Split is a town on the Adriatic coast of Croatia with a population of around 250,000, and a favorite summer destination for Croatians. The second largest city in Croatia, the life of the city centers around the remains of Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace, a huge structure he built as a retirement home in the fourth century B.C.E.
I am fortunate enough to have stayed in a small boutique hotel built within the walls of the palace, with the rooms having original reminders of the once grand estate, complimentary white slippers notwithstanding. The entirety of the former Palace forms the old town, and it is a winding labyrinth of streets much in the Venetian tradition. From Split we decided that we wanted to visit what the guidebooks refer to as “the independent traveler’s paradise” – the island of Vis.
The island has quite an interesting history. Starting in the fourth century BCE, the Greeks settled there. It was a summer playland for medieval noble families. By the 18th century and the fall of Venice, the ubiquitous British Empire had control over it. Then, the Austrians took it after the British and Napoleon fought over it but both sadly lost. During more recent history, it was used as a military installation for Tito’s Yugoslavia and therefore was off limits to all travelers. That, of course is no longer the case, but as a result the island is not as developed as others in the area. Currently there are only about 3,000 inhabitants.
Vis is approximately a two and a half hour ferry ride from Split, and, after a basic breakfast and an obligatory and strong cappuccino, we made our way via a short walk from the old town to the ferry ticket office. As we bought the ferry ticket we discovered we had not bought a return ticket – not to worry – we were assured we could buy one on the island. The ferry departed at 11:00am.
I do enjoy ferries, and this one happily reminded me of past trips through the Eastern Mediterranean by camper car. As I normally do, I stripped down to my speedos, revealing my glowing but a bit pale body to the Croatian masses. I was determined to change that, and it usually only takes me a few times in the sun to do just that. I was accompanied by my friend, a British Punjabi princess who is naturally tanned.
We ran to the top deck with zeal and began to enjoy the glorious, cloud-less blue sky, crisp sunshine, and a view of beautiful azure Mediterranean waters. After an hour, we realized that this was not a sun in the sky, but instead a torture implement disguised as a friend. In other words, it was hotter than a Tandoori oven and there was no escaping it. Not being a luxury ferry, our only recourse was to drink the bar dry. I then spent an hour explaining to my travel partner that a cricket was a little creature that makes noise by doing something like rubbing its legs together, not a sport.
We made it to Vis at 1:30pm, disembarked, and headed straight to the ticket office to get our return tickets before heading off to lunch. The first response we got when asking about a return was that the ferry we had just arrived on was leaving again shortly, and that that was the only one back for the day. Facing the prospect of spending the night on the dock with the catch of the day, we looked at each other in amazement. A few moments later we heard, “oh wait – there is one at 3:30pm,” but the ticket office does not open again until 2:30pm. OK fine – let’s eat, I’m starving.
After a fantastic lunch of local goat’s cheese from the island of Pag, prosciutto, black olives, tomatoes and local wine, we headed to the ticket office. While we tried to find any alternative method of getting back to Split [water taxi, showing my speedos, begging local boat owners to take us if we performed a Bollywood number for them, etc.] it turned out that our only recourse was to take the 3:30pm ferry back. So, we were facing five hours on a blistering ferry for two hours on the island. Unfortunately, this meant that we couldn’t explore the island as we would have liked. The tomatoes were worth it though.
The ferry ride back was again hot enough to bake Puri bread in, and I pleaded with my travel partner to dig back into her cultural past and do a rain dance. It was the only thing I could think of short of jumping off the boat that would provide some relief from the sun. She insisted that that was a different “Indian.”
We made it back to Split and made a beeline to the nearest seaside bar, where we indulged in some tropical-via-Croatia drinkage. Note to self: when taking a ferry in the hottest days of summer check the ferry schedule first, learn how to do a rain dance, or next time travel with a Native American.