I was taking some walking tour in Berlin when someone told me Croatia had just joined the EU. Seriously? Seriously. I whooped with joy. It was such a wonderful surprise. I had been Googling and staring at pictures of Croatia for months and half-heartedly calculating how much of a bother it would actually be to organise a visa. So when I got this piece of news, my mind went into overdrive reorganising my tentative plans, trying to see where I could fit Croatia into my entirely flexible schedule.
Over the next few days (or was it minutes?) I decided that I would go there from Slovenia (instead of coming back into Italy), spend a few days, and take the ferry to Bari from Dubrovnik (that plan failed, because, thank you, Bosnia and Herzegovina for throwing in a miniscule 9ish km stretch that I was not eligible to drive through because of my nationality. Again, let’s say it together, Yay, Indian passport!).
My heart was in my mouth when I was crossing the border into Croatia from Slovenia. They checked my passport and… SUCCESS!
I carpooled into Zagreb, the Croatian capital, the day of a Robbie Williams concert, but I had no idea, of course. As usual, I reached the city centre, took out my phone, found free wifi and started looking for hostels. The first one I went to told me there’s no space. Great. They recommended another one, I went there… No space again. Awesome. I went to a third, and the lady there said that there was space, by the time I got my passport out of my bag an online booking had taken up the entire last room! I finally ended up at the Chillout Hostel and literally forced the staff to check me in right then AND give me their word that no one else is going to take my place. They found it funny, but please, I had learned the hard way.
Anyway, I went to a hostel recommended place, Nokturno, for lunch. It was crazy crowded, but service was quick (though they took FOREVER to come to my table to take my order), and they got my order partly wrong (I wanted roasted potatoes instead of fries), but I didn’t feel like arguing.
And then I went to Amelie for dessert and coffee, WHICH, by the way, has the best chocolate macaron I’ve ever tasted! I just ordered one, I'm not really a fan, but I'm so glad I did because now I can share this info… Everyone should revel in its deliciousness!
I started heading back to the hostel. For the first time I didn’t even try to ‘sight-see’ (I had been backpacking for 4 weeks straight at that point, walking 20+ kms a day). My legs were on the verge of giving out.
I reached, took my bags from the luggage room and went upstairs (not expecting much because the staff wasn’t able to open the door to the luggage room and I was like Where the hell am I), but was extremely pleasantly surprised to find myself in a gorgeously cozy 4 bed dorm (the smallest I had ever been in) that was air conditioned. AIR CONDITIONED! I had completely forgotten what that feels like.
It took me forever to make myself get out of bed. It was so cool and comfortable. And after 4 weeks of being on my feet non-stop, I was dead tired. My legs hurt every morning and I couldn’t remember the last time they weren’t in scream-worthy pain. (I’m not complaining here, I’m bragging :P )
When I finally did manage to drag myself out of bed and go outside, it had just stopped raining. The city was quite dead by then, though it wasn’t late… 8pm maybe?
A lot of people had highly recommended the Museum of Broken Relationships. Really. That is an actual museum. I went. At first I walked in suppressing giggles, eventually I got quite engrossed in all the displays. Some were quite heart wrenching. I didn’t take any pictures though.
And then dinner was at Didov San.
I got a table outside. It was supposedly chilly, though I didn’t really think so. I was minding my own business, concentrating on my own food, and a group of men took the next table… And they sang the ENTIRE meal. Maybe they were an acappella band or something? They were great (and it was good entertainment for my solitary meal). So my solitary meal ended up being not so solitary.
The next morning I left for Split. On my way to the bus station, I went and got coffee from Eli’s Caffe (Tripadvisor led me there), and believe me when I saw it was among the BEST I’ve had. I’m a huuuge fan of coffee (with milk and sugar, please, thank you) and usually make it a point to try atleast one new coffee shop a day, and this one ranks wayyy up on the list. I didn’t have time to sit and drink in peace, though I would have liked to- it was so clean and white and peaceful.
Finally... On the bus and ready to go!! I did a rather stupid thing. I chose the fastest bus I could find, one that didn’t stop at all on the way. Stupid because it took an utterly boring route, while if I had taken a slower bus with many stops, I’d’ve driven along the entire Dalmatian coast. What a missed opportunity!!
I got off the bus at Split and couldn’t find wifi anywhere and PLUS I had no place to stay (as usual) and I was freaking out because just the day before finding a bed in Zagreb had been an ordeal! I had emailed some hostels earlier in the day, and when I did finally find some wifi, ALL of them had responded in the negative, except Diocletian’s Palace hostel. It seemed to be a few minutes’ walk from the bus station, and I crossed my fingers and went there. There were a few people already checking in, and I was basically hyperventilating with the fear that the last bed would go just before my turn came.
I got lucky though, and booked my stay in a 16 bed dorm. I wasn’t sure what my plan for the next day was… Would I stay on in Split or leave… So I decided not to book for more than a night.
And, seriously, the hostel was nice and everything but the location was 10 on 10. It was in Diocletian’s Palace. IN the palace!
After dropping my bags in the dorm (it was a bunch of bunk beds and a couple of single beds, and one of the single ones was free, so I excitedly bagged that one), I went for a walk. Split was BEAUTIFUL!!! All the time that I was wandering around in the Promenade, I couldn’t stop smiling!
The next day I did as I always do (though before that I came back to the hostel and found someone sleeping on my bed and my bag kept in a corner. Grrrr!! Had to make do with a squeaky top bunk!)… I took a free (almost) walking tour. It was a little one that covered only the palace. There were several more doing the city, but I was pretty much saturated (though I regret it now).
Diocletian’s Palace was constructed in the 4th Century AD, and our 1 Kuna Walking Tour guide told us that the plumbing lines set at that time were still in use to this day. Oh the marvels of ancient engineering!
I don’t know if this is an everyday thing or if I just got lucky, but Emperor Diocletian himself and his wife showed up for a few minutes around noon to wave to everyone. If it was a one-off experience that I got to witness… WOHOOO! Sheer luck!!
What I found really fascinating was the fact that people actually live in the palace now! A lot of it is restaurants and cafes, but the rest of it is home for the locals. What an interesting life!
There’s probably a lot to do in Split that I missed because I just stuck to walking around in the centre, but that made me insanely happy. The water is actually the glittering blue you hear about.
There are a lot of shops in the centre, and I really needed to buy a swimsuit. I went from store to store to store and not one had a one piece suit that I could buy. I had searched and failed to find one in Zagreb, but I assumed it’d be easier in Split because it was by the sea. But NO! Bikinis everywhere :/ I wanted to go for a cliff diving tour, but I couldn’t sign up till I found a swimsuit! FINALLY, after going through probably 90% of the market, I found just one shop selling just one style (that fit). THANK YOU, YAMAMAY!!
I ate dinner two nights in a row at Fife. And that’s a big deal for me… I seriously dislike repeating places. So that says a lot about this place. The hostel recommended it, and though I’m usually wary (because some send you to less than wonderful places because they have ‘arrangements’), this place was NICE! The portions were humongous and the prices were really reasonable, especially compared to the quantity.
I met Matteo, Ugi and Marko at Fife. They were (are) among the nicest people I met, and also by faaaar the most politically incorrect. I stayed with them the next night (the hostel was great but home is always better!), and they took me to Brac island with them on my last day.
Croatia’s islands are amazing. Even our guide in Split had stressed several times to visit atleast one. I couldn’t stay long (because I had a ferry to Italy that same evening which I couldn’t risk missing) but I got to get into the water. I got to swim in the Adriatic sea, and it was incredible because the last time I had actually ‘swum’ in the sea was in I think, 1999 when I went to Puri, Orissa with my family. More than half a lifetime ago.
Anyway, we went to Bol, which is a little town on the island of Brac. And in Bol, we went to Zlatni Rat, a pebble beach which is unique because this tip shifts with the tide.
It was so beautiful there, and I was having a great time, but I needed to make sure I didn’t miss my ferry. So I left after a mere 2 hours. I would have liked to stay longer, but the next bus/ferry back to split would be cutting it REALLY close, and it was not a risk worth taking. And I’m glad I didn’t take that risk, because I almost had a mini heart attack at passport control when they told me I’m not allowed to travel on my visa! (Since Croatia had just joined the EU, I guess their knowledge was still a little rusty. They made a few calls and let me through, but till then, I was just like OhmyGod, I’m going to end up like Viktor Navorski.) But all worked out fine :)
There is a big Merlin/Gandalf/Dumbledore-ish statue in the city centre... Of Grgur Ninski (Gregory of Nin), and he has a luck-inducing shiny toe (which I rubbed, of course!).
While saying goodbye to Croatia, I was in a weird mood… I was sad because my trip was going to end in 3 days, and yet I was really happy that I was going to go home after almost 8 months away.
There are several ferries from Split to Ancona, Italy every day of the week. I took a low cost one with Blueline Ferries which cost me about 30 Euros, but I could have made it for MUCH cheaper if I had just taken deck space instead of an actual seat inside the ship. It wasn’t that cold and I would have probably been just fine, but I didn’t know at that time.