This summer I traveled through Croatia and fell absolutely in love. Having traveled alone for the first time without a family home-base nearby, I honestly learned a lot about my self. I highly recommend traveling alone because it really allows you to pay attention to the country and people in a way you might not if you were traveling with others. I definitely felt that I was more open than usual since I was alone, so a kind stranger easily turned into a friend.
I’ve always considered myself a saavy, cost-effective traveller, so I’ll start by sharing how I managed accommodations and travel expenses.
Before I arrived in Split, I booked an Airbnb about a 20 minute walk away from the infamous Riva. For the two nights, I only spent $100 CDN, which included breakfast and my own private room. To save money getting to and from the city, I traveled via coach bus to get to the airport which saved me on transportation costs significantly. The bus only cost about 7 euros – a huge savings compared to a 30-40 euro Uber ride.
On my way to Split, I was actually coming from my hometown Knin, a smaller nearby city in Croatia, so I traveled by bus which arrives right in the middle of the Riva, beside the sparkling sea, within all of the excitement and surrounded by beautiful, ancient architecture and a slew of boats and ships. My hometown is only two hours away, so the ride flew by – especially given that I could take in all the beautiful sights on the road.
As soon as I arrived, I was warmly greeted by my Airbnb host Marin, who was very kind and accommodating. He showed up on a motorcycle and brought an extra helmet for me with the intention of giving me a ride. Unfortunately I had too much luggage which couldn’t fit on the bike, so I had to take an uber to the flat where I dropped off all of my stuff, and got to know my hosts a little bit better. For the record, they were absolutely amazing. They invited me to eat lunch and dinner with them and taught me a lot about local Croatian history, namely of their famous artists and poets. I learned about Ivan Mestrovic, a renowned sculptor whose work is displayed in a nearby gallery.
On my first day, I walked to the Stari Grad and explored the quaint streets filled with lovely shops, pizzerias and friendly faces. The first thing I noticed about Stari Grad was that it was incredibly clean. It was so refreshing to see people love and respect their town. There was no graffiti, no trash on the streets. The cobblestone I walked upon was practically sparkling.
As for the weather, it was so hot I literally melted. I recommend wearing minimal makeup, perhaps just a tinted sunscreen to help even out your skin tone in addition to providing protection from the sun’s harmful rays. I personally love using the Garnier Ombrelle SPF 60 Ultra Light Advanced Tinted Face Lotion; it dries instantly with a smooth, even finish and is free of that usual sunscreen scent.
I walked around a bit, sat by myself to drink a coffee, wandered in and out of the boutiques to see what the fashion scene looked like. I also stopped by the local market where I purchased a hat to protect me from the sun. Because it was so hot, I had to go back to my airbnb after a little bit to relax, freshen up, and have a bite to eat.
After resting a bit, I went back to the Start Grad and accidentally stumbled into Diocletian’s Palace which was out of this world. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The architecture was stunning. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to witness something incredibly beautiful that will stay with us forever. This is how I feel about my experience in Split. Diocletian’s palace is an ancient palace that was built in the 4th century for the Roman Emperor Diocletian. It has also served as a set for HBO’s Game of Thrones. It is hard to describe the feeling I experienced while looking at the palace. I want a word for the feeling you get when you are in absolute disbelief at what humans are creatively capable of making. Cities are certainly our grandest pieces of art.
As the sun started to set, I found myself back on the Riva, feeling a magnetic pull to be near the water. As I sat on the edge of the path, overlooking the sunset, a spell of calm washed over me. Bells were ringing beautifully from a nearby church. It was a surreal moment, and I felt very much at peace with myself, and where I was in my life. Problems floated away with the ebb and flow of each wave, and I truly lived in that moment, carefree, and incredibly happy.
I was in my own world for a few moments, and I think others could tell. A professional photographer approached me asking me if he could have my permission to take my photograph with the sunset. Of course I agreed. It was a moment in time worth capturing. Isn’t it strange how one moment can be gone in a blink, but remain in your memory forever?
Soon after, I was approached by a wonderful gentleman named Mirko. He was Italian, and traveling with his friends. He said he had seen me earlier, and had been hoping to run into me again. We chatted briefly before he asked me if we he could take me out to dinner. He seemed like a very nice man, and I didn’t feel afraid of going out with him. He took me to a lovely restaurant nearby. I wish I could remember the name. We split Calamari. It was nice. Random, though.
On the second day, I woke up early, ate breakfast with my host, and then traveled to the Riva again to purchase a ticket to go to Hvar. But when I got there, the tickets were all sold out! The only time available now was for 5:00 pm – which would have been a total bummer because I wanted to enjoy the day there.
I acquiesced begrudgingly and purchased a ticket for 5:00 pm. But I then had an idea: what if I could just sneak on the 3:00 pm ferry? There’s a good chance they won’t even check the time.
I decided to try it. I stood in line waiting for the catamaran, holding my breath from how nervous I was. As I got closer and closer to the front of the line, I tried to get a good look at the ticket collector to gage whether or not he was seriously studying the tickets. He wasn’t really looking, so there was a chance I could get away with it. Muahaha.
I was so nervous I could literally feel the familiar heat of my heart palpitating inside my throat and ears. I got nearer and nearer to the front. It was my turn. I gulped, and handed the gatekeeper my ticket, crumpled and sweaty. He ripped off the bottom portion, stuck it in his pocket, and welcomed me on board. Did he just wink at me? I can’t tell.
I did it! Hoorah. I ran inside. However the ferry looked much different than I imagined. I expected a ferry like the ones in Toronto, that have benches and a lot of standing room. This ferry literally looked like a plane. There were rows of numbered seats.
But as I sat down, I remained nervous. Naturally I’m a very nervous person, so I was expecting the conductors to run after me and expose me in front of the whole ferry and kick me off. The person who sat beside me ended up being a really cute, handsome doctor. We hit it off and became friends! I somehow learned from him that they only sell tickets to match the number of seats. Now I was really nervous. What if someone came on board and didn’t have a seat? I told him how nervous I was and admitted I snuck on the earlier boat and we both just burst out laughing. He assured me it would be fine, a lot of people miss the boat. So, moral of this story, I recommend purchasing your ferry ticket well in advance – don’t wait until the day of your planned travels to book a ferry ride.
Once I got to the island, I took a walk to take in all the pretty views. I checked out some of the hotels, and then perched myself up on a rock to tan and enjoy the view of the sea. There were so many boats and yachts around. Hvar is definitely a swanky island where people come to play.
I sat and tanned all afternoon. While I was sitting, I overheard a couple behind me talking about Toronto – my city! I turned around, and struck a conversation with the couple letting them know I was from Toronto too. They were really cool. We just talked a little bit about what brought us to Croatia and Hvar in particular. The couple met the night before – they said they felt an instant connection, and I could tell, because I literally thought they had been dating forever how comfortable they looked and acted around one another. They told me that I had to take a walk up to the Trdava Spanjola, sharing their experience with me and guaranteeing I would be glad I took the hike.
So, I said bye to my new friends, and off I went to fulfill my next mini adventure. I walked through the beautiful walkways in Hvar, skipping up the steps as the island is coned, following signs directing me to the Trdava. Once I finally got there, I had to walk and climb countless steps to get to the top. Walking quite fast, I’d say it took me about 15 minutes to get to the top. By the time I finally made it, I was out of breath and could feel the exhaustion in my leg muscles.
But wow, it was worth it. Croatia continually blew my mind, as I was confronted with beauty at almost every minute. From the top of the fortress, you could see the entire island and the stretch of surrounding sea, little yachts, ferries and boats appearing like specks in the vast blue. I stayed up there for quite some time, just taking it all in. It was truly beautiful.
Finally, then, I received a message from the guest I shared the airbnb with. We made plans to go to Hvar together, but he took the 5 pm ferry which was also the 2 hour ferry, so he wouldn’t be arriving until after 7pm. I felt so bad that he came. He came thinking that I was going to party on the island and stay up all night and take the ferry home in the morning. I’m not sure why he thought this as my flight to Ibiza was the next morning, but regardless there was miscommunication there. I went to the bus stop to greet him and we went to a nearby bar where we ordered some appetizers and drinks and just chatted and got to know each other. As the sun set and dusk swept upon us, we left to stock up on ciders at the nearest corner store and walked back to the bus to catch the last ferry home.
Every moment of my trip in Split and Hvar was special, and will forever be in my heart. Never have I felt so happy to be alive. I felt rejuvenated, like brand new. I’m convinced Croatia is one of the most beautiful countries on earth.
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