Plitvice Lakes: Still Beautiful on a Crappy Day

| October 23, 2014

In the wee hours of the morning, thunder shook our cabin.  A rainstorm pelted the windows until right about when we headed to the next building for breakfast.  We walked through light sleet, marveling at the 40-degree drop in temperature that we were experiencing in our trip.  Not a few minutes after we entered the restaurant, our waitress said, “Look!  Snow!”  Lo and behold, bona fide snow was falling outside the windows.  At first it was at a normal pace, then it became a steady downpour of snow, covering the cars.  No matter that it was thundersnow, we excitedly thought, Wow, we’ll get to see the falls in the first snowfall of the season!

Or not.

Or not.

As we left the restaurant, our waitress told Paul to be careful on the trails, as there were no handrails.

She was not lying

She was not lying

Now…unfortunately, we learned in the Alps the other day that my hiking boots are a bit too snug.  I therefore thought perhaps it would be better to wear socks with my hiking sandals, rather than to squeeze my feet into those boots again.

Or not.

Or not.

In my defense, when I decided to wear the sandals, I did not anticipate such wetness.  Overall, we expected none of this weather.  Last week, the 10-day forecast (one of the most useless things to rely upon in Europe even one hour in advance) predicted partly cloudy, with temperatures in the 50’s.  Nothing about freezing and several inches of snow.  I therefore did not pack gloves or non-fashion scarves.  We layered ourselves—Sequoia was sporting striped leg warmers and a thin summer Paris scarf, and I had packed three layers under my raincoat, topped with an infinity scarf made for summer temperatures.  I was very happy to remember that there were emergency gloves in my car, albeit the shitty cloth stretchy kind that you can’t get wet.

We walked the short distance from our hotel to the information center, where people were buying ponchos at the souvenir shop.  We purchased our two-day park pass and shortly thereafter boarded a boat to head down the lake, with no real plan.  Sequoia was THRILLED about the snow: looking at it, catching it on her tongue, throwing tiny snowballs—she could not have been happier.

Oh, wonderful snow...

Oh, wonderful snow…

It's beginning to look a lot like Plitvice...

It’s beginning to look a lot like Plitvice…

Then Sequoia stepped in some puddles.  Intentionally.  And she could not have been more miserable.

Soon after, this child was crying because her soaking wet shoes were smashing her soaking wet socks into her soaking wet feet.  And freezing.  Now, she was not exaggerating about the freezing—snow had turned into ice now caked onto the undersides of the toes of my socks.  I felt badly for the child, really, I did, but listening to her whine and cry was not boosting group morale.

When we had left the dock and walked up (800 million) steps to a bus stop, we were still without a plan.  We devised one: we would take the bus to the farthest stop, get off, look around, and find transportation back.  As we rode along the lake, we passed a system of boardwalk trails along the way—they snaked along and through the lakes.

plitvice lakes

We weren’t going to do THAT in this weather.

When we reached the drop off point, Sequoia and I noticed a little bit of water.  Figuring it might be the only water we could see this day, we walked over to it.  Then we wandered down the trail, which turned into a boardwalk.

Wait--didn't we say we weren't going to do this?

Wait–didn’t we say we weren’t going to do this?

and it was beautiful

But it really was beautiful

As we walked along the boardwalk trail through the woods, Paul was becoming fed up with me because I respect Mother Nature and like to take my time in order to prevent slipping on ice and falling into a lake.  He (not a fan of safety and caution and respecting Mother Nature) was telling me to walk faster.  He also noted that we might be on the path all the way across the lake.  I was not convinced that it would be any better to turn back than to continue forging ahead.

I was wrong.

Meanwhile, impatient Paul wanted to get a move on, so he grabbed Sequoia and sped up ahead.

And this was the last time I saw them for over four hours

And that was the last time I saw them for over four hours

At first, I walked a little faster so that I would not be far behind.  Then I noticed some pretty waterfalls.

Not that you could tell the falls from the snow

Not that you could tell the falls from the snow

Eventually, I found myself at an intersection.  Before I continue, I would just like to say that this is the most poorly marked national park I have ever visited.  Why, you ask?

  • Signs did not show distances (which would have helped orient me when I was going in circles)
How far?  You figure it out.

How far? You figure it out.

  • Signs were lacking something more important: Arrows
And if you were thinking that the bottom paint marker was part of an arrow pointing left, you would be wrong.

And if you were thinking that the bottom paint mark was part of an arrow pointing left, you would be wrong.

  • Signs were lacking something even more important: EXISTENCE
Uh...I choose right?

Uh…I choose right?

  • Also, maps were not all oriented in the same direction.  I mean, shit, people: go with North.

But they did have one type of sign I saw at several forks in the trail.  It was helpful.

Flooded trails.  Awesome.

I think I’ll avoid the flooded trail

I’m gonna guess that one lead back to this trail I’d traversed earlier:

WTF am I doing.


There were also a lot of these:

With this one, I say that if you're dumb enough to go walking through this lake, let's leave it up to Darwin

I say that if you’re dumb enough to go walking through this lake, let’s leave it up to Darwin

Since I had become accustomed to this frustrating aspect of the park, I was not then surprised to come upon a T and find a picture of the boat with no arrow.  I chose right.  I made it a few meters before stopping to take a few pictures of some falls.

I didn't say they were good pictures.

I didn’t say they were good pictures.

Soon, a couple came up behind me.  The man, in an Australian accent, told his wife that they must be heading in the wrong direction because no one’s footprints were in the snow on the boardwalk up ahead.  I thought this was sound logic, even more so because everything spoken in a British, Australian, or Kiwi accent is 100% believable.  So I turned back and took the trail left.

I hope I never see that man again.

I can’t complain about the scenery that this SNAFU afforded me as the snow began to let up–it turns out the lakes weren’t gray.

plitvice lakes

I can, however, wonder if the lower lakes are filled with 30 waterfalls, or if there are three waterfalls that I saw ten times each.  I say this because I walked around the whole effing lower lake multiple times.  Like, for reals. I walked around it so many times that eventually the snow stopped and melted, and I was enjoying different views…and then the same views…of the same falls…Again.

plitvice lakes


I know the exact moment I realized this was happening: I had begun winding back up a switchback trail and I found myself staring at one of the few lookout shoulders in the whole park.  Which I’d passed coming from the other direction.  I looked at it and said, aloud, “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.  YOU’VE GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME.”

No one was kidding me.


Second time past these falls

Second time past these falls

After about two hours passed, I wondered if Paul would be worried about me; I pictured him and Sequoia sipping hot cocoa in front of a fireplace, laughing over a game of Uno.  At the three-hour mark, as I clenched all of my bottom body parts in an attempt to not go to the bathroom in my pants, I wondered what exactly Paul, who recently broke his phone, would do if I did not return soon.  Incidentally, the worst sound to hear when you have to pee?

plitvice lakes

Everywhere. For hours.

When I had finally followed enough signs to a bus stop, I rushed to the toilets.  Just then, I heard the bus pull up.  Predictably, as I flushed, I heard the bus pull away.  I ran outside and across a lawn and watched it pass me by on its way down the street.  You couldn’t stop?  I later learned that Paul and Sequoia were able to flag down a bus from an old bus stop no longer in use.  But screw the girl in socks.

I walked over to the small cafe.  Extracting my map out of my pocket with hands no longer covered by sopping gloves, I asked the employee how to get back to my hotel.

Him: “You have auto?”

Do I look like a have a fucking car?

Do I look like a have a fucking auto?

He told me to take the train.  That’s what they call the park bus.  It only took a few exchanges of “You mean bus?” “No. Train.” to get that squared away.

Once the bus arrived, I boarded with a wet and miserable-looking couple.  When I pulled out my map, the woman began to laugh.  In German, she said, “Everything is wet!”  We then discussed, in German, the miserable weather, me being lost, and my soaking wet socks.  Most exchanges went like this:

Me: [blahblahblah about my hike]

Woman: No!

Me: Yes!  [more about my hike)

Woman: No!

Me: Yes!


For the record, the man agreed that the signs could have used things like arrows and kilometers on them.  Germans: Precise.  Croatians: Not.

plitvice lakes

They say beauty comes at a cost.  Well, seeing beauty also comes at a cost.  Shivering, drenched through four layers, and still unsure that I was heading in the right direction, I arrived at a dock just as my boat was leaving.  Or so I thought.  It was actually the ferry that would take me across the lake to the dock where I really wanted to be, to take the larger ferry upriver toward my hotel.  The short ferry returned immediately after dropping its passengers off and carried me across, where I caught the larger ferry back up the lake.

By the time I got onto the right boat, my now-gloveless hands were frozen.  I suddenly remembered the hand warmer packets in my backpack.  (I would just like to note that they should have opened more easily.  After all, someone in need of hand warmers is most likely already shaking and numb.) I opened the packet with my teeth, only to find that they were so damn old they were no longer good.  So I put purple socks on my hands.  I have no pictures of this since my fingers were ineffective through the socks.

And then the sun came out.

I don’t know what I looked like by the time I shlepped my bedraggled self up the mountain toward my hotel, but in a country where I have seen some pretty consistent surliness on the faces of even the friendliest and most helpful of people, a park employee opened the window to his tiny cabin equipped with only a space heater, leaned out, and asked with concern, “Are you okay?”

No.  No, I am not.

No. No, I am not.

There is one thing I have not yet mentioned.  I am staying in a hotel that (despite not publishing this on its website or in its paper brochures) closes its wellness center in the off-season (because FML) – and it furthermore does not have a bathtub in the room.  Not to mention, and this is the kicker: the shower head is one that you remove and hold over your body.  Yourself.

You know what I have never said?  “I’m tired, drenched, achy and miserable.  I can’t wait to go back to my room and stand erect while holding my shower head over the 6” of body part it’ll hit at any given moment.  And then I want to pat myself down with an air-dried bath towel that feels like sandpaper on my lady parts.”



So six hours after leaving, I returned to the room.  Half an hour later, Paul and Sequoia returned.  It turns out that Paul and Sequoia had an unpleasant experience as well–which I was not horrified to hear, since Paul was the one who went off on his own in a quest to fall in a lake and die.  They were fortunate enough to do less walking, though.  He did speak of also taking the wrong direction at the sign with no arrow, but he managed to get off the trails much sooner–and before any were marked with the flooding signs.

plitvice lakes

He missed standing by the falls

plitvice lakes waterfall

(Getting wetter)

And they only took one ferry, so apparently they did not cross the lake over and over again until ending up at the wrong side.  But poor Paul had to carry Sequoia along some of the trails, her now clad in his three jackets.  They successfully flagged down the bus and took it to a cafe.  There, Paul removed Sequoia’s soaking wet socks and shoes, then put his own extra pair of socks on her.  They stayed in that cafe for quite some time, drinking warm drinks and waiting for me to come off the trail.  Which I eventually did…somewhere else.

To recap:

plitvice lakes






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Category: Croatia, Europe, Family Travel, Hiking in other regions, In Germany A Broad blog, Shits & Giggles, Travel, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

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