Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
No matter if you’re abroad for winter break, summer break, a semester, or an academic year, it’s important to optimize your time and take advantage of the country to the fullest. Of course, the studying part of being abroad is extremely important; but part of being abroad also includes enjoying the culture, scenery and adventure. This was one of my main goals as I embarked on my study abroad semester to Sweden. During these six months, I was able to ravel to 9 different countries, and one of my favorite weekend excursions was to Zadar, Croatia. Croatia itself wasn’t necessarily on the top of my travel list, but after attempting to book a trip to the Greek Island of Santorini with my friend Jessica with no success, we received a recommendation from another friend who raved about her time spent in Croatia, so we decided, why not?! The flight from Stockholm was extremely affordable and it cost us a little over $100 roundtrip! Jessica and I researched the area beforehand, and had a clear plan of all the activities we wanted to participate in, but once we arrived in Zadar we were enthralled by captivatingly blue waters and a city that was riddled with adventure.
Since we only had three short days to spend in the area, we began to explore as soon as we arrived. On our first day, we rented bikes from our hostel and headed towards the Old Town. Zadar is divided into two parts, and the Old Town harbors a lot of historical sites and ruins, and it remains impeccably preserved. Bikes and cars are not allowed inside the gates of the Old Town, and the area is routinely cleaned by city employees.
Zadar is located on the coast of Croatia, and is home to the Adriatic sea. The beach is accessible from essentially anywhere in the city. While walking around, we would often discover stairs leading down to the beautiful water. The Adriatic sea is the third cleanest sea in Europe, and the water is crystal clear, (literally!).
During our second day, we took advantage of an excursion offered by our hostel. Hostels definitely come in handy when attempting to plan excursions or getting to know local culture or cuisine while visiting a new city. In my experiences, hostel staff has been quite friendly and eager to help. Our excursion was kayaking in Zrmanja! The scenery left us dazzled. Only in photos had we seen such beautiful nature! We stopped at this gorgeous waterfall for lunch, and later on, an even lager waterfall followed:
The excursion lasted all day, and in total we kayaked 14 kilometers, which is almost 8.5 miles!! What a thrill!
After recuperating from our kayaking adventure, the next day we explored the Perivoj Raljice Jelene-Madijevka gardens and the ruins of the old city. The gardens were filled with blooming flowers, which was perfect for the wonderful spring weather. In addition, we ventured over to the Archeological Museum and the Museum of Ancient Glass, where we observed a professional glass blower in action.
These are only a few of the incredible activities I was able to do in Zadar, and it was truly an phenomenal experience that allowed my friend Jessica and I to wholeheartedly immerse ourselves in the Croatian culture and to explore a country that was previously somewhat unknown to us.
Zadar was beautiful, and the sunsets, even more so. I’ll let the picture speak for itself.
I would advise any student abroad to fully take advantage of any free time outside of classes or studying. Though studying is the main priority, it’s important to also get to know one’s host country and host city. Then, if feasible and affordable, explore the rest of the region or neighboring countries. Though not all continents are as accessible for travel like Europe, no matter where you’re studying abroad you should be prepared for the adventure set before you. All you have to do is look outside your window!