We have eased into our European adventure rather gently (airline dramas aside), not doing as much as perhaps we should have while in Split. We keep looking at each other and asking whether we should be doing more, seeing more. But really, depending on the sort of things you like to do, there isn’t actually a great deal to do here. Also it has been quite hot. We have tried to get out and about and not use the aircon much in order to acclimatise, but after an hour or two of sweat running down my back and stomach I want to collapse in a comfortable chair with a cocktail and cool off.
So, what have we done here, and what is it like?
We booked an Airbnb apartment that is on the third and top floor of a little block of old-style flats just a hundred metres back from the centre of town. It is delightful, and if you stand up on the balcony there is often a nice view of the cruise ships that block your view of the Adriatic.
The bed is comfortable, the kitchen well-supplied and the windows have shutters instead of curtains, which reminds me of Venice.
I have enjoyed having a little kitchen and cooking us some meals. I can only eat oily Mediterranean food for so long before my skin breaks out. Which is not to say we haven’t also been buying prosciutto and cheese and slathering our bread in olive oil.
The heart of the old town of Split is an ancient Roman palace. I think I heard a tour guide say that Diocletian was the first emperor to die of old age rather than be murdered but that could be wrong and I can’t be bothered looking it up.
The walls are high and inside them the old town is extremely busy, especially once the cruise ship passengers start arriving in their milling droves.
The palace is full of bars, restaurants, art galleries and ice cream shops. It is charming and, despite my photos of mojito stands with neon lights sitting incongruously by the towers, generally tastefully kept.
It bustles from 9am until long after midnight but I went out at about 6:30am and managed to get photos of the main square with no one else in sight.
On our first night here we ate at a restaurant recommended by our Airbnb host and had expected that a somewhat-fancy restaurant in Croatia might cost less than one at home. However a shared starter, two mains and two 100ml glasses of wine came to over $100.
It wasn’t much more than we ended up paying at other places or reading on other menus, some quite far away from the main tourist area of the harbour. Today we went to a fairly plain-looking restaurant that had a good view and found ourselves being charged about $30 for each plate of fish ($10 sides to be ordered separately) that was neither generous in size nor particularly good in quality.
To be honest, the cost of food and drink has been the biggest disappointment of this part of the trip, perhaps because everyone seems to rave about how cheap Croatia is – or, more accurately, was.
Even buying fruit and vegetables at the market to cook at home hasn’t been exceptionally cheap – but certainly worth it compared to eating out. We are wondering what the prices in Italy, France and particularly Switzerland, are going to be like in comparison.
I’d also like to state, for the record, that the service in Split is almost uniformly dour. I don’t know if it’s because they’re sick of dealing with tourists, or with tourists assuming they speak their given language, but I have been assured by others that if you make even a small effort to speak a few Croatian words then locals will appreciate it and look on you kindly. The only places where this has been true are our local bakery and the first market stall where we bought cheese and meat. The waiters in most restaurants almost sniff at us and our attempts at saying ‘hvala’ (thank you) and ‘ukusno’ (delicious).
The final down side to eating here is that, if you want a nice view at an outdoor table you have to submit to being surrounded by a cloud of cigarette smoke constantly hanging over you. I’m not a rabid anti-smoker but it ruins the taste of the food, especially when you’re not used to it.
Hvar is an island that is about 40 minutes away by ferry and costs about $50 return.
It is famed as a hotspot for nightlife and celeb-spotting, and we contemplated staying into the evening but the ferry company we travelled with returned at 4:10pm and the idea of paying for an evening’s worth of drinks and then having to bus to the other side of the island to catch a later ferry was depressing. Hvar was, however, exceptionally beautiful and even more pristine than Split, whose almost rubbish-free streets are a vast improvement on the piles of waste that blights English cities.
It was also exceptionally bright and so we bought ourselves hats (I could only find one in the whole shop that fitted me and it happened to be the style that Luke liked so now we match. Yay.) and then went for a wander up through the town to the base of the hill fortress.
Then down to a cafe for food and drinks before walking along the coast for a kilometre until we came to a beach and bar that had very comfortable chairs where we sat for a couple of hours and watched people doing the sorts of things people do on beaches.
We had both brought our swimmers but I felt the water and declared it too cold. Again we have probably been ruined by SE Asia, where the water is often just shy of bath temperature. We googled and found it to be around 20 degrees – 4 degrees off my preferred lower limit. In any case, people-watching and kindle-reading was very pleasant and the seats were in the shade and a cooling breeze was blowing.
If I wanted a week’s holiday in a very pretty place with stunningly clear water and the company of loud groups of men who seemed to overly enjoy chanting (although that might be due to the World Cup being on) I’d certainly choose Hvar. I’d probably come at the end of August though, for comfortable swimming temperatures.
Probably my favourite thing to do in any new place, we have taken a few walks in different directions from our accommodation and at different times of the day and night. We took one long walk south along the waterfront and watched people enjoying a beach that looked, quite frankly, like mud rather than sand.
While I hate it when Australians go overseas and whine about the quality of coffee, I found myself very snobbily pitying these poor people who seemed to actually be enjoying laying on this muck – and further along people had their towels down on rocks that weren’t even smooth pebbles.
At least the rocks had the virtue of keeping the water looking clear, but that just revealed all the spiny sea urchins below.
There were lots of groups of caramel-coloured men standing in the water playing the local version of ‘keep a ball in the air’ and diving theatrically and then shouting at each other a lot. In the bars along the beach there were also rowdy groups of muscly and tattooed young men, nearly all of whom sported beards, suspiciously large triceps and sharply-defined six-packs. Sometimes it seemed as if every nightclub in the world must have been deprived of its bouncers.
We also walked up nearby Marjan Hill (307 steps to the viewing point), which has quite a good view, although I would not recommend going at sunrise as the sun is on the far side of the valley and taking a decent photo is impossible.
I would also recommend bringing a picnic and enjoying it on one of the many shady benches along the way rather than paying through the nose for mediocre food at the restaurant near the top.
On the whole I think that Split is an attractive town and the weather has been good apart from a very heavy shower the day we walked along the beach and today, when it rained on and off during the morning. In fact I’ve seen more rain here that I did in two months in the UK, although that isn’t saying much and I quite enjoyed the sight and sound of it after so many blindingly bright days. In hindsight we probably should’ve stayed a night at Hvar or one of the other islands and explored more but the heat was sapping and Luke is still getting used to new shoes and the fact that I want to spend all day walking and climbing lots of stairs.
I would certainly be interested in others’ opinions of the place. What were your impressions of Split? We’re off to Zadar next; if you have ideas on what to do there please tell us now and not the day before we leave ;-).
8 thoughts on “Split, Croatia”
In France prices aren’t too bad, where abouts in France are you going?
In Italy if you go to places not in the centre of the cities are pretty good. Where in Italy are you Going…? I have a cousin whom is in Florence. Moira restores artefacts… In Italy if you stay away from those restaurants meals are pretty cheap. Three course meals are about $25 to $30 with a glass of wine. Trattoria for the worker… When are you arriving in Italy?
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We’re in Italy in five days, doing the south this time – Rome down to Naples then Sorrento. Good advice! We will keep an eye out for trattorias out of the centres.
We are going to Lyon, Nice, Paris then Colmar. Apparently it was 38 degrees in Lyon yesterday – so hot!
Is that sign saying that if you leave your clothes on and don’t get drunk, you will find love?
.it would seem so… yet wearing bikinis and getting publicly drunk would get people a lot closer. I might need to send the Hvar town council an email.
Oh Amanda, your comment about the people being dour and service poor means that you haven’t really found out how the country and the people were formed. I know that not everyone is a history freak, but if you are puzzled by people and their attitudes , dig deeper and find out why. For a start their experience of war (and an awful and bloody war and genocide of people) is so recent it’s really only the young (under 30’s that didn’t experience it) the rest of the population survived it , witnessed a total about face in their country and ways of living and the – being mistrustful about strangers after the atrocities they witnessed or lived through at their hands – they are expected to be excited by tourists coming to gape and probe into the shambles of their lives.
OK, I’m sure that you and Luke didn’t do that, but you obviously measured these people by the life you’ve been able to live.
Granted too, that we choose to go in low or out of season so that hoardes of tourists aren’t there but it’s really important in places that are coming into a new stage in their life to hire or find locals who can really fill in the gaps. The Eastern Bloc countries who have only known communism for so long haven’t actually seen the positive side of a free economy yet. For many of them, they are coming from a safe (economically) and secure position – there’s a place for everyone and everyone gets the same thing and if you are unable to work as well as someone else you still make a living – housing , supplies, education – everything is provided ad they were lulled into feeling a warped (to us) sense of security. They are starting again on a “new planet” and many seem dour because hospitality wasn’t an industry, it’s something they are still coming to grips with , let alone showing emotion in public, where they were used to masking everything so that informers wouldn’t dob them in. – I’m in danger of raving on and on. For us, communism is like a terrible way of life, If you speak to people (even your age) as many of our guides were, they grew up feeling like they were at school camp all year round – they had no more or no less than their friends , they all had the same foods available, their houses were the same ,mirror images – no one was jealous – they could all learn music, dance, archery, canoeing at no cost and in fact many of them still look quite fondly at their formative years because they knew no different, there was always job security , housing, food and wages. In fact, in some places like Bulgaria and Romania the guides you hire are very highly educated people but with the hangover of the old communism mistrust of educated people and a classless situation ( actually we felt it was inverse class) where teachers, doctors etc earn less than tour guides and education wasn’t encouraged.
I’m scared to read your blog about Plitvice in case you may have only visited Plitvice in the same way, did you see all the cemeteries and mass graves all the way there – did the guides tell you that the first recorded death in the last and most recent war was there in that pristine and beautiful place – that many of the residents are still suffering PTSD from the fierce border battles that occurred?
Sorry, I don’t mean to be all preachy about something that may only interest a fraction of the population but understanding the people and the events that shaped them means you appreciate the areas much more than the cruise ship passengers who are led around a city to the “local” eateries and gift stores to “do a country” in a few hours.
I’m sure you had a great time, but go back again sometime and take another look.
You’ll be happy to know I spent quite a while today talking to our bus driver, who was born in Split and works in Zadar and is also an historian, about the recent history of Croatia and Serbia. It was interesting and enlightening and he himself bemoaned the lack of information publicly available about their war for independence.
I hope you understand though, that I don’t have a special attachment, as you do, to this part of the world and I am going to experience it very differently to you. I can’t help that and I wouldn’t expect others to be as engaged in, say, the history of the UK if they went there, just because it is my special interest.
Since our first couple of days in Split we have experienced some extremely friendly service and funny people and our opinions will continue to evolve over our time here. It’s not a country I think I would come back to though, not because we haven’t had a good time but because there are so many more places we would like to see.
Funny you say I have a special attachment to the area, the attachment I have is to people and what makes them tick. But yes, I apologise for being too passionate- I just hate the idea of anyone missing out on the richness of a human tapestry. I’ll go and take my meds 😉
Lol, there’s no reason to apologise, your comment led to me asking our driver lots of questions and learning lots:-)