Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Goodbye Slovenia and Hello Croatia--Arrival in Scintillating Split.

Thursday, September 29, 2016:
Ljubjana, Slovenia-Split, Croatia

Early Morning Rising:

            Our coach to Split was scheduled to leave at 7. 10 am from the Bus Station at Ljubljana. Since we would be leaving our hostel before breakfast service began at 7. 30 am, we asked for a packed breakfast and were delighted to have it waiting for us at Reception when we checked out at 6. 30 am. A few minutes later, we were trawling our strolleys along on the ten minute walk to the bus station and feeling quite sorry to be leaving Ljubljana and Slovenia in general as our travels had proven to be such fun.

Long Coach Ride to Croatia:

     I was excited to be traveling towards Croatia. I had wanted to visit the country for many years and had heard a great deal about its unspoiled beauty. We had a long ride ahead of us (about 10 hours) so Chriselle had wisely equipped herself for the journey by picking up a paperback from the hostel’s book exchange service. It kept her wrapped up for most of the journey which was actually much more pleasant than we had imagined as we made many stops.

            We had a border crossing into Croatia and passport checking and stamping about an hour or two into the journey. It went off painlessly and smoothly and in no time at all, we were on our way again. Once in Croatia, we discovered to our great annoyance, that we were required to pay 3 kunas (about 50 cents) each time we wished to use a public toilet in any one of the bus stations. This literally involved begging for a few coins or exchanging our euros coins with fellow travelers as we had not yet exchanged any money. Croatia in the only country that uses Kuna—so you need to use them up before you leave.

We also had a connection to make in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, which was once so much in the news. That connection was a dismal failure as we were kept waiting for a coach for over an hour. When the coach finally did arrive, there was neither an apology nor an explanation for the delay—I guess public services do not function with the same efficiency and courtesy in other parts of Europe as they do in the UK.

            Driving around Zagreb on our departure from the bus station and on to the highway, we got to see much of the city—at least its suburban parts. Needless to say, everything is brand spanking new as the city was almost wiped out in the 1990’s war that devastated the region and re-drew the borders of countries in Eastern Europe. It was fun to be able to see another capital as we did not have the time to spend seeing Zagreb in any more detail.

            By and by, we arrived at our destination. Our journey was made pleasant by the food we were carrying (apple, ham and cheese sandwiches, apple juice that was in our breakfast bags) and the snacks we had bought (potato chips, chocolate) and which we munched as the miles flew. Outside, the scenery changed with many green hills and mountains receding in the distance to blue-grey outlines of many more. It was quite lovely indeed and it offered us a break from the strenuous walking and climbing we had done during the past few days. Once we hit the Adriatic coast, it was the incredible blue of its waters that offered stirring sights as did the lovely small and large coastal towns that we passed where we dropped or picked up passengers.

Arrival in Split:

            We cruised into the City of Split at about 6.00 pm while there was still plenty of light. Chriselle had made a booking at an Air B and B that was in the heart of the Old Town. As soon as we alighted from the bus, we went to the bus station to book our onward tickets to Dubrovnik for the next day and asked for directions to our hotel. We discovered that it was just a fifteen minute walk away and it was with great pleasure that we set off in search of it.     

Finding our Hotel and Settling In:

            We knew that our accommodation was located in the very heart of the Old Town of Split. It did not take us long to leave the new city behind and enter through the walls of the Palace of Diocletian, through the Silver Gate. A few minutes later, we were completely enchanted by what we saw—for the Old Town of Split is composed entirely of the palace that the Emperor Diocletian built as his retirement resort. He never did occupy it; but through the centuries the entire place has remained a living entity of human activity. There are ruins and well-preserved buildings and temples but there are also contemporary homes with washing hanging on lines, children playing in the streets, stray cats darting all over the place and a general sense of vibrant life all around.

            We found the agent Laura who handed us our keys and showed us our room with its en suite bathroom. It was small but comfortable and certainly served our needs. We surveyed the place quickly, used the facilities and left immediately as we did want to catch some parts of the Old Town before the light faded completely.

Exploring Old Town and Diocletian’s Palace:

And so it was that we used the Lonely Planet Walking Tour to start off our exploration of the ruins of Diocletian’s Palace which rose up all around us. We were located literally in the midst of it all in an old building with an old door and with lights on sensors that came on as we passed each floor. It was a bit creepy and not something I would have enjoyed doing alone, but with Chriselle for company, my bravado swelled.  

We started at the towering sculpture of Gregorius Nin—which dwarfs everything in its surroundings. Then we began our walk through the maze of streets, admiring the intricate sculpture, the architectural details, the surface decoration at each step, of this grand and mighty edifice that has withstood so wonderfully the test of time. We arrived at the Peristyle which is the main building of the Palace and which looks like a grand Roman Temple. It has retained most of its original details. Standing not far away is the five-tiered tower of the neighboring church—sort of like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Everywhere we were stunned by the late-evening crowds most of whom were part of organized walking tours with guides speaking in varied languages.

After we had scoured parts of the Palace and become quite enchanted indeed by what we saw, we decided to look for a place for dinner as we were both ready for a nice meal. Our long coach drive had taken its toll on us and we were ready to kick back and relax. Hence, when we found a lovely restaurant in People’s Square that offered outdoor tables and lots of opportunities to people-watch, we settled down there with cold beer and one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten—it was a seafood pizza with fresh prawns, capers and green olives on a generous bed of mozarella cheese. As we dug in, we were simply delighted by our meal and our surroundings and the lovely soft lighting which gave the entire Palace a magical ambience. Indeed, I was very glad that Chriselle and I did some exploration by night as our impressions of the city in broad daylight would be quite different altogether.

After our meal, we presumed we would get directly home—but along the way, we heard music and stopping to listen, we discovered that it was a guitarist and a female singer who were seated outside the Luxor Hotel and Restaurant to entertain patrons who sipped wine as they lounged, Roman-style, on red cushions on the Temple steps. Of course, we joined in right away, because we both love music and knew all the songs she was singing. Some brave British women and a couple of kids were not content with singing alone—they jumped into the space in the center and began dancing. It was all fun, very lively, very friendly, very much the kind of spontaneous experience you encounter in your travels that remains forever embedded in your brain. Well, for me, this too was one of the highlights of our travels and we enjoyed it immensely. A little later, we decided to go back home and get some shut eye as the morrow would bring us more sightseeing delights.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…            

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