Zadar landed up being the surprise element of our trip. Generally looked over by tourists, this tiny town has an airport as well, but is just used more as a gateway to Croatia and Plitvice. That’s not what it’s really like however. The mainland itself is small and charming with small pleasant apartments with nice wide roads. But the brilliance of Zadar is the island of the old town. Partly surrounded by walls and fully by the blue blue waters, this small town is full of old Roman and Venetian structures and loads of character. It’s small enough to walk across in a day and enchanting enough to tempt you to stay for a few.

Our apartment (discovered by hd) was perfectly located in the old town itself. Very near the water front and the 2 main attractions of Zadar, the sea organ and the sun salutation, and also the Roman ruins, old church, and the entire starting point for touring the old town.The apartment itself was small, but very very clean and we squealed at the sight of a fully equipped kitchen. The kid had surely hit pay dirt. Maggi, hot thepla warmed in butter, and piping-hot dal chaval made her the culinary happiest she’d been ever since we had left indian shores.

Armed with one of the most complete maps we’ve had on this trip, we set off to the waterfront. Water surrounds all of the peninsular old town. One entire edge is the riva, looking straight out to the Adriatic.

 

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The waterfront lined by trees, flowers, souvenir shops and kids’ play areas

 

 

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I love souvenir shops. The brighter, the better!

 

I don’t know whether it was because of the perfectly blue sky or because of some properties of the water, the sea of Zadar was the most brilliant shade of blue that we’d seen on our entire trip. Nowhere else along the coast did we see this perfect color. It was the shade that made me wish I could jump into the sea. Or move there permanently. We saw lots of people here, along this waterfront, not too many tourists, just strolling along, or enjoying a picnic on a bench. There were many many ladders from the parapet’s edge into the sea, with a few brave people (and a thrilled dog) jumping off the ladder straight into the sea.

 

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A dog poised to jump in to the sea

 

A lot of people were sitting on the steps that made up the sea organ and trying to hear some sounds. The sea organ is a series of pipes at the edge of the water through which the waves rush and make sad, melodious sounds. It’s best heard on a choppy day so the lack of rain  and a calm sea somehow dampened it’s effect. However, we couldn’t hear a thing. But it didn’t matter. The beauty far more than made up for the lack of sound. Right at the corner of the waterfront is a bright blue circular disc called the sun salutation, that looks pretty ordinary by day, and shows its magic by night.

 

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The very ordinary looking (by day) sun salutation

 

We walked the entire length of the waterfront and then turned to the really old ruins of Zadar. The remains of Roman ruins with an ancient church that was built 1000 years ago, with a bell tower, was charming. It was certainly amazing that such construction could have been done manually, but as the kid pointed out, a lot of people must have suffered during this construction process.

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The church itself was unimpressive, but that feeling of being in something so old made us feel like we had stepped back in time, to a different era. The interesting script on the walls and all along the staircase added to that feeling. Right at the top, we could look out to the roman ruins, with the sea behind.

 

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A lot of ruins lay scattered about the church, making up the forum

 

We walked along the waterfront, right till the end, where a large university was located. Ornately carved, with a magnificent view of the sea, this looked like a place where studies would not be possible. All along the edge was a small harbour, with little boats bobbing in the sea, and charming stone paths leading into the water.

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The old town itself was walled in, as Zadar, located so prominently on the coast, was always in the line of fire from Venice. And it saved itself from many attempts at acquisition by bravely fighting, till one day, the ruler only gave itself up. This explains the strong Venetian influence, and the plethora of pizzerias and gelaterias.

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5 wells square, a square with ancient wells that had subsisted Zadar for years

 

We walked all around the small island old town, admiring the blend of the old and new. Narrow streets criss-crossed each other at right angles, with shiny marble flooring that the kid happily skid on. Little cafes with pretty paintings and flowers blended effortlessly with the old stone buildings and ruins.

 

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The painting on the wall is of Zadar’s ruins

 

 

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A stone table with a crack, reminiscent of the one in Narnia

 

Small squares existed between buildings, where old remains were carefully preserved. The effort that the residents have taken to maintain their history is commendable. From here on, we just wandered on aimlessly. A cool breeze was blowing, gentle music was piping from the cafes, and everywhere we turned, people were merrily walking about.

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The central square was a most enjoyable place, filled with people just hanging about, not in a mad rush, just standing about and chatting. Everywhere you look, people looked happy and contented. They were just strolling about or having a coffee or a bite to eat. It was a weekday in the evening and all the cafes were full.

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We walked onwards to the pedestrian bridge that connected the old town with the mainland, a broad bridge with lights all along and a harbor on each side, the boats and buildings reflected in the water. The husband wanted to cross over to the other side and see what was there but the kid was impatient to get to the water’s edge to see the sunset.

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View from the pedestrian bridge of the mainland

 

Heading back through the town, I could see what a non-touristy city this was. Everywhere you look, you see families, children, dogs, young and old people walking about at a leisurely pace. They all belong here, in this romantic old-world town, a place I could easily belong to.

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We rushed on to the edge of the old town and found what seemed like all of Zadar there. Everybody was lolling about or had plonked themselves at the edge of the parapet, legs dangling over, waiting for the sunset. After all this was famously described as the most beautiful sunset in the world (Alfred Hitchcock). And I must agree with him. As we sat there, looking out at the blue, deep deep blue waters get bluer and the sun set lower, it seemed as though the entire sky was lit up by a burst of color.

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It seemed as though a master painter stood in the air and painted the clouds themselves. The sun shone less and less bright and the very waters seemed to be absorbing the light. As it descended into the sea, the sun seemed happy to be going home to it’s beautiful abode in the lovely sea.

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And now the clouds seemed to be the great players. As the last rays of light sank into the sea, the clouds and sky beside them turned pink, blue, scarlet, all sorts of shades, as though a beautiful woman, preening for her loved one hiding in the waters below.

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And as the darkness descended, Zadar still had more to offer. The blue circle of the sun salutation that had absorbed the sun’s rays, was coming to life. First the rim, then the entire disc started lighting up. Blue, green, pink, red, white, amazing shades of light ran back and forth. The more someone walked or ran on it, the more the color. We stood there, watching our daughter cavort and twirl without a care in the world.

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As we walked back to our apartment, we passed the lit up waterfront and the forum. Had the kid not been so tired, I would have roamed all over the city to see the whole place lit up. The pedestrian bridge in particular, with all it’s lights reflecting in the still waters below, and the central square were both alluring, but some other day, some other time. Now, a hot enjoyable indian dinner awaited us at our apartment, and sweet dreams.

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Thus ended our stay in the most beautiful city of our trip. For me, this was a place I could easily settle down in, retired. I can see myself, owning a sea-side apartment and renting it out to different people. I can see myself, walking my dog along the waterfront three times a day. I can see me, watering plants in a little garden in the back yard. I can see me, sitting at the water’s edge every single day, watching the sun go down. This is a life far removed from our busy one in Mumbai. And I’m so so ready for it.

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