Croatia Trip: Split and Hvar

Split

It’s not often that you encounter somewhere with a history as old as Split’s. To summarise as briefly as I can, the Roman emperor Diocletian decided to build himself a palace for his retirement. This palace was completed in AD 305, and now exists as the “old town” of Split. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that a fair bit has happened since, but you can check that on Wikipedia…

Our bus ride to Split took around four hours from Plitvice, with a stop at a service station/zoo. That’s right, this service station had bears, deer and pigs… and, inside the restaurant, a worrying collection of taxidermy…

We finally arrived in Split at 8pm, after a fairly boring (but comfortable) bus ride, and were instantly greeted by boisterous touts waving signs in our faces and asking if we needed somewhere to stay. That was the first time I’d ever experienced that particular brand of “let’s-pester-the-sh*t-out-of-the-tourists”, but I politely said “We have one” and pushed through them. We walked along a touristy seafront, my joy at being near the sea slightly dampened by the throngs of loud tourists and brightly lit souvenir stands. I felt a little dirty, so we grabbed our map and made our way to our hostel.

We stayed at Al’s Palace Hostel, a cool little place run by a British guy (Al) who claims to have opened Split’s first hostel. It was nothing amazing, but a good location – inside the old town walls – and it had everything you’d need. As it was quite late that night, we headed to a restaurant recommended to us by the hostel and had some cheap and nasty red wine and some tasty fish.

The next day was spent wandering around… we started inside the old town walls, and paid to walk up to the top of the bell tower. Wandering around, we later ended up inside the “cupola”, which was used for small, open-air concerts. As we stood there, a small crowd appeared, and a lovely all male a-cappela group started singing. I’ll let you see some of the pictures…

It’s a cute little town, although a little too touristy for my liking. Saying that, there are a lot of small streets with nothing on them, where you can feel as if you’ve stepped back into the past. Prices are more expensive than Zagreb, but even in the old town (right after the cupola) we found a cheap little place, hidden away and with meals for 40kn. The service was terrible, but that seems to be pretty standard across most of Croatia anyway. They will usually attend to you when you sit down, but if you ever want a second drink, you can forget it.

To the West of the old town is a big park, Marjan, where you can either walk up an exhausting hill for nice views or skirt around the coast and enjoy swimming in the cold, cool sea. We started to climb, sweating and burning under the 35 degree sun, before deciding to swim. The Adriatic is clear and beautiful, but freezing when you first jump in. I took my snorkel and mask, and managed to see a few fish – nothing too colourful, but quite a range.

Split has some good nightlife, too, including pub crawls if that’s your thing – but I mostly just enjoyed walking around and taking it in. Cue more pictures.

Split’s seafront is a pleasant enough area by day, with palm trees, little shops and restaurants dotting the coast. On our second morning, I woke up early in order to get down there and secure ferry tickets to Hvar. A few ferries run every day, but some go to Stari Grad and some to Hvar Town. It’s important to make sure you know where you’re heading, and as our hostel was in Hvar Town, the best option for us was to take the catamaran. A small Jadrolinija ticket stand is located right by the bus station, with the ferries leaving from just behind it. I got down there at 8 to buy tickets for the 11 o’clock ferry, which might have been a bit keen but the queue was already building up.

After finding some cheap breakfast along the seafront (25kn for a club sandwich – keep an eye out for signs!), we hopped onto the ferry and headed to Hvar. The ferry ride lasted an hour, with Olympic rowing playing on the screens. I had no real interest in the Olympics (to me it seems disgusting that we can afford that, while cutting benefits for people who need them to save a fraction of that money – uh-oh, too political?) but it was quite funny when team Great Britain was greeted with a big “wa-heeey!” from the seats in front of us.

Hvar

Perhaps the most popular island off Split, Hvar is actually a big island (an area of 297.37 kmaccording to Wikipedia) with a lot of towns and villages. Most ferries sail in to Stari Grad (Old Town), but ours didn’t so we didn’t get to see it. Instead, we spent out time in Hvar Town, apparently a popular draw for lots of cruise ships and smaller private boats, which we saw lining the harbour when we arrived. We were greeted with the same hotel touting when we disembarked, and I briefly got to watch a lot of young, relaxed people lounging around in seaside cafés while we looked for the lift to our hostel.

We stayed at the Villa Marija, a surprisingly lovely hostel. The owner picked us up and drove us up the hill (it wasn’t that far, really) and showed us where the supermarket and beach were. The villa itself was beautiful, a terrace for sunbathing covered in pink flowers and beautiful rooms. The guy showed us how to open the door – it was a very high-tech mechanism, where you had to press your hand for a certain amount of time, type in a code, do some other things, before the door opened. The kitchen looked like something from a catalogue, and the bathrooms and bedroom weren’t much different.

After a while, we made our way to the “supermarket” (it was a pretty tiny shop) and bought some bread, ham and cheese to take to the beach with us. The beach was down a winding path and the hostel didn’t have any spare maps, so we wandered around a little, passing cute houses and roadside goats, before finally finding those little rocky outcrops draped with sunbathers and surrounded by turquoise water that signalled a beach. After years of visiting beaches and spending the next seven months finding sand in every possible corner of my home, I have to say that rocky beaches have grown on me a lot. The water is clearer, a sudden gust of wind isn’t likely to blind you and your cheese and ham sandwich doesn’t come with a surprising crunch.

The water was freezing and beautiful, and the snorkelling was pretty good. I saw a lot of sea urchins, lurking evilly, but my feet were protected and I stayed away. There were plenty of little shoals of fish to follow, and the view from above the water was stunning, too, as we could see Hvar town curving around us, all old buildings and hilltop fortresses. On the way back up, we saw a man on a motorbike with his Alsatian balancing in front of the man’s feet, riding like a pro.

In the evening, we headed into Hvar town, which is quite a funky place to be at night. A group of dancing people spilled out into the street to the time of their music, while rich-looking cruiseship customers milled around and drank from streetside tables, watching the sunset. A number of bars seat their customers on cute tables on narrow staircases, so that you have to walk past them, and a lot of the town is hidden down narrow, stone streets. We ended up at a restaurant recommended to us by the hostel, the Marinara, which was nice but clearly touristy and overrated. I had tuna steak with olive sauce, which was delicious, while Jeff tried black risotto – coloured by cuttlefish ink – which was surprisingly good, too. Hermione opted for shark meat, which filled me with distaste (after watching Sharkwater I am quite keen on protecting sharks and the sea in general) but I had to try a bite, and yes, it was good. Not saying I’d order it myself, but when the opportunity presents to try something unusual I like to take it.

This part of the holiday was very relaxing, perhaps partly because Hvar smells of the lavender that grows everywhere, and perhaps because we were swimming in 40 degree heat. I wished we’d had more time to see this little island paradise, especially when I found out that there was a full moon party happening the next night. We enjoyed our day there, though, and finished the evening with some stair-side beers, before waking up at 6am the next day to make our way to Dubrovnik!

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