9 October 2012

Croatia; nature's playground.

When I came to France, I thought I'd be hard pushed to ever see anywhere more beautiful; the streets are (relatively) clean, there are beautiful provencal buildings and there's so much green everywhere. It's miles more beautiful than the boring, grey, orange-street-lamp-lit streets of England. But I was so wrong in thinking this...

A few of us (I say a few, I mean sixteen) decided on a whim to book a trip to Zadar in Croatia. Eastern Europe's never really been on my travelling bucket list, but I thought I'd give it a go because how can you go wrong with a return plane ticket for €60, even if it does mean being shot through the sky in a tin-can with Ryanair painted on the side? I thought if anything it'd be a long weekend of beach, bouffe and booze and that we'd all return to Aix-en-Provence slightly worse for wear. In this instance I was correct, but this was only a fraction of how amazing the weekend actually turned out to be.

For those of you who don't know where Croatia is, it's here (B).

This is the city where we stayed; Zadar.
Photograph taken from Google Images.

First impressions from the plane window were lasting ones; this country is so green and sparsely populated (only about 4.5 million people live in the whole of Croatia - that's less than the population of London!) that it looks like what I imagine most countries would have looked like before us evil white men arrived, took over and built our big ugly corporation buildings everywhere. It was nice to see somewhere that hasn't yet been destroyed by tourism or capitalism. It's even more surprising that a place can be so naturally and architecturally beautiful when you learn that the war between Croatia and Yugoslavia only ended in 1995, and the whole independence process only concluded in 1998. That's only 12 years ago. Wow.

So anyway, we stayed at The Drunken Monkey Hostel which I would now highly, highly, highly recommend to anybody thinking of going to Zadar in Croatia for a cheap stay. It was around €17 a night, I don't know how anybody could turn their nose up at that, especially when it looks like this:

Photographs taken from Hostelworld.com.

The staff there made our stay fantastically comfortable and we really felt like we were at home; there were a few rules as there is with any place but there was a massive feeling of mutual respect between owner and client. The first staff member we met, Kyle, even helped us organise our whole weekend since we pretty much just arrived without any sort of plan. This was my first time staying in a hostel (aka, I was a hostel virgin) and I can't have asked for a better first time (ha). 

So since I've bored you with facts and figures, I'll explain what the title of this post is all about. Croatia, for me, really is nature's playground. The first day was a long one (but not in a bad way) spent walking along the coastline of Zadar towards the Old Town, where you can see the most amazing view of the Adriatic Sea and the Croatian island of Uglijan, but it's certainly not uglij to me (bad Dad joke, sorry). 

We had our friend Katy with us who had visited Zadar before and she directed us through the town towards something called the Sea Organ. This is the first thing which opened my eyes a little bit more to how fun nature can be when her natural powers are harnessed in a creative way. The sound the Sea Organ produces is caused by the movement of the waves pushing air under and up through holes in the pier on the waterfront and, depending on which way the wind blows, different notes create hauntingly relaxing tunes that are all too easy to fall asleep to (see below). This is the kind of thing that makes you feel at one with nature, because you're seeing it (or hearing it, in this case) in a different way to usual. Normally you can just see the waves hitting the shore, but when harnessed in this way you hear them in a weirdly existential way which makes you feel really surrounded by the sea.

This video, taken from YouTube, shows perfectly what the Sea Organ sounds like and also shows Zadar's "Salute to the Sun", which I unfortunately didn't get to see while I was there.

Asleep on the Sea Organ.
Photo taken from a friend's Facebook.

As of yet I unfortunately don't have any photographs of this part of the trip, I'll add them to the picture post I'm going to do once I've got all of my photos developed from my film camera, but this was just another great way we were able to enjoy something that nature put there. The beach takes about twenty-five minutes to get to from Zadar itself, and the sand (once you dig for it) turns black. It apparently has medicinal properties, which I'm not too sure about, but there's definitely something in it that leaves your skin amazingly soft. You look like a bit of a divvy (idiot, for non-geordies) standing with dirty limbs and stomachs (you're not meant to put it on your heart or kidneys, for some reason that I haven't discovered yet) but once you've let the minerals soak in and have rubbed it around for a good bit of exfoliation, you wash it off and are left with super smooth skin. I can't say it smells too great, so it's no wonder it hasn't been marketed as a product or a go-to location yet, but the mud baths at Nin are definitely worth a visit. 

Now, I know that this post is already getting rather lengthy, but this is the part that I really, really, really, absolutely want to go into detail about. The higlight of my weekend; Krka National Park. I'm just going to post pictures because it speaks for itself really. It's so majestic.

Photo taken from a friend's Facebook.

I can't express how at home I felt in this nature park; I've always had something for huge lakes surrounded by evergreens and cascading waterfalls, but didn't really realise just how much until I came here. Maybe it's the hours upon hours I spent with my Granda Bat watching Bob Ross paint scenes like Krka and saying things such as "let's give this little tree here a friend, trees don't like to be lonely either." I love trees, there's something so modestly proud about them, which is a paradox if I ever saw one. I was so happy to be able to peacefully walk amongst these giants which have been on earth for longer than my family name has existed. At the time that the bottom picture was took I was actually staring at a hole in a rock which had obviously been created by the way the water had moved against it for the past however many hundreds of years, and I got to see it. This is the kind of thing that makes you feel small and insignificant, but also makes you appreciate being able to experience something so grand and so beautiful (even if they're the tiny things), and makes you want to make the most of everything because your life, really, is just a blink of an eye on the timeline of the universe's existence. 

I always get stick for being too much of a hippy at home because I say stuff like the above, my boyfriend even told me once that he "knows I'm one with the wind and all that shit", but it's true what I'm saying. I have never felt more zen than I did in that national park, being able to swim next to a monument of a waterfall with friends and then sit on a log soaking up the sunshine with my eyes closed, just listening. I'm not the cheeriest of people a lot of the time, but I am so happy to have been able to experience that.

I have seen sunsets before, but never one quite as good as this. Sat on the Sea Organ, listening to the waves, surrounded by friends and looking at this:

I could not have asked for a more perfect end to one of the best weekends of my life. I don't think this blog post does any of my experiences in Croatia any justice. With all things, you have to experience it yourself to really feel just how amazing it is. And I urge you to. I really, really want you to, at least one in your life, visit this amazing country. You can't miss out.

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