Bird Droppings and Sea Symphonies: Split and Zadar, Croatia

Split, Croatia:

There were no maps for the public transportation system in Split, and even the lady at the bus station information desk could only tell us a bus number that ran in the general direction of our AirBnB, located 6 miles outside of the city. When it dropped us off, we slowly trekked the remaining 2 miles, encumbered by bags and heat, through what appeared to be a large industrial area, including car scrapyards, warehouses, and dumping grounds. The scenery was reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic video game I play, Fallout. Eventually, we turned on a gravelly dirt road which led to pavement, civilization, and our place. The hosts only spoke German, which meant communicating solely through Google Translate, and it rescued us yet again.

Split was a collage of ruins from different centuries. It was once a vibrant Roman city, and we wandered through the Roman ruins of Diocletian’s palace which now housed restaurants, markets, and a singing a capella group in costumes looking for tips. Hannah and I toured the ancient cathedral, baptistery, and crypt. The cathedral was consecrated around the year 400 and is considered the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world still being used for its original purpose.

I received a nice surprise one day in Split. A pigeon sh*t in my palm while I stood at an ATM, right before grabbing lunch from a bakery. It was a rough start to the day, especially without easy access to a bathroom or sink. Luckily, my smart wife keeps a small hand sanitizer in her purse. It did the job until I could find a sink. Thankfully, the day reversed course when I found Lavender flavored ice cream for the second time.

We also spent time in the small, coastal town near our Bnb, called Stobrec. An Italian bunker from WW2 stood silently on a hill, perched over the nearby harbor. It seemed out of place among sunbathers and cafes, a relic from another time. Graffiti decorated its exterior as locals meandered past on their day to day tasks. Further into the city, a small Catholic church overlooked a steep cliff leading down to the dark blue ocean. Hannah and I shared a pizza and cannelloni for lunch, while fighting off bees that wanted a bite. We packed up half to share for dinner and started the hot trek back to home.

During one late afternoon, I went on a run. Starting out, I merely turned left to run about 2 miles in one general direction but stopped in my tracks after .5 miles. Rusted barbed wire fencing and a closed gate with an old abandoned guard shack greeted me. A sign hugn on the gate stating “Paze Mine!”. I pulled up Google Translate to find out that it roughly meant “Watch out for mines!”. I swiftly reversed course, aiming for my own previous footpath, just in case. Truthfully, that experience shook me a bit. I continued my run down a hill onto a safer, parallel road. On my right side, I passed a derelict, large soccer stadium and a still functioning school. Less than 500 meters up the steep hill stood that sign and barren field with alleged mines. It was easy to visit the Balkans and historically acknowledge the Yugoslav wars of independence but experiencing it in such an offhand personal way put me in the shoes of a local for a moment, and it was momentarily terrifying.

It was an enjoyable and impressionable visit. Split held abundant Italian influence from its foods to its ancient Roman architecture. The yellow and white bricks in each alley and on every building told the story of conquest and influence from across the Adriatic Sea. It didn’t take us long to “conquer” Split, either, but like Italian conquerors before us, we would love to visit again.

Zadar, Croatia: Symphony of the Sea

We stayed in Zadar one night with the intent of catching a ferry to our next city. We could not find the ferry boat or office, despite even asking our host and other boat operators. Frustrated, we elected to take a 7 hour bus the following day, departing at 8am.

Zadar contained a beautiful, green park called Vladimir Nazor’s Park. It was built inside the existing fort walls dating back to Venetian rule in the 16th century.  We enjoyed the shade and a nice walk before exiting back into the main city promenade. It spit us out into an area called the 5 wells that showcased some old medieval walls and a tower. The city was very easy to walk and easygoing with less crowds than that of previous cities in Croatia.

The neatest experience in Zadar had to be the sea organ. The waves from the ocean flow in and out of the channels underneath the concrete promenade, propelling air through small holes. One moment the deep bellowing was loud, while other times it was quiet and peaceful. Visitors lined the nearby steps, soaking in the sun and listening to nature’s organ recital. Waves periodically splashed bronzed sunbathers and swimmers dove into the tumultuous blue waters.

At this point, almost 6 months into the trip, we found ourselves replacing things. Recently, one of our electricity adapters and an i-phone charging cord had both broken. This meant taking turns charging 2 laptops, 2 phones, 1 kindle, 1 camera battery, and 2 auxiliary battery packs with one wall socket, or sometimes waking up in the middle of the night to change things. It had become a massive pain. Luckily, Zadar had a large store adjacent to the bus station where we were able to replace the adapter and phone charger for a total of $15, a massive win!

I shared a brief conversation with one of our flat-mates during the stay. He and his wife were on holiday and leaving the next day to return home. They were Brazilian but had lived and worked in Germany for the previous 3 years. He generously provided some of his favorite travel destinations from their trip (many of which we had just been to). This left an impression on me. Many fellow travelers on our trip wanted to share their experiences or tips as a genuine way of bonding and helping.


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