Croatia Day 2: Split and Brač

4:30 p.m., on the boat to Brač

After a much-needed 8 hours of sleep, Rachel and I awoke this morning to a sunny, warm, and hazy day on the Adriatic coast. We were out of the apartment by 10 and ready to hit the beach for a couple hours. We stopped on the way at a bakery to buy another of my Balkan favorites, burek: layers of greasy pastry and cheese (like a strudel but a bit crispier). We then set off on what proved to be a surprisingly complicated walk to the beach. We knew where it was, but we kept encountering walls or streets that didn’t lead where we thought they would. At one point we walked down a little trail and across the train tracks, and we finally found the beach after about half an hour.

We weren’t expecting big things of this beach because Split in general just isn’t going to be the same water quality as any of the islands and also because this was not the nicest beach in Split (the rest are west of town and too far for us to have ventured in our limited time this morning). This beach was a cove and mostly walled in by concrete (though much of that was improved by cafés that rented chaise lounges). We settled down right on the of the wall about four feet above the water. The water just there wasn’t super clean, so we opted to stay on our towels rather than venturing in. After my long, stressful summer of studying, it was great to lay there, soaking up the sun and enjoying the burek.

We went back to the apartment at noon to collect and stow our backpacks, and on the way we walked back through the old city and visited one of several fresh juice bars. This one was set up in the corner of the original wall, and they were very popular. My “Green Hulk” vegetable juice was delicious, as was Rachel’s “Summertime” mix of fruit juices. As she said, “that juice was day-changing.” We know we’re not going to making the best dietary choices in the next two weeks, so it feels good to have had something so healthy. (On that note though, we’ve certainly been active enough to balance the increase in calories from drinks and ice cream – my UP band tells me we’ve already taken 12500 steps today!)

After putting our bags in storage (there are tons of places along the harbor allowing backpackers to ditch their bags for the day), we settled into some comfy chairs at a cafe on the Riva for another round of people-watching and some chilled drinks. My Karlovačko radler (essentially a mix of beer and lemonade) was perfect. About an hour later we grabbed a slice of pizza and settled onto the steps in the Peristil (the main square of Diocletian’s Palace) for more people watching, followed by some gelatto in the same place.

We’re now en route to our first of several islands. Brač is right across from Split and is famous for its long peninsular beach, which we’re looking forward to visiting tomorrow.

1:30 a.m., in Bol

We arrived in Bol (a town on the western side of Brač) around 5:45 and quickly found our way (uphill, with our heavy backpacks) to the guesthouse where we’re staying the night. Our room has a terrace with a view of the water and Hvar, the island we’re going to tomorrow (well, at this point, today). After another round of freshening up, we walked back down the hill (which suddenly seemed much shorter) and along the waterfront heading south towards a restaurant we’d heard about.

Compared to Split, Bol is tiny and empty. There are just enough people here, and most of them actually seem to be Croatian. The water is clear and clean, and the Riva (there’s one here too) is quite narrow. It’s a charming place all around.

We found the restaurant, Rubarska Kućica, at the end of the road and sat down at a table outside overlooking a small pebble beach. The view was incredible. Hvar is just across the water, and the sunset was lighting up the sky in shades of pink, and the moon was visible already. We took an incredible number of pictures as the sun set and the moon started to sparkle on the water. [check back again for photos – trying to figure out how to post them via iPhone.]

Our food equalled the surroundings. We started with an amouse-bouche (still not quite sure what it was) and some “semi-corn bread” (right color, slightly corny taste, wrong texture) to go with our Croatian white wine, then we split some octopus salad, which is exactly what it sounds like: chopped octopus on some lettuce. Really good and a common menu item in Croatia. For our entrées, I got dog fish (advertised as shark, but I know the Croatian word for dog and figured it out) while Rachel had “frog fish” (monkfish?) with prosciutto. Both were excellent.

We also really liked our waiter, a cute guy somewhere between us in age who spoke good English and was just really lovely to us. Additionally, the owner came by at one point and offered us a free round of grappa on the house. I think it goes without saying that when offered a drink in such a circumstance, you accept! It was strong and had a licorice aftertaste (not my favorite), but we were so pleased to have received this kind and special attention.

We didn’t want to leave and had both separately thought “this is the kind of meal and restaurant where you need to have dessert too,” so we ordered the panna cotta with cherries that we’d seen pass by a few times. This too was lovely, and we just sat there saying variations of “life is so great right now” and “how lucky are we?!” Then the owner came up from the beach (did I mention the beach was right below us?), saw us, and immediately said a few things in Croatian followed by “another grappa for you!” When he brought the next round, I asked if he would join us in drinking it, and he looked very pleased and said “yes! Why not!” So he went off and returned with a tiny shot for himself. We had a nice chat during which we explained who we are, where we’re from, why we’re in Croatia, etc, and he told us we were drinking grappa made on Hvar by family of his wife. He asked when we were leaving, and we said we were already so sorry to have booked our tickets to Hvar for tomorrow. It was the sort of situation where (between him and the waiter) I honestly feel like if we’d asked them to put us up for the night or introduce us to some others on the island, they would absolutely have helped us. We wanted to get pictures of them to share, but both were busy when we finally left. The owner shook our hands though, and we left feeling very special indeed.

At that point it was around 11:45, and as we walked back to the main square, we started hearing music coming from the big cocktail bar there. This was clearly THE place to be in Bol, and almost everyone dancing there in the open air was Croatian. We hung out for quite a while, met a few French guys, and finally decided that even though we weren’t tired (hooray for jet lag!) we should probably get home.

Today was such a great day. This post doesn’t do it justice. Rachel and I want to elaborate on dinner so much – we’ll see if we can dedicate some more time tomorrow to blogging so that her voice is here too! But in summary: Croatia is AMAZING. I want to start spelling Brač with a heart on top of the c.

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