Tuesday, August 21, 2007

IOI Excursion: Plitvice Lakes

Yesterday was the main excursion day at the IOI. The main part of the excursion was visiting the Plitvice Lakes, after which we visited the Nikola Tesla Memorial Center. The Plitvice Lakes are part of UNESCO's world heritage and is apparently the most famous national park in Croatia.

There were two groups of buses, with the first leaving at 06:30 and ours leaving at a more reasonable 08:30. It was a long bus ride as the park was 140km out of Zagreb. We finally got moving at 09:00 and arrived two hours later. Before catching the bus we had breakfast. When we arrived they gave us a packet of yet more food!

The park was very beautiful. It was overcast for most of the time and even rained for short periods, but that didn't detract from the beauty too much. After walking a little, everyone gathered around to board the ferries. Unfortunately we were near the back and all the ferries were full. We were told that it would take two hours before we could catch a ferry, so we took their recommendation and walked.

There was a lovely path following the edge of the lake which we took. We got to see lovely views of the lake and surrounding mountains. I would say it turned out best that we walked instead of taking the ferry. It took quite a bit longer, although the wait for the ferry would have made the ferry option take longer. Along the way we saw several types of unusual mushrooms and other wonderful sites.

After about 90 minutes we caught up with the rest of the group that had taken the ferry. This is when we discovered that the plan was for us to wait those two hours for the ferry. Most of the people we met up with there were from the 06:30 bus and this meant we had gone through the route too quickly. So we took a detour and went to see some of the waterfalls. Unfortunately we never got to see the main waterfall, but apparently there's not too drastic a difference.

After the waterfall Dirk challenged Ralf to some rock climbing which he accepted. He didn't get too far, but at there were no unwanted injuries. I say that because one of the other contestants apparently cut himself, although I'm not sure how bad it was. It always happens!

After the waterfall and monkey acts, we rejoined the main group to catch the ferry back to the entrance. It started raining a little while we were waiting, but after the first lot of ferries were loaded we got a spot under the trees so we never got all that wet. There were two ferries we had to catch and we got back to the buses by 15:00, the time we were told to be there. The problem was that we were about the only ones there. All the others were still walking around the park - late!

The other teams came in very slow drips and drabs and we ended up waiting for more than 90 minutes. Most of that time we spent outside the bus in the fresh air, however the time we spent in the bus waiting for the thing to move was painful as it was rather stuffy inside. The opportunity to see those wonderful lakes was well worth it though, but the organisation could have been improved a great deal. We were supposed to be back at our accommodation by 18:00 and it was already 16:30 with lots to still do. As time passed, the poor organisation became more and more evident. The guides were by no means the ones with which the blame lies as they were following the poor instructions given to them.

Once the bus finally moved, we were taken to what they called lunch, however it was already 16:45 by the time we arrived. We split into two restaurants as they weren't large enough. Donald and Peter chose turkey so they went off to another place while we had the pork option. The food was good.

After lunch we had to wait yet another half an hour for the buses to arrive, pick us up and start moving. By this time it was already about 18:30. We thought they would cut out the Telsa Center, however they were adamant that even though they were running well behind schedule they were going to take us there. The memorial center is in the very house he was born and lived in, out in the rural area of Croatia.

It was rather small and most of what they had was a timeline of Croatian history. They had a tesla coil, which is what Tesla is famous for inventing, however it wasn't powered on. I generally like most museums, but considering how far we had to go to get there, this place wasn't all that exciting. The youngsters spent more time in the rather interesting playground which had some unusual swings and other devices with which the guys had a ball with.

We left the place at about 21:00. One of the buses broke down along the way and the teams inside that one spread out amongst the remaining buses. Most of them had to stand in the buses as there weren't enough seats, which was expected. The journey back was very long and we finally arrived at our accommodation at about 23:30. I rushed to dinner before the queue started and was very lucky along with Mark and Dirk as by the time the others had thought about dinner the queue was very long.

There was a team leader's part schedule for 21:00-23:00. You can imagine, however, that they weren't able to stick to those times and so they started at about midnight. I went past, but there were very few there and some ran off to their own private parties and so I didn't stick around for long at all. An early night was in order and that's what I got.

This morning we had our final GA meeting. Amongst many other things, we voted for the new IC (International Committee) and ISC (International Scientific Committee) members. An Argentinian and Macedonian got the the two IC positions with a New Zealander missing out. A Polish and Mexican beat the Australian and Chinese that nominated themselves for the two ISC positions.

After the meeting we went out and did some shopping. At 17:00 this evening the medals are announced at the awards ceremony. While some people have compiled an unofficial list of some of the teams' scores here, nobody knows the medal cutoffs. It looks as though a Polish has won again and that the Chinese have got all golds once again.

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