Our tropical vacation was slowly winding down as we made our way to Makarska, a smaller city at the foot of the mountains down the coast from Split. We made plans to stay in Makarska for five days, return to Split for two days, and then depart by ferry across the Adriatic Sea for Ancona, Italy and onward to Rome.
Makarska was a beautiful change of scenery. In Zadar and Split, it was wide open with panoramas as far as you could see. However, in Makarsaka, the backdrop behind the city was a rocky, dry mountain range that wrapped around the city and placed it in a cove of its own.
The winding roads on our bus ride to Makarska made Abby a little car sick, but the views were beautiful. Plus, it may have been a combination of the hangover and winding roads that made both of us a little sick. We arrived at our destination and our host, Sanja, picked us up and showed us around the small coastal town. Our apartment was in the foothills of the mountains..beautiful, easy to walk down towards the city center but hard to stumble up after our days spent at the beaches.
After a quick nap, we began our first day of arrival with lunch at Zmaj. I had some fried calamari while Abby had a fresh tuna steak. We wandered around the cozy town and found a path that led out to a peninsula towards St. Peter’s Lighthouse. We watched the sun set over the sea and wandered our way back around the peninsula and made our way towards the small downtown square. Our timing to Makarska was accidentally perfect, since a small jazz festival was being held during the days of our visit. We found a nice bar, called Yeti, next to the main stage downtown and settled in for some American Jazz. After singing along with the crowd and having a few drinks, we began our 10 minute walk up the hill towards the mountains to our apartment.
The next two days were treated very easily. We went to a couple different beaches and relaxed on the sand, knowing it was our last couple chances to do so. We got in some precious reading time, finished our books (and many beers), people watched, soaked in the sun and simply, relaxed. We made dinner at home or grabbed some fast-food kebabs from one the numerous street vendors. We did have one day of exploration where we wandered through the hills, cliffs and forest of Osejava. While climbing the rocks in the sea, we spotted numerous crabs, anemones and fish. It was fun to experience the different types of nature we were surrounded by.
Our last full day in Makarska arrived and we used it to take advantage of one of the most famous islands of Croatia: Brac. We had to get up around 7 am in order to catch the ferry. We struggled a bit getting up, but after we hopped on board the ferry the excitement set in. It was our first ferry ride, and one that helped us gain some experience for our future ride to Italy. We were early enough to get a pair of seats and we sat down to enjoy the ride. Our seats were outside on the deck, so we had gorgeous views and one very special sighting: whales. We noticed the whole deck flock to the opposite side of the ferry, so we jumped up to see what was going on. Out in the distance, quite near to the coast, two whales were breaching for air. We saw them come up a couple times before they disappeared from view. We talked daily about how we wanted to see just one sea creature…and we doubled down and saw two. Super awesome!
The island of Brac is known for two things: white stone quarries and Zlatni Rat Beach. We, of course, were more interested in the latter. However, the white stone from this island was imported to two very famous places for use in construction: the White House in D.C. and Diocletian’s Palace in Split. Two places that Abby has been, I however, have not. We hopped off our ferry after being two of the last three people to do so (from up on the deck, we had an amazing view of the tropical fish swimming in the crystal clear water below us). We caught a cab to Zlatni Rat, where we would spend about 7 hours.
We scoped out the beach, early enough to find a good spot near the water and on the soft sand and shells, and set up camp. The beach quickly filled up even though it was well before noon. We spent our first few hours relaxing, gathering and finding seashells (Abby nearly filled a small plastic bag), and taking dips in the sea. We grabbed some delicious burgers for lunch and wandered the peninsula shaped beach. We noticed a bunch of wind surfers and their boards on the tip of the peninsula. We watched as they slashed through the water at intense speeds and noticed; it was an international wind surfing competition! There were red flag/buoys set up in the sea, zig-zagging back and forth. The competitors would glide across the water, whip there sails in the opposite direction as they approached the buoy, then catch the wind so send them in the other direction. It was fun to watch and the speeds they reached were incredible, something we had never witnessed before. We were standing right with the athletes as they waited for their heats to be called, so who knows what type of superstar we might have been in the presence of. We could tell that some were definitely more famous by the amount of sponsors and logos patched all over their wet-suits and board sails.
Our long day of laying on the beach and soaking in the sun certainly wore us out. We caught our cab back to the main port of Brac and hopped back on the ferry. We had some popcorn (Finally! Have only had popcorn on our trip maybe once!) and a drink on the deck of the ferry and watched the sun set over the islands. Exhausted and having to leave the following morning, we grabbed a kebab and went back to our apartment to pack our bags and prepare for departure the next morning. We would be heading back to Split for a couple days, awaiting our 11 hour sail over the Adriatic to Italy.
We returned to Split and stayed at our same apartment we had a week before. They were excited to have us back and just as friendly as before. We ate some lunch at Dir again and set out towards Diocletian’s Palace for some entertainment. We arrived to our “spot” and found out that there was a Roman reenactment going on and it was the busiest day we had experienced in Split. It was fun to see “Diocletian” seated in his throne while a number of different dances and entertainment happened in the square.
We had a limited amount of Croatian kunas left since we did not want to take out more money and the exchange rate for such a small currency was not in our favor. We made a plan; we would spend $5 to see Diocletian’s basement and palace foundation if we had money left or we would save it for food. Worked out that we had enough kunas for food and to check out one of the most preserved Roman ruins in the empire. We wandered the cellars, basement and storage of Diocletian’s Palace (also a film setting for Game of Thrones on HBO) and ended our afternoon with some supper before heading to port to load up on the ferry to Ancona, Italy.
The ferry was something we were nervous about. We had no idea what to expect and weren’t sure how comfortable this trip to Italy would be. We loaded up on supplies: snacks, water, and a bottle of wine. As the “Marko Polo” came in to dock, we lined up towards the front and rushed onto the deck once our tickets were stamped. We found a long “couch” and a set of tables that we would spend about 11 hours at. We explored the deck, felt the wind rush through our hair as we explored the white steel and wooden supports, and wandered around the 90s style dance floor and bars, and finally cracked our bottle of wine to help us catch some sleep. The ferry was…interesting and quite entertaining. We were lucky enough to have a full spot to lie down (which seemed like the plan for most passengers). We rotated our sleep schedules and each took in about 5-6 hours of sleep. After some tossing and turning, switching heads from side to side, and looking out a dark window to the sea, we finally saw land. Ancona was in our sights and our train to Rome was waiting. We laughed, slightly delirious, and couldn’t believe that the 11 hour trip seemed to pass by much faster than we expected. The 9:30 pm departure and early morning arrival to Italy helps, and the lack of sleep we received never seemed to reach us. We napped on the train a bit more and were looking forward to our visit to the Eternal City.