A short drive to Trpanji from Orebic takes us to the car ferry that will take us back to the Croatian mainland. We arrive early and have time to walk on the waterfront. More cats! Unbothered by getting close to the water, these ones apparently know how to fish.
Once on the mainland we take the coastal road north to Split, ignoring the GPS instructions to take the freeway. The thing becomes increasingly frustrated with our refusal to “take the next sharp right” every time there is an opportunity to access the faster route. We finally get tired of hearing “route recalculation” and turn it off.
We are on the “Makarska Riviera”, a scenic coastal drive that passes through colourful resort towns. Makarska is the main town and has a reputation for attracting young partiers. Not fitting in that category, we don’t stop.
We do however take a detour off the coast into the hills above Makarska to a town named for our friend Steve’s family: Puharici.
The town has seen better days! Many crumbling and roofless buildings. When we hear dogs barking we are afraid the one apparent resident family is going to chase us off. The dogs turn out to be smaller than their barks and the family friendlier than we imagined. I am tempted to introduce us as being of the family Puharic or show them a photo of Steve & Lisa but they retreat to their house and leave us to the dogs and, yes, many cats.
We reactivate the GPS to get us into Split and alas it does its usual by messing up at the end. Our hotel is in the gated palace of the old city and not accessible by vehicle. We park and enter the main gate.
Impossible to describe the sights that greet us. Diocletian’s palace, dating from the 3rd century AD, is partly preserved and over the centuries various inhabitants (Venetians, Austro-Hungarians, Yugoslavs, Croatians) added their own architectural flourishes. It is a maze of narrow streets and tiny courtyards.
We enter through the palace basement – now a souvenir shop arcade!? – and emerge in the main square. It is full of people. Our hotel is close to the square, but we walk around it a few times before finally stumbling by accident to the front door. The Vestibul Palace – https://www.vestibulpalace.com – is a small boutique establishment that is the blow-out of the trip, although I did get a good deal on trip advisor.
There is a courtyard below our window where various male acapella choral groups sing latin all day long. As we sit at the hotel cafe, drinking cafe lattes, they are serenading us with a soothing rendition of Ave Maria. The video I took on my camera won’t upload (Jason, help!) but here is a utube version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtbSOsxuw5c
Diocletian was a Roman Emperor in the late 3rd century and the palace here in Split, now a UNESCO world heritage site, was built as his retirement home. He has several claims to fame, one being that he was the first emperor to actually retire rather than die or be killed while still ruling. He is credited with separating the massive Roman Empire into eastern and western sections. And he was the last non-Christian emperor. In fact, not only did he not believe in the Christian God, he fancied himself a god, the son of Jupiter, the supreme Roman god.
Ironically, Diocletian’s mausoleum was turned into a church in the middle ages and a tall graceful bell-tower was built, starting in the 14th century. We climb to the top for views of the harbour and old city.
Sunday morning the church bells wake us early. A bit annoying, but the silver lining is a chance to get out and take a few photos before the crowds arrive. Although the rest of the day turns out to be quieter and more laid back than our first two days here. Maybe it is a family day for the locals? Maybe the enormous cruise ship that’s been in the harbour has moved on?
Split’s harbour is the third busiest in Europe, after Pireus in Greece and Barcelona in Spain. The waters are busy with all manner of water craft and the waterfront, called the Riva, is a bustling place.
The people watching from one of the many waterfront cafes is brilliant. Tourists in their teva sandals and cargo pants, the young, mostly Australian, backpackers, the yachters in their crisp cottons and loafers, the European glitterati in their high fashion, the local-looking families with their dogs and strollers. A steady stream passes by as we snack on hummus and greek salad, drinking our beer and sauvignon blanc.
The trip is winding down. We find ourselves spending more time in cafes and less in museums. A sure sign it is time to head home.