One of the reasons I wanted to do a PhD was for the opportunity to go travelling, all expenses paid to different parts of the world. I was fortunate to go on two such trips this year, the first one, to an international conference in Split, Croatia. Not bad that as part of your proving to become a Dr that you’re expected to present your work at an international conference. I’ve been fortunate to present at two internationals this year, but this was to be my first one. First one as a PhD student anyway. Ironically it was the very last week in my old job before I became a PhD student that I was in Amsterdam presenting RA work at my first ever international conference!
Weirdly enough last year Croatia was on my list as I attempted 12 different holidays in 12 months. I had planned out a possible trip to Dubrovnik but in the end, shelved that idea when I went on the North Atlantic adventure to Iceland and Canada. Croatia, however, I’ve always wanted to visit, in brochures it looked stunning and anyone who’s been who I’ve talked to have always had high praise for it.
My supervisors forwarded a conference to me about UAVs in the environment, and as my PhD is in that realm, I submitted my abstract, got selected and I headed out to Split for a fantastic 3-day conference presenting my work. You’ll be thankful that this blog won’t go into the technical details of the conference (it’s heavy going!), but all you need to know is my first international conference as a PhD student went great! However, this blog will instead talk about my fantastic time in this beautiful part of the world.
Flying out from Manchester on one of the first flights in the morning is never fun. While I did plan on sleeping on the plane, I decided to sip coffee while listening to Matt Monroe’s ‘On days like these’ as I flew over the Alps a much better use of my time. I did, however, have that horrible moment as a window seat passenger when you really need a wee (coffee goddammit, why do you always do this!), but your fellow two passengers are asleep. I tried at first to say excuse me and got progressively louder, but no, the two of them were not waking up. I gently tapped her on the shoulder as to not come across as a creep and I asked if I could get out to go the loo, what would have happened if they said no I’ll never know! Sorry. I must have apologised about 30 times for waking them up and being that window seat guy.
Before long the azure blue waters came into view of the Dalmatian coast, I could have been landing in the Caribbean for all I knew looking out of the window. After a spectacular landing (I’d hate to land in fog in this airport with the mountains so close!), I grabbed my bags and headed on the local coach to Split’s main bus terminal. There was a music festival on one of the islands from Split that was starting the day after I arrived and so the arrivals area outside the airport was full of the typical festival goers along with the walking stereotypical; ‘gap year’ or should I say gap yeeeahr people. Never have I sympathised more with Will from the inbetweeners!
Unlike the gap year people who were probably sharing beds in a hostel and some other bodily fluids, I was staying in a 5* apartment in Split harbour, so I phoned Mia, my host with an ETA. After a 30-minute coach ride, I arrived into the cacophony of sound and people. When I entered into the heat of Split, I clattered my case through the busy palm tree-lined streets, dodging tourists and locals as I went. It struck me instantly how beautiful this place was. The water was unlike any colour I’d ever seen, luxury yachts and passenger cruises moored up, lapping against the waves all surrounded by old styled terracotta roofs. Brightly coloured stalls popped out onto the street next to packed bars with locals sipping coffee while waiters busily rushed around between the maze of people.
I was always a fan of the Alex Rider novels, and it felt like this was the perfect setting for one. Walking across the hustle of the main harbour with locals selling fresh fruit and vegetables with the scent filling the hot air, various accents lingering in the mid-afternoon sun, the vibe was exciting and adventurous as I walked towards my destination. Across the harbour I noticed two huge yachts, Silver and white protruding from the other side of the harbour like mini skyscrapers, glinting in the strong sunlight. As I followed the marbled path around the harbour, the ever-present clatter of my case behind me I neared my apartment. It became apparent quite quickly that this place certainly was the playground of the wealthy Russian and Eastern Europeans. Those two boats had armed guards patrolling their decks! (maybe this was an Alex Rider novel after all!).
After a quick haul up the ancient steps, I arrived to be greeted by a tall young attractive Croatian woman, Mia. She showed me around this fabulous apartment and then left, leaving me with 4 full days in this amazing place. The apartment was huge with two bathrooms, a living room, a kitchen but best of all, my very own balcony looking out onto the harbour. Oh wow, I thought. If only all conferences were like this! I spent plenty of mornings and evenings out on that balcony I can tell you!
After a quick nap, as always it’s my aim in new places to climb mountains or the tallest thing in the city. For me, there was a mountain that loomed over Split, its giant Croatian flag visible from the summit. By now it was late afternoon, and it was 31c. Was it a wise decision to head straight up to hike a mountain? Nope. Was the hike and the views worth it? Hell yes, it was! The views were stunning, and I’d fallen in love with this place already. The heat, the colours, the wildlife and the greenery, it felt a long way from home, but my god was it good to be on my travels again!
After my hike up the mountain, I took a stroll around the port and the harbour as sunset started to fall, the temperature seemed to only get hotter as the humidity rose as the sun set into the sea. The streets had only quietened down a little which gave me a bit more space to explore this ancient harbour and the stunning and unique setting. I could see why this place was so appealing to so many people. As night faded and the street lights reflected off the sand coloured paving, the clink of glasses and conversation floated in the now still sultry air of summer night on the Dalmatian coast.
After plenty of pictures I stopped into a local supermarket, no one spoke English so trying to understand the woman who was asking if I needed a bag was a distinct and lengthy challenge of charades! I cooked myself some food, turned the air con on thankful for it as it cooled the beads of sweat that were ever present in the humidity, took a shower and went to bed, I was out like a light.
The next day was the first full day of the conference, and it was late evening by the time I got back to the apartment, and so I went and had some grapefruit radlers on the balcony and practised my presentation for the next day. It felt fun to practice into the night and in the direction of the harbour. Waking up the next day I was nervous as always. I always get nervous presenting but even more so for my first international PhD conference! I had some toast, it’s all I could stomach, and I headed off in 28c heat for the just under 2-mile walk to the University. Thankfully, it went fantastically well, and I was super pleased with it! Now that my job was done I was free for the next few days to explore this city. By the time I got back to my apartment, it was mid-afternoon again, and I decided that after a stressful but successful day I wanted nothing more than to go exploring, find a beach and just relax, so it’s exactly what I did!
There are plenty of beaches in Split although they’re mostly made up of fine pebbles. However, what was the biggest surprise was the many naked and topless women that seemed to populate the beaches of Split. For once, it wasn’t the old heifers who were topless but stunning 10’s! After a three mile walk, I came across a beach that was tucked away in an alcove. I stripped down to my shorts, got comfy and just relaxed as the waves washed up against the rocks and distant music blasted from two small yachts anchored in the bay. This is the life. Especially when a topless woman decided that the rock that was in front of me was a perfect spot to do a topless photoshoot with her friend, hey no complaints from me!
Alas, those that know me well know that even with factor 100 on I still burn and after 2 hours I had had my relaxing time, and I headed back towards the city but not before being buzzed by a low flying Hind helicopter! (Avgeek win!). On the way back I walked around some abandoned buildings and explored some more beaches on my way, the colour of that water was something else!
After some food, I decided I wasn’t done with walking today, so I headed up the mountain (again) this time in the hopes of catching a sunset. Clouds had started to bubble up throughout the day and often that means some great colours in the sky for sunset, I thought what better way than a 5-mile hike onto of the 7 so far today than to grab a summit sunset. It did not disappoint at all.
I love my solo hikes in different countries because you barely see anyone and it’s just you and nature. That hike that evening and into the night was probably my favourite one yet. Every corner the forest gave way to spectacular views or old churches carved into the mountainside.
It was unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before and probably ever go again. The heat had eased, but the humidity had skyrocketed as night fell and the clouds covered the sky (so much for star pictures tonight I thought!).
Walking back down the mountain to the views of the city at night was just stunning. The horns of the ships leaving, to the hum of traffic drifted across the landscape. I sat on a bench for a while just listening and taking in the sights before heading back for a well-earned drink on the balcony and a shower, a total of 18 miles walked and a conference presentation given…not bad for one day is it?
The next day, my last day in this beautiful place I headed out of the city on a tour which worked out at about £20 for a couple of hours. I visited the city of Meereen (for you Game of Thrones fans), an ancient ruined settlement and coliseum and then I arrived in the stunning town of Trogir.
Trogir is a beautiful town a few miles from Split, and it had charm in abundance. From the turquoise waters to the ancient terracotta roofs, I enjoyed my few hours in the city. It was also a place where Doctor Who filmed their Vampires of Venice episode which was really cool to see. If you’re ever in Split, I highly recommend a visit to Trogir.
When I got back to Split, I took a good walk around this stunning city. Through the old fortress, through the marble streets, passed vendors selling shiny trinkets to walking in the underground bazaar where smells of food and music hit your senses from every angle. I must have taken over 500 pictures because everywhere you went you just wanted to capture it on camera. It surely has to rank up there with being one of the most ancient architecturally stunning places I’ve ever visited.
After food, I took one last walk around the harbour as people crammed themselves into the many bars and restaurants that spilt out onto the harbour to watch Croatia play in the Euros. It was quite something walking past all the bars when their national anthem was playing, everyone was singing it as loud as they could into the warm night’s sky. For me, I retired to my balcony, sipping on coffee and looking out onto the dark sea, listening to the cheers of the fans and gentle clinking of the yachts masts in the harbour.
My first international conference had been a success, and it had brought me so many memories and stunning pictures of this truly wonderful location. While it was my last night here, it was not the end of my adventure. The next day I headed off to Switzerland!