The time spent researching places is huge, from what is worth seeing to finding a rental house. For the most part, allowing things to unfold works out beautifully. But not always. At the start, we had a dim vision of how we should go about this trip, a reflection in mercury. Sometimes we envisioned moving around, staying in each place a week or maybe two. At others we discussed having a home base, and taking side trips from there. Living in a place for a couple of months, settling in. Or, more realistically, some combination of the two.
As we needed to leave the Schengen area for at least three months out of six, we were headed for Croatia. I had heard some talk about it: a place rich in history with hundreds of islands and coastline of unspoiled beauty. Blue water coves without mega hotels. Pebble beaches and sailboats. We focused on finding the best housing for a longer stay, to try out this ‘home base’ strategy.
I found a tante that made us a sweet deal on a large apartment in a town called Omiš, walking distance from the beach and the old part of town. The coastal bus stopped down the street, from there we could connect to most anywhere we wanted to go. She was very sweet, met us at the ferry from Ancona, Italy, and shuttled us to the apartment.As we arrived, things were not quite what we pictured. Split is a fairly large city with a forest of tired looking buildings. Laundry hanging against walls of peeling paint is not so charming when the architecture is strictly utilitarian. Tall ones giving way to shorter buildings as we left town. Southeast of Split is a rather lackluster stretch of coastline with a mix of old and new. Narrow, pebble beaches with small stone jetties and coves give access to the water for the people who live or stay in the soviet era peeling concrete buildings and new, faux stone homes with tile roofs standing next door.
Omiš sits at the end of this stretch, about twenty-five kilometers from Split. Continuing Southeast, the coastline improves and becomes more picturesque, with sweet little tidy harbor towns like Baška Voda and the spectacular Makarska Riviera.The old town in Omiš is very nice, and there is a pretty, if small, beach in town. In the spring, as we arrived, it was dotted with plastic bags half buried in the gravel and plastic debris between the rocks. We spotted such revolting treasures as an old sanitary napkin and even a drowned kitten. This past week it was cleaned, as we arrived back from the islands we found the beach and waterfront spruced up for the coming tourist season.
Across the river from the old town is a space in flux. Dreary apartment buildings mixed with new and refurbished ones. Very expensive cars sit parked by crumbling sidewalks. Children play soccer in side streets while young men on motorcycles accelerate loudly through town. At first, we thought the coast highway was a popular route on two wheels, until we realized they were the same people, turning around at the edge of town to race back through. We began calling them hornets, from the sound that echoes and reverberates off the canyon walls as they buzz through. Ironically, the police station sits right on the most popular place for high speed acceleration, and yet we never once saw one of these motorbikes pulled over.
We would go walking each day, looking for what was lovely. Although a handful of people were friendly, like the women at the produce stands, the tour boat guide, and a waitress at one of the restaurants in the old town, we have felt strangely unwanted. The peculiar feeling of being an outsider in a small town of close knit people. Tourists arriving before the attraction is open, not yet welcome.
We took one last walk through town last night, a very different place, another contrast. The squares and streets of old town are filled with tables and chairs, shops selling souvenirs are open. The people were ready for guests. And now that they are, we are leaving.