Getting into a new place late at night, after a long flight can leave you feeling less than enthusiastic. To compound this travelers woe, it does not help that most airports are not in the nicest part of town.
Do not let jet lag, or the airport's location be how you judge a place. If I had done that in Split, I would be missing one of the most beautiful and welcoming places I have ever seen.
This old city was beautiful enough for Roman Emperor Diocletian to build his retirement palace along the coast. A large part of the old town is actually built in and around the remains of this fortified home.
There are no right angles in Split, it's winding maze-like alleys are a hodge-podge of various architectural styles and ruins, each nook holding a shop or cafe.
It's muddled past has seen it ruled by the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, even the Germans got into the mix, not to leave out the early Venetian influence. What you are left with is the best of them all. Pasta and pizza to rival Italy, a cafe culture the Viennese would envy. and sandy beaches make this quiet city a great place to stroll around and relax.
I have fallen in love with Split, and quite possibly Croatia. I am convinced that every Croatia woman is stunning and fashionable and everyone is friendly and ready to help a tourist in need. The city itself is very safe, as it is not yet on the average tourists radar, the gypsies and pickpockets of the rest of Europe have yet to infest the streets, leaving Cruise Ship day-trippers and British retirees to enjoy their stay in peace. Quickly becoming a hot spot for youths and party seeking backpackers, I can almost guarantee that Split and the rest of Croatia will become a Mediterranean must.
Learning from our previous mistakes, Curtis and I booked a private room at Hostel Split, little did I know that our request for kitchen use would have us upgraded (at no charge) to a studio, with ensuit and kitchenette! A new travel tip we now swear by, is booking a a private room our first few nights to help fight jet lag and allow us a solid sleep to help us start whatever new adventure we are embarking on. Let me just say, it works wonders!
After a dinner of amazing Turkish donar kabob, donar pizza, a coke and two beers (the big boys) we shelled out 75 kn, which works out to a cool $14, we tucked in for the night.
After a good solid sleep we ventured out to the local market to find breakfast. As we stood in the courtyard to which out little apartment exited into, we saw how truly breathtaking this place was. By day we could see the stone walls and numerous potted plants that looked like they had been there for years, and most likely had. As we opened the front gate, a man who had been talking to the neighbors was there.
"Is everything alright", he asks in English with his Croatian accent. We laugh, we explain that it is just so beautiful.
"Good, " he replies. "It is my house. It has been in my family for 300 years." He then takes out his wallet, proudly displaying his drivers licence. Then, pointing to the street sign says,
"It is named after my family." This was such a special moment that I always will remember. I have never met anyone that could claim that.
We head to the maze of stalls and acquire some sweet buns. From one of the fruit stands we pick up two ripe plums. As we go to pay we are told with a smile, "Don't worry about it."
I love this city.
Taking advantage of the cafe culture, we order two 'big' espressos and sit on the patio to watch the passers by, pass by as we slowly sip.
We have our little travel routines, and one of them is going to the tourist information center before we do anything else. This does not mean that we always do a lot of touristy things, (in fact, we usually don't), but we have learned that it is better to know, than to find out as you are leaving that you were right around the corner from something super cool. They have a city card here, and those bad boys have never let us down.
Found in many major cities all over the world, City cards offer free entrances, discounts and other perks. They are usually worth it, but check out the details first to make sure you will get your moneys worth. We spent 5 euros each for 72 hours, and it paid for itself with a visit to just one museum.
I have seen so many museums, but many places in Europe will have a local museum which will either be free with a city card, or fairly inexpensive. If you are super cool, like me and Curtis, it is best to find out about the place you are in. I love doing this. The histories of so many of these places are filled with ups and downs and lessons about humanity, culture and much more, plus they usually are not that big, so a visit can easily fit into your day.
With our city card we visited several museums and yet another zoo! The Ethnographic Museum not only gives you a glimpse at Croatian culture, with their intricate costumes and fashion weapons, but is housed inside the UNSECO World Heritage site that is the palace. Wondering through the rooms that used to be the bedrooms also allows you to see some of the layered architecture.
For discounted price, we wandered the substructure of the palace, which as we learned is the world's best preserved classical imperial palace. Wandering the basement you couldn't help but think of all the people through time that had walked these halls, first as servant gathering wine for the retired Emperor, or the merchants pressing olive oil, as it was used for in later years (later years being the 7th century) and now with it's tour groups in from their ships on day trips.
However, the very best thing to do when staying in an ancient city that looks as if the city planners had way too much wine, is to get lost. Split is very safe, as much of their economy hinges on tourism and a good reputation. Wandering the alleys by day, or (sometimes the most fun) by night can easily make the best memories.
When eating in Split, there is much to choose from. Seafood is served everywhere, but there is variety for those non fish eaters. Lamb is also popular (something that is a real treat for us). The cultural influences of the past can be found in their Italian gnocchi, risottos, and pizzas, Austrian sausages and Turkish kebabs make for good eats all around. I can not stress enough how amazing their street food is here. Curtis and I took ourselves on a little evening food crawl, grabbing it to go and sitting in the narrow streets to people watch. Not only was it absolutely delicious, but it cost a fraction of what it would have to sit in a restaurant.
A visit to the coast wouldn't be complete without some beach time. Like much of the Mediterranean coast, the majority of swimming is done off of the rocks. Jumping into clear blue water and sunning on a warm rock kinda makes you feel like a mermaid, which could appeal to some. There are several public beaches along the coast, and a visit will do wonders for your self esteem as the concept of being body conscience is tossed out the window. This is something I greatly wish we had more of in North America.
After spending three days touring, exploring and swimming our way all over the modest city of Split, it is time for us to move north along the coast to Zadar. While three days is plenty of time to see the highlights, I have fallen in love with this friendly place and know that it is somewhere I hope to return to. Maybe Diocletian had the right idea, building his retirement palace here, perhaps one day I shall do the same.
By: Heather Nassler