I would have a breakdown if I didn’t get some sun and sea at least once a year. This trip was long overdue.
A. and I flew with Easyjet (of course) from Gatwick to Split. The flights cost us about £150 each, which wasn’t bad considering it was August Bank Holiday weekend. The flight was only two and a half hours too. On the downside, in order to maximise beach time our outbound flight was at 6 in the morning, so by the time we finished last-minute panic packing we got a grand total of about one and a half hour’s sleep the night before.
We got the bus from the airport to Split, which cost 25 kunas one way. The airport site lists two bus companies; I can’t remember which one we used but either way the bus stops to the right hand side as you come out of the airport terminal and goes non-stop to Split Harbour.
Speaking of kunas. You won’t need to worry about them for much longer because Croatia joined the EU in 2013 and will be adopting the Euro soon, but keep in mind that converting kunas into sterling in your head can be a bit of a nightmare. One pound is worth about 8 kuna (depending on the exchange rate that day) so we normally divided the kuna amount by ten and added on another couple of pounds to that. Unless you’re great at your eight times table, in which case you could have just skipped this part.
A. found the accommodation: Villa Simoni. It cost just under £300 altogether for four nights, but we did share a room. The photos on the website are a bit misleading as the place is bordering on shabby but the mattresses were comfortable and the shower surprisingly powerful. There was a fridge and a two-ring electric hob in our room, but we didn’t really use either because we mostly ate out. I would stay there again just for the location; it was a five-minute walk to the beach and a two-minute walk into Split town centre. It was also facing Split Harbour train station but noise wasn’t an issue; all the time we were there we saw maybe two trains, both at night when we were returning to our room.
When we got off the airport bus, we saw how convenient it was to just cross the platforms and get straight to the hotel but were worried about jumping the tracks and getting electrocuted – becoming human bbq is a pretty shitty way to begin a holiday. So we looked up at the power lines and saw none, then we looked down at the third rail but didn’t see one either. Then we saw the crossings and later on found out that Split Suburban Railway isn’t actually electrified! That was so weird because a train without electric power seems like chips without ketchup (it should be illegal to have chips without ketchup) but the diesel engines we saw were actually kind of charming and the people leaning out of the windows of sleeper cars looked like they were off to a really exciting adventure.
The closest beach to us was Bacvice beach.
First of all, the majority of the beach is a pebble beach. So bring those ugly rubber shoes you wear in water or be prepared to get little cuts on your feet. I wasn’t too bothered because I have a relatively high pain tolerance and a limp is sexy anyway, right?
Second, the water is amazing. It’s the clearest sea I’ve ever seen; I went in all the way up to my shoulders and could still see the bottom. A., who’s a better swimmer, went quite far and said it was the same further out. Which means you can see the seaweed when it touches you on the foot and don’t have a panic attack thinking it’s a hungry octopus.
On the first day, after falling asleep and dribbling on my beach towel I got woken up by loud topless French tourists, went for a dip in the sea – FYI, the Adriatic is much less salty than the Mediterranean – then started to feel a bit like a rotisserie chicken and convinced A. to go into town and find some sun lotion. Weirdly, the higher the SPF, the more it costs.
The sandier (and busier) part of the beach had sunbeds but we didn’t want to pay for them and wanted to find somewhere quiet so we walked around until we saw a quieter area and just put our towels down on the ground, which was what everyone else seemed to do. Everywhere got pretty packed by midday but our spot was bearable.
I didn’t do much historical research before coming to Split, mostly because I knew we were only there for a long weekend and really wanted to relax after a generally stressful year. So I knew there was something called Diocletian’s Palace but had no idea that it was a 4th century Roman fortress and most of the shops, bars and restaurants along the harbour were actually part of it. There were some cute souvenir stalls too, ranging from standard tourist tat (mainly shot glasses, owl- and donkey-themed stuff, and lavender sachets) to artwork by local artists.
One of the coolest unexpected things was the flea market. We found it completely by accident and struggled not to get a Wonga loan. To be honest if we’d had hold luggage I would’ve seriously considered borrowing money from somewhere but only walked away with a vintage-looking magnifying glass (which I don’t need but as Bernard Black said, whores will have their trinkets) and a wooden owl box. A. bought a brass teapot and some antique scissors, then spent the rest of the trip panicking that the scissors would get confiscated by airport security (they weren’t).
We did quite a lot of my favourite type of exploring, which is wandering off down little side streets and looking at all the quirky narrow houses with shuttered windows.
There were people hanging out their washing next to places that looked like national monuments, which was like seeing a totally normal non-toff living next to the Houses of Parliament or Buckingham Palace or something.
The only slightly upsetting thing was the amount of skinny cats with kittens who looked hungry and scared of people, although we saw a lot of tourists feed them scraps of meat from their plates at restaurants.
As was my experience with Moscow and Paphos, if you want good food for reasonable prices and great service, stay away from the waterfront. My Greek salad at a harbour ‘restaurant’ had one green olive in it while my tuna steak at a family-owned side street place was giant, tasted amazing and came with a smile from the cute (A. disagrees but we hate each other’s taste in men) waiter.
There were only two exceptions:
A place called Luna near the entrance to the harbour which calls itself a pizzeria but does pretty decent fish. The food was nice and the waiter kept plying us with on-the-house rakia. Rakia is Croatian brandy and if you haven’t tried the honey or walnut stuff then you haven’t done
Croatia life properly.
A gelato place (can’t remember the name, it’s in an orange building that’s part of Diocletian’s Palace) that does the most amazing ice cream I’ve ever tasted in my entire life. The chocolate stuff was so thick it was like eating an ice cream version of a gateau and nearly sent me into a sugar coma.
There was a bar quarter which had hideous modern buildings but the rest of the town was nice – the buildings were old and shabby enough to have character but not crumbling so much they looked like slums.
Drinks-wise, Ožujsko lemon beer was amazing – the most refreshing thing I’ve tried in ages.
The atmosphere at night was pretty lively but not rowdy. A few sleazeballs came over to say hello but they weren’t pushy and overall the crowd was pretty varied, from groups of teenagers who just hit 18 and want to drink ALL THE COCKTAILS to families having a walk around. Most tourists were French and German; I only heard English being spoken several times.
A lot of people didn’t understand the appeal of Croatia but it’s a lovely location with tons of character – and has managed to improve while remaining laid back and unpretentious. The standard of service (they won’t dance around you like the Americans do) and relative lack of beach comforts would seem a bit strange to some people but if you keep in mind that not everything is like what you’re used to in Western European resorts, you’d have a great time.
And just to sum it up, because everyone likes photos of girls in bikinis: