Dalmatian Odyssey -Things to do in Split Croatia – the Last Day
Split, Croatia, Croatia - Tuesday, November 17th, 2015
It’s the final day of cycling and exploring the Dalmatian coast with Pedal and Sea Adventures aboard the Azimut. We have returned to the city of Split where our Croatian adventure first began over a week ago. The plan is to spend the morning on an early cycle around and up to the top of the Marjan peninsula which is a huge park that borders the city of Split. Last week Alison and I walked a good portion of the way around on a beautiful, sunny day, which I described here. Today is another beautiful day and the rainstorms of the previous two days are soon forgotten so join us as we find more things to do in Split Croatia.
We get the bikes down to the Split promenade with the help of Marko and Duje and are soon off, following our guide Mario through the streets of the old city.
Things to do in Split Croatia – Cycle the Marjan Peninsula
Mario leads us to the northern entrance to the park where we cycle above the large marina and former naval base through a forest of mature pine trees. It’s actually very reminiscent of Point Pleasant Park in my home city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. It too sits on a peninsula and has trails that follow the waterfront through large pine trees. There are dozens of very fit looking young men and women out jogging or bike riding. In the entire time we’ve been in Croatia I don’t think I’ve seen a single obese person who wasn’t obviously a tourist. It’s what Canadians used to look like before the fast food epidemic took North America by stealth and false advertising. I find it ironic that we long ago declared war on tobacco, but surrendered to junk food which arguably is as bad or worse for health outcomes. Here it is the opposite – many Croats smoke like fiends, but have a healthy diet. Maybe there’s a happy medium there somewhere, but I digress.
After cycling along the north shore of the Marjan we turn inland and head up the centre of the peninsula to the top. A week ago this seemed like a good hike, but on these ebikes we have it’s a cakewalk compared to the climbs on Hvar, Brac and particularly Korcula. Along the way we stop to view the start of the annual Split to Vis sailing regatta which apparently marks the end of the sailing season in Dalmatia. They couldn’t have picked a nicer day for it.
Near the top we take a turn I had not noticed last week and come to a fantastic lookoff with a giant Croatian flag and a cross.
This is a picture that Cindy took of us atop Marjan – it doesn’t mean I’ve become a convert.
Things to do in Split Croatia – Visit St. Domnius Cathedral
It’s a quick trip back down to Split where we separate from Cindy and Gary who are going to take advantage of a pre-arranged tour of Diocletian’s Palace. We had a private guided tour last week and so I would rather spend the time exploring some of the places we didn’t get to last week like the cathedral and the Temple of Jupiter.
St. Domnius or Saint Duje depending on whether you take the Latin or the Croatian spelling, was one of those early Christian martyrs that Diocletian was so good at creating in the nearby Roman city of Salona. He was beheaded there in 304, but got the last laugh, at least figuratively, by becoming a patron saint of Split and having a cathedral built in his honour that incorporates Diocletian’s mausoleum.
The entrance to the cathedral has the two lions flanking each side that seem to be the one constant in important Dalmatian clerical buildings. Here’s one of them. Notice he’s got a lamb in his clutches and really doesn’t look like he wants to lie down with it, but has more carnivorous plans on his mind.
The interior of the cathedral is amazing – it’s really just Diocletian’s mausoleum tarted up with a few Christian overlays that cannot hide the majesty of the original construction. There are eight huge Egyptian columns upon which smaller columns stand and a domed roof that definitely owes a lot to the Pantheon in Rome. Diocletian died thinking he was a god so maybe the comparison is more apt than would seem on first thought. Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside the cathedral so you’ll have to make plans yourself to stand under the highest point of the dome and just do a gradual 360 turn taking in the splendour of the place.
Outside you can buy separate tickets to climb the bell tower which is something Alison and I never take a pass on. As bell towers go this one is not as steep a climb as most, but it’s quite open so that people afraid of heights probably wouldn’t be that thrilled with it. However, the view more than makes up for any deficiencies in the climb. Here’s Alison on top to prove we were there.
There’s the Azimut on the left in the harbour below.
There’s Split and the Marjan peninsula.
And lastly there’s our next stop, the Temple of Jupiter, below. Kind of strange to see a complete Roman temple almost lost amid the buildings around it.
Things to do in Split Croatia – Visit the Temple of Jupiter
The Temple of Jupiter was built under the authority of Diocletian in around 300 and of all the parts of the palace is the one that most resembles its original form. As Roman temples go it’s incredibly small and I suppose was more like our concept of a chapel where Diocletian, who believed he was a god, could commune with his bro, Jupiter. It still has this intricate frieze at the entrance.
And this ceiling made out of square blocks. Try building a ceiling today that uses square materials to created a rounded vault and see if it lasts over 1700 years.
While the Christians didn’t destroy this temple, as they apparently did to two others within the palace complex, they did, of course, convert it to their own use. Given its small size it was a natural for a baptistry and today you’ll find this intriguing statue of Christ within. I’m not sure of there is much difference in kind between this statue and the one of Jupiter that it supplanted.
An interesting incident occurred while we were in the temple. An orthodox priest with the usual food flecked beard and obnoxious b.o. was leading about five middle aged women in some kind of chant when I took the picture above (not using a flash so as to cause them minimal interference). One of the women flashed me a look with her eyes that could have been used with the caption “If looks could kill”. It was all I could do to restrain myself and not go on a rant that this temple belonged to my god, Jupiter and not hers, the usurper. But since I don’t believe in Jupiter any more than Jesus, it would have been pointless and hypocritical. Still I would have liked to have seen their response.
Things to do in Split Croatia – Eat at Vila Spiza
I advised Mario that we would be having lunch in Split and not back on the boat and he suggested we seek out Vila Spiza which is in a very narrow street in the old palace area. Mario said the menu changes every day and depends entirely upon what the chef/owner finds in the markets that morning. The place is tiny with only one real table and a series of chairs around the counter that backs on the open kitchen. The daily menu is written on chalk boards in Croatian and English. As an aside, English is definitely the default second language in Croatia, at least in the tourist areas.
We started with our favourite Mediterranean appetizer – marinated anchovies, capers and arugula. These were as good as any I’ve ever had. See how big and white they are compared to what passes for an anchovy back home.
For the main I went with beans with sausage and Alison the chicken pasta stew. The chef literally prepared these before our eyes.
Both dishes were delicious and we thanked Mario when we got back to the boat for helping us find this little gem.
Back on the Azimut we prepared for the final sail of this trip. Since this was the last tour of the season the boat would head for its winter quarters at Jesenice, just south of Split. It was with wistful feelings that I watched the harbour of Split fade in the distance and I looked for the last time at the coast of Dalmatia from out to sea.
That night was the Captain’s dinner where I learned more about the crew in a couple of hours than in the previous week. It turns out that Josipa, who I assumed was just one of the two serving ladies on board, is actually the owner of the Azimut, having inherited it from her father who had died not long before. Apparently he owned four boats and gave one to each of his four children. Nice legacy indeed! I would be smiling too.
That night, as promised, Mario gave us his take on Croatian history and in particular the events leading up to the horrible wars of the 1990’s. He is without doubt an idealist and a pacifist. We all had, shall we say, a lively discussion. It was a nice way to end the last day.
Tomorrow morning we say goodbye to the Azimut and its crew and head for Dubrovnik with a stop in Bosnia on the way. Please come along for the ride.
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