Eager to greet the new day in a new town we wake early.
Outside Split is already making us feel welcome, crisp clean air under bright blue skies. We purchase a few days worth of fresh fruit and half a kilo of local dried figs in the farmers market that lies between the nearby Riva and our apartment. Seventy Kuna ($14) for days of healthy breakfasts.
First order of business for today is to try the local IGLU sports store for new boots for myself. We ring the store first to confirm the address as the shite IGLU website does not carry this vital piece of information.
I have been unsuccessfully looking for a new pair of boots in stores since the end of the Camino and am grasping at straws.
Pam has drawn up a plan of attack for the day that strictly allows for entering only the one shop to prevent any episodes of the ‘shoppers fatigue’ that she is so prone to suffering.
Luckily the IGLU store lies between the Riva and the Park Marjan that is our ultimate destination for the day.
Crowds of people are strolling the Riva area that runs beside the Split harbour. The harbour is full of expensive and luxurious looking motor yachts.
Between the waters edge and the row of ‘little houses’ is a wide footpath and a little green lawn area with concrete chairs for seating.
The ‘little houses’ form a barrier down the water side of the Riva proper with the other side being a continuous row of outdoor cafe/bar seating and umbrellas.
In the usual Croatian fashion everything is clean and tidy, no trash or litter anywhere.
We pause and sit at one of the many cafes for Pam’s morning coffee and check the map for the IGLU store address.
People are out in their finery, everyone other than us is very well dressed and out to impress. Everyone seems to know one and other, handshakes and double kisses swirl around us as we walk.
I am drawing attention with my plain black T-Shirt and bare arms. My trusty Pacerpoles strapped to the sides of my little day backpack confirm my tourist status.
I like to think I look a little like the Star Wars character Boba Fett. Pam delights in setting me straight regarding my appearance.
All the boots in the IGLU store crush my feet width-wise, no surprises there.
We are back out in the crisp Split air heading for the Park Marjan in no time.
Our energy packed landlord friend has told us about Park Marjan, she rides a bicycle there daily, the shortest route to the flagpole flying the Croatian flag at the top is a series of long staircases.
Today we follow the ………. short route.
The climb begins, stairs, and a short walk up a little street, turn right, stairs, winding stairs, stairs with workers repairing them in clouds of nose filling concrete dust.
I had unpacked and lengthened my Pacerpoles after the crowds of the Riva and I am blasting up the flights. Pam tells me to pace myself then begins to accuse me of gassing out when I pause to take photos of the beautiful views around and below us.
Talk about mixed messages.
We pass a cafe halfway up and from there a long straight steep flat path takes us to a little church where the contrast of white stone, dark green pines and blue sky is breathtaking.
Winding stairs through the pines to the right of the church take us past a young trio passing a joint around. I breath in deep and climb onwards, ever upwards.
My Camino hymn is ringing in my head.
The top of this section of stairs brings us to the rear side of the massive Split Zoo, here our path flattens for a short while and we follow a bitumen road before turning left onto the concrete footpath once more.
Suddenly we are face to face with the last section of stairs. We ponder the sign at the bottom of this last flight. Is it 178 or 314 steps to go?
Guess it doesn’t matter.
‘The only way is up’
The air is so still I have to wait for some time to catch the Croatian flag in full extension on the iphone. Redolent pine fragrance emits from the trees flanking the stairs.
Three youths drinking beer from bottles along with a flat faced friendly dog are relaxing in the gravel square at the top, the flagpole stands by the seaward corner side near the town. The other seaward corner is graced by a white stone cross.
No clouds are visible in any direction, the air is crisp and clear, just like the water of the blue Adriatic that stretches out to the horizon before us.
To the amusement of the youths I go through my breath catching, pulse lowering, standing compressions as per the inestimable advice from Scott Sonnon.
In less than thirty seconds I am fully recovered from the climb. Aesthetics be damned, I am too fond of breathing.
The youths take their beer bottles with them leaving Pam and I alone at the top for a few minutes. We sit in silence taking in the views.
A few stairs take us from the gravel square at the top down to a bitumen road that winds down to the ocean.
Other than the occasional vehicle for park and zoo rangers there are no cars whatsoever. Cyclists, runners, walkers, families pushing prams and walking with children and dogs. The Park Marjan is vast and full of staircases and little gravel tracks, at many times there is no one else in sight.
Walking down we pass rock climbers braving the cliff faces to our right, I am envious of their daring and strength to bodyweight ratio.
Our winding bitumen meditation brings us to a park ranger manning a boom gate at the bottom. I elect to turn right and follow the regular road further down, I want to get right to the furthest seaward point of the Park Marjan peninsula.
Finally we come to a little steep set of concrete stairs that lead us down to the Split Marine Institute and we walk out as far as we can along the concrete jetty that forms a little harbour for the Institute’s boats.
Pam renames the area Futility Institute, she did not want to walk down the last set of stairs because now we have to ascend them once more and she doesn’t like walking the same path twice.
She assigns me the task of finding the most direct route back to the town and we set off. Just past the boom gate I find a little gravel track that leads us straight back to the main road heading into town and I win a little bet that I knew where I was going.
We pass the major art gallery dedicated to the works of Ivan Mestrovic and the Museum of Croatian Archeological Monuments both of which appeal to us.
We resolve to return.
From a distance, as we were bussing through the entry roads into Split, the city gives the appearance of a soulless conglomerate of apartments and shopping centers. The main road into town had passed large cement plants with huge conveyors crossing above the road from quarries in the hillsides towering over the town.
The busy Riva and blue harbour followed by the spectacular natural beauty of the Park Marjan and the Marjan Peninsula coastline strip this modern mechanized memory from our minds.
We have found Split’s green heart.
Pam has been delighted with the willingness of restaurants to provide off the menu meals and the quality of vegetarian options available to her in Croatia. She researches vegetarian food sources in each town we come to and has come up trumps so far.
That night, as we chew through the over boiled vegetarian slop that had been ladled onto the plates in a supposedly strict vegetarian restaurant (only one menu option available) we had spent a half hour trying to find in the maze of narrow Split back streets, our disappointment has more palpable texture than the food.
It was like time traveling back to the soggy tasteless Brussels Sprouts of my primary school years.
Blue skies greet us again the next morning. Today we plan to walk the coastline in the opposite direction to the previous day. I breakfast on the superior marching food (fruit) we had purchased in the Pazar (farmers market) and study the Split maps.
A few short streets walk ends in us crossing train lines via an overhead road and descending a staircase to the beach side of the station. Some older Split gentlemen are gathered playing cards in the sun beside the water.
A scuba diver is exploring the shallow, still, crystal clear seafront. Steep mountain ridges descend to the waters edge in a series of looping coves that stretch to the horizon.
Our beachfront walk commences.
We walk across the dark grey sands of the first beach and from there join a concrete footpath that winds an unbroken path along the waterline passing cafe/bar after cafe/bar.
Plenty of Split families are out walking in the sun, we dodge prams, a playgroup of energetic rug rats weave around our legs.
Many of the cafes have areas for children that include jungle gyms and trampolines.
Children look at me with my Pacerpoles like I am from another planet, when in fact I am only from the other side of this one.
We pause for Pam’s morning constitutional coffee and walk on.
A few corners later we come across the Ivan, a mighty blue rowboat. A shipyard full of dry docked boats follows.
We pass a looping series of stony swimming beaches. There are many lifeguard towers though it is hard to imagine drowning in the waveless lake like sea. There is not a soul swimming at this time of year however the beaches look very organised with showers and regular stainless steel stairs to climb out onto piers.
It is obviously very busy in the warmer months
After the foot tenderising experience of my swim in Pula I am none to keen to brave the rocks that comprise Split beaches and in any case would definitely need to be wearing swimmers.
Today I stay dry and merely dream of nudist swims to come.
Huge inflatable jumping castles and slides, trampoline expanses covering hundreds of square meters. The area is a paradise for active children and the road that follows the coast is lined with modern family tourist oriented apartments.
Pam and I thank our lucky stars we are here in the off season.
We have been walking for several hours by now, the footpath dwindles to a point far in front of us beside a protective rock sea barrier. We decide to turn around.
Despite Pam’s aversion to retracing our steps the beautiful coast walk easily beats returning along busy traffic filled roads.
Sometimes old trails harbour new treasures.
As we turn the last corner back to the beach we had originally started from we find the shallow waters are now filled with people frolicking in the shallow waters. Everyone seems to be playing some variation of handball where the aim of the game is to keep the ball aloft.
Young men strutting about in their budgie smugglers (never a good look) hurl themselves splashing in laughing pursuit of the small ball.
Closer to us an older couple are skillfully keeping the ball in the air in a steady manner.
We sit by the waters edge and I do my best to get some surreptitious photos without looking like a total perv. My photography attempts are over shadowed by the local news team interviewing participants on the waters edge.
Back in the apartment that evening watching the Croatian news we see the coverage of the action and there we are, two black blobs on the far edge of the TV.
Stars of the small screen at last are we. Our fifteen microseconds of fame.
Now that Pam has got an idea of the layout of the best walks in Split she coaxes me into agreeing to a daily walking schedule under the pretext of training for the Lycian Trail. We will do the stairs to the flag everyday and then follow a different daily gravel track to the waters on the far side and then make our way back.
‘Easy peasy’ is how she describes it. I can think of other words however discretion is the better part of valour.
We take the stairs up in one continuous non stop climb, thirty seconds of breath gathering vibrations at the top and I am good to go on. Today we climb the very steep road to the fire tower atop the second peak of the Marjan Peninsula and pause for a few minutes to absorb the glorious views before beginning the descent to the waters below.
On the bitumen road leading down a runner is doing short wind sprints uphill beside a length of hedge. Bizarrely he walks back each time on the other side of the hedge before turning back onto the road and blasting back up the hill again. His dog is in raptures running beside him each time.
We follow the road down a little further before turning onto a gravel trail running alongside a rock wall.
Like much of the Camino area of Spain, Croatian coastal areas have an abundance of rocks.
During the bus trip from Zadar to Split almost the entire surface of hill after hill was lined in low rock walls. These walls are not that high, between one and two meters on average, maybe three to four meters in the bottom of undulations.
Sometimes these low walls are several meters in width, the areas between walls are often completely hemmed by the stones.
Historically this stony region is famed for its grape vines and olive trees.
To me it all appears to have been constructed to allow agriculture to occur on areas where topsoil is very sparse. I can imagine each rock lifted being cleared of the precious soil which would have been deposited in baskets. The cleaned rocks then deposited in piles which grew into walls which in turn prevent the carefully gathered topsoil eroding in the blasting winds and rains this area is subject to.
An entire coastline has been terraformed, the amount of labour involved is staggering to my mind. Machinery could not do this work, each stone has been lifted, cleaned, carried and placed into a labyrinth of walls that cover whole sides of mountains by hand. The only areas left without walls are so steep they are almost cliffs.
No one today would have the time or patience or money to enable such a huge co-ordinated human labour driven process to occur.
Hundreds, if not thousands of years after construction, these humble low walls are still fulfilling their grand purpose. The precious top soil remains, plants have footholds everywhere.
Every wall cries out a lesson for modern society.
‘In descending order of importance … clean air …clean water … preservation of top soil … preservation of biodiversity’.
These are the goals of a sane, humane society. So closely tied together they cannot be separated.
A worthy and worthwhile gestalt.
Goals that surpass and outweigh the never ending, insane, inane, collection of a collective illusion.
However I digress…….
These thoughts and more are running through my mind as we walk downhill beside the simple wall. The hill above and below is laced with similar walls in various states of repair. I cannot help but be awestruck every time I think of the effort required in constructing such a lattice.
This is a walk I could do everyday ….. ’til death do us part.
Split has a dark green heart.
My downhill revery ends at the waters edge, we clamber about the stones of a tiny clear beautiful peaceful cove.
Not far from the shoreline the still sea surface is inexplicably being continually ruffled by water welling up from underneath.
Maybe some form of drainage from the hill above.
‘Onwards and ever upwards’ I put my mind into back into uphill mode and we stride off skywards once more.
Descending the stairs we had recently climbed presented a fresh perspective however by now my left knee has finally begun a path of true recovery. Descents are still painful without stripping my breath on the odd misplaced footfall.
We are back on the Riva just over three hours after departure. Easy Peasy indeed.
My back is covered in sweat in the contact area between my shirt and backpack, we return to the apartment and I shower.
During my ablutions Pam has divined she wishes to eat at another Vegetarian establishment for our Linner. Up cafe is a mere three kilometers away according to Google maps however it lies outside the paper Split maps we have obtained from our landlord and the tourist office. Our walking is not done for the day.
To my embarrassment we become lost in the Split streets (with me as navigator) and have to stop at a cafe/bar to consult the Googles. Most of the cafes have free WiFi of widely varying quality.
The couple sitting outside next to us have brought their enthusiastic flat faced puppy out for a walk. This friendly little girl puppy is immediately in love with Pam and is out to impress. She can grasp a soccer ball in her mouth and delights in steering it near to Pam then grabbing it and running away, only to snub nose it back to her again.
We have a polite drink while playing with the pup and using the Wifi and having gathered our bearings head off again towards the Up Cafe. Twenty minutes later we are there.
Up Cafe re-establishes our faith in Croatian vegetarian foodstuffs, despite the strictly vegetarian only menu it is quite busy (always a good sign).
Today I will have the …….. tofu burger.
Unfortunately all the tofu has already been eaten and I settle on a delicious hemp seed burger. Pam has a Seitan burger, we both have a sublime desert, I have a zesty lemon and ginger drink that is made with real squeezed juices.
mmmnnnn zesty….. I am not sure if Homer has ever said that line.
‘Bags me’ copyright Simpsons.
We buy a couple of pastries for later when we leave.
Now that we know where we are on the Split maps it is a short straight walk back to the Old Split town. We have decided to save the walking tour of the old town for another day so we merely walk the shortest path to the Riva which passes by the smelly Split Fish Markets.
A quiet drink at the end of a long marching day always feels great. We are sitting at one of the many cafe/bars on the Riva when I feel a gentle tap on my shoulder.
A young bearded man stands before us.
It is our friend Dave who we met on the Camino in Sarria. Dave had recently married the daughter of one of the Canadian crew (from the Camino) and they were having a six month honeymoon touring the world. They had cycled the Camino Portuguese route from O Porto to Santiago before continuing to Sarria to meet his wife’s mother.
Since the Camino the young couple have been traipsing around Europe staying mostly in hostels, they are staying a couple of nights in Split before heading to Zagreb for a friends wedding. From there they plan to travel to South America. Dave is a Capoierista and says he will be checking in with his martial arts school headquarters in Brazil before heading to Peru to climb to the Machu Picchu ruins we have heard so much about.
Once their long honeymoon is over they plan to live in Canada.
Dave tells us he is a recently qualified physiotherapist. We joke ‘that he must have kept that knowledge under wraps on the Camino or he would have spent every night massaging stinky pilgrims’. He has completed the tests necessary to transfer his skills and practice as a physiotherapist in Canada.
Dave and his wife have spent some time ‘woofing’ (working for accomodation and meals on farms etc) and had advised us in Sarria to look at this as an option if we were not successful in obtaining a house sitting gig. He reminds about ‘woofing’ during our conversation and Pam and I add it to the list of options we are considering for the New Year.
He is a gentle, intelligent, funny, self effacing Aussie and it is a great pleasure for us both to have him come and greet us.
A beautiful ‘small world’ moment.
Sometime during the day I have begun to sneeze frequently, by the time we have returned to the apartment my nose is running constantly and my throat is feeling sore. I have a hot forehead (when I ask Pam to feel it she says I am fine and just bunging it on) and a headache pulsing over my left eye.
This does not bode well.
During the night I fill a plastic bag with soggy tissues and I am down for the count during the day.
Doing our planned daily walk through Park Marjan is out of the question.
Pam ventures out to do our washing at a nearby laundromat at the end of the Riva.
I have a bad case of the ‘man flu’ says Pam unsympathetically as she leaves the apartment to walk around the old town by herself.
I am starting to feel better by late morning the next day and Pam insists on us leaving the apartment in the early afternoon complaining of ‘cabin fever’.
We wander the narrow streets of the old town and around the old town walls.
A massive imposing statue of Grgun Ninski (who is a Croatian national hero and one of the fathers of the Croation language) created by Ivan Mestrovic stands above beside the path leading through the Golden Gate of the old city wall.
Apparently it brings good luck to rub the big brass toe of this statue. I have already plunged my silver noggin’ into algae filled fountains on the Camino pursuing good fortune, rubbing a spectacularly large toe is easy.
Pam brings the toe to a high shine by polishing it with her bottom.
We have Linner at a seafront restaurant. Festivities on the Riva have included a visit from Santa who drives out of town in his Semi Trailer rig blasting Christmas cheer from his air horns. As he passes the restaurant Pam waves hello and Santa returns her wave and seconds it with a lascivious wink.
Shiny brass toes and Santa’s endorsement, our good fortune is assured.
We return to the Old Split City the next day, my energy levels are still low however my running nose flow has slowed somewhat.
We pause at the Vocni Trg (fruit square) in front of another Ivan Mestrovic statue, this time of the 15th century Croatian poet Marko Marulic.
Rather than walk aimlessly through the old town, today we decide to sit in a cafe and watch Split walk by us.
We sit for a couple of hours in the aptly named No Stress Cafe which is very popular with the locals. Strangely none of the other cafes in the square have any patrons however the No Stress Cafe is packed.
We have been sitting there chatting for so long we decide to have lunch. None of the menus are in English however a staff member who has arrived early for his shift graciously comes over and translates for us.
The menu and meals are simple and inexpensive, the plates delivered hot and tasty. A good business model obviously.
It is about 2:30pm when Pam remembers the Ivan Mestrovic museum we had walked past on the return from our first exploration of the Marjan Peninsula.
Off we set, it is a few kilometers away, we have forgotten it is Sunday, we arrive at 3:05, the museum closes at 3:00pm on Sundays and the large wooden doors that led to an open courtyard on our previous passing are firmly shut.
We have not yet walked along the pretty waterfront that lies between the museum and the Riva so we climb down the stairs and find a new path back to our apartment.
To compensate for not making the museum we decide to dine out in the evening and have a large delicious meal at the Konona Varos which was one of the restaurants recommended by our energetic landlord.
As we climb the slight rise from the Riva our hand in hand walk back to the apartment is interrupted by the explosion of firecrackers behind us.
Incandescent vermillion globes hang for a small eternity under a half faced Selene before slowly falling to the hissing embrace of the cool dark harbour.
Mick and Pam