Croatia’s second largest city may be best known as a transportation hub for buses, ferries, and flights but that’s not the full picture. We didn’t do much more than pass through Split on our way from the islands to the North, but we did find a little piece of paradise along the way. The main harbour was buzzing with activity with tourists flocking to the beautiful promenade lined with palm trees, cafes, shops, and the UNESCO world heritage site, Dicoletian’s Palace. At first it seemed out of place to stumble across the beautifully preserved Roman palace at the epicentre of the city’s transportation network, but soon the old and new blended together in a perfect split that didn’t seem divided at all. One minute we were shopping in an upscale boutique and next we were climbing on a pile of 4th century ruins. Around every corner was a new discovery and the unexpected time travel felt oddly perfect.
Next up: Heading Northwest to the capital city, Zagreb.
Growing up on the West Coast, I’ve spent my fair share of time on ferries. But the magical voyage to Vancouver Island that I remember from childhood didn’t quite hold up into adulthood. These days ferries have come to represent painful lineups, multiple sailing waits, crowded decks, and exorbitant fees. Not so glamorous eh?
So it was with mild trepidation that we boarded an overnight ferry from Italy to Croatia. Although, glamorous still isn’t a word that I would choose to describe sleeping on a row of chairs in public… it wasn’t as bad as I expected. In fact, the views at sunset and sunrise were quite spectacular from the sea.
The following day we endured a painful, five hour bus ride with no air-conditioning from Split to Dubrovnik. After that, travelling by ferry was once again starting to sound a bit more magical.
With nearly 1800km of rugged coastline and over 1000 islands, ferries really are the ideal mode of transportation in Croatia. Over the course of a few days we spent over 20 hours ferrying up the Dalmatian Coast and to be honest… I loved every minute of it. It was so calming and refreshing to be at sea. Perched on the edge of the railing with the breeze blowing through my hair, I was entertained by windsurfers and sailors, while passing peaceful seaside towns and subtropical islands. Starting to sound more glamorous after all? Sure it wasn’t a yacht (and we saw tons of those) but for this budget travelista… it was the next best thing!
This is one of those days that you hope never happens but end up reliving for years to come because it makes for a great story.
On our last day in Rome we spent the day exploring the nearby neighbourhood Trastevere. We started early in the hopes of beating the heat and enjoying breakfast in an outdoor cafe. We accomplished both tasks and even discovered the riverside boardwalk lined with white tents that I had read about online. It’s a festival that takes place every night during the summer months called Lungo il Tevere Roma. During the day it is very quiet and makes for a great bike ride and at night it turns into an open air night club containing more than a kilometer of stalls along the Tiber river, each one a shop or cafe, restaurant or bar.
After some final shopping near the Pantheon and a delicious piece of buffalo mozzarella and tomato pizza to go, we headed to the Rome train station to catch our 2:50pm train to Bari, Italy where we were scheduled to board an overnight ferry to Dubrovnik, Croatia. This of course had been carefully researched and booked in advance to secure the cheapest and best way of getting around. After our 20 minute city bus ride we were watching the giant train screens to see from which track our train would be departing.
The number finally came up on the screen about 20 minutes before our train was scheduled to depart: Track 18. Great! It was right in front of us. This was very good news since Rome is the second largest train station in Europe. Unfortunately Track 18 was actually 400 metres further down. We started walking but then quickly began to feel uneasy as we thought we heard that our train had been switched to another track. This happens quite often and they announce the changes over the speaker in Italian and English if you are able to catch it. We stopped and I stayed with the bags while Mindy went ahead to check. Nothing was showing on the sign so we gambled and decided to go anyways. Wrong decision. It was not our train but since we were 400m away from the main screen and now only had 5 minutes we knew we weren’t going to make it.
We started running and calling for help like hopeless idiots. The police, customer service, other passengers, and a poor travel agent named Marina couldn’t help us. We had missed the only train that could get us to Bari in time to catch our ferry. The next ferry didn’t leave for 2 days. After switching our train tickets twice, going to an Internet cafe, talking to a travel agent for about an hour, and waiting in line for customer service for about an hour we had a new game plan. We called our landlord Sergio and were able to get another night in our same apartment in Rome. We also had new train tickets (this time to Ancona, Italy) and a new ferry ticket from Ancona to Split, Croatia for the next day. We would still make it to Dubrovnik but it just meant a lost day, a 5 hour bus ride down the coast, and a lot of extra money.
After sweating more than I thought was humanly possible we finally made it back to our apartment for an impromtu final night in Rome. We were so physically and mentally exhausted from our 4 hour ordeal at the (non-airconditioned) train station that we were almost delirious. Unfortunately not quite delirious enough to miss the fully naked man standing in the balcony outside our window. It was actually quite a fitting end to our day and actually made us laugh out all the stress we had been carrying.