Split, Croatia 🇭🇷
Murlayna Travel: Yerp 2016
Thursday, August 11
In entering Split we had total culture shock: this was a completely different kind of Croatia than we’d seen up to this point. Hardly the ancient cobble of brick-shingled roofs, this city is a sort of hybrid European metropolis — a gritty urban jumble of concrete and chaotic traffic and young energy.
We simply weren’t prepared and when our maps app couldn’t seem to get us to our awaiting apartment, the narrow back lanes littered with cars parked precariously at all angles scared us enough to find refuse at a nearby shopping mall (the only notable item in our map’s offline database). Even that was a nightmare with double-laned roundabouts about which drivers adhered to neither North American nor British right-of-way rules. The above-ground parking lot was unpaved and unpainted, cars simply found a place to stop that didn’t block anyone else in too badly and abandoned them there.
Curiously, however, the underground parkade that we eventually tucked into was impeccable: a spitting image of the street-swept spaciousness of those large American wholesale malls on the fringe of summery tourist destinations. We soon discovered this aesthetic continued into the mall itself, which was as modern and Western — nay, more modern — than anything I’ve ever seen. We couldn’t believe the size and variety of stores inside, most of which we recognized since the majority of signage was in English. The palatial washrooms even had automatic doors.
We set out for the food court to grab a bite to eat and stop our heads from spinning, but also to catch some stray wifis with which to properly locate our place.
We avoided the McDonalds in favour of a kind of gourmet cafeteria serving all sorts of international dishes made to order. I had a mouthwatering texmex tortilla with veal and chicken and Laynie enjoyed a rice-based Asian wok plate.
Before we left the mall, we hit a massive Walmart-style store for more supplies, finally including two 2-liter bottles of beer(!) that we’d seen being carried before.
It turned out the entrance to our hotel/hostel was on the other side of a similarly-named feeder road next to where we had been, so we managed to find it easily the second time, and were happily greeted by another sweet old lady.
This room was decidedly more dated than all of our previous places, but we had known this since we booked it that morning and Split was by far the most overpriced in terms of similar offerings. (Okay, it didn’t help that 94% of city was already booked…) The shower head didn’t really work and the toilet seat wouldn’t stay up, yadda yadda, but it was totally fine; the (loud) A/C worked, the bed was very sleepable, and the view was impeccable (there it is, below, the following morning):
By now we knew that we would need to surrender our passports to our host upon arrival (the Croatian government apparently logs all traveller info to the number, or at least, incentivizes hosts to do so). We would also need to pay in cash since the locals don’t want to have to deal with currency exchange themselves, and apparently if they accept credit cards it can take up to a month for them to actually get that cash. So we were constantly hitting local ATMs to withdraw 2,000 Kuna (the max) which equates to about $400CAD. Kuna look a lot like Euros insofar as they have different-sized bills for each denomination. I’ve read that since Croatia joined the EU in 2013, the plan is to adopt the Euro — they are simply waiting for someone to take the reins on that, bureaucratically.
Friday, August 12
We knew that after our struggle last night we would want to get away from the city for a while and just relax, so we planned to hop on the coastal road and drive until it thinned out, plopping into whatever kind of beach we could find there. On a whim, we turned south/east, and drove for probably an hour through an unending barrage of small but surprisingly bustling towns. Right from the get go, traffic in the other direction was literally parked, and we couldn’t believe it when it stayed backed up that way for half of our journey. Eventually we hit the equivalent heading our direction and were forced to a snails pace. We decided now would be a good time to park and see what the nearest beach had to offer.
It was pretty nice, and not too busy either, but after settling into a spot the wind became ferocious and persecuted us into a swift departure. We hopped back in the traffic and bore through it for half and hour before reaching a bigger town with a T-junction (the source) for sweet relief. Laynie was sick of driving at this point so we took a small side street that would carry us closer to the shore — this was our last ditch effort, and if we couldn’t find anything here we would’ve turned around in retreat. Somehow, as always seems to be the case in these situations, we happened upon a slab of rock that rose to a cliff, harbouring a small beach beneath with room for dozens of occupants and only one in residence this far.
We set up camp and spent most of the day there; it was idyllic in all ways, crystal clear water that I could dive into from the rocks, but also a cleared pebbly passage for easy return; enough flat surfaces to sit, lay, read, tan, eat, and do fake yoga poses.
By the time we left a dozen or so people had also come to appreciate our Eden, but I had already made up my mind and, heart racing, I stripped down and took a final jump off our perch. Best part of the trip so far!
We got back to the apartment completely knackered from the sun and swimming, so after a hazy period of half napping and bumming around the apartment, Laynie got hungry and we figured we’d try our luck taking the 15 minute hike down to the beach to find some grub.
Holy shit did we ever. As we got closer to bottom of the hill, more and more teens dressed in clubbing attire starting seeping through the alleyways, and we grew progressively more worried that we might be strolling headfirst into some kind of ecstasy-infused beach party — basically the opposite of what we were looking for. So we settled for the first place serving food we could find, a glass-walled rectangular box called “Fast Food In”. We entered and headed towards the back patio, which was stylishly lit against the night sky. The food selection was gargantuan and everything looked delicious: meats in all shapes and sizes, salads, over 50 beers, etc.
I had a burger, served “In”-style (not knowing what that meant but hoping it was their specialty), and Laynie had a chicken tortilla wrap.
What. The. Hell. How could food be this good?! The famous and rightly-sought-after In-and-Out Burgers in California had nothing on my ‘burger’, which was really a flatbread (kind of like the pitas at Opa) served next to a 7-inch-wide patty cooked and folded in half around cheese, onions, etc. It made a kind of taco and was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I told the waiter and he said “Well, this fast food, not restaurant”. Not really sure what he was inferring, but it didn’t matter, I was in heaven. The fries with BBQ sauce and Laynie’s wrap were likewise delicious beyond belief.
We left exalted, took a spin by the darkened beach to see what it was like, then practically ran back up to our room since we both had to pee really badly.
Saturday, August 13
The night before I’d happened upon a Trip Advisor review of a beach in Split that was supposedly less busy than the rest, so we navigated there in the morning. It was true: not only was this place both central and easy-to-find, it was as good as any other beach we’d seen — and it somehow was only scarcely populated, just as promised. There must be some radioactive waste nearby because the abundant trees shading the wind-eroded rocks formed millions of perfect picnic nests and there should be no other reason why this wasn’t the most popular spot in town.
We found another water-borne slab to call our own and enjoyed ourselves until noon, when we knew we had to leave if we wanted to make our 13:00 guided tour of Diocletian’s Palace and Old Split.
Both Laynie and I were somewhat skeptical of paying for a tour as we were worried that it might be a waste if too similar to our other Croatian locations. But we had been recommended by a couple friends to do Diocletian’s in particular, so we took the plunge. It’s a really good thing we did.
When we arrived outside the Golden Gate, we found our guide under a blue umbrella, as promised. He seemed to sense who we were and quickly got us orientated while he waited for the remaining guests. From the very beginning, Danko was fantastic; the perfect balance of historical knowledge, modern pop-culture, dry humour, and deadpan delivery (that would likely be required in order to keep a daily tour interesting sans-cocaine). There were even a few choice moments where he pried some audience participation out of the group, like when we all tried a popular Croatian water game called Picigin (which is essentially just a stylish version of “don’t let the ball touch the water”).
The site is one of the oldest and best preserved Roman cities, comprising of numerous layers of history: war, repurposing, underground basilicas, vomitoriums, ad infinitum.
In fact, the amount of information we took in from the tour was overwhelming — it spanned from 4th century Roman emperors to modern day Croatian sport facts and info about Game of Thrones (which was filmed on location while tourists repeatedly accumulated before being rushed past the sets and filming resumed), but the way Danko delivered it kept everyone interested for the entire 75 minutes. Safe to say that it was definitely the right decision to take the tour and delve deep into Croatian history for an afternoon.
After the tour we still needed to find somewhere to stay for the night, so we returned to our other favorite palace: Mall of Split. We had different dishes from the same yummy food stop and spent about an hour planning and booking our next couple days on their free wifi.
Next, we were on our way up to the moderately big city of Zadar.