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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How to Camp with a Baby

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Pete and I took C camping recently, and we all survived.  We didn’t forget anything (unheard of), the weather was fantastic, we managed to hike 18 kilometres over three days, and most importantly, no one got eaten by a bear (although there was a bear trap set up two campsites away from us!)

Everything fits! Barely.

So now I feel qualified to offer camping-with-baby tips to others.  I’m kidding.  Every baby is different, and every camping trip is different.  But I did learn a few things on our first trip that could be helpful for anyone contemplating a similar adventure.

Pete and C playing in our dining tent.

1) Bring new toys.  Alternatively, take some toys out of rotation for a few weeks before the trip and bust them out at the campsite.  I realize that this is a well-known tip, but we forgot to do it so it stands out in my mind as an essential one.

2) Find as secluded a campsite as possible.  We were car-camping, but we managed to book a walk-in site that was set back from the road by about 15 metres.  That makes a big difference for a baby’s sleep quality.

Where the napping happens.

3) Camp in the radio-free area.  These campground areas tend to be a little quieter, though that’s not always the case.  For instance, there was a group of three 20-something guys on a site across the road from us who retired to their massive tent at about 6:00 pm one night.  They were REALLY loud in there and we couldn’t figure out what was going on, until Pete walked past their site to fetch some water.  He came back and told me he thought they were playing Risk in there, because he heard something about a “clean sweep of North America.”  Good times.

Hiking Booth’s Rock Trail in Algonquin Park

4) Don’t fall for baby tricks.  Our first night, we were worried that the baby wouldn’t sleep well, so we went to bed early.  We hunkered down before it was even completely dark out.  To our surprise, the baby slept through the night and got up, happy and bright-eyed, at about 7:30 am.  Amazing!  We decided that she was a natural camper and that we should probably celebrate that fact with a late-night campfire and some drinks.  Do you see where this is going?  We were up every two hours with her that second night.  And she was up for the day at 6:00 am.  She won that round.  Well played, C.

Doesn’t Pete look exhausted? Lesson learned.

5) Enjoy the trip for what it is.  I used to go on a few interior canoe camping trips every summer.  What we did with C in July was very, very different from those portaging trips.  But that’s okay.  We’ll do those sorts of trips again someday.  And then we’ll probably miss these little trips with baby C.  It’s amazing to watch a baby experiencing the natural world for the first time.

Suzuki commands, I obey

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Last month, I participated in David Suzuki’s 30/30 Challenge.  I did my very best to spend at least 30 minutes outside every day.  And since I’m home full-time with my ten-month-old, I usually dragged her out with me.  We got really lucky and the month of June was, for the most, part, beautiful.

Here are some of my favourite photos from the past month.

C and I joined some friends for our first trip to the zoo.  Of all the animals, C was most afraid of the pygmy goats.  Interesting.

C at the zoo. In the stroller behind her is of her besties.

C tried out the swingset for the first time.  There was a lot of leg-pedalling.  I think she thought that might make her go faster.

C loving the swingset.

We went to a party at the Early Years Centre.  Pete was mostly in it for the hot dogs.

Pete and C heading to a party at the Ontario Early Years Centre.

There was a bilingual outdoor puppet show.

Enjoying an outdoor puppet show at the Early Years Centre.

The next day, we went for a hike along a particularly beautiful section of the Bruce Trail.  We stayed up too late the night before, hence Pete’s sleepiness.

Going for a hike on the Bruce Trail.

C enjoyed the backpack for about ten minutes.  She’s already starting to get annoyed in this photo.

C tolerating a hike.

We got a break from the heat at the shady waterfront park.

Tummy time at the waterfront park.

This challenge did a great job of reminding me to take some time away from errands and tasks and busywork to just get outside and enjoy some quality time with my little family.  Life with a baby can be so hectic, and the time just flies by.  I’m hoping that I can keep this up and take a few minutes every day to get outside with C.  We’re starting July off on the right foot with a trip to the family cottage.

Happy Canada Day!

Challenges are Challenging

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That is the kind of insight you’re going to get around here at Bike, Banjo and Baby.  Challenges are challenging and water is wet; that sort of thing.

I’ve realized that although I’m a reasonably outdoorsy person who likes hiking and canoeing and camping and such, it’s actually quite difficult to get outside for half an hour every single day of a month when you have a little person with you at all times.  Even when the weather that month is unusually warm and dry, you still encounter days with torrential rain or gale-force winds.  Babies do not like being outside in torrential rain or gale-force winds.  Other days you just get busy with errands and baby art classes (that is messy, messy business, by the way) and laundry and cooking and you just run out of day.

For the most part, I’ve managed to keep up with the David Suzuki Foundation’s 30/30 Challenge.  I’ve taken photos (whenever I’ve remembered to pack the camera) to document our outdoor time .  Here are some highlights.

C enjoying our front garden from the comfort of her baby Muskoka chair.

C and Pete enjoying our friends’ rooftop patio (lovingly referred to as “Muscle Beach”).

Going for an evening paddle at my parents’ cottage in Cognashene. Bliss.

C’s first dip in Georgian Bay, showing off her splashing skills.

Unfortunately, I did forget the camera when C and I went to an outdoor baby yoga class, and again on Father’s Day when the three of us went for a hike on the Bruce Trail.  I’ll try to be more diligent for the second half of June.

In the meantime, check out David Suzuki’s Flickr group and all the gorgeous photos these outdoorsy Canadians have been posting.

Banjo vs. Bagpipes

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This is going to be a quick post, because it’s the long weekend and our little family is going to attempt a hike when the baby wakes up in a few minutes.  Hiking with C is a challenge because she dislikes baby carriers, but we’re attempting to desensitize her to them by taking her on pleasant, short hikes once in a while.  This is (we hope) going to result in baby who will be happy to go on a 10 km hike in July when we take her camping in Algonquin Park.  I’m only half joking.

I’m writing this as a bit of an update to my last post about how to play a loud instrument with a baby around.  This past Friday, at a pre-party for the mountain race that I’m doing in less than two weeks (eeek!) I met a woman who plays the bagpipes.  She also has a baby boy who is a little older than C.  I asked her a million questions.  She told me the following:

1) She can’t play bagpipes in the house, even when her baby is awake and happy, because they’re too loud and they scare him.  A lot.

2) She practices with her pipes & drums group, but can’t practice anywhere else unless it’s with a little kazoo-type, bagpipe-practicing contraption that doesn’t make much noise.  I’ve heard of these.  They’re good for learning new songs and developing muscle memory.

3) She couldn’t play her bagpipes much at the end of her pregnancy because it’s so physically demanding that it would cause painful contractions.  Apparently she would still play with the pipes & drums but would have to sit out the odd song because of this.  She is tough stuff.

What I took away from this conversation is that I should make a better effort to keep up my practicing.  If this awesome bagpipes-playing woman can manage to keep up her practicing with a baby who is terrified of her instrument, I have no excuse.  Even though the banjo is loud, it is nowhere near bagpipes-level noisy.  So it’s decided.  There will be daytime hoedowns in this house.

Now I just have to deal with the fact that my tuner is broken.  Its demise involves peanut butter.  I’ll discuss this later.  In the meantime, I hope everyone is having a fantastic long weekend!  Happy Victoria Day!