Zagreb to Split; Feeding frenzy at the train station; A private room; Split's pretty flashy; The old town and Diocletian's Palace; In which I make a new friend with fish; Trying and failing to find a three-day cruise; Peanut butter found; A giant moth; Two nice Irish ladies

The train from Zagreb to Split was five and a half hours. It was first class, which was nice, and adjoining the smoking section, which wasn’t so nice. But still a lot better than many other trains we’ve taken. When we arrived in Split, we found that our guidebook was right - there was a swarm of old ladies on the platform offering accommodations. Offering isn’t the right word, though. It was more a chaotic, shouting feeding frenzy of old ladies, all fighting over the fresh tourist meat. We didn’t have anything booked, so this suited us just fine. We ended up with a place right in the town centre for 200 kuna per night (about CAD$45). It wasn’t luxurious, just a tiny room with two weird folding box-beds, but it was good enough. The house was old, right outside the marble historical quarter, and on the third floor (the second floor, to Europeans). There was a nice little courtyard with a plum tree and a huge grapevine with a trunk as thick as my thigh.

Our old lady had whisked us away from the station practically at a dead run, we could hardly keep up with her while wearing our packs. She led us along the waterfront beside a strip of palm trees and swanky cafes. My fragmentary impression of Split in those moments was that it reminded me of Los Angeles - albeit a Los Angeles without cars, if such a thing can be imagined. It was beautifully warm and moist. After two months away from Spain and Portugal I’d forgotten how good the air feels in the south. I had the same feeling I always have, of all the dried tissues inside me re-hydrating in the humid air. Split has planted a long wide strip of aromatic herbs along its waterfront, in an attempt to disguise the stench of the harbour. Sage, thyme and lavender fill the air, but not, unfortunately, quite enough to cover the smell.

It’s is a pretty place, though. The historical quarter looks like Venice, all marble piazzas and narrow alleys. Not surprising, since Split was a Venetian-controlled city for a long time. The centrepiece is Diocletian’s Palace, an amazingly well-preserved Roman ruin dating back to 300AD. It’s in incredibly good condition for its age - most of the columns still stand and a lot of the details of the stone carvings can still be seen. It’s almost a microcosm or a distillation of all European cities, in a way. Impossibly charming and romantic, with its little harbour and low crumbling mountain backdrop.

After exploring for a few hours we found a restaurant in our guidebook that had a nice patio and funny waitresses. I had some grilled fish which, though good, was too much food for me. This was only a problem for a few moments though - until I felt a tugging on my pant leg. I looked down to see a little black and white face staring up intently, trying to control my mind. No fear, I’m a sucker for cats and they all know it.

The next morning we spent wandering, seeing the fruit market, the rest of the old town, and a giant statue of some bishop called Gregorius of Nin, the toe of which you’re supposed to rub for luck. We were struck suddenly with the idea of going on an Adriatic cruise to a few of the small islands. We weren’t thinking big - just some little boat for a few days would have been fine with us. Alas, it was not to be. After searching high and low we couldn’t find anything shorter than a week, or anything leaving before the 10th, or anything for less than €1000 per person. We contented ourselves with the thought of just going to one island and lying on the beach instead, and settle on Bol on Brač Island, the nearest of the islands to Split.

After giving up on the cruise idea, we bought groceries - including peanut butter, which we’d both been craving since leaving home - and went back to our rented room for a bit. In the alley outside, Sheryl found the coolest moth! It was huge - easily a 25cm wingspan - with red, white and black stripes on its abdomen. It probably wasn’t a very happy moth, since it was just sitting on the ground in broad daylight. We took some pictures, moving it into different places, and it never complained, though eventually it got annoyed and flew away, making a huge buzzing noise and enough wind from its wings to ruffle my hair. We found out later that it was a Hummingbird Hawk-Moth, so named for the convergent evolution which has enabled it to hover just like a hummingbird.

Dinner was back at the same restaurant as the night before. We had a long conversation with two nice Irish ladies, and I accidentally ordered a cuttlefish risotto (utterly disgusting, in case you were wondering). My little black and white friend was there again, and spent most of the evening on my lap, kneading her little claws in my leg and rubbing her face on mine.

Flourish

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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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