Adventurous Road-Trip from Germany to Croatia

Travel Date : 29th – 30th June 2013

Why Croatia? 

Before we were checking out places of interest, we knew little about ‘Croatia’. It’s a country that exist on the Geopuzzles that our child played but it is not a country often talked about. When I Googled the place, I came across Zagreb and noted how the building structures looked different from the usual European style.

The Plitvice Lake National Parks was the reason why we wanted to visit since it is well-known as a beautiful UNESCO Heritage Site not to be missed.

However, we had been hovering over the possibility of visiting the place over a weekend trip, since it is inaccessible from Germany by train, and the only way to make a return trip there over the weekend was by a self-drive tour. (You may find our experiences and advices on self-driving in Europe as a foreign driver here)

Before our road-trip to Venice, we would have not considered the drive there was possible. However, that trip with my colleague as co-driver, I became more confident in driving on the roads of Europe (“Yes, I can do it!”).

Four Countries in Two Days 

In order to reach our destination, we would have to drive through 4 countries — Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia, in just two days (not forgetting it’s a two-way trip)! The drive from Germany to Croatia without stops is 10 hours. This was definitely our first attempt in such an ambitious journey with risks involved. Even my German colleagues were worried about our safety and unconvinced this was achievable.

Nevertheless, knowing that I possess a high level of concentration and stamina, we were confident we would pull through this challenge safely. We also decided to add on an additional place of interest in Slovenia so we could break the monotonous drive and explore one more place. Adding on to our confidence, we had received the same Ford Focus vehicle as our rental car, so we won’t have to start getting used to another new vehicle again.

(Read here for our Self-Drive Tour Experiences In Europe)

We collected our car on Friday evening so that we could set off early Saturday morning. It was really a joy to drive early on a weekend morning, since vehicles on the roads were sparse and made our drive more relaxing and safer. Knowing that we had more time allowance by setting off early, we would also have less pressure to drive too fast, especially on the narrow countryside road of Austria (in order to reach Croatia from Germany, we need to pass through Austria first, followed by Slovenia).

We bought our vignette for the Austrian Autobahn at one of the petrol stations we passed by at the countryside, thankful that the station was opened early (we had already passed by several stations which were closed). Phew! We were worried that we might end up going on the Autobahn without a vignette and getting fined heavily. After getting onto the Autobahn, the drive was a breeze with nice Austrian scenery to admire along the way. The smooth traffic was very much welcomed too, unlike the jams and congestion we face regularly when driving in Singapore.

The Autobahn comprises of several tunnels and Dar was especially excited whenever we headed into one (“Daddy, look! Another tunnel!!”).

Austria Rest-Stop

When we reached the rest station at Tauernalm after 2 hours (the same one where we had stopped for our Italy road trip, since it has become our favourite rest point), we made sure to make a stop there since Dar loved that playground while we could enjoy the gorgeous views of the surroundings alps. While Dar played, Cat started preparing our breakfast with the bread and spread we brought along. We then moved off again towards the Austrian-Slovenia border after a short rest.

After passing through Villach (a city in Austria) on the Autobahn, we knew we were getting close to the border and started looking for another rest station so that we could buy the Slovenian vignette (15 Euro for a 10-day vignette) before entering the country. After that was done, we arrived at the longest tunnel we had driven through so far — the Karawanks Tunnel. As our tunnel-loving Dar was enjoying the ride, I had to be on full concentration through the entire drive since the roads were narrower and the tunnel lights do have this ‘hypnotising effect’ after tens of minutes.

Entering Slovenia

As Slovenia is in the Schengen Area, no checking of passports was required at the border. In a way, this long tunnel felt like the ‘Singapore-Malaysia Causeway’ back home, which is also a link between two countries.

Upon entering Slovenia, we started to find a petrol station to take a rest (it has been a while since we took that break in Austria). As I was alighting from our vehicle, a young lady started approaching us with a bucket of water and some cleaning tools.

“Hi, can I help clean your car?” She politely asked.

“Erm okay… How much?” Our windscreen was dirty after our long drive, so some cleaning would be appreciated. Knowing that almost nothing in Europe is free (e.g. unlike in Singapore, we even have to pay for ketchup, chilli sauce etc in restaurants), I had to make sure to find out the cost.

Patiently, she smiled back and responded with words like “Up to you” and “Anything”.

Perhaps still a little weary from the long drive and her sudden appearance, I then replied “It’s okay.”, meaning she could go ahead with cleaning our vehicle, before heading into the convenience store in the station.

As I was queueing up to buy the vignette, I found out from another customer that these services are provided for free by the petrol company, though it’s customary to give the ladies some coins (like 50 cents) as a form of appreciation as tips.

After getting the vignette, I headed back to the car, only to realised that our car was not cleaned at all! I guess she could have thought my “It’s okay.” as a rejection to her services! “Oops!” I thought, but was too embarrassed to approach her again to request her to clean the vehicle again.

In the end, after having our petrol topped up, we drove our car to the restroom area (out of the lady’s sights). We then ended up getting a rag and scrubbing off the dirt off our windscreen ourselves. How embarrassing!




We continued on our journey towards the beautiful Vintgar Gorge. We spent 2.5 hours walking before returning to our vehicle to Croatia.

Crossing to Croatia

We continued our journey to Plitvice, Croatia where we would be staying a night. The drive towards Croatia was smooth as we drove on its Autobahn and we arrived at the Croatia customs after 2.5 hrs. This was a new experience for us ever since we came to Europe as the countries we visited so far were ‘border-less’ and we didn’t have to get our passports checked and stamped before entering another country. It’s an exception here due to the Croatia–Slovenia border disputes. By the way, it was very coincidental that Croatia was to join the European Union (EU) on 1st July 2013, just one day after our visit.

Croatia, like Italy, doesn’t have the vignette system and tolls are paid manually at toll stations before exiting the Autobahn. Following the directions of our GPS, we left the Autobahn and headed into a small town. By this time, it was late afternoon around 4.30pm.

The town looked run down as we passed by a number of old, deserted buildings, with a gloomy feel to the place. Just as we were worried if we had lost our way, we saw a sign pointing to our destination — the Plitvice National Parks. We were relieved and believed we were nearing the park and if we reached there early, we could even have time to visit the park that day (the park closes later in summer).

As we drove on, we came across several small towns while driving on narrow roads. The GPS continued giving us directions and we relied on it totally. Soon, we began to feel uneasy as it appeared that we were heading to nowhere. It was a little late for us to backtrack and return to the Autobahn by then, so we could only continue to venture forward.

Lost? The Endless Driving 

Some time later, we came across another sign to the park just outside a dense forest (or jungle?). Trying our best to ignore the bad feelings that we had, we drove on, keeping our headlights on and watching the road ahead very cautiously. There were continuous winding roads with one lane for each direction, and some parts were so narrow that only one vehicle could pass through safely at a time.

Our optimism of reaching our resort in time for a walk in the park began to diminish as we got deeper into the forest, seemingly stuck in an never-ending maze of winding roads. Having the sun setting and the surroundings getting darker every minute didn’t help calm our nerves either.

There were the occasional vehicles that passed us from the opposite direction so that brought up hopes that we were nearing the exit to this nightmarish woods soon. Unfortunately, our hopes kept getting smashed as we continued winding left and right with seemingly no end to it. My patience and concentration were wearing and were were almost certain we were never going to get out of this mess.

Just then, we suddenly heard Dar crying aloud at the back (Cat was seated beside me to help me with the navigation).

“What’s wrong, Dar?” We responded simultaneously, worried. He kept on crying.

As I kept my concentration and eyes on the winding roads ahead (we were driving along a road beside steep slopes then), not wanting to end up crashing our vehicle, while Cat tried to calm Dar down and find out what was wrong with him.

Finally, he responded tearfully, “My tummy is… painful…” and he had wanted to throw up. (Cat: I reached into the backseat and looked frantically for a plastic bag. Wished I had thought of having one on standby! This was unusual for us since Dar has never experienced motion-sickness )

Fortunately, we got back into the forested area and I quickly inched our vehicle as close to the edge of the narrow road as possible. I also made sure we weren’t stopping near a bend and our hazard lights were switched on, so that we wouldn’t catch an incoming vehicle by surprise and end up in a collision. I was glad my mind was still alert at that time to take note of these factors instead of just panicking and ignore these safety measures (by the way, there was indeed a vehicle who passed us by from the other direction during that period).

I then carried him out of the vehicle and tried to calm him down, while Cat was looking for the tablets we bought for motion sickness in the car. While patting his back softly, I also held his hand and made him walk by the roadside slowly, so that he could begin to breathe some fresh air to get rid of his nauseousness (due to all the winding roads we travelled). I then got him to drink some water and he soon felt better, with a weak smile returning to his face. I felt guilty that in the midst of our frenzy driving, we had forgotten to check on him to make sure he was coping well at the rear of the car.

Meanwhile, Cat accidentally cut her finger while searching for the tablets! The cut was quite deep and her wound began to bleed non-stop! We were frantic for a moment with the things happening after one another, but managed to stop her bleeding soon after.

When everything began to settle down, we gave Dar the chewable tablet, hoping to further ease his condition (though the tablet should be eaten before the any motion sickness sets in).

We set off on our journey again, not wanting to spend more time there as the skies were beginning to darken. Fortunately, things turned for the better after this episode and we managed to exit (escape?) from the spooky woods just after another ten minutes of drive! We were so happy to be able to finally drive on a clear, ‘proper’ road again!

Wanting to be extra cautious from this point onwards so that we won’t get lost again, we stopped by some houses/resorts nearby to verify our directions. Apparently, we had chosen a ‘wrong’ route on our GPS, where the last part of the journey involved going through a forest, instead of passing through Zagreb on the autobahn first before we were to head towards Plitvice.

After asking several people, we finally found one who could point us to the correct direction. Confirming that with the ones that our GPS was pointing us to, we continued with our journey again. Very soon after, we passed by the two entrances of Plitvice National Park (thus further confirming that we were on the right track) before we finally arrived at our accommodation — the Plitvice House “Javorina“! We were soooo relieved to find our resting place after such an long and eventful journey!


{ Accommodation }

Guesthouse: Plitvice House “Javorina”
Reason For Choice: Close to Plitvice Lake National Parks / Has parking space / Affordable
Review:  We managed to get a tiny room for a cheap price (couldn’t remember how much but with breakfast, considered a bargain) as it was the only one available with our last-minute booking. Surprisingly, it turned very cold at night and was a squeeze for the three of us. Towels (small though) and thick blankets were provided. The bathroom was too tiny though and there was no where to place clothes unless on the toilet seat which would get splashed with the shower. I think I ended up leaving my clothes on the bed and stepping out into the cold room to wear. Brrr… The host lady was friendly but was not very good at English so we only communicated a little.

We enjoyed the breakfast even though it was the usual sausages, ham and boiled eggs but she provided for all three of us and specially cooked hot dogs for Dar.


Dinner 

Of course, it was already too late by then to visit the park, so we started to plan for dinner after settling down in our room. We followed our host’s advice to drive down the road and came across this cosy-looking villa at the junction ahead — Villa Lika (Address: Mukinje 63, 53231 Plitvička Jezera).

Unsure if they would be serving dinner for non-stayers, we first checked with them before parking our car in their premises. Fortunately, they were very friendly and welcoming and we soon found ourselves invited into the dining area of their villa. We were not sure what to order but the waitresses recommended their Croatian cuisine very well in English which helped us decide.

We were very thankful that our dinner had turned out great, which meant that our day didn’t turn out totally bad and the good food had certainly helped making us forget some of our bad experiences earlier.

It was also here that we finally experienced some ‘warmth’ towards us. After travelling several places in Europe, we had almost given up hope of encountering people who don’t discriminate. Due to this and several encounters at the place of interest, we left Croatia the next day filled with very positive feelings.

{ Food : Grilled Meat with delicious potatoes. Stewed beef or ‘Goulash’. Fresh Salad}

Next Post: Slovenia: Nature Walk in Vintgar Gorge

  1. Maja July 13, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    The route you took was not the wrong route, it was the old road, used long before the highway was built. I still find it far more enjoyable to drive on than the boring and monotonous highway road. All in all, I like your blog.

  2. shinkay September 11, 2016 at 12:58 am

    hi, may I know if you get a SIM card to access wifi for the GPS service?

    1. Vin September 20, 2016 at 11:20 am

      Hi Shinkay,

      No we did not. We used a ‘real’ GPS for navigation purposes.

  3. Sandra October 3, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    Hi vin we want to drive 2017. Berlin through Czech Republic, Prague, Vienna, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia taking 5 weeks leisurely. We really enjoyed your blig. Anymore information would be helpful. Thank you

    1. Vin October 7, 2016 at 3:07 pm

      Hi Sandra,

      That sounds like an exciting road trip that you will be taking!

      We have shared all about our experiences in our ‘ Self-Drive Tour Experiences In Europe’ post which hopefully you will find useful!

      Most of all, enjoy the journey and scenery along the way, and drive safe!

  4. Sandra November 23, 2016 at 4:13 am

    Hi Vin we are Australians & have booked our flights to Berlin then from Croatia. Had plans to drive through the same countries as you hwvr we are having trouble hiring a car to drive all the way as we are not dropping off in the same place. Could you pls advise if you hired or drove your own car? As well any hire companies & costs.
    Thank you. I love reading about your travels.

    1. Vin November 25, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      Hi Sandra,

      We rented out car from Hertz with the pick-up and drop-off points either at the same or different points within Germany, as we drove to other countries over the weekend and returned to Germany at the end of our journey.

      Hopefully Hertz would be able to cater to your needs.

      All the best and have an enjoyable trip ahead!

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