During the winter of 2016/2017, between the end of January and the beginning of April, I hitchhiked from Salzburg, Austria to Athens, Greece. Starting in a beautiful snow covered Salzburg on the 30th of January, and longing for Greece, spring and higher temperature, I had planned to visit one city in each country, for one week. My plan was to arrive in Athens by the beginning of April, my final destination being the ‘Free and Real Community’ in the village of Aghios on Evia, an island close to Athens.
From Zadar to Split is about 150 kilometres. I figured it would be doable to leave Zadar on Sunday morning, hitchhike to Split to arrive there Sunday evening. Just outside of Zadar, close to the park where I had slept for a week I had seen a good hitchhiking spot. A road leading to the highway to Split, near the ferry port of Zadar. I would catch traffic coming from the city and from the ferry as well.
I located myself just behind traffic lights. I had come to the brilliant idea to push the button for pedestrians crossing the road, making cars to stop for red light. This would increase my chances for cars to notice me and take me to Split. This plan remained a brilliant plan, for it didn’t work in practice. Hardly any people took this road and cars stopping for the red light did not stop for me.
Until after two hours, the first car stopped. A local guy, owner of a diving school in Zadar told me that no car from here would go to Split. He was willing to take me to a better location and dropped me off at a petrol station at the edge of Zadar, closer to the highway to Split.
I got to a spot before the entrance of the petrol station so that both traffic passing and going for petrol could stop. There was more traffic for sure, no car stopped though. After three hours it became dusky and I moved to the sheltered space of the petrol station. Here I could stand next to the door where people would enter and leave for paying and ask them to help me get to Split.
Standing in the lights of the petrol station, I looked to my left. From here I could still see my park near the beach. Half a day of hitchhiking and I travelled 500 meters, at a crow fly. Still, 150 kilometres to go.
After one hour, a young guy finally said yes. Slavo could help me to get on my way to Split. His destination was Biograd, 30 kilometres from Zadar. Slavo took the secondary road to Split and told me he knew a good location to get from Biograd to Split. And if it wouldn’t work this Sunday evening there would be an abandoned motel opposite the petrol station where I could safely sleep, outside behind the motel.
And so it happened. The good location to Split turned out to be a petrol station in the opposite direction, predominantly with cars coming from Split and going to Zadar. Behind the abandoned motel was a good place to spend the night, that part of the story was true.
Monday morning just before I got ready for a fresh day of hitchhiking, two police officers stopped their car next to the motel and stepped up to me. One of them knew some English. On his questions ‘where you from and where you going?’, I handed him my passport and told him I was on my way to Split. On his question why I had slept behind the motel, I said I had knocked on the door but nobody opened. He got the joke and they let me pass.
Adjacent to the road to Split was a large parking space in front of the motel. All traffic going to Split had the opportunity to stop very easily. And the weather was great, a warm and sunny Monday. These were the perfect circumstances for hitchhiking. On this parking space I set my personal record ‘How long can it take to get a ride?’: One and a half day.
The only noticeable that Monday was meeting Axel, a young guy from Germany. He came biking down the road from the direction of Split, on a fully loaded bicycle. He had been cycling around the world for 1,5 years and was at his final stage from Greece back to Germany. Sitting with him, chatting, smoking, eating and drinking, pleasantly broke this Monday in two.
After a second night behind the motel and another three hours along the road, a car stopped by the beginning of Tuesday afternoon. A local hippy guy was willing to take me in the direction of Split, over a distance of 7 kilometres. He dropped me off at a bus stop in a remote area outside of Biograd. This was the moment I let go of any plan arriving in Split at any particular moment.
After half an hour, a white delivery van stopped. Ivan was on the job delivering beer to local cafes and restaurants. A delivery van with beer, I regained hope that from here my journey to Split would take a swing. As Ivan had to visit local villages in the coastal area, we took narrow, winding roads, with pleasant breaks and pretty amazing views on the Dalmatian sea coast.
And from here it did get smooth. After his last delivery address, Ivan dropped me off at a petrol station in the town of Šibenik, 80 kilometres from Split. After 15 minutes Giuseppe, a contractor from Italian origin picked me up. He stopped at the bus station in Trogir, 30 kilometres from Split. And from there I got my final ride to Split. After half an hour a car with German license plate stopped.
It was Tuesday early evening when I finally reached Split. It had taken me two and a half day to travel 150 kilometers. How long I would stay in Split I didn’t know yet, as my one-week-in-each-city schedule was completely crushed.
When we entered the city centre, Victor invited me to have dinner at one of his favourite restaurants, Stare Grede. After dinner, he very kindly helped me to find a sleeping place. I could stay at his place these first days, an apartment in Solin, a village attached to Split. He rented the second floor in the house of an elder Croatian couple.
Victor was the very easygoing guy and moreover, he was gladly willing to show me around Split. And this guy was full of stories. He was some ten years older than me, from the generation of men that fully experienced the seventies. And he had a lot of international experience as an expat in several African countries. He took me on a car tour through Split, showing the cultural and historical hotspots as well as the fine places for food and drinks.
By driving from place to place I got a good impression of Split. And by Thursday it was time to find my own place in this town. Grandfather, the male half of the elderly couple was taken to the hospital. As grandmother was now uncomfortable with two male guests upstairs, her son came to Victor and subtly pointed out that his guest was no longer appreciated.
Early Thursday evening, Victor dropped me near a small park by the sea. I had seen the park on one of Victors’ city tours. I thanked Victor extensively for his hospitality and generosity and walked towards the sea. This park was a direct hit, it appeared to be completely abandoned. I hid my backpack and one of my bags in the bushes and went on my first solo tour to the city centre of Split.
I enjoyed Split for ten days. I spent the daytime in the public library. During my travels I had got used to libraries as a quiet place for my work activities. The library closed at nine each evening and was closed during the weekend, apart from Saturday mornings., This gave me a lot of time to enjoy Split in the evening and during the weekends.
Each night I visited one of the most attractive places of Split: the Riva, a promenade along the sea with a great line-up of bars, café’s, restaurants, shops and ice and candy stores
Each night on a stage in the Riva central area, a music band or traditional vocal group performed for a small audience.
On Tuesday evening in my second week to Split, a local band was playing Balkan pop. Funny, uplifting music with influences from traditional Balkan music instruments, like the violin. I got out my video camera and started filming their performance.
The audience was cheerful, dressed in funny costumes and with face paintings. After filming some songs, I noticed to the right side of the stage that people were coming from the old town of Split, dressed up in costumes as well, dancing and yelling. I decided I had recorded the Balkan pop music sufficiently and went into the old town.
To my surprise, when I entered the main square I found myself in a crazy party. Young and old dancing on the square, a stage with a DJ and three girls dancing, the crowd following their example. I finally realized what was going on. It was the 18th of February and in this mainly Catholic Croatia people celebrate Carnival, Tuesday being the closing day. I now understood the banner behind the stage: ‘Splitski Krnjeval’.
With my camera, I became part of the party. And like with all good Carnival parties the night ended in ‘Polonaise’, a great parade of happy people meandering over the square.
To see the 'Splitski Krnjeval', go here: