It’s true that the early bird catches the worm – when traveling, I never hesitate to wake up early to maximize my day and have time to explore more of a foreign city. My friends and I headed out around 7am to explore old town Split and the center of the ancient city, which was once the palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.
After a short Uber ride from our hostel, we arrived in the center of old town and walked around for a bit, peering into various pastry shops and bakeries as we scoped out what we might want to buy before heading back to the hostel later. Once we picked out which bakeries we wanted to come back to later on, we made our way to the central area of Diocletian’s Palace where the cathedral is located. As we walked past some gift shops, it was interesting to note that lavender seems to be as popular and iconic in Split as lemons were in the Amalfi Coast, with many stalls and shops prominently featuring lavender products.
We were able to gain admission to Diocletian’s Palace dungeons, the cathedral, the bell tower, the crypt, and the Baptistry of Jupiter for the equivalent of around $8 total, reminding us just how cheap the country of Croatia is when factoring in their inflated currency and the exchange rate.
The cathedral itself was beautiful, although small, but I appreciated it’s intricate architecture and decorations reminiscent of the Roman era of opulence.
Next, we ascended a narrow, twisting staircase to reach the peak of the cathedral’s bell tower, which provided a breathtaking, panoramic view of the entire city and the mountains in the distance.
Beneath the cathedral was the crypt, a small underground room that was unadorned save for one statue in the middle of the patron saint of the blind, who held in her hand a tray of eyeballs.
We proceeded to the dungeons of Diocletian’s Palace, in which the popular series Game of Thrones filmed multiple scenes. Since my friends were fans of the show, we asked the guide which areas were used for filming and scoped out those areas in addition to admiring the ancient underground architecture and a grand statue of Diocletian himself.
Finally, we visited the Baptistry of Jupiter, which was a small and frankly underwhelming building, but it was interesting to see the statue of the great god Jupiter and the cartoonish carvings in the baptistery.
As we departed old town and headed back to our hostel, we stopped at a few of the bakeries we liked but sadly realized that most places sadly only accepted kuna (the Croatian currency) and we didn’t have much cash on us, so we decided our bakery desires would have to wait until later. One bakery, Bobis, did take credit card, so we I tried a traditional štrudel from there on our way out and it was quite good, although messy as the powdered sugar got everywhere.
On our way back to the hostel, our Uber driver informed us that the football stadium in Split was used for the Ultra Split music festival which was a spinoff of major EDM festival Ultra in Miami. He informed us that population of Split is only around 300,000, but for the festival, 150,000 people come in for the 5 days, so the population swells enormously.
Once we met up with our group, we boarded a boat for an island hopping tour around the Dalmatia coast. However, after getting on the boat we quickly learned firsthand that the tide was high and the waters were extremely rough. The boat was rocking back and forth like crazy and my friends and I were seriously scared at one point that it might tip over. There was no turning back once we were on our way though, so we anxiously survived the two hour ride to the island of Solta.
We disembarked from our boat and had lunch at Konoba Sagitta, which had amazing cuttlefish risotto, which you can read more about in my Croatian food blog post! Long story short: amazing food, but horrible service. It seems to be a common theme that some European restaurants will say their credit card machine is broken just so that tours have to go to an ATM and pay in cash and the restaurant doesn’t have to pay a credit card transaction fee – this is exactly what happened to us, but we found out our waiter was lying and we were outraged when people in front of us were paying with card when we had all just had to pay unnecessary ATM fees to take out cash. Lesson learned, to ask and ensure a restaurant takes card before sitting down next time.
All in all our “island hopping” boat tour was turning out to be extremely underwhelming: due to the tides, we were unable to see the Blue Lagoon in a nearby cove (which I had been looking forward to seeing purely because I had just been to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. Instead, we simply headed straight back on our 2 hour journey to Split once we all got on the boat after lunch.
About an hour away from Solta, the boat did stop in the middle of the ocean and we were invited to jump off the boat into the clear blue waters of the Adriatic Sea. My friends and I debated whether it was worth getting wet and braving the cold winds for a while, but eventually decided to follow the philosophy of YOICO – “you’re only in Croatia once” – so we jumped off the top deck of the boat and plunged into the salty waters about 20 feet below us. It was fun and in the end I’m glad I did it. We also saw some dolphins splashing in the water alongside our boat on our way back to Split!
When we finally docked, we decided to stay in the old town area to walk around a bit before getting dinner. Near the waterfront, we found a stand selling uštipci, which is fried dough of a similar variety to zeppoles. These Croatian stands gave us the option to cover the cup of uštipici in honey, chocolate, coconut, strawberry sauce, or a combination of options, and they were extremely delicious and well received by us after our traumatic and somewhat regrettable boat tour experience.
With kuna in hand, we stopped back at the bakeries we had found in the morning and bought some various traditional cookies and pastries.
On our way to a restaurant for dinner, we passed by the main area of Diocletian’s Palace and witnessed what looked like an outdoor wedding reception with lots of dancing and flag waving and boisterous music and chanting.
We had dinner at a restaurant near the water called Fife, which had been recommended to us by an Uber driver on our first night in Split. I ordered some seafood and more traditional Croatian dishes.
After dinner, we shamelessly went back to the stand with the fried dough and got another cup to split between friends – this stuff is THAT good that we came back twice in a day.
I hadn’t really known what to expect when I booked a trip to Split, but I was wholly pleasantly surprised by the charming city, beautiful coastal views, and unique food – I definitely want to come back to Croatia to explore more cities like Dubrovnik and Zagreb and to get a better understanding of the culture of this beautiful country in the future!