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 ;-).