Beautiful old towns with giant walls, fresh from the ocean seafood, and temperate weather in the 70’s. What’s not to like about the Dalmatian Coast in late October? Oh right, it’s so perfect multiple cruise ships stop in the big cities every day. Croatians have been rather polite and friendly as have most cruise ship tourists I’ve run into. However it just took one rude American on a local bus or the swarms of people I kept swimming through while they stood still everywhere to annoy me. The saving grace of cruise ship tourists is that they have to leave by mid afternoon.
Once the hordes left the first day I settled in for a nice seafood meal. Perhaps most indicative of Dubrovnik’s current industry, there were really only two types of restaurants: seafood or pizza. They all had such similar menus and sadly high prices, it hinted that most of them would be pretty awful. The lack of customers at most of these places was a tad depressing as well Fool me once, shame on you, fool me with a whole town, shame on me.
The coastal towns of Split were full of more Americans than I’d seen since I was at the Vietnam War Memorial. At Kamenice I met a wonderful Minnesotan couple that let me hitch a ride to Split. Driving in a car along the coast is a much more beautiful and relaxed experience than bumping along in a bus.
Two border crossings from a short jaunt through a chunk of Bosnia and Herzegovina later, we arrived in Split. My driving companions headed off to medieval Trogir while I stopped in Split itself.
After being sick of the polished white stone covered in American tourists and tour guides with flags and microphones, I headed out to the Marjan Peninsula to walk around the trees and find some beaches.
The next day I went to popular Bacvice beach later in the afternoon and watched the locals wading in calf deep water. I watched the local men play Picigin, which looks handball-like with many people and lots of shallow water.
The greatest find in Split for me was not the beaches though as I found the water to be quite chilly. I know Los Angeles water is a good 20 degrees colder than here but perhaps I am a weenie now or the air temperature usually makes up for it. No, the real jewel to me is the fish and green markets of Split. Rows of sheep’s milk cheese vendors jockey for space with prsut (Dalmatian prosciutto or ham) vendors who all circle the various fresh produce. Nothing is on ice in the fish market yet it all looks fresher than what I can get in America short of a live tank.
I had a few restaurant meals however I found that the raw product was more appealing to me than prepared fare. Croatian coastal cuisine often involves simple preparations. While my super tasting sister could probably find every nuance, I do end up a little bored with fish grilled only with salt and pepper. While I cooked in Sarajevo and Dubrovnik to save money and eat healthier, I would stay in Split extra days just to try cooking more things from the fish market. Although I’m no seafood expert it felt impossible to screw up such tender, fresh goods.
As for restaurants, I visited guidebook favorite Buffet Fife, which unlike other highly rated places still was full of guests in the evening. A must for seafood restaurants. The pan fried and grilled fish are quite reasonably priced here but like I said before, bland. The service was also strange as they made sure they had fish stew for me, but came out 20 minutes later saying they were out. I ended up with a delicious bakalara na bjanko, bacalao in most other languages or salt cod in English mixed with potatoes and onions.
Dubrovnik only has a population of 43,000 so I imagine the cruise ships just about doubles their population daily. Split has ten times that many people so it is a town with other industries and what appears to be a working port. The great part is both do not show the polluted signs of being harbors at all. I suspect like many of the countries I’ve been in, I would just need a means of transport and to head out a short bit to see the beautiful un-touristy spots. As is, in the off season these towns are a strange mix of day tourism and dead nights.