Old world meets new world in Split, Croatia
Updated: Jun 1
As our ferry began to slow for the approach into Split harbor, we could see that we were in for something different. This is the largest city on the Dalmatian coast and the second largest in Croatia. That was evident as we could see the vastness of the buildings that spread across the shore and back toward the mountains. The harbor was filled with an array of impressive yachts and pleasure boats. Ancient buildings in the central area known as Diocletian's palace date to approximately 300 AD and are the epicenter of Split while modern buildings and even some skyscrapers are off in the distance. There is hustle and bustle and traffic that we just didn't see in our previous stops. But that was okay, we wanted to see it all and Split is an impressive place with a very cool vibe.
After checking into our hotel at the edge of the old town, we headed back toward Diacletian's palace for some sightseeing, people watching, and some fresh seafood for lunch. To think this was once a singular palace that housed a Roman emperor, his minions, and his military and is so vast that it now contains countless streets with shops and restaurants that span block after block of this city.
We walked up and down these streets, taking in the impressive sights, all the while noticing a preponderance of large screen TVs being set up outdoors at many of the restaurants. We were reminded that the UEFA European championship was still in play and Croatia was still in it! This city loves football (soccer). We were all in to watch Belgium vs Portugal tonight and tomorrow night Croatia vs Spain! We had an amazing lunch at Bajamonti which is perched directly adjacent to the palace with Split harbor in the background. A cool sea breeze refreshed us as our cold beer was complimented by octopus salad and tuna carpaccio.
After lunch we took a trek from the city up to Marjan Hill for some exercise and amazing views. This hill rises about 550 feet from the sea level starting point. The trail is a relatively easy walk on a paved pathway that weaves through a nicely shaded array of cypress and Mediterranean pine trees to a vast viewing area at the very top with endless views of the Adriatic Sea on one side and the inner reaches of Split and mountains on the other side.
This is the best spot to visualize old meets new world as the contrast of the red clay roofs and ancient stone buildings on one side and the international airport and a sprinkling of 30+ story buildings on the other side. The flag of Croatia flew proudly from the perch at the top of the hill. We opted to take the road less traveled down the back way, away from the city and toward the beach.
A long and somewhat harrowing dirt path wove back and forth toward the coast, eventually dropping us off at a beautiful little beach replete with two little beach bars and plenty of beach chairs. We enjoyed a frosty cold beer while we caught our breath and vowed to come back the next day properly prepared for a swim in the Adriatic. The long walk back was along the coast on a main road. We eventually came upon the edge of the harbor where we ogled the many mega yachts docked along the water's edge.
That evening we decided to be adventurous and have tapas for dinner at a wonderful little restaurant called Ikra. I know, I know, tapas is adventurous? For reasons unknown, we have both always shunned tapas. Maybe we had a bad experience or just didn't appreciate the small bits or sharing. So, for us it was adventurous and we loved it! Hello Tapas world, the Wizas are back!
It was the restaurant's first night open, and the staff was so welcoming, we definitely recommend this spot if you're in Split!
We devoured oysters and the cheese platter and were thoroughly refreshed by our hereford mule cocktails and crisp refreshing Pošip wine. Nicely done Ikra!
Our final day in Split was dedicated to a further tour of Diacletian's palace and a climb to the top of the tower, followed by an afternoon at the beach. The ancient architecture of the palace is truly wondrous. It never ceases to amaze me that buildings designed and built nearly 2,000 years ago can still stand and function today.
The trek up the stone stairs to the top of the tower was welcome exercise, though best to be done in the morning like we did, before the blaze of the sun heated things up too much. The view from the top was incredible with all of the wonders of Split around you, and the many beautiful Dalmatian coast islands off in the distance.
We packed up some towels and headed back to the lovely spot on Kasjuni beach we had discovered the day before. We parked ourselves at the appropriately named Joe's Beach Club. We grabbed a pair of lounge chairs with an umbrella to protect us from the scorching sun. A friendly server provided us with cold beer and delicious lunch while small waves of clear blue water lapped quietly at the shore just footsteps away.
After lunch it was time to take a dip in the warm salt water. The first thing I noticed was the rock and coral mixed in with the soft sand. Not to worry, I would just walk carefully. The water was glorious, and I swam for a good while before touching bottom and walking back to shore. A large rock, hidden from view beneath my feet met abruptly with my big toe..."Ouch!" I didn't think much of it until an hour later and my toe was still throbbing. I reached down to inspect it more closely and I was shocked to see that my toe looked like it had been in a fight with a porcupine! Yikes!
Apparently, there was a sea urchin lurking at the base of that rock that I kicked, and it left 26 spines lodged in my toe. Fortunately, some tweezers, antibiotic ointment, and bandages would avert any impact on our journey. But yikes that hurt.
Our final night in Split would be an exciting one. We were really getting into this "football" excitement and felt honored to be present to see Croatia take on Spain while surrounded by hundreds of Croatian football fanatics cheering on their team. Perhaps a bit embarrassed by our lack of a full understanding of the rules, we relied on google to explain a few things. Simple things like how many periods are there and how long do they last? Yeah, I know, for a European that would be like asking how many innings in a baseball game or how long is an NFL quarter. But hey, you have to learn sometime. And learn we did. It was trickier to discover why they kept playing even after the clock had run out. But the most interesting thing was the fact that every time a player gets mildly bumped, he falls to the ground and writhes around in agony, while his teammates scream at the ref to call a penalty. The first few times we witnessed this we thought "boy these guys sure are frail." But when it was clear that it was a theme, we investigated and learned that this is apparently a normal part of play where the player feigns injury in hopes of drawing a penalty for the other team.
It seems ludicrous because it is so obvious and flagrant, but they just keep doing it over and over. Once we learned this, we just started looking at it as comedy. The match was full of thrills and the fans were loud, proud, and jumping out of their seats in support of their team. Unfortunately, Croatia would fall to Spain that night, but we are now fans of the game forever. What a night!
After our epic beach day and night of partying and cheering on Croatia, we called it a night and went back to our hotel for some needed rest. Tomorrow morning, we are back on the ferry for a run to the island of Hvar. Our expectations were high, given all we'd read about the island, and we were ready to experience it in real life. Hvar here we come!
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