It took us two hours by bus to get from Zadar to Split, approximately 160 kilometres in distance. We are finding that the Croatian buses are nowhere near as good as those we used throughout Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. On top of this they cost more too – but it is an easy way to get around the Dalmatian Coast. The cost to Split was 86 Kunas each or AUD$16 each. If you have luggage to be stored underneath the bus, the bus driver will charge you 7 Kunas each bag – though this seems to be a ‘hit and miss’ thing and dependant on which bus company you travel with.
Croatia still uses its own currency, Kunas (HRK), but many travel and tour companies price everything in Euros, but will, of course, accept Kunas. It was explained to us that Croatia is reluctant at the moment to convert to Euros as they do not believe the country’s economy is strong enough yet. Croatia emerged from communism and the remains of Yugoslavia, straight into a war in 1991. It has been over twenty years since the war ended and the economy is growing. The fear is that converting to the Euro at this moment will be inflationary. This benefits the tourist and foreign currencies still go a long way in Croatia whilst the Kuna is used.
Arriving by bus into Split is a marvellous sight. You pass through a mountain pass which is flanked by Fortress Klis (we would visit there later) and then the scenery opens to mountains stretching off in the distance, the ocean is in front of you and large islands lay on the horizon. In the middle of all this is the port city of Split.
The bus terminal is located right next to the port – you literally exit the bus and gaze upon a large car ferry. The centre of Split is just a two minute walk along the promenade from the bus station.
We booked an apartment that was a twenty minute walk from the bus terminal. Our host was there to meet us at the apartment and was, again, of good standard for a reasonable price. We paid AUD$67 per night, and only a 10 minute walk to Old Town and the waterfront. This was going to be our home for two weeks.
Split is the second largest city in Croatia, but all the tourist areas are together near the port. The hub of the tourist area is The Palace of Diocletian which fronts the Riva waterfront. The Diocletian’s Palace is a place built in the fourth century (305AD) to honour the Roman Emperor Diocletian. This, though, is not a traditional palace as it is more like a huge fortress that occupies the centre of the city.
We entered the Diocletian Palace through a laneway at Vocni Square, which is located among the restaurants on the Riva Promenade (the port). Walking down the laneway was like walking back in time. The palace is a maze of small alleyways, churches, squares, gates, watchtowers, walls, monuments, cafes, shops and restaurants. The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is amazing to wander around.
There are several gates to the city, at the Golden Gate we found a statue of our mate Grgur Ninski striking one of his aggressive ‘smiting in progress’ pose – we have seen his statue several times before in similar poses.
The centre of the Diocletian Palace is the Peristyle.
The Peristyle is a monumental court which includes the Cathedral of St. Dominus which houses Diocletian’s Mausoleum. Split’s octagonal cathedral is one of the best-preserved ancient Roman buildings standing today. It was built as a mausoleum for Diocletian, the last famous persecutor of the Christians, who was interred here in 311 AD. The Christians got the last laugh, destroying the emperor’s sarcophagus and converting his tomb into a church in the 5th century, dedicated to one of his victims.
You can climb the bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Domnius and visit the Mausoleum for AUD$11.
The view from the top is absolutely spectacular and climbing the dodgy steep stone stairs and then the metal staircase was well worth it.
There are steps surrounding the courtyard of the Peristyle, however to sit down you must buy a drink from whatever café ‘owns’ that particular step area – everyone is always out to make a quid!
The Peristyle is home to the last remaining Egyptian sphinx used to decorate the Diocletian Palace when it was built. Apparently this sphinx is over 3500 years old. Di and I found, that with so much happening around us and the excitement of the Game of Thrones set, we nearly missed the sphinx as it is small and unassuming.
The Peristyle also has the Diocletian basement (also called the cellar and the underground) – which is where you will find numerous souvenir shops. This basement, though, was used in the TV series Game of Thrones as the lair of Daenerys Dragons – this was exciting!!!
There are many places throughout the Palace that were used as settings for the Game of Thrones, the trick is finding them. We did find a location in Papacaliceva Street, with the help of the boredpanda website, where the slave uprising took place in GoT.
GoT locations was fast becoming my new exciting hobby!!
You cannot miss the Diocletian Palace and it is a must visit. It does get crowded, especially when a cruise ship is in, as the cruise ship dock is within walking distance. I found walking the streets a wonderful experience but make sure you keep your wife away from the Candy Treasure chocolate and lolly shop, or that will be all you will see!!!
Just outside of the Palace walls there is Trg Brace Radic (Fruit Square). This is a large fruit and vegetable market but also has clothes, cheeses, olive oil and souvenir stalls. It is a large market area and the fruit and vegetables are of a much better quality than the shops and cheaper. Di and I bought two kilos of a mix of red and green grapes for AUD$5 they were delicious – see we do not just eat chocolate.
The promenade around the port is a very long one and it is worth your while not to just stay at Riva but to go all the way along the promenade.
The Riva is the touristy area, it is lovely to look at and you will find loads of people sitting in the bars, cafes and restaurants at all times of the day – it is a people watching hotspot.
As you look at the Port from the Riva, if you go to your left you head to the ferry terminal, bus terminal and train station. However, if you walk past these places and walk around the headland (a 600 metre walk), you come to the beach area. The first beach is the Bacvice Beach.
The promenade continues around past the Bacvive Beach which has the clearest, flat water – but the beach is average. There are cafes and restaurants along the promenade and it is a lovely walk. It all is a case of just how far do you want to walk as it goes on for ages.
At the Riva, facing the port if you turn right and head along the promenade, it is a completely different walk. At the end of the Riva are the picturesque Trg Franje Tudmana and Prokurative. The Prokurative is a three sided square with the most amazing arched architecture that was built by one of Napoleon’s generals and was his army’s headquarters in the city.
At the end of the Riva is the Church and Monastery of St. Frances, then continue walking along the promenade around the port where one of the first things you will see is the ‘big fishing hook’ – now anyone who has travelled the Australian countryside knows Australia has a fixation with BIG things for tourist attractions, Big Banana, Big Prawn, okay Big Dunny for those from Dunedoo (you know who you are), etc!!! Well along the promenade is the Big Hook which is dedicated to a thousand years of fishermen in the area. These quirky little things are fun and this is not far from St Frances church.
As you walk further along the promenade turn around and look back at the city. You will get outstanding views of the city, ocean, promenade and the magnificent mountains in the background.
If you do this walk as the sun is setting and turn and look at the city, the setting sun lights up the mountains in a brilliant blaze of light – photographers’ heaven!
As you keep walking away from the city on the promenade you pass cafes, etc and then you come to the Olympic Walk. Here all the Croatian Olympic medal winners have plaques on the promenade.
You will next hit the luxury yacht marina and you will gape at the yachts, catamarans and large cruisers moored by the promenade.
From here you get good views of the cruise ships in port and the general comings and goings of all the ferries, etc –it is a hive of activity.
Don’t stop yet, continue on. The promenade appears to stop, but keep walking to Sustipan and the Memorial Park. Sustipan is the walled monastery of St. Stephen. This was the burial site of the Croatian Kings and was Split’s first cemetery. However, most of the cemetery and tombs were demolished when the communists came to power.
It is now a beautiful park and has some breathtaking views of the ocean and surrounding islands. It is also the perfect place to watch the sunset as the sun sets over an island just off Sustipan.
There are a few old Roman Tombstones still there and part of the church is in good condition. Di and I walked out there twice, once at sunset, and there were hardly any other people there both times.
On exiting the Sustipan, turn left and walk down to the waters’ edge. There a second promenade starts and this follows the ocean along the rocks. This promenade runs for about 1.5 kilometres and it is lovely. The water is so clear and blue. Along the promenade there are little bridges, swimming areas, even old Roman artifacts and small artifacts like canons – it is just so different. You will pass several public beaches like Kupaliste Jezinac and on the lovely October day we did this walk people were swimming. The path of the promenade comes to an abrupt halt – a rock wall and this is where some elderly ladies, 70 plus, were sunning themselves topless – kid you not! Then you know it is time to turn around and walk back.
Okay, the walk back to Riva from here is about five kilometres, so expect it to take a couple of hours round trip – don’t forget though there are many bars and cafes on the way back with outstanding views for you take a break at and have a refreshing ale or two!
The other big tourist area where you definitely need to take your walking shoes is the Marjan Park.
Marjan Park is a special place. It is a hill on the peninsular and is densely covered with pine trees. There is a roadway, starting near Sustipan, that runs around Marjan and returns to the city area. To walk this you follow an easy path and great views of the ocean, islands, mountains, etc. The roadway is popular with runners, bikers, roller bladers, walkers, etc. On the weekends and later evenings it is a hive of exercise activity. The complete road around Marjan would be about ten kilometres.
There are several beaches along the roadway, in particular Bene Beach, the Bene sports complex (tennis, etc) and the Bene restaurant. I hate to harp on this, but Bene Beach has no beach, it is a concreted area on the rocks with step access to the water. You can hire a deck chair there – well let’s be honest you MUST hire a deck chair unless you like laying on concrete or jagged rocks, for 100 Kunas (AUD$20) per day. This fee, though, does include a drink and some fruit. Please note, ‘drink’ often means a beer, as beer is just SO cheap here.
I loved walking around Majan road as our apartment was near one of the many park entrances.
It is when you walk through Marjan, along the many trails over the hill-top, that you see the true beauty of the place.
You can get into Marjan near the Big Hook. You cross the road and there are steps going up, in fact there are many steps going up, a couple of hundred, in fact. At the top of the steps there is a lookout and of course this has great views of Split and the port. The old Jewish cemetery is near this lookout.
There is then a sloping walk up to a small church dedicated to St. Nicholas.
There are two places from this church I recommend you see. One is you follow the steps behind the church up to another roadway. Once at the roadway turn left and head to a path that takes you up to a lookout where the Croatian flag is flying and there is a large white cross. The views again are superb.
The other way is from the church there is a long flat path heading along the coast. Follow this path. The path goes for about a kilometre and you reach a fork. The right fork will take you about 600 metres up to a weather station and great views. You can walk up to the weather station, take your holiday snaps and then return to the fork and take the other left path downhill.
This left path takes you to a fifteenth century church built into clefts in the cliff face. This is the Church of St. Jerome and it is a small work of art how it is built into the cliff. The church is very small and it has two buildings about twenty metres apart, with each building being a one room altar – but it is impressive.
From here you can return the way you came, explore the many trails running off the path, or walk down to the road to return to the Riva. Whichever way you go, the Marjan is huge and to fully explore all its nooks and crannies will take a few days. I loved this place.
Di and I ate at several restaurants and tried Dalmatian food – one place we had veal, lots and lots of lovely mashed potato, cabbage with mincemeat in it and more cabbage in sauerkraut – all washed down with a lovely cheap beer – this cost us AUD$20 for two of us. If you eat on the Riva expect the prices to double, but the location is great, so it is up to you – we ate there and enjoyed it.
That pretty much sums up what we did in Split. We love Split. There are lots to do and at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, the island tour operators stopped when we were there. We tried to book an island tour to Blue Cave and a few other places but the end of season was here – they closed down. We will just have to return to Croatia and do all the islands separately!! Start saving dear!!!
We did also had several outstanding day excursions from Split which I will cover in the next blog article.
The adventure continues……………….…………….. my friends!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!