I left Zagreb with a heavy heart, given how much I so thoroughly enjoyed my time there, yet excited for the next couple of weeks. So much of the talk for Croatia is about its coastline, and I was ready to soak in the sun and swim in the aqua blue waters.
My first stop was a 4 hour bus ride to the Istrian Peninsula, and the regional capital of Pula. A bit of a random choice at first, but well worth it in the end. This port town is not all that big, so the three days I booked were a perfect for taking it a bit slower.
There are quite a few tourist level locations around town, including the Arch of Segrii, the Fortress of Pula and the Temple of Augustus. But without doubt, the crowning jewel of the city is the Pula Colosseum, which dates to 27BC … yeah, that’s fucking old, like 2000+ years old! It also happens to be the only remaining Roman amphitheater in the world with a fully intact circle wall and four preserved side towers. How’s that for random?
Embracing the slow life, I spent many hours relaxing in the local cafes and parks, luxuriated on the beach at sunset, and at the pier for another, and sauntered through the narrow streets of the old town all at the pace of my internal grandpa.
I was very excited for my journey to Split as it would be my first time traveling by speed catamaran. On top of that, I met someone in my hostel who was also traveling the same route, so it would be my first journey with another person.
The ferry would only take me about half way to the town of Zadar, which we reach in only a couple hours. I then needed to transfer to bus in order to reach Split. Leah, my companion for on the ferry, was staying in Zadar, agreed to join me for an Aperol while I killed time before my departure. We exchanged socials and agreed to connect when she reached Split a few days later.
Split is a much different vibe than either Zagreb or Pula. As the second largest city in Croatia, its smaller than Zagreb, but felt much bigger and certainly more hectic. Maybe that was the increase in temperature, as heat in the city always makes things feel bigger to me.
As I do this more, my routines and processes become more refined. I’m also starting to slow down much more, and am losing some of my internal FOMO. Transit days are always chaotic and hectic, so I’m finding it better to chill on arrival on these days.
But chill is relative, and I take these opportunities to run through my “on arrival” checklists and research. First order of business is always establishing where the best places for coffee are. I’ll be writing a separate post about this checklist and my research soon.
Split has a charming old town with quite a few historical gems to witness. The highlight for sure is Diocletian’s palace. Diocletian was a Roman emperor who was the first to “retire” from the throne. In 305 CE, he had his “retirement home” built in Split, which is near where he was born. Most of the old town is within the palace walls.
Being Croatia’s second largest city means it has a football club, and in sticking with second place, it has Croatia’s second most successful club, Hajduk Split. With the season only two matches from completion, Hajduk was sitting in second place (a theme!) and needing a win to keep momentum and pressure on Dinamo, whom they would face on the final day of the season.
Much like the match in Zagreb, the passion of the supporters is easily felt and a sight to behold. The chanting never stopped and flares made their appearance as well.
Joining a few people from my hostel, we took a day trip out to Krka National Park, to enjoy nature and some relative peace and quiet. Much like Plitvice, Krka is full of blue waters and rushing waterfalls, but on a much smaller scale. The tour also included a few hours in the charming town of Šibenik, birthplace of basketball hall of famer Drazen Petrovic.
The remainder of my time in Split was spent walking narrow cobbled streets, admiring 1000 year old walls and plenty of time at the many beaches around town.
Let’s get this out of the way up front … I only watched 2 seasons of Game of Thrones. So Dubrovnik was not some sort of Mecca for me. If you’re like me and didn’t watch, Dubrovnik is the model for the capital King’s Landing, and many scenes were filmed inside its city walls and around town.
Unfortunately that has turned this beautiful town into quite the tourist destination. I'm all for tourism, hell I'm basically a tourist everyday now, but overtourism is a real thing. There are still quite a lot of people that live in the old town, and I can't imagine how frustrating it must be to have throngs of randoms up in their faces every single day. May is decidedly offseason in Croatia, but there were still massive amounts of tourists everywhere in the old town.
My personal highlight of Dubrovnik was the terrace at the guesthouse I stayed in. High up the cliff in “new town,” the view was amazing, but the sunsets I witnessed each night were straight out of a travel magazine. Words and photos cannot do them justice.
And if I thought I was slowing down in Split, I was certainly moving at a snail’s pace here in Dubrovnik. Honestly, it felt amazing. It feels like I’ve really transitioned to a new pace of life and a new way of being. Days simply happen. My rhythm and routine in sync with my mind and soul.
Many people would find six nights in Dubrovnik too long. You can do old town in a day, including all the GOT you can handle, and beyond that many people won’t find much else to do here. But having that many days and moving like a turtle meant a single activity could take a majority of the day, and ultimately allowed me to really soak it in and experience it. Quality not quantity.
Daily walks to yet another amazing Cogito Coffee location. A four hour, round trip walk to an abandoned 5-star hotel and secluded beach. A hike to the highest peak in a forested park. An afternoon mosey through the old town. A walk around the new town harbor, with chill time at no less than five benches. All of these done without a care of time.
Yet most of my time was spent on the terrace, where I worked on some upcoming new features to the blog, and planned and plotted my next adventures. I also took full advantage of the kitchen at my guesthouse to reconnect with my love for cooking. It's something I've been missing quite a lot during the last months.
The timeline for these adventures was two weeks. Reading this post, it might seem like I’ve not done much, but the truth is so much happened. These two weeks were significant and profound for me in more ways than I can count.
It’s been a metamorphosis of my very being. I’ve mentally moved into a new way of being. My mind thinks differently, I see differently and I breathe differently. I’ve dropped the FOMO and the romanticism, and simply acknowledge this as my life.
All this makes me profoundly excited. A year ago when I was first starting to put everything in motion, I thought I would want/need six months to make the mental and emotional switch to a new way of being. At just under three months, I’m well ahead of myself and it just feels so good.
I’m now off to island hop through the Croatian islands in a new headspace and the excitement is palpable.