Friday, August 2, 2013

Split down to one

In the morning I awoke to wish Hong Kong P goodbye and suddenly, just like that, I was by myself.

It's a funny thing, being the last one to leave a place on holiday. It usually doesn't happen to me because I usually have the furthest to travel. I'm the most willing to travel, so...therefore I am not typically the last to leave.

But oddly this time I was. And it was a substantial amount of time. Hong Kong P left in the morning and I wouldn't be leaving until the evening. I had an entire day to myself to do what I liked before my bus left for the airport.

[Ridiculous sidestory here: I found out a bit later that Hong Kong P's transfer in Stockholm never happened. She got there, waited around for hours as was necessary and then they canceled her flight. She ended up having to stay the night there and fly back the next morning to Turku, which was the earliest flight back to Finland. Then she trained back 2.5 hours to Helsinki. Talk about an adventure home. If I recall correctly she didn't pack pants or a jacket with her on the trip, expecting we would be in hot weather the entire time. This would have been interesting in Stockholm. Luckily they were still having their summer weather, similar to Helsinki.]

So I made arrangements with the apartment owner to leave my luggage there while I wandered the city. I had specific things in mind: see the cathedral, go shoe shopping at some of the ridiculous shoe stores we'd been seeing but never had time to step into, and get a great meal.

I did all of these things.

This is the Riva, or main street of Split. It's gorgeous and right next to the water. This is also where the most overpriced bars are. We avoided consuming anything here like the plague because all of the good restaurants were off of the little streets and everything here was ridiculously expensive. It is a gorgeous area though, so perhaps it's worth it for that. It also bakes out here in the middle of the day.

First order of the day? Well, actually I went shoe shopping first, since a few of the stores were on my way to the cathedral. But I'll describe that after the cathedral. A full ticket bought admission to the cathedral itself, bell tower, treasury, baptistery, and the crypt. I went to all of them.

The cathedral itself was nice enough. Definitely the most ornate of the cathedrals we'd seen on the trip, which was surprising to me. Considering how rich Croatia likely was during the height of its power and its associations with Catholicism, a religion renown (at least in my mind) for its love of sumptuous decoration, all of their religious buildings were pretty plain. Surprisingly sparse. Perhaps they hid their jewels and gilded paintings elsewhere. Or in Zagreb.

The treasury alleviated some of my fears about that - displaying gorgeous illuminated manuscripts, robes, jewelry, and the other well-forged and stamped items of religious necessity. All of them jewel-laden and rich. I must admit that I am fascinated by this side of religion - the desire to be have been so decadent regarding something so elementary (faith). But that's another discussion.

The iconic bell tower. I should have known that this might have caused me problems. Ivan, the landlord of our first apartment, had warned us that those who are afraid of heights might have issues with it but the views were spectacular and no one had ever died or had problems up there. I had forgotten about his warning though, until I was at the top, and by then it did little to comfort me.

I know this sounds stupid to most of you, most likely, having known me as the one who bungy jumped off bridges and into canyons. But I do actually very much not like heights. Especially in these settings. I've freaked out on the top of more churches/cathedrals than anything else (a rather latent observation) and I'm starting to wonder if there is a connection somehow.

Anyway, this was no different. I enjoyed not at all coming up the metal staircase, nor going down the very narrow stone stairs. I did have shaky knees and I did not particularly take enjoyment in the spectacular panoramic views, despite me trying to do breathing exercises at the top of the tower. I think I was amusing to the people around me.

But I did make it and it was fine. So that's what matters I suppose.

I went shoe shopping some more to calm myself down and feel more grounded. I bought many pairs. In my crazed mind I didn't bother figuring out how I would stuff them into my already quite-heavy and overladen suitcase. This was unimportant. Rationalization of an exciting shopping experience was all I cared about. And it did the trick. I was very happy with my shoe shopping experience.

Eventually I felt the need to take a break though and get my fine meal of the day. I got lost a bunch of times (no surprise) but eventually found a place that I found agreeable in environment and poured over the menus that were available until I found one that seemed to be offering mostly local and fresh fare (they had fresh fish out on display as well).

I asked the rather brusque waiter what he would recommend off the menu and he said the house specialty, which was monkfish wrapped in pancetta covered in a honey and rosemary sauce. Sounded tasty and interesting. I remembered a Food Network episode of Top Chef where after revealing to children what monkfish looked like in reality, they needed to then make dishes that would convince kids to eat them. I'd understood that monkfish was actually quite tasty though, contrary to physical appearances, and I was willing to give fish another try in this country with a sauce like honey and rosemary.

So I sat down and ordered it.

Disappointed? Absolutely not. It was glorious. Monkfish is delicious; kids are dumb if they judge it by how it looks on the outside. Some of the ugliest things in the world taste amazing (sea urchins, lobster, truffles, mushrooms, cloud ears (black Chinese fungus), bleu cheese, etc). Though I suppose it does go hand in hand that some of the cutest things in the world also taste amazing (veal, rabbit, duck, get my point).

Whatever. This dish was fantastic. The monkfish was tender and just cooked to perfection (surprisingly meaty fish). The pancetta was actually bacon and I can't believe I'm actually going to say this...there was too much of it in ratio to the monkfish. I had to actually take some of it off to eat it in the right proportions. Horrible thing to say, I know, but it was true.

And the honey rosemary sauce. Beautiful. Acacian honey is a big thing in Croatia and I can see why. It's amazing! This sauce, though sweet, was pretty subtle. Sticky but still liquidy. And the rosemary was nice and piney but not overwhelming. All in all, a delicious sauce.

And for side? I had some grilled veggies. Nothing special but delicious nonetheless. I had to salt them a little because they had no flavor on their own but that was alright. It was a nice medley of mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini, and these very light green bell peppers I've seen many times before but don't actually know the name of. I've done a quick google search and apparently they're just another kind of bell pepper as far as I can see. That's what they taste like anyhow.

After my amazing meal (alone, by the way), I wandered around and did more shoe shopping. A wonderful day in Split, doing exactly what I wanted to do. I missed my friends but sometimes you just need to see a place on your own, and I was really glad that of all the places we'd been, I'd been able to spend more time in Split alone. It's a gorgeous place.

And then it was time to leave. Back through Munich this time, back home. Nothing unusual happened.

What a wonderful place, this Croatia. Definitely ranks within the top 4 for most breathtaking. Up there with Greece and Thailand.

I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who hasn't gone. It's one of those few places that hasn't really been touched by tourists. Granted we were there before July and August, which are the busier times, but I was glad of it. I figure now that it's joined the EU it's only a matter of time before more people discover its beauty and it gets crowded. Though I am happy for Croatia since this will allow the expansion and business that it needs, I am always slightly sad to see such a private beautiful place become commercialized. So if you can, check it out. You won't regret it.

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