Not many people know where the heck Zadar is. Whenever people have asked where we were going in Croatia, the response would usually be met with a blank stare. The city of Split, however, would almost certainly not get the same reaction. It took us just over two and a half hours to drive there from Zadar, most of it down the new freeway/motorway which has a lovely 130km speed limit. Coastal routes are all well and good but the quicker you get there, the more time you have to wander around and take it in.
On the drive down there, Manda read out from the various guide books all the things that we could expect to see. Primarily, it’s about the Diocletian Palace. This is not a palace in the sense that you might imagine it, rather an ancient walled city which is in full and vibrant use today. When we arrived in Split, I sorely missed SatNav guiding me to where we needed to be. While I am quite confident driving abroad, I always find it a little daunting when arriving at a big city where the local drivers know exactly where they are going and I don’t get time to think about which way is the correct one. Somehow, though, I ended up finding a spot by the water which was within easy walking distance of the Diocletian Palace and, even better, had discovered a parking area that was free on Sundays. Result!
We made our way up through the throngs of people disembarking from the cruise boats and ferries that lined the port, entering the palace through the eastern gate. Whichever direction we looked, we could see remnants of the Roman past, along with more recent additions (namely the campanile which towers over the whole complex); columns here, statues there, Roman Centurions in the corner (OK, people pretending to be Centurions!).
I decided to climb up the campanile while Manda waited it out in the courtyard below. I can’t say I blame her - it was a hot, sticky, humid day, made even more so by the tricky climb up the stairs inside the tower. I heard an Aussie guy say “This isn’t a good day to be wearing jeans” to which I replied “I’ll second that”, looking down at the sun-soaking-up black jeans that I had on. It’s been difficult at times to know what to wear on any given day. On the way down, the weather had gone from being slightly cloudy, to very dark skies with large downpours. Split had obviously had some of that rain, now it was in the process of cooking it all off again. This was prime mosquito weather!
The view from the campanile was exactly what I had hoped and expected it to be - red roof tiles as far as the eye could see. Even better, though, was the view from the stairwell inside. It wraps around the inside of the walls before the last span which is directly above the centre of the tower. A look over the side is not something that vertigo sufferers would appreciate, and by poking the camera through a gap in the steps straight down, you get a view not unlike an abstract piece of art.
We spent the day wandering around the many alleys and squares inside the palace grounds. It had been described in Lonely Planet as being something of a maze, something we could both agree with. While in the main square, we caught a brief but entertaining performance from Caesar greeting the collected crowd. Perfect stuff for helping forget an incidence of dog rape. That’s to say an incidence of a dog getting a little too ‘friendly’ with my right arm while we had a coffee break out the front of the palace. Well, maybe I was giving Spike the come-on by giving his ears a rub before. Manda was having a good old laugh at my predicament while the dog clamped my right arm, evidently intent on having a good go at it. The owner, meanwhile, was dieing of embarrassment at the next table, burying her head in her hands in shame; the dog, it seems, was shameless!
Having worked our way through every alley in the complex we had something to eat. By this time the town was looking considerably emptier on account of the cruise ships leaving for the day. We then left Split for a town further along the coast called Trogir. Once again, ancient fortifications were the order of the day.
The town is much smaller than Split and feels like the kind of place that locals would go to to relax. We did a small circuit of the town, climbing the fort for beautiful views over the town before stopping for a coffee and admiring the amazing boats that were moored in the harbour in front of us.