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Conner's Big Adventure 2017

Croatia - The Cities

CROATIA | Wednesday, 17 May 2017 | Views [587]

Many walks through old town, and many scooter rides too!

Many walks through old town, and many scooter rides too!

THE CITIES

Zagreb

My first impression of Croatia was “Wow, it sure is quiet and serene for being at an international airport?” We were surrounded by lush greenery and only one road that we could see. It was beautiful! My second impression was “Whoa, ok so everyone in Croatia smokes cigarettes.” Both impressions seemed to hold true throughout our stay. In Croatia, almost everyone smokes and they do it absolutely everywhere, in cars, over coffee, at the beach, walking around, parks, playgrounds, concerts, wherever. It was off-putting at first, but since it wasn’t tourist season yet there was plenty of space to move in to avoid most of it. As for the impression of being quiet, Croatia really does feel like a quite country. Of course every city has its sounds, but somehow here they all seemed muted, like everyone was working at library decibels. Very relaxing :-).

We decided to stay the first night in Zagreb before making the drive to Zadar. We picked up our rental car from the airport and headed over to our hotel. At first glance driving through Zagreb it seemed pretty run down with many abandoned and half destroyed buildings, and there was graffiti everywhere on buildings both abandoned and occupied. It was a bit strange, but after walking around the city for a day I found that, while many buildings were abandoned and half busted up, the city was both vibrant and bustling, and pretty cleanly kept. Our hotel was a beautifully restored old building and very cozy. It wasn’t long before we discovered that restored buildings, originals, and abandoned buildings are mixed together all over the city with no particular rhyme or reason that I found. The lady that checked us in was very pleasant and showed us to our room. She gave us information about the area and directed us to the tram. Ah the tram, Conner’s favorite part of Zagreb. Actually the tram was really cool. Zagreb’s tram system was set up in the late 1800s and runs all through the inner city with a few trains going out through the suburban areas. They are fast, inexpensive, and run so frequently we never saw more than an 11 minute wait on the time boards for any tram. Over 500,000 people ride Zagreb’s tram system daily, but they were still clean and not crowded. You can buy monthly passes for not much, or daily passes for 30 Kuna which is about $4.25, or 30 minute one way passes for 4 Kuna. Pretty sweet system really.

Exploring downtown Zagreb was interesting with lots of old mixed in with new. Markets, shops, music, cafes. Remember when I told you that New Zealand had the most futuristic bathroom I had ever seen? Well Croatia put a new one over on me too. I kept hearing strange mechanical noises while sitting down to pee and when I got up to open the door the toilet flushed and then the damn seat started spinning! The whole seat rotated around itself while a cleaning brush came out from the back of the toilet and washed the seat for the next lucky bottom to sit on. America, you have got to improve on your public restrooms. Seriously.

 

Zadar

Zadar was a very laid back city. The pace of the place seemed to be a nice mosey with no particular hurry or worry. People sit for hours and drink Kava (coffee) or beer and chat or just relax. Walking through the city you will see many people taking naps or sunbathing on stone walks near the water, or beaches, or in parks. Cell phones are rarely seen in public which was a great reminder for me to keep mine in my purse and just enjoy where we were. It was an enjoyable city with lots of character and fun to find little secrets :-).

Our apartment in Zadar was ideally located just outside of old town where it was quiet, but within walking distance to everything. We only used our rental car about once a week while we were there, it just wasn’t necessary unless we were going to another town or a specific shop/restaurant all the way across town. Within two miles of our apartment were more restaurants and café/bars than I could ever count, supermarkets, shops, small produce markets, meat markets, bakeries on every block, playgrounds, beaches, the sea organ, and endless cool bits of architecture and history. Zadar was completely different than any place I’d been in that residential and commercial were blended together throughout the entire city. No matter where you lived in Zadar you could walk to restaurants, café/bars, markets, shops, playgrounds, and bakeries in under 10 minutes. The bottom floor of most apartment buildings was filled with cafes and shops. This was a good thing since driving in Croatia was another new experience for us…

Driving in Croatia is fast and tight. People race around in tiny little cars, in tiny little “streets” aka alleyways, and park in tiny little spots that often leave you squeezing to get out of your door. I have never seen such skillful parallel parking in my life. Similar to NZ, parking seems to be wherever you can fit. Sidewalks and grass are totally fair game. Driving from Zagreb to Zadar was slightly confusing as Gregg was going 150km in a 130km zone and getting passed like an old man that couldn’t see over the steering wheel. But at least we were back on the right side of the road again! AND we had a very comfortable car this time around. I am happy to report not a single piece of the car ejected itself from our beautiful and reliable Opal Astra :-).

Most of the playgrounds in Croatia were not notably special. Green areas or gravel/dirt with maybe a play tower and a slide or a teeter totter. It was a bit disappointing for poor Conner after being spoiled by New Zealand’s playgrounds, however they did have quite a few fountains which he loved to watch :-) and a few little hidden gems that were more fun and in better condition. There is a very large, beautiful, and serene forest park in old town that we walked through four times before realizing that there was a great playground tucked away in one corner. One of our favorite spots was a small café/bar on the water that had a playground attached to it with a slide, swings, sandbox, and a four pack of big trampolines. Gregg and I could sit and watch the incredible sunset over the Adriatic while Conner played. I’ve never been much of a sunset watcher, but here in Zadar it just seemed to be the thing to do, so we did and it was magical (forgive the terrible cliché if you please). Zadar had many such places where the playground was, if not attached, right next to a café. Brilliant really. If New Zealand’s playground highlight was the flying fox, Croatia’s was trampolines! Trampolines were everywhere in Zadar. They were usually in four or six pack set ups with a single net around the outside. Kids just bounced their little hearts out with no one saying “wait your turn” or “don’t play that way”. I can’t see this working everywhere, but here it did. I never saw anyone get hurt or left out of the fun. Similar to NZ, kids here all happily play together. They share, they take turns, and they help each other. Watching the way kids play together around the world has been one of my absolute favorite unexpected pleasures :-).

Cats. Cats. Cats. Everywhere! Zadar had so many cats it was the first word Conner remembered in Croatian. Macka (pronounced machka). People even put out cans of cat food at the big market so the cats will stick around. It became a game to see how many cats we could get pictures of as we were walking around the city before they went into hiding. The final week we were in Zadar we caught 18 cats on camera. We walked around to the sound of Conner yelling “Macka!” :-).

Now, let me tell you about the Sea Organ! This is a magical bit of engineering in the form of a set of wide stairs leading down into the ocean. As the waves lap up on the steps the water flows into different channels and plays a pipe organ built into the underside of the steps! It is very cool (slightly creepy in the dark…) and was an amazing place to relax while Conner rode his scooter in the park around the sea organ. There is also a giant circle of glass covered solar panels that measures about 50 feet across and is deliciously warm to lay across on a chilly April day. At night the circle lights up and dances in a dazzling multicolored light show with the sea organ as accompaniment. We had a very fun, very late, night dancing with the lights and watching kids play light tag :-).

In Zadar, similar to what we saw in Zagreb, new was mixed with old, occupied with abandoned. History on display to walk by on your daily routine wherever you go. I had forgotten just how recently Croatia had been a war zone. When we visited Krka National Park we were brought to a very old monastery that had been partially transformed into a museum. One of the rooms was dedicated to remembering the Croatian war of Independence (1991-1995). There was a framed statement on the wall with the heading “We have forgiven, but we must never forget…”. I felt like that statement explained much about both the cities and the people as we got to know both.

 

Split

We only spent one day in Split, so I don’t have a whole lot to say about it, but it was a much more businesslike city with big shopping malls and much more of a hustle and bustle feeling than Zadar. Still nothing like a US big city, but noticeably different. The river flowing through town was quite nice though :-). We visited Klis fortress just outside of Split and although we were too late to go inside, the view of the city and the sea from the fort entrance was breathtaking.

Tags: cities, croatia, split, zadar, zagreb

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