Saturday, 1 May 2010

Stopped in our tracks...

Written 28th April nearly more ways than one

Split is dazzling.  Stop in your tracks, shiny bright, dazzling.  Set on a south-west facing peninsula, on approach from the mainland on the road from Trogir, it first appears as a forest of glittering white highrises wading out into the sparkling sea.  

In the bright glare of the morning, when you have found somewhere to park and walked down the hill, lugging your mammoth bag which contains almost your entire wardrobe which all somehow now seems to need washing - I could so not be an actual backpacker these days! -  you jostle your way through the crowded market stalls and round the corner and literally have to stop, and blink, and adjust your eyes to the dazzle of the white marble Riva (and adjust your bag, which is quite uncomfortably heavy by this point... :) )

The modern day city of Split is built round a central core - the Diocletian's Palace - a square fortress of a palace-cum-walled city which fronts on to the sea.  It was built between AD 295-305 by the Roman Emporer Diocletian (AD 245-313), as a retirement palace and remained an imperial roman retreat for many years after his death before becoming the retreat of last resort for the Roman inhabitants of nearby Solin who were forced out of their city by the Slavs and Avars in 614 and who barricaded themselves within its impregnable walls.

Which, incidentally, are built out of the same Brac stone and the White House, as in Washington DC - so there you go, that' how white it is!

Over the subsequent centuries, Split expanded beyond the old palace walls and was ruled by the Byzantine Empire and then the Croats, before the Venetians added their mark in their inexorable conquest down the eastern seaboard of the Adriatic, en route to Greece and finally the Austrians arrived in 1797 and stayed until 1918.

After centuries of change, occupation and just being 'lived in', the palace is no longer a 'palace' as we have seen them elsewhere, or a ruin, again as we have seen them elsewhere.  In fact, from the sea front, behind all the cafes and pavement umbrellas, you wouldn't even know it was there.

Instead, it is a warren of streets and courtyards and tiny passageways, full of bars and cafes, houses and holiday appartments, tat shops and craft boutiques, packed inside the old walls.   

Washing sorted, we headed into the old town, by way of the bustling fishmarket,

popped out into the bright Narodni Trg square

and then plunged into the palace by way of the so-called Iron Gate and set off on the walking tour, set out by the town fathers, in the form of well nicely done information boards at all significant points.

The palace is relatively small, only 215m by 181m, and has four original gates into the walls at the cardinal points, each named after metals; gold, silver, bronze and iron, and dedicated to protective saints.  

When the citadel was an emperor's palace, the seaward facing, front half was the grand residence, built above grand arched cellars, and included all the things which we have come to expect from a roman palace; triclinium, peristyle, thermae, temples etc, etc.  The back half was the barracks, servants quarters and other functional areas and Diocletian's circular mausoleum was built in the middle.  

The mausoleum was converted into a Cathedral with an impressive tower

and a completely unexpected interior, including a fantastic monstrance, held up by carved angels.

We didn't climb the tower, visit the treasury or the crypt, instead, we headed back out again, and onwards into the typical streets.  We found the Temple of Jupiter, now the cathedral's baptistry; the cellars, now mostly housing souvenir stalls;

the four gates, numerous squares

and typical streets,

some holding each other up

and the statue of Gregorius of Nin, a 10th century croatian bishop who campaigned for the use of the Croatian language in liturgical services

and who's toes you are supposed to touch to guarantee your return to Split.

And it is a lovely, buzzing and vibrant place to be on a bright, sunny day, with the warm air caressing our shoulders like water of the perfect temperature in a deep relaxing bath. 

Tourist trail completed, we headed back to MetaliaAuto for our oil filter.  Unfortunately it seems that vw have stopped distributing the one we need so they couldn't help.   They did try very hard, and even went to the trouble of finding a smaller one which had the same fitment to the van but Will was reluctant to go smaller -  oil is very, very important to our engine and we want this filter to last another 10,000 miles until we get home! - so they gave us all the part numbers etc of the right one so we now know what to ask for elsewhere.  And we have unexpectedly found that we have family who will be in Dubrovnik when we are and can bring us the off-the-shelf one from Halfords.  Its only because they are so readily available at home that we didn't think we need to bring one!

Quest over, for now anyway, we settled Jules into a leafy suburb and headed back into town for an evening stroll and treated ourselves to Dalmatian dinner in a cozy backstreet café recomended by the launderette owner, before wandering through the palace in the sultry darkness through streets lit by the twinkle of hundreds of tealights, perched on the steps and ledges which constitute the seats and tables of the bars of the ancient streets.  And then home, through the higgledy piggledy streets towards the hill.

The next morning, we were about to head out on foot and up the hill for a view down over the town, when we were stopped in our tracks for a very different reason.  The central locking wouldn't work and it turned out that the car battery was so flat it couldn't even put a light on to tell us it was flat...   Bit of a problem.

With no lights left on and no other instantly obvious cause, some rapid diagnostics ensued, and the problem was eventually traced to the old lamda sensor - still currently in place and unoperative - which Will had hardwired in to test and then forgotten about - a 2amp drain on the battery since saturday!   That would do it...  The search also turned up a damaged connector on the battery negative terminal - a possibly inconvenient/dangerous disaster waiting to happen en route somewhere!

So battery strap in hand, we set off on foot towards where we hoped we might find marinas and boat shops or industrial estates and car parts shops.   No luck, the one garage we found said they could fix it for us no problem - 20mins work, 100kn (£12)... ummm no, the 'snip, clamp' work required is not 20mins work, nor should the bit cost more than a couple of quid...

So we headed on in the burning sun, stopping for a coffee in the shadow of the football stadium, where they recommended a little place not far away on Dubrovacka... Yep, MetaliaAuto, where we were vaguely heading anyway.  So three visits in three days and, helpful as before,  they had the connector we needed for only 8kn (£1)  - that's more like it!

So, battery strap fixed, the next problem was getting started.  Fortunately parked on a hill, but facing up it, in a slight ditch off the side of the road and with not enough battery to power the fuel injectors...

Fortunately Will is extremely  resourceful in times of crisis so had soon rewired the engine bay so all the ancillaries were powered off the leisure battery and put the front wheels on chocs of wood - good old burning box, it is so lucky that we haven't found anywhere we can set up the bbq recently! - to give us enough rolling momentum from one push to get us back on the road.  From their it was an easy matter of a bump start in reverse and then hooking the battery up correctly again - easy!  And yes, if it had all gone horribly wrong, we know a good forum we could have found help from :)

So back on the road, heading south, wind behind us, sun beside us.  Life is good!

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