Split

Split

Although much longer than necessary, the bus journey to Split was probably one of the most scenic of my life, sticking to the coastal road and offering wonderful views of the Adriatic, the famous islands and cute little coastal towns. After getting out of the touristy port, finding where I was staying and taking in the city for a couple of hours, I was pretty much decided that this was my favourite place so far. Nowhere near as touristy as Dubrovnik but still with the same charm, plus the gorgeous Riva and just a more genuine feel to the place.

Split

On my first full day, and my last day of being on my own, I explored the narrow streets of Diocletian’s Palace – reminding me a little bit of a smaller version of Dubrovnik’s old city, the ‘palace’ is actually a walled off part of the city. On the one hand it is a series of stunning Roman ruins – based around the central Peristil, just off of which lie the Cathedral of St Dominius, the Temple of Jupiter complete with Egyptian sphinxes, and the Palace’s underground network of cellars, to name just a few. On each of the Palace’s four walls is an ornate gate, named Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron. And yet amongst this striking architecture, life goes on as normal. Split is the shopping capital of Croatia and there is no shortage of designer shops, bars and restaurants nestled into the Palace walls. I decided to take advantage of this and do a bit of shopping, figuring it was best to get that out of the way before I had male company. In the afternoon I headed down to the very central Bačvice beach, which I have to admit was a bit of a disappointment as it seemed a bit dirty and seedy. But a beach is a beach and after lying in the sun for a few hours I was feeling very relaxed. As the day drew to a close I sat on the harbour wall with a mojito and watched the sun set which was pretty spectacular.

Split Split

The next morning I met Alex at the bus stop, checking out the ‘green’ market on the way there where I picked up some fresh food and where you can find just about anything. After showing him the basic sights of Split we decided to walk out to Marjan, where we discovered the much nicer Kasuni beach. The water was pretty cold but we still managed to swim! For dinner that evening we braved the famous black risotto (which I actually enjoyed, though I wouldn’t recommend eating it on a date cause it stains pretty much everything black!) and of course had to get some ice cream, although it wasn’t nearly as good as Dubrovnik’s. Always keen to try local things we also headed to a little bar in the middle of Palace where we tried about half a dozen flavours of rakija. All in all a pretty good day.

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At the Peristil

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Black squid ink risotto

The next morning we had planned on visiting either Hvar or Brač, which after a late night drinking probably wasn’t the best idea, and as it’s the off season the number of ferries is reduced. We missed the one to Hvar so headed out to Brač instead. I don’t think either of us actualy realised how big these islands are, and after docking in the main town of Supetar we didn’t really know where to start. In the end we opted to check out the famous Zlatni Rat beach near Bol, on the opposite side of the island. After contemplating renting a car, and talking Alex out of hiring a dune buggy, this meant another hour long bus ride. While it was lovely, the views were stunning and we both had some much needed time lying in the sun and swimming, I’m not sure it was really worth the 2 hours to get there and we maybe should have planned it a little better! Regardless of the long journey, as we sat and watched the sun set from the ferry heading back over I found myself wishing we could spend a lot longer in Split as it really is an amazing place.

Brač

Brač

Mostar – One day in Bosnia & Herzegovina

Mostar


Still feeling like I’d only just arrived in Croatia, at 8am and after only a couple hours sleep I left Dubrovnik and was on the road to Bosnia for the day. Admittedly I was quite unprepared for this day trip, with no maps, plans, local currency or even 100% sure on the language they spoke. But as soon as I arrived these worries disappeared as my host picked me up. After a quick car tour of the city as he drove me to the apartment, we sat in his garden and drank homemade loza & cherry brandy and ate his mum’s homemade cake while he told me everything I had to do and see and try while I was in Mostar. The hospitality I’ve seen since being here is really amazing; everyone I’ve met so far has been more welcoming than in any country I’ve ever been to.


Mostar


Most of the afternoon was spent wandering around and exploring the city, seeing the famous bridge and trying the local ‘delicacy’ cevapi – I swear I’ve only eaten Bosnian food since being here! – and of course seeing the city’s much loved Bruce Lee statue. Because of the city’s religious and political divide, no one could agree on a famous figure to have as a statue in the park – but apparently everyone loves Bruce Lee and that was the only thing they could agree on.  Mostar is simultaneously a stunning city and one that is clearly still recovering from the Bosnian War which ended almost 20 years ago. It still feels very raw and can be seen in the stark contrast between ruined buildings still sitting next to brand new, glass office blocks.


Mostar


As the sun began to set and the call to prayer rang out across the city from the mosques,  I figured I’d have a drink and wait til it got dark as I wanted to photograph the bridge at night. There are a number of bars and restaurants with terraces overlooking the river and bridge so I headed up to one to investigate, where I was asked to join a group of Slovenians who were there on business. Cue the beginning of a very strange night, although it did involve free wine and a beautiful view while the sun set, so ups and downs really. After escaping I was wandering the street and got talking to a backpacker from the US, and as I had nothing better to do we spent the evening together, which involved getting candy floss at a fun fair, getting in trouble with the police for climbing on the Bruce Lee statue, exploring dodgy bars and meeting the weirdest girl who led us half way across town on a search for food, all the while showing us photos of her dead dog on her phone. Like I said, it was a weird night.


Mostar

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik
So after getting of to a bit of a rocky start, both figuratively and literally , I arrived in Dubrovnik and quickly settled into the laid back, chilled out Adriatic lifestyle that seems to be the essence of this city. Which luckily is just what I needed after the last minute stress over coming out here on my own, followed by the most turbulent flight of my life – think being stuck on a roller-coaster for half an hour and you’re almost there; people were crying, I felt airsick for the first time and the whole plane applauded the pilot when he eventually managed to land – and inevitably managed to get lost trying to find the guesthouse where I was staying. But I made it in the end.



The logical place to begin on my first day in Dubrovnik seemed the Old City, or Stari Grad. On the bus from the airport we of course passed by the outer walls, but that in no way prepared me for the size and beauty of the place once you step through the Pile Gate. Its marble streets, monuments, churches & palaces seemingly at every turn are simply breathtaking, even when overrun with tourists. After wandering the main streets and exploring a few of the smaller side streets, I found a quiet restaurant a bit away from most of the hustle and bustle to have lunch at. Admittedly I still wasn’t expecting much as food in touristy areas usually disappoints, but the salad of copun and seasonal fruit & veg I had was surprisingly good. After lunch I walked along the walls, which again offered spectacular views, something I quickly learnt was true for most places here.

Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik


Having got talking to one of the tour operators outside the tourist information centre, I had booked a kayaking & snorkelling trip for Wednesday afternoon. This took us around the whole of the Old City, over to Lokrum Island, and then to a little cave beach where we stopped for food, swimming & snorkelling. It was great to see the city from the sea and the water is surprisingly clear and clean considering it’s a city with such a busy port. The whole thing was great anyway, though old habits die hard and I once again failed to wear sun cream while kayaking – something I always do and always regret the next day – which I should have remembered after getting the worst sunburn of my life in 2008 after kayaking down the Loire.


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Kicking back in a kayak


After a fairly tiring day I decided to treat myself to dinner at a restaurant. I’m now getting quite used to this dining alone thing! On a recommendation from my trusty Lonely Planet guidebook and TripAdvisor, I decided to check out Taj Mahal, which deceptively is not Indian but Bosnian cuisine. I went for the pljeskavica, almost like a burger but unmistakably Eastern European, and it did not disappoint.


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Thursday’s weather forecast promised heavy rain and thunder storms, and I woke up to the sound of rain hammering down outside and a slight chill in the air. I also woke up to find myself alone in the guesthouse as everyone else had left earlier that morning, so feeling a bit lonely I was just catching up on The Great British Bake Off and drinking tea (typical brit abroad) when the owner’s mum came to clean the other rooms and brought me homemade cake and juice. This little pick me up coincided with the sun coming out, so I headed into town, though still wary of the thunder storm that was supposed to happen that afternoon. But as the skies cleared and at a comfortable 25•c, it became clear that black jeans & an umbrella were perhaps not the best choice for today.


I had planned on using this day of bad weather for more cultural, indoorsy things, and although the weather had improved I didn’t want to miss out on them, so I visited the Rector’s Palace, which like everything else in this city was stunning inside, and with my 25 kuna student entry (sometimes looking young has it’s benefits!) allowing me free entry to some of the other museums, I also went to the Dubrovnik Natural Science Museum, which was deserted and a little underwhelming – but hey it was free.


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Homemade breakfast
Dubrovnik
The Rector’s Palace
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Wee selfie inside the Palace


Being unable to resist the sun for too long though, I sat down at a cafe and caught up on some reading and people watching, which mostly involved watching the Game of Thrones crew setting up for filming, which had started the day before. I actually wandered onto one of the sets earlier on and while I’m not that into the show I admit it was pretty cool, as was seeing a scene being shot the night before when I was out for dinner. After my fair share of museums I headed down to the harbour to book my bus ticket to Mostar, and also to see the area which of course was also lovely.


Dubrovnik
Wandering through the Game of Thrones set


On my last day I decided to visit Lokrum Island, which I hadn’t originally planned on but our little kayak jaunt out there made me want to see it. The boat journey over was cheap & quick but the second you arrive it’s as if you’ve been transported miles away from the busy Dubrovnik streets. Peacocks & rabbits meander around you and the whole place is just wonderfully tranquil, and at least when I arrived, almost deserted of people. After some sunbathing and lunch at the dead lake, which I had to defend from hungry peacocks, I explored the monastery, olive grove, path of paradise and the old fort which offers fantastic views back to the mainland. I then proceeded to get lost and spent a good hour walking around almost the entire island completely alone. Coming back to civilisation I found a nice flat rock to sunbathe, read, and generally listen to the calm of the sea, for a couple hours before catching the boat back. All in all a pretty perfect day, which of course I had to finish with some of Dubrovnik’s finest ice cream (my new addiction) – at 10 kuna for a scoop bigger than my fist, dozens of delicious flavours & very friendly staff who definitely remembered me from the day before, it’s hard to resist!


Dubrovnik
Lokrum Island
Dubrovnik
Making friends with the wildlife
Dubrovnik
Gorgeous sunset on my last night