When I mentioned Hotel Bellevue was an “old but charming hotel” in my previous post, I essentially meant there was no air conditioning. It was a combination of stifling heat, ringing ears from the Discotheque Riva house beats, and jet lag that caused Natalya and me to wake up around 6am that morning. Thoroughly dehydrated from the festivities of the night before, Natalya went on a scavenger mission for water. The only open kiosk sold small bottles for 15 kn (yes, that is around $3). Out of desperation, Natalya purchased six, only to discover later that day that other vendors sold 1-Liter bottles for 8 kn. Lesson learned! After rehydrating and forcing another hour of sleep upon us, we eventually gave up and decided to be productive with our morning. When we left the hotel, we saw a crew dismantling the stage that DJ Carl Cox had spun from the previous night. The Riva had been cleaned up fairly quickly from the event last night; the only hint that a massive open air disco dance party had taken place was the stickiness of the concrete floor due to all the spilled beers on the promenade.
We walked along the Riva towards the east end, where we found a cool miniature scale model of Split’s Old City. Around the bend from there was the main harbour, where we later met our tourmates aboard our ship.
We headed into the city centre and explored random alleyways. Diocletian’s Palace is the world’s most complete remains of a Roman palace, and it was amazing to see how well preserved it has remained over the centuries, especially considering how it is still being utilized today. I loved seeing the local women hanging up their laundry in the open spaces; there were clothing lines stretched in between buildings all over town.
At 8am, the city centre was pleasantly empty and it was great to take photos without throngs of people obstructing our view. We approached the grand Catholic cathedral, Cathedral of St. Duje, which is composed of Diocletian’s mausoleum and a bell tower. The bell tower serves as the city’s main symbol.
The palace is made primarily of white limestone and marble, most of which was taken from the marble quarries of the Island Brač. The palace also contains some imported decorations, such as Egyptian granite columns and sphinxes.
We returned to the hotel to check out and meet our boat at noon. We learned that there were two Contiki boat cruises happening simultaneously, and so we were not on the same boat as some of the tourmates we had met the day before. Natalya and I boarded the ship Cicero and met our Contiki rep Jen and 26 other tourmates who would be living on the boat with us for the next week. Our group consisted of 10 Aussies, 8 Canadians, 6 Americans, 3 South Africans, and 1 Dutch guy.
Jen told us to throw out all preconceptions of Contiki tours as the Croatia cruise is nothing like the rest. It’s relaxed with tons of downtime, and all our scheduled times would be “ish” except for the morning departures of the boat. The most important rule was that everyone had to be on board when the ship departed, or else you had to figure out your own way to catch up with the group.
Contiki Rep Jen: “If you shag someone on another boat, I suggest you shag her and leave.”
Tourmate Kris: “Can you tell her that for me?”
The rooms were small and a bit stuffy, especially if you had a room underdeck as there was only a tiny porthole for ventilation. The bathroom consisted of a toilet, sink, and shower head all within a small box–you can do some serious multi-tasking!. There were narrow bunk beds, a funky smell, and frequent lighting issues, but honestly, it could have been worse. We were not expecting to spend much time in our rooms anyway.
We had lunch on the boat (we had at least two meals provided per day) and then went to sunbathe on deck. As we passed the west coast of the Island Brač, the ship anchored right in the middle of the Adriatic Sea for a swim stop. The minute the anchor was down, people started leaping of the boat into the crystal blue waters. The refreshingly cool water was a brilliant sapphire color and it was so clear that I felt I could see straight to the bottom. We paddled around in the floats (“lallos” according to our South African friends; we learned a lot of international English slang as the trip progressed) and tossed a waterpolo ball around until it was time to sail.
It was 5pm by the time we arrived at the picturesque island of Hvar, and we were immediately greeted by a bustling port with rugged mountains covered in greenery as the backdrop. Hvar island is situated just off the Dalmatian coast, south of the island Brač and north of the island Korčula.
Hvar is the sunniest place in the country, boasting 2,724 hours of sunshine per year. The warm climate, beautiful scenery, and vibrant nightlife full of all-night discos makes Hvar Town a very popular tourist destination. However, the tourist infrastructure is not very extensive as of yet, which means things are still relatively cheap here.
Our group walked on the marble streets leading to the main square, Trg Sveti Stjepana, which contains the Cathedral of St. Stjepan and a Renaissance theatre. Trg Sveti Stjepana is the largest square in Dalmatia at 4,500 square meters, and was previously bordered by gardens. Hvar Town was developed around this square, with the north side built around the 13th century, and circling to the south of the square by the 15th century. On the west side of the square is a set of stairs that leads up the the fortress on top of the hill, which took about 20 minutes to reach by walking.
Admission to the fortress is 25kn. Tvrđava Španjola (tvrdava means “fortress” in Croatian) was built at the beginning of the 16th century during the time when the island was under Venetian rule. There were several reinforcements added to the citadel when the island was under French and then Austrian rule. Today, the fortress serves as a popular tourist attraction, boasting spectacular panoramic views of Hvar Town and the Pakleni Islands.
The cannons had “1808” inscribed onto them, so I assumed that is when they were installed in the fortress, which was under Napoleon’s rule. In 1806, Hvar was seized by the French Empire during the Napoleonic Wars. The Austrians regained control of the island in accordance with the 1815 Treaty of Vienna, and a period of peace and prosperity followed. Hvar flourished due to its fishing industry and the cultivation of lavender, rosemary and olives.
After we left the fortress, we headed back to the main square to find some dinner. The square is full of restaurant options offering fresh seafood and Italian specialties for very cheap prices (pasta dishes are 70kn, house wine 80kn). Read more about the Croatian food we ate on our trip here.
After dinner, we headed to check out the Hula Hula Beach Club, which is a popular beach bar located a 15 minute walk west from main square. We arrived after sunset since we had been at the fortress, but heard this was a great daytime drinking destination.
Later, we headed out with our entire Contiki boat to Caffe Sidero bar to enjoy our first night out on the cruise. Some of the group went to check out the late night club Carpe Diem, but the majority ended up staying at Sidero and the neighboring bar Nautica all night. All in all, a fabulous first night out with our Contiki crew!