Friday, July 12, 2013

Split, Croatia

Our trip to Croatia began with a 6 am flight and 4:30 alarm clock. It was the weekend after 4 finals, 4 papers, and an oral Czech test. The night before we had stayed up past midnight saying good bye to roommates and friends knowing at the very least it would be a long time until we saw them again. After a 5 hour flight (connection in Dusseldorf, Germany), my two friends Diana and Katie and I were all ready to relax and not do too much of anything else.

We checked into our Airbnb apartment which had an excellent location but was mediocre in all other regards. We spent the day leisurely grocery shopping, looking at the open market, exploring Split, and deciding where to eat for dinner.

Tripadvisor lead us to Konoba Marjan.

Our only requirement for our dinner was that it had to be seafood since it's famous in Croatia, and this meal went above and beyond. The three of us shared the seafood platter and an order of mussels with garlic and wine sauce. We were the only people eating in the restaurant (it was only 5:00, but we had been up for a very long time), so the waiter explained that Croatian food is prepared very simply. All the fish is just rubbed with olive oil and salt and cooked fresh. The fish platter included a tuna steak, shrimp, mussels, and two types of fish. This meal alone was one of the highlights of our trip, and since seafood is my absolute favorite, I was in heaven.

Our apartment was directly next to Diocletian's Palace--a UNESCO world heritage site and ancient palace that a Roman emperor intended to retire in. It is filled with little shops so we spent some time walking around it and grabbing gelato when it was hot out.

To be honest, most of these first two days are a little bit of a blur. We took the relaxing and reflecting that study abroad was ending to heart, and besides exploring Split we just hung out. There also happened to be small tourism fair where we ended up getting free and delicious wine from a friendly Slovenian women. With the help of delicious Sommersby apple and pear ciders we drank whenever we got the chance, we walked around the island and indulged in our favorite souvenir shopping. We also made a little hike up to a look out point on Sunday, and later Diana and I went on a short run along the coast which felt pretty unreal. Staying in an apartment also made making a few homemade meals possible to try to save the last of our money (it was all of our last trip) and made tortellini, scrambled eggs, and other snacks through the four days.

On Monday, we planned to go to one of the islands off of Split. We headed down in the morning to get on a ferry to Hvar, but realized we had missed the only ride. We quickly decided to buy a ticket to Brac, and got a seat in the sun for the hour ride over. The first thing we did when we got off was walk straight to the beach area. On the way, we decided we wanted a quick lunch and grabbed some fast food along the path. One of my favorite things about Croatia was that "fast food" in this case meant a huge box full of fresh fried calamari and French fries. It was delicious and paired with two Somersby ciders and beach chairs from the beach, it was a very relaxing time.

There was no way we were leaving without swimming, so we braved the cold water and talked about how unbelievable it was that two weeks ago we were swimming off the Amalfi Coast and now we were swimming in the Adriatic Sea. The views were so spectacular and the water was unbelievably clear. We ended up having to grab phones and take a few pictures. Note: none of these pictures are mine--sadly my camera was out of battery this trip. While it was nice not having to worry about documenting anything, I definitely would make sure this never happened again. After achieving the beach day we all had wanted for so long, we slowly made our way back to the ferry while grabbing gelato and earrings (me) in the process. My new, pink Croatia towel quickly became one of my favorite and most useful souvenirs that day.

We kept the good day going by visiting our new favorite restaurant again that night. This time to get seafood pasta with pesto, shrimp, and mussels. We again were very satisfied and had another early night. That Monday and the next day would definitely be my favorite days of the trip.

We wanted to do something a little more adventurous on our last full day in Croatia, and a quick talk with the travel guide from a local travel agency(one of the friendliest and helpful people I met, and free!) led us to book a river rafting trip on the Cetina River the next morning. This was by far one of the best decisions we made and is one of my favorite memories abroad. At 9 am we were picked up by one of the guides and driven about an hour into the mountains and to a river bank. The drive in was absolutely beautiful--the ocean view, the trees, the mountain, the river and everything was breathtaking. It's one of the reasons why I would love to go back. Once we met our instructor we changed into spring wetsuits (we were warned that the water was really cold) and immediately got started. We were joined by two girls from Sweden, and like most big group of girls we immediately started all talking our mouths off. Meeting other people are age from different parts of the world is just one of the many reasons I'm glad that English is such a universal language. On that note, I had a really proud moment during the trip. Our guide explained that 6 months out of the year he traveled around the world and the other six months was spent guiding raft tours in Split. He talked about all the languages he knew, and asked us what languages we had studied. His face looked beyond shocked when I mentioned I had studied Spanish, Russian, and Czech. I made sure to clarify exactly how long these study periods had been and how little I could actually speak, but it was gratifying to hear him say he wouldn't have guessed that from an American. Just a little egotistical pat on the back for the blog, but, hey, it's my journal, so my stories. The rafting itself was really relaxing. Although it was supposed to be rated a 3, it was very mild, but fun.

The really exciting part came in the middle of the trip. Since it was off season (we couldn't even find a single bar), our instructor asked if we would be interested in doing something a little different than the usual routine. We all immediately said yes, and he explained that usually all passengers have to get off the boat and walk past the short but dangerous rapids in the river. He still couldn't take us through the rapids, but instead of walking around it we could swim and climb through a cave--which was behind a waterfall no less. His quick warning before he left to take the raft farther was to not fall of the mossy rock so we wouldn't get stuck in the rapids and swim towards his voice once he gives us the go-to.

I ended up being the first one to jump in and the water was freezing! I forgot what the actual temperature was, but I remember our guide kept joking that it was the perfect temperature for a pivo (beer) to be. Once out of the cave we climbed over the boulders to get back to our raft and continue down the river. That experience alone had us filled with adrenaline and loving life, but it got even better when we stopped to jump off some of the rocks and go swimming. By this time the water actually felt great, and we all had so much fun swimming around, trying to fight even this small current, and making ridiculous poses when we jumped off the rock. The guide had a camera and took a bunch of pictures throughout the 3.5 hour trip, and we had no problem splitting the cost for the CD between the two of us. Especially since there were some hilarious photos on there. Apparently, I was constantly getting caught by surprise...

After getting back to Split, the three of us kept recapping the day and did some aimless wandering around. We grabbed some more fried calamari and forced ourselves to eat the not chopped tentacles before deciding to sit out on the coastline and get a real meal. For dinner, I had a salad with tuna and we all stocked up on our last Somersby ciders of the trip (they are delicious and have the same alcohol content as beer, but are only available in select countries).

The next morning we made breakfast, I desperately drank my last cider at 9 in the morning (it would be a crime to have one go to waste), and got on the bus to the Split airport. That airport was the smallest one I've ever been in. It only had 5 gates and three airport stores, but that's all I needed to spend the last of my Croatian cash on some German chocolate. After a long layover in Vienna, we were finally back for our last days in Prague and Europe.

I absolutely loved Croatia. The first few days I was there, I was elated to be in Split, but I thought it was going to be one of those countries I just wouldn't ever end up coming back to. But exploring the Cetina River and the islands has made me wish I did more. I want to go hiking in all the national parks and see more of some of the most beautiful scenery of my life. The people were so nice (and it's a Slavic language!) and there's so much more I want to do. I would love to have another trip to Croatia and also visit neighbor countries like Montenegro and Slovenia. Although the first two days were spent sleeping off finals exhaustion and farewell emotional exhaustion, ideally Saturday and Sunday would have been more filled with activities. One thing I wish I did? Rent Vespas for the day at just 20 euros and explore! But this trip was beautiful, relaxing, and exciting all in one, and one my favorite trips. Croatia (and Slovenia), I'm coming back for you!

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