There is a place along the waterfront where people gather during the day. In the small park with the palm trees, near the fishing boats, the old men spend cool mornings to discuss politics, sports, share gossip or tell stories of the days gone by. They talk passionately, voices raising and lowering like the tide, using their hands to emphasize important points. Sometimes during the heat of the afternoon, when shade takes on a premium, the benches fill with small groups of men enjoying tall bottles of cool beer. If it is a weekend, someone may produce a guitar and impromptu singalongs occur. Everyone participates, their voices harmonizing perfectly as they resonate through the trees and out over the beautiful harbor.
In the evenings, when the sun is preparing to retire behind Marjan Hill, people, mostly young, begin to fill the nearby pier. They gather in pairs or small groups to watch the marble buildings of the historic old city turn orange as the sun retreats. They sit among the fisherman’s nets as the sky changes colors and the buildings begin to reflect in the calm water of the turquoise harbor. Lights come on along the promenade that hugs the harbor in front of the ancient Roman palace that makes up a large part of the old town area. The sound of laughing voices, clinking bottles and lapping waves mix with the bustle of nightlife coming from the promenade to create the perfect mood as day turns into night. There is a place along the waterfront in Split, and everyone should see it.
There is a place in a tiny square near a church that has been used for an untold eternity. The square is perfectly aligned to take maximum advantage of the shade of the stone buildings that surround the square and the gentle cooling breezes that make their way from the nearby sea. A quiet café with tiny tables occupies a prominent portion of the square. The chairs are arranged side by side on one side of the table, in the Parisian way, to give the best opportunity to watch the well-dressed passersby. Perfectly chilled mugs of frosty local lager are served. The smell of grilled seafood comes from nearby. A view of the towering fortress that dominates the center of the tiny town is perfectly framed above the square. The frosty lager helps build the courage to attempt, or celebrate the success of, a climb of the ancient ramparts.
The fortress, used by pirates in ancient times, presents a sweaty challenge for those who attempt the climb. The narrow trail twists steeply upwards from the tightly woven alleys of the red roofed town below. Signs warn of hazards the steep stairs may present to the old or out of shape. You pass through an arch and begin your ascent, tightly gripping the poorly spaced rails that must be used to pull yourself up the steep marble steps. A difficult ladder completes the challenge for those who desire to see the commanding view from the top of the narrow parapet. The effort is rewarded for those who accept the challenge. Breathtaking views over the town, sea and nearby beaches are unforgettable. The deeply blue River Cetina splits the town in two as it flows between the hard rock mountain canyons that lead from inland towards the immense sea. There is a place in the town of Omis, just south of Split and everyone should see it.
There is a place along the raised wooden walkway above the wetlands where nature’s beauty will overtake you. It will happen after the crowds of bus tourists thin and you find yourself alone, staring across the crystalline water, fish swimming in small groups below you. They fight for position in a calm area between the flowing grasses of the countless streams. The bubbling water flows from an unseen place between the trees that thickly surround the area. A tiny, multicolored finch chirps loudly and melodically from a branch above, attempting to be heard above the white noise gurgle of the flowing water. The sound of mighty flowing water comes from somewhere beyond the trees and drowns the outside world making you feel alone in this Eden like setting.
Further along the path you find tiny lookouts through the trees which give brief previews of the grander visions to come. Descending steep stairways, waterfalls surrounding on both sides, you pass the swimming area that attracts so many bathers on these hot early summer days. A wonderful waterfall provides a superb backdrop for the bronzed swimmers. It is the last of several successive falls that cascade down the mountainside. Leaving the swim area you begin your ascent up the steep mountains steps on the opposite bank. You will be rewarded with successively superb views as you take advantage of the convenient overlooks along the way. The most impressive stop of all was created for a long dead emperor, the cement extension giving perhaps the ultimate view of the falls. There is a place along the boardwalk in Krka National Park and everyone should see it.
There is a place that takes ones breath away, not only from the effort necessary to reach it, but also from the astounding view which presents itself to those who make the effort. It is reached after an early morning ferry ride in the calm waters of the Dalmatian coastline. Split’s towering bell tower slowly drifts into the distance as the ferry threads its way through the islands to your destination. Perhaps you choose to enjoy the sunshine on outside decks or stay below to enjoy a cool drink. Docking in Stari Grad, you hurry to catch a waiting bus. Past the vineyards, olive trees and rows of fragrant lavender the winding road offers jaw dropping vistas along the stunning Adriatic coastline. The harbor appears like a postcard vision as you descend toward it. Stunning sailboats rock gently in the crystal harbor as sun kissed crew busily address morning chores.
Enjoy a refreshing drink along the promenade or perhaps a perfectly prepared seafood snack of only the freshest ingredients. Approach the stairs of the hill slowly, as there are many. Pass through the arched gates of the walled fortress and begin the ascent. More stairs await so keep your pace. Follow the switchback through the pine trees and herb garden enjoying increasingly incredible views. When you reach the fortress head straight for the flag that waves briskly at the top. Step to the edge and be amazed. The harbor spreads below, perfectly framed on three sides by gorgeous red tile roofs. In the distance a chain of islands leads outwards, each with sandy coves and dark green trees. Boats anchor in crystal waters or create V shaped wakes as they weave their way through the waters. In the distance, the mountainous island of Vis sits in a cloud bank seemingly floating above the ocean below. There is place at the top of the fortress in Hvar and everyone should see it.
We have been travelling for in Europe, Asia and Africa for 18 straight months. 2 ½ months of that time has been spent in Croatia. When we share our stories with people we meet along the way, invariably one of the first questions we are asked is what our favorite place has been that we have visited. It is really not a question that is answerable, but we usually mention France or Italy or Thailand. I truly believe that after our excellent month in Split, we may have to begin our answer by saying, “There is a place called Croatia and everyone should see it.”