07 July 2011

The City's Coast

We've arrived in Croatia, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the city of Zadar. It has a history-rich Old Town set on a promontory, jutting out right into the crystal clear Adriatic. Crowds of tourists enjoyed the Roman and Medieval architecture inset while we took a stroll around the perimeter. It's taken us this long to reach the sea, after holding fast to rivers and lakes and whatever bodies of water we could find. So, upon arrival, we were a little clingy.
It's about an hour walk from our rental to the city center and, aside from the first 15minutes or so, we can hug the coast the entire way. There's the marina and the sailing club, which is in full prep-mode for this year's Youth Sailing World Championship, the fishermen and the friends and family that keep them company. A cluster of yachts floated on the only bit of murky water we've spotted so far and then a turn around a cove brought larger yachts and internationally license-plated cars parked in a row.
I guess because of my beach experience being mostly Jersey/Miami-based, my visions of the Dalmation coast naively included lots of sand. So, I found the stone boardwalk, its steps that descend right into the water, the pebbled beaches and this concrete island stunning. This coastline is all rock and people are more than happy to make do with what they have. Yoga mats and water shoes are carried around to aid in comfort. There's something really bizarre about bright beach bags and towels against the gritty gray backdrop of concrete.
Down in the center, children were splayed across the boardwalk, laying in foot traffic with their ears to holes in the ground. A 'sea organ' built beneath the platform whistles and hums with the breath of the waves. Ambient music at its best, it's mesmerizing. Crescendos are hit when a boat or jet ski goes by. A little further along was the Sun Salutation, above. It's an enormous solar panel, basically, which collects rays of sunlight all day and then uses the energy (and the tide below) to create a neon light show from sunset to sunrise. It also powers all of the boardwalk's lighting. Added bonus.
Raised high up above the water, the walkway has sporadically placed ladders. It seemed a little dangerous to me, to be honest, when I first looked down at a lone swimmer so far below dry land. I hadn't yet seen the next ladder, which would offer him a way out if needed. Once my American safety-first instincts subsided, I got to enjoy it for what it is. How many times have you been able to walk around a city, think 'boy, it's hot, i could go for a swim right now,' and were able to jump right in from the sidewalk? No hot-potato barefoot walk across sand necessary. For this man, no change into a bathing suit.
At the base of this promenade, stands offered information (and, of course, tickets) for excursions out to islands. Grilled corn stands and ice cream carts were far more popular with the tourists and locals, alike. There was something about the bathers on this flat, hard surface that was so romantic to me. I think after the commercial baths and thermal springs of Hungary with their lockers and keycards and turnstyles and menu of water options, this just seemed so wonderfully simple. Just put down your purse, lay on down and take in the seaside.
Shady lawns give some respite from the sun and softer surfaces to lay on. No one seems to, though, preferring the firm hotplates. I'd imagine more people shift in the heat of August. For now, the grass appeared to be used mostly for soccer and cartwheels.
As we walked home later that evening, we were overwhelmed with just how beautiful it all was. The places we find ourselves. Zadar has over 75,000 people. It is the fifth largest city in Croatia and, yet, it feels like there's enough coast for everyone. There's some pile of pebbles or rock or cafe table suspended over the edge of a stone wall especially for you. At least that's how it felt that night, even though we've only yet seen a small, popular chunk of Zadar's coastline.
Croatia has sort of been this beacon in our itinerary, calling out to us in celebration and warning. Summertime! Tourist High Season! We've been referring to it as our "European Vacation," mostly because it's every European's vacation, but also because sunning and swimming immediately infuse your life with a sense of aaaaahhhhhh. Before turning right, away from the water toward our street, we skipped some stones.

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