Monday, September 24, 2012

Zen Zadar

In honor of today being one of my longest travel days (2 hour bus + 4 hour sightseeing + 5 more hours of bus), I thought I would share some travel tips I acquired over the (limited, but not insignificant) years of traveling I have done.
1. Be prepared. At least for me, nothing is more annoying than spending valuable travel time with trip organization nitty-gritty, you can do that while you are still at home! Having an approximative itinerary and at least a couple of pre-booked nights in a hostel gives us type-A-planners peace of mind and more time for the fun stuff.
2. Be prepared... to overhaul your plans if necessary (and make sure to review them around 1 or 2 days in advance for that purpose). Some of my best Croatia memories are from my couchsurfing experience in Split, where I had originally booked a hostel but then cancelled it after I got invited by Mladen. Similarly, I still don't understand why past-Janina thought it would be wise to travel through Rijeka by night and spend 2 hours from 4 to 6am at the bus station... Thankfully I caught that and booked a hostel here a day in advance from Sibenik. Believe me, I am glad to have a bed to sleep in tonight. Also, at least in Croatia online schedules are accurate in 70% of cases, with the remaining 30% merely indicating the existence of a mode of transport from point A to B with no relationship in terms of timing whatsoever. It is thus prudent to check again.
3. On that note, when traveling through non-metropolis, smaller cities such as Trogir or Zadar today, 3 to 4 hours is really all you need to appreciate the old town, the atmosphere and the main sights. It's way better to have short but sweet visits combined with covering medium-length distances than having 8 hour days of sightseeing followed by all-day-travel-days, in my opinion. This is obviously exactly the opposite of the typical interrail-Europe-travel schedule, but that is why I prefer these types of itinerary.
4. Take breaks! A 1.20€ coffee won't break the travel bank and breaks make sightseeing, especially with a backpack, so much more enjoyable. I used to be too cheap for frequent coffee breaks and still remember fun, but really intense sightseeing days that left me exhausted instead of relaxed. Now I prefer to save money on pricey restaurants and going out at night (not that I did that much before, though) as well as being pickier about the entrance fees to the tourist attractions I really want to see in order to enjoy more leisurely reading and relaxing hours such as today in this little hillside cafe in Zadar, where I read some more Plato and pondered the meaning of life (or something like that). Oh, and spend money on memories rather than tacky souvenirs!!
5. When traveling in bus or train for more than 2 hours, I always prepare as if traveling with a grumpy 5-year-old (that grumpy 5-year-old being unprepared-travel-me). I pack water, snacks, a cardigan in case it gets cold, light literature, serious literature, download my latest podcasts, charge all my electronic devices... It sounds ridiculous, but as an only child you get good at entertaining yourself on long trips as well and this prep work means that I am always a happy camper and travel days become favorite days instead of abysses of boredom.
6. Always. Be. Early. I prefer leaving the city centre half an hour earlier. The people watching is just as good in the train or bus station, and the half hour gives you the leeway to realize that a) you are standing at the wrong terminal, b) you need to cross the entire station to stamp your ticket since all the machines in your vicinity are broken, c) you reallllly need to pee before embarking on a 4 hour trip, etc. All of these things have happened to me on this trip, and I have still managed to board my transport devise of choice early enough to get strategic seating (see next point).
7. Okay, this might be a little extreme, but whenever possible, figure out which side of the bus/train/boat will be facing the most panoramic view and try to snag a window seat on that side. All the while that I have been traveling north I have determinately thrown myself in a left-handed window seat of the bus, and boy am I glad I did - it's just not the same if you see gorgeous Adriatic views behind the heads of three other uninterested passengers while your window is facing the mountainside. Just saying'.

Well, those are my two cents of German-efficient travel wisdom. Just a couple of words on Zadar - I guess what I enjoyed most was the cool mix between old and new buildings (Zadar was bombed a lot during World War II) and the connected hip and laid-back vibe. Coolest must-see attraction in my opinion is the Sea Organ (no pun intended), a staircase leading down towards the water that uses the waves to push air through underground valves and makes the most astonishing sounds - as I would imagine Arielle and her mermaid friends would listen to (yes, a Disney reference. I am so mature). Here is a clip of how it sounds:

Otherwise, Zadar is cute, but not extraordinary - but a great stop on my way back up the coast on my last full day in Croatia - I'll be in Italy again tomorrow!

Zadar seaside

I hear other people give their backpacks names... I just call it backpack. 

Some Zadar church... 

The philosophical cafe =)
Views from the (right side!) of the bus

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