Day 1: Croatia – Zadar & Zavratnica

Plan for the day

Our plan for the day was to visit Zadar old town in the morning. In the afternoon we would proceed north along the coast to explore a beautiful sea inlet, Uvala Zavratnica. We hoped to view the inlet from a cliff directly on top of it and if time permitted we would go down to the inlet and explore it via a footpath that looped around it. For the night we would drive further north to the town Senj for our accommodation. The estimated total distance was 167 km.

Route for the day (Zadar to Uvala Zavraknica to Senj)

Route for the day (Zadar to Uvala Zavraknica to Senj)

By End of the Day

We were able to achieve all our goals for the day. The sights at Uvala Zavraknica exceeded our expectation. The walk at the bay was scenic and relaxing. How we wished we could spend more time at the bay but the sky was getting dark so we had to leave. By the time we reached our accommodation at Senj it was already after 8 pm and it was drizzling.

Touching down at Zadar Airport

We were 30 minutes late when we touched down at Zadar Airport at about 11pm. We flew in from Paris on Ryanair and the flight was only one hour. Croatia was a long way from Singapore so rather than to endure a long flight we broke our flights into three parts, stopping for one day in Dubai and three days in Paris.

Zadar airport was a small airport, after leaving the plane we had to walk across the tarmac into the airport building. Since there was only one plane load of passengers, clearing custom and picking up our luggage were a fast affair.

We stopped by the money changer counter just at the airport entrance door to find out about the exchange rate (EUR to Kuna). The rate was pretty lousy so we changed just a small amount.

Tarmac of Zadar Airport

Tarmac of Zadar Airport

Stepping outside the building entrance we saw a public bus at the bus stop just outside the building. Slightly ahead were several car rental companies, they were brightly lighted and were still in operation. This was rather surprising because based on the information that I had gathered the last public bus would leave the airport at 10.00 pm. As for the car rental companies most of them closed early and one closed at at 10.30 pm, this was also the reason I had not book a car at the airport.

We walked over to a row of taxis and were shocked that the taxis charges for transfer to Zadar old town was 500 kuna (about SGD$100 or €75) which was way too expensive for a 12 km trip into the old town. We tried bargaining for a lower fee but it was of no use as all the taxis drivers seemed to have already ganged up to charge this exorbitant fee.

Route to Zadar Town

Route to Zadar Town

We rolled our luggage to the public bus, lugged them up the bus and paid 200 kuna for the four of us. The bus left the airport at 11.30 pm and reached the old town bus terminal in 20 minutes. There we boarded a taxis and paid 54 kuna for a short 2 km trip to our accommodation at Zadar Old Town. All in, bus and taxis charges added up to 254 kuna, half the amount we had to pay if we had taken the taxis.

Accommodation at Zadar Old Town

Our accommodation at Zadar was a delightful apartment, Apartment Penthouse Riva, which I had booked thru Booking.com. It had, three bedrooms, a sitting room, breakfast room, dining room, a huge kitchen and toilet. It was clean, spacious and the interior decoration was warm and cosy.

Our Bedrooms at Apartment Penthouse Riva

Our Bedrooms at Apartment Penthouse Riva

This apartment was so much better and larger than our last accommodation at Paris. It costed 480 kuna (SGD$96 or €65) a night. It was a shame that we would only be staying here for one night.

Breakfast room, sitting room and kitchen at Apartment Penthouse Riva

Breakfast room, sitting room and kitchen

I loved the kitchen, it was fully equipped with oven, stove, cooking utensils, crockery etc. Unfortunately we would not be using this kitchen as we would be leaving in the morning. The minimal I would do was to boil some hot water for consumption. Toni, the owner of the apartment actually told us that we could drink directly off the tap but we still decided to boil the water before drinking it.

Apartment Penthouse Riva

Large toilet at Apartment Penthouse Riva

The apartment had a spacious toilet and it came with a forceful shower. The only problem with a big toilet was that it felt cold and this toilet did not have a heater.

The only downside of this apartment was that it was on the 4th level. As like most apartments in Croatia this apartment did not have a lift. We were lucky to have Toni to help us carry up two mid size luggage all the way up to the fourth level.

Bringing up the other two luggage were very strenuous and tiring. I dread thinking about the going down trip when it was time to leave the apartment.

For this trip we had done our packing such that each night we would only need to bring up a overnight bag to our accommodation. But for this to work we needed to have a car where we could leave our luggage but we would not get our rental car till the morning.

Sun Salutation  1 am in the morning

It was already 1 am but it was not the time to turn in for the night. We got ready and walked out of our apartment to Zadar famous Sea Organ and Sun Salutation! The walk was less than 170 metres from our apartment. This short distance was the main reason for picking this apartment to stay in.

In the dead of the night it was awesome to visit these two tourist attractions. The Sun Salutation was especially stunning, its brilliant display of ever changing colours contrasted beautifully with the dark background of the sea.

Sun Salutation

Lin Ying and I standing in the middle of the Sun Salutation

The Sea Organ and Sun Salutation were the creations of Nikola Basic. The Sun Salutation was made up of 300 multilayered glass plates placed in a 22 m wide circle set into the pavement.  It collected sun energy in the day and produced a light show  from sunset to sunrise.

Sun Salutation

Sun Salutation

The sea organ was a set of pipe organs that were embedded under a series of marble steps built along the sea front. As the waves washed in, they created “organ” sound like musical chimes. Though we could not see much of the Sea Organ we felt its presence through its chimes playing continuously. In the absence of noises from tourists these “organ” chimes were heard distinctly above the sound of the waves and wind.

Sun Salutation with the town as the backdrop

Sun Salutation with the town as the backdrop

Initially we were worry about the safety of the place in the middle of the night. But after Toni’s assurance earlier on at the apartment we had no qualms staying out long. At about 2 am we headed back to our apartment. It was a beautiful experience to be out when no other people were around. It was wonderful to have the entire Sun Salutation and Sea Organ to ourselves.

Zadar in the Morning

The morning started with a bit of rain. Our apartment was bathed with lights from the many sky windows. Since there was no curtains for these windows the apartment brightened up as early as 6 am so it was difficult to sleep in.

Breakfast room in the our Zadar apartment

Breakfast room in the our Zadar apartment

I opened one of the sky windows to look out. The air was chilly and and the weather forecast said it would be a rainy day for Zadar. We decided to postpone our trip to the town square till the weather improved. In the meantime, while mum and Lin Ying lazed in beds, Yat Thong and I went out to pick our rental car.

Zadar Sea Front as seen from our apartment

Sea organ & Sun salutation in the morning

On our way to a bus stop we walked pass the Sea Organ and Sun Salutation. The Sea Organ looked just like ordinary rows of seats designed to provide a good resting place to tourists to enjoy the sea view and breeze if not for the continuously organ liked chimes in the air.

In the day time the Sun Salutation looked rather dull as the multi colored light panels were dimmed, it looked so different from our midnight experience.

Picking up our Rental Car in Town

The Sixt car rental outlet in town was located at the town bus terminal which was also the same place where we had alighted after the bus transferred us from the airport to town. This time instead of taking a taxis we hopped on to a town bus and paid 10 Kuna per person. Toni had told us that most buses in the vicinity would ended up at the bus terminal.

We had booked an Volkswagen Touran MPV 7 seater. It costed €1224 (SGD1890) for 15 days. It included Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) with zero access, Theft Protection with €1250 access, permit for driving across borders (since we would be driving into Slovenia and Bosnia) and additional driver. Yes,  the rental cost was a bit steep, we could have reduced the cost by opting for a Collision Damage Waiver of €1250 excess, unfortunately from my research I read that many rental companies (including the reputable ones) would find opportunities to charge the excess in its full amount for the slightest damage, which could be just small scratches!

Our Volkswagen Touran MPV 7 seater

Our Volkswagen Touran MPV 7 seater

We inspected the car in the light rain but the Sixt employee told us not to worry because firstly we were given a brand new car and secondly we had zero excess CDW which meant we would not be charged for any scratches/damages when we return the car.

The 7 seater car was smaller than we expected. The boot space was very small and to put in four mid size luggage we would need to lower the third row seats. We also found out later that our four luggage took up so much space that they obstructed the seats from the 2nd row from inclining more. One of our main reasons going for a 7 seater when we had only four persons was, we wanted my daughter and mum who would be sitting in the middle row to be able to incline their seats to sleep comfortably during long drive.  I should have selected a bigger 7 seater!

We fixed on our own TomTom (with free lifetime world map) GPS on the dash board and was ready to go back to town. Bringing our own GPS had saved us €7.50 a day on rental charges. This was the 2nd time we were using our own TomTom device, the first time was in New Zealand during our 19 days DIY trip. I figured by now the cost of the device (SGD$299) was already fully covered by the rental saving (http://www.jaiktravelblog.com/owning-a-car-gps/).

Zadar Old Town

We drove back to our apartment. Unfortunately it was impossible to find a parking within walking distance to our apartment. By the time we found an empty lot it was like a couple of kilometers away. We looped around twice but just could not find any lawful parking space nearer! We met our landlord, who was out walking and he who told us that the most scenic part of town where the apartment stood was also where it would be the hardest to find parking spaces. If we parked illegally we would most certainly be fined since our car had an out of town license plate (most rental car were registered in Zagreb). We had no choice but to park far away and though it was still drizzling we just had to start the exploration of the old town.

Zadar Old Town

Zadar Old Town

First task in town was to get our Kuna. We walked past a couple of money changers and banks and wondered who would give us a better exchange rate. As we could not speak the local language it took us a bit of time to build up our confidence to approached them. We walked into Bipa a bank that looked so “pink and sweet”. The staff could speak English and we got all the kuna we needed.

Bipa - a bank in Zadar Old town

Bipa – a bank in Zadar Old town

The exchange rate from Euro to Kuna was very good, the rate was 7.405 (it was 7.010 at the airport). We tried to get some BAM (Bosnia & Herzegovina currency) and was told by the teller that first our Euro would be converted to kuna (local currency) before it would be converted to BAM. This dual stage exchange would not be favourable as compared to getting BAM in Bosnia. We bought just enough BAM to last a day in Bosnia, surely by then we would have found a Bosnia bank.

Now that we had cash in hand we were ready to roam the old town, to eat and to shop!

 

The most prominent cultural building in the old town was The church of St. Donatus. It was also the largest Pre-Romanesque building in Croatia. It had an unique round architecture which I would not normally associated with a church. The front of the church had an unblocked view of the sea.

Crkva Sv. Donata, Zadar

Crkva Sv. Donata, (Church of St. Donatus) Zadar

 

Behind the church were a maze of three to four storey buildings connected by cobbled lanes. On the ground floor of these building were restaurants, cafes, banks and shops. There were many stores selling pizzas and ice creams so we grabbed both and ate as we walked.

A short walked brought us to Narodni trg. Narodni trg was the centre of public life in Zadar from the Renaissance until today.  Though it was still dripping wet, the place was vibrant, many people were out and about eating, drinking and chatting.

some sort of town square

Narodni trg (People´s Square)

On one side  of the Square is the City Guard (Gradska straža). It was built in 1562, designed by a Venetian architect Michele Sanmicheli in the late Renaissance style. The large central clock tower was added in the beginning of the 19th century.

Clock tower in Zadar Old Town

Clock tower of City Guard (Gradska straža)  in Zadar Old Town square.

Uvala Zavraknica

I chanced upon Uvala Zavarknica when researching for top scenic spots in Croatia. It was a coastal inlet, sort of like a bay, located at the foot of Velebit Mountains in the northern part of Adriatic Sea. The view of the inlet was most stunning when seen from the top at some high point. Unfortunately there was not much information on this view point, I had no idea of its exact location and how to get there.

120 Km to Uvala Zavraknica

120 Km to Uvala Zavraknica (44.699235, 14.905349)

I could only do a guess-timate and mark a location on the map. On google map it looked like there was a small road branching off the main road leading toward the direction of the inlet. The small road ended a distance before the inlet which meant we would have to do some trekking to to get to the cliff top directly above the inlet.

Possible route to the high view point of Uvala Zavraknica

Possible route to the high view point of Uvala Zavraknica

We left Zadar at about 1.30 pm and head north along the coast. We expected to reached our destination at  4.30 pm. I just hoped that we could find our destination easily and its access would not be on dangerous ground and most important I hoped that it not be on privately owned land!

 

One hour into the journey we stopped for a break. We walked into a local supermarket to stock up on mineral water and some food. Beside the supermarket was a restaurant, My Dreamer, and we went in for a late lunch. The restaurant looked quaint and cosy, this was our first meal in Croatia restaurant and we wondered if it would be expensive.

My Dream restaurant

My Dream restaurant (co-ords: 44.441578, 15.058919)

We ordered a large size pizza, a Zagrebački odrezak and four cups of cafe latte. Zagrebački odrezak was a Croatian cuisine, it was steak stuffed with ham and cheese. It came looking like some deep fried breaded chicken chop served with plentiful of french fries. When it was cut into half we could see cheese oozing out. Yummy..Yummy.

Pizza, Zagrebački odrezak and four cups of cafe latte for lunch

Pizza, Zagrebački odrezak and four cups of cafe latte for lunch

Zagrebački odrezak tasted pretty normal. We were expecting beef steak but the meat tasted more like pork. On the menu it stated steak and not beef steak so it must be pork steak? The entire bill came up to 152 Kuna (SGD$30 or €20), no service or government taxes, a low price based on Singapore standard.

Car ferry crossing

After lunch we drove further north for another 30 minutes before we came to a road jam. As our car inched forward we realised there was no vehicle congestion ahead. It was a queue waiting for a car ferry to transport vehicles across a water channel. Woops! Our route was not supposed to cross any channel. Our GPS had lead us down a route that involved ferry crossing. Our mistake we should have set the setting to omit ferry crossing.  Looking at my google map, it would be to0 far a distance to turn back to avoid the channel crossing. We just had to proceed ahead and board the car ferry.

Queue to a car ferry

Queue to a car ferry

The ferry ticket cost for a driver, a car and three other passengers came up to 136 kuna (SGD$27, €18). The ferry trip took no more than 10 minutes and soon we were back to the main land and continued our journey to Uvala Zavratnica. After about 50 minutes we reached a branch off from the main road, the branch off was an unpaved dirt road! Though we felt apprehensive about the dirt road ahead we knew we were going in the right direction as the road sign was definitely correct.

Branch off to Zavratnica

Branch off to Zavratnica

The dirt road was very bumpy and looked deserted. It looked like a road that was hardly visited by any other people. After about 1.5 km we reach the end. It was a nice surprise when the narrow dirt road led up to some sort of a round-about. At the round-about we saw a “attraction” sign board which meant we were definitely spot on!

Parking lot at the end of the dirt road

Parking lot at the end of the dirt road (co-ordinates: 44.699235, 14.905349)

We parked our car near the signboard and came out to explore. There were some steps leading down a short slope. At the end of the steps was a pebbled observation deck. It was nice that there was a proper parking lot and a well constructed observation deck for visitors.

Uvala Zavrakniva High Point Observation Deck

Uvala Zavrakniva High Point Observation Deck

From the deck looking down the view was stunning, more beautiful than the photos that I had seen. It was a great thing that the drizzle had stopped, though the sky was still not as blue as on a clear fine day, the view was still awesome.

The water in the center of the bay was turquoise blue, this colour deepened along the edge of the bay and contrasted beautifully with the yellowish golden sand below. It kind of gave the inlet an distinctive “outline” emphasizing its beauty.

Uvala Zavraknica

Uvala Zavraknica

The top view was so beautiful that we could not wait to go down to explore the inlet. From the high view point there was no path leading down to the inlet. We would have to drive about 9 km down to a town, Jablanac, which was near the start of a walk round the inlet.

Driving route from top view point to Jablanac

Driving route from top view point to Jablanac

Jablanac was a lovely scenic town by the sea. There were many restaurants at the sea front and were open for business but there was hardly any customers. This time of the year was a lull period for tourists  so the place was very peaceful and serene.

Jablanac

Jablanac

We would have loved to stay a night in Jablanac, unfortunately from the internet I could only find a couple of  accommodations in this town and everyone of them was very pricey. So I had booked another accommodation further up north along the coast about 42 km from Jablanac.

Waterfront of Jablanac

Waterfront of Jablanac

It was already 6.30 pm and the walk to and from the inlet, Uvala Zavraknica, would take about an hour as we were told by a local. Sunset was at 9 pm so we figured we still had enough daylight to make the round trip. From the town we walk southward and came to a path just by the sea, at the start of the path there was a sign pointing the direction to Uvala Zavraknica.

The walk was very peaceful and breezy. Beside the four of us there was no other people. Occasionally a strong wind would sweep in from the sea so strongly that we could only hug the wall of the cliff at one side of the walk for safety.

Walking trail looping round the inlet

Walking trail looping round the inlet

The walk took longer than expected. We were not in a hurry to get to the end so we were taking our own sweet time strolling along, fooling around and taking “weird” shots. We came upon a ticketing booth but there was no one selling tickets to enter the inlet so we just went forward without buying tickets. By the time we returned to Jablanac town it was already after 8 pm, we had taken about 2 hours for this walk.

Lin Ying and Yat Thong fooling around

Lin Ying and Yat Thong fooling around

Accommodation for the Night at senj

Our accommodation was in Senj town another seaside town. It took about 40 minutes to drive from Jablanac town. By the time we reached Senj, daylight was already gone and a drizzle had started again. Based on my co-ordinates we had reached our accommodation destination, unfortunately it was not easy to locate our accommodation among a row of houses. There was no obvious signboard pointing to Apartment Lebinac 1 which I had booked on Agoda.com.

Unlike Booking.com, Agoda.com did not provide the contact number of the accommodation place, the only contacts provided were a UK number, a Singapore number and a US number.These three numbers were of no use at that point of time!!! In the end we relied on our picture of the place to pick up the apartment. Luckily our first pick was correct and soon we were shown to our apartment.

Our apartment had two double bed, one was a sofa bed in the living room and the other was in the bedroom. There was also a small proper kitchen with stove and cooking utensil & crockery.

Compared to our earlier apartment in Zadar this apartment was much smaller, but still good enough for four of us. The toilet was of a decent size too. The price for a night stay was only €30 (SGD$45) very inexpensive. I supposed Senj was not a touristy town so the hotel rate was lower.

Toilet at Apartment Lebinac 1

Toilet at Apartment Lebinac 1

It was already after 9 pm when we finally settled in. It was too inconvenient to go out in the drizzle to search for a dinner place. So I whipped up a simple dinner for the four of us. I had “perfected” the skill of cooking a quick and delicious meal when travelling.

Homecook dinner for 4

Homecook dinner for 4

 

2 thoughts on “Day 1: Croatia – Zadar & Zavratnica

  1. Rosewati

    Hi Jaik Yong

    I’m planning a trip to Croatia and Bosnia this September so your blog is really handy. To save costs, I’m thinking of DIY-ing it as well but my hubby is not used to driving in Europe due to being on the wrong side! The last time we drove in Europe it was around the small island of Mallorca in Spain. He said he’s more confident if the roads are not so busy. How were the road conditions in Bosnia and Croatia? Were the signs well-posted? Are the drivers patient and friendly or impatient and kiasu like Singaporeans?

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    Thanks!

    Rosewati
    Singapore

    1. Jaik

      Hi Rosewati,

      During our visit, driving in Croatia and Bosnia driving were quite easy, the roads were well labeled and not narrow. Generally the roads in Bosnia were not as good as Croatia but still easy to drive on.

      In Bosnia, the final stretch of the road to Strbacki Fall was unpaved and bumpy.

      We invested in a “world wide life time free map” tom tom gps device (http://www.jaiktravelblog.com/owning-a-car-gps/) which help us get to all the destination easily without worries. We just put in the coordinates and left it to the gps device to bring us everywhere.

      Jaik

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