"Why did you go to the Balkans? Seems like an odd place for a vacation."
This was a comment I got from a coworker last week. I got a lot of puzzled looks when I told people where I was going on a 2-week vacation (I'm pretty sure some of the people I told didn't even know Bosnia & Montenegro existed). But, this is par for the course for me. I get the same sort of look when I tell people about what I do for a living, or that I don't particularly like coffee.
What most people don't know is that the Balkans are hidden gems. I only got a little peek, and I'm already making a list of the countries I'll visit when I get back there (Albania and Slovenia for sure!). But, here's my word of warning: go before the high season. You won't have as many tourists blocking your photographs, and accommodation tends to be cheaper! May was a great time to visit.
Getting to Town
We started our holiday in Split, which is in Croatia. The airport is surprisingly small, so Lou and I found each other quickly. You can easily hop a shuttle bus from right outside the airport, and it will take you to the bus station in Split for 30 kuna (about $5, not bad!).
We stayed at this Airbnb, which I reviewed with 5 stars and highly recommend! Finding it on the first day was tough, though! For about an hour we were lost! In the old town there are many tiny streets and alleyways, and streets are not as clearly marked as they are in the USA. We had to ask people for directions and do a lot of wandering in circles. Luckily, Google Maps had saved the location on my phone (yes!) so we used that as a guide to help us find our way. We arrived just as hour Airbnb host, Ana, was coming back and she gave us some tips on what to do during our stay.
In this post, I'm just focusing on what we did in and around the Split City Center. I'll write a separate post about day trips we took to the surrounding cities!
Walking the Old Town
I always say the best way to really explore a new place is on foot. Soak in the atmosphere, get lost, and then find your way again (I partially excel in the getting lost part). One of my favorite things was seeing windows with charming green shutters and window-boxes full of flowers.
We spent a good deal of time wandering through the ruins of Diocletian's Palace and admiring all the beautiful buildings! It was originally built in the 4th century (wow!), but now it's a mix of shops, restaurants, residential areas, and some original buildings. We visited the Cathedral of St. Dominus (Katedrala Sv. Dujma) and peeked inside the treasury, the baptistery, and an old crypt. Plus, we climbed the bell tower (this resulted in a great view and a leg workout!). To do all this, you can get a ticket near the church for 45 kuna (around $7).
Another side note: wear shoes with some tread when visiting the Palace. I wore my tried and true $2 Old Navy flip flops, which have no tread on the bottoms due to excessive wear. If you do this, you WILL slide across the slippery floor of the city center, because it's made entirely of limestone and marble! Especially if it's raining. Yeah, just don't do what I did.
Exploring the Riva Promenade
This area is really nice to walk through because it's close to the water! There's also a lot of places to buy gelato (but the best gelato place is a bit further away). The Riva is lined with palm trees and really nice flowers. The restaurants along here are quite pricey, though.
Hiking Marjan Hill
I kid you not -- my legs are super toned after this trip. Because we walked so so much! In fact, I miss it dearly. Our first hike in the Balkans was up to the top of Marjan Hill. Those who don't hike much, take heart! This is an easy one. You'll just need to climb a lot of stairs. I don't recommend going in the heat of the afternoon like we did. Maybe try going right before sundown?
Marjan Hill is inside a large park, and there are several trails and viewpoints you can explore. We took our time wandering around and checking them out!
You can't have a summer vacation without a beach day, can you? On our last day in Split, we were a bit tires and just wanted to relax by the water. So, we took a long, leisurely walk to Kasjuni Beach, which is about 45ish minutes away from the city center. If you'd rather not walk to Kasjuni, I think you can jump the #12 bus from Split bus station. During our walk, we met an older gentleman who was also walking to Kasjuni. We chatted with him about what it was like growing up in Split. He showed us a less crowded area of the beach away from the tourists. We spread out our towels and enjoyed the view!
Any of the beaches near Marjan Hill are quite nice! I'd say avoid Bravice beach, this one was loud and dirty and full of tourists playing football.
Where to Eat
If you are a vegan or don't care for seafood, you may be a little sad in Split. :( Sorry. Also, tipping is around 10% usually.
Breakfast for me almost every day was a savory pastry of from one of the local bakeries. My go to had eggs, spinach, cheese and ham inside. So good! Best part? They cost 6-8 kuna, so just over a dollar and they keep you full till lunch.
On our first night in Split, we went to Konoba Korta. It's a little pricey, but they offer really delicious Dalmatian dishes. And the portions are HUGE! That shocked both of us, but oh was it yummy. I got the Brodetto (fish stew) with octopus, squid, and cuttlefish because why not? This was around 90 kuna, or $15.
Buffet Fife also has good portion sizes and tasty fish. Waitstaff were super friendly. We split a platter of fried fish that was around $10. Fun fact I learned at this restaurant: if you ask for lemonade in Croatia, it will not have any sugar in it. It's just water and lemon juice. Tastes fresh, but it's a bit of a surprise :)
I can't remember the name of the place where I ate this, but look for a fast food place that sells a sandwich called Kobasice -- it has sausages and cheese and this really tasty paprika sauce inside. Price was around $4!
Vege had delicious food and it's all 100% vegan! I had a falafel wrap, and everything tasted super fresh. Plus, you can leave a note on their bulletin board if you really enjoyed the food :) They have many from people all over the world who passed through Split!
As for the good ice cream, we were told Luka is the place to go. You can find them right near the National Theater! Can't recall what flavor I had, but Lou and I really liked it!
Our favorite bar was Marvlv's Library Jazz Bar, a great find by Louise! The bar is literally a bookshelf! There's quotes from authors written across the ceiling and walls. Even the menu is styled like a book. The bar is named after Marko Marulic, the father of Croatian literature. Some even think he may have been born in the house that was converted into the bar! Check it out if you can.
Also check out the outdoor markets, ! You'll find locals selling fresh produce, meat, fish, everything! We bought some apricots and ate them on the beach. Even if you don't buy anything, it's fun to walk through!
Thanks for reading, y'all! Stay tuned for more, there's lots of it comin' :)
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