Ladies and gentlemen, I must announce today that I have a new all-time favorite country and city in the world. For months Marseille held the crown as my favorite city of this trip so far, but Split now takes the #1 spot while Germany now ranks behind Croatia as my favorite country. I absolutely love everything about Split and I could easily spend weeks of my life in this great city without even a second thought. Unfortunately, since there are only so many days left of “summer” (even though it’s technically October) I have to leave this wonderful city so I can visit the much-hyped Croatian islands before winter sets in. I've seen only a fraction of this great country, but I can already tell you I will be back in my lifetime. It might not be next year, or the one after, but as long as I'm still alive, I'm coming back to Croatia.
The song of association for Split:
My first day in Split I spent the afternoon exploring the oldest part of the city center known as Diocletian's Palace. Encircled by the ancient city walls that still remain intact over hundreds of years, the palace is a dense network of tiny little streets, many of which are no wider than three feet in some areas. The paths are incredibly well kept and, much like in Zadar, the cobblestones are impeccably polished after years of foot traffic. The old city is the perfect place to get lost in, which is convenient because the roads are so small and erratic that even the best maps are rendered useless. Split is the perfect blend of old town charm and full wonderful little cafes and bars that spill out into the alleyways. Every shop sells their wears and snacks from beautifully decorated storefronts, so if you ever get tired of being lost just look for the nearest café, sit down, and take in the atmosphere – I promise you won't be disappointed.
A short distance from the town center is Marjan Hill Park located on a small peninsula jutting into the Adriatic. The park is full of well marked walkways and is always full of people running, biking, or otherwise strolling around enjoying the wonderful climate. If you are willing to make the climb, the top of Marjan Hill offers some fantastic views, but it is a surprisingly exhausting climb even for me. The whole way up the hill I heard birds chirping in the air above and lizards scurrying among the dry shrubbery all under a bright, beautiful sun illuminating the port below. The entire hike up the song "A Mi Manera" by the Gipsy Kings repeated in my head and perfectly complimented the incredible, laid-back scenery.
In retrospect; however, I realize now there may be a more subconscious reason why this song in particular was the one running through my head.
While I’ve experienced a great many wonderful things in Split, the nightlife was not one of them. Now that it is October, the city is quite deserted and many of the cafes, boasting patios capable of seating 75-100 people, sit empty the majority of the day. The same is true of the bars and clubs, but it hardly matters because I couldn't find people to even go out with. My hostel was almost completely vacant and just like my trips to Lagos and Porto I had an entire six-bed dorm all to myself for the first few nights.
Eventually two rather eccentric travelers joined me in the dorm who gave off a distinctly hippy like vibe. As far as I could tell neither was high, but they were always relaxed, smiling, and even spoke at soft, slow pace. I honestly don't think either of them knew what it was like to be rushed or anxious. Every afternoon, they performed a couple bubble shows on the side of the street for children and the money they raised was enough to finance their travels (they've been traveling for years this way; I don't know how they do it). While trivial to me I must give them credit, they took their bubble shows surprisingly seriously: they knew the best time to perform, where to do it, the exact mixture of soap and water, the optimal humidity, and even the best kind of string to make the biggest bubbles.
This is why I love hostels, where else can you meet these kinds of people?
It's amazing how much I have started slowing down in the way I travel. Since Ukraine I've started adopting a mentality eerily similar to my old friend Tommy back in Lisbon. If you can remember, this is a man who could arrive in a new city and be perfectly content to not see a single attraction, museum, or cathedral. He had absolutely no agenda and was happy to simply be there, meet new people, walk around town, and see what happens - that's it! I’ll always remember him saying that if he didn’t see something, "It's okay, I guess it wasn’t meant to be." I feel the same way toward Split, and after four months of traveling it appears his logic is finally starting to sink in. I have to say this is a fantastic way to live and I am beginning to appreciate new aspects of traveling.
What I find most comical about my time in Split is how much I enjoyed the city, even though I didn't do a single touristy thing - no walking tours, no museums, and no churches. In comparison to many of the other cities I’ve visited so far, I actually haven't seen much of Split, but I don’t regret it for one second. I spent seven days of my life simply wandering around town, exploring the trails in Marjan Hill Park, and reading my book along the stellar coastline. There are three days in particular where I can honestly say I didn’t do a damn thing all day - I found a nice spot next to the water, took in the amazing atmosphere and simply watch the world sail by.
Part of me feels I am becoming lazy, but I really enjoyed these last few days. I explored all of the little alcoves along Marjan Hill Park, but my favorite place is a small rocky beach on the northern side of the peninsula where few people wander through. One afternoon I spent over four hours reading on a giant sandstone rock overlooking the crystal clear Adriatic water. The sea was remarkably calm and all I could hear were little splashes and sputters of tiny waves lapping over the shallow, cracked, and angular white stones. As the happy little waves sloshed around inches below my feet I watched as the boats crisscrossed back and forth in front of a spectacular, mountainous backdrop. Another afternoon, I set up my camping hammock under the shade of a few trees and for over five hours I read, napped, snacked, and savored the beautiful vista. In total I spent maybe $25 each day (including my hostel). Would you believe me if I said happiness cost less than $25?
Life’s not complicated. We make it complicated.
The majority of my days in Spilt were just like these and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Aside from the old city center, I didn’t pay any attention to the tourist attractions and instead enjoyed Split for what it is - a little slice of paradise along the Adriatic. As much as it pains me to leave this wondrous little port city, it’s time for me to move on. I honestly can't complain since I'll spend the next few weeks island hopping along the coast as I make my way to Dubrovnik.
I’m simply leaving a paradise on the mainland for another one on a nearby island.
As my boat pulls out from the port, I can see the entire city of Split out my window. The Saint Domnius Cathedral bell tower protrudes from the middle of Diocletian's Palace among the sea of bright red, terra cotta colored roofs. Slowly the boat turns to align itself with Brač Island, my eyes pan from the city center toward the harbor full of colorful little boats bobbing in the gem-like water and the bright green Marjan Hill Park. The contrast between the navy blue water, ivory white stones, vibrant green vegetation, and radiant red tiled roofs against the backdrop of the imposing white mountains makes for a picturesque scene that begs me to stay a little longer.
Oh how I wish.
Farewell Split, you will haunt me for the remainder of my life. I'm off to Supetar and to the islands of Croatia with no plans, no hostel, and no idea how I’m going to get from one place to another. Let's see if I can put my newly acquired hitchhiking and camping skills to use.
Wish me luck!