Tuesday was the day.
And I was running late.
My much needed massage had run a little (okay, a LOT) long and I frantically hopped in the shower as I heard Ryan answer the phone. My dad was downstairs with the car. I hurled my stuff into my carry-on as Ryan (my pack-mule for life – his designation, not mine), carted our bags down from our 3rd story walk-up apartment to the street.
I threw my wet hair up in a top-knot. I could do my makeup in the car.
And we were off!
Passport. Check. Swim suit. Check. Chill attitude. Working on it.
My second trans-Atlantic flight. My first time in business class – the fruit of thousands of airline miles accrued and hoarded by Ryan from the many work trips that took him away to far off places. For once I was thankful for all those times we were separated for weeks on end.
After a couple long flights, and stamps in my passport from Heathrow and Zagreb, we finally arrived in Split, Croatia – a picturesque city on the beautiful Dalmatian Coast. A little confused at what time it was I looked down at my iPhone – 10pm Wednesday. Apparently it had adjusted much more easily than I had.
A driver from our tiny little hotel – Divota Apartments – located in the Old Town part of Split stood outside with a sign “Ryan McEliece.” Their reception office usually closed at 20:00 (8pm – I’m still not used to this military time thing…), but they kept it open especially for us. We were whisked off to our cute little apartment, handed keys, a map, and given a very basic overview of information we’d need to know. And then we slept. Till Thursday afternoon.
When we finally surfaced from our slumber it was bright and sunny. Split was saying “Hello” – “Gob” in Croatian. Our eyes, minds and limbs were still not so responsive but our stomach’s rallied to the call with a great big “Hey there! What’s for lunch?”
The night before I made a quick study of the funny little map the receptionist handed us – Use-It, a map curated with recommendations and tips from locals.
According to both Use-It and Trip Advisor it seemed the place to go for the freshest, cheapest seafood was a little hole-in-the-wall called Villa Spiza located on a street (yeah, they’re not streets, they’re alleyways) in Old Town just outside the walls of Diocletian’s Palace – the main attraction in Split. And yes, it literally was a hole in the wall with seating inside for maybe 10 and two small bar tables squished outside in the “street.” There was also a small red bench and two stools for overflow – something that often occurs in this ever-popular spot.
And it was spot on! Maybe we hit it just before the rush (we returned in the evening and the “street” was completely impassable with bodies packed together like sardines), but we had our choice of tables -we chose one outside. But before venturing out, we had to order. The woman from behind the counter pulled out a plastic bin full of the freshest fish I’ve ever seen… caught that morning by the local fishermen. We went with her favorite: a small sweet fried fish with the traditional sautéed swiss chard and potato. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it… Now this was my kind of food!
After lunch we got lost in the old cobblestone streets and squares of the Old Town. It’s hard to believe we were walking down corridors that were built thousands of years ago. Most of the stone buildings had beautiful terra cotta tile roofs and green windows and shutters. The ones above were particularly bright.
Many Dalmatian coastal towns have what’s called the Riva – a tiled promenade that separates the city from the sea. Split’s is particularly brilliant. We walked back to the catacombs, which were filled with booths selling a variety of Croatian trinkets – from coral necklaces to tacky magnets, and then up into Diocletian’s Palace – the retirement home of a Roman Emperor. Just outside the Palace walls was a huge outdoor market where people sold all manner of things: from fresh fruits, nuts, and cheeses to underware. No joke.
The jet-lag was catching up to Ryan so we returned to back to our little apartment where he took a nice siesta. I, on the other hand, ventured back out to explore! I wanted to get my bearings in this old city and discover all its nooks and crannies. And more importantly to figure out where we would have dinner.
When I returned, the light was incredible. Thankfully Ryan was feeling a little better so we grabbed the camera, tri-pod and hit the streets. Scooters and motorcycles – the transportation of choice – whizzed past us as we walked back into this charming old city in search of our first (and quite possibly my favorite) full Croatian meal.
In my earlier meanderings I’d scouted out a few menus that looked delicious. And while I am the pickier eater of this McEliece duo, I wasn’t so sure Ry would fancy any of my selections. Poor guy’s stomach was not so happy.
Rounding a cobblestone corner within the palace walls, we were lured by the sound of music. Curious, we peered down the little alleyway to find a classical guitarist playing in a secret little courtyard. His two adoring fans, who it seemed had escaped the confines of the dinner table and their parents’ gaze, were dancing unabashedly to his tune.
The ambiance: romantic. The decor: very eclectic Anthropologie chic. The menu: outstanding (in my opinion).
Mazzgoon was the place for us.
We chose a table for two close to the guitarist. The older of the two “little fans” kept looking at me as she danced. Maybe she sensed I was a dancer too. Or maybe it’s because I had the camera. She reminded me of myself when I was her age – twirly dress and all. Only I don’t think I was so bold. At any rate it made us both laugh. Our little Croatian ballerina girl.
And if the ambiance weren’t enough, the food… oh the food! But I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Side note: prepare yourself for lots of food photos in the posts to come – I mean it’s food. It’s what we LOVE. And it was definitely one of the highlights of our Honeymoon, even with all my crazy dietary restrictions. Ryan’s convinced I have some sort of Mediterranean in me. Haha! I wish!
Dalmatian prosciutto was everywhere and it was crazy good as were the olives, capers, anchovies, and well, pretty much everything. I had what they called “traditional octopus.” It was baked in a heavy pot with fingerlings, tomatoes, onions and I think rosemary. I’m salivating just thinking about it. Never tasted anything quite like it. I think this might have been my favorite meal of our trip… But then again we had so many incredible meals!
The one bit of cautionary advice I’d give anyone when traveling to Croatia (Europe?) is to expect slow service. Everywhere. It’s not an insult. It just is. It’s how they do things there… part of their relaxed culture and way of life. At least that’s what I told myself. Everyone was very friendly, we just had to wait a while. Sometimes a long while. Good thing we were on vacation.
As we sat there enjoying the food, the music and each other’s company dusk snuck up on us. The amber twinkle of the lights slowly awakening to the night brought new life into my husband as we went in search for his perfect night shot – shot as in photograph. Just thought I should clarify… I think the gelato helped as well. The clouds in the sky lit up as people reclined on the steps outside the old ruin listening to someone sing outside the restaurant opposite.
We wandered back to our apartment full of anticipation for what the next two weeks would hold. If this first day was any indication it would be full of sunshine, beautiful views, amazing food and lots adventure with my love and very best friend. I couldn’t think of anything better!