results. Check out the Europe 2015 gallery.