After three months on the road by myself, I have to admit that I was flagging. I had a lot of time to think on the 8 hour bus ride – from Mostar, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, to Split, in Croatia – and I was mostly thinking about throwing in the towel.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved travelling. I still do. Those three months had been some of the happiest of my life, and, although I didn’t know this at the time, the next three would be even better. But, still, three months away from everything – from family, friends, a normal life and proper diet, well it takes its toll. Inexplicably the thing I missed most was probably a good old British sausage.
And so, after three months of jaunting around continental Europe, I wondered if it was time to cut my losses and head home. A friend was flying out to visit me when I got to Zagreb. Why not just fly home with her?
At this point I would like to make it clear that this decision is in no way a reflection on Bosnia. Sarajevo and Mostar were wonderful cities, and I’m not sure if I met a more friendly and welcoming people in the whole of my trip, but for some reason it wasn’t enough to keep me going.
I sat, glumly, on the bus, watching the grey Bosnian countryside go by, thinking about the implications of the decision. I wondered what it would take to get me out of the slump, to drive me on to finish my trip.
The answer, it turned out, was Croatia. Almost as soon as we had crossed the border I noticed a change in scenery. The grey, blasted mountainsides of Bosnia, while beautiful in their own way, were replaced by Aegean coastal vistas. The grey became green, the drab, Central European style of housing made way for terracotta-roofed villas. My frown was replaced by a smile. I knew, immediately, that I was going to like it here.
As the bus trundled up the coast, my mood was immediately lifted. Friends had told me about how great Croatia was in the past, but for some reason it took actually being there in order for me to believe them.
If the bus ride planted that seed in my head, arriving in Split was the confirmation that helped it blossom in to a love for the country. Even just after stepping off the bus it was easy to see how beautiful a city it was.
Diocletian’s palace, which has been standing in one form or another since the 4th century, towers over the harbour as you disembark. The white marble walls gleam in the almost perpetual sunshine, and a cool breeze blows off the Aegean. Even though I was there in the middle of January, I could not have been blamed for thinking it was a pleasant April’s afternoon.
Normally when I was travelling I tended to make a beeline for my hostel, in order to set up a base camp of sorts before going and exploring. This time was different. I was so taken by the city spread out before me that I spent an hour wandering around the inside of the palace walls, which now serve as the boundary of the old town.
Somehow, Split single handedly dragged me out of my funk and put me back on course. I really believe that if I had skipped it and gone straight to Zagreb that I may have packed the whole thing in, but I’m glad I didn’t. When I got to split one of my first thoughts was ‘I can’t quit now, what if I miss another place that is as amazing as this?’
I have since been back to Split, and have to say that once you go a bit beyond the old town, in to the main city itself, it loses the magic somewhat. However, I challenge you to show me a city, besides perhaps Venice, that doesn’t lose some of its charm when you get away from the main attractions.
Even so, I still owe the city a huge debt of gratitude, because without it I would not have gone on to visit any of the other wonderful places I went to in the second half of my trip. Nor would I have met some people that I am still honoured to this day to call my friends.
But why should you take my word for it? Do what I did and go and check it out for yourself. Then you can see first hand all the wonders that Croatia has to offer.
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