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  • Jamie Shannon

Leaving Italy to find myself in Croatia

After boarding the ferry, I joined the throngs of people at the café terrace at the rear of the ship to watch Italy slip away into the night. It was a quite lovely view but, as ever with any kind of port, the town was surrounded by cranes and the like but even so, it was a commendable view.

The strange thing to note about the scene here, and also the actual boarding come to that, was the care free approach to things and the less than rigid format that events took. I’m not saying that it was in any way disorganised but rather that, when compared to taking a ferry between France and Britain, it was much more easy going. The stern resembled a party, with music blaring and everyone drinking whereas on a channel crossing the mood is much more sombre. Perhaps this is because everyone here was on holiday though. There was smaller things though such as when I needed to tie the bike up with ropes. I had to go and look for them myself in the loading bay where cars were moving around. I even went back into the loading bay whilst the ship was moving to get my air mattress; something that you would never be allowed to do in England. It did feel like I was heading east and it was very refreshing.

I found a room full of people sleeping on the floor and joined them soon after before waking up bleary eyed the following morning at six to be greeted with the lush forest covered islands and baking heat that make Croatia such a draw with visitors. I knew it was going to be busy but I also knew that I would be heading inland pretty much as soon as I got off the boat so this didn’t really trouble me. This is what I thought at least.

Having left the ship, I joined the cars and a few motorcycles in the queue for the exit and to show our passports, a fact that I was very happy about when I saw the huge lines of foot passengers waiting to do the same.

I told the policeman I had nothing I shouldn’t have and cycled on my way into Spit. Fabulous; a new country, language and customs filling me with excitement but also uneasiness. Who knows what it will be like.

I cycled into the historic part of town and into the Palace of Diocletian which I guess is the main draw. As amazing as it is though, I had more pressing concerns to contend with. It was still only half seven and I hadn’t yet had my caffeine fix. I walked into what looked like a bakery but found no caffeine, and upon walking out, I saw two guys looking at mike bike from across the lane and so I uttered “It’s just a bike guys, but thank you for watching it”. Upon saying this though, the younger guy asked me where I was staying tonight and then told me I could stay at his house If I wanted to, quickly followed by something along the lines of “I’m straight, don’t worry”.

I weighed this up in my head. I wanted to head off today on the road north and onto Bosnia. Time, I felt, was running out and I still needed to cycle to Munich. On the other hand, history has taught me not to say no to offers of hospitality, particularly when it’s a local and so I said sure, why not. I could relax with some good food and properly see the city too.

Phillip showed me somewhere to get some good coffee and we sat talking until he had to go to work at one of the small shops just a few metres away. He gave me directions to the house which was about 10km's east along the coast and told me that the garage door was open and where I could find the key. I couldn’t believe my luck, really I couldn’t.

I didn’t go straight away but rather walked around a little and ate something. A little later I began to cycle out of split on the main road heading to Dubrovnik. It was really quite a struggle coming out of the city, what with the hills and the fact that my back wheel was only partially inflated due to my pump refusing any attempt to make it work to it’s fullest.

I spotted the town Phillip had told me about and headed on but couldn’t find a green house next to a church anywhere. I then remembered that he said that I should first cross a bridge going over the highway and so I backtracked to that spot. Just as I was cycling over it, I heard two loud beeps up ahead of me. It was Phillip on his way back into town.

I followed him back to his house where he showed me where everything was, that I should just make myself at home and relax before telling me that he’d be back at around half four to take me back into town before he had to start his second job. If all that wasn’t enough, he presented me with some food that his mother had made; mashed potato, homemade bread, delicious cheese and some peppers stuffed with a kind of minced meat and vegetables. Good hearty Croatian food. Unbelievable. I thanked him until I couldn’t thank him anymore more and laid down to rest whilst he went back to Split. Maybe it was the fact that I was with my bicycle, but I don’t think many backpackers get treated this well on their first day in a country. Actually first hour in the country.

Phillip was back right on cue and we drove soon afterwards to a bar in the small town centre by the beach to have a drink before heading onto Split. We found a really homely and quite relaxed beer garden, far from the hustle and bustle of the centre. Along the way, we picked up another of his friends and after speaking with him I realised he was a hairdresser. Appearances can be deceptive.

Anyway, Phillip had to go to work soon afterwards and so I spent the evening with his friends, both of whom spoke passable English and we just talked and watched the world walk by as it were in a succession of bars/terraces.

I felt really quite lucky.

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