10/04/2014 - 10/06/2014
An interesting thing about Zadar was that it was the first and the last time in our journey that I would locate our accommodation and our host without getting lost or delayed in any way. We parked just outside the main gate of the walled city, which as usual stuck out of the Dalmatian shoreline like a sore thumb. Unlike most of the other coastal walled cities, Zadar was as flat as a frying pan. We effortlessly maneuvered the gondola and bags up the main street and encountered our host, who guided us to a comfortable two bedroom apartment a short distance away. The kids settled in quickly.
Given our surprisingly easy arrival in Zadar, I had enough time to carefully research our dinner destination. I settled on Kornat, which was highly recommended by both Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor. The walled old town was small enough that everything was within comfortable walking distance, so we set off towards the tip of the thumb where we would find the harborside restaurant. Zadar is a pretty place in the evening, with plenty of light reflecting off of the smooth white paving stones of the pedestrian streets. The central square is dominated by the bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Anastasia, which is illuminated at night.
Kornat was a huge disappointment, especially given our high expectations. I've thankfully erased most of the food we were served there from our memory, but one dish I simply can't forget is something that came when we ordered ceviche. "Ceviche" turned out to be several slabs of fish filet, possibly pre-frozen, that seemed to have been pickled in industrial white vinegar. Completely and utterly inedible. We ate just enough of the unpleasant meal to stave off hunger for the night. Mei Ling couldn't resist inquiring of our friendly waiter why the food seemed somewhat questionable, and he diplomatically replied that they had a new chef. Mei Ling suggested to him in all sincerity that if the new chef didn't know what ceviche was, he might consider looking up some recipes on Google. The expression on the waiter's face was hilarious. We spent some time hunting for a rooftop bar called The Garden nearby, but eventually determined that it was closed for the offseason.
The next day we went to the outdoor market, which was barely populated due to it being Sunday. We circled around for a while looking for a place to have lunch and eventually settled on Pet Bunara close to the city gate. Although much better than our dinner the night before, there wasn't anything particularly memorable about the food. After lunch, we spent some time strolling around the town and then took a break for ice cream.
From here we went to the seaside edge of the old town where the promenade led us to two unique attractions constructed by the same local architect ten years ago. The Sea Organ is a set of pipes installed under the water line so that the movement of the sea creates a series of musical notes that carry over the entire promenade area. The Sun Salutation is a series of circles composed of glass plates overlying solar cells that collect the sun's energy during the day and then emit colorful lights at night. The largest circle, 22 meters in diameter, represents the sun and eight more smaller circles represent the planets. There wasn't much to see during the day so we let the kids play on the promenade and resolved to return after sunset.
We went back to the center of town to do some shopping and then took a break at the apartment before heading back to the Sun Sentinel to see the light show. Naturally, the kids had a blast.
We were determined to have a better dinner than the previous night, so I chose Kastel which was the restaurant of the Hotel Bastion. Aside from having the top reviews on TripAdvisor, I felt we'd be unlikely to go wrong at the most luxurious and expensive hotel in Zadar. Of course, the food ended up being better than at Kornat (it couldn't have been worse), but it really wasn't the culinary experience we had hoped for. One thing that continually surprised us was the blandness of the seafood dishes we encountered on the Dalmatian coast, and Kastel was no exception. Nevertheless, even adequate food was a relief after Kornat. There wasn't anything left to see in Zadar so we went straight back to the apartment. By this time, we had concluded that we weren't very impressed with Zadar as a travel destination. There were certainly several atmospheric squares and some beautiful buildings, but the numerous fast food establishments and chain stores gave the old town the feeling of an upscale mall. The atmosphere wasn't helped by the preponderance of cruise ship tourists filling the streets. We could probably have seen everything we needed if we had gone to the Sun Sentinel the first night and spent the following morning walking around town. The second night in Zadar was probably the only night of the whole trip that we felt would have been better spent elsewhere.
On Monday morning we returned to the market which was considerably better than it had been the day before, but a pale comparison to what we had experienced in Rijeka. We then had by far the best meal of our stay in Zadar at Na po ure, a small restaurant with a local feel that specialized in grilled meats and vegetables. We consumed an enormous meal on their airy outdoor patio surrounded by old stone walls, and then proceeded to our car fully charged to resume our journey.
The logical spot for a stopover on the long coastal drive to Split was the medieval city of Sibenik. As multileveled as Zadar was flat, Sibenik proved to be a physical workout as well as being an interesting addition to our growing collection of ancient Dalmatian cities. I quickly lost track of how many steps we levered and carried the gondola over while exploring the old town. Our first stop, the Cathedral of St. James, was the easiest landmark to reach slightly downhill from the main entrance to the old town. We didn't go inside, but spent some time in the spacious square surrounded by ancient stone buildings, staircases, and mysterious archways.
After the Cathedral, we spent some time wandering through the narrow, picturesque streets of the old town. Sibenik did a much better job than Zadar of integrating modern stores and cafes into the labyrinthine passageways and staircases. There were no fast food joints or cheap souvenir shops to be found.
We next set our sights on the St. Michael Fortress at the top of the city. We struggled with the stairs for a while but eventually surrendered and moved to the road just outside the old town. After one last grueling staircase we reached the entrance to the fort where we finally ditched the gondola. The lofty elevation of the fort afforded great views of the Krk River and the entire town below us.
We were relieved to finally be going downhill, and soon arrived at the portentously titled Medieval Garden of St. Lawrence's Monastery. The garden itself was small but very pretty, and an outdoor ice cream cafe had been installed in the monastery. We took an ice cream break and then descended the rest of the way to the main gate. We still had plenty of time to make it to Split by the early evening.