Roman ruins, stray cats and sunny courtyards: 3 days in Split.

City: Split, Croatia

Other places visted: Trogir, Krka National Park

Stayed at: Tchaikovsky Hostel

Best thing  I ate: Gelato from Luka, a little place around the corner from my hostel.

Transport: Buses x 5

The lowdown on veggie/vegan/special diets: Burek (filo pastries) with cheese or cheese and spinach are widely available for a tasty snack or lunch option. GF available in bigger supermarkets – mostly Scharr brand. Soya milk also widely available in larger supermarkets on the special diets or health food aisle. Branches of DM cater to special diets with a wide range of GF, vegan and organic products. There are other health food stores in the town, including bio&bio in the Old Town which looked to have a good range.

What I read: The Girls, by Emma Cline

Next stop: Sarajevo, Bosnia & Hercegovina

16 April 2018

I arrived to apologies about the weather. ‘It’s normally sunnier than this in April’, the guy who checked me in at the hostel explained. It was 20°, which felt plenty warm to me, arriving pasty limbed and still emerging from the hibernation of a very long winter at home.

Here in Split the sun shines on the pale flagstones, shiny from hundreds of years worth of wear. The narrow alleyways in the old town stay cool and shady, whilst the courtyards, remodelled, rebuilt and extended throughout the years, soak up the warm sun, stray cats napping lazily.

After dropping my bag at the tiny four dorm hostel, and silently congratulating myself for being allocated a bed in the one room with its own balcony, I headed up to the most scenic viewpoint in the city, Marjan Hill. I grabbed some snacks on the way, then climbed up a winding street of hundreds of steps, with some helpful benches to pause at along the way. From the top you can see right out across the harbour, where a mix of fishing boats, enormous cruise ships and the yachts of the mega-rich line the waterfront. Here’s a few snaps from the top:

The Marjan peninsula is huge, dotted with churches, the ruins of hermitages and criss-crossed with hiking trails. I went to the nearest church from the viewpoint, St Nicholas, and befriended a stray ginger cat. There are strays everywhere here, but they all look fairly healthy other than the odd scratch or ragged ear from scrapping. Perhaps they survive because of the fishing industry and fish market (I saw one little tortie nibbling a fish head in the market when I first arrived).

I came back down from the viewpoint to walk along the waterfront, most of which was blocked off due to the deinstall of the Croatia Boat Show, which had taken place at the weekend. Public space blocked off for only the ultra-rich, boat-owning community to enjoy? I wasn’t impressed. They still haven’t finished the deinstall 2 days later, so I’ve still not had a chance to walk the stretch of waterfront along Obala Kneza Branimara.

Lunch time looming, I ducked into a supermarket on the waterfront and headed to Matejuska, a short pier lined with fishing boats, to enjoy my picnic. Once I’d finished I made my way to the old town, via the ‘Riva’, a gorgeous strip of cafes and restaurants, benches and palm trees that runs along the harbour. It’s clearly the place to see and be seen, a great spot to grab a bench and indulge in some people watching.

From the Riva I headed into the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Roman Palace of Diocletian, now a maze of tiny alleyways and courtyards full of cafes and bars. It isn’t a palace anymore in the sense of say, Kensington Palace, but there are some interpretation boards around that help you to understand how it would have looked in Roman times: part palace, part fortress and part garrison. It has been remodelled over the years, and is a living part of the city rather than a a a museum. The peristyle (an open, courtyard space) and the Cathedral of St Domnius were two of my highlights here. The Cathedral was originally built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Diocletian, then converted into a place of worship, the Christian-persecuting emperor’s sarcophagus destroyed. There isn’t much interpretation in the Cathedral, but fortunately when I visited it was quiet, being free from the tour groups who fill the Old Town, following an umbrella-wielding tour guide with the look of sedated sheep, selfie-sticks in hand.

It’s worth letting yourself get a little lost around the palace and the Old Town, soaking in the atmosphere and marvelling at how well preserved sections of it are, given their Roman heritage.

Below: The Peristyle, Diocletian’s Palace, St Domnius’ Cathedral

Once I’d finished my exploration of the palace I headed back to the hostel, grabbing a slice of pizza on the way, which I ate on the balcony whilst watching the antics of some drunks on the street below. The pizza cost about £1.20 for a huge slice, and mine was topped with shredded courgette and torn chunks of mozzarella. Delicious!

17 April 2018

The next day I crossed though the Old Town on my way to the Bus Station, picking up a cheese and spinach burek for breakfast. Burek is a common snack across the Balkans and Southern Europe, a filo pastry formed into different shapes and filled with different ingredients, depending on regional or national variations. They’re cheap and filling, and I sensed that this would be the first of many on this trip.

My destination for the day was the nearby town of Trogir, also a UNESCO world heritage site. The process of figuring out the timetable and buying a ticket was painless, and after a hot, somewhat musty 40 minutes, I arrived.

The historic centre of Trogir is on a small island, connected to the main town by bridges. The buildings are a mash-up of medieval and later styles, with a Venetian flavour influenced by many centuries of Venetian rule. Much like Split’s Old Town you can’t access many of the old buildings; many are now cafes, hotels, private homes or tourist shops, and tour parties clog up the narrow arteries around the walled town. There’s also a promenade like the one in Split, flanked on one side with canopied cafes and palm trees, the waterfront on the other side.

Above: Pretty Trogir and its Venetian style architecture.

After a wander around the main sites I had a picnic in a little park overlooking the water, and debated my plans for the afternoon. I’d seen lots of companies offering excursions to Krka National Park, which isn’t particularly easy to access by public transport. But this is me, and if there’s one thing I love, it’s a bit of a challenge. I headed back to the bus station and bought a ticket to Šibenik, a pretty coastal town from where I could get a bus up to one of the park’s entrances. By the time I got on the bus from Šibenik to Lozovac, one of five entrances to the park, I only had about 90 minutes before the last bus back. I debated if this was a foolish risk or not, but I decided just to risk it: I’d come this far now so I might as well try. I got to the ticket office at Lozovac with about 80 minutes to explore the park, and purchased the park entry ticket from a kiosk, much to the bemusement of the staff, who thought I’d be better coming back tomorrow.

Determined (stubborn?) woman that I am, I scrambled down the nearly 1km downhill trail that led to the waterfall area of the park, then bounded along the wooden pathways across the falls. I turned back before I got to the really big falls, including the one where people swim in summer, but it was totally worth it. The wooden boardwalks and bridges over the falls let you get closer to this phenomena than I would have imagined possible, without a boat. What I hadn’t accounted for was how hard the scramble back up the path would be. Even with walking sandals on it was far too steep for my unfit legs, which tire after too many stairs at work. I made it to the top panting and red, my hair matted to the back of my head with sweat. I anxiously checked the time. I had twenty minutes until the bus came.

Two sweaty bus journeys, and I arrived back in Split around 20.00. I headed straight to the pizza place from the night before, and felt no guilt whatsoever in ordering and quickly devouring 2 huge slices.

Above: Sweaty but damn proud of myself!

18 April 2018

Today, my last full day in Split, was a letdown weather-wise. I had my heart set on the beach, but it was grey and overcast (I suppose it is still April). After a bowl of cornflakes and a trip to the supermarket for supplies (I like to retain some sense of routine and normality when I’m away), I headed towards the Marjan peninsula. I came across a museum in a strikingly modern building, the snappily-titled Museum of Croatian Archeological Monuments (one of two archeological museums in town). Entry was free, possibly because the museum was under some sort of redisplay, with probably only around 40% of the galleries complete and accessible, and no gallery staff in sight (just two women on the main desk, who I suspected might be caretakers). I was also the only visitor. All of this aside it was absolutely worth the visit. The interior of the building is light and airy, with some interesting details such as a huge metal mural (like a printing plate on a bigger scale) depicting a battle scene, and a plaster cast of a sculpture by Ivan Mestrovic, Croatia’s most famous sculptor. The archeological remains were interesting too, showing the influences of the different conquering or invading forces in their design, including Roman sarcophagi and Carolingian horse spurs.

Above: The exterior of the museum, with some archeological remains and ruins outside.

It didn’t take long to see the whole museum, and I carried on up the road to the beach, determined to at least kick some stones about and wet my feet, even if it was too cold for swimming or lying in the sun. The beach I came to was called Jezinac, and rather than a Blue Flag it looked like it could have been awarded a ‘Most depressing beach’ award. Sure, it was out of season, but the concrete slabs, rubble, graffiti and general detritus are presumably year-round, the litter getting worse in high season as it does on all beaches. We also need to talk about the concrete and rusty metal ‘play area’ in the design of a roman ruin (see below). I’m sure when it was installed some 30 odd years ago it was an absolute treat, but now it reeked of fetid seawater, tetanus and the disappointment of rediscovering once-loved childhood things in adulthood, only to realise that they were always a bit shit.

In spite of it being a bit forlorn looking, I still enjoyed dipping my toes in the icy foam, and further along the coast I found some huge rocks jutting out into the water, which made a perfect picnic stop.

Above: Weird faux-Roman play area.

After lunch I headed back to the hostel to finish my book, and then had a little nap before heading back out, in search of ice cream. The staff at the hostel had recommended a place called Luka, just around the corner, and the queue at the counter confirmed that this was a popular choice for a sugar hit. I opted for chocolate and walnut and salted cracker, which sounds odd but was the perfect balance of sweet and salty.

Licking the quickly melting ice cream, I wound my way through the narrow streets to a corner of Diocletian’s Palace I hadn’t yet explored. Overlooked by a huge statue of Gregory of Nin by Ivan Mestrovic is one of the original Roman entrances to the palace, which once would have held sculptures of the Emperor and his counterpart in Rome in the now-empty niches. There’s also a complete tower, one of several which flanked this once-great fortress, joined by protective exterior walls. I finished my ice cream, and now somewhat sticky, made my way to the waterfront to begin writing this blog post. Once the temperature dropped I headed back to the hostel to continue writing, and to begin reading the next book on my list, The Balkans, by Misha Glenny.

My next stop is Sarajevo, and despite reading numerous articles and watching multiple documentaries on the subject, I still don’t feel well informed about the recent history of this region. The bus journey to Sarajevo is about six hours, so hopefully I’ll have made a good dent in the book by the time I arrive. Having said that, buses have a way of lulling me to sleep, so I may spend the journey catching flies. I’ll let you know in the next instalment of my adventures.

Ciao for now!

Below: Ice cream from Luka; towering statue of Gregory of Nin by Ivan Mestrovic – rubbing his big toe is thought to bring good luck.

3 thoughts on “Roman ruins, stray cats and sunny courtyards: 3 days in Split.

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