Remember the last time we visited Croatia? When we took a 17-hr bus ride from Pula down to Dubrovnik? Two years ago? Now, the croatian coast is quite stunning but 17 hours is much. 17 hours is equivalent to flight time to the land down-under, or to Japan.. so unsurprisingly, everyone thought we were slightly cuckoo..how do you sit upright for that long? We survived because there were many many stops along the way; for passengers to eat, to use the restrooms and basically stretch their legs outside and breath in the fresh air (or for smokers to drag on their cigarettes and exhale white clouds of smoke into the dark night.)
I remembered our bus stopping by Split then, at day break and seeing the sun’s rays glistening on the clear waters, and immediately feeling pangs of regret as it looked like an enchanting seaside town, the kind that was worth anchoring into and spending time, yet we were just passing by.
My yearnings were registered somewhere in the universe because this summer, as we backpacked the Balkans, we had to book a bus ride from Kotor to Split, onto Pula for our flight out to Brussels.
You know the one activity I missed out on while in Kotor? The Blue Cave tours. For myself and Miss Ashley it would cost 45 euros in total, but we missed it because we were time barred. No matter, we heard that they had blue caves in Split and we could do the same there. Turns out, we couldn’t because they were more expensive and it was a full day tour beginning at 6:30am and this portion of my trip was not sponsored. We were bummed. Worth a reason to visit Montenegro one more time.
Our foray into Split typically begins with the overnight trip there. I had booked a double room for the both of us, but we were arriving at 3 am unsure of whether anyone was up to meet us. In most places around the world, 3 am is a strange hour, when everything is deathly silent and the only ones about are probably angels or ghosts and ghouls. Not so for Split. Split seems alive as day when we arrive. The seaside is bustling with party balloons for sale, eateries are open, kiosks selling candy, and bars and restaurants full of patrons. People are walking around. Well…maybe just around the bus terminus.
As we roll our suitcases towards the taxi area, a guy approaches us. He’s good looking, tall and a little rugged. He has a street-smart vibe about him. A knowingness.
I like these guys, whether in Nairobi or Siem Reap or in Split, they are up at ungodly hours, seeking out business opportunities instead of waiting by for someone to come to their taxis. In Nairobi, it was at JKIA airport when I had just landed from Wajir (on a flight coming out of Mogadishu, Somalia) that as I conversed with the teller waiting for my dollars to be changed to shillings, an elderly looking guy politely asked whether I needed a drive into the city. He then handed me over to a young guy who drove me to my mum’s place. Business 101.
“Taxi?” he asks.
“Yes, we’d like a taxi,” I reply.
He then makes his pitch. Something common in touristy areas, I’ve discovered. He can offer us accommodation as well, at a friendly price. He’s tactful as he negotiates.
I shrug no. We have a booking and just need a ride.
A short blonde girl walks towards us wailing. Tears streaming down her rosy cheeks. She’s in shorts, sneakers and an oversize polo-neck she’s pulling on the cuffs to wipe her nose with.
“What’s wrong?” Street-smart taxi guy asks with concern.
She sobs that they lost her suitcase. She can’t find her it in the empty bus’s underbelly.
That’s the sad thing about these regional buses. They stop at so many places, people step down and collect their bags from under the bus, and sometimes they leave with other people’s bags. I remember her at Kotor. She had a huge grey suitcase that looked like it held all her worldly possessions. I would wail if I was her. God knows I would wail.
He switches to croatian and they continue their conversation briefly with the girl now wailing inconsolably. She abruptly turns to enter the bus terminal office to pursue the matter, while I’m handed over to a driver who will take me to my accommodation.
As we drive along, I realize that the rest of the town is quiet. Apart from the occasional cats slinking about in the shadows; and hissing or miaowing; the town is in deep slumber. The only bustle was at the terminus and the roads are now clear except for occasional cars riding past, as we cruise along speedily. We arrive at the accommodation, but it seems like a maze here and we peer at doors for the correct digits. We find out we have to walk down some stairs then turn some corners to the right numbers. From past experience, I realize it’s prudent to have the driver walk with you. It’s a new city to us and getting lost at 4am with weighty luggage can be crazy. Luckily there are two youngsters awake at the hostel. They look like millennials, friendly and chatty. I can tell they are backpackers, they’re probably on a round the world tour and working at hostels to fund their journey. They walk out to us. We had made a booking for a private room but the room is not ready, it has to be cleaned. They have a bed available, a bed in a six-person dorm. Would we mind sleeping there?
It’s been ages since I last slept in a dorm room, but I’m exhausted and so is Miss Ashley, so we acquiesce.
Horror of horrors, the empty bunk bed is above, so we freshen ourselves and clamber up, removing our clothes as it is sweltering hot. Little Miss Ashley goes up first then I follow her. I lay down to rest with frightening thoughts coursing through my mind. Thoughts that I will roll off the bed and fall face down with my nose hitting the ground.
My body is so exhausted by all the traveling that I black out when I shut my eyes, only waking up many hours later when the sun is up and has burst through, illuminating the whole room. The couple on the adjacent lower bunk bed is awake and chatting playfully. There’s a guy who’s walking in and out and fixing his morning coffee, the dark haired fellow on our bottom bunker is deeply asleep, he’s snoring satisfactorily in low grunts. Observing people in a dorm would make a good case-study as to sleep patterns and personalities; the habits of night-owls, party animals or early birds.
I carefully wrap the bed-sheet around by bare body and with one foot in the air feeling for the lower bed’s rail, I find it and step down. I enter the shower and Little Miss Ashley follows after me.
Dorm rooms are shared, so not a place we would want to hang around bumping into our roomies; besides, I asked someone for the wifi-code and they pointed it out on the wall, but they said it hadn’t worked for them. Every traveler seems to know the unwritten code; dorms are not made for lounging in unless one is nursing a hangover. We dress up, push our belongings to a tight corner and head out to hit the city.
Our first thoughts about Split is that it’s a hilly coastal town, but we keep walking as we ask for directions to the city centre and sure enough, we find ourselves there.
First, breakfast. Pancakes. There’s this cool place Luka Ice-cream and cakes that serves fruity pancakes and milkshakes, so we have a sugar-filled breakfast before heading to the promenade.
We don’t do much in Split. We don’t tour the Diocletian Palace and Peristyle, neither do we go to the Cathedral of St. Duje, or party at Bačvice club. We were already feeling travel fatigue creeping in on us so we just kicked back and had a relaxing time. We basically walked up and down the Riva Promenade which reminded me of Bucharest (without the sea). We had some bitings here and there then got onto a boat for the Green Lagoon tour to Ciovo where we snorkeled, and had an hour swim before heading back to Split. We had just 24 hours before setting off yet again to Rijeka then to Pula.
I think we will return to Split someday to have a proper tour. How about you, have you been to Split? Did you do a boat tour to Ciovo? Or the Blue Cave tours? What did you like about it? Any advise about what to see and do for the second time I visit?