I loved Split. The minute we checked into our 150-plus year old apartment, shed our backpacks and walked half a block to enter the walls of the Diocletian Palace, I was smitten. All of us echoed collective ” Whoahs, ahhs, and what the ?”. We were literally gobsmacked for words. Our location could not have been any better with our accommodation providing our first introduction to old city life, and making our forays into the maze of Split, super easy. The house was off a narrow, cobblestone lane, our front door literally on the street, with no foyer deemed necessary. The first floor consisted of a small kitchen and bathroom, the second was our bedroom, and the third floor was separated into a tiny sitting room, half bath, and the kid’s quarters with two single beds. The stairs were steep and the ceilings low – a completely different kind of hobbit house than we were used to, yet perfect for our three nights.
The core of the old town Split was once an enormous palace built in the 4th century A.D. by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Through the centuries, squatters took over the palace, parceling up the land to build smaller homes, shops & restaurants, even creating humble dwellings within the original complexes walls. What was once a massive property, divided into symmetrical squares is now a virtual maze of streets, arches, and odd-shaped plazas, with a variety of different architectural influences, all unified by the white marble and stone used for its’ construction. During daylight it’s almost blinding, while at night, strategic and colorful lighting of blue, pink, and green add to its’ magical glow. Tables fight for real estate in each street, as people revel in the outdoor life and superb people-watching opportunities. Originally, the front wall of the Diocletian Palace was built at the water’s edge, in the Venetian style popular at that time. Gradually, an embankment was built up to create a separation from the walls of the city, and an active Marina. In-between is now an expansive promenade called the Riva, lined with palm trees and outdoor restaurants.
Of course, we did our best to visit the sites and museums of Split, many gratis with a special Split tourist card given to those who spend a minimum of three nights in the city. We climbed vertigo-inducing towers and navigated underground cellars, learned about traditional Croatian folk costumes and the jewelry, weapons and furniture of the past.
However, I’m sure the children would agree that our best time was spent on an excursion to the pebbly beach near Marjan Park, a mere ten minute bus ride from downtown. In contrast, I am a sucker for the atmosphere of the old city. I could walk its’ labyrinth all day, stopping for a cappuccino or cold glass of white wine. I’ve buried the shopper in me, as deep as I can, but I can’t resist spending money on good food, and we were always on the hunt for the perfect restaurant. I’ve got to admit that traveling with kids can nearly ruin the buzz of a purposeless stroll. There were multiple times that Dan and I just looked at each other acknowledging the fact that Split would be that much better if we were on our own. We missed out on the lively night life, and used ice-cream as a bribe in exchange for good behavior and more patience with our plans. I know that Stella and Gabriel are enjoying our travels, but the whining and occasional inability to just “go with the flow” are behavior issues that I keep expecting to wane. Alas, parenting is the same struggle wherever you are, and I can’t complain about the current backdrop to our life.
By our fourth day, the weather turned sour. We found ourselves on a ferry to Korcula Island during a rainstorm. When we arrived into Old Town, we found ourselves huddling for cover, enmasse with other tourists. Since we had to wait for our apartment to be ready, we hung out at an outdoor cafe (with a roof!), our bags piled high around us. Before finding this refuge, we had to tramp through the rain in an old cobble-stoned city, with rivulets of water flooding down the streets. As we were walking under the main arched Great Land Gate, I took a major fall, my foot slipping out in front of me as I fell backward. Thankfully, my backpack saved me from smacking hard against a rock-hard stair, with my wrist only slightly sprained. In no time, I had a party of Spanish tourists trying to lift me to my feet, like a flipped over turtle. Within 10 minutes, I felt all the more thankful that wet jeans were my only true discomfort, as I spied another woman being urgently attended to by paramedics, as she had broken her leg.
Our plans for a two-day trip to a less hectic version of big-city Croatia, and the opportunity to laze on more beaches, had to be altered. We ended up cutting down our stay to one night, in favor of traveling onward to Dubrovnik. That is not to say that we did not enjoy our brief time exploring Korcula Town. We had several dry spells during our 24 hour stop, which allowed us to meander and get a sense of our surroundings. Stella and I learned all about Marco Polo’s adventures in a small museum, and Gabriel got to watch an octopus hunting for mollusks while attempting to catch his own fish with a new rod. By the time that we were saying our goodbyes to the island, the weather was looking brighter for our next destination…