18 August 2010
To our great delight our accommodation in Split turned out to be in the Diocletian Palace, a 1700 year old city built by the Romans for their Emperor, Diocletia.
Not that our digs are *that* swanky mind… Our landlord is an oddball to say the least. He wasn’t there when we arrived (we were tipped off by the note on the door that said ‘Gone out. Back soon’) but the old lady upstairs heard me knocking (I’d gone up the 2 flights alone, leaving Christian on the ground floor with the luggage in an attempt to out-karma a repeat of the Zagreb 6 floor mega-haul) and conferring with some English tourists making their way up the stairwell and went into the unlocked ‘reception’ (the entrance hall of an apartment) and called the landlord who said he’d be there in 2 minutes.
He was super-quick, rushing in all flushed and heavy-breathingy, in what looked like a jogging outfit, but surely can’t have been in the searing midday heat..? He’s a strange looking man, tall and reed-thin, with a shock of mousy (greying hair), skinny discoloured teeth and blue eyes that are pale so should be cool and tranquil but that somehow always seem shocked and panicked. Oh yes, and he has purple legs. Apparently circulation problems from falling victim to ‘some shrapnels’ in the war. Hectic.
He started off our first engagement with ‘so, I need you to do me a favour’. Not a great start (well, restart if you count the wait), and we feared the worst, having already discussed our lucking out with palace accommodation as too good to be true.
Turns out all he wanted was time to clean the apartment as he’s been very busy with all 5 of his apartments and tending to a sick girlfriend (who he periodically shouted to through the – presumably – bedroom door from the ‘reception’ we were all crowded into. No response from her didn’t seem to faze him, so we’re assuming she’s either imaginary or been dead a while). We were planning on heading out to explore anyway so we agreed that he’d keep our bags and we’d return at 7pm.
First on the agenda – food. We walked the length of the Riva (promenade) to get our bearings and suss our options, having decided that sea-view trumped the search for local delicacies (which nobody seems really interested in educating us on, leading to the inevitable answer: Fish? Pasta? Pizza? *groan*)
Found an excellent spot right at the end, next to the famous (apparently) St Francis Church and at the base of Marjan Hill, which offers the best views of the Split panorama. We shared a chicken and mushroom penne (as closest possible homage to the pie that should have been) and a shrimp and scampi creamy tomato spaghetti. With Coca-Cola and lots of iced water, nowhere near brave enough to dabble in the world of beer quite yet!
Walked off lunch with a trek up Marjan. Got to the look-out point and ooo’ed and aaah’ed at the views and ditched the idea of climbing to the top – no energy for missioning to see more churches and old buildings (and feet tender from the sharp rocks in the sea at Lokrum the day before).
On our descent, we pinpointed what would become our sundowner spot for the day (constitutions permitting). Teraca Bamba – a modest, spirited outdoor terrace with amazing sea views… And 12 kuna beer (R15 500ml draughts).
The mission for the remainder of the afternoon was to scope out the local beaches as we’d dedicated Wednesday to be ‘do nothing’ day (except for marking territory on loungers with our towels, out-licking the sun on ice-cream cones and floundering in the turquoise ocean). Plan seemed a little more challenging when we got to Bacvice Beach and discovered their beaches are concrete with ladders into the water like the ones at public pools. And the concrete is quite narrow, so it’s PACKED!
Snap decision – we’re hitting the islands! Popped into the tourist office for advice. There are loads of info/tourist offices and they are all stocked with helpful A3 double-sided maps of tourist sites and transport options that they doodle and circle to show you where you are and where and how you are going to get to where you want to be, and with free info brochures that sometimes are glossy and comprehensive enough to outdo their Lonely Planet type counterparts). Our local office happens to be right on our doorstep (in our Palace) in what looks like a converted (teeny tiny) church on the main square, which was just outside the Emperor’s Apartments and was where all the important stuff went down in its heyday hundreds and thousands of years ago.
Based on their recommendations we decided we were going to try a hop to the nearest island, Brac, the next day to spend it languishing on the ‘most famous beach in all of Croatia’, called Zlatni Rat. With a full ferry-bus-bus-ferry plan for the next day, we retired (satisfied) to our sundowner spot of choice.
It wasn’t to disappoint, nice vibe with all but one table occupied when we got there. Perused the menu and settled on sampling another local brew, Karlovac, to celebrate new town, sea views, returned good humour and the impending beach day.
Marvelled over the new move to measuring everything precisely and metrically, eg the sandwich options of cheese (50g), ham (50g) or ham and cheese (100g). Doesn’t do much to stimulate a clear image in the imagination and is quite off-putting when going weight of main courses seems to be around 300g (of pasta, curry etc steaks seem to be between 100g and 200g) when we’re used to much bigger servings. Always seems to be enough though so perhaps portion control might be a half birthday resolution worth considering.
Anyway, the beers were consistently cold and 500ml and we’d probably still be there if it wasn’t for ordering what turned out to be the world’s worst beer – Tomislav. Thick and dark and tastes like treacle with a hint of coffee.
Headed for home and managed the opening credits of an ancient episode of CSI (subtitled) while applauding the inventor of the air-conditioner, then was comacomacoma.
Up in good time for our ferry to Supetar, so popped into the supermarket to grab our usual picnic pack to nibble on board.
We were lucky enough to be the last 2 people to fit on the bus to Bol (where the beach is, on the other side of Brac, 33km away) even though we had to stand in the aisle most of the way. Still, the people left behind would have had to entertain themselves at the ferry port while we were already lazing sea-side!
Brac is a really pretty island. Even the middle bits which are all olive groves and stone quarries (the marble mined there is so good it was used for many of the surrounding palaces and was used in the US’s White House).
20 minutes later we were dropped off at bus station, which is at the one end of the Riva (promenade) and walked the length of the coast on the wide white stone paved walkway, mercifully shaded by overhanging, to Zlatni Rat.
Gorgeous coastline, famous for its peninsula, which is like a triangle with its pointy bit in the sea, with pine trees forming a smaller triangle within it (providing shade and a natural calming aroma) and with water that is crystal clear at shoreline and goes through the turquoises and azures to a rich navy blue where there is coral and flora on the sea bed.
Except it’s a pebble beach.
Really not funny on the (office) feet. We placed our towels almost at the water’s edge – which is quite static and predictable since the sea is calm and waveless (to the point that people were lurking around on lilos) – and still struggled with hobbling the metre or so up to the water and the next metre or so into the sea so we could swim.
Still, it was an excellent day of fun in the sun and a good time was had by all (especially when we snuck into the pool area of the swanky hotel to revel in the smoothness of the floor of the pool, languish on the (free) loungers and prepare for the return journey with a lovely warm outdoor shower.
We returned to the same restaurant as the previous day (the promenade was heaving and we didn’t want to queue) for a delighful dinner of (me) veal medallions with mushroom sauce and croquettes (of course called muschroom sauce and crochets – lots of Engrish here, like the ‘salty cocked’ potatoes and ‘ball cheese’ as a pizza topping) and (Christian) salmon, chips and a potato and spinach mix.
This morning I finally got my Cevapi for breakfast. It’s a tough, round ciabatta-like roll, as big as a pita, filled with meat fingers (beef mince chipolata), a red spicy relish and a choice of the usual schwarma-style garnishes and fillings. Very yum. And pleased to have managed a local dish. Disappointed to have not managed to find the other local dish that appealed – pasticada, which is apparently a meat stew to die for. Might have to look it up on the internet for a Slow Cooker Monday.
Had a bit of a drama when we tried to book our connecting train for tonight (Zagreb to Venice) only to be told it’s full. Panicked investigations resulted in ditching our existing Split to Zagreb plane tickets and booking an overnight coach to Trieste and we’ll take the last leg as it comes (assured that Trieste to Venice is a regular and frequent route).
Spent our last day in Croatia in Split’s neighbouring town, Trogir, which has the notable feature of closest island to the coast – a 50 metre bridge joins it to the mainland. The town spans the mainland and the island houses it’s original Old City (the usual castle, churches and old buildings) and is allegedly nicknamed Little Venice (not sure why, maybe can tell you when we get there).
Had a relaxing afternoon at Kaleta Kanoba (tavern). Spaghetti Genovese, pizza with Dalmatian ham (called prsut, more or less proscuitto) and more beers.
Soon enough we were on the bus, headed for Trieste and hoping for the half sleeping tablet to make the 10.5 hour trip mercifully fly by!