Unless your European geography is better than ours, you may not known that Croatia is a relatively small country on the Adriatic Sea bordered by Hungary and Slovenia to the North and Bosnia-Herzegovina to the South. Our travels took us to the lovely seaside tourist town of Split (43.508 N, 16.440 E).
We flew in from Dublin (after a train ride from Portrush to Belfast and then a bus to Dublin). Usually by the time we pay extra for our baggage and instruments, we’ve found that the discount airlines end up not being such a great deal. However this time it was one of those rare occasions when, even though we had baggage and instruments, Ryan Air ended up being the cheapest flights we found. In many cases by the time we add all the extra fees, it is cheaper to pay regular fare with a full-service airline.
As we arrived late, we opted to stay in a hotel for the first night. We cannot say enough great stuff about the Hotel Splendida Palace. From the moment we booked the room until the second we left (and even after we left) the owner Marinya showed us a level of care and customer service that was just amazing. They arranged a late-night pickup from the airport, which was very reasonably priced, and despite the late hour greeted us with a smile and a ‘welcome to Croatia” glass of one of the local specialty cordials. The room was lovely, and included breakfast excellent. We were a bit sad to leave, luckily our Airbnb rental was only about two blocks away so the transition was painless.
Croatia has existed since the Middle Ages and the influence of the Roman Empire can be seen throughout the country. Split, the second largest city in Croatia, centers around Diocletian’s Palace, which is a large enclosed area that is now packed with shops, bars, restaurants and crowds of tourist ducklings following their “walking tour” guides. A significant portion of the Split economy is centered around tourism, especially during the summer months. During our stay we have been able to see the crowds dissipate to the level that it was easy to see when a cruise ship was docked and had disgorged it’s host of passengers
The Golden Gate of the Palace is guarded by a huge statue of Bishop Gregory of Nin. Legend has it that if one makes a wish while rubbing the big toe of the statue, your wish will come true. As a result, the entire bronze statue is a lovely patina except for the big toe which is polished to a bright luster. George did not pass the statue without stopping to repeat his wish.
Inside of the palace, you can tour architecture that has been standing since the palace was built for a Roman emperor in in 305 A.D. it is not surprising to know that many of the historic buildings, walkways and undergrounds areas of the palace have been used in multiple films and TV shows. Below you can see a picture of George standing in the same spot as a scene from the popular series “Game of Thrones”
During our month long stay, we found plenty to keep us busy. It is a lovely walking town, with hiking trails, a pedestrian walkway along the waterfront and of course the palace to explore. Those who know us, or have read some of our other blog entries, will not be surprised to hear that we averaged around 5 miles in our daily wanderings.
Since our Airbnb had a nice kitchen we made most of our meals at home, this was made possibly by a wealth of fresh fruit and vegetables from the daily outdoor Green Market just outside the palace. We had a great time shopping for fresh produce, locally grown honey, fresh baked bread and cheeses.
On occasion we would venture out for dinner or a cocktail, we did spend on particularly lovely afternoon at a beach bar called Joe’s. Perfect weather, excellent cocktails and amazing scenery all contributed to a great time.
About halfway through the tour we were lucky enough to catch up with our dear friends Art and Jacqueline Shand, who were in Split for one night of a world wind gastronomic tour of Croatia and Italy. It was such a pleasure to see them, visit for a few hours and share a lovely dinner.
We also spent one evening on an exceptional tour of one of the local wineries. Our vino connoisseur friends might be surprised to learn the unique strain of Zinfandel grapes so long credited with origin in Northern California have been traced to right here in Split. If you get a chance to take the winemakers tour at Putalj Winery, it worth the effort.
Very soon we will say goodbye to Croatia (for now) and head to Portugal (Lisbon and Porto) to meet two of our favorite people in the world. More about that in the next post.