Thursday, June 23, 2016

Laid back on the Adriatic - Final Chapter

For our final fortnight in Croatia we wanted to visit one more major city. We were planning on going to the harbor town of Pula in Istria because we had read so much about it. As Chief Travel Planner, it was my job to figure out how to get us there before we dug too deep in selecting an Airbnb.

First we needed to take the one-hour catamaran ride from the island of Hvar back to Split where we could catch a bus to Pula. My research quickly revealed that a bus from Split to Pula was affordable but long. Tickets were 300 kuna ($45) but the journey was 11 hours. Debbie always says she loves a good bus trip but that seemed a little long even for her tastes.

That's when I remembered our host in Split had told me about a seaplane that made the same trip in 90 minutes. Now who wouldn't want to fly up the Croatian coastline along the Adriatic at 1,000 ft on a beautiful sunny day with hundreds of islands scattered below? It brought back memories of flights we've taken many times back home in Seattle aboard Kenmore Air over the beautiful San Juan Islands. At first the price seemed reasonable, well okay reasonable in a "we've been staying below budget in Croatia sort of way" but that's when I remembered each of our suitcases weight 23 kg and that's not even counting our day packs which probably come in around 10-12 kg each. 

It was hard to give up the seaplane options.
Not dissuaded by the above, I contacted the airline, European Coastal Airlines to see about weight restrictions. Turns out, with our extra baggage, the total cost came in at around $400. which was the same as buying four passenger tickets. So for the next couple of weeks, we went back and forth rationalizing the extra cost of flying vs the bus but never came to a decision. That's when someone in the tourist office suggested we go to Zadar instead. Zadar is just 100 miles north of Split, buses leave hourly and the 3 hour trip was only 85 kuna ($12) and in her opinion, an equally beautiful and diverse destination. Sold! 

Breakfast of Travel Planning Champions - Note the two chocolate cookies
We began to search on Airbnb for a place in Zadar and within a few minutes we found a wonderful listing in a city that we really enjoyed from arrival day to departure.

A peek at our Zadar home away from home. One of our favorites.
In the running for "Hosts of the Year" - Elza and Alan in Zadar.
It all started when our wonderful hosts Elza and her husband Alan volunteered to meet us at the bus station in Zadar and drive us to the house. The house, or complex as it turns out, is large and includes their home where they live with their two teenage sons plus three apartments for guests. This sort of multi-dwelling structure is common in Croatia as multi-generational families tend to live together. Son and new wife in one unit. Grandparents in another, etc. Our 2nd floor unit was perfect with a deck over-looking their beautiful garden, and big dining room table as well as table on the deck for for working on our book and whatever else we seem to constantly need to spread out to accomplish.

Will walk for miles for a soft serve combo cone.
During our stay we had several days of warm sunshine, and others a mix of sun and clouds often followed by evening rain, and even a few dramatic thunder and lightning storms. We walked everywhere including the mile and a half each way to the captivating Old Town where, again roman ruins vie for space with ancient castles and cathedrals nestled inside the fortress walls. It was about a 30 minute walk to Old Town but you could shave 10 minutes off the journey by taking a little red rowboat across from one side of the harbor to the other. The three minute crossing cost 10 kuna ($1.50) A father and son from the same family has been ferrying passengers back and forth for the last 300 years. We made a habit of buying a mixed (vanilla and chocolate) soft ice cream cone as a reward for not taking the bus.

With Elza on the little red boat that crosses the harbor.
Our driver. A father and son from same family has been running this short trip across the water for 300 years.
The population of Zadar is 170,000 but Elza seemed to know everyone in town. She took Debbie under her wing more than once as they made the rounds of shops and merchants for all manner of food, beverages and necessities and they were constantly stopped by friends and family - and there seemed to be a need for long conversation with every market vendor. She even cleaned the fish they bought together at the market. Debs loved every minute of her time with her. Meanwhile Alan loaned us the boys bicycles and climbed the ladder deep into the cherry trees in the back yard and delivered a small bucket full of bright red fruit to our door. We also visited his offices where he manages a fleet of cargo ships that traverse the world, and visited Elza at her work at one of the city's largest marina where she looks after the landscaping.

Debbie with Elza at the marina where she had just filled this planter.
A few of the the hundred fresh cherries we had on the counter.
We also lucked out because during our stay, Zadar was hosting their 10th Annual International Choir Competition. We were introduced to choir competitions two years ago in Riga, Latvia where we stumbled upon the 2014 World Choir Games - that was Senior Nomads highlight. We were excited that we would be able to enjoy free performances by choirs of all flavors during our stay. The actual competitions were held indoors at the National Theatre. But after each choir finished performing, they walked outdoors to the famous "Greeting to the Sun" installation  Link on the promenade and did a twenty minute set "just for fun". The choirs, and often their directors, were much more relaxed outside the competition environment and delighted us along with the crowds.

We knew what we'd being doing for the next few days!
One of many wonderful performances we enjoyed throughout the week.
Indoors. Outdoors. Choirs were everywhere!
Zadar is famous for something called the Sea Organ (or "Morske orgulje" in Croatian). What is a sea organ, you might ask? Well it is a public art installation build into the sea wall that produces eerie music, powered by the sea waves themselves. We read about it prior to coming to Zadar so when we walked by it several times and couldn't hear anything we were a little confused. Later that day, Elza told us that the Sea Organ was closed for repairs during the month of May. After learning that, we felt better knowing that our hearing wasn't completely gone. We did an Internet search and found this clip to share with you Sea Organ link

Greetings to the Sun is about to light up and go Disco. All run by solar panels.
Zadar definitely has "destination"sunsets.
Normally, we try to travel between cities around mid-day or early afternoon. That way, the schedule for "Travel Day" as we call it, has us doing a pack 'n' clean in the morning followed by public transport to a bus station, train station or airport hopefully arriving in our next city in the late afternoon or early evening. Well that wasn't possible as we left Zadar. First, flights in and out of the city are few and far between. We were headed to the UK to stay with friends in Wales. And what friends they are! The only flight out was at 10:00 pm. Graham and Wendy drove an hour to pick us up at the Manchester airport in England just after midnight - and then drove us all back home. More on our wonderful time in Wales coming up next.

So, in this case, most of Travel Day was spend doing some final errands and having an excellent dinner before James, who we made friends with while we were in Zadar, came to pick us up and take us to the airport. So far, so good on the Friends + Cars = Airport transportation equation.

We made it to the tiny airport without any problems. Got in the queue with a huge gaggle of British holiday makers and still made it through security in plenty of time. As it turns out, there is a large area outside where you can sit and have a drink (or smoke like crazy) and watch planes land and take off. You are close enough to inhale the jet fuel fumes and hear the engines roar. Soon we walked out onto the tarmac ourselves and up the stairs for our Ryanair flight to Manchester. After 5 weeks in Croatia, it was hard to say goodbye.

Dubrovnik is a city we enjoyed, but there are so many less discovered places to find on your own.
With two visits to Croatia under our belts, we have to say it is one of our favorite destinations. As I said before, if you haven't been, think about going and enjoying this proud nation who just a few years ago was in a horrific war with their Serbian neighbors and are now coming to a place of peace and prosperity that could use all of our support.

Safe Travels, And thanks for following along,

The other half of the Senior Nomads


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