Along the Dalmation Coast to Zadar

We finally and reluctantly decided to leave Ljubljana, but couldn’t figure out where on the coast of the Adriatic we would be when we wanted to stop.  So we decided to head south to
Rijeka, Croatia.


We figured a famous coast out of season would have lots of rooms available wherever we ended up.  Well, it wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be.  Our Navi (GPS) kept directing us to the nearest highway which is up in the mountains and mainly out of sight of the coast.  Fortunately, just when we were beginning to feel frustrated, the road ended.  Literally, there was a curious sign–a car with a red diagonal line through it.  As we were discussing what “no cars” on a major highway might mean, we were given a choice of going back or going down toward the coast.  And the huge trucks straight in front of us enforced the decision.  So of course we went down toward the coast and found the road we’d wanted from the beginning.  And of course we stopped for lunch–David had homemade mushroom soup in a bread bowl.

Miles of blue sea and dun islands

The coast road was a lot smaller than the highway, but was seldom out of sight of the sea and went through little towns with lots of large hotels.  After about half an hour, it was just us and the bluest sea I have ever seen.  It was almost as intense as the Bandi-Amir lakes in Afghanistan.  And very calm with long, large, empty islands offshore.  The soil here is dolomite, a high calcium aggregate.  From a distance it looks like sandstone, but when you come close, you see that it is much chunkier.  And a lovely yellow color with frequent washes of red.  Okay, but we got quite intimate with it driving on a winding two-lane road between the cliff and the sea below.

There were a few other interesting sights–an arch with no purpose just in the middle of nowhere for instance.


Dad had read about some amazing lakes but thought they were far inland.  Then I was reading our borrowed Lonely Planet Guide about Zadar, our next major destination, and the lakes were listed as being nearby.  But this is us, so we decided to go up the road from Senj instead–it was right in front of us and also reached the lakes.  Then we could come down, we figured, on the other road right into Zadar.  So we took the coast road, where we saw this sign, right into Senj.  It was a portent.

No guardrails here!

It was beginning to get dark and very cold,

Windy, freezing sunset in Senj

but we figured we’d find a place to sleep in a village on the road to the lakes.  Well, small road, no villages, darker and darker, ice on the side of the road, winding, dark and darker.  Finally we saw a sign that said restaurant and rooms so we turned back and up a long winding driveway.  Got to the place, no one there but one man.  We asked about rooms, he asked his mother:  No rooms tonight, came the reply.  Well, at least they had a bathroom.  Where are rooms, David asked.  Only six kilometers, turn right at the bottom of the hill.  Oh, back in Senj then.  The road seemed worse going down, but finally we arrived in Senj and saw a tourist agency sign.  The place was closed, but the small cafe next door was welcoming and called a woman with rooms to rent.  Danielle came and took us to see the room which turned out to be an apartment.  We had living-dining-kitchen room and a bedroom and bath.  For 30 dollars.  We collapsed into bed after almost freezing in our efforts to stay up past 7.  Well, when it gets dark at 3:30, seven seems very late.  Somehow the lack of heat didn’t matter–we slept like rocks.

In the morning the place was much warmer (it takes a while to heat up and I’m sure it would have been ready for us if we’d made a reservation ahead of time (the downside of flexibility), but we had breakfast and (after another cup of the excellent “white coffee” from the cafe), were on our way.  BTW, we have discovered how to get the latte, galao, milky coffee that we like.  Here it’s called belo cava or biela cava and it means white coffee.  It’s more milk than coffee, but the coffee is a strong espresso, so you get all the flavor with no danger of stomach ulcers.  And of course the milk is heated, so the coffee is hot.

Of course being us again, we had to investigate the tower on the hill overlooking Senj.  We couldn’t get inside, but it was interesting to see it.

View from the tower hill

The whole thing was built of dolomite blocks in a very simple design.   But it had raised towers on all four corners and certainly was a good watchtower.  Today, with no enemies to look for,  the view down was magnificent.

We’re not making very rapid progress at this stage–we probably are covering about 300 km a day.  So we rode along the coast, stopping to take photos at every new vista (red spots in a field photos we call them–that means pictures that can’t begin to show what the scenery was really like).  But we’d heard about the flooding from the rains in Europe and then we saw the fields.

Flooded Fields

Then we realized that we could take a ferry to Pag Island and have some straight roads for a while.  There’s a bridge at the other end and a road directly into Zadar.  The ride was freezing, but being out among the islands, we realized that many of them had little inset valleys on the south side where villages clung between green hills and the shore.  They only looked totally deserted from the shore because the valleys are tucked below the dry mountains that face the land.  Amazing place!

We drove into Zadar.  We wanted to find the Old City–a former Venetian fortress on the sea.  And it wasn’t difficult–there was suddenly before us a parking lot and a wall with an arched entrance in it.  Well, we parked the car and headed in on foot to find the tourist office the Navi had located for us.  It was around the corner from the square it was supposed to be on–and the agent there was cheerful and incredibly helpful once she realized that we didn’t want to be guided to an expensive hotel, but wanted to stay in a private home.  She suggested that Gianni had a nice apartment and might have a parking place for our car.  What an understatement!  Gianni has a fabulous apartment right on the south end of the Old City within hearing of the Sea Organ.  It has one large room with a table and beds and a small kitchen and large bathroom off it.  It’s all paneled in knotty pine, with a photo-map of the Old city on the wall so we can check out where we’re going.  Mirrors, plenty of closet space, steel roll-down shutters on the windows, and it’s warm and the water is hot.  Oh, and there are 10 kinds of tea in the cabinet, milk, juice, etc., etc.  We didn’t really have to go shopping at all before we arrived.  We settled in after sharing a sip of rakia with Gianni to seal the deal.  Oh, David asked, is there somewhere we could wash our clothes near here?  No problem, said Gianni, my woman will do it.  So we gave him our dirty clothes bag and headed out to dinner.

Oh, yes, more luck.  The Guide that we’d borrowed from friends in Skopje listed one excellent restaurant in Zadar.  And David noticed a place as we were driving in and he read the name.  I recognized it from the book.  So we walked up there hoping to get in without a reservation.  Well, it was pitch dark, but it wasn’t yet 5 p.m.  The place was totally empty–dinner is around 8.  So we were seated and an English-speaking waiter devoted himself complete to our comfort.  David asked him for a wine recommendation and we ended up with a local Merlot that was totally black with only a hint of red around the edges.  Delicious.  Then he brought us a small gift

Amuse Bouche

–a white plate with a dome of tuna pate and coming from it a swirled  V of sauce decorated with tiny orange and green dots.  And besides looking elegant, it was delicious.  The dots? tiny bits of squash and carrots.

David had lentil soup (rich with mushroom puree and bits of smoked ham) and I had a simple salad,(a bowl with stripes of tomato, beet, red and green cabbage, and lettuce alternating around it.)  Then I had tuna on a bed of squash and arugula with a truffle cream sauce and Dad had a risotto with shrimps and mushrooms.  Both perfect.  And then dessert–a delicate pana cotta pudding with berry sauce and a fudge chocolate cake (we shared two desserts–and they split them for us and put a swirl of whipped cream between) and coffee of course.  Everything was beautiful to look at and tasted wonderful.  Oh, and dinner for two with a bottle of wine and one of sparkling water:  $70 including the tip.

So we walked home via the Sea Organ and the Sun Salutation.  These are two works of art on the end of the island.  There used to be a wall around the old city, but when they took it down, they replaced it with nothing.  The Sea Organ is a series of organ pipes that the sea plays as it P1040726 moves in and out. If you click on the link, you may hear it.  The melody is never the same, but always pleasing.  All you can see from the top is a series of

That's the sea to the left

holes but as you walk by, the sound is amazingly loud.  And this is at the very edge of the water–no fence.  You could step right into the Adriatic, but we decided to wait for a summer visit to try the swimming.  Then at the tip of the island there is a huge circle that is made up of solar panels under glass. It picks up the sun all day and then at night gives off a continuously changing pattern of waves of colors.  There was a little girl dancing on it when we came up–it was the right reaction to the colors with the music in the

Sun Salutation

background.  The still photo doesn’t really show it–at this moment it was blue, but it changed to red and then yellow, then green and blue.  It’s always moving.  I hope you can see and hear the video.  This place is just amazing.

See, what they did in the 1930s was take down most of the wall around the island and turn the space into a narrow road for cars and a wider park for walkers.  There’s no fence or wall–you could step off into the Adriatic at any point along the shore.  And both the Sea Organ and the Sun Salutation are in the park at one corner of the city.  Then the center is an absolute mass of medieval to early modern buildings, churches, banks, houses, with broad marble walking streets between them.  This is a tourist destination now, so many of the houses have stores on the ground floor.  And the place is full of people walking around.  We have two nights here, to give us time to explore and to visit the three museums that have interesting-=sounding exhibits.  And to go back to the Sea Organ in daylight.  Oh yes, when we got back to the apartment, our laundry was hanging on the line outside our window.

And in fact we did see a lot of Zadar, but we could have stayed another few days.  The apartment was comfortable and the restaurants excellent.  Here are some more photos of the city.

Romanesque Franciscan Church

This church was right around the corner from us.  We were walking by on the way to the Sea Organ when we saw some tourists with a local man who was unlocking the door.  So we joined the group of Italians and got our own private tour.  It’s all scallops inside.  They must once have been chapels, but it’s just white now.  Then there’s an inside ring of columns and a wooden dome in the center.

And there was another church that we passed all the time.  It had a wonderful cloister with a well in the middle.  And here are some photos of their creche.

The centerpiece

One of many small scenes around the center

I should say that Zadar was a Roman city at one point before it became Venetian.  So it has all the stuff provincial Roman cities have–a forum, mosaics, etc.  And then the later people built stuff out of Roman stones (delapidating the Roman buildings) so in places there are interesting steps and walls made out of parts of Roman buildings.  The Herms of course stood at the doors of Roman houses, but now they are just in the grass beside the sidewalk.

He was supposed to welcome you to the house

Then we went to the archaeological museum and saw these: they certainly look like safety pins to me.  Some 19th century American got the patent for the safety pin and here these are, decorated with amber beads, with the curled wire and all.  And they are from before the time of Christ.  There’s nothing new under the sun.

And in the evening (that is after 4 p.m. when the sun set) we walked around the town.  Yes, it was freezing cold, but it was so interesting to see how things had been set up to make you feel you were in an ancient city.  For instance, this is how the forum looked at night:

The Forum at Night

This entry was posted in Macedonia, September 2010 - June 2011, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Along the Dalmation Coast to Zadar

  1. deirdrebeth says:

    Ok first, and probably referencing a movie you haven’t seen yet – but everytime you say “the Navi” I think – they’ve got a native guide?

    2nd – is the sun salutation right on the water? In your video (which is fantastic btw) it looks like you’d walk off the edge and disappear!

    I wonder what the sign on that arch said. It sort of looks like it was put in to stop the road from migrating down the hill, but it could just be random art 🙂

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