Day 296 - Split Personality

Trip Start Nov 07, 2010
Trip End Jan 01, 2012

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Flag of Croatia  ,
Monday, August 29, 2011

It's been five years since I stepped foot in this city.  Fresh faced and naive about the world.  Studying abroad in Italy at the time and taking the risk of renting a car with a group of classmates and driving it through eastern Europe to land on the shores of Croatia.  Split has changed quite a bit since then and so have I.  The town is almost unrecognizable, walking amidst the now crowded boulevards filled with designer stores and four star hotels.  At the heart of the city, nestled against the bay, is the great Palace of Diocletian, a retirement home for the emperor at the time.  It’s ancient stone walls still stand to this day, encompassing narrow alleyways, grand squares and one of the oldest cathedrals in the Europe.  As we wind our way down slick cobblestone paths, passing merchants and coffee shops, the memories of this place start to flow back, and my mind flashes to visions of my last visit here and the people I shared it with.  It was a harrowing experience for a 23 year old, to rent a car from Italy with the intent on specifically breaking the one clause they had stipulated upon my agreement of the contract – "Do not drive this vehicle into Eastern Europe."  We threw caution to the wind, loaded up our mini hatchback and took off into the sunset, following the Mediterranean coast up and over the gulf and down into forbidden territory.  That drive was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, only a map and a whim to guide me.  Nothing up till then had felt anywhere close to as liberating, as freeing and dangerous as steering that car across mountainous switchbacks, mile long tunnels and jaw dropping turquoise blue coastline.  When we finally arrived it was like reaching paradise, and the next few days were spent much like my current visit - exploring the old town, crawling up the rickety staircase of the central bell tower for stunning views of the city, savoring some sweet gelato under the shade of a huge white awning and just sitting back and enjoying the company of friends and the endless menagerie of people that flowed by in colorful procession.  This place may have exploded since then, drawing more and more tourists each year from the rest of the European nations, but at its heart it still retains the simple beauty that makes it great.  There’s a palpable feeling you get, like the silent pulse of thousands of years of history living and breathing in each individual brick and layer of mortar in the ancient walls.  She speaks to you in the hollow echoes of footsteps down her crowded alleyways, the scents of freshly baked wood oven pizzas wafting out of open air restaurants, the chime of the great bell at the center of the city signaling the passing hours since time remembered.  Everything is just as it was and always will be here in the quaint harbor city of Split.  The bustling exterior of the palace walls, filled with new development and a thriving tourist industry is the only indication of its meteoric rise as a luxury destination.  I can’t help but see the similarities between this fair city and myself, seeing the leap that a mere five years will make.  Even though we’ve both grown and changed on the outside - expanded, developed, matured - our hearts are the same, and they will always ring out the clear sonorous chime of our truest intentions.  To love, to live, to learn.  These passions to experience the outside world in all its chaotic and beautiful turmoil have always and will always be there, for both of us, and as we build cities of stone and bonds of friendship around us they will drive us to great heights while still keeping us grounded at our core.  It’s been five years since I’ve seen this place.  It’s changed so much and so have I.  Where will five more take me when I return?  Only the chime of the bell tower and the beat of our hearts can know.

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