Stranded in Eastern Europe - Croatia Part 1: Split
There was blood everywhere. Even on my copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Trust me, the irony wasn’t lost.
Everyone on the bus looked at us, sat at the back like a group of twats whilst one of us spurted gore from his nostrils into a sandwich rapper.
That’s my strongest memory of Croatia.
Not the best, obviously. But the one that flashes to mind whenever someone mentions the place.
That was some time into the trip though. If I’m honest, it all started off relatively normal.
When my chums and I arrived at Resnik Airport in Split, we were slightly – ever so slightly - lost.
We’d flown to the southern region of Croatia and had ten days to make our way North, to Zadar, where a flight back to blighty would set off – with or without us on board.
It seemed like a good idea when we planned it. A great adventure. One we’ll always remember. ‘Just see what happens, yeah? Sure. Why not’.
The problem was that none of us – not a single one - knew the first thing about the place.
What were the bus routes?
How dodgy were the hostels?
How much is a pint?
I became very aware of something. We were stranded in Eastern Europe with our backpacks and just a few hundred quid between us.
We got on a bus (not the one mentioned previously) that we assumed went to the city centre and, by sheer luck, it turned out that it did.
Thankfully, one of us was slightly more organised than the rest. A chap I’ll refer to as Oxford.
Because… well… he went to Oxford…
But anyway, Oxford had thought slightly ahead and booked a hostel for the first couple of nights.
Surprisingly, this place was quite nice. Four beds between five of us. Roof terrace. Fridge for booze.
All of life’s little luxuries.
Dropping the stuff off, we chose to take a stroll around the city. We decided we’d be cultural. Sophisticated. Gentlemen of a refined nature.
And we did actually manage it.
For about fifteen seconds…
We’d just made it to the town square. Before us, towering over the architecture, was The Cathedral of Saint Domnius. It’s a tremendous structure of white stone, with a bell tower reaching to the heavens and pillared archways that wrapped around itself.
The original structure was built in 305 A.D., and is the second oldest Christian Cathedral in the world. I say second oldest, but there’s not much between it and first place. That title’s given to Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Armenia, which started construction in 301 A.D.
For a moment, we were all quiet.
‘Oi, lads! You fancy a bar tour?’
Confused, we looked round. Some chad-like rep had strolled up beside us with a shark grin and flyers.
‘Split City bar tour? Best night out you’ll never remember!’
I’d like to say we told him no. But we didn’t.
Because we’re bell-ends.
Yup, we said. Yup, please destroy our livers with the cheapest, shittiest booze available. We will pay good money for you to pretend you’re our friend. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to secure your commission.
Flash forward to later that night. Absolute shit-show. Sweet fucking Christ was it messy.
But, of course, we didn’t know that. We took the flyer and carried on our way. Cultured gentlemen, out for a stroll.
We saw the port. The restaurants. The markets.
It was all quite tame, aside from the fact one of us bought a red and white chequered body suit - with matching bucket hat – and immediately put it on in the streets.
Oh, and we were offered weed, (which was most likely oregano). But, you know, we were good boys and said no.
(No, seriously. I’m not just saying that for legal purposes. We were genuinely sensible.)
It was around about this time I was wondering why I’d never considered this part of the world before.
Not quite untouched by tourism. But definitely not commercial (just yet).
We went to a traditional Croatian restaurant - which I would confidently describe as “a slaughterhouse with a grill” - and went back to the hostel to get ready.
Sunk some beers. Sunk some shots. Mr. Cheques rearranged his body suit. And off we go.
When we met up with shark-grin in the town square, there were about twenty other people there. All like us, groups of young ‘uns out to have a good time.
We were whisked towards the docks to a roof terrace bar. It overlooked the harbour, and the bustling city. Quite nice a spot, actually.
(You know, if we weren’t there ruining it).
But an open bar and pumping house music tends to have a somewhat dulling effect on a place’s beauty.
So obviously, we got pissed.
Absolutely fucking carparked.
I went back to the bar that many times that the bartender gave me a “Split City Bar Tour” t-shirt. And I wore it. Like a prick.
Between me and Mr. Cheques, we couldn’t have been more English-Trash if we tried. I’m talking beer pong, down in ones, flaming sambucas, and (of course) the dreaded, ‘Ooooooooh we like to drink with-!’
I’ve no idea when it happened, but I know that at one point I was sick over myself. I made the mistake of covering my mouth, which simply meant that I turned myself into a three directional vomcano. Sick burst over my hand, under my hand, and straight through my hand.
But rather than being sensible and going home, I found myself hanging off the harbour. My legs dangled over the water, and I was leaning as far as I could towards the sea so that I could wash my t-shirt in it.
If I slipped, I’d have probably drowned.
I called us “English-Trash” before. But I don’t think that’s a strong enough term.
Cut to a whirlwind of more bars, more shots, fuzzy Croatian music that you think you might have heard before, but definitely haven’t.
Weaving in and out of the streets, it took a good half hour to walk to the last place. It was back on the coast.
We’d lost Oxford.
Mr Cheques was ordering absinthe.
After thirty minutes of sloshing around, covered in sick and seawater on a dodgy beach-bar dance-floor, I realised we weren’t living the cultured lifestyle I previously assumed we were.
I woke up on a bench in the harbour. Just like that.
The sunrise lit up the sky a gentle peach, with some dark blue strands mixed in as twilight clung to existence. I was alone. The streets were dead. Just the boats and the calm waves.
It wasn’t exactly a proud moment. But, just for a minute or two, in the early morning sun and the peaceful silence, I forgot what an absolute fucking disgrace I am.
I dragged myself to the waterfront, and sat cross legged like a Buddha - my arse on the white stone docks.
This image was stunning. Absolutely stunning. The first city we’d been to and I’d already fallen in love with the place.
Croatia is a country full of history and wonder, but often overlooked by us Brits. And those of us that make the trek here usually end up just getting pissed in the country's many ‘party-zones’.
We’d manage it, I thought. We can look past the booze and debauchery. It’s only nine days, we can squish the English-Trash in us for that long.
The only thing in the way of this was the Croatia game that night. I can’t say I was looking forward to it.
But I’d watch it, for the sake of the other chaps who were avid football fans.
As for the blood-splattered bus, I’ll get to that later.
The trip had only just started and, already separated from the pack, my next task was to find the hostel again.
Just another few minutes, I thought.
Before I do anything, I’ll watch the rest of the sun rise.
Continued in Part 2…