The countries formerly known as Yugoslavia 1
Trip Start Jul 01, 2007
29Trip End Nov 25, 2007
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How this is happening is that I received an email from Alice several months ago ordering me to meet her in mid-September in this vicinity to travel together for a few weeks. She asked me what areas I wanted to visit, but as it was so far ahead and I didn't have time to research and plan the travel I just said to her to organise it all. For the first 2 weeks of her trip Alicia was accompanying her (before going to London to visit relatives) and by the time I arrive they will have been to Budapest, and arrived in Split the day before.
So here I am on the ferry, ready to sail at 9.30pm. It's always exciting sailing on a ship - the anticipation builds as the ropes are loosened and cast off, the engine sends tremors through the ship's structure as if it is impatient to go, and finally you gently move off into the dark night, watching the lights of the city fade behind you
I sit in the lounge with a couple of girls from Melbourne - they are fortifying themselves for the trip by buying a bottle of vodka and several bottles of orange juice. They line up some glasses on the table and fill them up and assiduosly work their way through them in a couple of hours, Just behind me there are 3 girls from the US who are studying in Florence and decided to have a weekend on the Dalmatian Coast. They are drinking white wine. Both sets of girls bought their tickets at the last minute at the ticket office for around 60 euros and will be sleeping on seats down in the bowels of the boat. Ana, a friend of Gianluca and Manuela, who is from Split, but lives in Rimini, has put me on to a cheap internet ticket for 25 euros for a cabin, so I retire there and have a peaceful nights sleep and wake in the morning just as we pull in to Split at 7.30am. Once again, it pays to know the locals.
I catch a taxi up to the girl's apartment and we all have a slight feeling of disbelief at meeting up in this location. The apartment is on the roof on the 4th floor and has a stunning view of the city and the sea from the large, covered terrace. By the time I arrive it's already bright and hot so naturally I take my shirt off, and the girls serve me breakfast of muesli and fruit - I think I'm going to enjoy this part of the trip. A bit later we head off down to the sea and I have my first swim for a long time
The sea is crystal clear and a beautiful colour. There are mussels on the rocks and plentiful sea-urchins below, so my hunter-gatherer instinct asserts itself and I begin to gather some. It's a bit harder than you think, but in a few minutes I have devised some reasonably efficient methods - with the mussels I jam a used mussel shell into the slightly open shell of a live mussel to prevent it closing, then pull it off the rocks. A quick twist with the inserted shell and it opens - I hand-feed the girls, and we eat several, and they are still alive as we bite into them - at least they die a quick death :).
Next, I borrow Alice's swimming goggles and go into the sea to collect sea-urchins. They are everywhere - they are not eaten at all in Croatia, unlike Italy where this area would have been stripped bare. I collect a few, being careful not to spike myself, then cut them open, and hallelujah they are females (unlike my unfortunate experience back in Panarea on the Eolian Islands, where they were all male and therefore useless - I'm only referring to sea-urchins here :), so again we eat their soft pink flesh raw.
The day goes by in a blur of sun, heat, laying on rocks, and cooling swims, until we return to the apartment and just sit there watching the activity in the harbour from our terrace.
This is something we end up doing quite a lot - it's quite mesmerising sitting there looking out over the ceaseless activity of boats and ships going in and out, bare feet resting on the balcony wall, either eating breakfast, drinking a cup of tea, or sipping a glass of wine - during the day it's bright and sunny and at night the moon shines brightly and the city lights twinkle
Split is the major city in the middle Dalmatian Coast, with a population of around 400,000. Although there had been a Greek colony before, Split really developed under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who had a massive palace built there around 300AD. The palace faces the sea and its walls are 170 to 200 metres and 15 to 20 metres high, and it encloses an area of around 4 hectares). The interior was converted into a town around 600AD by the citizens of nearby Salona who escaped the destruction of their town by central Asian marauders. Like most of this area it has a complicated history - the town was ruled by the Venetian Republic (along with almost all of the Dalmatian coast), from around 1400AD to nearly 1800AD, then became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until Italy annexed it after WW1, then became part of Yugoslavia after WW2, and finally an independent Republic in 1991.
Diocletian's Palace is amazing - there are shops, arcades, churches, mausoleums, markets, apartments, etc within the original walls. The pavements are made of the local rock, which has been polished to a creamy smoothness over the centuries.
We spend 3 beautiful days in Split - we take the ferry to the nearby island of Brac (pronounced Brach) and have a walk and a swim and a delicious meal of fish, we visit the ruins of the Roman city of Salona, which was a major city in it's time and still has it's forum in good condition, and we go to Trogir, a tiny island just off the coast, which was attacked and destroyed by the Saracens around 1100AD, but was rebuilt, and is now a World Heritage Site with beautiful Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque buildings from the Venetian period
Alice and I coax Alicia into climbing the bell-tower of the Cathedral - she is hesitant at first, but with Alice's bullying :) and my gentler forms of persuasion :), she climbs the narrow, steep staircase and we are rewarded with wonderful views in all directions. Our final day is spent swimming and sun-baking, and we make dinner at home on our terrace and have a nice Croation sparkling wine to wash it all down.
The next day we catching the bus to the walled city of Dubrovnik, 230 kms south. I am loaded up with ALice's rucksack on my back (she has a bad back), my rucksack on my front, and am trundling along my giant suitcase which I had to borrow from Gianluca because the one I brought from Australia was too small. The girls show no mercy and lash me when I go too slow or fall down on my knees in the hot sun, but I finally make it to the bus stop.