Wednesday 25th &Thursday 26th June, 2014
On Wednesday I take an eight hour bus to Split, Croatia. I’m sure the drive would have been beautiful but it bucketed down for the last half of the journey, the best half, where we have a view of the tiny islands scattered over the Mediterranean coast. The rain kindly ceases for my arrival and I am proud of myself for using a map and hiking the three kilometres to Situs Hostel instead of jumping in a cab. I am greeted by a young host called Petar.
The rain pelts down again but lets up again about 8.45pm, just in time for my diner date at Fife, a popular restaurant, with Katie that I met in Mostar, and her boyfriend who has popped across from the UK to join her for a week. I order the seafood risotto and am not disappointed but the portion sizes are astronomical and between the three of us we can’t finish what we ordered. We stop by a free rock/funk public concert on the way home before calling it a night.
Thursday is really my only day for exploring Split. Coastal Split is well known for excursions to the nearby islands. Hvar is the most popular but there is also Brac, Korcula, Mljet and a few others. Petar shared with me that Brac is his favourite and less touristy than Hvar. He also advises the must see things within the city. Like all of these places I’m finding myself, Split has an old town where most of the buzz happens and a ‘normal’ town where ‘normal life’ happens. Split is a bit different in that within the old town there is the Diocletian Palace. Like the ignorant tourist I am, I expected to see a grand old building that we get to explore for an entrance fee. But this is not the case. The palace has four walls, maybe about 100m each, and the old town has encroached inside the remains of the palace buildings so within the walls are restaurants, shops, banks etc.
Petar had incorrectly told me that there were free walking tours that start at 9am. After a pastry breakfast at a bakery I am in the palace square at 9am making enquiries. Turns out nothing is free, it is actually illegal to provide a free service so I book to go on the Penny Walking Tour that starts at 10.30am and costs €1 or 7 kuna (the next best thing to free). I’m glad to have come in early though because there is no one about and for nearly an hour it feels like I have the palace to myself. I take Petar’s a advice and pay a visit the cathedral. This looks to be the highest point within the city. I marvel at the ornate and colourful paintings and statues within and gawk at the relics on display in the treasury then make the climb up the belltower.
The view is great, but not spectacular. With 50 minutes still to kill when I get back down, again acting on Petar’s advice, I get a ticket to check out the palace basement. Whilst I’m glad I did the cathedral, I would give this a skip if I could have my time again. By this stage there are a million tourist groups, most of which have come in from the cruiseships. Tour guides are competing for the loudest voice. The fat American wins. There’s nothing going on in the east wing except dripping rooms and in the west wing there are dripping rooms with strange white statues. I think they are made from some kind of clay? I see statues of a giant foot, a dwarf, animals, fictitious creatures. There are no explanatory notes and there was no pamphlet or anything so I wander from room to room getting more and more weirded out. I wish I had remembered to ask the tour guide what was up with that.
I meet our walking tour at 10.30am. Doris is a cute young thing with a well rehearsed knowledge of all things Diocletian Palace and Croatian history. For the next few hours we walk around the palace as she explains what we are seeing and what we would have seen hundreds of years ago. Here’s what I learn with a little bolstering from Wikipedia:
- Self made Roman emperor Diocletian instructed the building of the palace at the start of the fourth century for his retirement. He was a clever and widely respected ruler and was one of only two roman emperors to die in his old age of natural causes.
- Diocletian was invited to rule again after his retirement but he famously said he was so happy in his palace by the sea tending to his cabbages that there was no way he was returning to politics and bureaucracy.
- Originally, the palace had a watchtower in each of the corners plus a few more on all walls except the southern one (facing the sea) because the threat of a naval attack was low. Today there are only remains of two of the towers left, in opposite corners.
- The southern half of the palace was dedicated purely to Diocletian and his entourage but the other half including the square was a public space.
- Diocletian’s wife and daughter both converted to Christianity and, as a well known persecutor of Christians, he had them banished to an island. Their religious choice was eventually the death of them. At this stage Romans were pagans, not until Constantine’s rule was Christianity accepted.
The rest of the tour was spent talking about specific rooms and architecture.
After ordering a triple scoop of ice cream I head back to the hostel for a siesta. Upon waking, the sun is shining and I mosey down to the port and buy a bus ticket for tomorrow and a spontaneous ferry ticket to the island of Brac for this afternoon. Brac is well known for its beautiful beaches. It’s a warm day but not overly sunny. I park myself on the nearest beach for a few hours and do crosswords. I don’t think I saw the best of the island but I just wanted to chill and was happy doing what I was doing.
When I get back, just after 8pm I remember I wanted to check out the tie shop that I had spotted in the palace to see if I can spot a gift for the fella, after all Croatia was home to the cravat and indirectly the neck tie. After a successful purchase I had planned to head back to the hostel but there is a very talented acoustic duo playing covers in the square and I can’t resist ordering a red wine and sitting down to listen to them. Good and bad decision. Lovely music, okay wine and stella dance performances from the under eight girls whose parents are doing the same as me, but listening to these guitars, Adrian’s instrument of choice, and the words of tortured lovers makes me painfully miss my other half and for half an hour I discreetly let the tears flow. Episode over, I order another wine then head to bed smiling.
Some more shots below of Split.