Ugljan is the closest and most easily accessible island from Zadar - and since all the islands have their draws and we only have so much time to go 'sploring, we figured we might as well hop on the ferry and head on over. It has the densest population of any island in Zadar's archipelago, almost entirely apportioned to its eastern coast. This is a view from the Saint Michael fortress ruin out over the northern tip of its mostly deserted western side. Nary a rooftop could be spotted, just green shrubbery as far as the eye could see. Like an enormous moss covering. We could see why it's referred to as "the green island."
It's a very fertile island, but on our hike up to Sveti Mihovil (St. Michael), we felt like we were in the desert. The sun beat down hard and we joked about sucking on one of our wet water shoes. I would have joked about how 'sveti' I was, but my pun recognition was greatly dimmed by the trudge. Testament to the heat. We were joined halfway by a family of four, who stopped for a rest and were never seen again. Alongside the trail were these collections of stones, resembling inscriptionless graveyards.
Saint Michael is at the highest peak of the island, which makes sense for a fortress site. Unfortunately, it also makes sense for tv tower placement and one has been erected smack dab in the middle of the ruin. On the upside, we can make out the tower in the distance from our home on the mainland, and we now point and go "we were up there!" Still, it's a shame. Apparently, there is another historic castle on Ugljan which has been nicely restored - and renamed after a Croatian basketball star. It's like both ruins on the island are tongue-in-cheek statements about ancient icons and modern icons.
Down on lower land, we lounged in the town of Preko. It was surprisingly calm compared to the bustle we'd sailed away from on the other side. A number of older men filled large plastic pitchers with water from a well and then bicycled them back up toward home. (This man has more precious cargo: ice cream). The agricultural settlements are mostly inland, uphill from the coast. Vegetable gardens and vineyards join the namesake olive groves (Ugljan comes from the word for oil) on a list of the island's bounty. I wondered if the old woman we'd bought greens from at the Zadar market had ferried her produce over from here. She waved goodbye to us with a mutated carrot - it looked like a demented orange chicken foot - and then handed it to me as a gift.
Of course, there's also fishing. Everyone else at this outdoor restaurant next to the fish market dined on pizza and pasta, but we ordered the special on the chalkboard. We were served twelve grilled sardines each with a garlicky swiss chard/potato mash (a Dalmation specialty called 'blitva'). They were the best sardines of our very sardine-heavy trip so far - and not just because they didn't come out of a can.
Right across from Preko's semi-sandy, mostly stone beach was the island of Galovac. We considered swimming over to it, but weren't sure we could balance all of our belongings on our heads. So, instead, we walked along the coast until we found a cove and took a dip. A small cluster of pine trees shaded us from the direct sun. They say the water in the channel between Ugljan and Zadar is some of the cleanest and clearest in the Adriatic, because of the constantly shifting currents. If I weren't wearing my sexy new watershoes, I could probably have counted my toes.
As the afternoon rolled on, more people began to come over on the ferry. Beaching begins late here, as it's still hot and bright at 8pm. Ugljan gets an average of twelve hours of sunlight per day all year round. That's a statistic that will be repeating in my head come February. Most of the teenage boys that came over were cologned and shaved for the evening, but these guys were content to play (standing) water polo until the sunset.
And here is Preko and Galovac from the ruin. We thought the large building on the islet was a hotel, but it's actually a Francescan monastery from the 15th century. Not surprising. So far, traveling in this country has seemed like a pick your own adventure book. We pick a region, then an island, then a town, and even that story can have a multitude of endings. There's just treasure upon treasure, natural and historic. Welcome to Croatia.