Our journey to southern Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast was done in a very “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” kind of way; all of our train tickets were purchased at the station within an hour of departure. Traveling this way brings a sense of excitement and anticipation that is difficult to find in today’s internet-centric world where planning a trip can be done with just a few clicks of a button. In the past few weeks, we have been using trains as our primary mode of transportation which allows us to see much more of the landscape than traveling by plane. For both of us, trains are our favorite way to travel. They are not always the fastest way to get around, and you often have to make connections and switch trains, but the experience is so much more laid-back than flying.
The trip from Eger, Hungary to Split, Croatia took us two days via three different trains, totaling about 14 hours on the rails when all was said and done. Our “layover” in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, was a nice surprise. The city was much more full of life than we had anticipated, with tons of young people out and about enjoying the parks, cafes and restaurants that line the cobbled streets.
It’s a bit of a miracle that we made it to Split at all. Half way through our train ride we noticed that we had been stopped on the tracks for quite a while. Wondering what was going on, we poked our heads out of the window and noticed that the train was being decoupled; the front half was pulling away, while our car was left standing on the tracks. The train conductor didn’t speak English, so we just went with it and hoped that we were on the right car. Another engine arrived a few minutes later, and we were on our way again. Upon arriving at the Hungary-Croatia boarder a few hours later, our passports were checked and stamped. Our concern about being on the right train was raised again when we looked down at our passports and saw “Republika Hrvatska.” Hrvatska?! We thought we were going to Croatia. Turns out Hrvatska is Croatia. English versions of cities and countries are often different (i.e. Sevilla>Seville. Lisboa>Lisbon.), but how did someone come up with Croatia from Hrvatska? Anyway, we digress.
We did eventually arrive in Split, and when we did, we felt very glad to be back in a city on the sea. Our last view of the ocean was in Denmark, and although only a month ago, it felt like ages. Being from Colorado, Mike had always said that he prefers the mountains to the sea, but it seems that each time we travel to the coast it is harder for him to leave.
Split is the second largest city in Croatia, yet only recently has become a popular tourist destination. It serves as the transportation hub for the numerous islands that speckle the Dalmatian Coast. It is also known for Diocletian’s Palace, the ancient Roman palace that encircles in the old town, and for its numerous beaches and party atmosphere.
The cafe culture along Split’s main pedestrian street is also prevalent. On our first day there, Amy said “is it just me, or is everyone staring at us?” We quickly learned that people watching is THE thing to do in Croatia. Everyone looks at everyone else, and most people can be seen decked out in big sunglasses to aid in the sport of people watching.
We had originally intended on staying three nights in Split, but after a day, we decided that would not be enough, so we extended our visit for another two nights. The weather gods blessed us with warm temperatures and cloudless skies, making ideal conditions for a few days at the beach.
The most famous island along the Dalmatian Coast is Hvar. The ferry from Split to Hvar takes about two hours and the scenery is gorgeous. The boat ride alone justifies the cost of the ticket, but the stunning natural beauty of Hvar is the real gem. We spent our day on Hvar hiking up to the castle for an amazing view, strolling along the coast and swimming in the turquoise sea. Then, we soaked up some sun while dining in the plaza. It was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable days of our journey thus far. It literally felt like heaven.
Maybe it was the great weather that put everyone in a good mood, but whatever the case, we encountered only friendly people on the island. Everyone we met, tourists and locals alike, had a huge smile on their face. Among those we met was a really fun couple that we kept running into throughout the day. We spent the entire ferry ride back to Split chatting it up with our new friends, Juan and Saskia. Originally from Zimbabwe, they now live in Australia and are currently wrapping up a 9-month road trip around Europe. Dinner that night turned into ten hours of stories and jokes. While being away from friends and family back home can be hard, one of the best parts of our expedition is meeting total strangers along the way and witnessing first-hand how a love of travel brings people together.
We had to leave the next morning for Dubrovnik, so once we returned to our apartment at 4:00am, we hopped on the internet and booked the first affordable place that we could find. Remember what we said at the beginning of this post about a few clicks of a button? BIG MISTAKE. But more to come on that story in our next post…stay tuned for Dalmatian Coast: Part II.