There was a large guy sitting next to me on the bus from Zagreb to Split, so I was feeling cramped for much of the ride. I arrived in Split, which is on Croatia’s famous Dalmatian coast. And no, it’s not full of dalmatian dogs like the ones from that Disney movie. The bus arrived in Split just before 7:00pm. I was staying at the hostel I lodged in the last time I was in Split, which is in a pink house just up the street from one of the city’s beaches. Like Zagreb, Split felt very familiar and I remembered the way to the hostel, even though it was getting dark. When I got to the front door I rang the bell. The hostel manager, a woman known as Ladybird, answered the door. “I have returned” I said. “So you have” she replied. Given how many people pass through the hostel each year, I was impressed that she remembered me, but then again I was probably a more memorable visitor, as the last time I was in Split I cut my foot open and had the pleasant experience of digging sand out of my own flesh. In an interesting turn of events, I got the exact same bed as the one I had the last time, (downstairs, next to the bathroom, lower bunk) which makes it officially a legacy bed. After I got settled in and ate dinner, I joined a small group of other guests who were playing a game of Mafia. For those that don’t know, Mafia is a group game that splits people into two groups: mafia and townspeople (and each person knows what they are but doesn’t know what everyone else is). There are many variants and house rules that people have developed over the years, but the basic idea is that the mafia are trying to kill the townspeople and the townspeople are trying to identify and kill the mafia. Good times were had by all, even the one guy who kept getting killed at the start of each game. As the day ended I looked ahead to the next two full days I would be in Split. Like Zagreb, I was returning to Split not so much for sightseeing but for a very specific mission. In this case, it was a rematch of sorts. The last time I was in Split I went for a swim and ended up losing some blood. This time I was going to go for a swim but I didn’t intend on giving this city a single drop.
The city of Split only has a few historical attractions and is something of a laid-back beach town, so there’s little reason to get up early. On my first full day the weather was gloomy most of the time with gray clouds covering the sky. I passed by the beach and went over to the area around the old town, which used to be the retirement palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. After the western part of the Roman Empire collapsed, nearby peasants moved into the now-abandoned palace and converted into a small town out of which the modern city of Split would eventually arise. As I came up to the palace I checked out the outdoor market that was going on and then passed through the palace on my way over to a hill that overlooks the city. I don’t remember the name of this hill, but it has a lot of stairs to get to the top. There’s a few small chapels up on the hill, which appear to be abandoned but I’m not sure about that. Before I reached the top I also passed by the small zoo that’s up there. At the highest point of the hill is a flat area with a flagpole. The view of the city is fairly good, however it’s much better for just a view of the greater region around the city. You can take in the dry, rocky landscape that characterizes much of this part of Croatia. Rather than come back down the way I came, I decided to hike down the other side of the hill. This took me down an offroad trail and I honestly don’t exactly know where I was because I was beyond the range of my map. I was never truly lost, as I knew the general direction I needed to go to get back to the main part of Split, but I didn’t know what to expect as I walked around back there. Eventually I got on one of the main roads and made my way towards the harbor. By the time I got there, quite a few hours had gone by (since the start of my initial climb up the hill) and it was already the late afternoon. I stayed in the harbor area a little while and then walked back to the beach near the hostel. There were a few people there, including some guys playing the official sport of Split. I don’t know the name of the sport, but the idea is that you have a team of five guys standing in the shallow part of the water and they hit a small ball back and forth to each other with their bare hands. The objective is to keep the ball from touching the water for as long as possible. Also I think there’s a rule that you must wear a speedo, as all the guys were wearing them, but then again maybe that’s just because it’s Europe. Apparently each summer Split hosts an annual tournament for this game. When I returned to the hostel I chatted with some of the other guests before picking up some food from the grocery store and eating dinner. The rain started to come down around then, so I didn’t go for a night walk around the old town.
I had expected the bad weather to continue into the next day, so I was surprised to wake up to sunshine. Realizing that it would only last for a few hours, I quickly got ready for the day and then went down to the beach. I spent ten or so minutes lying out in the sun and then it was time for my rematch. The water at this particular beach in Split stays shallow for much further than you’d expect, so you have to walk a ways out before the water level gets above your waist. The water itself was a little cold but nothing I couldn’t handle. If I was in Split in July or August the water would have been warmer, but I was there in October so no warm water for me. When I got far enough out I took the plunge and started doing laps up and down the beach area. I passed by the pillars in the water that gave me trouble last time. They’re covered in clams/muscles with sharp edges, which is how I slashed my foot last time, so I avoided them this time. My swimming was the most workout (upper body wise) I had gotten since the start of the trip and when I finally came out I was tired, but felt like a winner. No foot injury and no blood loss equaled successful rematch in my book. I returned to the hostel to clean up and afterwards got a meal at a seaside restaurant. In western Europe I normally avoid sit-down restaurants because of the cost, but in eastern Europe they only cost a fraction of what they do in the west. Also I normally don’t like to spend time just sitting around, but on this occasion a long victory meal was in order. As I ate the clouds moved back in and it started to rain, but I didn’t care since I had already gotten my beach time in. The rest of the afternoon was spent back at the hostel, talking to people, doing laundry, and working on the guest computer. The rain finally stopped after dinner and I was able to do a walk through the old town before going to bed.
The next morning I had a few hours before my bus was scheduled to depart to get in a few bits of sightseeing. I paid a visit to the St Dominus Cathedral, which might be the tiniest cathedral on earth. It used to be the mausoleum of Emperor Diocletian but it got converted to a church in the medieval period. Nearby is the St John (Baptist) baptistery, which was once the temple of Jupiter. At the baptistery, and many other places across Europe, I couldn’t help but notice all the coins people throw away, and part of me wishes I had an industrial strength magnet to recover them. The final sightseeing item I did in Split was to climb the cathedral’s bell tower. As I was up there surveying the city, it occurred to me that I really don’t know exactly what it is about Split that I like, but I do hope to keep coming back to it from time to time. I came down the tower, went back to the hostel for my backpack, said goodbye to Ladybird, and then walked over to the bus station. Next in line was my final Croatian city: Dubrovnik.