Wandering in the darkness while searching for accommodation in the serpentine streets of Split’s Old Town was not what I had in mind at ten o’clock in the evening. By this point I was soaked in sweat. Thanks to the technological wonders of GPS and Google Maps, I was able to find the accommodation despite a series of narrow streets consumed in near darkness. The winding stone walkways that led the way through shadowy corridors called to mind a murder scene from a European noir film in the mid-20th century. Touch of Evil in the back streets of Old Split was now playing with exhausted travelers diving deeper into the unknown.
The dense, heavy air added to the dramatic effect. In many countries, including my own, this area would have been deemed sketchy. Despite this, I never once feared for my personal safety. My only worry was whether I could find the correct address number. After knocking on the wrong door more than once, I heard the voice of someone calling out “hello.” It was the hostess, an older, soft spoken lady who mysteriously appeared in the street. She guided us less than 50 meters away to the accommodation on this night. Within minutes, she had shown me all anyone would ever need to know. This amounted to knowing how to turn up the air conditioning to arctic like levels. From that point, I do not remember much since sleep blissfully carried me away.
Claustrophobic & Cloistered – The Stoicism of Strangers
Is there anything more disconcerting than waking up in a different room, in a different city, on a sunny morning? The feeling of having fallen into an entirely different world did not escape me during our first and only morning in Split. I awoke long after the sun had risen. By this time, Split was already wide awake. I stepped outside to seek caffeine and a quick snack. A palpable buzz could be felt throughout the narrow alleyways of the Old Town. Locals were already going about their business with a determined sense of duty. I almost got lost among the twists and turns that took me to a small shop. Along the way, everything felt new and noticeable. The stone seemed to burn brighter, every cobblestone looked like a possible trip hazard, the stoicism of strangers made me feel much more foreign.
Since I had been in Split before, I assumed that it would look instantly familiar to me. The fallacy of making such an assumption soon became apparent. This was not the Split I remembered with Diocletian’s Palace, the Riva and Marjan Hill. The Old Town’s streets managed to look the same and somehow different at the same time. The area felt claustrophobic and cloistered. It was a confusing maze that my wife and I would soon escape. Split felt like what it was for us on this journey, a one night stand that leaves you with misgivings caused by confusion and sleep deprivation.
Explosions of Emotion – A New Sensation
Split was the liveliest city I visited in these travels along the Croatian coast. It felt like an unending party was in progress. The pandemic was over as far as those on the Riva and surrounding area were concerned. It was now thriving on a hyper-normalcy. The pervasive feeling throughout the city’s tourist areas was one of release from the shackles of mask mandates and social distancing. It looked more like a university town where the energetic and youthful were away from home for the first time. Now that liberation day had finally arrived, everyone felt free to do as they pleased. Expressions of scarcely disguised euphoria were on full display. It was as though the entire citizenry of Split had been let out of jail. They were enjoying fully fledged freedom from a pandemic that refused to go away, but which they now willfully ignored. It was an impressive display of a newfound normalcy much of the world continues to crave.
The pandemic has changed the economic prospects of Croatia, most prominently its thriving tourist industry which faced devastation in 2020. The number of visitors this year is still not what it was prior to the pandemic, but from what I saw in Split, the Croatian tourist industry is in the throes of a full recovery. Anecdotal evidence suggests as much. The hostess at our accommodation mentioned that she had never seen so many people in the Old Town and along the Riva. She believed it was a reaction to the lifting of restrictions.
Despite the continuing dangers of contracting COVID none of the Croatians I saw seemed to be giving it much thought. Foreigners were feted by accommodations, restaurants, and tour companies. Caution regarding Covid has been thrown to the wind, but there was another change taking place in Croatia. One that was much more palpable than the pandemic. Throughout our two week journey up and down the coastline, the sun beamed down upon us with a merciless intensity. At first, I thought this was just another sign of summer, but I heard Croatians call attention to the suffocating heat several times.
Heating Up – Sign of the Times
Croatia was suffering – along with the rest of southeastern Europe – a blistering heat wave that showed no signs of subsiding. As we traveled up and down the coastline, we were accompanied by cloudless skies and temperatures that ran between 30 and 35 degrees Celsius. These temperatures would have been tolerable for a couple of days, but two consecutive weeks of them made me dread the inevitable wall of heat that would greet me anytime I stepped out the door. It was imperative to always have at least two large bottles of mineral water at hand to stay properly hydrated.
Since it was mid-summer, I tried to explain away the daily infernos as a symptom of the season. Of course, global warming was the underlying reason that Croatia was so hot. While climate change might extend the tourist season by making the spring and autumn seasons much warmer, it also meant summertime was going to suffer under a scorching sun and brutal heat. The heat wave in progress at the time of our visit was an ominous portent of future ones to come.
Click here for: The Know Nothings – Split: A Tour In Ruins (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #55)