Another bus ride - this time 4 1/2 hours - took us northward up the Dalmatian Coast - through a small strip of Bosnia & Herzegovina that cuts Croatia into two coastal sections (yes - two separate passport control stations to go from one part of Croatia to another). We arrived in Split, Croatia, just before 5:00 pm and had a short walk to our AirBnB apartment. The host wasn't exaggerating when she titled her listing "Amazing Location" - we were directly across from what we thought were buildings in need of repair but that turned out to be the walls of Diocletian's Palace - the #1 tourist attraction in the city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a another filming location for Game of Thrones.
After settling in we headed out to one of the host's restaurant recommendations. Google Maps took us through the gate into the walled section of the city into a really trendy pedestrian mall full of shops, restaurants, and bars. We came upon a place called "Brutal Bar" that caught Nancy's eye - but we stayed on plan and kept going, only to find that the recommended restaurant was closed. Lucky for us, because we headed straight back to Brutal Bar and had a great meal. The place was just a few months old and the food and decor were innovative and fun. Best of all, they served red wine at room temperature where all of the other Croatian restaurants tended to serve it chilled. The waiter presented us with a complimentary glass of a Croatian liqueur to finish off the night - it was perfect.
Our first morning in Split, we awoke to the sound of insistent church bells - lots of them - at 6:00 am and again at 7:00. Out our window we can see a bustling outdoor market and a bird's-eye view of Diocletian's Palace and St. Duje's Tower. We set out around 10:00 hoping to beat the rain. Inside the walls the cobblestone walkways are like a maze with no dead ends leading to the occasional piazza, Roman temples converted into churches, tiny shops, underground marketplaces, and private residences.
On our final day in Split we explored a new neighborhood and stopped at a café and quickly had to escape as Nancy nearly choked on the all-too-prevalent cigarette smoke, before returning into the Palace walls. Early in the morning, when it's close to deserted, it's easy to imagine an army of people preparing to start their day in the Palace.
It started to rain again, so we headed back to the apartment where Nancy did some coaching and drafted a blog post while Richard worked on the getting the word out about the website. With a huge sense of accomplishment we packed up, straightened up the apartment, and headed out to the port to board the "Marko Polo" - our Jadrolinija ferry that would be taking us to Ancona, Italy, over night. While we were waiting to board, Richard made a quick run to the nearest wine shop. He got a little lost and his delayed return taught Nancy a lesson - we wouldn't separate like that again, ever.
The ferry ride was basic but perfectly fine. We spent the first couple of hours in the lounge area noshing on more Croatian Cheese Burek and the nice bottle of wine that we carried on board. It was an "every person's" ferry, filled with mainly Italian tourists. The scene reminded us of East Boston on a family holiday.
Our "cabina" was small and spartan, yet we slept well and woke up refreshed in Ancona. We stopped at a nice café at the port and had brioche sandwiches with ham, hot tea, and espresso macchiato (double!) before walking 25 minutes to the train station - need to get those steps in! The 1 1/2 hour train ride to Pescara was just 18 euros.
Looking back - we chose to go to Split only because it was the ferry port that would get us from Croatia to Italy. What we discovered was a gem of a town that is really alive, easy to explore, and full of both the old and the new. We'd like to get back there when the weather is warmer, for sure.
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Nancy McCabe &