So after much deliberation and hemming and hawing, I decided spring break would be in Croatia, where I had NOT gone during the winter break. And it would be a part of Croatia I hadn’t seen when I was here in 08. So I was looking at Split and Dubrovnik. I was also looking at going with some fellow Americans, Chris and Laurel, and a Lithuanian, Rolanda, decided to join us as well. Chris is in the same MFA program I was in and he’s doing HIS time abroad teaching in Hungary. He is engaged to Laurel, who is also teaching in Budapest. We decided to rent a car instead of taking the train, thinking it would be cheaper, quicker and more convenient for when we wanted to do things not on a train schedule. We were right. The only downside, and I knew this going in, was that I was the only one amongst the four of us who actually knew how to drive a manual transmission (a stick; mechanical; four-on the floor – whatever you want to call it) so I would be doing all the driving. I was cool with that. So I made the car reservations while Laurel took care of accommodations.
So Thursday morning we all trudged to pick up the car, bags in hand, ready to start our adventure. We were scheduled to pick up the vehicle between 9-9:30. No problem. We were on the Metro at 9:30 so we were going to be a few minutes late, big deal. Except it was. I got a call at 9:33 wondering where I was and when would I be there? “Just a few minutes, getting off the Metro now.” Inadvertently, I lied. While I thought it would be just a few minutes, it turned out it was actually more like 45 and we actually passed the place. See, thing is the car rental place was actually inside a boat dealership with no external signage (and in fact, no rental cars but the one for us there). This is one of the oddest car rental places I’ve ever seen. But after filling out paperwork, signing forms in a language I didn’t understand (quite possibly making myself responsible for the middle-east conflict and the Charlie Sheen debacle) we were off and running.
The drive itself was pretty uneventful. Chris was up front with me while the girls were in the back and there were conversations and silences, oohs and ahhs, pointings and excited shouts at the passing scenery (the debate as to the actual existence of Lake Balaton as seen from the window of a car being driven on the #7 Motorway) and generally an easy drive…until we reached the border.
Yeah… when I went to Austria a few weeks ago, we passed from country to country with barely a blip on the transfer of cell phone coverage, thanks to the European Union. Unfortunately, Croatia is not yet a part of that illustrious group so when we hit the border we had to stop and surrender our passports. This isn’t a big deal. They look at the paperwork, ask a few questions, stamp a blank square and away we go… which is exactly what we did until I was flagged down by an irate woman in a uniform about 10 feet away from where we had just been. Seems that first stop was just to get us out of Hungary. NOW they had to let us INTO Croatia. Needless to say, I felt a bit silly about trying to blow past the international checkpoint, especially after what happened the last time I was at the Croatian border. But it all turned out okay and we were safely in a foreign land.
After a stop in Zagreb for lunch and petrol fill up (and a bit of drive-by sight-seeing) we were on our way to Split. Of course, by the time we got there, it was dark and the map we had purchased of the area only had names for the major highway, not the number of the map we had been using to get there so finding our place was slightly difficult, resulting in some harrowingly narrow streets and a couple go ’rounds. Finally, we made it and, after calling the rental agent, were let inside.
Laurel had taken care of the accommodations and found us these amazing apartments (plural – we’d have to move after two nights, but more on that later). This one was great and we all immediately decided we’d like to move in. But it wasn’t until the next morning when we fully experienced the balcony and the “ocean view.” That night however, after a long day of driving, we decided to walk around and eventually found a nice little seafood place for dinner.
Friday, after getting up leisurely, we decided to walk to town (about 20 minutes) and see Split. We walked along the water and hit the old town with a tourist’s enthusiasm. Laurel had Rick Steeves’ guide book on her Kindle and was “Julie, Our Cruise Director,” reading to us about the history, the interesting facts, and what we should see.
The Diocletian’s Palace was amazing. It had been built about 1600 years ago and over time it, and the adjoining old town, had been built up to the point of overcrowded absurdity. It was a maze trying to make your way around, with competing architecture styles use of space issues everywhere. Businesses and restaurants and bars fought with residential dwellings for wall space to hang wet laundry and offers of the daily specials. We ate breakfast inside the palace at a nice little breakfast place set up just across from a life size 3D rendering of The Last Supper (surreal to say the least).
The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent exploring. We went into crypts and climbed bell towers, saw chapels which had been originally built in honor of pagan Mediterranean gods and then usurped by the Christian deities. After seeing antiquities, we figured now was time for a little lunch and then, the ocean beckoned. Stopping on our way back to the flat at a little convenience store we picked up the fixins and Chris made a delightfully light pasta which we enjoyed on the balcony, with the ocean view seen through the unshuttered window of the building across the way. Then it was off to the beach where I’d promised to go swimming.
What was I thinking? It was freezing! But never one to let a promise go, I went in the water and braved the (I’m sure) sub-arctic temperatures of the Adriatic. See the pictures if you don’t believe me.
Dinner that night was seafood at a really cool place we’d read about. When we got there, no tables were available so the host told us to go to the bar across the way and he would call us when a table was ready. No taking of names, no nothing. So we went for a little pre-meal drink (Laurel found the smallest unisex bathroom in the world) and then, true to his word, the host walked across the street and told us our table was ready. Dinner was superb! Chris and I both got fish, which was prepared the local way — whole. Yup, just take a fish, throw it into some heat with a sauce and throw it on a plate! Lots of bones, but it was SO worth it. Then, just to round out the evening’s atmosphere, the host turned out to be the owner and he sat down at our table and told us the story of how he went from being a rep for Ferrari to a restaurateur. The story itself was interesting, involving his wife and following her for her happiness, but the best was that when he was done, with no ceremony, no nothing, he just up and left the table.
All told it was a great day. But we needed to get back to the flat since we needed to get up early saturday to catch a ferry to Hvar, a nearby island. We were on the coast, no reason to stay on dry land!