By the time we arrived in Split, Croatia had already captured our hearts. We had heard from numerous friends that Split was equally as charming as Dubrovnik and had a lot to offer. Split is situated along the Adriatic and is Croatia’s second largest city with about 350,000 people in the greater urban area. The city was founded by the Greeks as a colony in the 3rd century BC and is home to Diocletian’s Palace, built for the Roman emperor in 305 AD. The city like the rest of Croatia, has been passed around between various neighbors and empires over the years but has maintained a unique identity as one of the main cultural centers of Croatia. Its city center is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it has effectively maintained the look and feel of a medieval European city.
We stayed in a tiny but well-located AirBnb close to the water, where all the action is. In our first full day in town we participated in a tour of the outlying Dalmatian Islands and Hvar. The tour was in a small group of about ten people on a speed boat. We cruised around amongst the many small islands that dot the coast and made a few stops at some of the larger islands for lunch and to walk around. The islands we visited had small quaint towns that dated back to medieval times. I am normally used to small islands in the Caribbean or the Pacific which are sparsely populated with a very basic infrastructure. These small islands held incredibly built up stone towns and when walking through the streets you wouldn’t guess you were isolated way off the coast of Croatia – it was a first for me.
Along the way we encountered dozens of yachts sailing in between Greece, Italy, and Croatia. We came to find out it was just after "Yacht Week" when thousands of people pile into yachts and sail between various islands and coastal towns partying along the way. It looks like a blast and struck some inspiration in Mandy and me for a future trip with friends.
The last stop on our day trip was Hvar. This is one of the largest and most populated islands in the area with impressive hotels, shops, and restaurants. The marina held countless yachts of all sizes and a walk to the highest point of Hvar revealed a stunning view of the island and the Adriatic below.
The next day we took an excursion to Plitvice Lakes National Park. About a two-and-a-half-hour drive outside of Split, the national park consists of a series of lakes and waterfalls that have been preserved by the state since 1949. It is the oldest and largest national park in Croatia. In my entire life I have never seen clearer water and more fish. I was completely shocked by how clean and beautiful the park was and it gave me a window into what nature would have been like before humanity came along. The park has strict rules and wooden walkways throughout so that minimal disturbance is caused to the surrounding wildlife. I was astounded by the beauty of the park and the cascading waterfalls in the various small lakes and was so tempted to jump in the clean, clear, and refreshing water.
The park is very popular and sees about a million visitors per year. We were visiting in peak season, so the walkways were overflowing with visitors which made it difficult to walk at times. Despite the huge crowds, it was still worth seeing. The pristine condition of the wilderness and water will always stick with me and serve as a basis of reference when thinking about how much damage our society has done to nature.
After a long drive back to Split, we were dropped off in the main plaza on the water. It was a Saturday evening and the city was bursting with activity. Every restaurant and bar was filled to the brim and scores of people were strolling along the water. The sun was just starting to go down and you couldn’t help but think of all the Saturday nights the city streets have enjoyed over hundreds of years. While fashion, tastes, and architecture have changed over time, our intrinsic desire to eat, drink, and socialize with friends and family in a beautiful place will always exist. Traveling for me is not just learning about the past and the present but also about considering what endures over time. Consistency and not variety is what gives a real insight into human nature. // Jeff