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?”