A Travellerspoint blog

Swiss Cheese Day

Day 49 Zagreb to Florence

sunny 35 °C

After fuelling up the car the night before, packing and arranging an early breakfast at our Airport Hotel so we could drop the car off at the airport when the place opened at 7am for our 9am flight from Zagreb to Florence, we thought we had it all planned out.

Well, we came to a screeching halt. The day didn't start or end well - all the holes in the Swiss Cheese lined up today.

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By 6:45am, we're on track. Then, when doing that final check before driving off, couldn't find my phone. Race back inside, check lobby, breakfast place and room. Rush back and discover it was in my back pack all along. Plug "Zagreb International Airport" into the SatNav and we're away. 9 minutes and about 6kms. As we dutifully followed the instructions, the streets of the sleepy town didn't feel right but we pressed on, focused on getting to the airport. As we rounded a narrow corner and hit gravel and a 8' wire fence, we realised we were on the airside of the airport - nice view of the runway, but not ideal for our present needs. SatNav was right, we were technically at the airport, the Terminal however, was way over the other side. We lost 15 minutes, rally cross driving back to where we needed to drop the car off. We do a couple of loops trying to find the allocated place, then there's no parks. A guy in a blue shirt seemingly affiliated with the Hire Company obliged and took the keys from us and we headed for the Terminal. Fortunately he wasn't some random guy who we'd just handed the keys to a new Festiva, never to be seen again. Check in at Zagreb Airport was painful as its an old crappy airport, overdue for expansion. The airlines have added extra flights (we guess to gauge demand and raise revenue for the upgrade) but the facilities are stretched to the limit. Phew, we make it to the gate with time to spare, including enough time to offload our unused Croatian Kuna for Biotherme Spray Sunscreen which we have discovered is EXCELLENT. Highly recommend.

We arrive in Paris - a teaser for our visit in August. We think, right, we're back on track only to sit on the tarmac waiting for passengers from a connecting flight. Finally, we're here!

As we enter the doors to the Baggage Hall, we are immediately assaulted by Italians - its chaos, loud debating and much hand gesturing! Amid the chaos, the carousel springs to life and Jen's bag is first off the conveyor! Sadly, as we watch the belt go 'round and 'round with the number of bags dwindling and the Baggage Hall emptying, the realisation that my bag got left behind is sinking in. There are about a dozen others also waylaid. Whilst it was inevitable that this might happen, it's still a terrible feeling.

I join the queue at Lost Baggage to go through the process with smirking Italian airport staff. Word had gotten around that the next flight from Paris was due in about an hour and the mislaid bags might be on it, so we park ourselves to wait. The next flight arrived, and the travellers from late Los Angeles connection gleefully collected their bags. But alas, mind did not arrive. It must be back in Zagreb.

We had to laugh though, as each flight landed in the hour we waited, the queue in front of Lost Baggage continued to grow. Must be a normal day in Florence airport and the Italian airport staff laughed their way through the whole situation.

With no knowing where my bag could be and limited information from the Airline, we made our way into Florence and checked into our first Airbnb, an absolutely gorgeous apartment adjoining Ponte Vecchio Bridge and minutes walk to all the attractions.

Whilst distracted as to whereabouts of my bag and only the clothes I was wearing, the night it did end on a high note as Italy got knocked out of the European Cup by Germany. We watched the game, on a stinking hot night, from the big screen on the banks of the Arno with thousands of Italians occupying every vantage point. One of my long time dislikes is Italian soccer, how they play and how they overact at the merest of touches.

There was plenty of Karma today!

Posted by tszeitli 08:29 Archived in Italy Tagged florence airports chaos rush ponte_vecchio italians lost_baggage swiss_cheese Comments (4)

Revisiting Past Journeys and Goodbye to Driving.

Day 47 and 48 Mostar, Sarajevo and back to Zagreb

sunny 30 °C

Jen visited Mostar and Sarajevo five years ago. She wanted to revisit these two places, which she holds very special, and show me around.
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Mostar is a tiny town but hugely significant due to a tiny bridge and the war during 1991 to 1998.

It was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who in the medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva River. The Old Bridge, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina's most recognisable landmarks.
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It has been a tourist site for centuries, with daredevils diving off the bridge to squeals of delight from onlookers, provided enough coins have been collected from patrons in the restaurants and those below on the shore. It is still the case today. This diver was trying to drum up more by teasing the crowd that he was almost ready to jump, but needed a little more.
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Lots of tourists and tourist shops but that did not bother us. The place has a mystic about it that is hard to describe.
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You also need to have some understanding about the Civil War between the peoples of the former Yugoslavia - which is complicated and is as difficult to comprehend today, as we are sure it was during time.

The thing that gets you straight away is this beautiful bridge. A stop at the bookshop at one end of the bridge to watch a documentary compiling footage for the dark days of 1993 culminating in the majestic bridge finally crumbling into the river in November 1993, after steady barrage of mortar and artillery attacks, despite the efforts of Mostar's residents to protect it, is tremendously sobering. The history books speak fondly of the bridge, and during conflicts over the centuries, the bridge had been spared - as if the bridge had a higher presence. It leaves you shaking your head in disbelief or in tears. It goes through how the bridge and surrounding area was completely destroyed and then recently rebuilt. Jen commented how much had changed and still felt emotional towards it.

I have a look through her photos from that Balkans trip.

We could see the changes that have occurred in that relatively short time. War wounds have healed more but the scars, physical and emotional are still there.

To lift our spirits, its time for Icecream and we're on our way to Sarajevo. The scenery during the drive is spectacular.
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Jen did a great job getting us to the apartment which was 1 km from the Old Town. We quickly made our way into the square and wandered the streets and the memories came flooding back for Jen.

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There is a saying, famously proclaimed by legend, that whoever drinks water in Sarajevo - never leaves Sarajevo and is destined to return. Jen returned!
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We stumbled across an exhibition dedicated to the images and stories of the Srebrenica Massacre, during the Balkans War. The exhibition went through and explained how over 8000 Bosnian people (mostly men and boys) were slaughtered and the efforts to find and identify the victims. So far investigators have found 100's of mass grave sites and there are still thousands missing. The movies and pictures in the exhibition left everyone we saw speechless including ourselves.

Sarajevo also suffered brutal periods, laid siege by the Serbian army, cutting off from the world, inflicting massive damage and loss of Bosnian people. The town was surrounded by the Serbs and the fighting and inhumanity was something that had not been seen since the Second World War. When I was here in 1985 you could feel the tension between all the groups and once communism ended and Tito gone, it opened the flood gates for a horrific and brutal period. The World said, after WWII that we must never let this happen again, but sadly the 1990s demonstrated it can.
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With our World currently trying to deal with the challenges of IS, racism, displaced refugees, and America seemingly descending further and further into chaos, we despair for what the future holds.

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After a spot of souvenir shopping and an espresso, Sarajevo style, we visited another significant spot where Prince Ferdinand, heir to the Austro- Hungarian empire, and his wife were assassinated in 1914 by Franz Ferdinand which was the spark that ignited the First World War.
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Jen was also able to find the small bazaar she and her travel companions visited last time which gave her a fun kick! [Simon - do you remember this place?]
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We continued to wander the many little lane ways with numerous shops bashing out amazing pieces of copper and also coffee grinders. It is especially poignant that bullet casings and artillery shells are used by metal smiths for pens, coffee grinders, and other "souvenirs".

The old part of town has been rebuilt and now has a different feeling and move forward. Many of the Sarajevo Roses have now faded away or been re-paved, the needs of a bustling city, overtaking the reminders of the painful past.

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After procuring some delicious fruit to sustain us, we headed off for our 5 hour straight drive to Zagreb where we would fly out and onto to our next adventure. The drive from Sarajevo to the Bosnia border was along 2 lanes highways with lots of trucks and was pretty slow at times. Once we crossed the border it was back to 4 lane highway hurtling along 130 km / hr. Once again the BMWs and Mercedes flying past me at 160 km/ hr. We had travelled over 1600 km/s and sadly tomorrow morning we would be saying good bye to our little Ford Festiva buzz box.

All in all our adventures through Croatia and Bosnia has been amazing, diverse, spectacular scenery, beautiful beaches, crystal clear water and a very unique history although more recently very brutal. The people are friendly and helpful and the food has been mouth watering delicious. Big thumbs up from Jen and I.

Posted by tszeitli 14:18 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Tagged history driving scenery old_town rebuild revisit war_scars don't_forget Comments (2)

We have arrived in Paradise

Day 44, 45, 46 Sumartin to Makaskar

sunny 35 °C

Beautiful 45 minute ferry trip from Split to the island of Brać. This was never on our plans so a totally unplanned experience - the beauty of travel on the go.

We have got used to booking our accommodation 1-2 days in advance and there has been no problems at all. We disembarked the Ferry at Supetar and quickly headed off, following windy roads up into the hills. Very narrow at times down to a town called Milna. Just your typical fishing village. We went for a walk, and, as you do, dived in for a quick plunge. You have to experience how cool, and clear this water is. We relax and float about in the clear blue water with our only company being the millions of little fish swimming around us..

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Back in the car and Jen's turn to have a drive. Easy drive - no traffic, no traffic lights, except shear fall down the side of cliffs along barely more than single lane roads with no shoulders and the odd gravel truck to make it interesting. Although, one town did have a traffic light at each end of the only street in town because it was too narrow for cars to pass. She handled superbly and I got a chance to see the scenery. Lucky for me the scenery was spectacular, winding our way through little villages comprising a church and a few houses built into the hillside. As we came over the top of the island, we arrive at Bol with a sea side Peninsula of Zlatni Rat. This is where everyone goes on a hot day. The beach covers both sides of the peninsula and is again crystal clear, cool water with fishies and no current. We don our goggles and swim out to the buoys.
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Zlatni Rat is a classic European beach resort place jutting out into the ocean. Packed with people but when you can swim in such beautiful waters it does not matter.

Back into the car and then to our final destination Sumartin where we will stay for 3 nights. This place is a small village where the car ferry leaves from. Aside for the influx of cars a couple of times a day for the ferry, nothing changes much here and things get real slow. Our room was cosy and 300 m from the town and beach so this was the time to chill out.

The first morning after some advice from a Sydney lady now living with her husband in Zagreb and building a house on the island we found a little coffee shop out of town beach with the most spectacular lookout and cafe - only three menu options but it doesn't matter when the coffee is good and simple fresh food is on offer and the view is magnificent.

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We adapt to the beachside life very quickly - sleeping in, beach, fresh produce for breakfast, swim, walks, lunch of delicious selection from the Deli and fresh bread from the bakery, ice cream, swim, snooze, swim, dinner, walks, sleep. And repeat.

Often we were the only ones on the local beach or at worst a few local kids having fun.

This place is incredible, they even have magic boats that seem to levitate!
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Its HOT but fortunately the beach is usually only 100m away
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or we hang out, enjoying the breeze and view from our apartment balcony.
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We work our way down the strip for dinner options. Local restaurants with surprisingly extensive menus and staff eager to share their cuisine with us. One special meal was the fresh mussels. So fresh, that as soon as I placed the order, the waiter trottted outside, hauling up a basket and retrieved a bowl of mussels, which were promptly prepared and in front of me within minutes. Now that's fresh! Jen had a delicious gnocchi meal in a sauce that was mouth watering. The waiter was very friendly and gave us a complimentary shot of local made Raki, to aid in our digestion (of course) and we finished off the with a palacsinta dessert.
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With the fading sun, on the balmy evenings, Sumartin is peaceful and has been the perfect escape for us.
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The last day was pretty much the same routine. We broke it up with eating slabs fresh water melon on the water's edge with our feet dangling in the cool water feeling relaxed and very happy with our change in plans spending 3 nights in a very special place.

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We caught the 3 pm ferry back to the mainland to stay in a town called Makaskar. The scenery was spectacular as you got a great view of the rocky coastline that goes down the Dalmatian coast.

The ferries are also quite comical. The Sumartin Ferry only has room for 25 cars so arriving late can mean having to wait for the next one. There is usually a procession of cars, either left over from the previous departure or getting in early for the next, at the ferry stop. We checked out and parked the car as soon as the morning ferry departed to ensure we got on the afternoon ferry. Fortunately, its right next to the main street so we spent the morning, swimming, eating and hanging out.

When time comes to load the ferry a semi organised procession ensues. Fortunately we're one of the first on ahead of the RVs and trucks carting massive chunks of granite to the mainland.
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Again, beautiful ferry ride in the open water with rocky mountain backdrop.
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Our little car disembarked safely, dwarfed by the other passengers.
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It was stinking hot so we decided to go straight for a swim. Well, this town could not be more different from Sumartin. The 2 km beach was covered with tourists and the path at the back of the beach was filled with hotels, restaurants and tourists shops. Back to reality as this place is where the masses come to have a swim and a holiday.
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Well, that ended our sea side island hoping adventure that went way beyond our expectations. It was now back in land, heading for Mostar and Sarajevo. We head inland under the mountains (via impressive tunnels) popping out the other side to a complete change of scenery.
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And we're on the road to Mostar.
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Posted by tszeitli 22:20 Archived in Croatia Tagged food beer water beach sun paradise swim relax Comments (2)

Kayaking, Eating Too Much, Football and its HOT

Day 42 to Day 44 Split

sunny 35 °C

We booked a day’s sea kayak adventure two nights ago and arranged to be picked up this morning by a company called Red Adventure. Life of a traveller in 2016 is so easy compared with my backpacking days. All you need is wifi and a credit card, with everything arranged to perfection via email.
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Jen was looking forward to a kayak as it was bringing back memories of kayaking on the Dalmatian Coast in Kotor, Montenegro some 5 years ago. The weather was 35 deg C, the water temp about 25 deg C, the water was calm, the water crystal clear, so perfect conditions for us to enjoy a past time Jen and I love to do regularly at Rainbow Beach.
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We get out on the water with our guide, Marco, a couple of offsiders, and a lovely family - Mum was born in Glasgow, got married and moved to Iceland and had two children and now lives in Sweden with her two teenage kids.

Kayaking is Jen's Happy Place, so Jen starts paddling at 100 km/hr with the adrenalin flowing she gets over excited with the exercise, water and freedom! "Slow Down Buckaroo!" We have 8 hours of this. We get into a nice rhythm and paddled across to the island of Otok Ciovo. The sheer rock faces are spectacular. Marco's offsider (who spent the entire 8 hours in just those speedos...) is a rock climber and managed to haul himself out of the water (via short ropes anchored into the base) and pick his way over the sharp rocks up to about 10 metres.
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This day was also a big test for the GoPro with action shots on the kayak with some underwater scenes. The kayak trip went perfectly and can be summarised in the following: crystal clear calm water, beautiful scenery, paddling along rocky island water’s edge, snorkelling, beach lunch, diving out of our kayaks in the open ocean for a swim, engaging with other travellers and the locals, GoPro success, overall lots of fun! I will let the photos speak for themselves.
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That night we watched the Croatians lose to Portugal with a very different atmosphere to the time in Pula. The Split Croatians did not get dressed up and there was no central square to gather which kind of made it a flat night. There's a significant proportion of tourists - so the mood isn't as patriotic. That night we drank way too many beers and I had one of the best pizzas I have had for a long time, devouring a large Pizza all by myself. Let’s see if I get get a better one in Italy. The night was stinking hot so we were glad to end it back at our room in air conditioned comfort.

The next day was again a scorcher and we spent half the day wandering the streets and buying our ferry ticket for our next adventure until it got too hot and we retreated to the refuge of our air-conditioned unit.

Past the statue of Grgur Ninski (Gregory of Nin) a medieval Croatian bishop of Nin who strongly opposed the Pope and official circles of the Church and introduced the national language in the religious services after the Great Assembly in 926. Until that time, services were held only in Latin (being under the jurisdiction of Roman influence), not being understandable to a majority of the population. Seemed like a decent bloke, so we gave his toe a rub for luck, as is the custom.
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A little retail therapy, note the poor guy on the "Husband Bench".
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Then through the Place of Diocletian. It is an ancient palace built by the Roman emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century AD, that today forms about half the old town and city centre.
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While it is referred to as a "palace" because of its intended use as the retirement residence of Diocletian, it more resembles a large fortress: about half of it was for Diocletian's personal use, and the rest housed the military garrison.

Most of it is converted into shops and restaurants. Its lovely to wander the cool laneways and window shop.
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Parts of the place are open spaces and a grotto are cool - literally, much cooler than outside.
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I am fast coming to a realisation that Jen is an ice cream addict (she never told me that before the wedding) and unless she gets one a day she gets a little edgy!
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Lucky all the countries we are visiting are also big ice cream fans. Happy Wife Happy Life.

There is also an excellent smoothie bar in a breezeway that offers a cool oasis from the heat.
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The night was sadly watching Hungary get thrashed by Belgium 4 – 0 but still a great effort. Great to see Hungary being competitive and holding their heads high. Dinner was a grilled whole fish and salad. Whole fish is always tricky but it is cooked to perfection. The meals we have had in Split have been delicious and great value normally with a litre of local beer.

The next morning, we packed up and got back on the road to commence a three night stay on the island of Brać. Jen again perfectly navigated to the ferry terminal in Split and we hit chaos. The organisational skills of the locals and directions around the ferry terminal are unclear and we circled the area a couple of times. Finally, after some stressful moments of u-turns and stops and starts we were semi confident we were in the right queue to get to Supetar.
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Fortunately at the allotted time the ferry pulls up and the vehicular dance of cars and trucks commences. We drive on board without scratching the car and head upstairs for breakfast, looking forward to Island Hopping.

Posted by tszeitli 10:37 Archived in Croatia Tagged kayaking swimming hot ice_cream happy_place saltwater_therapy airconditioning Comments (2)

The Great Dalmatian Coast Road

Day 40 and 41 Pula to Split via Zadar

sunny 35 °C

Our plans have changed slightly as getting to Split in one day is too far so it's onto the coastal town of Zadar. It has been rated European Destination for 2016 so our plan is to stop for one night.
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Rivalling the drive along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria or Cairns to Port Douglas, the drive from Pula to Zadar is truly magnificent. We set off early, bidding adios to Pula making our way to Rijeka. From there, the D8 Highway hugs the coastline as we wound our way to Zadar.

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As soon as we hit the coastal road Jen and I were both in awe of the beauty. The water is a crystal clear sapphire colour and each inlet has dead calm waters. You can see the many islands off the coast and the road weaves sometimes high up on the cliff edges or down at the water level. The coastline is scattered with small little villages, Each one, with little fishing boats bobbing at the water's edge, would be ideal for a weeks' summer break soaking up the sun and swimming in the cool clear waters. We stopped for lunch at Novi Vindolski, another small village, right next to the water edge and the weather in the mid 30's. What better place to open the boot, pull out the cheese, bread, salami, tomato and capsicum in true European style.

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We arrived in Zadar, and quickly made our way to the local beach. I use the term beach loosely in comparison to an Australian beach. Whilst the water is divine (although no waves) the beaches here have rocks and pebbles instead. Our feet obviously aren't toughened like the locals. There is no elegant, way especially for women, to get in and out of the water, maybe that's why they just sun bake. Imagine walking over an entire toybox of Legos. It does force you to jump in quickly but the pain on your feet rapidly vanishes as the cool clear water takes over and you float away.

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We tried to do a quick trip into the old part of town but parking is a nightmare and unbeknown to us we had to have local coins for the parking meter, and the local shops are well rehearsed at saying "No" to tourists seeking change. Oh well we head to the marina, where parking is plentiful, found a local restaurant with a darling terrace balcony and devoured a meat platter and local beer.

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Sonia - the ćevapčići were delicious!
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Jen and I felt very relaxed, beautiful early evening, overlooking the marina, lovely food and much on our own and no real set plans.

We decided over night to do the Krka National Park today while on our way to Split. The park is known for its water falls and swimming areas so we though it being so hot, lets go inland as it's easy to get to with a car. This meant a quick stop into the old part of town of Zadar as we make our way down the coast.

We walked into the old part of town across the foot bridge eyeing off the marina and the dollars associated with the boats.
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Zadar is an ancient city, over 3000 years old. There is even a centuries old stone tablet "title deed" for a private residence. It was often destroyed and pillaged. Variously it was controlled by Greece, part of the Roman Empire in 59 BC and then under Venetian rule. In 7th century, it became the capital city of Byzantine province of Dalmatia. Burned to the ground in the 13th century by the Crusaders and the Venetians. After Venice, the Austrians took over, then the French between 1806 and 1813. The Austrians came back until the end of the First World War in 1918. With the Treaty of Rapallo in 1920, Zadar came under Italian rule, until the the end of World War II, with 70% of the city destroyed by Allied bombardment. Almost destroyed and abandoned, it came under the control of the Republic of Yugoslavia and therefore collaboration with USSR. Unfortunately, Zadar and its hinterland was ferociously attacked in the Civil War in 1991. The city was surrounded and shelled, with the historic infrastructure taking significant damage.

We could feel this history in the air as we wandered the streets. Century after century (up until the 20th) it has been destroyed and rebuilt, so one has to marvel at its magnificence and enduring efforts of its citizens to rebuild every time.

After a fantastic breakfast - a gem of a find in a quaint lane, we made our way to the Sea Organ on the south west corner of the town.
At first, I scoffed at the idea but as I approached the concrete steps I heard the noises of whale like sounds. The waves push air up through tubes in the steps which generates the noise, hence the name sea organ pipes. Jen just loved the noises and a very novel idea.
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Just along from the Sea Organ is an art installation entitled Greeting to the Sun a 22m diameter circle with 300 glass plates covering solar panels which light up and display messages around the circumference. It is said the aim of the artists is to communicate with light, as the Sea Organ communicates with sound. Whilst we missed it, it is designed to be viewed at either sunset or sunrise when it comes into its element. It was a pleasant change from the usual monuments featuring some dead military dude on a horse.

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Continued the walk and meandered around, taking in the sights.
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Overall a really nice place but we headed off to the National Park.

The park is famous for the water falls and we caught a tourist ferry boat to the lakes and falls. Its hot so Ice creams are in order...sadly all good things must come to an end...

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On arrival it was obvious that this is the place to go on hot days with 1000+ other people on a Friday. However, the swim was well worth it. Fresh and crystal clear water and just the place to chill out for the day.

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After our swim and cool down, we headed on the largest coastal town, Split.

We were met by Ivan at our apartment, making sure we had everything we needed (and more) and fortunately he found a free park for us - parking in most cities is a nightmare, so after spotting one from the balcony, it is a mad rush to grab it. He is a wealth of information, giving great information that leads us to the decision that our next step was to go to the island of Brać. He also gives us great tips for getting away from the main tourist restaurants with overpriced average food. We head off to his favourite restaurant area. Ivan didn't disappoint. In a little laneway bistro, I had one of the best Spaghetti Bologneses I'd had for a long time and Jen had amazing pizza. Streets and restaurants are full of Aussie Retirees and Backpackers. That distinctive Aussie Accent catches our ears regularly! We luxuriated over dinner (and a litre of excellent house wine). Our friendly waiter treated us to a house Grappa gratis that went down perfectly at 9 pm and still 30 deg c.

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Overall an action packed day, plenty of variety and now we can settle in for three nights. Tomorrow it's a full day in a sea kayaking.

Posted by tszeitli 04:58 Archived in Croatia Tagged waterfalls road_trip coast views grappa damation_coast Comments (5)

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