So after the three months lockdown in England, we finally made it to Split in mid June 2020 after four attempts.
Here we would like to share our first impression of this charming, humming and liveable city.
Being the second largest city of Croatia, Split is a city of three tales, composed of the historic old town that provides hospitality and entertainment, the Marjan Forest Park where nature resides and the "normal" part with shopping malls and high rises that maintains the function and convenience of modern life.
The entire Split old town used to be Diocletian's Palace, named after the great Roman Emperor Diocletian who was responsible for construction of the palace. It is one of the best preserved monuments of Roman architecture in the world and is UNESCO world heritage listed. It's fun to get lost in the old town's narrow lanes and various squares filled with countless cool cafes, restaurants and boutique shops, although plenty of empty seats everywhere as you can see due to the current low tourist volume. Just outside of the palace wall is the Riva (promenade), a long pedestrian walkway with the harbour on one side and cafes and restaurants on the other.
We found the most people in the two morning markets: fish market and green market. Located inside the old town, the fish market was literally packed with fresh seafood and shoppers. We had to dodge and squeeze and duct in the crowd - unbelievable in the COVID-19 era! We didn't linger or buy anything even though tempted. The whole scene was a bit too overwhelming considering up until five days ago, we hadn't got that close to another living soul for over three months.
The green market sells very fresh and well priced seasonal fruits and vegetables. Located just outside of the palace wall, it is huge in size with countless vendors. Summer fruits such as cherries, peaches, apricots and figs are in season now. We bought a kilogram of large juicy cherries for USD$2! Split is truly heaven on earth if it's not for anything else!
Marjan Forest Park
Stunning and massive, Marjan Forest Park is referred as "lungs of Split", boasting pine forest, numerous paved and gravel pathways, several quaint pebble beaches, as well as some old stone churches and hermitage caves carved out of cliffs dated centuries ago. The park is a perfect marriage of hills, cliffs and beaches. It covers a similar area as the Central Park in New York.
We have done several 10km hikes in the park with each route offering different views and points of interest. A lot of locals cycle, run, walk dogs and swim here - needless to say it's a popular destination for either exercising or nature escape.
The "normal" part
The "normal" part of the city is as exciting for us slow travellers because that is where we can find "normal" supplies and services such as simple crackers, water shoes and hairdressers. Supermarkets in the old town tend to be small with limited stock range. After three months of lockdown, we were very excited to do a bit of window shopping in a mall. The return to familiarity and normality turned out to be very emotional.
Well positioned, Split is a great base to explore many other places up and down the Dalmatian coast and inland. Boasting the largest ferry port in Croatia, Split offers ferry services to many islands and other domestic and international destinations. If you don't fancy waterway, car hire is a good alternative to explore beyond Split.
Swimming in Croatia's stunning turquoise crystal clear water is refreshing and addictive. Like in most Croatia, beaches in Split are pebbly and rocky. In a lot of the swimming areas, you can only find a single ladder down into water with a lot of rocks in and around. The transparent green water with rocks as backdrop is simply gorgeous, however on the practical side, one will need some water shoes to be able to enjoy swimming without hurting one's feet.
We noticed an interesting quirk of the local people: when you are in direct contact with them such as face-to-face, phone calls or emails, they are super friendly, welcoming and helpful. But when you are passing them on hiking trails or streets, they don't say hi or smile or make any eye contact. Quite often on narrow trails in the park, we have to pull aside letting runners, cyclists or hikers go past and we find it incredible that the receivers never acknowledge us, unlike the courteous bunch in the English forests or on American trails.
Fruit trees are growing everywhere in people's gardens and along suburban streets. Fig trees are the most common type, then there are peach trees, cherry plum trees and lime trees. Grape vines are often growing above people's car port and fences. It feels like walking around in an orchard with a variety of fruits hanging everywhere. We've sampled the odd figs and cherry plums - they were delicious!