Zabranjeno (Split, Trogir, Okrug Gornji, Croatia)

“This is not Split. This is near Trogir. I think, wait” says Mr Taxi Driver when we show him our accommodation address. He consults Siri.

We’re neck deep in traffic in Trogir. Mr Taxi Driver is talking to a friend on the phone. If I was him, I would be complaining about the idiots in the back seat of my car, who have no idea where they’re going, and are the reason I had to turn my car around in the complete opposite direction. I look out the window into the crowds and spy a group of fit looking tourists. I instantly miss my Body Attack instructor at my gym back in Sydney.

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Our apartment is at the top of a hill, about 200 m from the beachfront. We are neither in Trogir or Split, but Okrug Gornji. It’s a one bedroom with a reasonable sized living room and a balcony that frames the sun. Antonia has been expecting us and she presents us with foreigner essentials; the Wi-Fi password, a bottle of wine and the locally brewed Croatian rum.

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My first night in Croatia is a drunken reunion with Armin, a friend and soul sobamate from exchange two years ago, and meeting his partner Jonny for the first time. We had an awful long island iced tea and watched overweight Czech men try to shimmy under a disco light.

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This photo has everything. Sunburnt individuals, alcoholic beverages, my hat that would continue to fly away for the duration of the trip and me trying my best to wear as little as possible in the unaccustomed heat. The days in Croatian summer are long and your skin turns brown, sticky and peels away like overripe fruit. Locals and foreigners alike stare unabashedly at my yellow undertone and angled eyes.

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You can buy bread for cents at Okrug Gornji and munch on it while waiting for a ferry to Trogir.

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Ferry might be overstating the method of transport ever so slightly.

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Trogir is an old town with charm and a bakery that makes delicious pastries and cheese pizza.

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There are pockets of beauty if you get lost on the right cobbled footpath.

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The day we were there, the castle was being set up for a music festival that night.

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One lunch here is gregada, a Croatian-style seafood stew of octopus, clams, cod, monkfish and potatoes. Laced with garlic and white wine and served in a cast iron pot, it’s an incredible feast.

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We end up walking back to our apartment which is okay in shoes and less okay in flip flops. Most of the way isn’t even pedestrian friendly and we’re starting and stopping every few meters due to the amount of cars. The road itself is no wider than a residential road which makes sense because it is one. What doesn’t make sense is how busy it is and how it acts as the only actual road that connects Trogir to Okrug Gornji.

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On one of the days we paid the equivalent of thirty dollars to take a boat to three destinations. The first is an island, even more secluded than our beach, but in a refined way that looks concierge-booked rather than DIY Booking.com. It’s called Šolta.

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For the aforementioned price we paid, we’re given snacks on board. The first mate comes to the roof of the boat where we are sunbaking.

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He has a tray of hastily cut up chocolate wafers and a stack of disposable cups to do shots of Grappa.

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Our next stop is a lagoon. We jumped in from the roof of the boat and the water is frightfully cold. Clear, pristine and sharp. This is Armin.

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The currents are fast in parts, a reminder that nature is both untouched and wild. Local children dive in and out like water babies. Two men from our boat swim far out towards a yacht dragging along an inflatable flamingo tube.

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Ciovo is our final destination where we have our all included lunch, our “fish picnic”. We are ushered to a campsite. It feels like kem back in Malaysia. On each table is a bottle of water, a bottle of some local sweet wine and chunks of bread. Trays are passed down containing grilled fish and a seasoned coleslaw. First mate comes around with second helpings of hot fish. It’s surprisingly tasty.

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On our last day, we rent a white Vespa named Wanda and ride to Split. It’s an hour with an optional stop in Trogir. Riding along the highway makes you feel like the protagonist in a post-apocalyptic movie. The roads are unfinished and so are the houses, built curiously on the side of the highway itself. Unfinished yet inhabited, we find out later that houses that are not built to completion don’t get taxed. Construction equipment is strewn about also, making it feel like a lot of people left in a hurry and didn’t have time to pack up.

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Not much of Split looked pretty until we get to Diocletian’s Palace which demonstrates old world architecture not unlike Trogir, but bigger and better. Tourists walk along the harbour in hoards, coming and going from five star hotels or large cruise ships freshly docked.

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Croatia was a massive tick off the bucket list for me. There was a lot to enjoy like the warmth, the beach and its cool water, and most of all the feeling of true freedom that lay within the simplicity of our day to day. Croatia, or at least the parts we went to, still felt very pure and untainted by the typical hallmarks of commercialised society.

Croatia is also simultaneously one of the weirdest places I’ve ever been to. When we arrived at Split airport ready to leave, we were told that our check-in counter was outdoors. The counter was under a tent next to the taxi stand but it still had a conveyor belt for our bags.  I swear they were only about five metres in length and there was a guy right on the other side of the plastic tarp manually collecting our luggage.

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