Croatia travel diary/travelogue

Day 1 - Zadar Old Town

25th June 2009

Our usual plan with most holidays is to try to get a feel for distances and how things generally work in the first day. With that in mind, we decided that we should head off into the old town just as soon as we'd set ourselves up with some breakfast. The buses run into old town regularly from the front of the guesthouse, but we decided to walk it today.  The weather was good - surprisingly good, considering the shocking forecasts that we'd seen in recent days, backed up by Helena's confirmation that they'd had 5 days of rain before we arrived ("This is most unusual for here") - so it made sense to walk around the various harbours and bays into town, as there was a chance we might not get to do this again if the forecasts ended up being true.

Before heading out, we got chatting to a couple from Ireland who were staying at the guesthouse. To say they could talk for Ireland would be a massive understatement. Bryan and Dorothy (or Dee for short) were telling us about the area, about the local driving style and also about some of the political issues (the war that affected the area was still only 14 years old ... or is that young?). Every time we felt that one topic of conversation was coming to a logical end and we had our chance to head off, one of them would start another topic. It was like some kind of conversational hydra - cut off one head and several others appeared in its place! Eventually we were able to say our goodbyes without first having to bash Bryan or Dee over the head with a frying pan!

Although we had read or been told that it is a 20 minute walk into old town, that would have to be a direct route and with a very swift pace. Following the curve of the bays and harbours added a fair amount of time but it was an interesting walk. Had we taken the main road into town we'd have missed the frankly bizarre sight of a large Sphinx sculpture in someone's front garden.

Sphinx

Some of the properties along the way were stunning - in their appearance and their location (what a view!) - while some properties appear to have been damaged in the recent war and never repaired; they've simply gone to seed, the whereabouts of the owners probably unknown.

We took the very short and traditional route across the water - one man in a boat and a couple of oars for propulsion - and then found ourselves on the boundaries of the old town.

The boatman

Our first stop was the Salutation to the Sun, a large reflective disc comprising hundreds (or is it thousands) of solar panels that soak up the sun's power all day long to convert all that stored energy into a light show at night. For now, all we could tell was that it was doing its work of soaking up the rays, evidenced by the continual clicking of something electrical under foot.

Salutation to the Sun

Immediately next to the Salutation to the Sun is Zadar's Sea Organ, both created by the same designer. The Sea Organ is an interesting feature which involves taking the power and movement of the waves as it buffets the shoreline and channelling the air that gets pushed back and forth through some pipes under the promenade into musical notes. Admittedly, this range of musical notes is about as wide-ranging as the chord repertoire of Status Quo. It's not unlike a wheezing asthmatic giant breathing slowly through an oversized mouth organ. Breathe in ... honk! ... breathe out ... honk! But it's quite surprising how relaxing it can be to sit and listen to a giant mouth organist with a two or three-note range! Bryan and Dee walked past, this time with their two sons in tow, so we waved (geddit?) our hellos and wondered if we might bump into them again.

We then made our way further inside the old town, making a brief stop at the very tranquil Franciscan Monastery before getting on to the main strip that runs the length of the old town. It's the main shopping street but it felt very quiet and there were a large number of shops shut. Perhaps it was some kind of siesta thing going on? A quick look at a few shop doors didn't reveal any hints of lunchtime closing, so we just carried on regardless and concentrated on the historical sights. Shopping can wait ... and besides, there was Ryan Air's 15kg allowance to think of too. Can't go buying anything big or heavy!

We continued all the way along the 'spine', with one diversion for a spot of lunch (a very nice place called Trattoria Canzona, as recommended in the Lonely Planet). As we ate our lunch, we spotted some familiar faces wandering past our table - Bryan, Dee and the boys again! We'd hunted down the eatery courtesy of Lonely Planet while Bryan said that he'd followed his 'built-in SatNav', remembering that he'd had a great meal there before. After we finished our lunch, we said our goodbyes to our new stalkers, I mean friends. "See you again in two hours," I joked.

We continued to the end - or is it the beginning? - of the old town to the Land Gate which has a small but pretty harbour right next to it and then back through the gate into the Five Wells Square. Any guesses why it's called that? We continued back through the old town, passing through more old squares, past fortifying walls and bumping into Bryan and Dee again ("I said two hours, looks like it was more like 1 hour!"). We made our way back up to the Church of St Donat so that we could climb up the adjoining bell tower.

Although we were well past 'siesta time' there still didn't seem to be all that much open. A brief stop inside a tourist office revealed the reason why - our first full day in Croatia coincided with a public holiday (it was on the 25th of June 1991 that the then republic of Croatia declared independence from Yugloslavia); that's why it felt like a sleepy Sunday, because to all intents and purposes it was!

The climb up the bell tower was as tricky and tiring as any that we'd done before - real leg-exercisers! But as ever, the views from the top over the red-tiled roofs of Zadar made it all worthwhile.  We could see the entire route that we'd taken to get in to the old town and most of the places we'd visited during the day.

Red roof tiles of Zadar

We then took a look around the Church of St Donat (or 'donut' as I called it, on account of the round roof), before trekking back up the other end of town again so that we could take the footbridge across the water. That was where we hoped to catch a bus back to the guesthouse but given that it was a public holiday, we were not convinced that the buses would be running all that frequently. Having waited 45 minutes for a bus (during which there should have been four buses coming past), we decided to give up and just walk back. So we'd done loads of walking already, but judging by the numbers gathering at this bus stop, we were not convinced that we'd all fit on anyway.

We'd seen a lot for one day - perhaps too much? Zadar is not the biggest place to investigate, but then again, maybe the fact that it was a public holiday and there were a lot of shops shut meant that we didn't really get to feel the hustle and bustle. With a further eight days here, we'd have plenty of opportunities (weather permitting) to try it all again. And there was the small matter of seeing the Salutation to the Sun at night time.

For our evening meal, we decided to try out the guesthouse's own restaurant. It came highly recommended by people on Trip Advisor and was an eating pick in Lonely Planet, so it wasn't just a case of using the nearest place. Food was good, prices a little high for some dishes but all-in-all a very nice meal to finish off our first day.