26 – 29/09/2016
I caught an early bus from Ljubljana to Zadar, my first stop in Croatia. I managed to get some shut eye for an hour or so before we were woken up at the Obrežje-Bregana border crossing. We arrived in Zagreb just before ten, where we switched buses before continuing onto Zadar. We were all wide awake for the day by then, so our new bus driver cranked some classics for the rest of the journey – Céline Dion, Bryan Adams, Roxette, Milli Vanilli. Stepping off the bus in Zadar, I was met with people holding photos of their apartments, hoping to rent them out. It was the same when I arrived in Split too.
I stayed at the Drunken Monkey Hostel, which was less than a ten-minute walk from the bus station. Old town was a 25-minute walk from the hostel. That may be a deal breaker for most when choosing accommodation, but I didn’t mind the walk. I usually prefer to stay somewhere that’s within walking distance of the bus or train station, or is at least easy to get to with public transport. The less I have to walk or move with all my bags, the better.
Zadar’s old town feels effortless. It’s pretty small, with simple sandstone squares and streets, some Roman ruins, and only a few landmark buildings. But it’s still a casual and cool place to be, day or night.
Church of St. Donatus.
The Cathedral of St. Anastasia.
At the end of the promenade is the Sea Organ (Morske Orgulje). It’s probably the most popular attraction in Zadar, and for good reason. Created by local architect, Nikola Bašić, the Sea Organ is a unique musical instrument comprised of numerous pipes of varying lengths and sizes set beneath the stone steps; and Mother Nature is the musician. The wind and waves move on and through the pipes to play a random and mesmerising song that is never-ending. I could’ve sat there for hours.
I wrapped up my time in Zadar down by the Sea Organ, watching another gorgeous sunset and sipping cheap red wine from a plastic cup with a girl I met at the hostel (Nele). We hung around after dusk to catch The Greeting to the Sun, which is right next to the Sea Organ. It’s a big circular solar panel that charges up throughout the day from the sun’s energy, and then not only puts on a spectacular light show, but also powers some of the lights in the adjacent harbour.
We met up with another hosteller while we were down by the water, who had some interesting travel stories. The best one being how he did Iceland in 24 hours. Dinner was at Crazy Pizza. Cheap and easy. Most pizza places in old town do one big slice of pizza for 10 kuna (approx. 1.5€). I thought that was a bargain. But at Crazy Pizza, you get two big slices for 10 kuna. I don’t know how the other two pizza places next door are still in business.
While in Zadar, I pretty much lived off of 10 kuna pizza slices. However, I did go out a few times to try traditional Dalmatian cuisine. There are several restaurants throughout old town with signs out the front spotlighting them as traditional restaurants. I went to a restaurant called Zadar Jadera, and tried the fish soup and black cuttlefish risotto. The risotto looked like a big black glob on the plate. It didn’t really have a specific taste. If my eyes were closed, I wouldn’t have been able to tell it was cuttlefish. It just tasted salty. I don’t think I’d really order it again. It was more a novelty.
From Zadar, I made an overnight trip to the famous Plitviče Lakes. It’s roughly two hours from Zadar by bus. A one-way ticket cost 95 kuna (just over 12€). We made a 20-minute rest stop 15 minutes from the lakes at Macola Restaurant, which just casually had a few bears, deer and goats.
I was hoping to leave my bags at the B&B I’d splurged on (to take a break from hostels) before going to the lakes, but the bus drove straight passed the street. I later learned that you just need to tell the bus driver where you’re staying and they’re more than happy to stop as close to your accommodation as possible.
It was a bit confusing when we got to the lakes. The driver called out “Entrance Two” and then a lot of people stood up. I wasn’t really sure which entrance I wanted (I was going to ask my B&B host), so I just followed suit. Turns out most of us were just as confused as one another as to what was happening and which entrance we wanted. I made friends with two Brits (Laurence and Ben) and Max from Berlin. We soon figured out that we had all come from The Drunken Monkey Hostel. Laurence, Ben and I had actually stayed in the exact same dorm! We must’ve just missed one another when we were there.
Entry into the lakes cost 110 kuna for adults for one day. I think a two-day pass was 180 kuna. The boys and I walked for over four hours straight, and managed to see most of the park. My shoulders were so sore after walking with all of my things that I’d packed for my overnight stay in my backpack, which included my laptop. I also had my cross body bag and a bag of snacks. Thank goodness I didn’t bring my big bag. I left that at the hostel in Zadar. We all had a bit of an adventurous streak, seeking out “paths less travelled”. It worked out well on one out of three occasions. At one point, we managed to bush bash our way out of the national park.
Plitviče is such a stunning place. While it’s a popular tourist spot, the park still feels pristine and untouched. I have to say though, I was a bit underwhelmed by Veliki Slap (Big Waterfall). It’s big. No doubt. But I was expecting more water. I guess it wasn’t as full as it was just after summer. We rounded off the day with a few beers by entrance one, before parting ways.
We made a friend.
I stayed at B&B House Dado in Plitvička Jezera. The lady was so lovely. I didn’t properly catch her name. I think it was Bonaria? The room and bathroom were clean. But the best thing was that it was all mine. Privacy. My inner introvert loved it. Breakfast was a pretty good spread – an omelette with cheese, cold meats and more cheese, toast and fresh bread, an assortment of teas and spreads, coffee, pastries, fruit. I filled myself up as best I could. Before I left to catch the bus back to Zadar, Bonaria gave me some extra pastries for the road. So sweet.
All up, I ended up spending two full days in Zadar. I liked Zadar, and while it was nice to take it easy before my Croatia Sail week, if I were to do it again I’d probably only spend a full day in Zadar. That’s all you really need to hit the main sights. In hindsight, I could’ve gone from Ljubljana to Zagreb for one or two nights, before moving on to Plitviče Lakes and Zadar. Oh well. It was still an awesome start to Croatia.