“You know those flights to Rome? Well I booked flights to Split instead.”
That’s how we booked our latest holiday. With absolutely no planning and a little spontaneity.
Croatia has always been somewhere that had some appeal for me. It looked great, with the amazing coastline and some old buildings. Right up my street so to speak. We’ve travelled further for lesser reasons!
The old part of the city is really impressive. A large part of it is contained within the grounds of the Diocletian’s Palace, built during the 4th century by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. At some point since then something quite amazing has happened. The people of the city have overtaken the palace grounds and now, nestled within the ruins, are streets and houses and restaurants and apartments. It makes for an incredibly atmospheric place to explore, with narrow alleyways, hidden courtyards and, right in the middle, the remains of the palace and the cathedral. All surrounded by an imposing city wall.
The cathedral tower was something I had read about (after booking the flights and Claire had said “what is there to do and see in Split?”) so we paid our fees and began to climb. I have a very irrational and rather unpredictable fear of heights. Here at the Cathedral tower the shaky metal steps which are bolted to the inside of the tower were enough to get my palms sweating. Not helped by the fact that the steps are barely wide enough for people to pass, yet they have to cater to a completely unregulated number of people climbing and descending at the same time. But the views made the climb worth it. The views over the city are brilliant.
The day before, our first full day in Split, we had awoken early to set off on a tour of the islands along the coast of Split. The islands really are the big draw. They are massively popular, with hundreds of hidden bays and harbours to cater for the masses. The sea is a stunningly clear dark blue and the weather whilst we were there was nearly perfect.
The biggest tourist attraction out in the islands is the Blue Cave. The cave is really unusual. I will try to explain it. The entrance to the cave is just under the water line so no direct sunlight can enter the cave. Instead sunlight shines down to the seafloor, where it reflects off of the white sand and into the cave bathing the walls in a surreal blue light.
You may then be wondering how we entered the cave? Did we swim underwater only to emerge inside the cave? I wish. Some years ago somebody dynamited a new entrance so that boats could get inside, one after another in a procession. It’s a very sad example of what mass tourism can do.
But despite this the cave truly is an amazing spectacle. A real example of what happens when a number of random things come together in a “one in a million” combination, and then by complete chance somebody discovers it. And then blows it up a little with explosive.
Our tour company made a point of setting off as early as possible to beat the rush at the cave. Which is a good thing. However we missed the meet point by 10 metres and when they eventually found us (still 5 minutes earlier than required, and it took them all of 5 seconds to find us what with us only standing 10 metres away) the tour guide proceeded to berate us for being in the wrong place. Of course I was not having that so we had a little debate, he told us we were lucky they didn’t leave us behind, then admitted the directions they provided were rubbish.
During our travels we have always managed to stay pretty calm, with only a couple of exceptions. I can now categorically confirm that there is absolutely no point trying to argue in English with somebody who speaks only limited English. That’s why we paid a fortune for wine in Uruguay, for fish in Morocco, and why the only overseas argument I have ever prevailed in was with a Scottish man in Bolivia.
When we reached the rest of the group the tour guide proceeded to tell them very loudly that it was not our fault. Clearly they had been bad mouthing us whilst they waited.
During the hell for leather journey to the first port of call we took quite a bashing. Being polite (or stupid maybe), we didn’t rush on board to grab the comfortable forward facing seats. Instead we sat sideways on the bench seats on the front. Once we got into open seas the speedboat would launch off of waves and crash down again, over and over. For us bench seat occupiers it was a battle not to snap our spines or be thrown overboard. Meanwhile, those in the comfy seats seemed to be having a lovely time, enjoying in-depth conversation and trying to spot dolphins.
The young chap alongside me had the head wobbles, and though I could not see his face it was either as a result of being sleepy(unlikely given the circumstances) or close to chucking up. Neither would have been good. I nudged him now and again to keep him conscious whilst mentally preparing myself for a face full of wind assisted chunder.
After the cave we visited a beach which, according to the tour guide, was voted the most beautiful in Europe. It was quite impressive, but I doubt it is the most beautiful in Croatia, let alone Europe. We swam through the narrow gap between the cliffs to get to the beach, which was fun and brings me to my biggest issue with Croatian beaches. They all seem to be made of pebbles. I hate pebble beaches. How am I supposed to relax on the beach if every time I want to get in or out of the sea I have to hobble around like bambi on hot coals.
Then we visited the totally pointless green cave, which was full of diesel fumes and wasn’t at all green. Lunch was next at the Laganani Lounge Bar and Fish House. It was both a restaurant and a seriously chilled out beach bar, with tables in trees, beanbags and great music. It was the sort of place that you could easily spend a day doing very little.
On the hellishly rough ride back to Split Claire and I both agreed that it had been a good tour, bot still not a patch on our eventful Turkish sailing trip.
The next day, after climbing down from the cathedral tower, we got the urge to go back to our backpacking roots. With very little research and no real idea as to how we would get back to Split, we boarded a local bus to Klis.
Klis can be seen from Split. It is up in the mountains and perched upon a most unusual looking hill. The perfect place to build a fortress and keep watch upon the coastal activities below.
The bus journey, as expected, stopped off at just about every town and village on the way and after an hour or so begun the twisting climb into the mountains. We have experienced and endured some rather lively mountain roads, most memorably in the Andes of Bolivia and Peru, but fortunately this particular journey was pretty mundane in comparison. I never felt the urge to bound through the bus to grab the wheel and Claire maintained her near perfect record of sleeping though every bus journey we ever undertake.
The Fortress of Klis is immediately impressive. It sits just above the modern-day town, perfectly balanced on a steep-sided hill. From the town it is a short walk up to the fortress, but the drop on the other side, the coastal side, is long and steep.
We spent an hour or so walking around the fortress, peering over the edge and taking in the amazing views. But the sun, and thus the heat, was intense so as soon as we had seen as much as we wanted we retreated back to the town for an ice cream and some cold drinks in the shade.
Another more pressing matter though was the small issue of how to get back to Split. We didn’t bother checking if and when the return bus would depart, and now as we looked at the timetable it seemed quite likely that we had a long wait. Possibly a four hour wait – based upon my limited Spanish, which bares no relation to Croatian.
If you have read much of this blog you will know that from time to time we do ride our luck a little. These things always work out though and what one imagines would happen in the worst case scenario never really does. Soon enough a bus arrived.
During the drive down through the mountains the weather turned. First it rained, then it poured, then it hailed and finally lightning begun to strike close by. I counted. It was less than 1 second! It was an awesome storm.
And that is about it, aside from some glorious fish and seafood and a delayed flight home. This was our shortest trip ever I think but we had a great time.
Split is a really great city and has more than enough to justify a short break and possible a little longer. The coastline is beautiful, Klis is a real highlight and the people seem genuinely happy to host visitors. But I still can’t forgive all those bloody pebble beaches.