As there are no direct flights from New York to Split, Natalya and I first took a flight from New York to London. From the Heathrow airport, we took a bus to Gatwick (19.5 GBP one way, 1hr travel time) and then hopped onto an Easy Jet flight to Split (2hr flight time). On the flight, I coincidentally sat right next to a Contiki tour mate, Laura from Australia. I would discover later that Aussies made up half of the Contiki tour group… and probably half of all the sailing tourists in Croatia in general.
We arrived in Split on a Friday afternoon and met up with several Contiki tourmates at the airport. There are buses that run every half hour from the airport to city centre for 30 kn (exchange rate at the time was approximately 1 USD = 5.5 Croatian Kuna). The bus ride lasted about 40 minutes and dropped us off right at the main harbor, just southwest of Diocletian’s Palace.
The city of Split was originally constructed around the remains of a massive palace that was built for the retirement of Roman emperor Diocletian in 305 AD. After the Romans abandoned the palace, it remained empty until the 7th century when local residents fled within the walled palace seeking refuge from invaders. Since then, the palace has been occupied with residents who lived and worked within the palace walls. Some of these restaurants, shops and homes can still be found within the walls today. In 1979, Diocletian’s Palace became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Located at the foot of the southern walls of Diocletian’s Palace is the main city promenade, Riva. At the time of our arrival, the Riva was completely blocked off for a massive open air disco party that night. As a result, we had to enter the Diocletian’s Palace and weave through the crowds of people and narrow alleyways in order to get to our hotel at the east end of the Riva.
Contiki arranged for one night’s stay at Hotel Bellevue, after which our accommodation was solely the boat. It was a very old but charming hotel located just off the Prokurative, the city’s Republic Square Trg Republike. We settled in quickly before heading down to the Kavana (cafe, retsaurant) for a pivo (beer). Our little makeshift group was composed of several Aussies (Laura, Jason, Andrew, Astrid), a few Americans (Kelly, Erica, John), and a South African (Simon).
We all relaxed at the kavana as we observed the preparation for the disco across the plaza. Directly across from the hotel was the stage where the famous DJ Carl Cox from London would be spinning later for this lavish waterfront production. The event was called Discotheque Riva as it occupied the entire sea promenade of the Riva, which spans 350m long by 30m wide. The event was to be the world’s largest summer open space disco, and we certainly intended to partake in the festivities later that night.
After a few rounds of pivo, we ventured into the heart of the city to find a restaurant for dinner. We passed by the local fish market and entered the Pjaca or Narodni Tng (People’s Square). Located in the plaza was the tourist-targeted restaurant, Gradska Kavana, which had plenty of outdoor seating for our party of 10. Natalya and I shared the cold appetizer plate that consisted of a citrus-flavored fish pâté, anchovy fillets, grilled octopus, mussels, and scampi. We had originally thought the scampi was shrimp due to its size, but the hard shell and small claws threw us off. The scampi served in Croatia is actually a slim lobster called the Norway Lobster or langoustine that is commonly found in the Northern Adriatic Sea. It’s a bit more work to get to the meat, but it is quite delicious! We also shared a seafood platter that consisted of the most delicious grilled fillet of sole. Grilled white fish in Croatia is absolutely spectacular, it’s so fresh and melts in your mouth!
Read more about the Croatian food we ate on our trip here.
After dinner, we went on a pub crawl around the city. Across from the restaurant, there was an alley illuminated with a purple light just off the square center. We entered the alley and saw several wooden chairs crammed against the wall filled with people laughing and drinking. The main attraction down this route was Gaga Bar, which was blasting music for all its patrons in the bar, sitting in the alley, and in the open courtyard. Considering Gaga’s location, the bar is very touristy and thus the prices are accordingly high. We found much cheaper drinks as we ventured further into the city and down darker alleyways. One bar we stumbled upon was marked by a painting of a dolphin; it was slightly sketchy but the beers were only 10kn for 0.5L bottles!
Considering our current company, we went to find Charlie’s Bar, an Aussie backpackers bar that served up some lethal cocktails in giant mugs. The bar is connected to the Fiesta Siesta Hostel and we ran into some people from our flight who were staying there. They were traveling with Sail Croatia, which was another tour company that offered 1 week island hopping excursions for 21-35 year olds. Most of the boats follow the same itinerary and we would see the same travelers practically at every port.
After sufficient pre-gaming, we headed out to the Carl Cox Discotheque Riva event (admission 200kn). The house music was blasting, shiny disco balls were sparkling, laser lights were flashing, and the entire Riva was bathed in a neon glow.
We fought through the crowds to get some drinks and then headed out to the pier to check out the scenery. The entire Riva was packed with people dancing and fist pumping to house music, and while I am not the biggest techno music fan — this was a pretty fun night. The fireworks show didn’t hurt either. It was interesting to note later that every single night we were in Split (and there were 3), there was a fireworks show. So now I know: the only place you can catch fireworks every night is Disneyland… and Split.
We headed into the mob and make our way to the front as I tried to pretend I knew how to dance to house music. I think I just bounced up and down… it seemed to work. Around 3am, we decided to call it a night and headed back to the hotel. Of course, since the hotel was right next to Carl Cox’s stage, we still got to enjoy the performance from our rooms, including some hefty base vibrations of the walls. Oh well, we had already known from the minute we signed up that there would be no rest during this holiday. Sleeping is for amateurs!