17 November 2017

The Sights of Split (Croatia)

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I still imagine summers as nearly never-ending, only to be struck by the harsh realty of time progressing just as quickly, if not more so, than the previous seasons have passed. Nevertheless, a mini vacation scratches the itch of having an adventure to look forward to and memories to look back on. So, myself and two friends this past summer set our sights on a weekend trip to Split, Croatia.

Croatia is currently experiencing a boom in tourism, for a number of factors; it’s close to other European countries, they have a similar climate to other Mediterranean countries but are far less expensive, both Star Wars and Game of Thrones have filmed there, (they aren’t at war anymore…). This newfound influx of tourists is good for the economy as a whole and while some might argue that it spoils the more popular destination cities, usually a complaint issued by fellow tourists, I think the pros outweigh the cons. Especially for adventure tourism, where a steady stream of people puts money in the hands of those who are the real ambassadors for the richness that Croatia has to offer. All of that to say, we picked Croatia more or less at random and a bike tour was a bit of an afterthought.

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Honestly, I can’t remember why I picked the bike tour I had, but I figured we’d at least get something on the books and go from there. I believe the outfitter was Adventure Dalmatia, the Dalmatian Coast being the part of Croatia that Split occupies. There was some confusion as to what time we were to meet our guide, with an early 9 a.m. tour being scrapped in favor of a 5 p.m. tour, which is really of no consequence unless you’ve been drinking heavily the night before, or need to pick up a suit from the tailor before they close. (Both of those applied to our party.)

We arrived at the prescribed meeting point, the waterfront side of the third-century Diocletian’s Palace, and were greeted by our plucky guide Darla. She shook our hands and escorted us to through some of the back streets to where our bikes awaited us. After some quick adjustments and dumb conversation starters, did you know Cube bicycles are from Germany? Did you know I’m a semi-professional bike blogger?, we were on our way to our first waypoint, a city park and former cemetery that was popular with locals. Darla gave us a rundown of Split’s history, showed us the best place to cliff jump, and let us get acquainted with riding as a group before we got into anything too challenging.

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Overcoming the disparity between her height and that of the map, Darla produced a pointing stick and traced the route options we had available to us. The choices were: scenic, technical, or a mix of the above. We opted for a mix, noting that we had hoofed it on foot earlier that day to the overlook at the highest point in Split, and that we didn’t need to visit it again. This afforded us more time for drinking beer.

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There aren’t designated cycling paths, or lanes, or much in the way of signs designating what bicycle traffic should be doing, so we just followed Darla’s lead. This entailed both road riding, riding on the shoulder, and riding on the sidewalk, weaving around unsuspecting pedestrians. While I typically would not condone this type of riding, I was a visitor to this country, and when in Dalmatia, do as the Dalmatians. 

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Split, like many places in the midst of transition, is an assortment of the ancient, the inhabited, and the abandoned. We rode past failed casinos and fallen empires, crowds of tourists one minute and past cacti, orchids, and other prehistoric vegetation the next. Darla suggested we stop into a local grocery store to stock up on water for our tour, so we did. Standing in line at the cash register was, as you’d expect, the least thrilling portion of our tour. Then, we were off again.

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After a few kilometers of riding along the coast and the outskirts of the city, we approached the entrance to Park Marjan, the green pointy end of the peninsula if you’re looking at Split on a map. We climbed on paved switchbacks to a couple lookout points and then bombed a gravel road back down to the half-way point where a café offered drinks with an impressive view of the city below us, and the Dinaric Alps beyond.

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We ran into another bike tour group who were stopping at the café and were riding some e-assist bikes. I jokingly offered to switch with them, to which they replied “no thanks”.

I wasn’t being serious anyway. An e-bike is only slightly less embarrassing than riding a Segway.

We paid for our beers and rode the rest of the way back down to the city streets below us. A ticket for the ferry out to one of Croatia’s many islands was on the agenda, so Darla lead us through more crowds of people to the dock where we could purchase the ticket for early the next day. As it would happen, we overslept and never made that ferry.

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And with that, we were turning our bikes back in and discussing what to do with the remainder of our evening. Darla told us about a spot on the water where the locals hang out and drink beer they bought from the tiny bodega across the street. We said that sounded like a great idea, so we bought a couple IPAs that came recommended and found our perch on the concrete pier. Darla told us about her other gigs, taking people kayaking, canyoning, and assorted adventury things.

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From an anthropological standpoint, the spread of American culture and the English language has done so much damage to the cultural identity of many parts of the world; yet, it also facilitates amazing experiences like ours, allowing for an exchange of ideas and even jokes, talking about what is fun and what sucks in our respective lives, and finding common ground across vast continents. And so for that I’m thankful to have a mother tongue that just happens to be a very common second language to many people around the world. In any case, Croatia has much to offer for those seeking sun, adventure, or a well-tailored suit.

- Bicyclist Abroad

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