Croatia (2013)

Reception in Zadar

We leave for Zadar, where we are welcomed by Anika and the pope. The next day we explore Zadar, greet the sun and listen to the Sea Organ.

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Yesterday was a… special day. We get up early and have breakfast, clean up and pack our bags in record time and are ready to depart an hour before we are meeting with Lana. She is dropping by at 11 from her gallery in town to collect the payment for the last night and the keys. She has no objection to us staying in the appartment for the day, but we have a bus to Zadar to catch and say goodbye. The massive black colossus that is our bag is once again dragged behind us, but this time we are going downhill which is considerably easier. Not long after we are waiting for the bus, which is half an hour late, with tickets in hand. No one seems to be surprised or annoyed about the delay, except for the bus driver who angrily honks the horn at every car that gets in the way. A bit later than planned, but again very comfortable in an air-conditioned touring car, we ride up the Croatian coast towards Zadar. It does not take long for nearly all of the passengers, Vonne and myself included, are soundly asleep.

We wake up not too far from Zadar and soon the bus has reached its destination, which means we have too. We have not even fully alighted or we are already surrounded by a mob of elderly Croats offering appartments for rent or transport to any location in Zadar. We decline their offers and seek a quiet place on the other side of the station to check on the map where we are going. It seems like a bit of a walk, but the route looks to be fairly straightforward. We set out optimistically, followed by the black bulky bag. As we check the map about ten to fifteen minutes later and realise how far we have gotten, we start questioning whether rejecting transport was the best of ideas. Zadar, turns out, is still relatively large and the bus station is not exactly in the center. And neither is our apartment, which is right on the other end.

Of course we do not give up, but persevere and continue on our journey. The bag does start to become heavier and heavier in the Croatian afternoon sun and I am really starting to wonder why there are a pair of jeans and a coat in it. And about halfway through, the pavement just ends and we are dragging the bag along a dirt path alongside the road. Note that despite its wheels, it is still not an all-terrain vehicle with two wheel drive. By the time we are starting to get close, I am a walking waterfall and pretty much prepared to drop down and not move a muscle until the return trip to Split.

Once we arrive in the street where we are going, we discern nothing that looks remotely like a hotel or reception and so ask a few guys in the street whether they know where Rooms Anika and/or № 3 are located (they seem to be pretty good at hiding the house numbers; they must really hate mailmen over here). Of course they point us at the house directly across the street from where we are standing, and one of them opens the gate for us and announces us. On the stone pillar next to the gate we now indeed see a faded three. We drag our bags in and find ourselves in a plain little garden where an elderly woman is busy watering her plants.

Anika and the pope

The lady puts down the garden hose and says hello. I return her greeting with a friendly dobar dan, which is immediately followed by a veritable flood of Croatian. And to be absolutely clear: not uttered by me. She comes over and introduces herself as Anika. Vonne introduces herself as Vonne and I myself as Iwan. Ooh! Ivan! But that is Croatian name! Again a flood of enthusiastic Croatian follows, and again: not from me. Immediately a small table and two chairs are dragged into a shaded area of the garden, we really should sit down and do we want a beer. I am still assuming that with the whole dragging the bag adventure I have lost more water than flows through the Krka waterfalls in an hour, and that my body currently consists of only about 30% water, so I ask whether she has a glass of water. That request is immediately waved away: no water, beer for both! She is off into the house before I can even contemplate using Jelle Brand Corstius“I am a recovering alcoholic” excuse (the only way to decline wodka in Russia). She reappears quickly with two glasses of beer (oh well, as long as they are wet and cold) and she sits down with us.

Neither of us are really sure what makes for the right response when confronted in a foreign country with a picture of someone with the pope.

I attempt to make clear that my Croatian is fairly limited (in case that was not already apparent) and Anika tells that she speaks a little bit of English and German. Slovenian, Czech, Polish and Russian are all no problem, beause most of her guests are from there and she speaks those languages well. But, on to more important things: Ivan, that is a Croatian name, how did I come by that? She actually was not even the first; Ivica in Split too was immediately enthusiastic upon hearing my name (“Ah! Ivan! Ivica!” *broad grin*). In all honesty, I would probably also be surprised to encounter a Croat back home who was named something like Diederik. At any rate, I explain to Anika that Iwan is actually a Polish name. Yes, we are from the Netherlands, but my grandmother is Polish, which is sort of how it happened. What? Poland? But then we have to wait for a second! Anika once again disappears inside and Vonne and I exchange “what is going to happen now” looks, and decide that simply enjoying our beer is the best course of action.

A positively radiant Anika returns with a large frame containing a picture of herself in younger years with… pope John Paul II. Neither Vonne, nor myself, are really sure what makes for the right response when confronted in a foreign country with a picture of someone with the pope, and I strongly suspect our What & How in Croatian does not offer a sentence for this situation either. “Ah!”, I try with a friendly smile, “Karol Wojtyła!”. Yup, now I have done it. “Da! Karlo Wojtyła!”, she shines even brighter. Vonne is speechless. Apparently the pope was in Croatia three times, once in Zagreb, once in Split and once in Rijeka. Anika had the opportunity to present him with a book and he was a very good pope. And to reinforce that statement, she plants a firm kiss on the photo pope.

Anika and the pope retreat indoors. She returns alone and starts busily writing on a map of Zadar and showing us where we can find everything. How many nights are we staying, and do we know already know how to get to our next destination? Where are we going next, anyway, to Split airport? Vonne quickly produces our booking confirmation to show that we have booked six nights in one of her appartments. Ah, the appartments! It turns out Anika runs a family business: she rents out the rooms in her own house, and a Sanela the appartments. She will call Sanela on the phone right away, who can take us there. Unfortunately she can not get a hold of Sanela, but it is closeby, so she will walk there herself. If we can spare ten minutes and out of the garden door she is. Vonne and I stare at each other and just burst out in laughter.

Five minutes later Anika returns with Sanela, who turns out to be her grand-daughter. She will drive us to the appartment with her car. The door of which produces a sound upon opening that makes me think I just tore the whole thing right off the car, but as our bag fits into it, it is a limousine to me. Sanela gets behind the wheel and I say a well-meant hvala lijepa to Anika (more radiance) to thank her for her unique, but incredibly hospitable reception.

En route, Sanela points out a few convenient locations (supermarket, bakery, Thai massage parlor) and a few minutes later we are at the house. We have the spacious appartment on the ground floor with a sizeable living room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom with washing machine. Especially the latter is good news, as we have a small pile of laundry built up. Once again a map of Zadar is filled in with all the important highlights, which for some reason includes the area where all the good hotels are. She leaves her phone number which we can call in case we need anything and then goes to fetch a few more arriving guests.

Special groceries

Our bag is emptied in our new temporary home and after a short rest we head towards the nearby small supermarket for some groceries. And inside, once again, nothing is what you would expect. It is a small building with all the products shelved against the wall, with a counter in front of it on all sides. Behind the counter are two women, one of whom is operating the register. Apparently it is not the idea to take your own products from the shelves, but point out which ones you want to the second lady, who will take them out for you and put them in a basket on the counter. Unless it is fruit or vegetables, which you can take from the crates outside yourself. If you do, she will weigh them for you and write the weight and cost on the bag for the other lady at the register.

Not a particularly terrible system, but it might at this point have been handy to know what “might I perhaps have one of those jars of pasta sauce on the left, preferably one of medium size, please?” is in Croatian. So it turns into a frenzy of gesturing, pointing and waving at the things we would like to have. Some things are clearly labelled, such as the laundry detergent. Which seems convenient, but even in that case the lady pulls out three separate bottles and only allows us to pick one after we she has opened each one in turn and we have smelled them all.

In the end we do manage to get just about everything that we were hoping to find and return home. Tired of the long and positively odd day, we enjoy a well-deserved pasta meal in our appartment’s garden. What a welcome in Zadar!

Exploring Zadar

Today is exploration time. We take the slightly longer, but much nicer route along the waterfront towards the historical center. Here too, that lies on a peninsula, which came in useful in the Venetian period when the city was besieged by the Turks—and withstood. It is quite a walk along the curvy coast before we get to the bridge which allows pedestrians access to the old town. Just before the bridge, we already see the first signs announcing the various boat tours that depart from here. As there is an entire archipelago of islands outside Zadar’s coast, there is plenty of choice.

We head along to the north side of town to check the signs and tours on offer there too, but there are so many that we can not choose right away and head into town first. We pass through one of the gates in the city wall and find ourselves on the first place I found when I dragged the Streetview-guy onto Zadar in Google Maps back home: the Roman forum and the Archaeological Museum. I like to call it a gift. But as we had just gotten here, we decide to walk around for a bit first and notice that Zadar definitely feels more touristic than both Šibenik and Split. For the former, that is not much of a surprise, as it is much smaller than the other two, but the latter certainly is not, houses just as many tourists and has plenty of souvenir shops. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause.

Archaeologists enjoy dividing everything into three and keep on doing that. They can talk about the Late Helladic III-A with a straight face, for example.

In any case, the old center of Zadar is very pretty: there are many old churches and the trg pet burana, the Square of the Five Fountains, which was created by the Venetians (them again), along with a fortress that now has a nice park on top of it. The square and park are pretty quiet and one of the more beautiful parts of the old town. Nearby we find an old Roman town gate and get an ice cream before heading to the forum. In Roman times the forum was the center of town with public buildings and temples. Now, only their foundations remain.

On, or next to the forum, is the church of St. Donatus, a round building that was literally built on Roman foundations: in both the walls and pillars you will find sections of columns and decorated blocks from the earlier temples of Juno, Jupiter and Minerva. The interior of the church itself is rather simple, barren and empty, with only a set of stairs leading to a circular walkway along the top, from where you get a good impression of just how large this interior space is. In addition, the acoustics are apparently so good, that small concerts are regularly held inside.

But then the time has come for the Archaeological Museum! Three floors filled with information, remains, artifacts and other goodies from Classical History! Or rather, two, for exactly the floor with the Roman exposition is closed for renovation. A shame, but we entertain ourselves with the floor that tells the story of Zadar and Dalmatia from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age. A lot of potsherds, stone axes, stories about funeral rites and how each culture is divisible into three distinct periods. Archaeologists like to divide everything into three and keep on doing that. They can talk about the Late-Helladic III-A with a straight face, for example. The ground floor deals with medieval times, although the collection is for some reason interspersed with pieces of modern art made of folded cardboard and metal. A nice change, but not exactly what you would expect in an Archaeological Museum.

Once outside we find another bell tower belonging to one of the many churches. I remember Trogir’s all too well and decide that the ticket price is not worth it, but Vonne wants to go up for the view. And shortly after, while comfortably seated on a sturdy and low Roman wall, I see a small figure in pink moving about the top of the tower. As it turns out, the climb was not too bad since this tower was neatly divided into separate floors, but I am content with watching the pictures of the view before we move on.

Art on the sea

At the end of the boulevard we find two unique pieces of art next to each other: the Sea Organ and “Greeting to the Sun”. The former is a set of stairs leading down the promenade into the water, which contains quite a few people sitting, lying and diving off of them. Below the stairs, hollow tubes lead underneath the stairs to openings just behind them. The movement of the waves blows air through the tubes, creating music. It sounds a bit like someone is blowing on a bunch of large beer bottles, but very gently and to the rhythm of the sea. Very relaxing!

“Greeting to the Sun” consist of a series of circular glass plates in the floor, forming a scale model of our solar system. The sun is a circle several metres wide, filled with solar panels, flanked by four smaller circles: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. A short walk further out is a larger disc, Jupiter, which a little while further out is followed by Saturn. It is then quite a bit further walking to Uranus and Neptune, symbolising the vast distances in space (Mars and Venus are practically a stone’s throw away).

We continue along the Zadar riva and pass by a pier that again has many signs for boat trips. We check out some of them and are quickly approached by a friendly guy from one of the boat companies who tells us with much enthusiasm and joy how their trip is arranged and where in the Kornati National Park the boat all visits. It does sound like a rather nice trip and his enthusiasm spreads to us. As we also hear that the boat has two departure points, one of which is at Uškok, a marina quite close to our appartment, we are sold. We make reservations for two tickets: on Sunday, we are going to visit Kornati.

We feel that by now, dinner time is starting to approach. An opinion shared by the many restaurants in Zadar, because suddenly people appear everywhere handing out folders for restaurants. In quite a few cases, those folders also serve as ticket to a free aperitif in the corresponding restaurant. We are soon the recipient of several folders, one of which is for a restaurant we also find in our Zadar in your pocket guide, a short and funnily written travel guide that is available for many European cities. The place is described as a very decent place to eat with a cosy garden, which sounds good. Although the menu seems a bit more expensive than the Croatian average (main courses go up to a whole ten euros, I wish they had these prices back home), it is close by and a free aperitif is never a bad deal. Shortly after, we settle in the indeed cosy garden for a good meal.

After dinner we enjoy Zadar by evening. Whether it is because the heat of the day has subsided or something else, but Zadar seems a lot more relaxed and quite frankly more beautiful too, than earlier in the day. At the boulevard, the world just seems to end: the sea forms a long black hole between the edge of the boulevard and the distant lights on one of the islands across from Zadar. We also have to pass by “Greeting to the Sun” once more. It does not carry solar panels just for the novelty of it: at night the planets are lit from below by lights. A few thousand led-lights changing colour in all sorts of patterns turn the sun into a giant outdoor disco floor. Coupled with the sounds of the Sea Organ right next to it, pure magic.

After greeting the sun in the dark, we return home. Our bed awaits, as does another day tomorrow!

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