We were excited to leave the next morning and bid farewell to Pula. That morning didn’t endear the city to us any more when we had to stop at three markets to find one that was actually open and selling food. However we did end up finding a great Konzum where we picked up supplies for the next few days. The drive between Pula and Split is about 5hrs on the toll road, and closer to 7hrs on the free roads. Since we weren’t in a huge hurry we opted to take the scenic route and stopped in Krk-Crikvenica, a small Croatian town on the mainland across from Krk Island for the night to break the drive up. This quaint little town was a perfect midway point for us to not have to push a long drive day and get to see another slice of the Croatian coastline. It was also a great place to do laundry, complete with balcony for drying. Which when you have to do laundry on the road that is worth its weight in gold!
Up and out early the next morning we continued our trek into Split along the scenic route. The drive was beautiful and by midday we had arrived at our lodging. We stayed in an apartment of a local family who were so nice they gave us a bottle of wine and pastries upon arrival. Our stay there also served as a preview for tiny house living as the apartment was compact but tall, so the owners made the most of the space by having the kitchen on the ground and what amounted to a bunk bed on top. Best of all the entire thing was Barney purple. I never wanted to leave! A short 5 minute walk from the heart of the city it was one of my favorite places we stayed in the Balkans.
Split is what some people call “Croatia’s second city.” As the second largest city in the country it is slightly less popular with tourists than Dubrovnik and home to many more local Croatians. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect from Split, but after our visit I wouldn’t hesitate to make a return trip. It is a city that is quite literally built upon history, and also serves as a major access route to the Dalmatian Islands off the coast. The harbor is smack dab in the center of the city and its promenade borders Diocletian’s Palace. This palace dates back to 305 AD and was built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian upon his abdication of the throne. Originally from the Dalmatian coast, Diocletian started from humble beginnings before rising through the ranks of the Roman military. Upon the death of Numerous, a co-Caesar at the time, Diocletian assumed the title of Caesar. After the death of Numerous’ brother, Diocletian gained the title of Caesar over the entirety of the Roman Empire, which at this time spanned from Britain to the Persian Gulf, along the Rhine and the Danube Rivers all the way to the Black Sea. His reign is remembered as one that saw the restoration of an efficient government and laid the foundations down for the future Byzantine Empire. But he is also remembered as one of the last persecutors of the Christians, who would be sure to repay the favor in time.
Even though we had plenty of food to make for dinner, it was a Friday evening in Split and we felt like getting out and exploring. Not wanting to pay too much for dinner, we did a bit of research and stumbled across a spot called Sexy Cow. Its reviews were great so we decided to see for ourselves what the hype was all about. OMG it was ssooo GOOD. It felt like we had somehow teleported to a wrap place in San Diego: the music was in English, the menu in English, the staff spoke English. It was a trip! While a tad trendy on the inside, the wraps were good quality and supremely tasty. Being not too pricey I counted it a huge success in dining out and highly recommend it if you find yourself in Split.
Full and ready for a walk we strolled along the crowded streets towards the Riva Harbor and Promenade. Sandwiched between the palace and the Adriatic Sea this promenade served as a strolling ground for Diocletian that the locals still make use of today. The area is strictly pedestrian-only littered with benches for sitting and palm trees to seek shade under during the heat of the day. We worked our way along its length before turning back around and deciding to poke around the palace. These days the lower portion is now a sort of flea market jam packed with vendors selling everything from jewelry to clothes. There is a sort of museum you can pay to walk through, but after Pula we figured we would keep our money and walk around the free bits instead. Having looked around as much as we felt like we exited into Trg Peristil where we were greeted by an actual sphinx. A flippen sphinx!! This piece of antiquity dates back to the ancient Egyptians and was brought to the palace during its prime. I’ve never seen an actual Egyptian sphinx in the flesh before and I would be lying if I said I didn’t freak out a little bit (there’s a second, less well preserved sphinx at the entrance to the Temple of Jupiter that I was able to touch and my heart skipped a beat when I did so). The Trg Peristil served as the central square of the palace, and later became the religious center of the city in the 13 and 14th Centuries.
Today it continues to be the center of the city’s urban life hosting shops, cafes, and the occasional show.
It was impossible not to marvel at the granite columns, the sphinx, and Cathedral tower looming overhead. There is something about history, especially OLD history like this, that makes you really think about the passage of time. You can’t help but reflect on your own life when you realize how quickly it passes. We made a loop around the St. Dominus Cathedral admiring the architecture and ruins before deciding it was time to begin strolling back towards the apartment. On our way we poked into the Moziak Podrum, one of the famous Roman round topped dome buildings, and were treated to a most unexpected surprise. Inside the dome was a group of klapa singers and the acoustics of the dome made it sound like we had stepped into a men’s Mormon Tabernacle choir concert. Singing in klapa, which roughly translates to “group of friends,” is unique to Dalmatia. Here groups of local men sing acapella usually about love, the sea, wine, and their homeland. It was an unexpected, but perfect ending to our first day in Split.