Tuesday 29 October
So I have a visitor. A good friend of mine who I met two years ago on a roof top in Boston as the dawn broke has come to spend my birthday with me, flying in from Lebanon of all places. It’s wonderful that Elise is here – as it finally gives me an excuse to see Croatia’s number one tourist attraction – the Plitvice Lakes.
Hiring a car is probably the best way to do this, unless you go with one of the guided tours from the hostels – but since the season is now over and we don’t run the shuttles anymore, I hand over my (largely out of date) paper licence at the hire place and we set off. It’s a glorious day to turn 34 (if ever there was such a thing) and with good company and a full tank, we make our way North.
We’re chatting away merrily without a care in the world when I see some idiot waving something in front of me. The idiot turns out to be a police officer and he’s flagging me down. Oh here we go. I’m going to pull the usual “do you speak English” bullshit and see if it works. It doesn’t. He’s clearly in the mood to get the collar and he motions me over to bear witness to my offence on his police cash machine. Sure enough there I am doing 80 Kph in a 50 stretch that looks like a runway. He points at some Croatian words in a book with 1000 Kuna fine beside it. I’ve no idea what it means.
“Banco, banco” he demands.
“No chance” I reply.
It appears we reach something of a stalemate, with me flatly denying I’ve about 2000 kuna in my pocket.
Eventually we manage to come to the agreement that I pay 250 kuna. This is about 30 odd euro. I hand it over, and he starts writing me a ticket. I haven’t a clue what it says as he asks me to sign it, and something twigs in me that it’s a court summons for me to lose my licence and pay a hefty fine. I hesitate for a moment, and then scrawl in what I can only imagine is the signature space.
Admittedly I didn’t quite have the balls to print it legibly, as I’m pretty sure anyone paying attention would notice Stuart Jameson doesn’t begin with MM. However he doesn’t question my brass neck, and waves me on my way. I’m convinced I reached 80 kph again as I accelerated off.
The experience does little to dampen what turns out to be a beautiful day. The lakes are stunning and the photographs do them little justice. I was tempted to go here during the summer, but by all accounts there are just too many people, shuffling their way around the walkways. It’s so charming to wander the wooden paths and get lost in the woods, rarely meeting another human being or a Japanese camera. The colours of Autumn and late afternoon haze pull you into this stunning fairytale world. The run in with the Croatian law is long forgotten.
Back at the ranch and it’s party time – for what is my third birthday away from home. It proves to be just as spirited as the others, as most people I meet seem to have this uncanny ability to know to buy me booze as a gift. Any birthday can end in such shenanigans however, but few will yield the memories of a magical day at the lakes. For once I did something fulfilling. I might try it again sometime. Maybe next year.