As evening descended upon the Croatian coastline, the Adriatic Sea became a silhouette that slowly disappeared into the darkness. The final phase of our bus journey from Rijeka to Split also succumbed to a blackout. The darkness made it difficult to tell how far we were from Split. One of the side benefits of the darkness were fewer potential passengers standing at remote bus stops. Our pace quickened, as the drivers had nothing to distract or delay them. Nonetheless, I could not help but think we would already be in Split if not for the earlier roadside adventures inflicted upon us by the bus drivers. They had sought to ingratiate themselves with roadside bystanders and in the process put us further behind schedule. Getting to Split was an all day process that would now go on well into the night.
Return Trip – Terms of Endearment
Getting one’s bearings in the darkness is difficult enough without trying to do it in a foreign country while traveling at 100 kilometers per hour on a crowded bus. I finally realized where we were when the bus pulled to the station in Trogir. This historic town was a very different place from the one I had seen in the daylight eight years earlier. Old Trogir, with its limestone walls radiating history, was obscured on this evening by artificial lighting. This did nothing to keep me from recalling memories of the monumental discoveries to be found within those walls. I found myself longing to stay in Trogir. Not only would it have brought to a merciful conclusion this seemingly infinite bus journey, but I would also have been able to wake up in the medieval treasure box that is Trogir’s Old Town.
I was reminded of just how extraordinary my first visit to Trogir had been while walking those cloistered streets beneath a burning sun. It was one of those days that memory has molded to perfection, whether this matched the reality of that visit hardly matters to me. Love is an excellent example of how little reality means to us. My lust to spend more time in Trogir was fleeting as the bus was soon traveling the highway for the final half hour. As the bus closed in on Split, its bright lights began to cast their glow in the distance. They served to remind me that Split is as much a metropolis, as it is a haven for tourists. Tourism is one of several economic engines that drives Croatia’s second largest urban economy. Speaking of tourism, I was joined on the last stretch of this journey by a young Croat. He was still in high school and as I soon realized, highly intelligent. He asked in exceedingly fluent English if he might offer a bit of advice. I was more than happy to hear what he had to say.
Go West Young Man – Life, Fate & The Balkans
The young man started off by explaining why bus drivers picked up those waiting by the roadside. I immediately felt a twinge of guilt, He must have overheard my incessant complaining about the innumerable stops and starts that had been inflicted upon us during this journey. He sincerely stated that this was a sort of Balkan tradition. The drivers felt compelled to provide a lift for those who might not otherwise be able to find one to their chosen destination. He said this in such a sincere manner that it made me curse my own innate selfishness. The terms of endearment drivers willingly offered potential stray passengers were heartfelt.
My temporary Croatian travel companion also provided advice about avoiding the vendors along Split’s Riva. He talked about how their economic livelihood came from hoodwinking tourists with high prices, cheap goods mostly manufactured in China and pulling the proverbial wool over the eyes of foreigners who were so intoxicated by the setting that they failed to realize what they were purchasing or the price they were paying for it. He said this in such a forthright manner that I could not bring myself to tell him of my visit to Split eight years earlier. That I knew the touts were rip offs and to always avoid buying anything in the most heavily trafficked tourist areas. The young man was part of a newer generation that I assumed did not feel the same sense of desperation for dollars that those who had lived through the economic implosion after Yugoslavia’s collapse. At least that was what I thought until my newfound friend added, “everyone knows the economy is a disaster.” That was when I knew that he, like so many of his countrymen, would most likely leave Croatia for opportunities in other EU countries. Such is life, fate, and the future in the Balkans.
Life On The Riva – Making A Statement
Split never ceases to amaze me. It is supersized and sordid in a spectacular kind of way. It is lively to the point of rambunctiousness and extremely ugly in many parts of the city. The proverbial concrete jungle is on display anywhere outside the Old Town and Riva. There is classicism and communism, the spiritual and ramshackle which manages to coexist rather than compete. In short, a bundle of contradictions that informs everything about it. Split feels much larger than it is mainly because the tourist areas are so heavily trafficked. Traveling by bus through the congested city center to the station is anything but easy. The driver had to run a gauntlet of traffic lights while dodging pedestrians and weaving his way through an obstacle course of cars. On this evening, the foot traffic was just as bad as the vehicular kind. The bus fought its way through the chaos and delivered us not far from the waterfront. This still meant a kilometer and a half walk before arriving at the destination. Toting luggage while fighting through what amounted to a melee along the sidewalk was not anyone’s idea of fun.
On this evening, Split felt positively tropical. The thick, heavy air was saturated with moisture. After a few minutes I was pouring sweat amid the stifling humidity. I questioned my own sanity for booking an accommodation that was a long and grueling walk from the station. The walk was made much worse by the legions of youth who had turned out this evening to crowd the Riva. Split was packed with teenagers and twenty somethings looking to release pent up energy that had been postponed by the pandemic. Walking along the Riva was an exercise in frustration with great masses of people socializing in the most animated of manners. It felt like New Year’s Eve had come early to the Riva. The waterfront could have been mistaken for Goa or Ibiza. Lights flashed, music blared, the youth of Croatia was making a statement. All I could think about was air conditioning and a bed for the night.
Click here for: Hyper-Normalcy – Split: A Party In Progress (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #54)