9 – 10 July: Birds of prey lead us to more Roman ruins

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sokorlarski Raptor Centre and Zadar, Croatia

Tuesday: Departing camp in the morning, we headed to the Sokolarski Raptor Centre, just a fifteen minute drive from where we were staying. The centre is completely run by volunteers and funded with donations and visitors like us.

They are the only centre in Croatia which is set up to rescue birds of prey, restore them to health and release them – or in the case where they cannot be released (eg they are with humans too long) then they care for them lifelong. Injuring a bird of prey in Croatia is punishable by imprisonment, so they also are responsible for being the CSI of the bird world, identifying what or who may have killed a bird.

It wasn’t long before a keeper’s talk began. It is clear that everyone working here is passionate about the birds they are caring for, and educating people about them.

The talk was conducted in English – this guy endearingly called as all ‘darlinks’

We were first introduced to the largest owl in the world, the Eurasian Eagle Owl. This female had been hand reared from a chick, so could never be released back into the wild.

Eurasian Eagle Owl – those claws can grip 50kg of pressure per square millimetre – she could easily take down a young deer for example.

A volunteer was sought to demonstrate some particular characteristics…and of course one is found….

I am introduced to our feathery friend
Heads are apparently not threatening compared to hands – her feathers are as soft as silk, helping her fly silently
As a thank you for my time I am allowed an Eagle Owl hat for a few moments!

The Eagle Owl population is now stable throughout all European countries, other than the British Isles where they are making a gradual comeback after being absent for around 200 years.

Fun Eagle Owl Fact

Owls eyes are not light sensitive – so if you shine a light into them the pupils will not change size…instead, when their pupils are large, they are seeing in macro, observing everything right in front of them. When their pupils shrink down, they are seeing things in the distance, like a pair of incredibly powerful binoculars. Eagle Owls can see a mouse move 8km (5 miles) away!

Having done her bit demonstrating the beauty of her species, she is fed a chick, which she sucks up like spaghetti…

Going, going, gone…no place for queasiness in nature…

The Centre also cares for several Harris’ Hawks, all bred in captivity. These are usually native in South America and southwest USA, but did a good job of demonstrating bird flight and the reason they do not fly away when allowed freedom. Again a volunteer was required…

She spots lunch in my hand and flies down to munch
Less than half a kilo of bird here
Wouldn’t want to mess with that beak though
She has an easy life here, food provided and an hour of flight time per day

Just beautiful birds. Did you know that Velcro is modelled on birds feathers? Or that keratin in shampoo (that makes your hair shine) is made from chicken feathers? Or that spoilers on the back of cars are modelled from hawk tails in flight? There are so many inventions direct from birds…

We had a look around some of the other raptors being cared for there, before heading back to Truffy and pointing north.

Our destination for the day was Zadar, a town on the coast about 160km north of Split. Once parked up at a very ordinary campground (basically crammed cheek by jowl in someone’s back garden with water access) we jumped on the bikes and cycled 10km into town.

Mark enters through one of the original gateways

Zadar traces its origins back to the 9th century BCE, with evidence of Stone Age habitation around the area. The Romans settled there in the the year 49 BCE. Today the town has extended from its original walls, but much of the historical centre is still there, with a rich variety of archaeological museums and Roman history visible throughout.

It was not a picturesque cycle, riding through derelict ports and long abandoned industrial areas, but before long we were riding across a bridge over the harbour and into the old town. Like many old towns we have visited, the streets are polished with centuries of feet, and Zadar old town is quite pretty. It was listed by UNESCO in their world heritage list in 2017.

Grand old buildings from the 1500s
A fine combination of old and new

We rode through the town, past old pillars, remnants of ancient Roman palaces combined with modern shops, cafes and ice cream stores. Every corner revealed more layers of history with current day use.

We wound our way to the waterfront with views out to the island of Ugljan, the sky darkening and flashing with an approaching storm. On the waterfront there is a sea organ, chiming out sounds ethereally with each ebb of the water.

Looking out to Ugljan Island – wondering whether the storm is heading our way
People sit on the steps enjoying the organ sounds

From there, we found ourselves at the Forum, a large square full of Roman remains. Among the ruins of temples and colonnades stands one intact Roman column, which in the Middle Ages served as a shame post where wrongdoers were chained and publicly humiliated. Many of the other ruins have been used throughout the centuries as foundations for churches and other grand buildings, historical in their own right.

Mark rides past the shame post
Mr A discovers his name….almost….

Mark decided to find a seat at one of the many cafés surrounding the Forum while I climbed the 12th century St Anastasia bell tower for a birds eye view of Zadar. I felt rather chuffed that at the top of the 180 spiral stairs I was not even out of breath, unlike most of the visitors reaching the top…and just a week post surgery. Breathing is so under rated!

180 steps up to the top of the tower, past green brass bells….
Fabulous views from the top of the tower
I wonder whether these churches were purposely aligned…
Looking into the centre of town and the busy shopping strip
Looking west towards the marina and the newer town

The dark clouds got closer and closer, and before long the first drops of rain fell. We relished the cooler temperature, taking the edge of the 35 degree day, but decided it might be wise to cycle back the 10km to camp before it got worse.

First rain drops falling send us back to camp

Wednesday: The thunder, lightning and torrential rain raged all night, and we awoke to much more comfortable temperatures. We decided we had spent enough time on Croatia’s coast and set off inland.

The morning was cool, showery and windy, so a perfect day for driving as we pointed east and drove towards the hills.

Very new scenery for us, heading into the Dinaric Alps towards Zagreb on the E65

We took our time driving, stopping for lunch and an afternoon nap (still a bit tired from the general anaesthetic last week, and Mr A wasn’t complaining either!), eventually arriving late afternoon at Camp Vugec Plac, just outside the town of Samobor, west of Croatia’s capital, Zagreb.

What a contrast to yesterday’s scruffy parking lot! This is a brand new camp with hotel quality bathrooms and showers, and parking on lush mowed lawns, surrounded by beautiful countryside. There is even a lovely looking pool.

A travelling bedsit with a view…ready for a cooler night’s sleep
The pool, oh so quiet….

We got set up and then sat down with a glass of Italian wine, enjoying the evening sunshine and birdsong. This is more like it, this is exactly why we travel.

4 Replies to “9 – 10 July: Birds of prey lead us to more Roman ruins”

  1. What a gorgeous trip you’re having! Thanks so much for sharing. We’re reminded of our wonderful trip cycling through Croatia & Slovenia. So glad you are breathing so well now! Fingers crossed it continues for a good while this time. xxx Barb

    1. Thanks Barb, it is a beautiful country with lovely people. We just realise how much more there is out there, the more we travel. I don’t think we can ever stop! We are off to Slovena this coming weekend and looking forward to that. If there are any tips you have, we’d love to hear them!

      Regarding the breathing, it’s so good. I have some steroid injections mid August which will hopefully keep it that way 🙂 xxx

  2. You certainly know how to get your stories and pictures across so beautifully. We always look forward to your posts. We’ve also started a blog as it inspired us to record our travels. We are still learning however 😊.
    hankndeb. home.blog
    The VanGo’ s , Z161

    1. I love the title of your blog! And yes it does take time to learn to how to do it – we have learned and adapted lots as we have been writing…we started ours back in May 2017, so have a couple of years under our belts now. It’s a great searchable resource for looking back on 🙂

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