This was, hands down, the best time I have had in Europe, all year! A couple months ago, Paul knew that he was going to be in the area, so he told Heidi and I that he was going to come to Salzburg the week after Easter. I was super excited about this, but after he said that he was going to be in Croatia for the week before Salzburg, I knew I had to get down there with him!
After several weeks of trying to figure out their bus schedules, train schedules, and everything in between.. Things started to fall together, and we started to have a plan. This is basically what happened (some of the pictures are from an Iphone, and some are from my camera):
On the Thursday before easter, I finished classes, packed my bag, and a little before 1am, I went to the train station. This was not the easiest little 15 min trek for me, my pack weighed over 60lbs, including a tent, a whole rack of climbing gear, a 70m rope, and my camera. The night train, from 1am to about 8am, brought me, semi-almost-rested from salzburg to Zagreb Croatia.
In Zagreb, I got a coffee with Heidi and Amy, two friends who happened to be on the same train and catching a connection in Zagreb as well! After that, I took a taxi to the Airport, got a phone sim-card for the equivalent of about $3USD from the post office, and picked up my rental car.
Now, this rental car, and every other rental car in Croatia (and most of Europe) are manual transmissions. This may have caused most not to skip a beat and start their journey. But I am not most people. I am an American Kid who grew up with automatic transmissions. When I tried to learn how to drive my friend Mike's old 5 speed Honda in high school, it didn't go well. When I tried to learn to drive my friend Joe Wocken's manual Geo that had a light switch for the ignition, it obviously didn't go well. However, I was hopeful that this time would be different. Last summer, I had a successful lesson driving my Aunt Marsha's Old Orange Dumbstruck without a first gear.
So, after killing it about a dozen times, I finally made it the 30 minutes (should have been 15) to the Highway and was smooth sailing for the 3 hour drive to Zadar, Croatia, where Paul was relaxing in the sun, waiting. I will note that I think I may or may not have been completely missing the 1st gear location and trying to start in 3rd for a while. But by the time I made it to Paul, I had kinda gotten the hang of it! I even started on a hill (only killing it once)! I think, overall, it was pretty successful, teaching myself how to drive a manual transmission in Croatia! I did have a GPS, which was crucial, I would have gotten lost even in an Auto car but I would have had no chance, trying to navigate and shift at the same time!
Finally, like I said, I made it to Paul in Zadar. It was so so great to see him!! We walked on the boardwalk and he showed me the town. We ate a huge Vegetarian Pizza the size of a hula hoop, and just enjoyed the evening, the town, and each others company! It had been like 7 or 8 months since we had seen each other.
We did a little bouldering on the beach:
Just in our regular shoes, but regardless, the company was great, the view was amazing and it was a good time.
As the sun set, we walked into town more, along the beach and checked out a wind organ, where the water and wind much air through piped in the sidewalk/boardwalk/dock and creates beautiful sounds!
Then, eventually we went to a park along the beach, went to the back corner of it and pitched the tent. Thought the night, there was one time where we woke up scared shit-less (metaphorically) because people were definitely messing with us and possibly coming into our tent, but we soon realized, thankfully that it was just a huge flock of these large birds that had the ability to create perfect hooligan noises. Then we woke up early, and headed to the town of Starigrad, and the national park of Paklenica where we had planned our climbing trip!
Funny story about this picture below, and situation: Until this morning, I (and paul) had no idea how to put the car into reverse. The stick had "R" on the diagram, right next to "1" but I couldn't, for the life of me figure out how to get it into Reverse. Until this point, I had done my best, not to get into a situation where I needed reverse, until this morning. The plan, in our heads was just to push it back if we really couldn't, but when I woke up, I was determined to figure out the trick! Before any attempts, I sat in the drives seat for a good minute, just looking and thinking. And it dawned on me, there was a little ring, where the leather met the stick. And it turns out it was right, you have to pull up on this, and then move the stick into the "R" position. Success!
Anyways, off to climbing! After about an hour, (and no stalls!!), we got the the Starigrad, and then Paklenica! We got the (ridiculously cheap) park passes and started our hike in.
We had a pretty good idea of the climb we wanted to do or atlas check out that day, a pretty popular and easy 11 pitch climb, that was mostly 5.7 with a couple 5.8 and 5.9 pitches. We were excited but nervous that the predicted rain would come.
That is what the entrance to the park looks like, absolutely beautiful! As we made our way further in, and then took the necessary side trail. We were just happy to be outdoors, in such a beautiful place!
But by the time I got up half the first pitch, the rain started and we easily decided to bail, we knew the rain wasn't going to stop, and even though it was just a drizzle, it was still a cold rain, and getting windy. This is the huge Carabiner that is the mark for the start of this popular route. It was about a foot and a half tall, clipped to a piton that was equally as large:
For the rest of the morning, we climbed another short route each, but the weather just wasn't fun climbing weather. So we spent the rest of the morning hiking a bit in this valley.
After that, we decided to head back into town, get some real food and maybe find a place to stay. The town was very cool; where the road that comes out of the national park, intersects with the main road of the city, there is a little climbing culture for a few blocks in all directions. We got some coffee and decided to stay on a lady's land who was the cheapest price and she had a garage with a kitchen, stove, and bathhouse with plumbing and hot water!
This is just a unique picture I took near the campground we were staying at:
After we set up the tent, we went into town and got some food from the market. We cooked up some grub, relaxed a bit and then went on a hike in the park. Because we had no climbing gear, we just walked from our little campground to the park. Here is a picture of paul infront of the Park Entrance sign:
The National Parks in Croatia are famous for how beautiful and well maintained/structured they are. Here's a pic of me too!
Instead of heading into the valley where all the climbing is, we stayed up on one of the ridges and hiked up that way. From one view point, you can see the little village of Starigrad:
And another town, a bit down the road:
I can't state enough how wonderful it was to spend time with Pauly, look at this guy:
Eventually the path ended, so obviously we kept going (never a question when Paul is leading):
We kept hiking/scrambling on the beautiful rock ridges. The rock was very cool, some of it was loose scree, but a lot of it was solid igneous bedrock that was really jagged and unpredictable. Here is a picture of Pauly, I let him go ahead for a bit to get this shot:
The pictures (I know I say this a ton) just don't do it justice, I need to become a bette photographer, because this hike was just beautiful:
Here is a little closeup shot of some of the rock.. You might think that it is a bunch of boulders or big loose rock, but it all was connected and solid, just lots of huge cracks and fissures, most likely from quick cooling, millions of years ago!
And Paul let me hike ahead for a bit, I have to give him full credit for this awesome awesome shot of me!!
We kept hiking and hiking on this crazy ridge, until it was time to head back so that we would be down by sunset:
That night, we went on a walk through the town after dinner and came across a Cristian church of some sort. It was really interesting, and we were curious why so many people were showing up with baskets. We stopped and stood by the bonfire they had outside, and although no one spoke much english, someone explained to us, kind of, that the baskets had the bread and cheese and food for Easter meal and they brought it on Easter Eve to be blessed. We stayed for the first part of their service, and even lit candles they gave us. Eventually, headed back and hit the sack.. slept much better, without any bird hooligans waking us up! haha
The next day, it was incredibly windy and a little rainy again, so we decided just to go on a nice hike, and just relax. When we were making breakfast, we made friends with the only other people there, two people around our age from Berlin, Laura and Sergio (I think this was his name.. Jesus, much easier to remember, was his nickname). We ended up hiking with them for all morning, and then headed back to the garage, made food and chilled there for the rest of the afternoon.
Although they were traveling just out of their backpacks, via public transportation and hitchhiking, Jesus had with him his travel Didgeridoo, which is an awesome instrument from Australia, (yes, he was a bit of a hippy). They also had a few other small instruments and things so we just kind of chilled and jammed and conversed for the afternoon. It was a good time.
Earlier that weekend, paul and I decided, especially with the weather being kind of crappy, to book a hostel sunday night, in Zagreb, where we would be catching a 7 am train. So Sunday, after dinner, we said goodbye to our new friends and got in the car and headed on our way. Except we ran into a few roadblocks, almost literally. The main freeway was closed, because of high winds, and so after a while of not knowing what to do, and trying to find other routes, we came across a man at in the toll building. He told us, (not in english) the route, and so we went and tried it, but could that that road was closed as well! Crap.. So we went back and Paul asked him again, and he said that it may not be open till the next day. But after Paul convinced him that we couldn't do that, he told us another way to try, and it might work.
So, we started to go that way, but another road was closed.. this time, instead of being locked shut, there was only a barrier so we went for it. And of course, there was a police unit on it, it flashed its lights and I stopped, got out and asked them if they spoke english.. Nope.. well just our luck, but they spoke german, so I kinda was able to communicate the idea.. I said I needed to go to Zagreb, and they pointed, the way, but said, the road is closed on Sunday (today), and I said I needed to go tonight, and they said "that way" but that the road is closed to day.. and then when I asked how I can get there now, they just said "okay, go".. and I was a bit shocked and confirmed.. and they said, " ya, okay, go" and smiled, and I smiled and thanked them and we went on our way.
Afteer that, we turned the GPS mode to avoid the main "Interstate" and just say on highways. After a few hours, I figured we would need Gas eventually, and I didn't want to be stuck in the middle of no where on Easter Sunday, in a Catholic country where everything is shut down. So we kept our eyes peeled. Eventually we came to a road block.. again.. but there was an open gas station right there so we stopped and got some fuel, and the man gave me directions around the roadblock. Thank goodness.
Eventually we made it to Zagreb, in more than double the time it could have taken us. We dropped the car off at the Airport and shared a taxi with some random Croatian couple, to the train station. We got to our hostel, took showers and got to bed around 1am. Woke up around 6 and made our 7am train (direct) back to Salzburg. Paul was pretty excited, riding on a big train for the first time since he was younger, and he was excited to see Salzburg, where I have called home for the past 8 or 9 months!
Here is Paul's first view of the alps from the train window:
Paul was in Salzburg for 4 or 5 days, so I won't go into detail of the whole trip.. But rather just share a few pictures and snippets!
Although it was snowing the day we arrived back in salzburg, the sun soon came blackout and we spend a significant amount of time climbing at the local crag in the city. Here Paul is belaying me while i get past a ledge:
Here is a butt shot of Paul skipping bolts and flashing a 6+ (5.10+):
Another picture of Paul and his great smile!
I think it is safe to say that Pauly enjoyed his time in salzburg. He saw the "Old Town" and many parts in-between, we went out to eat a few times, and on a couple hikes to little viewpoints too.
My time with Paul, in Croatia and in Salzburg, was something I am so thankful for. It was exactly what I needed, overall it was so great to be with him and travel together. It brought me well out of any low or depression I was experiencing and filled me with happiness again. His presence also helped rekindle and remind me of so many lessons and teachings and truths that I have learned and experienced but forgotten through out my year here. These lessons and truths have reminded me and once again are allowing me to be happy, to be content, to be resilient and above all to be positive, light hearted and compassionate. His time in Salzburg, at the UP Center, has also provided a new perspective to everything here. I guess I was taking for granted a lot of things, and his perspectives were just what I needed to become more positive for these next, last few weeks of harder studies. I can't say enough how much this human means to me! I'm also super excited to spend a week with him in Ireland after the school year ends here!