Croatia (2013)

Nin, Kornati and the loungebar

We visit the smallest cathedral in the world in Nin, take a boat trip to the Kornati Park and Dugi Otok, and lounge in the most relaxed bar ever.

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The weekend started with a trip to Nin on saturday, a town not too far from Zadar. Or rather, the weekend had already started for a while when he headed that way, since we had a very relaxed start on saturday morning. The bus to Nin departed from the rather distant autobusni kolodvor (the bus station), so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and take the bus there. The second bird in that scenario being that we could walk to the Uškok marina first, where we would depart early the next day for our boat trip, and get an idea of how to get there. It turned out quite easy to find, and just as we arrived at the bus stop nearby, a third bird drove up in a taxi. The bird, erm, I mean the taxi driver, offered to drive us to the Zadar bus station for 20 kuna (the same price as two bus tickets). He was probably just returning to city center from a trip, so that worked out for both of us.

At the bus station we purchased two tickets for the bus to Nin, which turned out to depart just under an hour later. That gaves us the chance to get a hamburger at a surprisingly fancy looking fast food place. It was prepared right behind the counter and was served on a large bun with fresh vegetables. It was really tasty and definitely a step up from the smaller, more expensive burgers you get at a McDonalds or Burger King. Well satisfied we hopped onto the bus and got off in Nin a short while later, at which point I asked Vonne what we were going to do here. She turned to look at me and responded: You wanted to come here, why don't you tell me?”

I recalled that I might have read something about Nin in the “In your pocket” guide, and might at that point have stated something about it being worth a visit… fortunately I had the digital version of the guide on my phone and so could check what it was that brought us here. It turned out that Nin is the site of the ancient Roman Aenona, with the usual historic center located on an island, and of the smallest cathedral in the world. So we walked onto the ancient islet and did indeed found a very small cathedral: one small, yet high, space with three recesses, two swallows' nests and one donation box.

“You wanted to come to this place, why don't you tell me?”

As Nin has always been an episcopal see, this tiny building is allowed to call itself a cathedral. A little further down the street, next to another statue of a busily spell-casting preaching bisshop Gregory of Nin, is the newer and larger cathedral (and let me stop your imagination there: it is still pretty much a regular village church) which is supposed to have various treasures on display. However, a wedding just took place there and we looked at the bridal pair with some sense of jealousy for having such a lovely historic place and this warm summer weather available, something the wedding photographer put to good use. As did we, for a bit further down we discovered one of Croatia’s many icecream shops. Enjoying the cool treat we walked along several Roman ruins and the sea before heading back to Zadar by bus. Nin is a lovely and quiet town, but it only takes a few hours to see.

Once back at the apartment, there was a knock on the door from Sanela, who was just delivering new guests to the apartment above us. She offered her apologies for the fact that our television did not work. On the first night, we had noticed that the TV, or rather one of the satellite receivers, was not working despite everything seemingly being properly connected. Sanela had immediately attempted to contact one of her neighbours to come and have a look at it, but he was ill and had to leave Sanela fearing that we would leave the apartment for not having a TV; we had not missed it for a second. She tried calling him again now, but could not reach him. Plan B: her (boy)friend was in the car outside and was pretty technical. Could he come in and have a look? Fine by us. Another phonecall and stumbling in on crutches (having recently had knee surgery) came her friend who started checking out the equipment.

He came to the same conclusion we had come to, and while Sanela was getting increasingly nervous he tried to dis- and reconnect everything. Upon plugging in one of the cables anew, one of the receivers suddenly came alive, providing the TV with a signal. Success! We received a flood of apologies that we had to go this long without television, which we were not bothered by in the slightest. However, we could now once again enjoy our favourite holiday music station: the Italian Radio 102.5 (very normal people!). Huzzah!

A second boat trip

The day did start early on Sunday, for we were expected at the Uškok marina at eight to board the Vila Dalmatina, which would take us to the Kornati isles. Kornati is another Croatian National Park and consists of an archipelago of islands, the furthest ones out from Zadar’s coast. In total there are about 140 islands, some of which are larger and temporarily inhabited, but most smaller and deserted. Many of them are extremely barren, after sheep having grazed on them and shepherds having cut down trees and foliage to make room for them in the past. The fish too, are recovering from overfishing. So basically: empty islands and an empty sea, and that is what you go to see.

Sounds awful? It is not quite that bad. The area has been designated a National Park with the express intent to allow it to recover and the area houses a great diversity of marine creatures, many of which are protected and only found here. The park is therefor a popular destination for sailing and diving alike. In addition, there are several spectacular cliffs. It is thus no wonder that we got up early to head this way, but what is a miracle is that it is overcast and positively chilly. Fortunately the boat has an indoor area and shortly after eight we set sail from Uškok, heading for the Zadar riva to pick up the rest of today’s passengers. From there, it is a straight course to the islands.

For the second time this vacation, Vonne refuses to roll me home.

The program had indicated that we would be served an aperitif, breakfast and lunch on board, but we had not really counted on it happening in that order. Exactly: at about nine in the morning, on a boat, before having had any breakfast, the crew starts handing out slivovitz to everyone. Quite a few passengers understandably decline, but Vonne is curious about the drink and accepts one. After a first sip she very much decides to take her time and wait for breakfast. It follows shortly and consists of two thick slices of bread with ham and cheese—a proper foundation for the aperitif, at any rate.

It takes about three hours to sail to the Kornati isles and althoug the view is magnificent, the weather remains doubtful. The barren isles do offer a unique sight and the cliffs are very impressive. Shortly after noon we moor at the island Dugi Otok where we are served a basic, but tasty lunch of fish and meat (once again, the program did not lie about the contents of the lunch: we expected either one or the other). Over the course of the meal, the clouds suddenly start drifting apart and the familiar warm Croatian sun returns.

Just in time too, for after lunch we have the opportunity to walk up to the top of the island, see the cliffs up close and swim in the sea or in the Silver Lake: a large salt-water lake on the island. Along the edge of the cliffs (spectacular view!) we walk towards the lake for a warm swim. The lake is rather shallow, which makes the water noticeably warmer than the surprisingly cool seawater along the coast. The lake is also reported to possess all manner of healing powers (always good for tourism); how much of that is true remains a mystery, but the water is lovely nonetheless. While I am gliding through the lake like an otter, Vonne enjoys the sun after her swim. It is almost a shame we have to embark on the boat again in the afternoon, but as we have no intention of being stranded on Dugi Otok, we do so.

A pleasant return trip returns us to Uškok at about six o' clock, which has a rather nice pebble beach nearby we passed the day before. After getting a drink for the ridiculously low price of 6kn (€0,80) a glass at a beach café, Vonne plunges back into the water and I back into my book. According to a map, there should be a restaurant nearby with the Italian sounding name Mio, which should mean that they serve pizzas and pastas. We find the place, which turns out to be a Croatian place named ‘Mijo’. But boy, do they serve pizza and pasta! My lasagna may be the best one I have ever had and Vonne’s pizza too is absolutely delicious. Despite it almost being more than I can handle, it is too good not to finish. For the second time this vacation, Vonne refuses my request to roll me home after dinner. I ask you.

Loungen at the bar

After a long Sunday, we choose to have a quiet day on Monday. We head into the center of Zadar again to walk around, find a few souvenirs and just plainly enjoy the weather. Only just having left the apartment, Vonne’s legs once again start to turn blue, despite her jeans having had a proper washing already. Another quick clothes' swap later we are on our way to explore all of Zadar’s souvenir shops and stands. Adjacent to the forum we find an icecream parlour with the most beautifully decorated containers of icecream we have ever seen. The icecream has been decorated with a variety of sculpted curls, figures, nuts and candy. The container of chocolate icecream, for example, is adorned with a hedgehog made from icecream with chocolate needles. Other than looking awesome, the icecream also tastes great: definitely the best we have had this vacation.

After walking and shopping for most of the afternoon, we decide to have drinks in the loungebar on the south end of the center, in the park on the Venetian fortifications. Along with the relaxing lounge music, the great variety of seats have also been chosen for their comfort. We sink down into deep wicker chairs where we chill out and enjoy the afternoon sun and a Leffe. I really just never want to leave this place, but we have agreed to meet Sanela to pay for the apartment and tomorrow will once again be a long day. Entirely relaxed we return home. Only one more place to see on our Croatian trip!

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