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Croatia- Part 2: Senj, Zadar, & Split


Last we left off we were preparing to depart Opatija.  The next morning we ventured downstairs for another breakfast before setting off in the rain for Split.  A few hours into our journey we stopped in a small fishing village, Senj, for a bathroom break & to stretch our legs. 

Now clearly there's some rule in Croatia that every town must be beautiful & look like it just fell off the front of a postcard.  We only spent about thirty minutes here but it was enough time for a few photos & a gelato break.  Despite the 40 degree weather for the majority of this trip, I found myself consuming a cup of gelato at least once a day after Senj.  Oh yum!

 It was still rather early in the morning & the town was pretty shut down.  We later learned that the Croats generally work about a 3-4 hour workday, particularly when the weather's gloomy.  Must be nice!  I snapped a few quick shots & then scuttled quickly back to the bus, out of the cold.  We hit the road headed for Zadar!

Such a picturesque country!
The tour itinerary called for a few hours in Zadar for a walking tour & a bit of free time to roam the town.  We pulled into town & didn't see a soul wandering through the sizeable town.  We disembarked the bus & quickly found out why.  We were all shocked at the drop in temperature & the strength of the bay winds.  Our guide, Jan, promptly marched us down to the waterfront, along a path to see the "sea organ".  The general idea behind this is pipes run from the water's edge & come out through the boardwalk or walking path.  As the wind blows it creates an organ sound.  The harder the wind blows, the louder the 'organ' plays.  Let's just say we were able to hear the organ from several blocks away, as it sounded as though someone was strangling a goat.  The wind was ripping so hard it broke several individuals' umbrellas.  The gale force winds & hefty icy rain made for one cranky tour group.  After several minutes & endless blocks, our tour guide finally consented & sent us on our free time.  Once again thanks to the dreary weather, few shops & restaurants were open.  We wandered for a bit before finding one open coffee house in the ghost town. 
Just enjoying the beautiful weather in Zadar!

Despite the cold & stinging rain, the Old Town of Zadar was yet another fascinating area filled with spectacular churches & ancient ruins.  Before we knew it, we were back on the bus & headed for the next stop: Split. 

We arrived in Split late in the afternoon & were told we would be provided dinner & traditional music at a local restaurant.  Of course I was immediately excited, particularly since this would be our actual anniversary dinner. We checked in at the ultra swanky Radisson Blu & were once again impressed.  We had just enough time to settle in & get changed before jetting off to dinner.  We boarded the bus & traveled fifteen minutes across town- yes, fifteen minutes! Split is the third largest city in Croatia & it was quite the change from the small fishing villages we'd seen the past two days.  We arrived at a little hole in the wall called Epetium where we were informed they had no idea they would soon be feeding 80+ guests.  Thankfully they quickly prepared & before we knew it the music had begun.  One thing can be said for Eastern Europeans- they love some accordion music.  The band played several tunes- some traditional, but a LOT of CCR.  Who would've thought?

Earlier in the afternoon we had been given a choice of fish or beef for dinner.  Brad & I decided to get one of each so we could sample each other's.  That ended up working out well as my fish was too fishy for my taste & covered in bones.  I hijacked Brad's roast, which wasn't exactly what I was hoping for.  Thankfully we were provided some delicious veggies & all the bread & olive oil I could handle!  We enjoyed the music at dinner but not so much the food or level of intoxication of some of our lush travel mates.  We headed home & quickly made it to bed in anticipation of the next day's walking tour of Split.

The next morning the group boarded the buses & were once again herded like cattle to another location.  We met our local guide for the walking tour & were immediately impressed with her English & better yet- sense of humor.  Generally I'd sooner jab out my own eye before voluntarily listening to historical facts for 3+ hours.  I was definitely surprised.  She actually made the tour interesting for this history hater!  We entered the walls of the old city & into Diocletian's Palace.
The streets were lined with cute cafes outside the palace walls
Now my memory isn't the best but I do remember our trusty guide telling us that Diocletian was apparently quite the diva & wanted his palace built where the water actually was.  As a result, the Romans had to build a dam to stop the water & build the ground up.  This would've resulted in constant flooding of the palace.  Diva Diocletian was putting the pressure on them to build his quarters quickly, so the Romans decided to build the palace twice.  Once below, which would remain uninhabited, & a second time- directly above.  The upper level was an exact replica of the one below.  An interesting fact about the palace: the Romans didn't use any mortar when assembling the columns that held up the entire palace.  Instead they were fit together like a giant Jenga game.  Diocletian lived in the palace with his wife, daughter, & countless slaves.  It was pretty much their own city.
Later, after Diocletian was killed, squatters moved in to the palace.  During the days of Yugoslavia, Socialism allowed these squatters to become private owners of these 'new apartments' in the palace.  Today, thanks to Croatian law, because these apartments are privately owned the government can't regulate what the owners do nor can they evict them.  So essentially, you have 32" inch plasma tv screens hanging next to historical mosaics, thereby damaging a world UNESCO site daily.  While this is problem enough, the real issue is these apartments were built some 1700 years ago.  That means the plumbing system is 1700 years old- or rather the absence of a plumbing system...
May I present: PETRIFIED POO
Yep... 1700 years worth of poop... You're welcome.  Basically, the upper palace's plumbing system consisted of pretty much a hole in the floor.  The pipes just pushed the waste to the lower palace.  When archaeologists later excavated the lower palace they had to clean out all that waste.  Think about that the next time you complain about your job.  While the upper palace is privately owned & inhabited, today the lower palace is open to the public for tours.

Fun fact: for any of you Game of Thrones fans- several scenes from season 3 were filmed inside the lower palace.

We finished up the walking tour with a special treat- an a Capella serenade of two songs from a local klopa singing group.  These guys have won seven national awards & are considered celebrities throughout Croatia.  The city of Split has hired them to sing for visitors to Diocletian's Palace.  It was definitely a nice little surprise at the end of the tour.

Outside the walls of the palace you can wander for endless hours through all the shops & restaurants.  Here we managed to pick up a few goodies to take home.  I was overjoyed to find locally made olive oil & lavender soap.  Sidenote: Croatia has lavender growing like kudzu everywhere.  This infuriated the stew out of me as I have the hardest time growing it back home & the Croats grow it as filler shrubbery.

After we wandered the streets for a bit, Brad & I were absolutely ecstatic to see the sun finally decided to join our vacation.  The temps warmed & the sun was out so we decided to celebrate by enjoying lunch overlooking the bay- & of course, more gelato!  We scribbled out a few post cards to send home & wandered through an open air market.  Throughout our trip, we found these markets in every town & I absolutely loved strolling through them & checking out all the local goods.
Before we knew it, our time in Split had come to an end & it was time to board the bus again.  We were sad to say goodbye to this impressive town but excited for what was to come.  This time we headed to our final leg- Dubrovnik!

Stay tuned for Part 3: Dubrovnik...

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