While I was in Germany, my girlfriend came and visited me from Thailand for a month. This would be a much needed half-step for her on the way back to the U.S which was sure to be a huge reverse culture shock. We traveled around Europe for a whole month and our final destination was Croatia.
Croatia had long intrigued us and we couldn’t wait to spend a week along the Dalmatian coast. This would be my first trip to Eastern Europe, and I had no idea what to expect. We had both heard some great things about Croatia and it seemed to be a place that we really wanted to go before it became too touristy.
Our first stop was in Belgrade. On the way in, I was impressed by how much green we saw. Normally the airports in Europe are completely surrounded by concrete, but here you could actually see trees and rivers in the area. I have a lot of friends from Serbia and I hope one day I can explore the country, but for now our sights were set on Croatia.
Stopping for a quick bite to eat, I found it very difficult to navigate some of the eateries. I had no idea what most of the words meant and I instead opted for a salad bar, that way I could ensure I knew exactly what was going into my mouth. I have to say this was probably one of the cheaper places I’ve been to in Europe. I had a few of my euros exchanged for Serbian dinar and after a few transactions I think I spent less that $5 in total
I found it equally challenging to order a cup of tea, a key part of my travel ritual. I had no idea what this sign meant, but I saw the steaming coffee mug in the shape of an hourglass and I figured this was a good place to start. I had to do some pointing, but I was able to get a tea bag into a mug of hot water and that was good enough for me!
We had to wait a little while before our flight, so I checked out the gift shop. One of the things I love about Serbian culture is their national pride. There we were in Nikola Tesla Airport and one of the stores there was called “Novak shop”, a shop dedicated entirely to the tennis player Novak Djokovic. These are the two most celebrated sons of Serbia, and for good reason. Some of the other gift shops were a little bit too difficult to navigate, with many words I didn’t recognize, and items I’d never seen before. I’m not much of a duty free shopper anyways, so I decided to just wait by the gate.
Before we knew it, we were off to Split, our first destination in Croatia. After arriving, we took a bus into town with our faces pressed up against the glass to take in the beautiful and unique Croatian landscape. The earth around us was dry and baked under the hot sun, with beautiful orange roof houses and rolling mountains in the background.
Once we got to the bus stop, we were picked up by our Airbnb host who took us to one of my all-time favorite apartments. She too was a world traveller, and there were many artifacts littered around the apartment that she had collected from her time abroad. My girlfriend picked out a Non La hat and began to wear it, reminiscing about her time in Vietnam only a few months ago. “This place is amazing!” we said.
We looked out the windows to see our view of the city. You could see the water and the Ferries from where we were staying, as well as the beautiful buildings that surrounded us in the old city. It was getting late, and we were eager to check out what kind of food Croatia had in store for us. We walked through the narrow streets into the main part of the city and arrived at a beautiful gate that could’ve been its own tourist attraction if it were in any other city.
This was the gate to enter the walled city. During the 4th century, there was a palace built here for the Roman emperor Diocletian. The city was build around Diocletian’s palace to fortify it. Because of this, Split has some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world, and in 1979, this area was designated a UNESCO world heritage site. Once we stepped past this gate, we felt we had entered an entirely new world. The city streets were made from white stone, polished by centuries of foot traffic. The city streets were so narrow, if you were looking for a bar or restaurant, you would sometimes find yourself in basically a back alley. There were so many hidden alleys and passageways; you could probably spend a whole afternoon here just exploring them all. Soon, the narrow streets opened up into a beautiful plaza, and we would soon be able to pick from about a dozen or so great looking restaurants.
We settled in with a pasta place that looked good, and we enjoy a wonderful meal as we watched the sunset. After we were done eating, we had a few more minutes of light, so we watched the sun go down from the docks of the harbor. With the beautiful marble city behind us, and the Adriatic in front of us, it was an amazing night to spend with my girlfriend, and definitely one of our favorites to look back on.
We headed into the city just as things were really starting to come alive. At night, Diocletian’s palace turns into a gathering place for live music and dancing. We ordered a couple of drinks and watched kids and their parents dance to classic American music, played beautifully by a Croatian musician. It was such a special night, and it was clear after less than 12 hours that this was one of my favorite cities in the whole world. The scenery was amazing, but the people were incredible. It was clear that people here had music in their heart, and they loved nothing more than to dance and sing the night away.