The answer to the puzzle from last time: it’s a lamb. We had to ask.
Onward we drive, south and east, toward Split. Our road rejoins the A1 freeway, and while the speed limit is high, our little car can just barely manage 125 km/h (about 75 mph), being passed easily by Audis and BMWs going 20 mph faster.
We suddenly find ourselves approaching this – a 3-mile-long tunnel (apparently Croatians don’t like driving around mountains). Becky has about 20 seconds to prepare herself for the zombie-apocalypse-nightmare-induced panic attack she will be suffering inside, and then we’re in. And we drive for 5 minutes, and we’re still inside.
And then it was over. We both survive, which is a surprise to one of us. When we entered the tunnel, we had been in a lush, humid interior zone; we emerge into an arid coastal desert-like region.
A couple of hours later, we decide to stop for a break at a Počivališče. There’s a gas station with coffee, but it’s nothing like ye olde Circle-Kay. There are freshly-made sandwiches, a non-janky wine section, and a bar. Oh, and the coffee is decent espresso. I like this country.
A while later, we approach Split. The landscape seems to be littered with ruins from antiquity, and it’s so unremarkable that I can’t even find the name of the castle perched on top of this mountain.
We navigate the windy, narrow streets to find our room for the two nights we’ll be here. It’s in a high-rise, perched above the ferry terminal. The door locks by inserting a key that looks like a weapon, and turning it over three times. It sounds like something in an Indiana Jones movie.
We skip most of the walking tour for now, and look for some nourishment – we haven’t eaten since breakfast! We find a restaurant in an alley between Roman ruins, and enjoy a half-liter of wine, and write in our journals.
The “fish plate for two” arrives, with three entire fish, some lobstery things, a tuna steak, and a pile of bivalves. It’s all been caught today, and prepared simply with salt, pepper, olive oil, and heat. This is a stand-out moment in an amazing trip.
Then we walk around the city center. This was once the home to a Roman emperor, and the city has been economically valuable enough since then to avoid being destroyed.
The modern entrance to the palace is the old back door; the harbor promenade has been built over what was once a sheer drop into the harbor. We pay the fee to walk around the more ruinous parts of the catacombs, which are fascinating and deserted. After the roman empire fell, this area was used as a garbage dump (!).
The parts of the basement that are in decent shape are now used as a kind of Saturday market, except that here, every day is Saturday. It’s pretty loud, and chock full of touristy junk. So surreal. I wonder what Diocletian would say?
We stroll around until dark, then buy some gelato, and stroll the Riva. This is a nightlife hotspot, where all the locals come when the sun goes down (after the cruise ships weigh anchor), and there are at least two concerts going on here.
The next day is the day we have earmarked for our culinary oddysey. At 6:30, we board a two-hour ferry for the island of Hvar.
The ferry drops us off at a town confusingly called Stari Grad (stari grad means “old town”, and every city has a stari grad neighborhood), and we catch a 20-minute bus ride to Hvar, Hvar). Yes, both the island and the town are called Hvar. And try not to pronounce the ‘h’.
Then we hike 3 miles down the length of the island. Some of the walking is paved, as there are a couple of small luxury resorts here, but most of it is covered with sharp rocks.
The trail is (and I think I’m being generous here) faintly marked with these red circles.
And the place is crawling with lizards.
This place has its charms, though. Maybe this isn’t so bad.
For those of you keeping score, so far we’ve spent:
- Two hours on a ferry
- 20 minutes on a bus
- 15 minutes on a freakishly fast rubber raft
- 45 minutes on a lizardy, rocky hiking trail
Oh, and it’s 85º, and 100% humidity.
But this. This was worth it. We arrive at last at Konoba Dionis, a little 6-table restaurant with its own olive grove, and a generator for electricity.
This is the kind of place where they make their own olive oil. And their own wine.
We order a hearty lunch of amazing food. Huge calamari grilled to perfection, and — not pictured — the silky-smooth and brilliant aubergine pie, a sort of lasagne made of eggplant.
It’s taken a lot to get us here, but it was all worth it. We call our water taxi driver, who brings us back to Hvar town, and we spend some time getting to know the place.
It’s pretty tiny, though, and we run out of town waiting for our bus. We board our ferry, and return to Split.
It’s well past dinner time when we arrive. Our chosen eatery this evening has a secret entrance tucked between a newish building and the 14th-century fortified city walls. We walk past it three times before seeing it.
The dinner is forgettable (especially after that lunch), but on our way back to the flat, we spot a scale model of the city! I totally geek out, and make Becky pose for a photo. Whatever; she loves maps too.