Split, Croatia: June 7 – 22, 2016
Red roofs atop white stone buildings, pristine sunlit gravel beaches, and sharply rising mountain landscapes are some of the first thoughts that come to mind when thinking of Croatia. Prior to visiting the country, I didn’t even have that much in mind. Croatia had been one of my wife’s long-held dream destinations for many of the reasons mentioned prior. For me, as a 20th century history enthusiast, I had visions of a war torn country with limited economic prosperity – a former member of Yugoslavia beset with a personality rough around the edges. (Feel free to check out a great documentary about the Croatian War in the 1990s).
Sure, Croatia has become an eastern European playground for 20-somethings, almost like the Ibiza of the region. But that’s not our type of travel. At this point, whether you travel to Vegas, Miami, Ibiza, or Brac (Croatia), once the alcohol starts flowing, the music starts blaring, and the light go down…it’s all the same. Instead, our travels these days are more about exploring the areas we reside, chatting with the locals to understand the world from their eyes, and experiencing the sights, smells, and tastes of our new destinations. For the most part, Croatia held its own.
Steps from the Beach in Split
The last two weeks prior to arriving in Split, we used every opportunity to hit the beach – with quick trips to Valencia, Cádiz, and Albufeira. Now, we didn’t have to go much farther than across the street to reach the shores and we were there everyday. No matter the rain, the wind, or the heat, the beach was our backyard. One place that quickly became our staple was the Heritage Tennis Club. From their patio, we could sit and enjoy Euro Cup soccer games, study Spanish or Vietnamese, or simply watch the boats go by on the sea. As I noted in my previous post – My Top 6 Digital Nomad Office Locations – the Heritage Tennis Club is my all time favorite. Not to mention they had the best cheesecake I’ve ever had – something that I woke up everyday looking forward to have with my café Americano while studying or working on client projects.
The area we stayed in Split was about a 20-minute walk into the center of town. It was a long enough walk that we didn’t venture into town everyday but short enough that if we needed a change of pace or needed to head out of town, we could head out pretty quickly. Most of our time was spent enjoying the several different beaches within a 5-10 minute walk from our apartment. Each beach has a different feel, but what’s great about bar/beaches in Croatia is that each provides pretty good Wi-Fi, so long as you purchase a drink. Needless to say, I enjoyed many Radlers (my favorite summertime refresher – beer mixed with lemonade) and café americanos while working and studying.
Surprisingly, though, the food in our area wasn’t too impressive. Much of the coastal Croatian diet is Italian influenced. Given the region’s history, much of their cuisine is based on cultures that influenced them through seafaring connections (Greek, Italian, Turkish, etc.). Outside of the pizza place adjacent to our apartment, the aforementioned amazing cheesecake, and a Croatian dish we enjoyed a local restaurant, much of the food was not too exciting.
The Split Most Tourists See
As I noted earlier, we ventured into the center of town a handful of times during our two weeks. Most of that time was spent trying to avoid the hoards of crowds that descend from the cruise ships and tour buses in the late morning and head out in the mid-to-late afternoon. Split was originally a retirement destination for a Roman Emperor (Diocletian 284-305 AD). He built his castle on the shores of what is now Split, Croatia and for much of its history, the city was nothing more than a place for his palace and all those that worked for him. Later, Split grew into a major destination for merchants as they traveled up and down the Adriatic Sea. Actually, most of the cities that line the Croatian coastline were little more than point-to-point stop offs for the thousands of sailors and merchants that traveled this once dominant shipping route. The same route that eventually brought coffee from the East to the West through Venice.
Today’s travelers come to Split primarily to visit the Palace, which has now become the central shopping and restaurant district. A typical day might include arriving into town via bus or ship, stopping for coffee and snack as they stroll through the halls of the old palace. Then, perhaps tourists have a quick lunch in town before taking a 10-minute walk to Bacvice Beach to enjoy one of the only sandy beaches in Croatia. Most travelers probably aren’t even aware that Croatians don’t like sandy beaches but prefer rocky beaches instead. Though the rocks are harder on the feet, they are much cleaner to lay on and you don’t get all that sand blowing up in your face. But to satisfy the thousands of tourists that embark upon its shores annually, Split provides an environment more suitable for their visitors than themselves.
Day Trip #1 – Trogir
After having been very active during our two months in Spain, we did our best to simply relax and enjoy Split before jetting off again. But, alas, we are challenged to stay in one spot too long and by the end of our first week in Split, we were itching to explore a new destination – if only for a day. Our first pick was Trogir – a teeny, tiny island town only 30 minutes from Split.
We unfortunately caught Trogir on a rainy day but that didn’t make it any less majestic. Once you venture out of Split, you quickly see that most towns resemble the feel of the center of Split and all seem to have an economy driven purely by tourism. In my experience this generally means mediocre food, moderately high prices, and time spent around more travelers than locals.
Day Trip #2 – Supetar
Getting around much of the coastal area of Croatia is either by boat, seaplane, or bus. After surviving a few days of clouds and torrential downpours, we were eager to get out and get some sunshine. We’d thought about renting a car and driving up to Zadar (3 hours) or enduring a 5-6 hour bus ride down to Dubrovnik (another very popular Croatian coastal destination) but neither option was appealing to us at the time. Instead, we settled on a one-hour ferry over to Supetar – another teeny, tiny village.
Most of these seaside towns are so small that you can walk around the entire town in less than a few hours, while still having time for a meal at a restaurant, time on the beach, and time for coffee and dessert prior to heading back home. Yet, it was still a very nice and relaxing getaway for the day. Perhaps, the best part of the trip was the view of Split as we returned on the ferry from Supetar.
Returning into Split Harbor (20 secs)
Seeing Split from Above
After our day trip to Supetar, we walked past the seaplane harbor for Eastern Coastal Airlines. While they have 45-min flights down to Dubrovnik and to other coastal towns, I was more interested in their 15-min panoramic flight above Split. I’d never been on a seaplane but since our trips to Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, I’d always dreamed of piloting one. In Canada, I’d considered taking a lesson or a quick scenic flight but the prices were just not reasonable in my opinion. But what costs nearly $200 for 15-min in Canada, only costs $50 in Split and the views were even better in Croatia. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to take the flight.
Sitting right behind the cockpit, I was able to capture much of the flight on video (as if I was flying). While 15-min may seem rather short, in that little amount of time we were able fly above Split, into the mountain valley, and up the coast along where I’d do my daily runs and walks. It was a fitting tribute to our time in Split and a great way to get my first seaplane experience.
Flying Down the Split Coastline at 300 ft (1 min)
If you look closely in the video below, you can see the clay tennis courts, public pool, and the beach near the end of the video. That’s where our apartment was located and the entire shoreline of this video was our backyard for two weeks.
After the flight, I got a chance to chat it up with the pilots. Both were American trained, one from Pennsylvania and the other from Montreal, Canada. Such a small world.
Makarska at the Last Minute
On our last day in Croatia, we woke up thinking to just spend most of the day at the Heritage Tennis Club enjoying our tasty treats and later watching Croatia v. Spain in their Euro Cup match. But as we were having coffee that Tuesday at 10 AM, I unexpectedly blurted out…what if we took the bus down to Makarska for the day? It was a town on our short list during our entire time in Split and only an hour away by bus. So while we hadn’t even considered it just minutes prior, we found ourselves sitting on a bus to Makarska just an hour later.
I’ll let the pictures of Makarska speak for themselves but needless to say, that getaway day was well worth it. I was able to get some client work done on the beach, we had the best Croatian meal during our entire time in the country, and the coastline views of the Makarska Riviera rival that of Big Sur in California.
That night we enjoyed our last cheesecake and coffee at the Heritage Tennis Club watching Croatia beat Spain in their Euro Cup match. For us, it was rather fitting that these two teams were playing on our last day in Croatia (our second home away from home) after spending the previous two months in Spain. What an awesome way to end our two weeks in Croatia!
Read more Tales from the Nomadic Adventure and find out where we’ll be in the coming months.