Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013 – Christmas Eve
Our alarms went off at 6 a.m. As quietly as we could to respect the fellow lone traveling Asian that probably wanted to sleep in on Christmas Eve, we packed up. As we tip toed past her bed a bungee pull on my pack caught ahold of the obnoxiously loud plastic bed shutters and without noticing I kept my pace towards the door. Just as I started to notice the incredible resistance James busted up laughing as he watched his girlfriend nearly take down the poor sleeping chicks entire bed. Trying to keep our composure, we made it to the hall before completely losing all seriousness. We said goodbye to the dizzy psych ward hostel and walked a few short blocks to the bus stop.
We made it to the bus station and had time to get two espressos each.
Christmas music played loudly and the excitment and anticipation of arriving and departing travelers consumed the entire bus station and made our dumpy-dive-bar-morning coffee stop seem not so bad.
Our bus departed at 7:30 a.m. and we quickly realized why this bus was a good 30 kunas cheaper than the others. This bus was a solid hour and a half longer, which the little Croatian woman behind the ticket counter neglected to mention.
While James was wishing their was a complaint line to call, I started to convince him this route had some insanely beautiful views. While the ride wasn’t one for keeping your cookies down, the winding roads paralleled the turqoise Adriatic the majority of the time. Brown clay roofs clustered tightly were highlighted by the dramatic sun as the rays formed crazy halos through the thick winter clouds. The coastline is stunning, to say the least.
Our first impression of Split came just before 11 a.m. The bus met heavy holiday traffic and headed toward the Port of Split. We jumped in a cab and 55 kunas later were left at the twirling doors of the Radisson Blu Hotel. Yep. Hotel. There is no ‘S’ before that ‘T’ meaning big things for this traveling couple.
It’s Christmas. Since James was in charge of planning Croatia, that meant Christmas was in his hands. He convinced me that staying a bit outside of the city center and in a hotel where we could just enjoy one anothers company over the holidays was much better than opting for a hostel within our budget, but leaving much to be wished for on Christmas Day.
James found an amazing deal after some professional researching was performed much earlier in the month. A standard room could be booked at the off-season price and if available, you could possibly be upgraded to a suite with an ocean view.
We walked into the reception and immediately I wanted to jump back in the twirly doors and have it be like the final minutes of What Not to Wear on HGTV where I pop back on the other side with a sparkling gown, killer heels and a fresh ‘do in order to feel like I belonged there.
Standing in the dustfree sparkling lobby, I felt like my backpack was dirty and my “purse” with the amateur rugged home-sewn job now just looked like a middle school home ec. experiment.
Some nicely dressed gentleman came over with a luggage trolly and offered to help with our bags. I fought with the two sets of buckles making me one with my backpack. My cheeks flushed to match my pack as I thought that this was probably the first time he had to wait for a guest to unhook themselves from their dirty ‘life’ on their back. He patiently waited before trying to get our bags to gracefully pile on the trolley. The $3 bottles of wine made a deafening rattle as he tried to gently secure it on top of the pile.
James returned still looking panicked as he still wasn’t informed whether we had scored the upgrade or not and his planning reputation (he thought) was riding on this.
We wrestled with the luggage trolley into the elevator and stepped into room 303.
Maybe Santa has had a difficult time keeping up with us this year because the room was INSANE.
There was an L couch with a massive television. A desk. Crazy compartments in the walls with a Nespresso, fridge, and kettle. A monster size bed with more pillows than an IKEA display. A SECOND television. A bathroom that is bigger than the last four bed dormitory we stayed in, two sinks, a massive free standing tub, shower, and a closet that highlights how much stuff we don’t have because we can’t fill a single drawer.
I think we spent 15 seconds emptying our backpacks and then hiding them to forget that in two days we’d be strapped into them again. The next hour was spent running laps around the room, playing both TVs at once, decorating our living room with Christmas lights, throwing pillows and jumping on the bed (sorry Radisson) and reenacting the scene in Ace Ventura on the patio when he slides open the glass door.
We laughed, danced, and celebrated James decision to go big. After feeling awkward about calling down vs. walking, we picked up the phone and after apologizing for asking a question we asked how much the coffee pods were. Free. After repeating to clarify that the coffee was indeed free, we started plopping the pods into the Nespresso machine and cheersing our good espresso.
The sun was out, the coast was calm, and we were told it was a beautiful walk along the sea to get into the center of Split.
We walked to Split and the lady at reception perhaps even undersold the walk. It was a gorgeous stroll along the beautiful beach that weaved through tiny little streets before spitting us out right in the center of Split with the Diocletian’s Palace smack in front of us.
We briefly visited the palace and walked through the adorable Venice style streets.
Everything was bubbling with Christmas excitement. Somehow in the middle of a random street we found a GoPro case. I bought James his new toy and with the smile of a little kid on Christmas we headed to the promenade.
The street was absolutely packed and we quickly got swallowed up into the most massive Croatian Christmas street party. I couldn’t believe it. Families and friends crowded around little tables, drinking kahuna vino, whiskey shots and some other neon stuff I wasn’t interested in trying based on the incompetent people double fisting them.
Little munchkins danced on a massive stage while some Avicii looking dude DJ’d for them. Everyone was having a blast. Even the people working the stands were pouring drinks and handling cash while tending to their own beer and making sure they too had a grand time.
It was awesome. The best part was that we jumped right in. The sun started to set and we decided it would be good to get back before dark so we could start to enjoy our once a year amenities.
Back in our suite we had a glass of wine on our balcony and then watched Christmas Vacation in some language we still can’t figure out.
Somehow a few hours passed before we realized we needed to get down to the spa before it closed at 10 p.m.
We were cut off from the sauna and hot and cold pools, but had the entire swimming pool and two hot tubs to ourselves.
For an hour we laughed at one another in their individual hot tub and jumped in the pool before the nice lady announced it was time for us to make like a Christmas present and wrap it up.
We showered up and got ready for dinner. James was out the door first and quickly made friends with the bartender. I walked into the empty restaurant and found James happy as a clam in the corner. The nice man brought me a glass of wine and grilled veggies, all of which James ordered for me in advance because he knew I would pull the, ‘that’s out of my budget’ argument. James is good at knowing when it’s time to party and for a minute just forget the budget and have fun.
We had a blast and this Christmas Eve will forever be one of my favorites.
Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013 – Christmas Day
We woke up and didn’t want to leave the comfortable bed. We played Christmas tunes and gave some serious attention to the awesome Nespresso machine.
By 9:30 a.m. I decided to make use of the fitness facility just because that sounded like fun. I went to the gym and of course the gym was brand spankin new and had a sweet set of equipment. The huge glass windows looked out at the ocean.
The sun was crazy and casting insane rays and I decided James needed to see the show, so after the most pathetic gym session I called it quits and went upstairs to grab James and the camera. From our balcony I saw about five kite surfers were riding in the cove directly in front of the hotel so I decided a trip to the beach was necessary.
We headed to the beach and decided this Christmas in Croatia was going to be the best. The guys kite surfing were decked out hat to toe in royal Red Santa outfits.
On the rare occassion these skilled crazy stuntmen took a tumble, their biggest concern was as quickly as possible saving their drowning Santa hat and carrying on the show in full outfit.
We ended up staying down there for an hour before James decided he wasn’t willing to miss breakfast. I have completely lost interest in breakfast on this trip. The hostel version of breakfast is a slice of toast with crappy Jello style marmalade and a cup of crap chemical ‘coffee’ that just gives you the shits. Sorry. But breakfast is definitely not something I am expecting to be excited about. So I continued to snap pictures and watch Santa fly around the cove. Finally by 10:45 a.m. I decided I should at least join James, so I sprinted back to the hotel.
We ran into breakfast and I think only one other couple was still seated. Turns out the breakfast IS the Last Supper Club. It still doesn’t beat Grace and Stuarts breakfast, but dang does it come in second.
I think I had about four platters (yeah platters, not plates) of food, a cup of green tea, juice and sparkling water sitting in front of me before some kind gentleman asked if we wanted coffee.
Just before noon we were still sitting at our orange booth. We decided at 80 euros a night, this breakfast easily was worth $15 and counted for two meals, making our stay at this incredible hotel the same price as the nasty “Pubic Palace” we just left.
I was in absolute heaven. I was so excited that as soon as we went back to the room and James jumped in the shower, I ran downstairs and begged to stay a third night at the same rate.
Of course the man at reception was again sincerely friendly and handed me two keys back and wished me a Merry Christmas. I decided that I loved everyone that works at Radisson Blu and I would at this point forever be recommending them to everyone and anyone.
Predictably I got distracted for a few hours with photos of the kite and wind surfers. A sweet lady knocked on the door and asked if we wanted our room cleaned. Ummmmm, heck yeah? Our bed was made, our Nespresso pods were restocked, our soaps were refilled and the entire crew wished us a Merry Christmas on their way out.
Yep, Radisson Blu is awesome.
Sorry – you guys probably know what its like to stay in a hotel once in a while.
I can’t remember where a few hours went but I remember we had an amazing time doing absolutely nothing and enjoying playing our music, our views, our space, our time.
The issue we are currently dealing with as we come up on a year of traveling is balancing being present with what we are doing, balancing work and responsibilities we are choosing to stay tied to in our careers and life, and most importantly giving attention to the relationships we cherish back home.
A day like Christmas was the perfect example of a day when we both just wanted to enjoy doing whatever we wanted without having to plan, travel, share space with strangers, wait to use the shower, whatever. And unfortunately with all of our friends and family nine hours behind us, that meant by about 5 p.m. we had a good ten Skype dates lined up. It’s not that we didn’t want to do them, its that we wanted to get completely lost in doing whatever else came up in the meantime. We ended up in the spa and lost track of the time, and the day. We layed in the sauna and talked and talked thanks to Sigmund Freuds principle. We bounced between the hot and cold pools, returned to our hot tubs and pool. We had a blast. We got completely lost in time as the afternoon turned into the evening.
Somehow its was 9 p.m. and we found ourselves in the situation as the previous evening. Crap. We wanted to get as dressed up as we could, have a glass of wine and chill out before having a lesiurely hot dinner like ‘normal’ people do. To be completely undistracted by anyone else or anything we should be doing. To do nothing but spend quality time with each other. We figured we have spent over 340 days straight together, but we couldn’t remember the last time the two of us actually just had a free day with nothing to do but enjoy one another. Yeah. That’s life. We get that. But I think everyone gets to a certain point where you want to feel like you have the right to spontaneity and the world won’t dissolve if you check out for a while. I guess that’s the balance we are trying to strike. Somehow to maintain relationships at home while being here and putting more attention into creating new ones and connecting with the people we are blessed enough to meet along the way.
So anyway, there was a bit of a meltdown at some point in the evening because at 9 something at night we still had some serious Skype minutes to log, a flip flop free leisurely shower to be taken, and a nice dinner to enjoy. Unfortunately overwhelmed with it all, we actually unproductively didn’t do a single one.
We felt terrible for not talking to the people we love and not better handling the pressures (I don’t think that’s the right word) of traveling. A good chat in the morning helped us better understand one another and strategize how to navigate the next six months of travel.
Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013 – Boxing Day
After our ‘couply’ chat we decided to tackle the ‘I’m sad Christmas is over’ feeling by heading down to the breakfast spread. Of course it was as over-the-top as the previous day and we again somehow donated a few hours of our morning to our same orange booth.
It was a stormy windy day and we were so grateful to be cozy and comfortable in our luxury hotel.
The day was spent predictably in the spa, but with a lot more gratitude for each other.
It was a perfect day.
Around 4 p.m. we decided to be responsible and having already extended our stay, not break into the 200 kuna .75cl wine in our mini fridge and instead bundled up and headed out in the storm to find a grocery store.
Most everything was shut down and the streets were completely deserted and quiet, but we sort of enjoyed the crisp wet air. We eventually found a grocery store and stocked up on sparkling water and wine to hydrate for the final night of luxury.
We retreated back to Radisson and made some Skype calls.
Unsupervised, I nearly took out an entire light fixture with my champagne bottle opening skills.
We again headed to the spa and predictably lost track of time.
For the third night in a row we were too late for dinner and we came tumbling into the restaurant only to be greeted by the consistently overly friendly staff who sent us to the bar to get snacks.
We had a great evening chatting with our friend behind the bar and we enjoyed every last second of our mini vacation.
Friday Dec. 27, 2013
We were up early to maximize every second we could.
Nespressos were consumed at particularly odd hours of the morning. I filled up the bathtub just because I could, and watched both TVs at once while James enjoyed not having the ends of his limbs hang over the mattress.
We dug out our forgotten backpacks and quickly filled them with our familiar belongings and then headed to the spa.
We spent a comparatively short time in the spa mostly talking about how great the past three days were. James shot down my idea of living in Room 303 for the rest of the year and brought me back to reality asking me to get my backpack on and get a move on.
We said goodbye to the best hotel on earth and promised the blue piece of heaven we would return again some day.
With that gut feeling that you really really really don’t want to leave somewhere, we arrived at the bus station at 12:29 p.m. and lined up to purchase tickets. The bus outside was fired up and the doors were closing as James ran outside to stop the driver while I convinced the lady we could make it. She laughed and told me ‘360 kunas’ and slid our tickets back through the window.
The bus took off for Zagreb and we had the most incredible views of Split as we said goodbye.
By 5 p.m. we pulled into the familiar Zagreb station and made the easy trip back to our beloved Swanky Hostel.
Thanks to James, that was the best Christmas I have ever seen. I am so grateful we had an amazing three days and all of James hard work and planning completely paid off.
Thank you family and friends for understanding our absence – We apologize for not at least calling on Christmas Day. We promised to budget our time better in the future. We miss you all!