For a complete change of scene, we headed east the next morning to Senj, then up over the coastal range to Plitvice National Park. I was curious to see more of the terrain the Via Dinarica trail went through on its way south, and the road up from Senj crossed right over it.
Senj was another one of those tourist-processing facilities where you could buy bad coffee and soggy pizza. Perched on a narrow strip of rocky coast, Senj might have had some interesting things to see, but we were pressed for time, so didn't explore. The pass at the top was quite flat, with gravel tracks meandering up into the hills in several directions, as though unsure of where they wanted to lead. I guess one of them was the Via Dinarica.
The popularity of Plitvice made itself more apparent the closer we got to it. We hadn't realised until talking to our host in Pula that it was one of the busiest tourist destinations in Croatia. As we drove past the park entrances, the reality became clear. There were multiple tour buses, ticket booths, and walkways with tourists swarming all over. A little frightened, we found our AirBnB and hid.
Our place was a symphony all in wood. The host had built the place himself, including a lot of the furniture. The wooden bed he'd made was enormous. Some of it was a bit creative in the way it had been finished, but it was fun to stay there. Their dog, Jonnie, was a yappy little bloody thing that looked like an Ewok.
Faced with an unsettled weather forecast, we took a short walk along a gorge the next day and saved Plitvice for the day after, when it would hopefully be nicer. In the gorge was an old mill that had been built about 1870, by our host’s grandfather. The river was dry this time of year, so we climbed down into the race and had a look at the timber flue and simple pelton wheel on a wooden shaft. Inside, through the dusty window, we could see the shaft fixed to a big millstone. Since the river was dry for much of the year, I wondered what they would do after harvest. Wait for the rain, I suppose.
Further along the track, we came across a partially-restored tower and medieval fort in Dreznik Grad. I can't recall exactly, but it was captured by the Turks in about 1588 and successfully liberated in 1591. Or something like that. Either way, a lot of people were probably killed because someone powerful wanted something that somebody else had. And now it's empty and crumbling, and nothing's forever. War doesn't make sense.
Our host brought coffee one evening and stayed to talk. I was naively surprised when she said she'd moved to Zagreb as a child to get away from the war and I wondered, what war? Then I remembered that the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina was only fifteen kilometres away. I realised that the war ended less than twenty-five years ago, and that coming from New Zealand meant I had absolutely no concept of it. Her face changed when she spoke of the war. She said it was in the past now, but still very fresh.
It made me feel sad and inadequate, and reminded me that people are horrible to each other all too often. It only seems to take a generation or so before we forget everything and start the cycle again.