Croatia was our next destination. We took a train from Budapest to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia*. We decided to spend time in the countryside rather than the city so we slept in Zagreb then got a rental car the next day.We drove to Zadar, a coastal city a few hours away. Though it was cool and rainy when we left, the coast was hot and sunny. We stayed in the historic city center. Zadar is probably the most touristed place we have been, comparable to Athens. The narrow streets of the old city were crowded with outdoor seating for the many cafes and people enjoyed themselves late into the night. We stayed three nights in the middle of the scene (top floor, shutters open, center below) in an old building right on the pedestrian streets of the historic town.
It was nice because we could walk to the beach, ancient arch, historic churches and other structures, and many museums, but if I had it to do over I would stay somewhere quieter, especially since we had a car and we could stay outside of town and drive into Zadar if we chose. But that would have involved some traffic so it is hard to say. Our apartment was really nice- large, in a nice historic building, great views out of tall windows with old wooden shutters, buskers performing classical music that wafted into our place.
We walked all over the mostly pedestrian old city. There is a nice promenade by the sea with performers and an interesting audio installment called the Sea Organ.
It is a series of pipes (under concrete steps where we are sitting above- not much to look at) that make different pitches produced by the waves and the sound is soothing and a little strange, like the sounds of a mournful animal, maybe, or the tones of a whale in the ocean. There was a free city ‘pool’ we liked which consisted of a rocky beach, swim lanes in the sea, and a three-tiered diving platform into the sea. We didn’t see any sandy beaches, rather people swam off piers, pebbly waterfronts, and the city pool. It was hot and sunny our whole time there.
We drove to Paklenica National Park, under an hour from Zadar. We passed a startlingly blue sea inlet to get there; between that and the sky, set off by the rocks in many shades of grey, the scenery was spectacular. The jagged peaks had been visible as we drove to Zadar, and now we were hiking up into the midst of them. The kids wanted to swim near the old city, DH was happy to stay with them, so ML and I spent a day hiking and hanging out in the meadows and by the clear streams in this beautiful place.
There are many rock climbing routes and over 200 km of hiking trails among the rocky hills. We took a trail up some switchbacks towards a cave that is open a few hours a day (10am-1pm). Because we went after it was closed, the path had very few hikers and we enjoyed the views without crowds. Some parking lots were full and the tourist trails look to get crowded. We saw two youth groups heading towards the shelters where there is overnight accommodation. We also saw mules carrying supplies uphill to a cafe on one of the paths. The meadow and the clear, cold stream were dreamy. It was a great day.
After a few days in Zadar, we headed to Pula, where we would catch the ferry to Venice. We left early so that we could explore the town some. It ended up bening Cleverly, ML, and myself, I can’t remember why. We went to the Venetian fortress aka Pula Castle. Here are some photos from the tower.
After being built in the 1630’s for coastal defense, the structure served as a children’s hospital for kids with tuberculosis and other health problems. There was a display on that as well as one on Croatia in WWII.
We walked from the castle to the Roman coliseum not too far away. We couldn’t figure out the entrance and headed up a likely looking hill. We quickly noticed that a film crew was set up next to the coliseum and they appeared to be filming as we walked by. A member of the film crew beckoned to us and before we knew it we were extras in an Egyptian production of Hamlet. Yes! They sat us at an outdoor café table, served us ice cream coffee drinks, and filmed a couple of short scenes. The back of my head will be wowing Egyptian audiences in the near future I’m sure!
Film crew with Cleverly above, coffee drinks and the actors in a selfie over my shoulder (check out thigh-high pink boots!)below
That was Croatia for us. We were headed next to Venice. Three more pics: view from our Pula apartment of dancers below, Really out the window, nearby buildings.
*Note on the train tickets: we were confused by the website and ended up with seven reservations for the seven of us, but only four seats. Apparently they sell more reservations than they have seats. Make sure you get reserved seats if you ever do this. Three of us sat on luggage in the space between train cars, not a big deal.