Croatia’s Coast to Capital
Continuing on my journey through beautiful Croatia, I arrived in the city of Split. Split is probably most famous for being the home of Diocletian’s Palace, built in the 4th century AD as the retirement digs for the Roman emperor Diocletian. I reckon he did a good job of picking a nice place to retire! The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Monument and is incredibly well preserved – to the point that it is uniquely home to a variety of stores, bars, restaurants, hotels and homes.
Like most ‘old towns’, it’s just nice to wander and get lost in the streets (which happened regularly because I have the most appalling sense of direction). It’s worth seeing if you can find the peristyle (the Palace’s central square) where you can have a drink, climb the bell tower (please wear pants, not a skirt if you do this!) or just generally admire the architecture including the 3500 year old Egyptian granite sphinx. Exploring the basement of the palace is another must – originally it was actually submerged and boats docked underneath bringing cargo & whatnot. Unfortunately a lot of the basement was closed while we were there because they were filming Game of Thrones (but totally yay for new Game of Thrones!).
If, like me, you’ve fallen in love with Croatian wine, or are yet to discover this nectar of the gods, there are 2 places you must go for a fix in Split. The first one is Diocletian’s Wine House which is a beautiful little spot in the heart of the palace, and has an extensive menu of local wines. The other is Zinfandel which is just down from the clock tower in the palace, and has amazing service, food and wine. It’s really busy on weekend nights, so you’ll need to make a booking. They also do a brilliant breakfast!
While you’re in Split, it’s definitely worth taking a day trip to the Plitvice Lakes National Park. It’s about halfway between Split and Zagreb (so you can take a day trip from either), and it is spectacularly beautiful!
The drive is a long one, but it’s interesting to see the scenery change as you move away from the coast. It’s often also a bit cooler as you get more inland, so take a jacket, and wear comfortable shoes. The National Park is UNESCO World Heritage-listed and is made up of nearly 20 interlinked lakes. The thing that makes the Plitvice Lakes really unique is the natural dams and waterfalls created by the formation of travertine barriers made from limestone & chalk deposits, as well as the clarity and colour of the water. You get to walk through the rainforest that surrounds the lakes as well as over boardwalks built across some of the lakes, so you can really appreciate the beauty of the lakes from all angles!
Our departure from Split was bittersweet, as it meant leaving the beautiful Croatian coastline, and heading to our final stop before returning to reality. We took the train (Eurail tickets) from Split to Zagreb, which is about a 6 hour trip, and was surprisingly pleasant. The train was really clean, very roomy and quite comfortable, and again it was really nice to just see the landscapes change from the rocky limestone of the coast to the much greener heartland. Conveniently the train stops right in Zagreb, just a 10 minute walk straight up through the park to Ban Jelacic Square.
Whatever you do in Zagreb, you have to make sure you leave time to visit the Museum of Broken Relationships – it’s a truly fascinating place. The museum’s inventory is made up of donations – people send in a remnant, trinket or memory from their relationship along with their story. There are stories of lovers, friends, families, strangers; there are stories of heartbreak, joy, missed opportunity, unrequited love, connections, forgiveness and passion; and the collection is ever changing as people send in their new stories. There is a cafe/bar there too, so if you need a stiff drink to help heal your bruised heart, there is one close at hand. It definitely was one of the most unique and thought provoking museums I’ve ever been to though, and you’d be crazy not to go.
The Museum of Broken Relationships is located in Zagreb’s Upper Town, and a fun way to get there is to take the Funicular on Tomiceva Street. It’s kind of like a vertical train, that takes all of 64 seconds to get up, but it’s a delightful novelty! The Upper Town in also home to the Zagreb Cathedral, St Mark’s Church with its multi-coloured roof, and Tkalciceva Street where you’ll find an abundance of little cafes and bars.
The Zagreb Eye is also awesome for getting some amazing views across the city. It’s a 16 storey building, and the entry ticket is valid all day – so you can pop up during the day, then head back again in the evening to watch the sunset and the lights come on across the city. There is a bar up the top as well, so take the opportunity to have a drink with the view.
Finally, when you’ve done as much sightseeing as possible and you want a good hearty lunch, head to Medvedgrad, on Ilica Street (it’s down the back of a little arcade set of shops). Medvedgrad is a really cool brew-pub where they make five different types of beer on site and they have very generous servings of traditional Croatian foods at really excellent prices. I would recommend the goulash with pasta – it was amazing. Excitingly they also sell beer by the litre! So when you’re ready for a break, head in that direction!
And so marks the end of the end of our little Croatian getaway. I definitely recommend going there next time you’re around Europe. It’s just got so much natural beauty and charm and will definitely leave a lasting impression on you!