(written by Dave)
We like Zadar. At the risk of once again sounding like tourist bureau employees for another country, we really like Zadar a lot. As Nancy mentioned last night, there is a great mix of old and new. Our guide book describes Zadar as an “underrated tourist destination”. You can see how this would happen with bigger, more well-known cities up and down the coast. The thing with Zadar is that it has a much-lived in-feeling but also has lots of historic things to look at if you are a visitor.
Over the past 2000 years or so, Zadar has escaped few wars. It holds a strategic location on the Adriatic shipping routes and has had Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, Hungarian, Ottoman, Italian and Yugoslav rulers. It was bombed most recently in WWII and the Balkan wars. It was under Soviet influence just long enough for a few ugly concrete blocks to be built. But the thing is, it really does all work together. On one intersection, you’ll find the remains of a Roman aqueduct, a 15th century church, a gelato shop and Soviet tenement block – and, surprisingly, all of them seem to fit together just fine.
By the way, I’ve been meaning to make a note about the Byzantine folks. Being that neither of us were students of classical history, we had pretty much zero knowledge of them before this trip. Ever since entering Turkey, we’ve seen all kinds of references to them. At the risk of over simplifying things, the Roman empire split into east and west empires in roughly 285AD. The west was controlled by Rome and the east was controlled by Constantinople (Istanbul). The eastern Roman empire is also call the Byzantine empire. The western Roman empire collapsed in the 5th century, while the Byzantine empire lasted well into the 15th century. Phew – guess I should have paid more attention in my history classes – thank goodness for the internet and Wikipedia today.
Back to Zadar – the old city has existed in some form on a small peninsula for several thousand years. It has the classical Roman grid layout. This means narrow streets and no cars (neither east nor west Romans had cars – good folks in that sense). In some places Zadar streets are barely wide enough for two people to pass. This may be partly due to the ubiquitous sidewalk café tables having been added over the years. This morning the tables were full of locals having coffee and smoking cigarettes for brekkie (sadly, it seems to be the official Croatian brekkie). No cars make deliveries and garbage removal difficult. They have special cart like vehicles for the former and have double wheely bin equipped bicycles for the latter. I was so impressed by the bicycles with wheely bins that I gave a swap some consideration. But alas, the highly evolved rigs have no gears and are really only good in a flat, narrow city like Zadar. I do think that they are onto something though with the wheelie-bin panniers.
We visited the oldtown produce and fish markets today and fresh fruit and yogurt made for a nice lunch. We actually went out twice, once to look at the markets and a second time to look at some of the sights. We are not going to complain about our weather but it was hot. Most of the streets are traditional white marble left over from the Roman days so the heat really radiates. There is a good reason that the cafes are busy in the morning but nearly empty around mid-day. It doesn’t seem as though the shops have the classic European mid-day closure but they could have as no folks are shopping at that time, at least when it is this hot.
So, as I mentioned we like Zadar. Nancy likes it so much that she has convinced me to stay one more day. We have about 5 days riding left before we reach the Schengen boundary and needed to take another day off somewhere, why not take it off in a great little 2000 year old city that has everything we need within short walking distance.
So tomorrow, we relax more, plan more and stay out the mid-day sun. Life is good.