The drive north from Dubrovnik to Split was one we had planned for three years.
Swooping along and around the Adriatic coast above the sparkling blue waters we admired lush, green and craggy islands and the morning mists rising from pine trees above us toward the high cornflower blue skies. It was dreamy.
We decided to break the journey for coffee at a beach town of Omis and joined a largely German crowd at a pretty bar by the river Cetina where it flows into the sea. A mistake.
Back at Bertha, innocently parked in sight of the bar, we discovered we had been ticketed and the fine was a massive €50, reduced to €15 if we paid within a week. In 2011, the quest for an internet connection and online banking was on. The fine was more than our daily trip budget!
The Split Autokamp proved to be huge. Travelling vans from across Europe were squeezed side by side and we were lucky to find a place within sight of the tiny beach and before a rally of French motor homers claimed the final spaces.
Catching the local bus, we passed through acres of ugly high-rise blocks of flats. It contrasted strongly with the breezy and open harbour, where we got off, in view of the tourists arriving from Italy on ferries, and further afield on cruisers.
Old Split is, incredibly, Diocletian’s Palace. Built for the Roman Emperor around AD 305 it later fell into Byzantine hands and ultimately Venetians’.
All three epochs have left their mark architecturally upon it and wandering around the white marble-floored streets, we admired still-standing Roman columns and pedestals, Romanesque churches, balconied merchant houses, domed palaces and grand central squares.
Expensive boutiques and jewellery shops had eye-catching window displays and coffee houses proffered brightly cushioned and canopied terraces from which to watch the crowds. It had a relaxed and extremely confident feel to it.
The tallest hill in Split, Marjan, offers a wonderful view across the old palace, Venetian centre and modern harbour. Topped by the simple Romanesque St Nicholas Church it’s a popular place for walking in the shade of dense pine trees.
The winding streets below were home to the bohemian crowd who seemed to live in converted churches and old, arcaded shops. We enjoyed a never-to-be-repeated Sunday Lunch at a café called Peron.
For three hours we were variously ignored, flattered, proffered deep fried frogs legs, sung to, toasted with a green aniseed firewater (several times) and eventually served a platter of divinely smoked fish from the moody and constantly toting chef at the griddle.
Somehow back on the bus, and eventually back the camp, we went straight into the sea to bathe off the smoke and inertia. It was a trip experience to remember!
Diocletian was born, not far from his eventual palace, in the town of Salona, the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia. It took us four buses to find the site hidden amongst the outer-Split suburbs of apartment blocks, and upon the higher hills, urban streets of houses.
A huge park, Salona boasts a basilica with early Christian graves at its entrance from which we walked a cypress tree-lined route past Roman sarcophagi and limbless statues. It’s resemblance to Les Alycamps in Arles was marked.
We passed through the city walls and explored the early Roman baths, Caesar’s Gate, temples, a commercial centre and forum.
We had to cross under the modern highway to reach the steep and singed brown grassy banks of an unmistakable amphitheatre.
The site was vast and under hot skies, registering 34 degrees, it was singing with the sawing cicadas and buzzing of honeybees on clover flowers.
We were finding our way around and ended back, inevitably, at the old harbourside with the company of locals in a tiny park quaffing cheaply bought bottles of beer from an ‘alcohole’.
It was our second day, and second visit, and we were greeted convivially!