My mission is simple: I'm off to Croatia to witness the world's bluest water. I've heard that, seen from space, the water in Dalmatia is the most vivid on earth. That's enough to send me hot-footing it to Split, one of the most attractive cities on Croatia's southern coast.
Two hours later I'm sat in a Roman Emperor's palace eating fresh calamari, centurions pacing back and forth on the nearby piazza. Did someone spike my drink? No. Split is as Roman as it gets. It was built almost two millennia ago as a retirement pad, and is the best surviving example of ancient Roman history outside of the Palatine Hill. Admittedly those guys in tunics and helmets are employed by the tourist board, but everything else about this place is real. Diocletian's palace is not cordoned behind ropes; it's an organic limestone edifice bursting with shops and restaurants.
A wedding reception is taking place beside St Domnius cathedral, complete with a quartet of tenors. I watch an elegant woman sitting beneath the shadow of an ancient Sphinx, languidly texting on her cell phone; it seems to encapsulate the happy concert between past and present. Welcome to old town Split, where gypsy-chic and expensive contemporary labels rub shoulders with the ghosts of Roman emperors and Illyrian merchants.
The walls to the palace were built to keep out Ottoman Turks in the 17th century. I thread my way through the labyrinth of streets to the courtyard garden and moody interior of the Academia Ghetto Bar. If there were ever a place for urbane vampires to feel at home and meet other bloodsuckers this is it; dim lighting, velvet sofas, attractive pale types. I'm headed to Hvar Island early tomorrow by catamaran, so with a tinge of regret I say goodbye to the vampires and head for bed.
Looking for a place to stay in Split? We've got a slew of author-recommended hotels to choose from.
Now move on to day two - and the peacock-blue waters and lavender air of Hvar.