OK, OK… so Split wasn’t quite that bad, but after two nights we were ready to, uh, split — as quickly as possible.
The journey from Venice to Split had seen another delay befall us, a delay we thought was going to be much more interesting than it turned out to be in the end. Our first fear was the flight itself: there are only a few cheapo, non-stop flights each week from Venice to Split, and the later it got into the night with no sign of a plane, the more it looked like we could be stuck in Venice for days rather than hours. Not to mention, the last bus from Split’s airport to the city was scheduled to leave at 9:15PM — an hour and a half earlier than our plane eventually took off from Venice. Eventually, however, the plane came, and the bus in Split had in fact waited for our delayed flight, and so, rather uneventfully, we got to our lodgings in the wee hours of the morning. And that more or less set the tone for our time in Split (and, I’m guessing, many thousands of other people’s time in Split) — uneventful.
There’s nothing wrong with Split, per se, but then there isn’t a whole lot right with it either. It’s a huge ferry port, with ships and yachts and boats and ferries of all sizes crammed along its docks. Most everyone who is in Split is there for one purpose — to leave. This means there is a palpable excitement in the air: from high-school leavers on their gap year, to the twenty-somethings crewing on luxury yachts, to the most senior of citizens about to embark on the cruise of a lifetime; everyone in Split is ready to leave on some manner of vacation. But at the same time, there is something about the city itself that doesn’t yet know how excited everyone is to be there. The holiday buzz is offset at once by saturnine buildings; seemingly-abandoned construction sites; cars neglected in fields where strands of long grass have arched up over them; artless, angry graffiti on walls and bridges; the stolid stench of dead fish mixed with cigarette smoke that wafts up from the market along the walls of the old city. Walking her narrow streets, I couldn’t help but feel that Split is caught somewhere in a void between old and new, staid and exciting, traditional and unconventional. If I said split personality I would cringe, so I won’t.
A Marmite town: you either love it or hate it, as these conflicting artists do. Or, like me, you don’t really mind it, you think it’s OK, but you’re not really sure what it is.
Seventeen centuries later, this flair for the dramatic has all but disappeared.
Outside of the palace, and apart from leaving altogether, a quick look along the dockside promenade reveals that there are only about two things to do in Split: eat junk food, and change money. Sometimes in the same place.
Croatia is, of course, not only an emerging economy, but also a fledgling country: a dazzling ancient history feeding its nascent national identity. So no one is expecting Monaco when they come here, and, thankfully, Split is a far cry from the showy glitz and elective surgery of a place like Monaco. But when glorious history clashes with bad pizza and rampant tacky souvenir peddling, the result is somewhat depressing. In a few years’ time, Split will no doubt have morphed into something else, something better I hope, something more Split-ish — whatever that is going to mean — and I wish it all the best in finding its new identity as something other than a place people come to in pursuance of leaving.