There is good in both areas. Split has an impressive section of walled old city, including Diocletian’s Palace. Omiš has a lovely old town, pirate’s fort, and an impressive fortress on the mountain above town. Pula has a nice old city and an amazing Roman amphitheater; a smaller version of the coliseum in Rome. All three have stone streets and buildings and history and waterfront.In many ways, you’d think we’d like Split better. In theory, we should. The shops in Split are more local, happily missing are the international chain stores that could be anywhere. We found our whole visit to the Dalmatian Coast free of McDonalds. Here, in Pula, there is an abundance of chain stores from Nike to Benetton to Victoria’s Secret, and we’ve seen the golden arches for the first time in Croatia. We have also re-entered the heavy graffiti zone. Walls are tagged and marked by local young people, just as they have been along our path through France and Italy. We found some, but much less of this in the South, especially in the old cities.
Some negatives are in both areas. Litter is a way of life in Croatia, North and South, particularly in Omiš. The parks and public places gather empty wrappers and plastic bags. Children toss their finished drink bottles aside, parents watching; habits are passed from one generation to the next. School children eating ice cream and candy mindlessly drop the wrappers, scattering them across the park or schoolyard. The culture does not have any reaction; garbage on the lawn and in the street is just a part of life and there is no personal responsibility for it.
The difference in two places that are so theoretically similar boils down to something difficult to describe. Why do we react to one place in a different way than another? We use some pathetic terms like vibe or energy, but what is that? I’m sure there are people whose experiences are different from ours. For us, Omiš, and also Split to a lesser degree, felt like walking into a room where people had just been fighting. Although nobody may say anything, or they may even talk to you in a normal sort of way, the anger hangs in the air like old smoke.
Follow up: Posted June 20
We had a long conversation with a man we met from Pula whose wife was from Split. He told us there were a number of cultural differences from the two areas, and explained it to us this way:
In Pula, if your neighbor needs to borrow something or needs help, you do it because it is the right thing to do, regardless of whether you particularly like them or not. You are kind and friendly for the same reasons. To people from Split, this would be dishonest, treating someone well you don’t like would be akin to lying. Even within a relationship with people you know, how they treat you will shift depending on how they feel about you at the time. You might be working on a project together, and everything is fine, an hour later they decide they don’t like you and it is not so good, later they like you again and work progresses.
While this explanation may not make us truly understand, it puts into words for us something that we were having a very difficult time getting our minds around.