Split is somewhat like Dubrovnik in that it has an ‘Old City’ area that attracts all the tourists, and the remainder of the sprawling city is left to its own devices. The transport hub is located right alongside so the area around the pedestrianised streets is heavy with traffic. A redesigned marina area faces onto the sea where customers of the cafes can sit out under awnings and enjoy an afternoon coffee and cigarette. Shops and restaurants populate the streets within the walls where roman squares and buildings are contained. At this time of year it’s quiet and the streets are less crowded, but as a result there are few restaurants open to cater for what is still quite a crowd of people. There are plenty of bakeries with tasty breads and pastries that cost barely anything. Unfortunately few of the cafes provide takeout drinks to go with them as we found out on some long treks to provide Lee with his daily caffeine intake.
We spent a couple of days in Split strolling through old streets and walking along the waterfront until we finally left the tourist areas and gained a wider view of the city with the mountains looming in the background. We also discovered far superior gelato flavours to what had been available in Dubrovnik. Brodie sipped coffee while I stood in line watching Italian tourists spend an age sampling all the icecream before finally choosing what they wanted… then wanting to pay in Euros. Once they were told this would result in Kuna change there was pandemonium and much to-ing and fro-ing to consult with their companions outside before they managed to produce payment. It’s a nice city to spend some time in (though suffers a serious sewage smell in places). Not quite as impressive as Dubrovnik, but has its own unique look.
After soaking up some of the scenery we were ready to hit the road again, this time to head for the mountains. First however, we had to UNPARK THE CAR. We poured an entire bottle of motor oil (which involved slicing my finger open trying to remove the foil top) into it first in an attempt to placate it for the abuse it had recently received. The engine sounded happier, though it would seem we were doomed to endure the burnt rubber smell for the rest of the trip. Getting back down the over-crowded hill proved to be just as tiresome and painful as getting up it had been. A misadventure sent us down what turned out to be a cul de sac, requiring some extreme car reversing on Brodie’s part to extricate us while people casually stopped to chat in our path. Just in case we weren’t finding it hard enough to get past. Eons later we made it back out onto the main road following any signpost that indicated an exit from Split.
Back on the coastal road we were veterans now, and almost immune to the antics of other drivers other than the odd wince as they avoided death by a whisker. The highlight of the day for me was passing through one of the many villages at the head of a group of cars travelling at a sedate speed-limit pace, and seeing a young boy look not once, but three times over his shoulder as we approached. Applying the brakes, I waited to see what he was up to. As the traffic finally approached him he suddenly veered out into the middle of the road, stopped, looked over his shoulder again, and stared disappointedly back to where I had almost come to a halt, still a few metres behind. With a shrug, he wandered back to the path to wait and try his luck with the next group of cars. I’m not sure whether he was under the impression that insurance payouts are worth landing on a tourist car bonnet, or was just developing his suicidal road tendencies early. In either case, you can’t lose your concentration for even a second on these roads without disaster potentially striking.
Once we reached Zadar, we bade the coastal road goodbye and ventured mountain-ward in search of the famous lakes of Plitvice. The temperature outside slowly dropped as we started climbing the hills we’d been avoiding until now. It was time to check out the super highway. After collecting a ticket at the booth we found ourselves zipping along roads that twisted and climbed until they could go no further without plunging into tunnels that drill through the mountains. Spectacular views of the land below showed that the barren rocky land we’d seen up until now was broken by the mountain barrier where it changed to a much more lush and colourful landscape.
On a stretch of the highway we pulled off to a lonely hotel and rest-stop, facing out onto the immense view below. The place unfortunately appeared to be deserted despite advertising that it was open 24/7. The abandoned building would have been the perfect setting for a Croatian version of The Shining. Unfortunately the wind battering the area was a strong deterrent against hanging around for long to enjoy the stunning view. Appreciation of the surroundings was also hampered by the sting of the wind causing your eyes to tear up. Apart from having to steer clear of the edge of the ledges, you literally had to hang on to your clothing for fear that another gust of wind would blow them right off. We settled for raiding the patisserie provisions we’d bought that morning in Split, and eating them in the car which rocked back and forth constantly in the winds. Then it was back onto the highway to plunge through the guts of mountain peaks in tunnels that went on and on. Already we were entering one of the many national parks, but still had quite a few miles to go before we would reach our ultimate destination of Plitvice.