The Cascading Waterfalls of Plitvice

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Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest parks in Southern Europe.  Situated near the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina, it is a large preserve in a mountainous region, dotted with crystal-clear lakes connected by streams and waterfalls.

Plitvice waterfall

The park was the site of the first conflict in the Croatian War of Independence, the Plitvice Lakes Incident.  At the time, the region was home to a large number of ethnic Serbs.  In March of 1991, Serb rebels, backed by Slobodan Milosevic and the Yugoslav People’s Army, took over the park in a violent conflict that left two people dead.  The rebels declared the park a part of an autonomous Serbian region and occupied it for the duration of the war.

There are a number of lodges and hotels in the park, and during the conflict, these were used as barracks by the Serb forces.  A number of buildings were burned down and areas of the park were mined.  The park was re-taken by Croatian forces in 1995, but not before a large number of Croats were ethnically cleansed from the region.  When the war came to an end, the park was de-mined as part of an effort to restore what UNESCO had declared a World Heritage Site in Danger.  Today, a visitor would never suspect the park’s violent history.  It is a serene and beautiful place.

Pete and I took a bus to Plitvice from Split and as we approached the park, the surrounding countryside went from soggy to snowy.  We got confused about where to get off of our bus and ended up disembarking too soon and wandering around the park, pulling our suitcases behind us through the snow.

Pete pretending that he knows where he’s going

After wandering around aimlessly, trying to follow confounding signs, we eventually found a hotel.

As someone who has seen The Shining approximately 386 times, it was a little eerie staying at a large, nearly empty hotel boasting ’70s decor.  We were visiting Plitvice at the very end of the tourist season, and there were perhaps three other groups of people there with us.  There were no other guests staying in our wing of the hotel.

Even the “Do Not Disturb” signs were creepy

When we ate at the restaurant, there were two staff members, Pete and I, and rows upon rows of empty seating.

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It creeped us out a bit, but it was nice to have the park nearly to ourselves.  In summer, Plitvice is so packed with tourists that the boardwalks are pedestrian traffic jams.

No traffic jams today

In October, you get the ferry to yourself

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We spent two days hiking around the cascades and waterfalls and trying to keep warm.  Our first day, it was quite overcast and we didn’t bump into any other tourists.  The second day was cold but sunny and beautiful.

Pete enjoying the sunshine

That second day, we encountered a group of elderly Japanese tourists stopping by the park on a bus tour.  It was sunny, but it was still quite cold, so Pete and I were wearing nearly all of our clothes.  Long-johns, rain pants (to cut the wind), toques, mittens: the works.  Some of these tourists weren’t even wearing hats.  They must be made of tougher stuff than us.  They put these two Canadians to shame.

After two days of hiking and exploring, and getting lost, thanks to vague Croatian signage, we were ready to move on to Zagreb.

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Plitvice is one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen, and I hope to go back one day.  If you ever have the chance to visit, please go.  You’ll be glad you did.

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Happy SITS Day to Me

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If you’re visiting Bike, Banjo & Baby for the first time, welcome!  I’m Suzanne, and I’m so happy you’ve stopped by.  You can read more about why I started this blog here.  I’m a (relatively) new parent and I’m striving to maintain some balance in my life.  I blog about fitting in the time for my interests, my hobbies (blogging included) and my passions.

(If you’re a regular reader, and you’re wondering what’s up, I’m a featured blogger today.  SITS is a community of bloggers, 40,000 strong.  SITS features a different blogger every weekday, and today is my day.)

I’m a banjo player who struggles to find the time to actually play the five-string banjo.  My husband rides all manner of bicycles and manages to do a good job of hopping onto one of his seven (that is correct, seven) bikes from time to time.

As a political junkie, I try to keep up with the news and I’ve even managed to attend some political lectures since having a baby.  I was once a voracious reader but I now often struggle to finish a book.  And I’m an avid hiker and camper who managed to take a ten-month-old to Algonquin Provincial Park and survive.  I signed up for an adventure race and learned to (kind of) enjoy stroller running.

I’d love to hear from you and to find out what keeps you busy, whether you’re a parent or not.  How do you find the time to fit everything in?  What excites you?  What keeps you motivated?  What would you spend all of your time doing if you had that luxury?

Thanks again for visiting.

In Pregnancy, Knowledge is Power

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When I was pregnant, I read and heard a lot about prenatal testing.  Many women around me said that they had declined it.  They would love their babies no matter what, so what was the use in having any testing done?

First, a disclaimer, I am not a medical professional.  But I am here to advocate for prenatal testing.  I know from experience that prenatal testing can save lives.  It can lead to a healthier baby and a better pregnancy outcome.  In pregnancy, as in everything else, knowledge is power.

When I found out I was pregnant, I went to visit my family doctor.  He said a few things to me.  One was that I shouldn’t announce my pregnancy, because I could miscarry.  He really said this.  The second was that I could opt to do some prenatal testing.  The prenatal testing, he explained very quickly, tested for Down Syndrome.  My (former) family doctor said that I should only go ahead with this testing if I were willing to abort a fetus who tested positive for Down Syndrome.  He also really said this.

Thank goodness I ignored this advice.  Why?  Because what he didn’t tell me was that the standard prenatal blood testing (done – in Canada – before 15 weeks) can also screen for neural tube defects and for placental problems.

At twelve weeks, Pete and I announced that we were expecting.  At fifteen weeks, when my prenatal blood test results came back, we had to tell our loved ones that we had bad news.  Our baby had a 1 in 5 chance of having Down Syndrome and an elevated chance of having a neural tube defect.

We were referred by our midwives to Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, one of the best hospitals in the world for maternal-fetal medicine.  There, I underwent genetic counselling and later, an amniocentesis.

We eventually found out that our baby did not have Down Syndrome, and neither did she (because they accidentally told us she had two X chromosomes – there goes that surprise!) have a neural tube defect.  At that point, we thought we were in the clear.  The blood test was wrong!  It was all a big misunderstanding.

What we found out, however, is that often, a false-positive screen for Down Syndrome or a neural tube defect does not mean that nothing is wrong.  It often means that something is wrong with the placenta.  In my case, my placenta was too small.

There was nothing that I did wrong.  There was nothing I could have done differently.  It was either genetics or simple bad luck (we still don’t know, and probably never will).  In about 2-3 percent of pregnancies, something goes wrong with the placenta.

Placental problems are serious business.  They are often life threatening to both mother and fetus.

I’m writing this post because I’m hoping to spread some awareness.  Our placenta specialist (there is such a thing!) told us that many midwives, family doctors and even obstetricians are not aware that prenatal blood testing can provide important information about the health of the placenta.  He said that this was partially the fault of placenta researchers (himself included).  They simply weren’t great at getting the word out.

Please, if you’re pregnant, have prenatal testing done.  If you do have a placental problem, there is a lot you can do to minimize the risk to yourself and to your baby.  Monitoring babies who are not growing properly due to a placental issue can save their lives.  Monitoring your own health (because placental insufficiency is linked to pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome) can save your life.

Little C had intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) due to my placental insufficiency.  She was monitored by ultrasound every two weeks and when she stopped growing, and was in danger of suffering brain damage, I was induced.  She was born at 37 weeks and a teeny-tiny 4 lbs 6 oz.  But she was delivered early enough that she didn’t suffer any long-term difficulties.

C in the nursery with her feeding tube

C in the nursery with her feeding tube

We were lucky.  We got the best possible outcome.  Not all babies whose mothers have placental insufficiency do so well.  C spent 2 weeks in the NICU and is now a busy little toddler.  Even though I spent my pregnancy worried sick about her, I’m so thankful that I followed through with prenatal testing.

Remember, in pregnancy, knowledge is power.