|Hills near Mont des Cats|
|Concert hall Le Nouveau Siècle|
After a short-lived frenzy of grading the following week, I was off for a typical ten-day fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants trip. "What's in the Balkans?" I was asked by several people when I told them about my April destination. Well, you're about to find out.
Landing in Zadar, Croatia, was an experience in itself. The lengthy landing included spectacular views of the coast and whitish rocky hills reflected seamlessly in the calm Adriatic Sea. After a short bus ride, I arrived in the center of town, a small peninsula surrounded by lovely port and sea views.
Like many cities I visited in the Balkans, it's hard to picture Zadar at various darker points of its history. The first thing that struck me about Zadar was its immaculate cleanliness; it is so well-maintained that the streets seem to shine, and it's also safe, even after dark. The winding streets of the city centre are wonderful to explore, but Zadar's two main gems sit at its northwest point: the Sea Organ and the Sun Salutation, two pieces created by Croatian artist Nikola Bašić.
|Sea Organ, late afternoon|
The Sun Salutation is just next to the Sea Organ. In daylight, it looks like a giant blue circle on the ground; tourists stomp on it and take selfies on it, not realizing that it's actually taking in solar energy all day, resting up to create quite the light show from sunset to sunrise. In addition to its own light show, which depicts the movement of the solar system, it also lights up the waterfront using the solar energy of the day.
|In the morning|
Zadar is not all pretty views and sunsets; it has been in existence for at least three thousand years when ancient tribes settled there. It became a Roman municipality, later the capital of the Byzantine province Dalmatia, then was settled by Croats, taken over by Crusaders and Venetians, taken over again by Austrians and then French and then Italians, finally turned over to Yugoslavia, and only came to its current peaceful state following Croatia's independence in the 1990s (and was then still attacked by Serbia). You can read a more detailed overview here.
Knowing Zadar's sometimes volatile history makes it all the more fascinating to explore today. You can spot ancient Roman ruins in several places around town, not behind glass or blocked off by ropes, but right in the middle of town. Take this column in the middle of a city square, for example:
Or these remnants of the Roman forum surrounding St. Donatus, on which people sit to eat lunch or relax:
|St. Donatus and its surrounding Roman ruins|
|Inside St. Donatus|
|St. Donatus and the St. Anastasia tower|
Behind St. Donatus in the same photo, you can see the tower of the cathedral, St. Anastasia. Climbing the tower will give you a lovely view of the city. Otherwise, there is not a lot to do in Zadar except relax, wander the old town streets, and enjoy the views and some occasional street music. Tourists come in on buses and boats from around 10am to 4pm, so I avoided attractions and the center of town at that time, but I found Zadar to be surprisingly charming and safe.
Logistically, Croatia is part of the European Union, but not the Schengen Zone; I did need to go through border control to enter the country. Croatia is still on the kuna currency; 1 EUR = 7.43 HRK. Expenses vary from city to city in Croatia, but Zadar was extremely cheap; my most expensive meal came out to 12€.
Zadar is a pretty simple city today, but I have to give its sunset just one more mention: truly, nothing beats sitting along the water and watching the colors work their magic.
Bus is the most common mode of transport in the Balkans, and after a couple of days in Zadar, I headed a few hours south along the coast to my next seaside destination: Split.
|Uje Oil Bar|
Back to my first afternoon, it was nice to breathe a little walking outside the city walls along the port. I continued up a plethora of steps to reach the edge of Marjan hill, a park next to the city with several hiking and biking trails as well as water sports and activities.
A lovely outdoor café sits at the edge of Marjan park with quite the view of Split. I visited a couple of times, once to watch the sun set and again after a morning hike.
|Views from Marjan hill|
|Croatia from Brač|