Saturday, June 16, 2018

Postcards from Zadar: About Travel (Un)Planning with a What I Wore thrown in. . .

This trip is a relatively long one for us -- we're over four weeks in, with a little over another week to go before flying home.
I planned the first three weeks carefully -- all accommodation and transportation was booked and paid for: a few days in Paris, a few in Lyon, a couple in Munich, and then our week on Hvar with the family. SNCF messed up our train schedule, but we compensated (took a bus to Lyon instead; went to Strasbourg a day ahead), and although it felt a bit stressful at the time and was one move/bed more than I wanted to make, that part of our trip worked well.
Despite my propensity for carefully planning, however, I've been wondering lately about leaving room for the kind of serendipity, even adventure, that travel used to allow. Remember the days when we had less access to information, but/so were a bit more open? When we'd roll into a new town, go to a tourist information office, and book ourselves accommodation? When we'd decide, arriving in a town on Monday, that we couldn't bear staying in it until Thursday, so ignored the itinerary we'd drawn up, and pulled up the map to look for other possible destinations?
Truth be told, I didn't do so much of that when I was young, but I've had a taste, and I wanted to leave room for the Sixty-Something version. We arrived in Croatia with our first night (in Zagreb) booked, a car rental arranged, and our week on Hvar with the kids. After that, we had something like ten days with no accommodation arranged nor even a clear itinerary.

And so far, it's been better than okay. It's been a gentle adventure (with one horrible navigation argument in the car, I'll admit, but air cleared within a hundred kilometres). You already know that I let Pater make our booking for Ston -- a destination that hadn't been our intention, but that suited us quite well (my original romantic notion had been to spot a place while driving -- you know? a pretty little cottage with a Vacancy sign that we'd see from the road and there'd be an easy turn at the intersection just ahead. Oh, and in this fantasy I'd have long flowing hair, a backpack that I could heft without effort onto my tall, willowy frame . . . ha!). . .

He did very well making that first online choice -- the reality turned out to be even better than the online marketing photos conveyed.

But as we drove into Zadar -- a destination we'd agreed on together -- I began to have serious reservations. Granted, we approached it through some homely suburbs, and then an industrial area followed by a swarm of aggressively bland hotels.  That approach had us hoping for some beauty in the Old City Quarter, but as the numbers counted down to our target address, the buildings were looking increasingly like ageing inner-city, project-built apartment clusters. Not attractive at all.
Which goes to show, I can tell you now -- you should neither judge a book by its cover, nor a Croatian Apartment Rental by its backside (and by the way, these apartment rentals seem much more prevalent here than hotel accommodation).

The owner/host of the apartment we rented met us in front of the building -- the top photo is of a cafe we passed on the way; the second photo is of the restaurant just outside "our" building -- where we enjoyed a bottle of Jamnica (the Croatian water to drink -- I always ordered the green bottle "with gas"); the photo directly above this section of text is of the ancient church just next to that restaurant.

As we followed the very friendly L. into the building, he explained that while the building looked old (everything in Zadar looks old, he said), we should be reassured that the apartment was very new inside. I should have taken pictures for you, I know, but let me tell you how right he was -- the inside of the apartment had been completely gutted and redone. Sleek and modern -- and, frankly, rather sexy with a sliding-glass-door enclosed bathroom. Fabulous lighting, built-in contemporary cabinetry. And yes, an electric kettle, a small fridge, a Nespresso-type machine, and a good selection of coffee pods and tea bags. Wifi, flat-screen TV.  Hotel-quality towels, tiny bottles of shower gel and shampoo, cellophane-wrapped glasses. . .

A tiny balcony with that view of the harbour (third photo from the top) just past the pretty geraniums. And across the way, incredibly, a collection of ancient (some appear to be Roman vintage) architectural remnants gathered in a courtyard. Somehow I didn't get any pictures of the five to ten (likely feral) cats within view at any time.

 Ridiculously affordable, and an abundance of free entertainment just outside the door . . . If you like wandering through ancient alleys, past beautiful architecture, that is.




Pulley wheel for one of the Five Wells that give this Trg (Plaza) its name -- they're obviously no longer in use

Pater had walked away to check out or pick up something or other, and I wandered through the little park just behind the Five Wells Square (Trg Pet Burnara). When I saw these stairs, that little path curving invitingly 'round a corner, I couldn't resist following. . .

The path curved 'round and 'round, up and up, and the surrounding trees were tall and leafy enough that I knew Pater would never find me here. So I texted him, reminded him of the labyrinth we'd climbed in Paris almost a decade ago, in the Jardin des Plantes, told him I'd discovered its Adriatic soulmate here, and then waited for him to join me.
And after we'd enjoyed the view from the top, we walked down the path together and he insisted on taking a few photos. You won't find much variety in my What I Wore photos these days, but I will say that I'm still quite pleased with my very limited carry-on-case capsule wardrobe. The weather's been a pretty steady 26 to 30 degrees Celsius (78 to 86 F), so I've never missed my jeans, have been quite content living in linen.

Gratuitous beauty everywhere -- can you tell that walking with me requires patience? ;-) But that yellow!
I posted a few more images of Zadar (the crowds gathering at twilight to experience Nikola Basic's Sea Organ and Sun Salutation installations, for example) on Instagram, if you're interested.
One last image of (or from) Zadar before I return to our hotel room in Istria where Pater still sleeps in the bed beside me (I quite like this European approach -- two separate beds pushed together for a Queen, each made up with its own linens, its own covering, so that we disturb each other far less when we move).
Soon he'll wake, and I'll remember to wish him a Happy Father's Day! If any dads are reading here, Happy Father's Day to you as well. I've been so lucky in my life -- the Patriarchy definitely pisses me off, very regularly, but the Dads I know and have known (and grown, if I may say so!) are wonderfully loving and strong fathers, and tender and vulnerable and supportive and kind and firm and adaptive and flexible and realistic. My dad, my husband's dad, my children's dad, my grandchildren's dads, my brothers and my brothers-in-law, my nephews, my niece's husband -- these guys all give me hope that some things are truly getting better, and I celebrate them all with much love.

xo,
f

16 comments:

  1. What a place! Your Croatian travels are great fun to follow and how lovely everything is. I have been twice and would love to go and see a lot more; I was intrigued by how much of it looked familiar and Mediterranean, almost Greek, almost Italian, almost Spanish...and also completely different. Language especially. For so many years this part of the world (and not so far from UK) was hidden away and mysterious so it is a revelation. The spread of holiday apartment rentals is great - so much better to stay in an apartment and do your own thing - and we've done quite a bit of it when travelling. There will be no living with you when you get home again...

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    1. It's true -- so much is reminiscent of Italy, Spain, Portugal, southern France, and yet. . . so completely different as well.
      I like hotels as well when you can find small, family-run, affordable, and charming ones -- which is less and less often these days. . . but nothing like having your own kitchen, even if just to make up salad and omelet in the evening, cuppa tea in the morning.

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  2. Love those shiny cobbles . When we used to visit that area it was called Yugoslavia & Tito was in charge , then there was that awful war & I’ve since wondered what happened to the locals we met & chatted with . I’m pleased to see that the country has recovered & is as lovely as ever , though I’m sure there are still deep wounds . It’s good that their tourist industry has been revived & it’s very popular now with people in the U.K. I’m sure your pics will be tempting your readers to put it on their travel lists . We hired a car & travelled out from Dubrovnik as it was trickier to find accommodation in the 70s but then we moved on to Greece & Turkey for fly drive holidays . We didn’t book ahead but generally found lovely spots to stay , much like those you have in your pics . We were always prepared to sleep in the car if necessary but it only happened once . Not sure I could sleep in a car these days & manage to move the next day :) It was the best way to interact with the locals & understand their lifestyle . You are having my kind of holiday .
    Wendy in York

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    1. Isn't that shiny stone great? Killer on hills, though, and I don't know how locals survive in rain -- must be a Darwinian experiment ongoing. . .
      Your 70s travels sound idyllic, the stuff of movies. There is something reassuring about at least having the car as back up -- although now it seems harder to find a spot but we're all getting pushed to the A1 wherever we are.
      (and don't get me wrong, these modern roads are a real boon, even with the tolls, but we have lost something as well).

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  3. I was in Zadar in 1968. We only stopped overnight, so I did not see very much, but what I do remember is the central square, Narodni Trg, with its unique acoustics. The voices of the evening strollers, the clatter of plates and glasses on outdoor restaurant tables, the shouts of playing children, all combined to a kind of pervasive humming sound which could be heard several blocks away. I'd love to go back to see more and check if the sound is still there.

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    1. Lovely description, Eleonore, and I think you might still find that. We only walked through Narodni Trg, so I can't speak to its acoustics, but there's a gentle vibrancy to the city that I loved.

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  4. Well, Croatia is certainly going on our list. Thanks for the travelogues. We still occasionally do night to night planning. Especially when we don't know how far we'll be able to drive each day. In France in 2015, we knew we had to be in the Loire in six days but not what those days would hold. Only that we wanted to do some hiking in the Gorges du Tarn region. Found accommodation using the trusty local tourist bureau one night, and Booking.com for the rest. Worked really well. One of the best parts of our trip actually. So happy that your trip has been wonderful, Frances. xo

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    1. You and Stu would love it, I'm sure, and you'd probably cover more ground than we have. We still haven't made it to Plitvice Lakes which sound amazing. There's great walking, hiking, and biking here -- you could probably hook Stu up with some fishing as well! ;-)

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  5. I'm so happy (and proud :-)) that you're enjoying your Croatian travel (and that a lot of ladies here have nice memories about C.)
    Sue,you have a very short flight (less than an hour) to Split from Rome (and than less than an hour-often with the same plane -to Zagreb)
    Dottoressa

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    1. It's a beautiful country you're playing Ambassador for, Dottoressa!
      We found it very easy to get here from Paris as well (and that's the route our daughter and her family took) via Air France which flies into Zagreb. And last year, arriving here by train from Venice -- so many romantic possibilities!

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  6. I love your photos and your narrative. it makes me want to bound out of my office and explore the world. Someday! Someday!. George was very game for just getting in a car and going without plans. Mostly we managed to balance organized travel and guaranteed reservations, with seat-of-our-pants exploration, although there were a few mishaps, and occasional tearful outbursts. Still, those are some of my fondest memories. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. From what you've written, you and George made some marvellous trips together. Travel has such a way of sharpening memory, doesn't it?!

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  7. Enchanting! And so quiet. Loving the linen and am in it here, too. Thank you for bringing us into these less-touristy corners, fascinating.

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    1. You're very welcome, K. We've been so fortunate in the weather which brings out the warmth in place and people, I think.

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  8. Hi, I’m back because last night I happened to come across an interesting (although daunting) article about tourism in Croatia (in le monde diplomatique, German edition). It says that tourism accounts for 25% of the Croatian GDP (much more than in Spain or Greece). Even though there is a number of people who benefit from renting out rooms or apartments, the problem is that great part of the income generated in tourism goes to big hotel chains or foreign producers of infrastructure (fridges, AC, TV etc.), booking agencies and internet portals. Jobs in the tourism industry are notoriously underpaid and precarious. As a result, many well trained Croatians, especially young people, leave the country to work in the North of Europe as nurses, mechanics, teachers etc. , about 30.000 per year. All this should not stop anybody from visiting this beautiful country, but it might be a reason to look for private rentals and resort to the local tourist information.

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    1. Good point, Eleonore. We do try to keep this in mind, and we were very happy with the accommodation we booked, all small/independent as far as we could tell. In fact, one young man told us that when he’d begun making some money (as an engineer) and was deciding on how to manage finances for his future, he deliberately chose to, as he put it, invest in his country by buying a small apartment, renovating it, and renting it out.
      We also chose to rent our car from a Croatian company, Oryx, and we were very happy with their service.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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