It was a tough day of travel that brought us to Croatia. The flights were many – Amman to Kiev to Vienna to Split – with long layovers and a start time of 4:30 am. These are the sacrifices we make to save money. Oy.
In the end it was worth every moment of it when we set our eyes upon the sparkling blue waters of Croatia.
We spent a week bouncing around a few of the islands, hiking, eating, and generally relaxing. We were quite fortunate to be here on the cusp of the season. All the great eateries were just re-opening, there were precious few people on the walkways, and one restaurateur gave us free Proseco as a reward for coming in the spring. Huzzah.
Not an island! But we started here and loved it. Split, like most of Croatia, was once owned by Venice. The architecture and the food (lots and lots of Italian places) still show the signs of that time.
The gem of the place is Diocletian’s Palace, which is not a palace at all, but the remains of a fortified town. Inside the walls is a marvel of narrow, labyrinthine streets, shops and restaurants. A few a cappella singing groups also made excellent use of the acoustics.
There are plenty of good walks to high places in Split, as well as excellent food. We recommend doing your best to get a little lost. There are a lot of hidden gems all over the place.
Our next stop was the island of Hvar, which was once inhabited by pirates! The pirates terrified the Greeks for years, but eventually the richness of the soil emboldened the Grecians enough that they took the place over in 384 BCE.
We splurged on a tour of the island and weren’t disappointed. Our guide was quite knowledgeable about the history of the region and he was full of witty little gems like, “there is no life without lamb,” and, when describing a man who failed to engage the locals in his building project: “We call him two meters of stupidity.”
The tour first took us to the abandoned village of Malo Grablje, which was abandoned in the mid-1950s when a fungus from the Americas infected the olive trees and the sole source of income died.
The residents mostly moved to San Jose, California. Since no one remembers who owned which house, the government has declared that all of the descendants own all of the town. This has had the unfortunate effect of keeping people away, since no one wants to invest in something they’ll only ever own a percentage of.
Our next stop was the viewpoint at St. Nicholas Peak, which gave us breathtaking views.
We also learned quite a bit about the soil, and the effort that goes into cultivating it. Every inch of the ground on this island is covered in limestone. Limestone, for those of you who may have forgotten, is the bones of dead sea creatures all piled up over the millennia. I was once again humbled by time – how it is that living things can be turned into a mountain.
The tour came with lunch and a bunch of other stops. If you come in the summer there’s a swimming hole that the guide goes to. It was a bit to cold for that for us.
Sadly, we only spent about a half day here. Walking around the old city at night, listening to the waves was a beautiful way to spend an evening. We left for Dubrovnik on the next morning’s ferry. Croatia is on my list of places to return to with friends and/or family, so I’ll be back!
This is the setting for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones, and the local shops are not keen to let you forget it. There are tours and merchandise and opportunities for cosplays galore.
We didn’t go in for any of the GoT tours that are on offer, but we did pay the exorbitant fee to walk the wall (kn100 or about $15 USD). It was worth it. We spent a lot of time on that wall and I have a ton of rooftop pictures to prove it.
Croatia’s war for independence, which was waged from 1991 to 1995 is felt the most here, though you have to have a keen eye to see it. There are memorial photographs on the walls of some of the houses that were bombed, but the streets are so narrow and crowded with tourists that you’d be forgiven for not looking up.
The country is still recovering from the war, and it’s heavily dependent on tourism for income. With crystalline blue waters and nary a bad meal to be had, I doubt they’ll have much trouble in the years to come.