Visit to Zadar
I just spent five days in a lovely city on the coast south of here, Zadar. I went to give a series of lectures, partially as part of a seminar they had on American Studies. Zadar has an old walled part of the city that gives it an ancient feel, yet it is also quite modern and lively, with many groups of tourists walking around, as well as lots of locals shopping at the market, going to cafes and churches, and catering to the tourists. There are probably more tourists in Zadar than any other city I've visited except Split. My hotel was a very large one that catered to big busloads of tourists, mostly from France and Germany. I had a half-board deal (through the university), so I ate my suppers there amidst these big crowds. The room itself was small but had a nice balcony with views of the sea and the hotel's big round pool. I finally swam there the last day and was only surprised by the fact that the pool water was salty. It was quite startling. But I think people here often believe that the sea water is healing, so maybe that's why it was in the pool.
One of the more interesting aspects of Zadar is one big square in the old town where there are several interesting churches, a few museums, and remains (ruins) of the old Roman forum. There are ancient capitals just lying on the ground with images of Jupiter carved into them. There is also a church called St. Donat's that was constructed at least partly with remains from the old forum. It's a striking church in that it is round, one of the few round churches in this part of the world. The building is now only used for summer concerts, though there was no such concert while I was there. One bit of music I did hear though was the "sea organ" they have, literally an organ constructed so that the water rushes through pipes and creates music. It was lulling. I sat on the steps right on the shore (in part of the old town) for over an hour listening. I got sunburnt. Later that evening I watched the new Da Vinci Code movie in town, which was alright.
When I visited the archeology museum I noticed that many artifacts from the medieval period were in fact from a city nearby called Nin. I had a free day in which to travel and thought about going to an island or a park nearby. But instead I went to Nin, the ancient city of kings of Croatia. It was a picturesque town, the old town of which is actually on a little island. I wandered around there for hours and saw four or five lovely old churches, remains of a Roman temple, the old city wall, a cemetary, and another archeology museum. There were also interesting houses and some businesses. People in Croatia, like all over Europe, are really into landscaping, and right at this time those flowers most in bloom are roses. I saw huge, blooming, fragrant rose bushes all over the city, and for that matter, all over this part of Croatia (on the road). There are also many bright red poppies growing wild all over. For instance, amidst the ruins of the Roman temple were masses of poppies. Just outside of town there is also a hill, which is apparently an ancient burial mound with a little chapel built on top of it. A picture I'd seen of this the day before was partly what drew me to visit here. In fact this hill and chapel--St. Nicholas--were quite small, very appealing, but small, almost (some descriptions said) like a big chess piece on the hill. I'll try to post a photo later if any came out. I only saw St. Nicholas from the bus as it was moving since it was a way outside of town.
On the bus to Nin I met a Canadian traveler who was heading to Nin for the beaches. He asked me why I was going and I told him to see the museum and the churches and ruins. He said at the beginning of his trip, a few weeks ago, he was really in to churches and castles and museums, but then he got burned out at that and just needed the reality of the beach. He had read that the best beaches in Croatia are in Nin. It's funny how different travels can have such different experiences of a country. To me most beaches are more or less the same. I love walking along the sea, or sitting and meditating near it. But to sit all day in the sun and swim occassionally doesn't appeal to me. But to skip some of the most interesting churches (for instance "the smallest cathedral in the world") and artifacts in the region completely in favor of sitting in the sun all day baffles me. But I suppose my style of living and traveling would baffle many others.
Today is my birthday, and also that of Tito, or so it used to be celebrated as (I heard that it wasn't really his birthday but he claimed it as such because it was a good time for a holiday). It's no longer a national holiday. Nor will it be much of a celebration for me. But I'm glad to be back home and to have a chance to rest, to gear up for my next round of travel starting in about 10 days. I may go look for a new book to read and have a meal out. But I think I'll also try to make it to the market and cook for myself tonight, something I've missed while on the road.