09.06.15 – 12.06.15
Feeling reasonably confident with our Renault Clio now, the drive down to Zadar felt like it was going to be a breeze. And it was mainly, only we should have left Rovinj several hours earlier than we did in order to have more time at Plitvice National Park. We spent less than three hours there and it was not nearly enough. I’d seen a few photos in researching the park, but it was not enough to prepare you for the real thing.
Plitvice is almost indescribable, because every single thing there is pristine –even the dragonflies for goodness sake. Arriving was at first overwhelming because of the large number of tourists and tour groups, but once you actually enter the park, every one seems to disperse and it feels like you almost have the place to yourself if you walk far enough. We unfortunately had to choose one of the shorter hikes because we had to leave enough time to arrive in Zadar before too late, but it was no less stunning for the route we took. Waters so clear you can see not only the fish clear as day, but also their shadows, plus forests so lush at some points you can hardly see up through to the sky. Not forgetting the waterfalls of course, their sounds you can hear at any given point on your hike –the soundtrack of Plitvice.
At first we were disappointed that they forbid you from swimming in the crystal clear waters, but it’s obviously in order to protect the park. And in a way, it also adds the experience of Plitvice seeming so ‘other worldly’, it’s almost too perfect, so only being able to imagine what it would be like to swim among the waterfalls certainly adds to the mystery and magic of the place.
Paying for entry to the park and also for parking does seem steep to me, but it is definitely worth it. Our biggest regret was not getting there sooner to soak up more of the clean air, although we did take enough photos to last us a lifetime.
We finally arrived in Zadar just as the sun was setting, and managed to find our hostel just as darkness came. We’re staying at The Drunken Monkey Hostel, which is about a 20-minute walk from the old town and centre of Zadar. It’s not an ideal spot, but this is really the only flaw with the place. It’s really laid back –not what you’d expect from somewhere called the ‘Drunken Monkey’- with a rooftop terrace, an epic lounge area and also a garden complete with BBQ. We’re in an eight-bed dorm which is completely sold out, so it’s a little cramped, but luckily there’s plenty of other common space throughout the hostel.
Zadar is definitely a much busier city than Rovinj, and the old town is a lot of fun. One of the main attractions though, is the sea organ along the ocean promenade. Basically a number of pipes of varying lengths and sizes have been installed along the boardwalk, so when the water and wind crash into them, it creates an eerie and beautiful song; which never stops and never makes the same sounds twice. I think it’s more worthwhile seeing at night time too, as the mystery is enhanced also by the solar light panels which sit next the organ. The panels are lit up by energy they have sourced from the sun that day, and form all different patterns and lights. I recorded several different videos of the organ on my phone, because I was honestly so mesmerised by it. What’s even more bewitching is when we were almost back to our hostel and you can hear the organ playing from across town.
After arriving in Zadar we only had the car for one more day, so we of course decided to head to Krka National Park, still feeling elated from Plitvice. Once again, we made the same mistake of not allowing enough time. Thankfully, Krka is only an hour away by car from Zadar, but we still should have left at least an hour before than when we did –we didn’t realise that we needed to catch a ferry across, which had to wait half an hour for.
Swimming in the waterfalls at Krka was a lot of fun, but if I’m honest I think I preferred our afternoon at Plitvice. Krka probably didn’t stand a chance because of the less amount of time we had there unfortunately. Also seemingly out of nowhere a cold front moved in and rain started pouring, meaning the water was suddenly empty and hoards of people went running for cover. Not one man, though. Out of nowhere, a fit man in his 50s was suddenly wading out at the top the falls, not slipping once as he made it to the very edge. Without warning or hesitation, he perfectly dove, missing any of the rocks below. It was incredible, he obviously knew what he was doing, as he dove, swam out, and then climbed up to the top again! Unfortunately he also inspired another, younger, guy to attempt the same thing, and this guy definitely did not look like he knew what he was doing. He slipped and fumbled his way to the edge, GoPro stick in hand, and seemed to just jump awkwardly to the rapids below. We honestly were expecting him to slip on the rocks and crack his skull or something!
Although our trip to Krka was far shorter than expected –don’t underestimate the length of the return ferry ride- it was still a very much worthwhile day trip, and I’m glad we got to tick off both Plitvice and Krka. We were lucky enough to have the car to get us to both of the parks, but most hostels in Zadar do offer day trips and shuttle buses if you don’t have the luxury of a car.
The rest of our time in Zadar was much more chill, two days in a row of national park-ing had taken it’s toll and we spent a lot of the next day by the water. We also had one the best pasta meals we’d had in a long time, definitely surpassing a lot of pasta meals I’ve had in Italy over the years. The restaurant was called Pasta & Svasta, and the gnocchi was one of the best I’ve ever tasted. I’m still overwhelmed by the strong Italian influences we’ve encountered in Croatia, no more so than the sheer number of pizza/pasta restaurants, but I suppose this was probably a bit naïve of me considering the blurring of country boundaries over the course of centuries.
Our last night in Zadar was spent sharing cocktails with our friend PJ, being happy that we were able to catch up again, as we depart he now heads to Zagreb we head further down the coast to the island of Hvar –without our trusty Clio though.