Making our way towards the Croatian Riviera we spent a few meaningful moments in Ljubljana and Zagreb. The Slovene capital’s reputed cafe culture proved itself alive and well. Our meaningful moments there were spent sipping 2 for 1 cocktails along the river under the shade of a weeping willow. Having no idea of what Zagreb was reputed for, I was impressed with the manicured parks, neo-gothic church spires and cheap internet.
But I knew I was back in the Balkans when trains started stopping for no apparent reason and depositing all occupants onto buses for the remainder of the journey. If this situation doesn’t sound familiar to you then you’ve never been to a country formerly associated with Yugoslavia or you were not carefully reading my entry about Bulgaria and Serbia. Either way, it’s a hallmark of the region.
Upon our 6am arrival in Split, we were accosted by room hawkers and, after choosing the least demented, we fell promptly asleep. I love this. You wake up again around 10:30 and feel that you’ve had a full night’s sleep for free. Three nights for the price of two!
My guidebook didn’t have much confidence in Split’s ability to impress, suggesting a quick stop along the way to Dubrovnik’s touristic splendor. As always, low expectations bring out the Red Sox fan in me and I was instantly a Split supporter. The thing is: Split didn’t let me down.
The largest Roman ruin in Eastern Europe would be enough to draw a crowd to scenic seaside Split. But what sets Split apart is that ruinous Diocletian’s palace, unlike every other ruin I’ve encountered, is not charging admission, closing at dusk or cordoned off with ropes. It is actually teeming with life. Shops, cafes and homes line the former hallways and courtyards. It is the grand achievement of squatters. A living monument to the world’s freeloaders. Fantastic and, as far as I know, a singular feat. Nice work.