Plitvice Lakes National Park, A Fairytale Land in Croatia


Plitvice Lakes National Park, A Fairytale Land in Croatia

From Sarajevo, we drove north into Croatia.
The farther we got from Sarajevo, the more beautiful the Bosnian countryside became.

It was a lovely drive on a narrow road that meandered through hills and mountains, rivers and small villages.
We saw people chopping wood in preparation for the winter, shepherds herding sheep and busy local markets with colorful fresh produce.

We stopped in the scenic medieval town of Jajce.
At the entrance to the town we saw a beautiful waterfalls, and then we walked into the walled fortress of the city to have a snack.

After enjoying a delicious burek, we then continued our drive.
We arrived at Plitvice Lakes late in the afternoon and checked into our hotel, which is about five kilometers from the park entrance.
The next day we had a good breakfast and headed for the park.

When I looked on the internet for ideas about how to visit the park, there were many suggestions.
The worst suggestion was that you can actually see the park in a 2-3 hour visit.

Initially, I thought that we could stay the night, get up early and walk throughout the park, and then at the end of the day, drive to Zagreb, which is about two hours away.

I am SO happy that we did not follow that plan.
Instead, we took two nights at a hotel near the park, and allowed one whole day for walking in the park.

it took us a total of 25 kilometers to walk the park, which is about eight hours including lunch and 34,000 steps.

It was a magical day.
We were surrounded by natural beauty that is healing and breathtakingly beautiful.

I woke up that morning sneezy and a bit sick, but determined to see this beautiful park.
We walked all day and the more we hiked, the better I felt.

Plitvice Lakes National Park has a chain of 16 terraced lakes.
These azure blue and turquoise lakes overflow into each other by means of hundreds of waterfalls.

At the lower elevations, they extend into a huge limestone canyon.
The Croatian government has created a series of wooden walkways and hiking trails which wind around and across the ponds, creeks, brooks, rivers and forests surrounding the lakes.

It is autumn in October in Croatia, and the park was ablaze with bright reds, oranges, yellows and greens.

There are electric boats that link the 12 upper lakes and 4 lower lakes.
The tallest waterfall is about 78 meters high, but there are literally hundreds of waterfalls, and as you turn a corner in the path, you stand in awe at the sheer beauty of the earth.

Now, after visiting the park, I will share with you what we did, and my recommendations about how to visit the park.

First I’d like to say that this magical place only reveals itself if you have the time to walk all of it, a journey of at least six to eight hours.

Now, everyone will tell you that the biggest hurdle is the massive amount of tourists in the park.
Busloads of people come and most walk the lower lakes by entrance number one.

This is why some hikers start at Station three, on the upper Lakes.
But the lower lakes are gorgeous and you must see them, so walking around large groups blocking the walkways in that small area, is unavoidable.

We even saw a Korean man in a tour group who backed up to make room on the walkway, and ended up falling into the cold lake.
He was unharmed but his expensive camera was soaking wet.

At autumn time, many people avoid the crowds by showing up at four in the afternoon, when the high entrance fees are waived, and the crowds are gone.

The problem with this is that you then only have about two hours of sunlight to enjoy the park, and in many places the light is low and not as magical.

At the entrance of the park, buy a map at the information center.
The map will give you walking route options.

Most tourists walk from entrance one to the boat ramp on the nice wooden boardwalk.
Then they take the electric boat to the other side of the large lake and walk on one of the trails.

Our hotel receptionist recommended that we walk “Route C,” which takes about six hours and includes taking the boat to the other side, walking the trails and taking the shuttle bus at Station 3 back to entrance 1, where we parked our car.

We decided to walk “Route K,” which almost no one chose, so we had the park to ourselves for most of the day.

We started by following the busy line of tourists through the lower waterfalls until the boat ramp.
There we started walking the K route.
At this point, no other tourists took this path.
All the tourists took the boat and we crossed paths with only one couple on this route the whole way.

It was a lovely forest hike with some ups and downs over tree roots, and on narrow paths that overlooked the lakes below.

We walked for hours through the autumn colors, gushing waterfalls and lakes until we reached Station 3.
We stopped at Station 3 with the hope of getting lunch.
We knew that there were a few restaurants in the park, so we brought no lunch and had only one big bottle of water with us for the day.

The restaurant at Station 3 was closed for renovations, so we continued walking towards P2.
It was beautiful and awe inspiring landscape.
I have never walked through a landscape that was so full of waterfalls and lakes.

My mother who visited the lakes many years ago, still raves about how fantastic this park is.
She spoke about pistachio trees overflowing with nuts and beautiful trees against blue lakes.
She was so right… this place is heavenly….

At P2, we took a few minutes’ ride on the ferry across a narrow point in the lake, to P1.
At P1, we ate at their fast food restaurant a cheese sandwich with French fries and an apple strudel.

It was not at all my preferred healthy lunch, but we were quite hungry and we had brought no food with us.
We also replenished our water supply by buying a large bottle of water.
Please remember to bring your own good lunch and water, as well as good walking shoes.

We saw people who did not come with trail shoes who had a hard time or even broke their shoes.
We did not bring hiking poles as we prefer to hike without them, but we did see people who brought hiking poles. It is important NOT to use the hiking poles on the wooden walkways, as they can get stuck between the wood boards.

From P2 we continued on the K route all the way to Entrance 1, where we had parked.

Beyond describing the route we walked, words fail me to describe the magic of this place….

Instead of words, I am adding many more than the usual amount of photos to this post. (My apologies to my email subscribers for the many photos.)

I tried with my tiny camera to capture all the colors, the breathtaking light, the colorful birds, the mushrooms growing on the trees, the chirping insects as they rose into the air against the spray from the waterfalls….

I wish I could record the sound of the leaves under our feet as we walked, the gushing streams, the roaring waterfalls crashing down, the soft hum of the lake’s wave, the wind in the trees, the wetland grass as it swayed in the wind….. it was all so enriching, touching, beautiful, moving…..

Wishing you were here to feel this beauty….


Charming Coexistence In Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Charming Coexistence In Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

It is autumn in Sarajevo, and the leaves of the trees by the river that flows through the city are turning golden, carpeting the long, scenic riverside path leading to the old town.

The river is dammed to protect the city from flooding, and its walls are made of concrete to protect the banks from eroding, but the ducks do not seem to care about urban improvements, as they frolic and fish as if they were living in a pure rural paradise.

The pomegranate trees are overflowing with ripe fruit.
On quite a few street corners you can buy fresh squeezed pomegranate juice.
You can buy it in a plastic cup or in a small glass bottle that you can take with you and sip slowly.
I NEVER pass by a stand selling fresh squeezed pomegranate juice.
The juice is rich, red, velvety and full of iron, minerals and vitamins.

The walk from our hotel to the old town was very pleasant.
People were bundled up in coats, but the sky was clear and I felt grateful that it did not rain.

When we reached the old town, I felt charmed by its beauty.
The long Balkans war from 1991 to 1995 has scarred the city and its people, but the Spirit is resilient and it has healed the city.

On our walks, I saw less bombed and scarred buildings, and much more beautiful architecture.

There were beautiful mosques with round copper roofs and tall minarets, stone churches, and Ottoman-era markets with arched doorways that have thrived here for hundreds of years.

The old town is vibrant and lively, not just with tourists but with many locals.
There are lots of places to eat, shop and drink.
Generally, the food looked very fresh and good.
Perhaps the fact that there are so many choices encourages places to compete for quality and for customers.

There are streets lined with copper-ware shops, where you can see how they hammer copper and shape it into plates, tea and coffee pots, jewelry, spoons, trays and much more.

There are shops selling jewelry, clothing, bags, scarves and all sorts of souvenirs.
Some are imported from India, and some from China, but some were locally made.

There are lots of small cafes in which you can sit and drink Bosnian coffee or tea, served on trays with a small copper pot and an ornate glass.

Bosnian coffee is exactly like Turkish coffee, which is boiled twice with whole cardamom seeds until it foams, and is served with sugar cubes on the side.

By this time in our trip, I am all caffeinated out, so I no longer drink coffee.
After a sleepless night in Montenegro in which I realized that I was overstimulated from caffeine, I stopped drinking cappuccinos and all other kinds of coffee, so regretfully I had to let this Turkish coffee treat remain untasted.
I know exactly how it tastes from memory, since I drank hundreds of cups of Turkish coffee in my twenties, while living in Israel, which was once occupied by the Ottoman Empire.

I did drink Bosnian tea which, like Moroccan tea, is made from loose leaf green tea served with leaves of fresh mint in a pot, with crystal sugar on the side.

There are many shops selling Bosnian sweets.
The sweets are made from different kinds of Lokum, which is cornstarch mixed with rose water or with milk, plus all sorts of flavors, to give it different textures and tastes.

The Lokum is later rolled and covered in different toppings like pistachios, rose petals, saffron, cocoa powder and more.

Lokum sweets were invented by the Ancient Greeks, and have migrated all the way from Armenia to Iran, spreading all around the Arab world and on to every territory of the Ottoman Empire and the Balkans.

These sweets are known as Turkish Delights, and I have had them many times in my life, but these were better than anything I have tried before.
We bought them fresh, not packaged, from a small bakery which makes nothing else.
Perhaps this was the key to their delicate flavor.

I can pass up all the different kinds of Baklava that are sold everywhere in the city, mostly because I find them too sweet and too oily.
A piece once a year is plenty for me.

But I did not pass up the freshly made Halva.
If they only made these sesame paste treats from honey instead of sugar, well, they would almost be health food….

I know, I know, I said almost….

As it is, the Halva contains nothing but grounded sesame seeds and sugar, and sometimes it is embedded with pistachios.

In a small Buregdzinica, we ate a Bosnian Burek made the traditional way.
A Buregdzinica is a place that bakes and serves Bosnian Burek.

This Burek which is also known here as Pita or Pite, is a pastry stuffed with white cheese, spinach, potato or meat.
It is rolled out like a sausage and then it is laid into a large round metal pan in a spiral, from the center outwards until it fills the pan.

Instead of being baked in an oven, the metal pan is covered with a conical shaped cover that is then covered in hot coals.
The burning coals cook the Burek and the top is then lifted up by a pulley.

We tried the Burek filled with pumpkin, which was a rare autumn treat that was light and delicious.

Sarajevo’s charm lies in its laid-back atmosphere, thriving art scene, festivals and a fascinating mix of Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Slavic, Muslim, Orthodox, Catholic and Jewish cultures.

We visited the old synagogue which is today a Jewish museum.
We learnt so much about the lives of the Jewish people in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Jewish people in Bosnia did not suffer discrimination or harassment.
They initially lived among the Islamic community and Jewish women intermarried with Muslim men.

In a documentary we saw at the museum, one woman said that they didn’t consider these interracial marriages of Jews and Muslims progressive or open minded, but just normal and natural.
They thought after all, why not?

Interracial married couples lived in harmony with their neighbors.
One woman said that the Jewish women in the community used to come to her house for company, advice and healing remedies, while her Muslim neighbors did the same.
They came to her house asking for company, advice and to exchange recipes for special dishes for the holidays.

It sounds almost idyllic and my heart was warmed by hearing this.
This is how it should be….

When WW2 started, Muslim families helped hide Jews in Bosnia.
They risked their own lives and the lives of their children to help their neighbors.

They hid the Jewish Bibles and the beautifully illustrated Hagada (the Passover holy book) belonging to the jews that were taken to the ghettos, to keep them from being burnt by the Nazis.
They later returned the holy books to the descendants of the Jewish families.
We saw a copy of the oldest Hagada still in existence at the lovely stone museum.

When the war in 1991 started, the Jewish community in Sarajevo mobilized into action.
They converted the old large synagogue into a shelter, and provided housing for all those who lost their homes as a result of the bombing.
They provided meals around the clock and did all they could to help their neighbors.

From there, we visited the Culture Center of The Republic Of Iran.
We were drawn to enter by beautiful paintings that they displayed of angelic women figures dancing in the air.

We had a lovely chat with the Bosnian Iranian woman who attended the center, about traveling in Iran.
We said that we would love to see this ancient and fascinating part of our world, so full of rich culture, food and art, but that we are not sure it is safe yet.

She assured us that the people of Iran are warm and hospitable.
They are warm-hearted, and they love tourists.
She said they will invite us into their homes and do all they can to make us feel comfortable and safe.

She said that on her recent trip to Iran, she walked alone at night and felt no fear nor sensed any danger.
She said people were SO happy to see tourists, feeling so isolated by all the decades of political upheaval and trouble.

Jules was excited to hear this, but as a woman who does not wish to wear head covering, I am still unsure.
I also prefer to travel without looking back over my shoulder and being concerned for our safety.
We left wishing her well and truly hoping that we would be able to travel to Iran during our lifetime.

The memory of the recent war is all over Sarajevo.
The landscape is dotted with white graves.
All of them honor people who died very young, during the same years of 1993-1995.

We climbed up the steep hill above the old town, to look out over the city
The fields of white stone graves stretch in all directions.

Back in the old city, we saw old ladies selling wool socks or lace.
We saw small children and maimed people begging.
We saw pickpockets, tourists from all over the Arab world and business people from Europe.
We saw lots of people doing kind things towards others.

There are large malls in the city in which the locals shop, eat, drink and smoke.
Oh, so many people smoke in this country!

They even allow smoking inside all the Bosnian malls, and when remaining inside for more than a few minutes, it becomes very hard to breathe.
I soon found myself coughing, and by the end of the day, my clothes and my hair smelled of second hand smoke.

Not just in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but all over the Balkans, whenever I sat in outdoor cafes and looked around, I couldn’t help but feeling baffled at this paradox…

How can so many people care so little about their health…..
They go into the churches and pray for healing miracles, but they do so little themselves to live a ‘life affirming’ lifestyle.

They drink alcohol daily, smoke, eat heavy and too much food and some do drugs.
In other words, they do all they can to harm their bodies, and later they pray for healing….

We also saw some healthy eating places making chia seed desserts, healthy juices and fresh salads, many organic shops and people who do not drink or smoke.

I was touched by how truly integrated this city is and historically has been.
I saw many woman friends link arms or sit in cafes, one in a Muslim outfit and the other in a mini dress with flowing hair.
They TRULY do not try to convert one another or focus on their differences.
It is as if those things simply do not matter.
Beautiful people indeed!

Tomorrow we are leaving Sarajevo and crossing the border back to Croatia.
I was pleasantly surprised by this lovely city and maybe by the next time we return, there will be no smoking indoors at any of the malls and the banks, and less people will be smoking and more affirming the beauty of life….

From Sarajevo, I am sending you lots of blessings,

Međugorje, A Major Pilgrimage Site in Bosnia

Međugorje, A Major Pilgrimage Site in Bosnia

About 25km southwest of Mostar is the small city of Medjugorje.

Medjugorje is very popular among Catholic pilgrims who come here to pray, fast, confess and offer penance.

The reason Međugorje became such a major pilgrimage site is because Mother Mary appeared here to six kids from the village, and gave them guidance and predictions for the future.
It all happened in 1981, ten years before the Bosnian war started.

At that time, Međugorje was just a small village set among the hills, but after the appearance of Mary, it become a town full of shops selling religious icons, cafes, restaurants and hotels to accommodate the bus loads of pilgrims.

Buses depart from the bus station in Mostar every few hours and the church in Međugorje runs an hourly service all day long.

The church was erected on the same spot at which the kids saw Mother Mary.
We saw thousands of people praying.
Some were lined up in front of confessional booths, waiting to confess their “sins” to the attending priests.
Many were gathered inside the church, filling it to capacity, but most sat outside and watched the service on a large TV screen.

When the service was over, people lined up to receive communion, accepting the thin wafer from the priests.

I was able to enter the church.
It was unadorned, with cream colored walls, a cross and no paintings.

I thought to myself: “What a waste of wall space…”
I LOVE the Tibetan Buddhist Temples or the Serbian Orthodox churches with their stunning Fresco paintings all over the walls, and I envisioned that this church too, could greatly benefit and bring joy to the people by being cheery with some frescos.

If they do not wish to paint the Catholic saints or scenes from the Bible, they could at least paint the six local kids and the apparition of Mother Mary that appeared before them.

In my imagination, I painted the walls with vast flower fields, trees and a blue sky.
I painted herds of sheep amidst lush valleys filled with wild herbs, and the six kids in their rough farm clothing.
I painted Mother Mary in her white robes, holding her hands in the air in a gesture of blessing.
And then I walked out to look at the pilgrims.

A cross and a statue of Mary marked the exact spot where the kids saw Mary, and people were kneeling around it or crying in their prayers.

A man was crying deeply, hugging the cross on his knees.
When he was done, he climbed over the fence and placed fresh flowers in the hands of the statue of Mary.
He was so shaken, people needed to give him a hand to rebalance him.

Some families did not look like pilgrims, but simply as though they had come for a simple Sunday service.
It was a Sunday, after all.

The Catholic Church does not recognize Međugorje as a holy spot of a miraculous apparition.
But this has not stop the pilgrims from coming.

Sensitive people claim to still get messages from Mary today.
Some of these messages are posted on the Medjugorje website.

Many of these messages have a distinctly Catholic resonance, which does not ring to me as coming from Mother Mary.
True, they are mostly loving and compassionate, but they also mention the “unbelievers,” and use words like “repentance,” “sins,” “the devil” “Hell,” and “pray to your Shepherd for salvation.”

My understanding is that Mother Mary was Jewish and was fully raised in the Jewish faith and never renounced her Jewish religion to become a Zoroastrian or a Hindu or a Buddhist.
(Christianity of course did not exist then.)

This means that all the Christian terminology and mistranslation of the teachings of Jesus, were all added through the years into Christianity by a church that intended to control the people.

Not in the Bible, but in other teachings, when asked about the existence of the devil, Jesus said:
“If God who is pure love and light is EVERYWHERE, and I assure you that He is, where can Hell be?
I NEVER saw the devil in ANY man, except if he had brought him there himself.”

The idea that we were born in original sin is erroneous.
You were never really born into a body, it is an illusion you are dreaming into existence.

But even if you imagine you were born into a human body, a baby is born of love, joy, ecstasy and passion.

It is true that we all need spiritual guidance, but the idea that you are a sheep that needs a Shepherd is wrong.
You are a free spirit and you learn from all of your experiences, not from the teachings of others.

You can never be lost for long, for you are guided from within.
Even if you’ll dream that you die, you will just be released from this illusion of the belief that you live inside your body.
Then you will be free to dream attachment to another form, or stay in the invisible as long as you need rest and healing.

The idea of Hell to the unbelievers is funny.
The only Hell there is, is a sad life on earth for those who believe that they are separated from the Creator and from each others and who listen to their egos and live in poverty, pain and limitations.

You need NOT believe in Christianity or in ANY religion.
You simply need to seek the Truth inside, and discover who you REALLY are and experience your true Spiritual UNLIMITED Nature.

When you discover who you are, you will know that you are ONE with GOD, that you are LOVE and you will not act against love by being or thinking unloving thoughts, for by doing so you will lose your peace of mind and your grace.

Still, I was happy that I got to visit and see the place.

With blessings,