An Education on the Island of Pag

My pre-teen boys have introduced me to a new three strikes rule: The first time you go somewhere, it’s cool. The second time, it’s OK. The third time? That’s boring.

That is why they did not want to take Sarge to the village of Preko over the weekend. They deemed the beautiful little fishing town on the island of Ugljan “too boring” for a third visit. Sarge hasn’t been there yet, but we have. Twice. It is an idyllic little island a 15-minute ferry ride from where we’re living in Zadar. It’s everything I dreamed of last winter when I was freezing my tail off in the States – beaches with turquoise water; the remains of a Roman villa; pretty, narrow streets and stone houses; little to no wifi — the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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The last time we were there, we filled our time finding sea glass and skipping stones. Clearly, I need to introduce my boys to hard labor on this, their last week of summer break before their international school starts. Their European summer has been filled with such boredom.

I took their complaints as a challenge over the weekend and searched for an equally close island where we could go and hang onto the last bits of summer.

We found something new for all of us on the island of Pag, a kind of barren place that looks like not much more than sand-colored limestone mountaintops sticking out of the sea.

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It had a few things going for it: 1) We could get there quickly by car from Zadar. There’s a bridge that leads to the island. 2) It has uncrowded beaches, even in August, except for evening “party” beaches, which didn’t seem to apply to us. And 3) Cheese. It’s known for its cheese, “paški sir,” a goat’s milk cheese said to be one of the best in the world. We had to have some.

Also, upon consulting my guidebooks, they all listed the same restaurant to check out. I decided we must visit Bistro Na Tale and have spit-roasted lamb, or maybe seafood.

So we set off, and we checked everything off the list.

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1) The road to Pag is so interesting. We arrived on an arched bridge from the mainland, and I enjoyed spotting little prayer grottos property owners place along the road.

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The landscape changes from bushes and trees and crops in Zadar to what looks almost like a desert on Pag, where salt fields line the water’s edge in big, rectangular plots. We tried some of the local salt at Bistro Na Tale, one of our first stops, where the lamb and seafood lived up to the travel guide listings.

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2) The tourbooks also listed Zrće Beach in the town of Novalja as a popular spot. My GPS also listed it as “festival” grounds. I’m thinking that probably meant music festival grounds, and this would be the equivalent in the U.S. as a kind of Daytona Beach hotspot for Spring Breakers. Here’s a sampling of how that went down:

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My 11-year-old: “Mom, I think we’re too young for this beach. I saw people making out.”

I thought about replying: “Honey, I think I’m too old for this beach. I saw people making out.”

Instead, I tried to explain why the 20-something girls next to us (not the lovely women in the above photo) had their bikini tops off and were taking pictures of themselves. I told him they were just European and it was a cultural thing, but taking selfies looking naked was a bad idea by any cultural standard.

On the family friendly side, we rented a little red paddle boat with a slide. It was great fun. The water was cold, and the beach was full of pebbles. I wonder which part of our trip the boys will remember!

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3) Cheese. We had to make a couple of stops before we found a roadside vendor with a cheese sign who actually had cheese. The first guy was sitting in a chair next to a kiosk set up for wine tasting looking blissful as the sun was about to set. He looked like he’d had a few tastes. But no cheese. As we drove away, Sarge made up a story about what the guy must have told his wife about having to stay sitting by the coast selling the last of their cheese while he was really sitting there drinking the last of their wine. And that’s how we ended up buying cheese from a guy selling his wares of his white van. At least he had coolers. And samples of cheese and olive oil. It was good. We bought some of both.

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Pag made for a great day, even if it was a little more educational for our sons than I had bargained for. Looks like we have one trip left there before they put it in the “boring” category. Somehow, though, I don’t think they ever think of Pag as boring.

 

Beach Bodies and Bikinis

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When I left the States, my scale said I weighed 96 pounds.

That number, of course, is a ridiculous falsehood. I weigh that plus the weight of a small child, which doesn’t paint a pleasant mental picture as we enter swimsuit season.

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I didn’t bother to buy a new scale when mine went haywire because I didn’t mind it being wrong. The only time it caused me problems was the night before my overseas flight. Some of my girlfriends came over to bid me farewell. They helped me carry my duffel bags to my trunk. Then they gave me sound advice to do some rearranging to distribute the weight better. It was nearly midnight when my friend Jennifer walked down the street to her house and brought back her scale. We stood in the street by my car with the scale and the luggage and repacked, and she was the only one brave enough to step on the scale with the bags and announce how much everything weighed.

Since I’ve been in Croatia, I haven’t stepped foot near a scale, but I know I’m a little lighter than when I arrived. I don’t know how much weight I’ve lost, but it’s probably a good 10 to 15 pounds, just from walking and riding my bike everywhere. Still, I’m in no danger of becoming a 96-pound weakling.

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Now that it’s summertime, I am thinking more about my size and what I should wear to the beach. The European women all wear bikinis. I mean, all of them, no matter their age or their size. And they don’t seem to care whether they have beach bodies. That also goes for the men of all ages and sizes who seem to think Speedos are appropriate.

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I am 46 years old. I haven’t entertained the idea of wearing a bikini since I was about 16. Even then, I didn’t like to show my belly.

Here, my go-to black, one-piece, soccer-mom swimsuit is a dead giveaway that I am an American tourist. Sarge says I should blend in with the locals and wear a bikini. I told him he is the one who will have to look at my belly rolls. And I am not encouraging him to adopt the Speedo look.

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There is something freeing about the idea of wearing whatever you want to the beach and not being self-conscious about it. Maybe it is the European way. Or maybe it will grow on me with age, and the older I get, the less I will care about what other people think.

 

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