riva split croatiaWater for miles, old men using their umbrellas as canes, flocks of pigeons flying in various directions (though always in unison with one another). I sip on my kava and eat fresh grapes from the market. Looking back a few months or years, I don’t know if I envisioned what living abroad would be like day to day, but I’m a big fan of the reality. I should start this entry by apologizing as I haven’t posted in over a week now. I blame it on us trying to get some semblance of a routine. I guess adding journaling was too much to handle with everything else that’s been going on. The truth is that every day has been packed with new discoveries and in an effort to calm myself down a bit I’ve been settling in on the couch the past several nights to watch Discovery Channel (in English with Croatian subtitles) INSTEAD of journaling. Oh well, I’m here writing now right? I suppose the best place to start would be our first week in Split…

Wednesday

After a roughly 14 hour sleep the night of our arrival, Dani and I awoke ready to do a little work as well as continue acclimating to our surroundings, get food and other errands. We had heard that it was a national holiday from a few people so we weren’t sure what would be open. The co-working spaces we had found were all closed for Epiphany so the work and catch-up on email got done at home using the apartment’s wifi (good for just about everything but phone/video conferences).

I had my first Croatian coffee experience while exploring the Riva (front of Diocletian’s Palace facing the Adriatic), which was delicious. In an effort to slow down, I took our landlady’s advice on the best coffee spot in town where I sat outside, sipped my kava Americano, people watched and enjoyed the sunny view of the water.

Luckily the green market was open so we spent some time walking up and down each row of tables to pick out the best ingredients. We had several one-sided conversations with sweet chatty Croatian ladies in babushkas. They talked and talked and talked in Croatian despite our efforts to convince them we didn’t speak the language. Having not learned numbers yet, many of the vendors had to write our totals down on scraps of cardboard, bags or other surfaces so we could know what to pay. We had taken out money earlier that day and realized pretty quickly that the talkative ladies did NOT appreciate breaking a 200KN (kuna) bill for only 15KN worth of produce. After filling our bags with veggies, fruit, cheese and eggs, it was time to order some meat. There are a couple butcher shops right along the edges of the market so we popped into one who had ground beef.

NOTE: 1 kilo of meat does NOT equal 1LB of meat. In fact, it is more than 2LBs of meat. Should you find yourself in a European butcher shop being offered 1 kilo of meat, be sure you are ok eating burger for the next several days. Dani and I made it 3 days eating burgers before giving up and throwing the remaining half-pound or so out.

That same morning I also went to my first AA meeting in Croatia. Having Googled the route from our place to the meeting, I thought I would have no trouble finding it. As it turned out, the address provided was only near where the meeting actually took place. I arrived at the restaurant where I thought the meeting was being held, asked a waiter and bartender if they knew where the Sastanci (AA) was being held and eventually just started wandering up and down the street. While exploring the back alley behind the restaurant, I found a sign that said “←Help”. I followed it inside the doorway, up a few flights of stairs and continued to follow other “Help” signs until I found a doorway with the Sastanci AA typed out along with meeting schedules. Upon entering the sharp smell of thick cigarette smoke hit my nose and eyes. Through the dimly lit room I found my people! A man and woman were chatting in Croatian while she smoked. “I’m here for alcoholics anonymous meeting?” I stated cautiously. “Yes, you are right place.” they responded. The following hour was a mix of the familiar and foreign. We read the serenity prayer in Croatian (see below), had an open talk meeting in English and finished again with the serenity prayer. While it felt good to have a meeting again, I’m planning on keeping in closer touch with some of my AA buddies back in the states in addition to occasional meetings here (the smoking is a bit much to handle on a daily basis).

Croatian Serenity Prayer: “Bože, podari mi spokoj da prihvatim ono što ne mogu da promenim, hrabrost da menjam ono što mogu da promenim, i mudrost da razlikujem jedno od drugog.”

 Thursday

We awoke extra early Thursday morning to meet up with a few people who had posted a morning workout on the Marjan (hilltop park nearby). The post said 7AM so we made sure to get up and out the door by 6:45. The walk through the palace just before dawn was quite except for a few vendors we passed at the fish market and other early risers getting their days started. After exiting the palace area via Marmontova street we navigated over to a narrow winding road that stair-stepped up every 5 or 10 feet. As we climbed higher and higher we could see more and more of town. The sun hadn’t crested the hilltop horizon yet, but it was light enough now to see the Cathedral of Saint Duje, the shoreline and even some distant towns washed in a mix of streetlights and dawn. When we arrived at our balcony meeting spot it was right around 7. After taking a few pictures and waiting a while, we determined no one was coming. Sunrise wasn’t for another 15 minutes so we decided to walk up the path into the park to explore more vistas and vegetation. I was surprised at the mix of aloe plants, cypress trees, olive trees and other greenery surrounding us on the walk. It seemed like an odd mix to be in such close proximity. When we arrived back at the platform meeting spot the sun was just peeking out. Having fulfilled my objective of waiting till sunrise I agreed to head back down the long staircase road into town. The rest of the morning included another trip to the green market and errands for miscellaneous supplies like toilet paper and mineral water.

After stocking up we were ready to kick off our first day of coworking. The route to CoWorking Split was a beautiful walk along the coastline in our firs sunny day. After about 20 minutes we walked up the hill into a brightly lit open office space with rows of desks stretching to the back wall. We were greeted by Carly and Miguel, the couple who ran the place. Carly’s an American and Miguel is Portuguese. They met roughly 5 years ago and have been living in various places in Europe ever since. We hit it off with them right away and must have talked to them for half an hour before getting into our work day. Still a little travel-worn, getting back into work mode took a little while, but Dani and I both managed to get in a solid 4 hours in addition to mixed conversations with our new friends. On our way out later we stopped again to talk more, sharing what each of the four of us did for a living, discussing a few spots to visit in town and exchanging contact info so we could meet up again soon. Then we made our way down a more direct road into the city, up and down Marmontova and back home for dinner.

Then it was time to attempt our first load of laundry. I say “attempt” because for some reason doing laundry in Europe is a lot more complicated than it is back home. Armed with our 2-minute instructional walkthrough from our landlady a few days earlier, we proceeded to add the detergent and clothes. Having completly fogotten Angelika’s instructions though, we chose a wash setting that turned out to be one of the longest cycles available (roughly 2 hours). After waiting for the cycle to finish, not realilzing that we had to turn the setting to ‘Off’ before moving to a dry setting, we managed to add another 2 hours of washing (4 hour running total) before givign up and hanging most of the clothes out on a drying rack in the living room near our heater. Dani was not a happy camper that night (she got up a few times while I slept).

Friday

We awoke Friday morning to realize that my one and only pair of pants were still soaking wet.

NOTE: Always bring at least 2 of everything you wear daily on trips. ENDNOTE

In our desperation the night begore, we emailed Angelika for help and after discovering the wet pants debacle visited our next door neighbor (Angelika’s dad Mate) so he could come over to help us with the drying function. He couldn’t figure it out either (which made us feel a little better) so he ended up calling Angelika and having her speak to me on the phone. Eventually we found the right setting and got the jeans started, but at that point it was already early afternoon  so we opted to work from home the rest of the day instead of going to the coworking space.

A Note On The Importance Of Meditation… With all the recent change and random issues we’d been experiencing I was honestly a bit of a mess bordering on freaking out. In fact, I had been getting a little more crazy each day we were out of our routine and was nearing a breaking point. Having felt this way in the past I knew one of the best solutions was to take 20-30 minutes in a quiet space and meditate. I cannot express enough the impact meditation has on me when I practice it. Within 10 minutes I was feeling back to my old self and after another 10 I felt energized and ready to take Split by storm once again!

We had another productive day of work despite being stuck at home (damn pants) and wrapped up a little early so we could go get our much-needed massages (life is so hard). To get to the spa, we took a 30KN taxi and arrived a few minutes early due to our drivers excellent maneuvering skills. When our room was ready we entered to the soothing sounds of Enya’s ““Only Time“, neon blue mood lighting and some paper undies to change into. We opted to keep our own underwear on, but in hindsight I wish I would have just changed into the damn speedo (When in Rome right?). Once we were undressed to our comfort level and laying facedown under our towels the two masseuses entered and began working their magic. I’ll get into more detail on the differences between American and Europen boundaries in a later post, but let’s just say the next hour felt more like a very intense oily game of chicken or go than a relaxing massage. We finished our massages, feeling a little… different, and had the lady at the front desk call us a cab back to town. Shortly thereafter we found a cab driver and proceeded to drive every which way around the streets of Split proper, racking up a whopping 95KN fare (yes, 3x more than the ride there) although that still works out to be less than $15 USD so I shouldn’t complain.

Our next stop was a lovely Italian restaurant near the sulfury section of the coastline. They had live crab in the fish tank up front as well as a live 2-man Mariachi band! Dinner was delicious. I started out with mushroom soup and we shared a cheese plate with olives. Dani had her first sea bass branzino style since arriving, veal with stone ground mustard for me and we also shared some mixed grilled veggies. When we got back to our place we had a nice video chat with Mom and Kenny, then I flipped on Discovery Channel while Dani read to relax and prep for our big weekend of exploration!

Saturday

We awoke Saturday morning before 8 so we could be up, fed and ready for our tour of Diocletian’s Palace. Our guide Marijana arrived at exactly 9AM and after another few minutes we were on our way down to the start of our tour past the Silver Gate (eastern wall). As we strolled and gazed, Marijana gave us details of Diocletian’s reign including the destruction and rebuilding of many of the palatial dwellings over the centuries. Unique architecture could be found by the trained eye for many of the palaces previous occupants over the centuries including Austro-Hungarian, Venetian, Bizantine and of course the original as well as more dominant Roman structures which made up the bones of most structures.

We visited a beautiful little church (Church of Saint Martin) and conversed with the two nuns in residence using a mix of English, Croatian, French and Italian phrases. The church itself is only 5 or so feet wide and 30-40 feet deep, but it has beautiful high ceilings and was made up for the small wedding they were hosting later that day. A short while later (after passing the bride and groom to be on our way), we visited a synagog down the Jewish corridor of the palace. The man in residence was not a Rabbi, but was kind enough to show us around. After he had finished explaining the details of how the Jews ended up in Split, Marijana mentioned that in America a lot of people looked up to the Jewish population. Our host took this as Americans thought it was good to be Jewish, which kicked off a 20-minute lecture on how awful he felt it was to be a Jew. Having known many Jewish people back in the states, I could relate more to Marijana’s statement, but thought it would be better to keep quiet. Despite his frustrated tone, the man was very well educated and we learned a lot about some of the lesser known (not taught in America) histories of Jews in the region.

We continued on our journey through other areas of the palace as well as to each gate (Gold at the North wall, Bronze at the South wall and Iron on the West wall) including some of the residential sections that are not frequented as often. When our few hours of touring was up, Dani and I were getting really hungry so our guide dropped us off at our lunch spot, Villa Spiza. Lunch was another amazing meal of deer stew over pasta, grilled tuna in tomato sauce and fresh salad. Marijana came back to visit toward the end of our meal to show us a huge bouquet of yellow and orange flowers she bought for her church at the market. We also met a very nice couple from Australia who were in town for a few weeks buying a boat. After lunch we were both pretty exhausted so we headed back to our place for a nap and a call with Larry and Janine (Dani’s parents). We made our way back out for an early dinner at Mazzgoon restaurant, which is slightly hidden amongst the shops and narrow streets of the palace but only a 5-minute walk from our place. Dani ordered quail (first time for everything!) and I got lamb. Dani decided she didn’t much care for quail so I ended up with a bit of extra protein.

Saturday was also the big finale of the holiday celebration so DJs and stages were set up in various locations around town. It was cool to see all the people out and about and the DJs did a great job with the music. In an effort to avoid future “no-pants” incidents, we decided to pop into a fancy apparel store to get me some slick trousers. Massimo Dutti was having a big sale (as are all the other stores) and after trying on several outfit variations we found me a pair of khakis (slim European fit) and a new brown belt to match my handmade Italian leather shoes. Then we made our way down Marmontova to the Riva where everyone was strolling and singing along to the music. We stopped off at a cafe and ordered some sparkling water while we sat under heat lamps and people watched. On our way back we picked up some more olive oil from one of the merchants on the Riva and popped into our new favorite whole foods store Bio & Bio for some additional supplies. Eventually we made our way home to relax before turning in.

 Sunday

Having gotten a ton of recommendations on places to visit from Marijana the day before, we headed out relatively early on Sunday as well! Within the first few hours we were able to visit the Emanuel Vidović Gallery, the Split City Museum (Muzej Grada Splita) and explored the palace’s basements! For those of you Game of Thrones fans, the basement of the palace is where Daenerys Targaryen locked up her dragons! As we exited the basement area, a ray of warm sunshine hit our faces and we began our 25-minute walk along the coast up and out of town to our favorite stop of the day, Galerija Meštrović, the former home now turned museum of famous sculptor and painter Ivan Meštrović. Set up on a hill overlooking the Adriatic, the gallery’s front steps and facade could rival that of any French chateau. The courtyard leading up to the home was a combination of stone walkways, finely cut grass and trimmed shrubbery, sculptures and towering cypress trees that guard the perimeter.

Inside the gallery we found beautiful carvings made from wood, marble, stone and bronze as well as sketches and paintings done by the artist. Having arrived only 30 minutes before closing time we only had enough time for one trip through each room. After leaving the house we stopped back in at the front entrance shop to buy postcards and get a 15-minute history lesson on Meštrović from the store clerk.

On our way back we descended a winding rocky staircase down to the water’s edge for some people watching while soaking in the sunlight and also to practice our strolling technique. We made a conscious effort to slow our pace and take in the surroundings as we wound our way around the coastline walkway. While walking through the big park nearby we saw groups of scattered people talking while packs of domesticated dogs played with one another. Further up the path, families watched their kids playing on the swings and jungle gyms. A little further and a nun and priest were walking and talking, all while the sun slowly slid behind the sea. Although it was a bit colder than the way I had dreamt it, this strolling moment was almost exactly what I’d envisioned. I can’t recall the details of the rest of the day now, but I’m sure we ran another errand or two and made it back to our place for dinner, some decompressing and then eventually to bed.

That’s all for now folks!

– R –