The Old Cities of Sibenik and Split, on the Dalmatian Coast In Croatia
From Zadar, we continued to drive south along the Dalmatian Coast.
The landscape along the coast is mostly rocky, with vegetation that is able to grow in rocky soil and endure salt spray.
Gone are the olives, apple orchards and grapevines that we saw on the mainland and on the Istrian Peninsula.
As in all of Croatia, the coastline does not have any sandy beaches, but is instead made of small rocks.
Instead of beaches, there are concrete platforms or wooden decks by the sea.
But despite the lack of sandy beaches, the sea does look clear and clean and very inviting.
The coast is lined with accommodation options, ranging from campsites to apartment rentals to hostels, pensions and hotels.
During the high summer season, all of these places are packed with tourists.
Most restaurants and cafes are set up for outdoor seating.
They spread large umbrellas and load every deck with dozens of pieces of garden furniture.
When the season is over and winter comes, many of these places close down altogether, because their indoor spaces are barely big enough for the kitchen and the bar.
Along our route, we stopped in many small seaside towns, mostly to stretch our legs and walk, have coffees, eat lunch or buy a Burek (also called Burekas in other countries), which is a savory pastry filled with white farmers cheese, or potato or spinach and cheese.
We spent a few nights in the old town of Sibenik.
Our apartment was right in the middle of the walled old town.
When we arrived, we were informed that the apartment we’d booked was having a problem with a leak, so they upgraded us to a bigger and much nicer apartment.
We couldn’t believe our luck.
The apartment we were given was spacious and elegant, with two bedrooms, two baths, and great finishes.
We were shown to a small reserved parking space as no cars are allowed on any of the streets, as in most of the old towns we’ve visited.
They are a pedestrian zone only, and not even scooters or bicycles are allowed inside.
We spent our days strolling the streets, visiting the old fort and the Cathedral with the statue of Saint Michael fighting a demon on its roof.
We took long walks along the marina and sat in juice bars and cafes.
From Sibenik we drove south along the coast to Split.
In Split we had booked a room via a service that rents lifestyle rooms.
It wasn’t exactly a hotel, and it was not really an apartment.
It had a front desk but no hotel lobby.
Instead, it was on the top floor of a shopping mall.
The apartment had no kitchen, but it did offer daily maid service, so our towels and sheets were changed every day.
I have heard about this kind of service before, but had never booked a room with any of these services, so I wanted to try it out.
Our room was spacious, comfortable, and with a modern design.
Before we arrived in Split, we stopped for lunch in the beautiful city of Trogir.
We saw large yachts dock in Trogir, and the narrow streets were filled with places offering grilled sardines.
In Split, we encountered an increase in tourists.
This is because the marina in Split is big enough to accommodate cruise ships.
The waterfront is lined with cafes, restaurants, shops, stalls and stands selling lavender products, toys, juice, fast food, olive oils, honey, souvenirs and all sorts of Croatian products.
Farther away from the sea, the cobbled stone streets of the walled city are a maze of old buildings, shops, bars, cafes and restaurants, with some beautiful big stone gates, bronze statues and courtyards.
In the center of the stone inner city is Diocletian’s Palace.
It is an ancient palace built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian.
Diocletian built the massive palace in preparation for his retirement on 1 May 305 AD.
He was the only the fourth Roman emperor who abdicated his throne at the age of sixty to retire, and he built this palace to live in for the rest of his life.
The massive marble columns are still in perfect shape, and a small stone Sphinx from Luxor, Egypt, adorns the nearby Roman temple.
We knocked on the door of the old Jewish synagogue, and were invited in by the friendly caretaker.
He was born in Split, and has lived here all his life.
He told us that right behind the wall we were looking at, was the Jewish ghetto.
300 jews were held behind locked doors during the war.
He told us about the dire economic state of Croatia today.
When we expressed our disbelief, stating that we had never seen such a boom of tourism anywhere else, he told us that tourism only accounts for twenty percent of the country’s income, which amounts to nothing for a country that imports everything and produces nothing.
We asked about his life, about antisemitism in Croatia and about the current society, and enjoyed listening to his unique take on things.
After the war, his parents decided not to be religious, and thus did not suffer much discrimination.
Still he echoed something I already knew and felt, not just in Croatia, but in Slovenia as well.
“Look around you,
Beside tourists, how many dark-skinned people do you see living in Croatia?
How many Asian people are living here?
Racism is NOT allowed in Croatia.
It is against the law of the country, but the facts tell another story…
Look at Italy, France or Germany, and you will see many colors and cultures living there.
Here in Croatia, racism is against the law, but it is in the air…”
Split’s old city is packed with tourists, but it is still worth seeing and taking in the magic of it.
Men dressed like Roman soldiers pose for photos with the tourists in exchange for tips.
“No tip, no photo!” they say to those who ask them if they can pose with them or who try to sneak a photo.
“But I have no idea what to give as a tip,” said a woman to one of the ‘soldiers.’
“You can give something that can pay for a beer or a cup of coffee,” answered the ‘Roman soldier’.
From Split, you can take a boat or a ferry to the islands of Brac or Hvar.
Many tour boat operators try to solicit customers around the city.
They promise snorkeling, unlimited drinking, lunch and fun.
To me, it did not look like fun.
The boats were packed with tourists, the journey is two hours each way and the season is no longer hot, so snorkeling is not going to happen.
We did not go to the islands in the packed tourist boats.
We also did not eat great while in both cities.
The sheer masses of people make serving delicious home cooked meals hard to do.
In Split, there are a few very good restaurants, but they are so packed with people waiting for you to finish so they can take your table, that I did not enjoy the dining experience.
I much prefer to eat a humble fresh wrap or a salad in a quiet and relaxed place, than to have a gourmet meal in a rushed and hurried atmosphere.
A short clip of our time in Sibenik: