It’s hard to know where to start on this post, as I have nearly two weeks of ground to cover on our time in Croatia. I think we’ll start with a general overview and then, per usual, a Nate story.
First of all – Croatia is not a one-size-fits-all type of country; everywhere you go there are new experiences to enjoy. The diversity of our experiences can best be summed up in the three images below: 1) the water-world with miles of gushing waterfalls, rushing streams, and peaceful lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Parks, 2) a 2,000 year old palace built as a retirement home for Emperor Diocletian in Split which has been continuously lived in since its inception, and 3) the stunning coast and sunsets that we’ve experienced almost every day here in Zadar.
We’ve been primarily based in the town of Zadar, Croatia, in a little apartment just about a few steps up from the beach. On a later post I’d like to discuss the amazing web of connections that was started primarily by a ‘chance’ conversation in Fall City, Washington – but suffice to say for now that one thing led to another and we connected with an extremely generous Croatian couple and their parents who provided us an amazing place to stay as well as tips along the way. (BIG thank you to Sandra and Alex, as well as Lilianna and Matija, our Croatian parents)
Zadar is best known for its famous sea organ, which is built into the pier and plays music as the waves roll in. When I say ‘plays music’, it’s not churning out the Bohemian Rhapsody – instead it plays harmonic sounds that could either seem soothing or slightly haunting depending on your mood. Every night many people gather there to hear the sounds and watch the famous Zadar sunsets, which are spectacular and different each day. The organ is located within Zadar Old Town, which includes a maze of restaurants and shops all wrapped in an ancient Roman-themed historical, car-free setting. Zadar is a bit off-the-radar compared to other Croatian towns like Split and Dubrovnik, but it’s certainly becoming more popular and actually just won the 2016 European Best Destination Award, so it’s safe to say that Zadar’s undiscovered days are in the past. The best thing about being located near Zadar is its proximity to so many other amazing spots in Croatia, which I’ll describe in more detail below.
Now for what you’ve been waiting for, a Nate-story.
Wait, that is the wrong Nate-story. Let’s try again.
We’ll start with an image that best captures the aftermath of the Nate-story in question.
Why do we have part of our keys submerged in a bag of rice, you ask? Well, the short answer is that I gave the title of this post, “Putting our feet up in Croatia”, an all-too-literal meaning.
Terra and I have built a really nice routine into each day which includes going down to the beach, working out, getting our Vitamin D for the day, and then cozying up to a good book as we watch the waves roll in. I know, I know…what a tough routine.
On the day in question I didn’t really make it past the working out phase. The steps leading down to the ocean looked like a great place to do some calf raises. I wandered over to the ledge to get started, and then suddenly lost my footing. And I don’t mean I stumbled a little or slipped and then sort of caught myself – I mean I completely went from right-side up to upside down in less than a second. When Terra looked over, all that she saw was my feet up in the air along with the cell phone I saved from the water – an all-too-proud moment that would soon give way to the realization that our automatic gate-opener for the apartment’s private driveway was still in my pocket, and completely ruined.
No matter what we tried (including buying rice and sticking it in to dry it out), the opener was broken, which meant that for about two days we couldn’t take our car out of the driveway and we had to jump over the fence like vandals to get into our place. All because I had to try some ocean-front calf raises. Fortunately our friends were on it and got us a new opener quickly.
As with most other Nate-stories this also has a happy ending, because as I was slip-sliding into the ocean we met a Swedish couple, Tove and Hasse, that we ended up spending a lot of time with over the next few days, including joining us on a cruise through the islands that had been arranged for us. Without the fall, who knows if we would have struck up a conversation in the first place?
Okay, with that Nate-story out of the way, let’s get on to what has really stood out to us about Croatia: the food, the history, and the scenery.
Croatia’s coastal cuisine is based on making/catching all four Nate-food groups, which are: 1) Fresh fish caught daily, 2) Cheese made on local islands, 3) wine from local vineyards, 4) copious amounts of olive oil.
The first image below is lunch we just whipped together from apples, local cheese and local wine. Oh and some fresh figs from the tree in our front yard. The second image is a typical dinner, which includes the entire fish caught earlier that day along with some veggies. And the waiters even offer to fillet the fish, which is nice.
Almost everything we’ve had, no matter the restaurant, has been astoundingly good. We’ve actually had a much easier time finding consistently good food here than in Paris. Our typical meal includes some combination of grilled veggies, fish, lamb, Greek salad, tomato soup – a combination that has left us feeling healthy and satisfied but not over-stuffed. Very impressive!
I think in the US we tend to focus in school on our own history with a dose of Western European history. I certainly was not aware of the richness and depth of Croatian history, from Roman times (then part of Dalmatia) all the way to the Croatian victory in the Croatian War of Independence, which just finished in the very recent year of 1995!
The most impressive piece of history that we experienced is Diocletian’s Palace. Built in Split in the turn of the 4th Century and inhabited continuously since then, you really get the sense of being transported to a much earlier time. In one sense, Diocletian had it right; he was the first emperor to retire from the throne without either dying naturally or being killed. And what a fabulous palace he built! Wandering around in the streets and learning about the history from our walking tour guide was one of the top experiences of our trip to date. And we actually stayed in a room in the North Gate that night! So very cool.
Being in modern-day Croatia, you get the sense of a country that is on the rise in every conceivable way. Of course, Europe is in the midst of a lot of turmoil so it is impossible to predict the future of any one country, but after spending two weeks meeting the people, learning about the history, and seeing the amazing sites and scenery it’s hard to imagine that this place doesn’t have a bright future ahead of it.
Speaking of the scenery – unbelievable but very diverse beauty is abundant in Croatia.
The water is very clear here. The beaches are a bit rocky, which can be challenging but it is also nice not to have sand clinging to everything for days. Every sunset is worth planning the day’s activities around.
One place I’d like to specifically mention is Plitvice Lakes National Park, which we visited yesterday. There is nothing like it in the US, and I’m not sure that there are many places in the world that compare. Take a look at a few pictures below and start planning that trip to Croatia that you’ve always wanted to take.
Our time in Croatia has been about reflecting on life and valued friendships, enjoying new friendships, and marveling at God’s creative touch on this area of the world. This place is truly magical. It’s hard to move on from here, but we leave energized and ready for the next adventure in Budapest!