European medieval cities, European travel, Gregory of Nin, Josipa Jurja Strossmayera Park, local market, Marjan Hill, Radunica Ulica, Split, Split Croatia, Split local life, Split Market, Split neighbourhoods, Split-Dubrovnik ferry
11-16 May 2022. So to continue the story from the last instalment, on May 11th we stumble around getting packed and ready to travel. Today’s the day we go to Split on the high-speed ferry. It’s a catamaran that bounces and lurches across the water, stopping at three of Croatia’s famous islands of the Dalmatian Coast along the way. We are still recovering from food poisoning so can do without the lurching, but still, it’s a travel day that goes smoothly – a taxi to Dubrovnik’s port, then the ferry to Split. None of us are eating anything more than crackers and watered-down juice, though L says she feels well enough to try a meal. There is no meal to be had.
The ferry from Dubrovnik to Split takes over four hours. It’s much like being on a bus except that we can at least get up and walk around. I’ll do a bit of conflating here – we take the same ferry back ten days later when we’re all fully recovered and can eat and drink whatever we want. There is still no meal to be had.
The concession stands on the ferry are dire. Chips. Candy. Beer. Appalling coffee. Even more appalling sandwiches. First-world problems I know, but it’s puzzling since they’d probably do well selling something more substantial.
From Don’s notes: Time seems to stretch out at times like this. It’s been 19:00 for hours, and we’re still only at 19:49. Still nothing, apart from eternity, lasts forever, so eventually we’ll get to Split, take a taxi to our accommodation, and think about having something to eat, maybe. We have no specific plans for our first few days in Split. So much will depend upon how we’re all feeling. The ferry has made three island stops so far, and there might even be a fourth. The time has finally clicked over to 20:00. The ferry wastes no time at each stop, just in, unload, load, then off we go again.
The big attractions in Split are the waterfront, the Old Town, and Diocletian’s Palace which dates back almost two thousand years, but I’ll get to those later. First I want to introduce you to ordinary Split, this lovely European city that is home to 180,000 people, the Split where people live and work, both in the main tourist areas and away from them.
We climb Marjan Hill. It’s a twenty minute walk from our apartment to the beginning of the path, then, after a thirty-minute climb that includes nearly 300 steps
we reach, thankfully, a small cafe for a cold drink. And views of the city: a landscape of blue upon blue upon blue.
Split is guarded at its back by the Mosor Mountains, and flows down to the cerulean Adriatic Sea.
It curls around a safe harbour, and the top of Marjan Hill offers us views of the UNESCO core of the city and beyond. It shows us a city that begins with the red-tiled roofs of the historic Old Town, this nucleus that attracts so many visitors. Up against the waterfront promenade we can see the remains of the huge palace and fortress built almost 2000 years ago as a retirement home for Diocletian, Emperor of Rome. We can also see that beyond this the city gently morphs into a modern city of high-rises up against the mountains; a city of ordinary people.
It’s pretty much a straight shot from our apartment down a main road to the above mentioned waterfront, Old Town, and the ancient Roman buildings, but we rarely take it, instead preferring to explore the tiny cobblestoned streets and lanes that take us through an older part of town, but not so old that it’s a tourist attraction. Here I photograph the narrow streets lined by stone buildings, still fascinated by them, not having spent enough time in Europe to have become jaded. I’ve heard tell of those who have seen so many of Europe’s great cathedrals that they have become blasé about them – seen one cathedral seen ‘em all. I’m not there yet.
I photograph just about every sighting of laundry; it’s often about the colours; I love bright colours. And it’s always because it tells me about life here. Laundry is about ordinary people living in what to me is extraordinary housing, but still doing familiar things; a reminder that we are basically the same the world over – family, meals, laughter, tears, birth, death, laundry.
And here, laundry above, toys below. An entire family in one small image.
This is inner Split, fairly close to the main tourist attractions. Further out of course is the modern city, with the more prosaic housing that we would expect to find in most countries.
Which brings me to this: almost every day in Croatia I think of Ukraine – how the people of Ukraine were quietly going about their lives when suddenly, without warning, ordinary life ended. Bombs. Destruction. Heartbreaking loss. It’s almost as if I’m somehow walking the streets of Ukrainian cities, a sense that this is what it would have been like before the invasion. I can’t comprehend such fear and devastation. It makes me silently weep inside.
And yet here I am, walking the safe and quiet streets of Split, blessed beyond measure, passing by the ubiquitous cumquat trees, gardens in pots,
small green spaces,
and street art on Radunica Ulica honouring two of Croatia’s, of Split’s, greatest stars. At the rear is Oliver Dragojević (1947-2018) a beloved musician, and riding the bike is Jurica Jerković (1950-2019), an equally beloved footballer.
Some days we pass the market, another favourite place to experience the mundane, the place where the people of inner Split shop for fruit and vegetables, plants for the garden, cheese, and all manner of bottled products. I watch the interactions taking place in this slice of daily life, and chat with stall holders even if sometimes we only understand a smile.
Most days we end up at Josipa Jurja Strossmayera Park.
On one day there’s a small festival with pop-up craft and food booths, and a group of special-needs people who are all taking turns to sing, their joy and sense of accomplishment making me smile. They are having so much fun.
Just beyond the park, and before you get to the imposing Golden Gate entrance to Diocletian’s Palace and the Old Town there’s a statue. At 28 feet (8.5 metres) tall this towering monument to one of Croatia’s national heroes, is of Gregory of Nin (Grgur Ninski).
Nin was the Medieval capital of Croatia, and Gregory was the bishop. In 926 he defied the Catholic Church in Rome and started giving sermons in Croatian instead of Latin. Thus he became an important figure for Croatians and is regarded as an historical defender of their culture and language. It is believed to bring good luck to rub Nin’s left big toe, which is the only part of the entire gargantuan statue that is bright shining golden from so much polishing. Of course I give it a rub. One should never turn down the opportunity to attract good luck!
Leaving Marjan Hill and Strossmayera Park, leaving the Palace and the Old Town, leaving Tourist Central with its row of restaurants, leaving the glittering waterfront promenade, we walk back to our apartment the same way we came, along the winding pathways running through the local neighbourhood, past the stone houses built long ago that are the homes of the ordinary people that live in this city by the sea.
And at the end of the day with the lowering sun the streets also are golden.
Next post will be a dive into Diocletian’s Palace and the Old Town, then the true star of Split – the waterfront. After that more blue water as we explore the islands of Hvar, Vis, and Brac.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2022.