If you’re not interested in an exciting tale of children lost and found, humans fighting off angry dogs, river boats, friendship and oh! so much more! … skip to the end of this blog post.
Planning to meet up
Andrew and I met in college, in Upstate New York, in 2001. Since life has a funny way of throwing us up and down and all around, eighteen years later we both ended up living on the other side of the planet and relatively close to each other. After having lived in the USA, Hungary and Germany for almost ten years, I eventually moved back to Croatia and Andrew moved to Serbia to be with Dina.
We spent the last couple of years talking about meeting up and not suceeding to, even though we now live only 350 kilometres apart. Our attempts to see each other were getting seriously pathetic and I think we both stopped believing it was ever going to happen, but we still brought it up regularly, out of habit.
Finally, I’ve had enough. I don’t understand what gave me strength to organise a weekend away less than two months after having given birth to our third child, but there you go – baby hormones work in mysterious ways (that being said, it took me three months to finish this blog post, so I guess it’s only the newborn hormones that make you do stuff).
After a surprisingly brief discussion, we all decided to meet in Lonjsko polje – about 120 km away from Zagreb and almost 300 km away from Novi Sad where Andrew and Dina live. They thought it was fair they drove further because – no newborn.
Accommodation in Lonjsko polje
On booking.com we found an affordable three-bedroom house in a village called Plesmo. Andrew’s family was very easy to organise accommodation for since all four of them share a bed. I, on the other hand, demanded a separate room just for me and the baby, as far away as possible from the other two kids. We booked accommodation for two nights and finally met up on a Friday morning with no set plans except to spend time together.
The house itself was lovely and very comfortable, with a nice outdoor sitting area as well as a big winter garden, so we spent our Friday mostly hanging out around the house, eating and drinking and talking and telling kids repeatedly to go and play. We also took a (very) short walk up and down the main (and only) village road in the evening.
On Saturday morning we all set off to a nearby village of Krapje. I read about a boat tour that started there and boats are always a great, kid-friendly activity. According to my reading of the map, the village was only two kilometres away. Easily doable.
A walk to the boat
Four kids jumped on their bikes, we threw the baby in the pram (gently!), remembered to take the dog and cheerfully started our walk.
Five minutes later, Benny fell off his bike and slit his lip open so Jay had to take him back to the house to try and calm him down. Molly started crying next, three minutes later, because “everyone keeps falling down and crying” even though Benny was the only one who fell and she was now the only one who was crying. When she finally calmed down, it was my turn to freak out. I became paranoid about our kids getting hit by reckless drivers, so even though there were barely any cars driving by, I kept shouting at the three remaining kids to keep off the road. Half an hour later, aka stressful and (un)eventful 500 meters into our walk, a friendly stray dog started following us. Great. I was now stressing about three kids, a baby and two dogs.
Eventually, we reached the village of Krapje. We still had some time to kill before the boat tour so we sat on a picnic table near a football field at the start of the village and had sandwiches which Andrew and Dina thoughtfully and intelligently prepared. Enormous bonus points for them! (Small digression: I wouldn’t have thought to bring food myself – when I’m not hungry I can’t imagine I’ll ever be hungry again so my mind doesn’t think about the food at all. That habit’s not cool at all when you have kids. Or when you’re a human who needs food to survive. Luckily, there are bakeries at every step in Croatia. Digression over.) At this point, the friendly stray dog got bored with us and ditched us to find a better family. Or to live under a bridge.
I then called the tourist board to check if dogs (Klara) were allowed on the boat, only to find out that a) yes, they were allowed and b) there were another two kilometres to walk to the boat and only thirty minutes until the scheduled departure.
We started heading towards the boat. Halfway there Jay arrived in the car. He picked up Andrew and his sons, while Dina, baby, me and Klara the dog continued to walk, with Molly cycling next to us.
Except that Molly didn’t cycle next to us. She was ahead and then further ahead and then so far ahead that we couldn’t see her anymore. We were shouting after her to slow down and come back, but as it happened, there was a tractor on the road making so much noise that she couldn’t hear us. Dina started running after Molly and I was trying keep up, with Klara and the pram and my painful C-section scar. Soon Dina was just a small figure in the distance and I was out of breath and terrified for my little, dumb Molly. I saw Dina wave down a car going the opposite direction and jumping in. As the car turned back around, I realised she cleverly asked someone to drive her after Molly. Another bonus point for Dina! (She now scores very high on the intelligence, creativity and proactivity scale!)
I slowed down, relieved. I knew Dina was going to catch up with Molly and my heartbeat finally slowed down. Just then, out of nowhere, a dog charged at us, barking and trying to bite Klara. By then I was sick of everything. At first, I stomped my feet while screaming at the dog, but he just wouldn’t give up. Admittedly, not my proudest moment, but I tried kicking him away. I had an old dog and a baby to defend, so I believe my behaviour was to a degree justified. For some reason, the dog didn’t like me kicking and screaming so gave up on his plan to tear us all to pieces and went back to his yard and, surprisingly, I didn’t get bitten.
I hurried up to where Dina and Molly were standing. Apparently, Molly misunderstood us and thought she was supposed to cycle after her Dad’s car. Obviously, a six-year-old on a bike can not keep up with a car driving at a normal speed regardless of how fast she pedalls. At some point she looked back but couldn’t see me and Dina anymore, so she did a clever thing and stopped next to the road to wait for us. When a car approached her, she remembered “Stranger-Danger” so she hid behind the bushes, but luckily (and surprisingly, I’m sure) it was Dina who came out of the car.
Finally getting to the boat
In the meantime, Jay dropped off Andrew and the boys at the boat and came back to pick us up because, it turned out, the boat was yet another kilometer further than we thought! Andrew organised for the boat to wait for us all (there were only two more Italians on-board except us so it wasn’t too difficult to convince the captain to wait) and finally we were ready to jump aboard.
The boat tour was nice, but the best thing was fitting four kids, four adults, a baby, a dog, a pram and three bikes in our car on the way back and having a cold beer to recover from the excitement.
The next day we went out for a nature walk and some ice-cream. At the nature reserve we saw horses, birds, frogs and lots of other amazing creatures, but after everything that had happened the previous day, to me it was all merely a blur. I guess we’ll have to go again.
To summarise for those who skipped to the end, here are the important points:
- Lonjsko polje is a nice weekend destination for all the nature lovers out there. For actually useful information click here: Lonjsko polje
- The boat tour doesn’t start in the village of Krapje, but a couple of kilometres further down the road.
- If you have little kids and if you also have a car, use that car to get kids places, because kids generally suck at walking / cycling.
- Make sure your kids understand instructions well if / when you’re planning to separate briefly.
- Create time and space to be with your friends. On that note, hopefully Andrew and I will get to see each other again before 2035.