Staying overnight in a guest house near Plitvice, we have bus tickets in the morning headed towards the cost. The only problem is, when we go to check out and ask if they can call us a cab, the whole family is out. By the stroke of some divine intervention, an angelic Portuguese couple emerges, offering a ride and pleasant conversation.
Against all odds, we make to our bus on time. Travel can go wrong at just about any moment, but if you keep up hope and make an effort, something great might just happen. We take the 6-hour bus ride from the lakes to Split, passing Zadar, which we want to visit, but don’t have enough time.
Arriving to the coastal relic of Split, which is a remarkably well-preserved Venetian city, we are taken by its beauty and its coastal familiarity as Californians. So much so that we don’t mind the scourge of tourists that inhabit it at any given time. I read later that Croatia, a country of 4 million people, receives upwards to 15 million visitors a year. Just a few years after I hear that Croatia is the next big thing in tourism, I feel like I’m already late.
Still, the Venetian ruins of Split make it an obvious tourist destination. You see why immediately. The coast is lovely, the Sun shines even between a morning of clouds, and it’s one of the most in-tact of Venetian cities, at least of the ones I’ve been to.
But now people seem more enthralled with the Game of Thrones shooting locations. I couldn’t care less, and though we stay in the center near Diocletian’s palace, we go in and out of the fortress-like center and engage with the local joints in a tourist hot-spot. Before we’re even at our hotel, we’re in the Palace’s square. Like any Venetian city, the joy of the sites is to take them in randomly, when you stumble upon their greatness. Don’t go out of your way to see them, let them speak up on you.
Taking our hostel’s suggestion on seafood, we find ourselves in a quaint restaurant called Villa Spizza, where both locals and tourists enjoy some Dalmatian cooking. We go for shellfish risotto with clams and mussels cooked in white wine, garlic, and parsley, and prawn pasta with a seafood tomato sauce. The Italian influence is clearly there, but it is a part of their history, and, to me, the food is still uniquely Croatian.
The place was a little tough to find, and by this point we were starving, but the fantastic food and Croatian wine soothe our mood. Looking back, this may have been the best meal of the trip.
We walk through the city’s living ruins and walk up to what we’re told by our Croatian friend is the best view of the city . It is an easy walk and it’s a nice to play to catch a drink, but you can do what we did and grab a flat white at D12 Coffee Roasters near our hotel. For our time in Split, it becomes my safe place where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.
After the coffee and a walk both up the hill and around the coast, we’re ready for dinner. We walk around the center of the city looking for the right spot and decide on a little bistro with a great wine selection and traditional Dalmatian dishes. We order octopus goulash and chicken with vegetables. The rosé at the beginning of the meal may just be my favorite I’ve ever had. Buzzed, we talk about life and decide to buy cheap, local craft beers at the hostel. We drink and talk with other travelers until we’re exhausted from the long day. Tomorrow, another adventure in Dalmatia.