“The struggles we endure today will be the ‘good old days’ we laugh about tomorrow.” ― Aaron Lauritsen
Honestly, this trip was and still is the ballsiest thing I've ever done. Somehow my over-obsessive, calendar worshipping, detail-oriented self had decided to embark on a spontaneous solo trip...for the first time...to a foreign country that I had never visited before: Split, Croatia and the Plitvice Lakes.
Phew. Deep breaths.
*Please skip if you're not interested in my rant about my travel anxiety...and how I literally almost lost my mind just to board a relatively easy flight. But, reading this now might help some of you first-time solo travelers skip over the completely-avoidable problems I unfortunately had to deal with.
[I planned my three-day trip from Florence, Italy, where I was studying at the time. Click here if you want to read about Italy!There were so many obstacles I faced on the way to my first solo trip that it's a miracle I'm in one piece. First, I had to navigate the Santa Maria Novella railway station for the first time to get to the Venice airport. Then I had to pay 40 euros (which is exactly all I had left in cash) because my carry-on was too heavy. I paid 170 euros for the taxi service to my Air B n B (had to stop to pick up more cash). Then the taxi driver dropped me off in the dark night because it was taking too long for the GPS to track my location down. I was terrified, exhausted, and completely bewildered but terrifyingly alive at the same time. I thought, "Shit...What do I do? Shit...ok. Get it together. This is what traveling is about! Figuring things out and getting lost are all part of the experience!"
I messaged my Air B n B host, Masha, who was completely lovely and badass all at the same time. She came out in denim capris, a bright green and yellow tank top, and brown wedge heels. She had on white hoop earrings, short curly hair, and intense brown eyes. She welcomed me with open arms and comforted my anxious little heart. I surrendered to my heavy eyelids and trembled into my cute little bed, and looked outside my paneled window to the Croatian coast.]
The next day I woke up bright and early for my group tour to the Plitvice Lakes. Since this post focuses on Split, fast forward to the day after my tour where I leisurely explored the city. Right off the bat, one of the best things I discovered about Split was its fresh produce.
There were massive stands filled with locally-grown fruits and vegetables out in the open for people to see. The friendly vendors were more than happy to offer me generous samples of their incredibly ripe fruits. My favorites were the dark cherries. They were so mind-blowingly sweet, tart, and had the perfect plump juiciness. I bought them twice because they were so good! Can you tell that I am so passionate about this?!? Seriously, looking at these pictures is making my mouth salivate.
The majority of Split is centered around marine life, so ports are extremely important to the Croatian culture. The food was definitely a reflection of that, with fresh fish and shellfish offered in every restaurant in the city. I had the best octopus salad to start off my meal at one of the cutest restaurants, Galerija, which is not to be mistaken for a nearby bar with the same name. The octopus for my starter was caught earlier that morning, dropped off at the neighboring port, and then prepped by the chef. It doesn't get much fresher or more local than this, ya'll!
The tender pieces of octopus were then dressed in a house-made extra virgin olive oil and tossed with boiled potatoes, bright cherry tomatoes, fresh parsley, and sea salt. I had it alongside a tomato gazpacho (chilled tomato soup), garnished with the same olive oil and a light basil oil. I ordered a glass of Pinot Grigio and was feeling very adult about the whole ordeal thus far, which was embarrassingly only half of my meal. My "second" (and don't worry-final) course was braised (fried lightly then slowly stewed) pork cheeks with cheesy potatoes, a side salad, and an unbelievable garlic aioli (flavored mayonnaise).
For dessert, I went to Luka Ice Cream and Cakes per the waitress' recommendation. A lot of the architecture and food reminded me of Italian cuisine, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there was a reputable gelato scene on the Croatian coast. After studying abroad in Florence for a bit, I considered myself to be an amateur gelato taster and was ready to see how the Croatian gelaterias held up. She told me so many "go left's" and "then right's" that I lost track of her specific directions.
But by this point I learned (especially from the struggle to get to my Air B n B) that nothing will ever exactly the way I plan it, so I have to be able to move forward and adapt to changes quickly in order to minimize the need for stress. This was extremely difficult for me at the time due to my anxiety and over-thinking, but I needed to learn this the most.
I know you're probably thinking, "Just get to the gelato already!" but hear me out. Whether this post inspires you to visit Split specifically, or to embark on any kind of solo trip, I hope my lessons learned will be an inspiration to you to do something bold and daring in your life. Your outlet doesn't have to be through travel, but find whatever makes you happy. It can be simple and something that makes a small impact in your every day life, but travel is just where I learn the most about myself and the journey I am taking as a human being.
Back to the gelato-after getting lost a bit more I reached my destination. Luka was tucked on the side of a brick building, facing a small courtyard. There were a couple small tables offered for a few guests, but most patrons bought their cones and walked on their way. I ordered strawberry and pistachio in a waffle cone. I like trying one ice-based and one cream-based flavor.
The nightlife started to emerge quickly as young couples, families, and fishermen all gathered around the water for the night's festivities. On my left, a middle school choir from the UK stood up on a makeshift stage and performed a medley of songs. I sang in my high school choir as well, so it was a really nostalgic moment.
I ended the night walking along the Croatian coast, feeling grounded yet free in a way that I didn't even know existed. Split's friendly locals, fresh seafood, amazing produce, and beautiful coastline will always stay in my memory as such a loving and safe place. Despite the initial stress, I hope you get a little lost in your travels and learn something new along the way.
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Until next time!
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