Monday, 4 August 2014

Balkan Backpacking


It had been a place that I'd wanted to visit for some years now....and now the time had come. All be it, for only a short 5 day break - Monday to Friday night.

I picked up a good deal with Ryan Air- £130 return from London Stansted to Zadar, in Northern Croatia on the stunning Dalmatian coast. Small 45L Backpack only as carry on luggage, and my camera.

I arrived at my hotel in Stansted Mid afternoon on Sunday, ready for my early flight to Zadar the following day, another bargain, through Holiday Extras - 1 night at the Hilton and up to 8 days parking included for £65.

My flight to Zadar was typical Ryan Air - Cheap and cheerful, although there was an hour delay due to thunder and lightening over London.

I arrived at Zadar at about 11.30 AM, and 10 minutes later I was on the airport shuttle bus that took new arrivals to Zadar town, some 20 KM away for 25Kn.

the journey took about 15 minutes, and dropped me off at the main bus station in Zadar. It was then a case of finding my Hostel in the old town. GPS is a wonderful thing! It was a 20 minute walk in the hot Croatian sun. First impressions of Zadar were good, my type of place, a mixture of Urban blocks, nice sea front and then onto the historical old town.

My  hostel was easy to find (yeah I know I used GPS), situated on a narrow cobbled street off one of the main Squares. I'm staying at the aptly named Old Town Hostel for 4 nights in a mixed 8 person dorm for 135 Kn a night (around £14). 

The room was clean and the bunk looked comfy - bottom bunk- Result!! I met a couple of German girls, who are in  my room, and all seems great! There's a bathroom on each floor, a computer and some nice views from the corridor window, over the terrocotta roof tops of the old town. The girl at reception was friendly and gave me a map of the town, and a few ideas of places to visit. 

I unpacked my gear, and set off to explore Zadar. There were lots of Pizza places, so I bought a slice of ham and cheese Pizza and sat at a street side bar, down Varoska,  with a cold local beer. The old town is full of narrow streets with high buildings and a few old churches scattered around.

In the centre, is the old town is the ancient Roman Forum with blocks of stone, carvings and columns.

After wandering around for a while, I decided to head to the beach area to chillout in the beautiful hot sunshine. The "beach" area is just outside the town walls, and isn't a sandy beach, more a grassy area with steps down into the cool clear Adriatic sea. The area was nice with pine trees scattered around with food and drink kiosks. I lay in the sun and cooled off in the sea every 20 minutes or so. Pure relaxation!

After a few hours I moved on back to the promenade of the old town. There was a hut that sold cool beer for 17Kn for 0.5l. I bought a few beers and sat with the locals watching a water polo match taking place just off the promenade wall.

A few beers later watching the Water Polo, I went onto the Sea Organ and The Greetings to the Sun situated in the promenade of the Old Town. 

The Sea Organ is a series of steps that go down into the sea. As the waves hit the steps they make an organ sound, that comes out of holes along the promenade. A completely unique and chilled out soundtrack to watch the world go by.

Next to this is the Greetings to the Sun. This is a huge circle of solar panels set into the stone floor. they charge up in the strong sun throughout the day, and then release a colourful display as the sun sets. Alfred Hitchcock described this place as the best sunset setting in the world! Not sure I would go quite that far, but it was a beautiful setting..........

The area was full of fellow sun worshippers admiring the last rays of sunlight, as it dipped into the Adriatic. By now it was almost 9pm, and I was in need of food. I went back to the centre of the old town and had a tasty meal. Calamari to start with and a plate full of small fried fish as a main, with a glass of beer. Great food down a side street called Stomorica, and decent value at 122kn (about £12.50) I was pretty tired after my early start and walk round town, so I went back to my Hostel and was asleep by 11.30pm.

I got up at about 9AM the following morning, and quickly found a place to have breakfast. I went to Bistro Providenca, and had a tasty breakfast of Ham and Cheese Omelet and 2 Lattes, for 60Kn. I sat there and planned my days activities. I decided to catch a ferry to the nearby Island of Ugljan. 

I found the ticket office and bought my ticket to the port of Preko for 18 Kn (£2) on the island of Ugljan. Unfortunately I just missed the 10.30 Ferry, but another one is due to depart at 11.30.

I had a spare hour, so I walked to the bell tower of the Cathedral of St.Anastasia. It cost 2Kn to go to the top of the  tower. The views over the old town were superb and worth the effort to climb the steps. Great views from all 4 sides.

I waited for the bell to chime 11 at the top of the tower and then made my way back to the port to catch my ferry. The ferry was a huge vessel that carried cars, trucks and people to the islands around Zadar. It left dead on 11.30 and went past the peninsula of Zadar and out into the sea in the direction of Ugljan. As it approached it made a detour to the left and stopped at a small island.....

 I thought, why not get off here for a spontaneous explore! I had arrived at the island of Osljak. There was a small harbour where the ferry dropped me off.

 I went off through a path that led from the harbour out into the wilderness. There was a coastal path that went around the entire island, through areas surrounded by pine trees. There wasn't a soul in sight. The walk was accompanied by a constant soundtrack of crickets giving it their all amongst the trees.

I came across a perfect little pebble beach, so I quickly changed into my swim wear and went out for a snorkel with my camera phone. The water was lovely and clear and there were a few fish going about there business. It would make a perfect spot for a wild camp! If only I'd bought my Bivvy Bag!

After a bit of a swim and sunbathe, I carried on along the coastal path. I came across some sort of old castle fact I've since found out they are the ruins of 2 old windmills built in the 1700's. The island takes about 40 minutes to walk around, and it is  unspoilt. There area few big villas that line the one side of the island, other than that it is very remote. I had a beer at the only restaurant on the island looking out over the sea towards Ugljan.

The ferry that dropped me off doesn't stop at this island on every trip so I had to wait another hour, and was forced to have another couple of beers whilst I waited! I caught the ferry at 3.10PM to Preko, my original intended destination. I bought my return ticket (18Kn) as soon as I arrived at Preko, to save any hassle later.

I walked for about 2km to a village called Kali that I'd spotted from Osljak. It looked a nice small fishing village with a few restaurants and bars on the sea front. The sky was getting darker and darker every minute, and I was only in T-shirt and shorts. A storm was imminent.  I quickly walked back towards Preko and managed to find a shop that sold umbrellas. I bought it just in time as the wind picked up and the clouds unleashed the rain.

I managed to avoid a soaking and caught the ferry back to Zadar. I went for a bit of a wander and  came across Five Wells Square,  a set of identical Wells in a line that were used by the citizens of Zadar late into the 19th century, to draw  fresh water.

I stayed out for dinner of Calamari and grilled chicken with rice, and sheltered under the awnings of the bars and restaurants as the rain showers were becoming more frequent. I decided to go back to the hostel at about 10pm to chill out in the dry. 

I woke up to more storms at about 7 AM, as the thunder and lightening crashed overhead. But I was determined to get out and about. I went out of the Hostel armed with my new brolly in  search of breakfast. I'd heard of a place called Arsenal, which served breakfast. I managed to find it OK, and went inside the huge converted port warehouse. It now was part Art gallery and part restaurant. I decided on the buffet breakfast option at 48Kn. The food was excellent, a mixture of continental breakfast and hot bacon/Sausage and Eggs. Perfect! After a big breakfast and a couple of Coffees I went out back into stormy Zadar. The sky looked spectacular with the clouds low and heavy, and some lovely dark shades.

I walked around under my umbrella taking photos of the storm until the skies began to clear and blue skies took over from the dark greys.

I took the opportunity to go back to the beach area to go for a swim and relax on my towel. A transformation from the storms earlier. All was good......

Then the sky quickly transformed again. The darkest clouds I'd ever seen approached from the sea. The winds picked up a little, and then soon became gale force!  People ran from the beach to take cover, so I thought I'd better go too! The rain and storm that followed was incredible, and the calm sea became very choppy. I've never seen weather like it. 

 Again after an hours storm the skies began to clear so I went back to the Old town for a few pre-dinner glasses of wine in a bar called Red in Stomorica; a nice place to relax and a good atmosphere. I went back to the Hostel, and was asked by the 2 German girls in my Dorm to join them for dinner. Nice bit of company and good to swap some travel stories.

We went to a traditional Croatian restaurant down a street called Kovaeka. we each had a huge mixed Grill and some wine and a shot of Schnapps.

 I got up and out by 9 am and headed out to Arsenal for another good breakfast, this time under the usual blue skies of Zadar, normality had been resumed. I've decided to go out of Zadar to the National park called Krka.

I caught the bus from the main bus station in Zadar to the town of Sibenik about 1.5 hours away. It was a stunning drive along the coastal road.

 I arrived at Sibenik about 12.30pm. Sibenik is a lovely town just inland on the banks of a river that leads to Krka. I had a couple of hours to explore before the bus leaves to take me to Lozavac.

Sibenik is a lovely old town with a UNESCO heritage site at the Cathedral of St.James. I took a break and  had a couple of glasses of wine at a lovely old bar in the centre,  in the hot sun.

I caught the local bus to Llozovac which took about 30 minutes to get to the park entrance. Its then 110Kn entrance fee, which includes a further 10 minute bus ride down to the waters edge.

The park is absolutely stunning with a wooden plank path that goes through the lakes and trees. The trail is just under 2 km long and is a beautiful walk, passing the wildlife and various waterfalls of the Krka river. About 45 minutes later you arrive at the main attraction. The Skradinski Buk. This is the main waterfall of the park, and is one of Croatia's best known natural wonders. I would put it up there with the waterfalls that I've seen in Thailand. It really was spectacular. Its possible to bathe and swim in the river after the main waterfall, but I was happy to just take some amazing pictures!

At the main waterfall there are several bars and restaurants, so I had a couple of beers, just as another storm began. I got soaked, and probably would have stayed drier if I'd gone into the river for a swim! But it didn't last long and the sun was soon back out. It was then a walk back through the trail to the free bus which takes you back to the park entrance at Lozovac. 

I caught the last bus back from Lozovac to Sibenik. It was actually 30 minutes late, and I was anxious to get back to Sibenik before sunset as I could see the clouds forming to what looked like a promising sunset. I wasn't wrong and I arrived just in time to take a set of pictures over the Krka river from the harbour wall. It was stunning..............

My bus back to Zadar wasn't due to leave until 22.15 so I had a good hour to enjoy a fantastic Mixed Grill at a nice restaurant on the seafront. Excellent value at 116 Kn for the main, some garlic bread and 0.5 litres of the house red (and free schnapps). It was the end to a great visit. I'd have liked to spend a night in charming Sibenik but alas my bus came on time and it was a 90 minute ride back to Zadar in the darkness.

I woke up early on my last day, and hadn't had the best night sleep. Some of the newer young room mates from France hadn't quite grasped dormitory etiquette and were noisy at 3,4 and 5 AM! There was no way I was going to pack my bags quietly, as I left at AM.
I left a bag of my clothes in storage for the day at the Hostel and headed out to make the most of my day in Zadar. I have until 18.00 before I need to catch the bus to the airport, so plenty of time. I started off with a Croatian country breakfast and coffee for 50Kn at restaurant Groppo, in the old town.

Boat man of Zadar

My last day was spent in the Old town. Wandering around the old sites and catching a small boat ferry across the harbour. I spent a few hours at the Sea Organ reading a book and relaxing with the sounds of the organ as a chilled out soundtrack. 
Its been a great week in Zadar, and I definitely want to come back and explore more of Croatia, and the other Balkan countries.

Balkan Backpacking 2015

Croatia - Zagreb

Bosnia - Sarajevo


Serbia - Belgrade

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Cappadocia Blog here

Thailand here

Hong Kong here

Baltic States here

Euro Rail here

North India here

South India here

Istanbul here 

#microadventure here

Nimes here

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