Siesta in Dalmacija
Starting summer on the Adriatic
The summer months is the time of the year that I tend to loathe the most out of any other time of the year. The sun cast its glow almost indefinitely, with only a rainstorm or heavy cloud cover allowing any sort of respite from an intoxication of vitamin D. My dissatisfaction with summer comes rather with the sort of relaxed laziness that comes with it as well. Unfortunately I’m unemployed as well, which makes it a three month long siesta that is a little too relaxed for my own motivational standards, and even more costly for a bank account that only sees a gradually decreasing balance. It can be quite difficult to find any sort of motive or desire after you’ve finally finished recovering from the months long winter and the anxiety fuelled foot race that is the final exam season of graduate school. This culmination and expulsion of energy has left me feeling as if I’m wilted like the overgrown basil plant in my window. Similar too many other people my age, we try to solve these overarching problems with weekends away and other temporary placebos with the hopes that exploration and a change of scenery will aid in our distress. I already have some motivation to travel and explore neighbouring countries to me, so I decided to pick up and head to Croatia for a few days.
Lucky enough for me, I was able to convince Eliza to go with me. She’s a flagrantly relaxed New Yorker that walks at the pace of a dead sprint and has the god given ability to find cats and kittens everywhere we go with astounding veracity. We started the trip with a 2 and a half hour delay from Kraków’s airport. Just 30 minutes away from claiming that EU air authority refund due to delays. We arrived at the Yugoslav era airport just after 1am and taxied our way across Zadar to the apartment we had rented for the week. The host of our apartment, an accomodating and kind man, let us in around 2am. He was egregiously intoxicated and decided that mid-way through touring the apartment with us he’d go fetch some beers. I’m completely unopposed to free beer. The man wandered into the park and returned with beer, no questions asked. He let us be, and then proceeded to piss on an embankment wall in the park and disappeared for the rest of our journey.
The old town of Zadar, which lies on a tiny peninsula jutting into the Adriatic, is an old Venetian fortification meant to stand as a stronghold against the Ottomans who lied in the hinterlands only a few miles inland from the city centre. The monumental Dinaric Alps appear as a wall of rock, easily visible from any point in the city if you face towards the mainland, while the rocky and arid islands and islets of Dalmatia lie across crystalline water facing west from the city, with only the Italian coastline of Marche distantly out of view over the sea. Sailboats, yachts, fishing vessels and small row boats line the harbour of the city and its other smaller piers. The interior of the old town is composed of a dense array of plaster sealed buildings with an uncountable amount of white slatted window shutters. The narrow alleyways and streets of the town are so old and worn to the point where the stone is slick while dry, making it nearly like ice if it becomes wet. The city is dominated by Italian restaurants as the city was a Venetian possession for many years, leaving a permanent cultural imprint on Dalmatia and the coastal regions of the Adriatic.
I spent more time on a beach than I ever have in my life that week. All of the beaches in Croatia are exceptionally stony. Kolodvar Beach in Zadar is rocky and long, packed to the gills with beach goers almost any time of day. The laid concrete piers gave it the effect of being a naval base for tourist. We never did find a single sandy beach. We also spent a lot on boats and ferries. We took the ferry to Ugljan which is one of the larger islands off from the coast of Zadar. The island is mountainous and bone dry. We decided to hike to the other side of the island in our beach clothes to an old mountain top castle that dominated the landscape. We walked along a dusty yet paved road that led through olive groves until ascending to the top of the mountain to the fort. The old fort, who’s era in history is unknown to me, was nearly obliterated, with only defensive walls standing. There was a Yugoslav era watch tower and a barracks unit of some sort in the central courtyard where a family was living. I don’t know if they owned the fort, just the house, or none of it at all, but they didn’t seem to mind a few sweaty and intrepid Americans tromping around their backyard.
The following day we made our way to Plitvice Lakes, which is a national park near the Bosnian border with a series of lightning blue lakes that all connect to each other through a series of waterfalls. We arrived there in the morning with no bus ticket back. As we decided to purchase a new bus ticket at the station, the computer system for buying bus tickets stopped working. Our ability to get home was now a complete wild card. Eliza decided to purchase the tickets online and was lucky enough to buy the tickets right before the system crashed. Our tickets were very late to our email inbox, which in that time I was hunting for families or a group of people our age that would let us hitch a ride back to Zadar if need be. With hitch hiking out of the playbook now we could actually enjoy the park and enormous lines of tourist that sucks up most of the short hiking paths. The lakes were small, dare I call them ponds, and the waterfalls nearly dry. Although the nature was not what we expected, it was still a nice excursion. We returned home, had dinner and learned about “the Balkan system”, from our waiter, which is essentially a nationwide consumer tax scam using multiple payment terminals. They ask “what card” as in Visa, Mastercard, AMEX, and each terminal pays a different entity regardless of card type. Always ask if you want to pay in card or cash in the Balkans before sitting down, it’ll save you a lot of headache.
This is the part of the article where I’ll take a moment to talk about one of the single most greatest travesties that we witnessed in Croatia. They don’t have box wine like we do in the US, no, they have plastic jug wine. 2 litres or 5 litres of chardonnay or some sort of mysterious red wine. When we first witnessed it in the grocery store we were pretty confident it was cooking oil until I noticed Chardonnay written on the side of it. So what did we do? We bought 2 litres of it. I opened that bottle at dinner the next night and I swear I could hear my father whispering to me in the back of my mind as the plastic safety ring cracked “Never drink liquor that comes in plastic” but at this point it was too late. I could smell the basic scent of white wine with a hint of hair spray come up from the jug. At some point in the trip the jug of wine had become a challenge in and of itself. How long and how much of this mystery wine could we consume by the time we had to leave? “Remember we gotta try to finish that wine” Eliza would remind me with a trace of desperate curiosity on her voice. We finished half the jug in a night. God was watching over us with more curiosity than shame. We ended up in the old town at midnight hopping restaurant to restaurant looking for Croatian desserts that weren’t just copies of Polish desserts. Finally, we found the rose cheesecake and some sort of chocolate fruit cake at the same restaurant. The rose cheesecake tasted nothing like rose.
Our final full day consisted of an island tour to Dugi otok, which translates to “Long Island”. There are a variety of boat tours that run out of Zadar, Split, Dubrovnik, Šibenik, and other coastal cities. The island has a variety of cliffs and a highly saline lake called Lake Mir. We spent most of the day boating and swimming. I decided to drop my Nikon and crushed the UV filter on the 35mm lens. Luckily the camera wasn’t compromised. After surveying the Adriatic islands of Dalmatia, it was time to pack up and head home. The next morning we headed to the bus station, where the platforms are surrounded by cafes with $1 espressos and old men chain smoking. A group of fraudulent taxi drivers started yelling that “the airport bus has crashed and won’t be returning for two more hours”. At this point me and another triggered Polish man decided to rush the ticket counter at the bus station to confirm the wreck of our airport bus, to which they looked at us with stupid horror. Many, many announcements were made about the airport bus over the speaker, and, of course, it ran on time. As with all domestic flights in Europe right now, the plane was delayed but only an hour thank god. Before I knew it I was sitting hot as hell in my half packed apartment back home.
The next stop in my summer plans is Sarajevo. I’m backpacking to Bosnia to participate in Kuma Internationals Summer Program about art and photography in post-conflict societies. But until I start making my way down to the Balkans again, I gotta finish packing my apartment to move out.
Until next time,
It sounds like you and Eliza enjoyed your time and adventures in Croatia!