Croatia (2013)

Boat trip and to Diocletian’s palace

On Friday we take a boat to Šolta and have cocktails along the sea. The day after we venture through the palace of Diocletian like true Romans and eat a mountain of meat.

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As said before, we spent yesterday on the water. Just before nine we arrived in the harbour and took our places on the boat that would take us to the blue lagoon and to Šolta. Soon we cast off and set a course along the Croatian coastline. A bit of consternation as the rolling of the ship caused water to run into the scuppers, flooding the deck and all bags set upon it, but everything could be saved quickly by placing it on the tables and benches out of the water’s reach.

After a 90-minute trip we approached the isles Drvenik Veli and Drvenik Mali, where the sea is advertised as the bluest in Dalmatia. And although we have not seen every part of the Dalmatian sea, we were inclined to agree with the veracity of that statement: the water was again crystal clear and due to the shallow depth a beautiful shade of blue. The boat was anchored and we had the opportunity to swim and snorkel. We had purchased a snorkel set the day before, which came in useful, although I had to admit that breathing through one is harder than it seems. Several times I emerged coughing and spraying water out of my nose.

View of the Dalmatian coast.

After a short while we continued to a different location where we again had time to swim. There too, the grill was fired up and a large case of fresh fish was brought out, which were thrown onto the hot grill whole. After everyone had climbed back aboard, the boat set course for Maslinica, a village on the island of Šolta. Once there, we were presented with the culinary efforts of the crew: lovely grilled fish. I did realise that I should not make a career out of filleting fish, for my plate resembled the scene of a slaughter once I was done. Of course, it could have been worse: the plate of a nearby passenger looked like two wild cats and a rabid raccoon had fought over dinner.

Something is really wrong with us, I realised as we climbed up.

After lunch, there was the opportunity to explore the island, or at least the village: the island is quite sizeable. A scenic asphalt road ran up through the village underneath the burning sun, which would make normal people say: “By golly, it is way too hot, I am going to the beach instead”, but our first instinct was “Woohoo, let’s go up!”. Something is really wrong with us, I realised as we climbed up. However, the view was quite excellent and once we descended via a road on the other side of the village, we had truly deserved the cold cocktail we had on a terrace alongside the water. Vonne took a quick dive at one of the pebble beaches next to the harbour, before we boarded for the journey back to Split. It was clear the warmth had not missed its effect: half of the passengers was soundly asleep on the way back, missing the great view of Split in the afternoon sun.

After disembarking we did have to check in with the crew for payment. We had made a small deposit when making reservations, but on the day itself no one had asked us for the remaining part of the fare for the journey. As both the trip and lunch had been well worth the money and wanted to represent the Netherlands somewhat decently, we decided not to make a run for it. Our honesty was very much appreciated, and we could return to our appartment tired, but content (and slightly sunburnt).

Diocletian’s palace

That brings us to today: for now the last day in Split. As already has been said, Split grew around the palace of Roman emperor Diocletian. The word palace might invoke the idea of a large, stately building with wings, a throne room and bathrooms that are a long distance walking from most of the place, but in this case you should think more of a small town with walls, houses, temples and a mausoleum. Built according to the plan of a Roman army camp the square palace has four gates in its walls, across two crossing roads. When the palace of Spalatum was abandoned after the fall of the Roman empire, most buildings fell into rubble. As the ground slowly sank over time, the ground floor dropped below the new street level and nearly everything above that was demolished. That sunken lower floor then got demoted to a sewage and trash system. On one hand that filled up a historical complex with trash, but on the other hand that also preserved it. Over the course of the 20th century that “basement” was excavated, and is now open to the public and gives an idea of what the palace once looked like.

The central hallway through the Bronze Gate from Split’s riva is now a large indoor bazaar with souvenirs and trinkets, also containing the two entrances into the rest of the complex. We purchase a ticket and are now allowed in. The large halls may be empty and damp, but they are definitely impressive. We are walking through the very same rooms where about 1700 years ago the emperor of the Roman empire himself walked, even though only a bust of Diocletian now acts as a reminder of that fact.

When the lights suddenly go out and we are covered by total darkness, I do consider for a moment to put on a heavy voice and have the ghost of the emperor make a short return, but the three small American ladies in front of us already seem distressed enough by the darkness without me scaring them any further. Using our phone as a flashlight, we manage to make our way back into the central hallway and go explore the still lit eastern section of the complex.

Once back up top, we visit Diocletian’s mausoleum, which now houses the cathedral of St. Domnius; ironically someone who, since Diocletian was not particularly fond of Christians, was put to death by the latter in Salona. In the subterranean room I toss a coin into the well. The advantage of doing so, is that the room is now a shrine to St. Lucia, who is the patron of visual perception (if I ever go blind, I want my 26 cents back). The disadvantage is that the splash of the coin reverberates surprisingly loudly through the room, nearly giving Vonne a heart attack.

We continue on to the temple of Jupiter, which turns out to be rather small. Just to be on the safe side, I sacrifice a second coin to him too. Everyone familiar with Greek–Roman mythology knows that you definitely want to have him on your side. We wander a bit more along the walls and through the sort of narrow winding streets which give mailmen everywhere night terrors. It is a unique experience, however, to see how people are still living in this mixture of Roman, Venetian and Croatian buildings which despite their differences still form one cohesive place.

The waiter shows up with a plate containing a mountain of meat, on the top of which I am pretty sure I can see snow.

Swimming and the meal

We want to have a quick last swim before dinner, so we take our swimming gear to the Marjan park once more. It turns out to be a bit windy once we get there, which makes the water chilly and the waves, in combination with the rocky bottom, tricky. We find a small bay in between some rocks where we can enter reasonably well and enjoy a swim and some snorkelling, allowing us to see the myriad of crabs and fish beneath our feet, making us almost afraid to actually step anywhere. On the warm rocks we enjoy the last sun of the day and another beautiful sunset before returning.

It seems like an opportune moment to try out the second restaurant Ivica recommended to us, and judging by the full tables, that is a good choice. The restaurant apparently has quite a few large tables where six to eight people can sit, and we get seated at one along with a couple of Germans. Vonne chooses the meatballs in sauce and gets three large meatballs in delicious gravy, while I opt for the mixed grill. The waiter then shows up with a plate containing a mountain of meat, on the top of which I am pretty sure I can see snow. The Germans are very much amused and respectfully make room for my assault on this meat pile.

The meat does turn out to be delicously tender, and adopting the somewhat crude, but effective motto “fuck the fries” I start on this Herculean task. The stack of meat is coming down slowly but surely, and eventually I somehow manage to devour the entire dish, minus the aforementioned fries and small parts of meat I give to Vonne “to have a taste”, making her task to eat all of her meatballs a daunting one too. I am convinced that from now on, even if I never eat another piece of meat in my life, I still cannot be called a vegeterian. Today, I have irreparably become a carnivore.

We have a short conversation with the now duly impressed Germans, who recommend that we also visit Trogir. Slightly easier to get to from Split, but still very possible to do from Šibenik. They also hand us one of their discount cards they have no use for anymore as they are leaving, giving us a 10% discount on the meal too. Always pleasant, those Germans!

And that brings the evening to a close; au revoir, Split! Our next evening shall be in Šibenik.

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