The alarm rang before sunrise. We spent the night sleeping just a few hours in the first of the many bunk beds we will meet in the coming months. The mattress was surprisingly comfortable, even though the cabin was very small and noisy.
The swinging of the ship on the water’s surface certainly helped us sleeping, and the relax in our minds did the rest. That night we had a great sleep. We were on the ferry that took us to Croatia, it was the beginning of our adventure.
As soon as we got up and reached the deck, the sun started glimpsing in the distance behind the Croatian coasts. It took it only a few minutes to turn into a ball of fire whose flames reflected on the waves.
We couldn’t have asked for a better start. It was a beautiful dawn, the dawn of a new day.
We arrived in Split at around 7 am, when the sun had just begun to light up the roofs. The city was awakening slowly, and the sounds of everyday life met the cries of the seagulls.
A few cars were founding their place on the road, the doors of the shops started to be opened, and the market by the sea began to pulse with activity. Next to our hostel, the narrow alley of rough-bricked houses was embellished by the hard work of a florist who was displaying his goods diligently.
There is no such a feeling as the excitement you feel when you start a new journey. Just the time to check in and drop our backpacks in the room, and we hurried out to explore the city.
Built on a small peninsula on the Adriatic Sea, Split has a very ancient history, being very important already in Roman times. It was actually a Roman emperor who gave the city its main place of interest, the Diocletian’s Palace.
Surrounded by walls and with four entrances, placed in every one of the four cardinal points, the palace is the pulsating heart of Split. It is not a proper building, but rather a city within the city, where life is lively.
Built by the emperor using materials from all over the empire, including sphinxes from Egypt, and then continuously modified starting from the Middle Age, the palace has been transformed into a tangle of alleyways where it is very easy to get lost, and where there are about 3000 people living.
Strolling inside is a continuous surprise, as the alleys are so intricate to create almost optical illusions. So, where it looks like the road is interrupted, there is actually a turning point, and if you are walking, you could easily end up hitting a wall.
Elements from different periods of the history fill the streets, and you could even sit on a Roman column without realizing it. At the same time this is the place where many people live their life every day. A child plays in the street, a man looks at him from the window above, a lady feeds her cat.
Much of the time spent in Split is usually inside the Palace or in its immediate surroundings, which make up the historical center of the city. Getting lost on those streets is something extremely pleasant.
But Split does not end here. In fact, if you follow the promenade for a few minutes either in one direction or the other, you’ll reach places just as interesting. On one side, in fact, the city crawls into a huge natural park, where, immersed in nature, you can climb a hill and enjoy beautiful views of the surrounding area.
Walking eastwards, you can realize why Croatia is such a popular summer destination. In the Bačvice area, home to the namesake beach, the sea changes its color. From the intense blue that accompanied us along our ferry crossing, it becomes here turquoise, clearly showing the seabed.
Even the temperature was on our side, allowing us to fully enjoy the moment, spending the morning sunbathing and swimming in a sea still very cold. Our experience in Split couldn’t end in a better way.
The next morning, we woke up early to get to the city bus station. More than an actual station, the one in Split is rather a ticket office in front of a parking lot, where a lot of colorful buses brings passengers to different parts of Croatia and Europe.
We found ours ready to go and, after paying the equivalent of one euro to an attendant who deposited our backpack in the luggage compartment (we are not sure if the procedure is reserved for all or only for tourists), we left on time towards the capital Zagreb.
The five hours spent on the bus were enough to take us to a completely different world. The two cities could not be more different from each other. One is on the sea and the other inland, Split has many of the characteristics expected in a Balkan city, while Zagreb is to all intents a city of Central Europe.
Moving from Split to Zagreb is like moving from your childhood bedroom where you used to play with your friends, to the dining room set up for a fancy business dinner. Zagreb is not what we imagine when we think of Croatia, it is rather an excellent turning point to get ready for what awaits for you further north.
The historical center has in fact a classical European style, with the cobblestone streets branching off the central square, where the statue of the Croatian national hero stands proud. The area is quite neat and is a pleasant destination for walking.
Behind the square is the city cathedral, whose facade was unfortunately destroyed by a strong earthquake in 1880, to be rebuilt in the twentieth century. Reconstruction has been going on since then, and the scaffolding has become an element of the facade itself.
In the upper part of the old town, which can be reached either walking or by funicular, is Zagreb’s most famous building, St Mark’s Church, which overlooks the homonymous square with its colored tile roof, depicting the emblems of both Croatia and Zagreb.
Very interesting is the Stone Gate (Kamenita Vrata), one of the original portals which gave access to the medieval city. According to the legend, a fire destroyed the door in 1731, leaving only a depiction of the Holy Virgin and Child Jesus untouched. Since then it is believed that the image has powers, and every day the place is crowded with visitors and believers who pray lighting a candle.
Our days in Croatia have given us just a taste of what this country has to offer, but they have been very useful for understanding its different aspects. For sure, they were the perfect start of our trip around the world.