This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Split and Diocletian's Palace

Next morning we had another great hotel breakfast and boarded the bus for the journey to Split.  It was a quick hour and a half drive, much faster than we expected. We were too early to check into our hotel so we headed directly to the old city where we got a walking tour through the old town and the streets of the ancient Roman  Diocletian's palace.

A group of us settled into a small restaurant within the palace walls that we had read was the best in the old city. It had only 4-5 tables and our group took up all of them. 
My grilled sardine lunch.

We all ordered different items but shared freely across the tables. I ordered a plate of grilled sardines. My first experience with fresh sardines was in Grenada, Spain last year and I was determined to have more while here in Croatia. They were delicious. The flesh was easy to separate from the bones and the meat was sweet and slightly, pleasantly oily. Others ordered octopus salad, a specialty of this part of the world, soups, warm, crusty bread and wine flowed all afternoon. Leo, the waiter and the chef behind the counter were warm, generous hosts and all of us left very happy. The best food we'd had so far on the trip.

The two directors exchange gifts after the concert.
The bus whisked us back to the hotel to freshen up and change into concert outfits, then took us over to the University of Split campus for our evening concert. We found ourselves on the 5th floor of the library building, a five year old contemporary structure with little character or personality. However, a very enthusiastic Music Academy choir met us and after each choir finished singing, the two groups had an hour or so of time to meet and chat with each other. Students exchanged e-mail addresses and chatted each other up until our guide finally insisted we needed to get back to the hotel.  

Leslie walked across the street to the Tommy grocery shop and bought a few things for an in room picnic. She introduced some of her students to buying meats and cheeses using the metric system and insisted they buy local cheeses rather than Swiss or cheddar cheese.

We slept well through the night after a great first day in Split.

Our second day started off with the instant coffee that seems so popular here. Blech! Otherwise, a fine breakfast. Then out the door for what became a two and a half hour walking tour of the old city including a detailed tour through the Palace of Diocletian.

This entire old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and deservedly so. It is a stunning city center, our favorite so far on this trip.

In this area of Split is located the fish market, another market place where everything
imaginable is sold, wide walking boulevards and narrow alley ways so easy to get lost in. This town has been here for over 2,000 years, occupied variously by so many countries including Greeks, Turks and Romans.

The core of the city is the ancient Diocletian's palace, built around 305 A.D. by the Roman emperor upon his retirement, a notable moment since most Roman emperors didn't live long enough to retire. It is the most complete Roman palace in the world.

Within the walls are a complete temple of Jupiter, vaulted ceilinged, massive rooms, as well as two even older Greek water wells. The current Cathedral of Saint Domnius was originally the mausoleum of Emperor Diocletian. Their are several well preserved gates into the palace, temples, restaurants and shops. It is just amazing and stunning to behold.

The choir was able to sing inside of the vaulted ceilinged rooms and at one point thought they might get to sing inside Saint Domnius. However, due to some rule about choirs singing in churches during holy week (Easter is in 2 day's time) they were not allowed to. Interestingly, while our group was in the square outside Saint Domnius, the friars who were using the church came out as the choir was singing for the crowd in the square. Among the group was the Archbishop of Split, who paused long enough to be introduced to Leslie and listen to the choir sing for him. He said a few words about his travels in America and then stood smiling as the choir offered a Croatian arranged song from a mass. He was delighted.

We also visited the Jewish Synagogue and the oldest book shop in Split. Then, finally, we were all set free. Everyone had ideas about where they wanted go and what they wanted to do. Vanessa, Leslie and I stuck together and headed over to the church in which she'd originally hoped to sing--Saint Francis, operated by the Franciscan order. Like really every church we've been in here in Croatia, the interior was very modestly decorated. Little glitz or guild, it had a simple alter piece and very little ornamentation.

A few steps away and we re-entered the large, open and sunny piazza where our walking tour ended the day before. We'd decided to lunch at the well regarded restaurant there. They had a large al fresco dining area. We chose a spot on the edge of the sitting area, up wind so as to avoid the smokers.

Smoking is a big pastime here. I would estimate that a good 70-80 % of adults are smokers. Smoking is allowed in the bars and coffee bars and even goes on in many restaurants, though it is officially banned. It is just about unavoidable and no one seems to be in the least concerned about smoking around anyone, anytime. Leslie went out with a number of the choir members in Zadar the other night and they all lit up and smoked the evening away oblivious to the non-smokers they were hosting. This country just hasn't got the memo yet regarding the negatives of the habit.  Ah well, when in Rome!  No, don't do as the Romans in this case, but if one is going to travel, one is bound to run into situations different from home. Get over it or stay home.

Meanwhile, our lunch was wonderful. We each ordered items and shared freely. We ordered a cheese and fruit plate as an appetizer.  We ordered a couple of different local wines and I ordered a poached sea bass on a bed of polenta. Leslie and Vanessa ordered a beef risotto and, of course, an octopus salad. It was all terrific and to sit in the sunny piazza with a soft cooling Mediterranean breeze just made the moment perfect.

After lunch I decided to walk back to the room to write while Leslie and Vanessa power walked up the hill and through Park suma Marjan, a massive park and green space covering a mountain on the peninsula at the end of the city. Then they headed over to the museum of Croatia's most famous sculpture, Ivana Mestrovica, and finally through the market place.

Later in the evening we picnicked in our room again. This time Vanessa joined us in a combined feast of sliced sausage, cheese, olives, beets and slaw, a dessert of dark chocolate all washed down with a pretty good cuvee Benkovac, a combination of cabernet, merlot and syrah grapes.  We shared photos and talked about all kinds of things until about 11:00.

It was a great finish to our time in Split. Tomorrow we head to our final destination, Dubrovnik. On our way we will stop for lunch while driving through part of our third new country, Bosnia Herzegovina. Only two days left before we head home.