Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I Split

I was thinking about needing to take time and give things a chance because I was experiencing my first evening in Split.  I felt grunged up from traveling from Plitvica.  At the national park, I had gotten caught in a drenching thunderstorm.  I had had a cheap umbrella from Zagreb but it didn’t do much for my pants.  As they got wet from the knees down they seemed to get longer and I had to I roll up the cuffs.  The cuffs filled with forest debris.  My t-shirt had gotten wet not from rain, but from sweat.  It had gotten fairly humid and I walked both the upper and lower lakes.  I don’t know how far it was, but distance doesn’t account for the climb to the top of the great falls.  
At any rate, I knew the ride to Split would be a long one, so I just wore the same clothes and figured I would clean up once I arrived at my destination.  Just to get to the bus stop in the park I would have to sling on my pack and haul it a kilometer through the forest.  
When I got to the stop, I waited an hour for a bus that didn’t come.  Luckily a group of backpacking kids arrived just as a kombe or passenger van was going by.  The driver stopped and asked where everyone was going.  They were on their way to Split and the driver offered to get us there in half the time as a bus for $21 a piece.  It sounded good since the bus ride would take six hours and cost around $32.  This all actually worked out.  The backpackers were American and maybe Australian and didn’t speak Croatian.  I asked if I could help out with my Macedonian and I ended up riding up front with the driver making conversation about this and that.  At one point I asked him if life was better now with an independent Croatia or if it had been better as Yugoslavia.  Officially Croatia seems proud of itself.  Reading the signs at historic markers and in museums, it seems Yugoslavia never happened and Croatia had always been just Croatia.  
His response was that the only difference was that the crooks in charge used to be in Belgrade, now the crooks govern from Zagreb.  
When we arrived in Split, I had no idea where we were.  I’d learn later through lots and lots of walking in circles, triangles, and shapes that geometry has not yet identified, that he had simply dropped us of at the bus station.  That would explain the numbers of old ladies holding signs for sobe, zimmer, and whatever the word for room is in Italian.  Of course again I didn’t stick to my plan and I just went with the first pensionerka (retired woman) in black (a widow).  She said her rooms were just a simple kilometer away.  From all the walking I’d been doing, a kilometer didn’t seem so bad.  It is so bad when you don’t have an accurate map.  Why is it, I ask, that Lonely Planet always says the same thing for every city, “there are not a lot of rooms to let in the old town,” but only provides maps for the old town? I guess they are called Lonely Planet because that’s how you’ll feel, all alone on a huge planet, lost.  
She started walking me form the bus station to what I assumed was her flat.  She walked terribly slow, complaining of the pain of recent hip surgery.  If we were going to walk a kilometer like this, my back was going to break under the weight on my pack.  It turns out she was taking me to a city bus stop.  The bus ride seemed like a lot farther than one kilometer.  She said that’s just the bus route.  Walking is more direct.  
When arriving at the old lady’s place, I felt sad.  Not so much for myself, but for her.  It was a lot like my Peace Corps home stay in Macedonia: a big soviet style block building in the suburbs.  The suburbs is not where you want to be.  Rusty tears run down the sides of buildings from metal window frames.  The lady obviously lived alone, as she had the same markings of things gone as every other old lady I’d stayed with: black and white photos of a younger man in a suit--presumably her dead husband, and faded, half torn children’s stickers covering the guest room furniture--presumably the childhood furniture of children grown and gone.  Crumbs littered the kitchen table’s plastic tablecloth.  Telephone wires taped to the wall and more crumbs of stuff on the carpet runner in the guest bedroom. The bathroom, I care not to describe.  I didn’t want to see anyone living like this, alone and sad.  
I decided I would spend the rest of the day looking for another place closer and cleaner.  I’d stay the night as I agreed and paid for, but in the morning I would simply brush my teeth and get the heck out.  
And then I got lost going into town.  She said I should take the same bus #9 into town that we had used to get to her neighborhood, but she had said it was a direct walk and I wanted to get my bearings.  Of course “direct” takes you straight to a dead end.  I took a chance and turned left.  The city center was on a harbor, so following the downward grade of the streets seemed logical.  I am so stupid when it comes to logic.  I wandered for an hour and later realized I had taken one wrong turn and walked away from the old town to the industrial zone.  The city’s not really on a grid plan and I almost ended up all the way back where I started.  One left and two rights shouldn’t do that, but...
Once I found the old town I found a great deal for a starving man: soup, salad, and your choice of fish or chicken for twelve Euros.  I don’t know Euros very well, so I assumed that was about fifteen dollars.  White table cloths and everything.  I felt underdressed in shorts, t-shirt, and ball cap, but I was the only customer a that time of day.  The food was great and service very helpful--even though I kept speaking Macedonian to the waiter, trying to be culturally pliable and unobtrusive to my host, he always spoke to me in English.  I ordered the fish and was able to eat the whole thing without ingesting a single bone.  The grilled vegetables were probably the best part of the meal though.  Gently braised and slathered in olive oil and sesame seeds, nothing tasted better.  I tried not to feel guilty imagining that my widowed host would never splurge and eat at a place like this.  Fifteen dollars was, I imagine, too dear.  
Out in the old town though, life was different than in the quiet restaurant.  Split’s old town, basically a town created in the foundations and ruins of Diocletian’s palace, was a maze of narrow stone streets--which I normally love--but clogged with tourists.  Yes, I was a tourist too, but I have nothing against self hate.  The worst was when I took a breather from what was becoming obsessive picture taking--not apartment hunting like I’d planned, but I hadn’t stumbled upon the bus station at that point yet--and sat for a beer at a cafe.  It was filled with young college kids from English speaking places gathered to watch World Cup soccer.  Being the snob that I am I loathed myself for sitting next to a group of American college kids with all their luggage spread about them,  the boys talking soccer and alcohol, the girls talking alcohol and tattoos.  
“You know what?” I told myself, “To hell with Split.  It’s too big and too crowded.  I need some island time.  I am going to follow my plan and find that beach called the golden horn, that spit of a beach that reaches out into the Adriatic and changes shape with the currents.  I want to see Diocletian’s palace, but I need peace and quiet.”  
I went home to the suburban block, brushed my teeth, told my host I’d only be staying one night, made sure my things were ready for tomorrow, sat down on the mattress to take off my shoes and promptly fell through the bed to the floor.  
So here I am. It is currently evening in the city of Bol on the island of Brach.  I am sitting at a table on the terrace outside my room.  The terrace overlooks the sea and is made with stone quarried form the island.  From what I have read the white stone from Brach has been used in structures such as Diocletian’s palace in Split and the White House in Washington, DC.  Between me and the sea are red tile roofs and boughs of red and purple flowered vines.  Swallows are flitting here and there, and when I first came out to the terrace, one was making passes right under the umbrella over my table. I hope all that has brought Croatia to this point in history--through the parts it celebrates and the parts it forgets--I hope takes care of its pensioners.  

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

slowing down

I guess the simple lesson is, you have to give things a chance.  At first I was really put out by Zadar, but once I found my bearings, and a new room closer to the sea and center of town for the same price with a sweet old lady and her son--whom she referred to as an invalid--I really took to Zadar.  
It had old stone walls and wide streets for the air to flow through plentifully.  If the old town got too claustrophobic with its pigeon filled squares, I could go to the open, seaward side of the old town and fill my lungs with the strong wind coming off the Adriatic.  Down at the far end of this side I could find real peace by Zadar’s sea organ that plays like a pipe organ powered by the passing waves.  Maybe it was the blisters on my feet, but I was learning to slow down.   
And then I let curiosity take me into a little courtyard restaurant.  Closed in by four walls and flowering trees, I sat down for a dish of shrimp risotto and tomato salad.  Quiet music was playing and the few customers provided a quiet lull of foreign languages.  
At the end of the meal I asked the waiter to tell me about the different liquors on the menu, including the sweet one I’d read about made from maraschino cherries.   He started to tell me about off menu items, the home made stuff.  He brought me a type of rakija called trevevica made from wild grasses and berries.  It was like plum or grape brandy, but slightly aromatic.  It was smooth and I told him it was fantastic.  I actually couldn’t hide my smile at how good it was.  
When I went in to pay the bill, he told me the trevevica was on him.  I don’t know for sure, and I never will, but I want to think he didn’t charge me because, maybe, he felt he had shared something unique from his culture, something he was proud of.  

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Plitvice Lakes

Made it here, but not with any help from guide book.  Why can't these books be right about anything???

Friday, June 25, 2010

Zadar, pt. II

I decided early on that I did not like Zadar.  Maybe the city itself would end up being okay, but the people were turning me off.  Well, one person.  Olga.  Olga with the bright henna red hair and the pudgy, pouty face.  
When I got off the bus, there she was waiting for me.  I had originally hoped for a woman like Olga.  She’d be standing there eager for my business, photo book in hand with pictures of her apartment to rent.  
Zadar would not be another Pula.  I’d broken from my plan in Pula to drop my stuff at the left luggage office and find a room on my own.  I had mistakenly followed a French Canadian to the hostel she was staying at so I could take a look and see if I’d be interested in hosteling.  That had turned out bad and turned into an hour long blind hunt for a private room in the city with a pack on my back.  I’d found a dark room at the edge of town which was still being used for storage of the summer patio furniture.  
No, this was Zadar, the big city, the international port that exports its plum brandy in circular bottles all the way to Columbus, Ohio.  This place would have its act together.  This is the place Rick Steves came to be an evangelist for private rooms arranged at the boat harbor or bus or train station.  
Olga had a place in the old town that looked beautiful.  Really more than I needed.  Best of all, it had a washing machine and wi-fi.  It wasn’t a private room, it was an apartment.  I was in dire need of a laundromat and it’d be nice to sit down and write to the folk back home who wanted to know I wasn’t sick or robbed or whatever.  I kind a wanted news on how that oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was going.  
The only problem was that the apartment was sixty dollars per night.  I couldn’t live like that on this trip.  She said somewhat reluctantly that she did have another place for half the price that was a fifteen minute walk in to town.  I asked if it was the same, and she pointed to the pictures in her book and said, “Same.”  
It sure sounded like a capital idea to me.  We got into her car and took off.  No need to stow my stuff at the bus station and walk a round all day looking for a room if it came to me.  
On the way to the room, Olga talked so much and so fast--with her hands--that she hit the horn once at a red light. It may be so common here in this part of Italianized Croatia that the driver in front of us took no notice...I mean, he didn’t give us the finger.  
She was trying to tell me, as best as I could understand her Croatian, how nice the room was, how close it was really, if I just took some short cuts, and how it just wasn’t possible to be in the old town for 150 kunas.  
There was a lot of other stuff I didn’t understand.  I caught some thing about other drivers, red lights, traffic not moving fast enough.  It was mostly a blur of noise that sounded like Ach, pen yadya.  Every now and then on this trip I thought my Macedonian language was serving me well.  This was not one of those times.
I tried to make conversation, mentioning that I’d read that Zadar was historically a very important town.  “Wasn’t it the capitol of Dalmatia at one point?” I asked.  
“Ech,” she said, “Split, Dubrovnik, those are the cities with the money.”
She told me that there were a couple a French people staying at her place with motorcycles.  
Was she giving me a testament to the international appeal of her residences?  Or was she going to back-handedly blame me for having to walk to town, as if it wouldn’t seem so far if I had a motorcycle like the French people?  
Olga had asked at the bus station if I had other people with me.  I’d told her I was alone.  She had sort of looked around chewing her lip.  It was a look as if she had accepted a dance with a partner before she realized she hadn’t really looked around for the best choice.
In the car she told me it was hard to rent to just one person.  Two, three people, that’s worth the money, but one? Not really.  I couldn’t help feeling like a charity case whom she was giving more to that she would ever get from. 
When we got to the place, it looked good, but there was no washing machine.  “No, that’s the other place,” she told me.  “Oh yah, the other place,” I replied.
She had to go back to the bus station to look for more people she said and asked  if I wanted to go into town with her.  I turned down her offer.  I told her I’d walk in a little later so I’d know my way back.
Olga had given me a tourist street map, showed me where we were, and drew a straight line down one street, across a green space, and then right on through buildings to the old town center.  On the drive in--or out-- to the apartment, she had pointed to a large stand of pines and told me I needed to cut through that park.  She’s also said to cut through this parking lot and that alley behind a grocery store for short cuts.  
I thought it’d be wiser to stick to the named roads.  I didn’t argue though.  
Before I arrived in Zadar I thought I needed a shower before I hit the town.  On the way out of Pula, I wad been watching over the cliffs at the Adriatic when I’d caught a glimpse of a topless sunbather on the rocks by the sea.  For the next seven hours I stayed plastered to that side of the bus, baking in the afternoon sun, waiting and hoping for nothing. 
The shower in the apartment looked good: a curtain, a shower head, and even a wall bracket on which to hang the shower.  When I started the water, I realized the toggle lever that switched the water from spigot to shower was frozen in place, stuck on shower.  Okay, no problem, I thought.  I pulled the curtain and enjoyed the warm spritz as my skin relaxed around me.  When I put the shower head in the wall bracket though, it was arranged in such an unmovable angle that the jet of water went straight into my face.  I tried to swivel the thing with no gain.  I tried to twist the head on its L-joint, but that only cause the piece to unscrew from the hose and send water in every which way.  I’d find out later it even shot out of the shower stall onto my last clean pair of underpants which I had placed on the toilet seat.  
I placed the shower head in its cradle on top of the spigot--crotch height exactly--and tried to go about the business of soaping up my wash cloth.  With the shower head relatively taken care of, I realized the other item that had been frustrating things. The light weight shower curtain had been adhering to my butt as I faced the shower.  Once I realized this second element, it was like that dashboard rattle that you never noticed until someone pointed it out and now which drives you mad.  No matter if I turned or stood still or sprayed the curtain with the shower, the damn this was intent on clinging to my ass like sandwich wrap with an almost static electric quality.
The vent window in the bathroom was open, and I imagined the cultured French people appalled by my American lack of couth and sophistication, my cursing that is.
Once I got out of the shower, I thought I’d try getting lost following Olga’s directions.  I did.  And after fifteen minutes of doubling back over bad turns I found the woods or “the park” that she had told me to cut through.  Isn’t a dark forest always part of a fairy tale?  Stands of pine are often dense enough to be dark during the day, I couldn’t imagine coming back through at night, even with my little spring-loaded kinetic powered flashlight.  
The walk it into town was not without its share of sidewalk-less streets streaming with French cars and German trucks, but I made it in under forty minutes.  The first thing I did was check with a tourist agency for other private rooms.  I would stay one night where I was and then bolt for some place closer and less frustrating.  When I showed the agent on the map where I was staying, and told her I wasn’t satisfied with the room, she asked timidly, “By any chance, is the lady’s name Olga?”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

From Zadar

Saturday, June 19, 2010

At least I didn't get sick this time...

Okay, just figured out the wi-fi AND how to switch the language.  Apparently this blogger site detects the local language and has been showing me my page in Czech and Croatian.  Also, just figured out that I need to have the door to my room open and be sitting in the doorway to get reception from the hotel's wi-fi.

For those of you who worried, I am not sick and I have not been robbed--except by the lady at the change office in the airport, but I guess she has to do something to be employee of the month.

Okay, I'll try to write more later tonight since I've figured this out finally.  Right now I am really tired and need a nap.  Planning on heading out from Zagreb tomorrow and going to Pula on the Istrian Peninsula.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Every thing is close, kind of

So Zhaklina, a friend I will meet in Macedonia, told me that it should be a 10-12 hour bus ride from Sarajevo to Skopje.

I was a little shocked.

I found a web site that confirmed the 12 hour estimate.  And the only bus leaves Sarajevo at 8:30pm (Tues&Fri), so most of the travel will be at night.  I was kind of hoping to see the countryside.  Now, what is so shocking is that the distance is only 222 miles between Sarajevo and Skopje.  Folks, that's 18.5mph.  If the terrain dictates that we have to go that slow, wouldn't it be best to do this in the light?  I wonder how much a plane ticket would cost?


Saturday, June 12, 2010


Good evening folks,
After getting home through the rainy expressways from my brother and sister-in-law's 40th birthday party, I am setting up my travel blog. I have about 2 days before I depart for two months to Croatia , Bosnia-Hercevogina, and Macedonia. I am a little nervous, but that is a side effect of packing. Why does packing always turn my stomach, make my skin crawl, and give me bladder spasms?
On the other hand, I could still be creeped out by the ticks at Anton's farm. Or those Kermit the Frog goat eyes. Sweet animals, but those EYES! Thanks Anton for the tour and visit. So far, no residual ticks found!
Okay, that's a start. I'm going to go tweak the appearance of this web log.