We pulled into Zadar after dark, struggled for a while with the map Misho had drawn for us and the invisible street signs, and then pulled up to the Ostarcevices' apartment. Ankica had explained how she lost some of her property while in the US trying to figure out her citizenship status during the Yugoslav Wars, and, as a result, two very loud cafe bars had moved in right below her apartment. We dodged the waitstaff and hauled our stuff up the stairs to an absolutely gorgeous space (Ankica would settle for nothing less, I'm sure).
It was so nice of the Ostarcevices to let us stay there—it was way fancier than anything we could have managed on our own. It wasn't quite bed time, so we headed out for a stroll. There was plenty to see—a cool market full of trinkets, lots of tiny alleyways with laundry strung up overhead, several street performers, and this very cool thing, called the Sun Salutation:
It's a large disc representing the sun, plus nine smaller ones representing the planets (from an era when Pluto still counted), covered with solar panels that collect power all day and then use it to power the waterfront lighting system and put on a beautiful display all through the night. It gave Phil a bit of a fever:Right next to this is Zadar's Sea Organ, a unique and very neat musical instrument that's played by the wind and waves. It has a lovely, haunting sound that I could have listened to for hours. Wandering through Zadar, we saw a jumble of new and old—bright lights and high-end stores like Coach crowd the crumbling churches and Roman ruins.
On the left is the ninth-century (ninth?!) Church of St. Donatus. There was some seriously old stuff in Zadar just lying around all over the place, mostly inhabited by feral cats. It was weird, being allowed to walk all over these ruins; seems like someone should put up a fence or something.
Every single ice cream place in Croatia looks like this.
As we shuffled home, tired from the day's hike and drive, Zadar's nightlife was just warming up. Incredibly, the shutters blocked out the techno thumping in the bars downstairs, and we slept like babies, only if babies slept a lot.
When we walked out of the apartment the next morning and turned right, this is what we saw:
Not too shabby. We wandered for a long while, looking at pretty things and lunching.
Croatian favorites: octopus risotto and Marasca cherry juice.
We spent the rest of the day lazing on the beach at Ninska Laguna and returned to Zadar just in time for its famous sunset.
We got up early the next morning to take a boat trip around the Kornati Islands.
No; not on that boat.
We set out on the trusty "Fažanka." Phil and I thought that sounded like a generically rude word and have been using it as a euphemism—for everything—ever since.
Despite all the beauty, the boat ride was sort of odd. We were packed in a little bit like cattle and made to listen to very loud and terrible music. Every announcement was made in Croatian, English, Italian, and German, and all were unintelligible.
We were instructed to take pictures of these cliffs.
We enjoyed our lunch to the soothing strains of "The Final Countdown."
Jealous of our food.
Thanks, Fažanka, for bringing us safely back to land!
Another incredible sunset, another fantastic meal, and off to bed.
We got up early on our last full day in Croatia to hike in Paklenica (Gorges) National Park. We wanted a light hike—hence the Chacos—that would take us about four hours, so we wouldn't be too late heading back to Zagreb. "Hey," I said, "Let's take before and after pictures!" A little foreshadowing there.
Before: happy, clean, hydrated, not bleeding. Rarin' to go.
The gorges were beautiful and reminded us very much of Rock Canyon in Provo.
We made it to a cave that looked like the halfway point with no problems. The cave was a popular destination, and that probably explains why the trail up to it was so nice and easy.
The park service doesn't have any free trail maps (which strikes me as irresponsible, since irresponsible cheapskates like us will just do without and then almost get lost in the mountains). At the cave, however, there's a large map of the whole trail system, and I thought, maybe we should take a picture of this, you know, just in case—not that we could possibly get lost or anything. This photo saved the day.
Our planned hike to the top of one of the peaks required hiking past the cave. We noticed the trail leading away from the cave up the mountain wasn't quite as smooth, but we decided to press on.
The mountain man takes one last look around before we head on up the trail.
The trail was quickly replaced by these bright markers that told us where to go but gave no clue as to how.
Not fazed a bit (but should have been).
Visible to the right of Phil's head in this photo is a steel cable bolted into the rock wall for pulling oneself up the "trail," without which it would have been impossible to go any farther. That maybe should have been a hint not to go any farther.
Where we came from.
We scrambled on all fours for over an hour to reach the peak.
During our well-deserved water break, we determined that going back down the way we had come was undesirable and decided to keep going the way we had planned, in a large circle that would dump us back out in the parking lot. We were willing to bet that the way down couldn't possibly be worse than what we had just come up.We were wrong. There are very few pictures from this leg of our journey, because we were busy cursing. We ran out of water, our feet were rubbed raw by our Chacos, and we were often pretty sure we were lost. We had too many close calls, almost twisting ankles or being crushed by rocks or falling off the mountain. When we got back to the parking lot (several hours after we had planned to leave), I looked down at the pavement and just saw it bubbling and morphing because my vision was so messed up from looking at the rocks under my feet.
It was definitely the worst hike either of us has ever experienced. And to make matters worse, we couldn't relax at all afterward; we had to rush to pack up our things and get to Zagreb to return the rental car that night.
We pulled into Zagreb much later than we had planned—around 10:00—and had a lot of trouble finding our hostel (surprise, surprise). We finally made it to the rental car place around 11:30 and rang the doorbell (Zlatan lives in the apartment above his rental shop and instructed us to ring him if we brought the car back after hours). Zlatan was in bed already and asked if we could bring the car back in the morning, but that was impossible, since we needed to be at the airport by 7:00. In a bit of luck that made up somewhat for that awful hike, Zlatan said we could just return it to the airport, solving our other problem of how to get there (since our hostel manager informed us that the only way to reserve a cab is to flag one down and try to get the driver to promise to show up when you need a ride—not the best strategy for catching an international flight, we thought).
We slept far too little after such a grueling day and had some difficulty the next morning when I locked us out of our room at 5:00 am, but we made our flight.
Phil and I loved experiencing the different cultures and languages along the way, but we were both grateful to hear so much English as we entered the Philadelphia airport and happy to hand over our US passports. Europe is awesome, but there's no getting around it: we love 'merca.