On our first day in Split, we weren’t in the mood for ‘pizza cut’ at 9:30AM, and we didn’t need to change money — so we did what everyone comes to Split to do: we left (just for the day). And had what ended up being a truly memorable day…An hour’s bus ride south of the city towards Dubrovnik: the spectacular Makarska Riviera. To begin with, this was a slightly terrifying bus ride for two reasons. One, outside the city limits of Split, the road to Dubrovnik carves its way up into the side of a very steep hill, with a sheer drop several hundred feet down to the sea and no real barrier to speak of. The bus confidently wends its way in and out of this switchbacked stretch of road several times a day, is what I told Megan while she was etching fingernail imprints into the side of my arm, her face buried into my chest. Still, sitting up in the elevated seats, feeling every twist and turn on a top-heavy bus was a harrowing, if beautiful, experience. Two, there were no announcements at all about which stops were where and how to know when we ought to get off the bus. When we tried to ask the bus conductor how we would know where to get off for Brela, he said something in Croatian that roughly translates to “I’m very sorry, kind people, but I have no idea what you’re asking me. However, if I did, I would be sure to help you (smileyface).” His body language, tone, and abruptness (angryface) said something completely different — in fact he said just 3 words — but I know in my heart this is what he meant.
Granted, missing one’s bus stop wouldn’t ordinarily count as terrifying, but in this case it did. A short drive beyond our intended stop, the bus crosses into Bosnia for a short stretch, but not before a passport/visa inspection by Bosnian border officials who get onto the bus to check everyone’s paperwork and who, by all accounts, don’t usually see the funny side of unintended border jumping (we didn’t have our passports on us that day).
If it’s a bit blurred it’s because Meg’s hand was shaking.
In the end, the bus didn’t somersault its way down into the Adriatic Sea any more than we missed our stop, and after a long walk down a very steep hill we were at Brela — apparently rated by Forbes magazine a decade ago (in a momentary lapse of consciousness during which they forgot Greece and Italy are part of Europe) as the number 1 beach in Europe. It is a great beach by anyone’s standards though — and all the better because it was the first beach day of our trip thus far. Clear blue waters, crisp sunny skies, and nothing to do but relax.
Mini highlight of the day:
- while walking along Brela’s pebbly beach, stopping for a moment to watch two pigeon-chested, potbellied middle-aged men in supertight Speedos hold an argument that no one could win, in animated yet clipped and cheerless Balkan tones, while their wives looked on dispassionately, like they’d seen it a thousand times before. It was then I realized that everyone around us was speaking in a language not English. No Americans, no Aussies, no Brits, no Irish, no Kiwis, no any-other-colonies: it was one of those “wow, I’m a long way from home” moments: we had taken a day trip to a truly ‘local’ place, which made it all the more sweet.
At 5PM the next day, a catamaran ferry would transport us to the fabulous island of Korčula, which meant we had seven hours to kill between checkout time and ferry time. During those seven long, hot, hours we visited the old town, and walked its stone-streeted maze, genuinely captivated by its ancient history. Much of the ancient palace still stands today, after having been constructed around 305 A.D. for a Roman Emperor named Diocletian.
It didn’t take long before we’d been there-done that and were wondering what to do with the remaining six and a half hours before ferry time. I now present to you, free of charge, three time-killing tactics every traveler should know.
First, we found that fast food can be turned into very, very slow food if there’s free wifi and a comfortable shady table to sit at. Second, to escape the heat and to pass the time, there is always shopping. Not buying anything, of course. Just window shopping from the inside — browsing among the air-conditioned aisles of things we can’t afford. Side note: there are two very useful words to know when it comes to the practice of aircon-not-shopping: je regarde. Break that phrase out in the boutiques of Paris and shop attendants empathize immediately (at least you’re trying, however poorly, to communicate in the local lingua franca). Break it out anywhere else and they’ll think you’re…well… French, and will probably leave you alone. Third, we found that an hour can go by quite quickly when you survey the exquisitely terrible slogans emblazoned in sparkly letters on the tank tops and t-shirts of youngsters. I don’t get it, I really don’t — I’ve never seen so many bad slogan shirts in one place. Just a few from the catalogue:
- Help Wanted
- Then I Met You
- Love Love Love Love Love Love Love (*note: I lost count.. staring is rude)
- Happy Smurf
- You Look Sexy
and on and on. What is this stuff for? My personal favourite was I Need a Weekend. Being sported by a dreadlocked teenager. On a Sunday.
And then, towards tea time, thanks to this tirelessly-tested tried and true triad of trifling time-trashing techniques, in two ticks we were transported to the totally terrific terra firma that is the island of Korcula…