DUBROVNIK- GAME OF THRONES CITY

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If you are a Game of Thrones fan, Dubrovnik overshadows Split where the famous TV series has been filmed. Both Split and Dubrovnik have been favourite locales, and the tour is touted as excellent apart from the historical aspect.

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The exact places where the celebrated series was extensively filmed will take you through the streets where different scenes were shot. Along the way, you will hear many interesting facts and stories about the GOT filming time in Dubrovnik, its history and importance for Croatia.

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The Old Town of Dubrovnik a famous UNESCO site is one of the most visited and photographed destinations in Europe. Known for its wonderful Renaissance and Baroque style architecture, red brick roofs and has surrounding walls, 2 Km long. According to the brochure Dubrovnik City walls that were built for defence fortification run uninterrupted for 1940 meters encircling the City, including Old Ports.

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When visiting Croatia, Dubrovnik is worth more than a visit. The Stradun is the main street, which is so beautiful, one can enter the Old city through two gates, I entered the Pile gate.

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Before delving into Dubrovnik Old city, I must touch upon one important fact of the drive from Hvar port to Dubrovnik, it’s the drive through Bosnia a stretch of approx 5 Km that interjects with Croatian borders, obviously an unsettled border issue and I wondered what the world would have been if there were no borders! It requires tourists to show a valid visa and a Bosnian stamp on your passport.

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Croatia’s border with Bosnia Herzegovina encompasses crossing in several places, the closest to Dubrovnik being at Ivanica, just 20 min drive from the Old city, followed by another at Neum. Until recently Bosnia and Croatia’s border controls have been relatively easy and traffic largely tourism flows freely.

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Passing through Bosnia was so beautiful, in fact, the group stopped by to order Pizzas at a Pizzeria, but here too the first time belligerent traveller got alarmed and we had to pack food and eat cold pizzas after the border crossing!!

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I must quote George Bernard Shaw before I point out the highlights of Dubrovnik. So enchanted was Shaw with this beautiful city that there are paeans written by him, “ those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik” as well as” the pearl of the Adriatic” Situated in the southernmost part of Croatia on steep rocks and Adriatic Coast.

IMG_4763.JPGDubrovnik existed way back in the 6th cent under the name of Ragusium! With the arrival of Slavic people and other refugees, the city expanded and fortified. The Croatian name is Dubrovnik, the ancient city with outstanding Maritime trade owing to its ideal location, that is how it prospered.

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This prosperity ushered in a cultural transformation attaining unenviable heights, the Old city reflects that even today.

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The gates to the Old city was absolutely packed with excited crowds, most cruise liners disembark here. It is advisable to buy a Dubrovnik Card, which entails you to step inside old town according to the number of days you want, including bus trips, explore historical sites, museums and galleries for the duration of days.

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Don’t miss the Tower Bell, and Orlando’s column, the Palaces, other incredible buildings steeped in history. The Dubrovnik card also comes with a booklet listing out all details to visit.

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I spent two glorious days just within the city ramparts, the city walk all along the wall is very tiring over narrow cobbled paths. With surging crowds, one has to follow a straight track, and tourists going crazy with selfie sticks makes everyone behind stop in their tracks!

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Don’t rush through this walk, take two days instead of one if you possibly could as there is enough to keep one occupied in the Old city. It will transport you back in time.

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The view from every corner of the turrets especially those higher up are breathtaking. There is one corner of the turret area as you snake along that overlooks an iconic Cliffside restaurant called Buza Bar.

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The walk along the wall offers a 360-degree view of the vertical rock face, blue Adriatic Sea, kayak enthusiasts, cruise boats and mind-blowing sunsets.

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IMG_4949.JPGInside the walled city, there were handsome men wearing costumes of yore to pose willingly with tourists, some even held mock swords and knives, musicians held sway at Centre stage selling customary music in pen drives!

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20170514_144737.jpgAn ironsmith at a cubby corner in traditional garb sold horseshoes, pendants, made out of metal. Everything looked vibrant, colourful, there was music in the air, lots of shopping, gourmet restaurants, it was incredibly effervescent.

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I witnessed four weddings in a day in the churches that abound old city, we even joined in the dancing. The theme of GOT was played over and over again!

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There were plenty of cultural traditional dances by local artists at central square here, the crowd clapped to the lilting tune and some of them tried to keep pace.

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The port into which trade ships sailed into Dubrovnik can be seen from a small square in front of another Fort Revelin. Today replicas of the Karaka or galleons transport tourists to distant islands, there is even a floating restaurant (very expensive) which hosts weddings and live bands in one of the grand bedecked wooden ships.

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Another port here just round the corner facing St Ivans port is the location for many scenes in GOT, I spent hours here daydreaming.

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Dubrovnik was my last stop here, and 2 weeks of Croatian sojourn just flew by as I caught my flight out to India from the city’s international airport.

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For many, Dubrovnik is the icing on the journey, and I can’t be impartial to the other cities that I was fortunate to have visited and loved. The most ineffaceable part of my journey was friendly, warm and handsome Croatian (men) people.

IMG_5222.JPGThis site is oft shown in Game of Thrones

Text/ Photos- Jyoti Shetty.

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The highlights of the Adriatic Sea so far followed me through every Croatian Town, the natural beauty of Croatian islands, coves and caves while relaxing in the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic Sea should be on everyone’s itinerary.

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I did that in Zadar and icy waters are ignored! Blue and Green Caves, and the city of Hvar are rudimentary stops in Croatia.

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Hvar is one of the most popular islands in Croatia, located off the Croatian mainland, between Brac and Korcula islands, Hvar like Trogir is well known for its exceptionally mild climate, lavender fields and beautiful island archipelago.

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Like all cities of Croatia, Hvar has the most scenic promenade by the sea, old-world Hvar town, Vrboska and Jelsa according to the agent are all not to be missed.

IMG_4462.JPGThe best way to reach Hvar from Trogir is by Car Ferry, it is the quickest and shortest route. Hvar has four ferry port and according to google map all car ferries alight at Stari Gard port.

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Reaching the town square where rows of sweet smelling Lavender shops and restaurants, the air was thick with the aroma and usual buzz of the crowd.

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The group entered a travel agency that also arranges homestays/apartments and decided to take up a studio room high up in the hills. A totally wrong move and one of the cranky first-time travellers refused to live close by to the town square as she wanted a room with a view!

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I was never so resolute to travel solo next time, climbing 100 steps was absolutely a waste of time! Do note apartments higher up forming the quintessential red roofed houses command a spectacular view, there are narrow roads that can lead up the winding path to these houses.

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You must have a car on hand, one of the best ways of discovering the islands hidden charms. Drive through typical old villages, see the outstanding scenery and capture the authentic Dalmatian charm of the island.

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Experience untouched nature, climb the hills for beautiful views and then descend through olive groves and sample Croatian wine at the many vineyards towards the coast.

IMG_4594.JPGAfter trudging down a flight of steps from the apartment, I headed back to where the Lavender and Rosemary sellers held stalls, bought lots of tiny pillows stuffed with Lavender flowers to take back home. Stopped by to have a meal of Salmon and mixed veggies, Salmon is not from the Adriatic Sea, it’s rare to get fresh fish of this kind in Croatia.

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I headed to St Stephen’s square around the corner of the Dockside. I did get a feeling of déjà vu or maybe it was similar to the square in Trogir, or simply a bit of monotony seeping in town squares and promenades.

IMG_4543.JPGIf one is inclined to see ancient buildings, Churches and Monasteries, in particular, Hvar is teeming with such edifices. I loved the walk through around St Stephens Square, many buildings side by side vie for attention.

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The St Mark’s church and Dominican Monastery are other enchanting locales, the statue of St Mark is particularly striking.

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Old town Grada, the Piazza, the first ever public theatre in Europe, The cathedral of St Stephen, the Franciscan monastery, the imposing palaces and many others. Hvar is a visual feast for lovers of architecture and is an open art gallery of sorts.

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The Tvrdava Fortress is another stupendous climb from the apartment, for once I did not complain of the long flight of steps as it was just 50 steps fewer from the block!

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A bar lounge within the hallowed fortress was a welcome break, nothing great but cosy. The fortress has some interesting features like the prison and canon guns, the herb garden below, but it’s the view from the fortress that made me realize that this sun soaked island will overpower your senses.

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From atop this hill of the fortress, one can have a 360-degree unobstructed view of the entire island. You will also see Hvar’s neighbouring islands Brac, Korcula and Vis. On a clear day, you can even look out into the Adriatic and see Italy!

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Dinnertime I lumbered back to the room and traipsed 100 flights down to Dalmatino Hvar for a great meal, noticed another great brasserie called Kanoba. At Dalmatino they served Croatian grappa after dessert, it was delicious as was the hearty meal of traditional food cooked in the covered pan called Peka.

IMG-20170516-WA0018.jpg Hvar needs 3 days to take in all the sights and flavours of the island.

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Next day it was the Hvar port of Sukuraj to Durbanik, a quick see through of Vrboska village as we waited for the Ferry ship to arrive.
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From Durbanik a 3 hours drive to Dubrovnik our final destination.

Text/Photos- Jyoti Shetty

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The cultural mix of Central Europe and the Mediterranean gives Croatia a special flavour. Coastal mountains descend to the lush coastal strip, interwoven with palm trees and olive groves. Quiet bays, numerous island and fishermen village in stone allow you to feel like you are in pristine Europe.

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The ferry ride from Split to Trogir was very impressive, Jadrolinija stood a large ferry ship accommodating cars and passengers on two floors. Leaving trajectories of the exact spot where Game of Thrones was filmed in Split, a mild temperate climate, quite a contrast setting welcomed me at Trogir.

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The old city of Trogir was built on a small island and forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage List as one of the few towns in the world that are completely protected by UNESCO. Trogir is a very unique site close to Split, it has a history dating back 2000 years.

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Since I was passing through and time was running short I hit old town, main waterfront, the Kamerlengo fortress. Built by the Venetian Republic in the 15th century, this fortress castle is just a shell façade running all around, it was once connected to the old city.

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I personally felt 40Kunas was a bit too much to enter a hollow fortress but many climb up, circling the fortress to enjoy the spectacular city panorama and the Adriatic Sea.

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The seafront is a popular hangout for tourists and locals alike. Lunch or dinner, like most water-front promenades in Croatia, the one at Trogir has the Riva front prominently displayed in all the brochures and Google photos.

IMG_4317.JPGWide paved promenade, boats passing by, regular boat cruises all around the water-front ferry tourists. Many epicurean bistros and cafes line up side by side, I had to toss a coin to check out lunch at Kamerlengo brasserie.

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The pretty hostess persuaded me and even handed a sprig of lavender that was growing nearby. The lunch was divine. Do take time walking the entire stretch of this delightful Esplanade, it’s worth the effort after a hearty meal.

20170510_130040.jpgI even lingered on for coffee at the last corner café before rushing off towards the town square.

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I had just a few hours left and managed to walk through the main square of the Cipiko Palace and the most important landmark here the Clock Tower. The St Sebastion Church was built in 1476 as an offering given by grateful citizens of Trogir for relief from the plague.

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In front of this Rennaissance, building are superb sculptures of the St and Christ the Saviors. High above this rises the two-story tower of the town clock. St Lawrence Cathedral to the corner is another landmark building has ornate entrance carvings and statues.

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I was so in wonderment of this square, the Romanesque architecture, the beautiful statues, the tower clock, the churches around here made me dawdle on.

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The streets and narrow lanes lead you to more amazing cafes in store especially Capo really thrilled me with the antique wooden furniture. The friendly owners refused to let me keep tab of the time, some of stores and cafes on this lane are iconic.

IMG_4426.JPGAn old house on this street with the staircase branching into an arch is another iconic building and is there in most of the Trogir postcards.

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One can enter here directly from the outside of the walled city through a stunningly beautiful arch. It also served as my exit from the city.

My next marvellous stop- HVAR.

Text/Photo- Jyoti Shetty 

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Having travelled from Zagreb, Krka and then on to Pltivice, Zadar, Skradin skirting the Krka falls all by road, one would expect some monotony in the general landscape. Yes, there was one scene that was constant and it was the red roof tiled houses sprinkled all over the distant mountain tops.

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My road trip so far covered some of the most discerning cities in Croatia, and as I approached Split, my hopes were high for more historical discoveries and natural beauty.

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Croatia is mainly sightseeing places full of traces of the past, and places that have marked the history of this region will not leave anyone indifferent, that’s the high point Split left me, totally bewildered!.

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Most youngsters associate Split with an effervescent nightlife, lots of lounge bars, restaurants, lights and strobe bars, and nothing can be far from the truth.

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In Split I got to see the Palace of Diocletian, Peristill (open colonnade), the Eastern city gate, Prokurative (Square), the Grgur Ninski statue, the city waterfront, and the coldest ever swim on this side of the Adriatic, it chilled me to the bones!

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But first, the city waterfront where all the action is. Split needs min 3 nights stay to soak in the city, it’s a vibrant, friendly easy place to roam around and the water-front cafes are the best places to people watch and have a great meal.

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The city was built in 305 BC when the Roman emperor Diocletian decided to build his country home. The old city with its beautiful surroundings is a place for walking, shopping or simply sitting by the waterfront with a drink overlooking the Adriatic Sea and watching life go by.

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Split old town is surreal, it was exciting and walking through one section of the well-preserved palace I realized how strong the Roman history is prevalent even in present day Croatia.

IMG_4172.JPG Diocletian Palace in Split in an architectural wonder built during a turbulent period of Emperor Diocletian.

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This fortified city palace served as quarters for his staff both military and others and the southern opposite side was reserved for the Emperor’s residential and religious areas.

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The upper area though intact has a huge square with present day shopping and restaurants easily blending in with the past structures.

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Don’t miss the eastern wall supposedly from an earlier Imperial area, the remains of a Nymphs shrine, marble table from Diocletian’s dining halls.

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The ground halls surrounding the open courtyards served as temporary shelters and became permanent dwelling where people from nearby Salona took refuge.

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I was so happy to meet one of the residents tucked away facing an open frontage remnants of the old wall, she refused to be photographed and shut the door to her house very firmly.

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She was not so friendly but she said that her house is on shaky grounds and that since this area is a UNESCO heritage site she is aware how precious her property is!

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I had a minor setback at Split with the landlady, the beautiful Demi of Demi Apartment. I was so impressed with the comfortable floral setting room and was hoping for an extension but she was full up.

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Her apartment situated near the bay area, very centrally located to the Palace was cosy and I was so keen to stay on. DemiS’s property overlooked Riva beach promenade, it was so inviting that I just jumped screaming into the icy cold waters, it was invigorating and even though it was sunny the Adriatic Sea was chill to the bones!

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The group had to rush out to make arrangements in advance to take the ferry across to Hvar next day and then on another ferry to Trogir.

So Trogir here I come.

 

LONDON — Five versions of a Vincent van Gogh masterpiece are being reunited for the first time in a “virtual exhibition.” Van Gogh painted his “Sunflowers” series in the south of France in 1888 and 1889. Five versions of work reside in five different museums on three continents. On Monday they will all be streamed…

via Van Gogh ‘Sunflowers’ reunited online — National Post

=SKRADIN=

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Passing through Sibenik, the group didn’t seem to have enough of waterfalls and lakes. Sibenik is known as wind city and the first city in the world to light up streets through wind energy. The River Krka was first harnessed for this alternative energy source.

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The National Park Krka with the hydroelectric power plant is a landmark here, trekking paths down small bridges and sightseeing of the waterfalls is a worthy break.

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I wandered off to Skradin Island instead, the need to be alone was so rewarded, when the pesky group split to Krka waterfalls, and I took this opportunity to soak in Skradin Island, the docking area for boats to and fro to Krka falls.

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There are 2 entrances to Krka National Park, the second entrance is Skradin, and from April to November visitors can be transported by boat at scheduled timings usually every hour. The Krka River with graceful swans gliding by was the beautiful setting as I landed at Skradin Pier.

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The shop at Skradin near the Jetty had a profusion of multi coloured rose bush, goods from Bangkok and mainly Bali were sold and eager tourists stopped to buy hats and shorts as the sun beat down on Skradin.

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I wandered off to a restaurant close by to capture some moments of solitude, relished a meal of Salmon and Avocado salad, quaffed with a pint of beer. The narrow lanes of Skradin had not a soul outside.

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I finally strolled in a lane that had rows of shops, an ice cream and bakery of sorts, even a travel agency.   Near the Jetty lane there was some sign of activity, many shops, restaurants, tiny shacks selling figs and nuts, fresh strawberries etc, but deep within this sleepy island town called Skradin, life really stood still.

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I visited the local church, scrambled to catch up with an elderly man and his two grandchildren, friendly as expected I kept pace with them until they reached their home. I asked him very pertinently on the deserted aspect of the island, where is everybody? He explained, that the long war scarred much of the next generation, no one wants progeny!

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The cobbled streets of Skradin, are an absolute delight to walk about, Cafes literally spill over these lanes. Walking past some ancient residential homes I stopped by to take some photos of few residents as evidence of some gathering!

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I chanced upon a Travel agency Active Destination, the first local agency founded in the historically significant city of Skradin. With the purpose of increasing volume of the tourist trade and stay, mainly in Skradin and Šibenik, lijana Dragovic Madic and her husband conduct a successful agency here.

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What can one say of friendly Croatians, Iijana made me so comfortable, offered me endless coffee and regaled me with stories of Skradin. The group, unfortunately, joined me here sooner than expected, and it was time for me to go.

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Active Destination is the only travel agency, which bargains a concession on the lower course of the river Krka (including protected areas of Prukljan gulf and ornithological reserve Guduća). The agency’s bi line aptly describes Skradin as – the place of adventures where river Krka kisses the Adriatic Sea!

 

 

My next stop, Split.

 

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Just two hours away from Plivice Lakes is Zadar, this was my next halt for 3 days. The drive to Zadar was through the countryside and many fresh farm fruit stalls on the way made our car screeching to a halt frequently. Passing through the landscape of hills hugging the rivers. Forests, vineyards and olive groves, I really feasted on the panorama that unfolded.

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Sasa my lovely hostess to the apartment greeted me with the usual Croatian warmth, I was pleasantly surprised to know that the apartment block was just around the famous landmark (Sea Organ) promenade. Zadar (also was known as Jader) is a city on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast.

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There are numerous Roman ruins within the surrounds of prominent Old Town. The Venetian gates in the city walls, the Roman era Forum, St Mary’s Convent with religious art dating to the 8th century are iconic to the city.

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The 12th century St Anastasia’s Cathedral and the round 9th-century pre-Romanesque Church of St Donatus are landmarks.

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Sasha cautioned me of a Marathon taking place at the promenade the next day, so advised me to spend a quiet evening at the Sea Organ. It was the most relaxing, pleasant walk all around the promenade facing the Adriatic Sea.

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Soaking in the gentle setting sun the soft sound of the Sea Organ that one could hear from a distance away became very prominently loud. It was like surround sound, there were many people vacantly looking at the sea and beyond seated on the steps of the Sea Organ.

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The Sea Organ is an architectural wonder of acoustics at Zadar’s western end of Riva. The melodious sound captured by the thrashing waves is channelled through 35 tubes (organ pipes 70 meters long) that are positioned under the concrete with regular vents under the many steps from where the sound emanates. Zadar’s incredible Sea Organ designed by local architect Nikola Basic is totally mind blowing

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The Sea Organ sounds very trance like and works best under rough sea conditions when the waves lash out against the podium. Greetings to the Sun is another corner art installation here, made of glass, I almost mistook it for solar panels!

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The World Marathon the next day was a highlight event. The pleasant Riva promenade on the edge of the Old Town peninsula also called Obala Petra sported a festive look. The diversely global cafes dotting around the promenade were crowded and I had to give breakfast a miss.

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The participants who had descended here were mainly from Europe, spotted a few Japanese too. There was blaring music, many make shift sports shops, and probably sponsors of the event handed out health drinks to the excited participants.

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The weather was perfect, the distance run was along the old city and I saw few runners make it across to the ferry point and Sea Gate where I had wandered after the Marathon began.

IMG_3932.JPG Zadar is so conducive to just walk around the Old City and the iconic buildings which I visited daily during my 3 days there.

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In most Dalmatian towns the market is a sight to behold, Zadar’s Ribarnica market just near the waterfront is the biggest and best. It’s been there since the Middle Ages, the space that it’s held on has historical significance dating back to World War two!

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I was so thankful to bump into this vibrant colourful market (when the group that I sadly hung around with went island hopping) as it satiated my hunger pangs.

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The display of sweet tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, figs were a sight for sore eyes. It was lively, the air was filled with the scent of various fresh produce fruits and vegetables mainly from Pag island was refreshing, never have I gorged fruits and vegetables all at once that quenched my thirst and satisfied my hunger as I did here.

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I never felt so greedy, the farmers were so kind that many offered me a tasting of the sweetest of seasonal red variety fruits, they even pulled out a chair for me, and they were so kind. Everything appeared so big and the sweet sweet taste of nectar in every fruit was so memorable.

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Ancient Zadar in central Croatian Adriatic is one of the best European destinations. Full of historical and cultural monuments, this 3000-year-old city with cosmopolitan cafes, impeccable museums (don’t miss the glass museum), Zadar is an important itinerary for any trip to Croatia.

Text and Photos- Jyoti Shetty 

 

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