Guest Blog by Gilles Marchildon*
The narrow walls seem full of secrets and unfulfilled yearnings. The hairs on my arms note the coolness of the air but my pulse is racing. Every corner rounded, every new passage discovered reward my eyes with fantastic sights. Curiosity and excitement propel me forward with my
Lest you wonder if I’m exploring a dungeon of depravity, let me state that it’s instead a fabulous fortress, the Diocletian palace. At the heart of the Croatian city of Split lies the former digs of a Roman emperor with delusions of grandeur – a trait likely inherent to all emperors. Diocletian might be barfing in his mausoleum, though, if he saw the veritable flea market that’s taken up residence in his once-regal dwelling.
Fortunately, the palace retains its majesty thanks to the abundant and impressive stone walls, towering columns and notable bell tower. Sprawling around the original palace, there is a maze of smaller structures all crammed delightfully into an old city where narrow passages connect to each other and offer fascinating explorations. As one companion remarked, it’s like Venice without the water (and far fewer tourists).
English seems to be understood by most restaurateurs and shopkeepers but it’s best to convert your Euros and US Dollars into the local currency, the Kuna.
Wandering in this picturesque town, it’s easy to forget that Split is the second-largest city of Croatia with a metropolitan area of about 468,000 people. As we park ourselves in an unassuming pizzeria just outside the tourist-trodden streets of the old city, we are rewarded with oven-baked pizza and pasta dishes that rival the best that Italy could offer. Obviously, the culinary culture straddles both sides of the Adriatic. Unfortunately, the success in our plates is not reflected in our wine glasses but you can’t have it all, I suppose. Still, it’s a gorgeous day and with full bellies, we enjoy the delicious people-watching. Who needs dessert with dark and swarthy Croatians?
En route back to our cruise ship’s tender boats, we follow our intuition and make a detour up a hill in a residential area. At the top, a splendid view of the city and harbour greats us. Fortunately, we discover steps that lead us back downtown more directly.
During our jaunt along the waterfront, we make friends with a small posse of adventure-seeking French cyclists joined by a Venezuelan acrobat. The locals seemed wary but once we break the ice, a couple young girls are only too happy to make their acquaintance. Glad to have been of service, guys.
Views, food and friends: we savour Split three ways.
* Gilles Marchildon is the former Executive Director of Egale Canada, the country’s main LGBT advocacy group. He was also director of Winnipeg’s Reel Pride gay and lesbian film festival and editor of the city’s monthly queer publication, Swerve.