My god how I've missed the southern coast of Europe and the fantastic Mediterranean weather! While I'm technically on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, I feel I've returned home to the beautiful havens of Lagos, Ibiza and Marseille from the first part of my trip. Over the last few months I've traveled through many northern European countries and I'd forgotten how much I longed for this kind of weather until I arrived in Zadar. This city is a remarkable breath of sensational, salty-sweet fresh air and if my first few hours in Zadar are any indication, my time in Croatia is going to be absolutely spectacular!
Song of association for Zadar (and theme song for all of Croatia):
My two-hour ride from the Korana campsite, near the Plitvice Lakes to Zadar was rather depressing. The same ominous grey clouds that plagued my campsite early that morning were more widespread than I anticipated and I spent most of my bus ride hoping they would break up before we reached Zadar. Thankfully the closer we got to the coast, the lighter the clouds became until finally they relented; returning to the fluffy, happy, and not at all menacing cumulus puffs I love watching float carelessly across the bright blue sky.
The moment I stepped foot off my bus I knew Zadar was exactly where I was suppose to be in the world. I felt transported to a completely different region of the world as if I'd hopped on a plane and traveled thousands of miles away. Surely this wasn't the same Croatia that I woke up to earlier this morning, I must have moved a few countries over – maybe I'm ended up back in Italy somehow. Still groggy from my early morning, I wandered around the bus station trying to orient myself as I perspired uncontrollably. I was way over dressed and still wearing layers upon layers of warm clothes from camping the night before. I shed my "thick" winter clothing and cheerfully walked into town in search of my hostel. Words cannot express the feeling of joy I derived from the warmth of the sun on the back of my neck and the light, cool breeze the filled the air that morning.
I dropped my things off and immediately went out to simply wander for the sake of wandering. After the rainy days in Zagreb and the Plitvice Lakes National Park, I wanted to take advantage of the wonderful weather. As soon as I exited the building, my mood immediately reflected the brilliant weather and a giant smile spread across my face. There is something about port cities like this that I can’t get enough of. If there was ever a place that I could see myself calling home outside the US it would be somewhere along the southern coast of Europe.
I don’t need much, just a small apartment near the water… and maybe some food.
Old town of Zadar is located on a small peninsula jutting out from the mainland that curves around to form the port's outermost barrier. The entire city is crammed onto this tiny patch of land and brings to mind a much older version of Manhattan. The narrow, winding streets are incredibly well maintained and lined with glistening cobble stones perfectly polished after years of pedestrian traffic. While no apartment is taller than four stories, they obscure nearly all of the light in the narrow alleyways and give me the impression of being back in the Financial District.
This is what a city should be like. The small, dense network of buildings and shops has everything a person could need. While much of the city is now geared toward tourism, old town Zadar would be a wonderful place to live; my home would be within walking distance from food, friends, entertainment, and (most importantly) the beach. I will never understand peoples' desire to own enormous tracts of land in the middle of nowhere back in the US; proximity is one of the great joys of life in my opinion. Watching the locals go about their day was endlessly fascinating; everyone seems to know one another and there is a general sense of camaraderie in the small town.
I meandered through the various streets for a few hours and was greeted with spectacular 360-degree vista at the end of the peninsula. In front of me was a vast stretch of sapphire-blue sea, to the right an impressive bright green mountain range, to the left the beautiful island of Ugljan covered in a thick forest poking out from the water, and behind me the beautiful old town of Zadar with the St. Anastasia bell tower protruding from the dense crowd of buildings. Below me was Zadar's Monument to the Sun, an enormous array of solar panels and LED lights embedded in a giant compass ross on the ground. The air was filled with a light breeze and I could hear the cheerful, albeit erratic, noises emanating from the Sea Organ built directly into the seawall that is designed to convert the waves into musical notes. Off in the distance I could see the thick blanket of clouds I escaped from earlier in the morning slowly migrating over the mountains. Even at their slow pace, the ominous clouds appeared to stampede across the sky in an effort to reach the coast, but dissipated before ever reaching the city.
At least this time I have a hostel I can escape to if it decides to rain.
I continued my walk around town and noticed the crew of a fishing boat unloading the contents of their morning's catch. I watched in amazement at how efficiently and methodically they packed the numerous crates fish. Like a well-oiled machine on an assembly line, every man had their specific job and in lock step they moved each crate of fish from their boat, filled it with ice, and loaded into their truck for delivery. The scene reminded me of an old Loony Tunes episode and I could almost hear the song Powerhouse playing in the background.
Dun, dun, dun, dununun, nun, nun. Dun, dun, dun, dununun, nun, nun...
Of all the things I could have done that afternoon what I appreciated the most was simply sitting on the piers along the edge of the old city center just looking out onto the pristine, shimmering water. The radiant sun reflected off the royal blue water and sparkled as if it were a sea of diamonds. I was in absolutely no rush to leave, the tranquil sea, bright sun, and vivid green forest on Ugljan reminded me of my favorite place in all of Italy, Lake Como. For hours I sat along the coast taking in the view and by the end of day, my face was in pain from squinting and the ridiculously goofy smile I couldn’t take off my face.
There was really no place I'd rather have been that afternoon. It was a perfect day.
It's been less than a week, but I’m so incredibly happy I came to Croatia. I've never heard of a country where literally every single traveler unanimously had only wonderful things to say about it, but Croatia takes the cake. Before I arrived I felt people were drastically overhyping how beautiful the Croatian coast is and assumed it would never live up to my lofty expectations, but even after all the rave reviews - they still undersold how amazing it is. By itself, Zadar is a phenomenal place to visit and it's only the first of many cities I will visit along the coast, but best of all...
I just got here!