I had never heard of the Maslenica Bridge, but I will not be forgetting it anytime soon. Crossing the bridge meant saying goodbye to the twists and turns which had taken us three spectacularly beautiful and exhaustingly circuitous hours to navigate along the Adriatic Highway. From this point southward it would be a relatively easy journey to Split or so I thought. The worst of the head spinning highway was behind us. The bridge signified a return to semi-normalcy on this bus journey. Curves went back to being gradual and the scenery became much less inspiring. The bridge symbolized crossing a divide between two worlds, one impenetrable and the other improbable. It was the latter that we were now entering, the more popular Croatian coast of historic towns, resorts, and cities of varying sizes. It also meant many more stops than I could have ever imagined.
Modern Miracles – The Maslenica Bridge
The Maslenica Bridge is one of those modern miracles of engineering that allow humanity by the hundreds to pass over a formidable natural barrier each day without giving a second thought to just how daunting such a passage must have been before the industrial age. The Maslenica Bridge our bus crossed is one of two by that name within sight of each other. The one we crossed on the D8 motorway is a 21st century construction. It was built as a replacement to one of numerous structural casualties of the Yugoslav Wars. The bridge’s destruction was a heavy blow since it was a lifeline between the capital Zagreb and Split, the nation’s second largest city. Getting it rebuilt was of great logistical and symbolic importance. The deck arch design spans the Novska Zdrilo, a strait of the Adriatic Sea which connects to the Velebit Channel, an important waterway that runs between the Velebit Mountains and several of Croatia’s largest islands and most important islands, including Krk and Rab.
The bridge has become a favorite of bungee jumpers who fancy the adrenaline rush of a free fall from the 56 meter high bridge. I was most enthralled by another aspect of the bridge, it was straight. Considering the serpentine motorway we had just covered, the bridge brought a sense of relief. While the road straightened up, our journey was far from over. Split was several hours to the south, which meant there was still a great deal of ground to be covered. This journey was about to turn into a test of endurance. Our first stop along the straight and narrow portion was Zadar. I remembered its bus station with such fondness. That was back in the days of innocence, prior to making the up and back bus trek along the Croatian Littoral.
Hitching A Ride – Driven to Discomfort
Before departing from Zadar a week earlier, I had no idea of the merciless journey we were about to undertake. Returning to the bus station was not a return to innocence, instead I was weathered and beaten from hour upon hour on the long and winding Croatian roads. My eyes glazed over at the sight of Zadar. Instead of elation or expectation, all I could do was give a shrug of indifference. There was time for a bathroom break and little else. Then it was on to Sibenik, a place I had planned to visit, but then decided to skip for a regrettable day in Nin. Sibenik is famous for its cathedral and not much else. While the bus weaved its way through the heavily trafficked streets and a sea of commercial development, I searched in vain for the cathedral. In Sibenik, I began to truly loathe this journey. It could not end fast enough and that was the problem. It was not so much the hours ahead that I dreaded, as much as the endless stops and starts. Every larger town along our route was a possible detour where 5 minutes became 15. It did not take me long to realize that there was no way we would make it to Split on time. After awhile, I began to wonder if we would make it to Split at all.
Croatia is one of the most customer service oriented countries I have visited in Eastern Europe. Part of this is because it has little choice. Croatia’s economy is so heavily reliant upon tourism that they must caress the hand that pads their pockets with kuna. There is also something to be said for Balkan hospitality, a level of service that in my experience can make the recipient feel like a long lost friend of the family. This hospitality goes way beyond loosening a handful of kuna from a tight fisted tourist. As I discovered on the Rijeka to Split bus ride, it can extend to would be passengers standing in eager anticipation at a wide spot in the road. The bus drivers – there were two onboard – decided to stop for almost anyone who looked like they might need a ride. This might have been understandable except for the fact none of these interlopers were traveling to Split. What had been a city to city bus throughout the first part of this journey soon became a local connector line.
A Mad Habit – The Granting of Wishes
The most absurd outcome of these excruciating acts of kindness was that those who needed a lift took precedence over the passengers who had paid a steep fee for at least eight hours of discomfort. The drivers seemed to enjoy offering a lift to anyone who wanted to get onboard. This had the added irritation of creating a free for all when it came to finding an open seat. The stops went from intermittent to interminable. The bus fell further and further behind schedule. The upshot of the many pickups and drop offs was that over an hour was added to the journey. The bus drivers had the maddening habit of stopping more rather than less the longer we traveled. It was a bizarre habit that was heartening only to those who stood by the roadside. There was a good chance that their wish for a ride would be granted. Conversely, my wish for this journey to end would not be granted for several more hours.
Click here for: Seaside Supermodel – Primosten: Miracles & Mirages (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #52)