Early starts are traditional for Sackville Summer Activity Week trips and this was no exception. The 3.00am coach to Gatwick for the 05.50 flight is always the highlight for both parents and students. The theory is an early start will lead to an early first night and one day I am sure this will be true. We landed in Split Airport to warm sun and blue skies and were whisked by short coach journey to esplanade in Split to walk to our boutique hostel – The Goli & Bossi which was right in the heart of the old city. It was a really fun place to stay all orange with weird yellow stripes and cool POD beds, the students loved it. Originally a large department store it still has escalators to each floor and its very own “Wonkeresque” Great glass elevator in the middle. Being in the heart of the old city meant shops were immediately outside the door and the views at the top went across the City. Our young and pretty tour guide Ana, who oozed personality and was excellent knowledge on the local area was an instant hit for all the boys and was well attended by the male PE staff member as well! Although we had booked a free day in Split Ana offered a guided tour and this was readily accepted and we had brilliant walk through the old town with excellent insider knowledge. Ana had a great rapport with the students and knew all their names before we got back to the hostel.
That afternoon we went to the beach for a chill out (Ana gave us the low down on the best places to go) then back to the Hostel for supper – very tasty grilled fish with green beans and chips followed by ice cream. With an evening free in Split the students hit the shops and the teachers hopped to the stuffed frog museum. Yes you heard it right! An absolute sight not to be missed, a most bizarre Edwardian curiosity with frogs posed doing circus tricks, dressed as gentlemen boating, a school classroom scene, synchronized swimming, etc. Not suitable for vegetarians but what a spectacle. With a cracking thunderstorm overhead sending torrents of rain into the streets we jumped back to the hostel at 9.00pm. Sitting with the students at the top of the hostel watching this majestic storm across the city and sharing bizarre photos of frogs was a very memorable evening.
The next day we packed our bags as we were on our way to Zadar where we where spending the rest of the week. Breakfast was a hit with a wide selection for the students who were creating their own taste combinations of bread rolls with honey, bacon, tomatoes, jam, ketchup, etc. We waved Split adieu and headed for one of the great National Parks Croatia is famous for – Kraka. Arriving at 10.00 at the top of the amazing Kraka Gorge we descended on tight hair pin bends to the bottom all the while getting fantastic views of the gorge and river. Some students were kind enough to make sure even those who did not like heights were reminded of the hair pin bends and great views so they would not feel like they were missing out. At the bottom the first thing we heard was a chorus of loud croaking and thinking we were being haunted by the museum of last night we walked over to the river saw hundreds of frogs swimming and doing the things frogs do. From the noise they were making we now had more sympathy with the frog stuffers of Split. We toured around the old village of Kraka where watermills powered the village and saw a blacksmith, a weaver and various crafts being made and some students had a go at weaving on a loom. An informative walk over a raised platform above the river and falls (there are loads of water falls here) looking at dragonflies, fish, figs and of course frogs, we came to the biggest waterfall on the river and the highlight of the day – swimming in the river and under the falls. Although we could have walked further the students asked if we could stay by the river and swim and Ana was brilliant by being very accommodating to the student’s wishes – she said what ever they wanted she was happy for. She arranged a slightly later boat cruise and lunch (which was right by the waterfalls so we did not have far to go). Mid afternoon we were on a boat going down river and soaking in the wonderful landscape and then a quick obligatory ice cream stop we were on our way to Zadar again.
Just under an hour on the coach we were in Zadar and the hostel this time was called the boutique Hostel Forum, named after the Roman forum it faced and with views to the sea and islands in the distance. Students again loved the quirky rooms, blue and white themed colours with mirrored bathrooms, and the location. It was on the main street in Zadar and had one of the best ice cream parlours almost opposite and coffee bars and shops only a few steps away. Surrounded by city walls on three sides and the sea on the forth the city was easy to navigate for the students, small enough not to get lost, and very safe for them to have free time in. After a good supper in a restaurant just by the hostel and a last minute ice cream top up most were ready for bed at 10.00 (our earliest night yet!)
We were off to Nin, a small, ancient fortified island off the coast of Croatia (Croatia has over 1200 islands off the coast) The Island has a causeway one side and a medieval bridge the other and is surrounded by old walls. The centre has Roman and later remains and was also the site of several coronations of past Croatian Kings. We had a new guide today called Svetlana who was even more of a hit with the boys (and PE Teacher) and we all felt the past come alive with her knowledge of the island. We saw relics of past saints (finger bones in ornate gold and silver hand statues, roman temple ruins, ancient churches and the coronation sites. Nin is also famous for its salt and we were guided through the whole process of salt making and told why salt here is so good for us – it has more dissolved minerals then other salts due to the water running off the mountains behind us. Students couldn’t wait to taste trial the different salts they had here (apparently they all tasted like salt) and bought souvenir packs for parents at home.
After Nin we were off to the island of Pag (great names for islands) to see the Nunnery, the lace making and most importantly the beach and ice cream bar. After a brief tour of Pag (it was quite hot) and a shop stop we headed for the beach and the pizza restaurant there for lunch. A long dip in the sea (it also tasted like salt) to cool down and Pizza (thankfully not so salty) they had free time to look around Pag proper and explore the narrow alleys and shops. Being built on Roman designs Pag had perpendicular streets and was easily to navigate as you could always see the sea one side and mountains the other. Filled with small pieces of lace, bags of salt, pizza, ice cream and happy students, we made our way back to Zadar for the evening. Just outside the hostel dares were made to climb to the top of the campanile (the tallest tower in Zadar and a mass of tight spiral steps). The views at the top were good but if you were climbing when the bells rang you were deafened!
Today we were off to the oldest National Park in Southeast Europe and the biggest and most popular park in Croatia, the World Heritage Site of Plitvice Lakes. Ana was our guide again and walked and talked us though one of the most magical and inspiring landscapes any student had seen.
The land was alive with waterfalls of every description, with various dissolved minerals, moss, algae and plants giving all colours of blue, green, turquoise and greys. Being surrounded by waterfalls and no toilets some of the waterfalls were yellow too. The water was crystal clear and we could even see the fish swimming in the rivers. We climbed, walked, took boats and spent all day exploring the 16 cascading lakes along this amazing gorge. Everyone had masses of photos by the end and even felt a little waterfall overdosed! The Park was absolutely the best park anyone had been and we all wished we could have stayed even longer to see the sun set at the park.
The last full day was going to be an adrenaline rush of white water kayaking down the Zrmanja River in the Velebit National Park. Adaptable travel organised a coach to take us to our start point at Kastel Zegarski, a small village on the edge of the Zrmanja gorge. After a brief lesson on how to kayak (and how not to) and a practice on a small rapid, we set off down river through yet more of the breathtaking scenery Croatia had to offer. Several rapids later, quite a few capsizing, some serious splashing of teachers and a swim in the river we reached the half way point of an 11m drop waterfall. We walked around the falls as the guides dropped the boats over them. On the beach at the bottom we had our picnic and another brief swim before we tackled some more advanced rapids with names like corkscrew and toboggan run. Once we were through them we had a very pleasant half hour paddle to our destination, the Muskovic Bridge. Here we helped get the kayaks out of the water, changed and had chicken and chips by the river at the local restaurant. The day was an amazing success with the only injuries being a scrapped knee and slight sunburn.
The last night was spent in Zadar at the sundown light show, a giant open air solar installation on the harbour pavement that, when the sun goes down, looks like a disco floor with different coloured lights flashing and making patterns across the floor. Behind is the sea organ – a wave powered musical instrument that has to be heard to be believed (not too dissimilar to the frog chorus at Kraka). With final ice cream orders from the very friendly parlour opposite the hostel (water melon, toblerone, chocco-banana and mojito flavour voted the best ones available, no one daring the one named Croatian Frog) and a hot chocolate from the café, we all reflected on the week we had had.
Our last day consisted of packing, breakfast, a final panic shop to get all the last minute presents, a final panic decision making on what ice cream to have, and then on the coach back to Split airport. The flight was on time and we sailed though customs and arrived at 5.00 pm at school exhausted but full of our stories of a very successful trip. The students put together a video on the school website of the trip with special footage from the “kayak-camera” one student had on his helmet. The comments fed back to staff were of how beautiful Croatia was, the excellent organisation of the trip, the great places we stayed at and how friendly the tour guides were. Some parents said they now wanted to go to Croatia and stay in the same hostels as they sounded so good. All in all it was a fabulous trip and certainly one we consider again for a future.
Adaptable Travel can tailor make school trips to Croatia. Contact Adaptable Travel today to start organising your next school trip, or find out more about Croatia Geography trips.
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