Venice / Croatia - 2004

I did this one-week trip during my summer vacation in July. I've always liked Italy and when I saw the Air Finland summer offers to Venice I booked the flights. After some googling I realized that there are frequent ferry connections to Croatia so decided to combine these two countries.

Places visited (In Croatia - tour started & ended in Venice):

  1. Rovinj
  2. Rab
  3. Plitvice Lakes National Park
  4. Senj
  5. Cres / Mali Losinj

Check out the photo gallery.

Both countries left me with mixed feelings: Venice and many spots in Croatia were absolutely beautiful - but often fully packed with tourists. Croatia was surprisingly western and more or less conquered by German tourists.

The highlights of the trip were Plitvice Lakes National park and the small village of Cres.

24.7.2004 Helsinki - Venice
I took the Air Finland direct flight to Venice (2,5 hours). Never flewn that airline before, but it proved to be a pleasant experience. The price of 220 included warm meal (no drinks though). Good service, attractive stewardesses - and the plane the plane was half empty!

I arrived in Venice after dark and it was raining. After some wandering around I found my hotel from the industrial ghetto of Marghera that I would not recommend for longer stays. I had booked the hotel in advance from Internet and to my surprise my reservation was found immediately.

I walked back to railway station, which was surrounded by numerous restaurants and chose a random pizzeria. After consuming a quattro stagioni I returned to hotel and tried to get some sleep. It was really hot and humid - therefore I did not really sleep much...

25.7.2004 Venice - Rovinj
The first task in the morning was to move from the mainland to Venice. Long causeway connected the isles and mainland but after that it was not possible to move by car. The first impression in Venice was the hordes of tourists. They were everywhere! More than in Rhodos, Amsterdam or any place I've previously been to! Unbelievable! The worst was yet to be seen though, as I had not visited Piazza San Marco.

I left my backpack to the railway station and started my walking tour. The city is actually really attractive but it was also interesting to realize that most of the buildings are in really bad condition. It is easy to get lost on the narrow streets and often your path is blocked by a channel. After a while the heat took its toll and I decided to continue sightseeing by boat. That was a good idea since that was really cheap and provided fascinating views of the downtown area architecture.

The hell broke loose when I reached San Marco square - the stunning buildings were shadowed by the countless tourists that basically filled the whole area. I decided to skip queuing and started walking to ferry terminal. The ferry ride to Rovinj was fast but fairly bumpy. In Rovinj I once again ran into huge masses of tourists - this time mostly German people partying on the streets. The hotel was somewhat difficult to locate - after 30 minutes I found it from the outskirts of the town. It was quite dark already so it was difficult to get a good impression of the surroundings - anyway the big number of Germans felt slightly alarming...

26.7.2004 Rovinj - Rab
When I woke up the sun was shining and I decided to leave Rovinj behind. I took a bus to Rijeka, an uninteresting "transportation hub". I decided to rent a car since there was not too much time to wait for buses. This plan worked perfectly as the rental agency was just next to bus station - unfortunately only French cars were available. So I chose the crappy Peugeot and I headed up to the mountains. Driving was quite an experience - the mountains were really steep, there were lots of tight curves and none or few parapets. Loosing the control could easily have resulted in a fall of 100 meters...  

My destination was the island of Rab that according to Lonely Planet was "charming". I don't think that I have ever disagreed more with my trusted guidebook - immediately when I arrived I realized that the whole place is pretty much the same as Rovinj with thousands of German tourists. The old city itself was pretty attractive but once again so packed with people that I got really pissed off. It seemed that most of the hotels were also fully booked so I ended in a overpriced hotel in the city center. Since I did not feel like spending too much time in the buzzing downtown area I had a cheap (and terrible) meal at a local fastfood / kebab restaurant and decided to get some sleep and leave the as the first thing in the morning.

27.7.2004 Rab - Korevice
My feelings were pretty bad when I woke up. It was cloudy and raining. I decided to drive to the northern shores of the islands - which proved to be a really bad mistake. I got stuck in unbelievable traffic jams even though I was in the middle of nowhere! Don't know where all the cars were coming but all the main roads were practically jammed... When I finally reached the beaches I realized that the whole area was basically one big "autokamp" - a camping area for (german) tourists. I turned back and had once again to wait for roughly an hour before reaching the other side of the island.

I finally reached the mainland and was really relieved to get going on the steep mountain roads. Even though I was speeding slightly there were trucks that constantly kept overtaking me - scary! As the rain (and wind) were getting stronger all the time I decided to stop in the small town of Korevice. The only hotel in the town was overpriced so I decided to try local home accommodation ("sobe"). A couple of kilometres outside downtown area there I found a cosy place to stay overnight. Since it was still raining heavily all I could do was to enjoy a good steak in a local restaurant and read a (lousy) book. Hope the weather gets better since tomorrow I'll be heading to Plitvice Lakes National Park...

28.7.2004 Korevice - Plitvice - Senj
In the morning the rain had fortunately ceased. I started the 20km drive to Plitvice and easily located the park headquarters. Admission fee was really high high (about 20) but that was no longer a surprise since the price level was actually pretty high in Croatia. Surprisingly the tour started with a compulsory bus ride during which I saw the first glimpses of the lakes. The turquoise colour seemed just unbelievable and somehow unreal. When the bus stopped near the shoreline of the first lake I fully realized the unusual beauty of the lakes. Having travelled quite a lot I've never seen a place like this. The place was an interesting mixture of Middle European forests, waterfalls and more mountainous territory with its pine trees. The paths were clearly marked and it was not allowed to wander outside them. I later realized that only the main paths were the crowded ones - if you chose the smaller paths you could walk in total silence.

Even the huge crowds of people could not ruin the experience. I shot dozens of photos and the scenery became more and more impressive as I got closer to the bigger waterfalls. I quickly forgot the hard feelings from Rab and Rovinj as I was staring at the awe-inspiring natural wonders. I spent several hours in the park - most of the time just sitting on a edge of a cliff enjoying the sunshine. When I finally left the park I headed back to the coast towards the small town of Senj. This proved to be quite a relaxed place with only a few German tourists. I found a cheap sobe to stay overnight (with balcony) and spent the rest of day hanging out in the beachfront area having dinner and enjoying the laidback atmosphere.

29.7.2004 Senj - Cres
Today it was time to drive back to Rijeka and return the car. It felt much safer to drive on the right lane closer to the mountain bank. I had some orientation problems in Rijeka's city center. In Rab a crazy Italian driver had hit my car's mirror that almost fell apart - fortunately nobody noticed it at the rental agency... I took a bus to the town of Cres. The bus drove through Opatija - the local "Riviera" - which really resembled its French cousin with its early 20th century hotels. A place worth visiting I would say...

After a couple of hours of travelling I arrived in Cres. It was a relief to realize that the place was just what I had been looking for - a picturesque and relaxed small town by the sea. I found sobe accommodation hosted by an old lady. I decided to check out the local beach - which unfortunately proved to be once again a pebble beach like most of the beaches in northern Croatia. Water was surprisingly cold but refreshing. I returned to downtown and had an excellent seafood risotto in an Italian restaurant. In general the town had a strong Italian influence and quite a few Italian people as well.

30.7.2004 Cres
Last full day in Croatia. I spent the day by making a cycle trip to nearby village of Valun. Actually it was quite a journey there (a total of 15km in one direction) - and the first 5 km's were a steady ascent to the top of a small mountain. After a couple of kilometres of flat terrain there was another even steeper descent and shortly after that an equally steep descent of over 3 km's. Fortunately the bike was in good condition and the brakes were good!

Valun proved to be a picturesque small village where time more or less stood still. There were two pebble beaches - I decided to do some sunbathing on the less crowded one. The pebbles hurt my bare foot so going for swim was quite painful. Therefore some people wore sandals while swimming! I spent the whole afternoon in Valun and started my sweaty journey back a couple of hours before sunset. Fortunately most of the journey was now downhill. Back in Cres I spent some time on a local "concrete beach" (a concrete platform by the sea with sunbeds and ladders to sea). I watched the sunset near the harbour and moved to a seaside restaurant to enjoy fresh fish (which was excellent and included free grappa). Then it was time to go to sleep since I had to get up early (5.30) in the morning!

31.7.2004 Mali Losinj - Venice-Helsinki
I took the morning bus to the neighbouring island of Mali Losinj where the catamaran was waiting. The town was still sleeping but looked pretty impressive at least in the morning sun... The ferry trip to Venice was uneventful and I had still some 5 hours before getting to the airport. I took a ferry to Lido - which proved to be interesting but somewhat rundown "beach paradise" from early 20th century. I did not do any swimming since all the public beaches were unbelievably crowded (and the private ones more or less empty).

I missed the airport bus as I took the slower ferry so I had to take a taxi to airport. 25 was not too bad though. The plane was in time and again half empty.

In general this was a good trip - especially when it had been raining quite heavily back home. If you are looking for sunshine and beaches I would not definitely go to northern Croatia but if you prefer hiking and beautiful nature then it is the place to go. 

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