As we crossed the bridge from Murter back to the mainland and drove the few kilometres north along the coast to the city of Zadar, our hearts felt strangely empty after parting from our new friends.
We found the large Borik campsite just north of the centre of Zadar and set up camp in tranquil shady parkland, but only a stone’s throw from the sea and a crowded pebble beach. After dinner, we got on our bikes and cycled along the waterfront all the way to the old centre of Zadar (about 4km) past moorings and marinas, just in time to watch the sun sink into the sea.
We were keen to see the sun set from the northern tip of the old town peninsula as we’d read about and seen photos of two permanent art installations created by the architect Nikola Bašić, one of which, Greeting to the Sun, can really only be appreciated as the light fades.
Our camera has been playing up recently – the digital view screen turning into a bleak white at inopportune moments. We can still take photographs but can’t see what we’re aiming at and can’t change any of the settings. Nevertheless, we took at least 150 photos and after a while the camera decided to think better of its ways and started working again.
If you saw my Colourboration post on blue themes, you will have already had a sneak preview of Greeting to the Sun. It is a circular area on a newer piece of quayside, not unlike a dance floor with solar-powered light-sensitive led lights that slowly come to life after the sun has set, changing colours randomly. This delights locals and tourists of all ages alike.
The accompanying piece is set into the west side of the quayside itself, and at first you don’t see it as such, but hear it. It is a sea organ, the sea washing over air passages within the paving to play haunting notes, strangely natural deep panpipe sounds that get louder when the water is choppier, or a helpful ferry’s wake washes in.
We cycled back along the waterfront in the dark, and like the cyclists we’d met on the way in, we ignored the one-way system.
Next morning, we had a slow start, and went over to say hello to the people in the tiny British registered Rascal camper which had arrived the previous evening. They were Ben and Rachel, half-way through taking six weeks out from their jobs and before Rachel goes back to university to study nursing. They had done it – found a smaller campervan than ours! Our respect to Ben, who had embarked on the trip only three weeks after passing his driving test. They weren’t sure of their plans but we loosely agreed to meet up later in the day.
We were back on our bikes again, and instead of cycling all the way into town, we found that you can take a rowing boat from the waterfront road across to the old town peninsula, cutting out a chunk of the ride through some busy streets. We locked up our bikes and hopped into the boat and for a handful of change we had a short but sweet boat ride to the city.
Laid-back Zadar is a small city with a colourful history, and suffered greatly in two recent wars, being bombed in the Second World War, and in the Croatian homeland war of 1991/95. As a result it’s a mix of old and new, with some Roman remains scattered around its squares.
The area is famed for finds of glass dating from Roman times, and we were keen to visit the Museum of Ancient Glass. The building that houses it has been carefully renovated and extended, and the result is a stunning and informative museum with the glass well displayed and labelled.
I’ve been drawn to glass objects in museums on this trip and before – attracted by its impossible fragility, and the mother-of-pearl-like sheen they often have. Here were rooms of such items, augmented with videos, quotes, and meditative background music.
A large room on an upper floor was devoted to the finds in recent archaeological digs near Zadar, where tombs revealed many glass vessels, including large urns of human ashes.
The highlight of the visit was the glass blowing workshop where we were given an up close and personal demonstration of how to make a bottle, and felt the heat from the 1200 degrees celsius furnace…
Back downstairs we watched a demonstration of glass bead making. Now I know why these are expensive – the precision and time involved take great skill and concentration.
The time had somehow got to about half past two and we were suddenly in need of sustenance. We found a Konoba (small rustic style restaurant), for our customary shared lunch of seafood risotto and deep fried squid. The heat was intense and after a visit to a camera shop to start exploring a few options for our next camera, we headed slowly back to the campsite via Five Wells Square – a square with five wells in it, and the little boat and a slow cycle ride. Back at the campsite it was almost straight into the sea to cool down.
Later on, Ben and Rachel joined us with some beers and we sat around sharing stories and some rakija too until the early hours.
Next morning, what with having to take a refreshing morning dip, we all just made the noon deadline for checking out of the site. Ben and Rachel headed south, and although tempted to stay longer in Zadar, we again made just a short hop north to Nin.
Just outside Nin, we passed the pocket-sized fortified church of St Nicholas baking in the sun on its hill in a meadow.
Nin is a small village island close to the mainland linked by a couple of bridges. We checked out the campsite options on the mainland and found the very friendly Autokamp Dišpet. After trying in vain to chill out in the shade there, we headed on our bikes (slightly breezier than walking) over to the village. It didn’t take us long to cycle around its streets, view its churches, particularly the tiny Church of the Holy Cross, empty but for a swallows’ nest with the heads of chicks peering out.
Like Zadar, there were odd pillars and other Roman remains dotted about, then there was the larger church of St Anselm. Its treasury would be open again at 6.30pm. We decided to wait around to see this and whiled away the time circling the island along its waterfront, then having first an icecream followed by finding a Konoba for a beer. It was worth the wait. A small one-room museum, it showed the most beautiful reliqueries and jewellery, which has somehow survived Ottoman and Venetian conquests of the area, as well as more recent conflicts.
Although we had food for dinner back at the van, we couldn’t resist the allure of a plate of gerice (small fish like whitebait), and a carafe of white, to start us off, sitting outside a restaurant in the golden evening lit square.