Don’t trust Google Maps
Last night, in the dark, on the back deck of the hostel, I tried to find another hostel closer to town so I didn’t have to hike so far with a backpack everyday. I was, of course, using “borrowed” Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet (more on that later). Most of the hostels claiming to be in Zadar are actually in small towns south and north of Zadar, 10-15 minutes or more by car. There are a few in town, like the one I’m staying at, but they are all a good hike from the center. Then, there are two in Old Town, but they mostly feature dorms of 6-8 beds, with shared baths. Maybe OK when I was young but not so much now. And the prices are still the same as the apartment I have now.
Another idiosyncrasy with the hostels, if you book them online, is you have to pay for at least two people, even if there is only one of you. So, I’ve been paying for two since I’ve been here, just over $40/night. Still way cheaper than the hotels but way more than if I had a monthly apartment rental.
So, anyway, I finally found a hostel near the center and supposedly on the water near the marina. At least that’s what Google Maps told me. I booked a room for two nights, paid the deposit, and wrote the name and address down on an index card (great to have, BTW).
This morning, I rose fairly early, packed my bags and hauled them downstairs. I also prepared a cue card in Croatian asking my hosts if they would call a taxi for me. Instead, they offered to drive me to wherever I was going. Very nice. When I showed them the address, the woman excitedly pointed to the building two houses down and said that was the hostel the address was for. I said no, it’s near the marina, but she was adamant. So I walked over to the house, and, sure enough, it was a hostel. But the landlady was weeding her garden and couldn’t be bothered and I guess was waiting for her husband to appear to help me. Totally ticked by this time, I left and came back to my room to try to book another hostel. Even looked at hotels. Canceled the one around the corner. Everything was either booked for tonight, was too far out of town, or offered dorm rooms. So I went back downstairs and asked for two more days here ($96 or 480 kunas).
And now it looks like I may have to be here until next week, when the apartment I looked at Saturday in Old Town will be available. It’s looking real good right now and I’m sorry I didn’t pull the trigger right away. In addition, I had to move from the apartment I was in to the one in the front. The problem with this one is I can’t get the Wi-Fi signal I was getting before, probably because the building is blocking it. Another problem is this front unit gets direct afternoon sun and it sure is hot in here.
The owners of the house really want me to rent for three months and asked why I wanted to find another place. Besides the no TV/no Internet thing, and the distance, I tried to explain that I wanted to be where the action is (not off in some suburban neighborhood). They asked how much the rents were in town and I told them they were less than what she was asking for here, and they are.
About Wi-Fi and the Internet
I may have explained this before but there is no cable here. Everyone uses satellite dishes for TV and Internet. And I’m learning how to borrow Wi-Fi wherever I go. A lot of the cafes have free Wi-Fi if you sit in their areas and buy coffee or beer or a drink. Same with the restaurants. Or, you can sit just outside the shop and connect, which is what I did today when I made it to Old Town, sitting down on the ancient rock street, leaning against an equally old building. The glare was terrible but I was able to get a few things done before the laptop battery wore down, including sending a message to Anita about where I was. I tried calling first but there was no answer. She has now learned that “anonymous” on her caller ID means Ken on Skype.
On the walk to town, I stopped for breakfast at a pekara (bakery) for a chocolate filled pastry and orange soda. Wasn’t sure what I would be able to accomplish without Anita but I had to get to Wi-Fi in order to call or text her. BTW, she is reading this blog and sent a link to her parents in Zagreb. Her father, who once worked for the UN in the U.S. then forwarded it to Croatia’s tourist agency to show how Croatians should behave to visitors. I told her that might open up a job opportunity for her.
With my butt hurting from the street and my battery almost done, I decided to try to find a studio apartment that was advertised on the island. (Actually it’s a peninsula, as Anita’s friend, Mario, pointed out to me today. I like to think of it as an island since it’s connected to the mainland by a landfill turned into a park.)
Couldn’t find the studio apartment, despite walking into several buildings and asking someone at a tour booking company for help. Temp was over 90 again today, with bright sunshine, and my pack was getting heavy. Plus, all I had to eat to this point 2-3 pm was that pastry. Stopped at a small place selling pizza and quiche. Ordered a ham and cheese focaccio and carried it back to the main square, where I ordered a beer and called Anita again. Turns out, she and Mario had just passed through the square and joined me a minute later. She called several apartments and they all wanted longer-term tenants than my three-month stay. She is tenacious. I’m trying to figure out how to negotiate the price on my hostel down to a more single-person rate for an extra 5 days. I do have an idea, however.
If Croats are much like my new friends, Anita and Mario, they all have a keen interest in the United States. The questions don’t stop – about my traveling, about American politics and culture, education, we’re just getting started. Their curiosity is great and I’m trying to answer what I can. For you Republicans listening in (darn, didn’t I exile you already?), they admire Obama, wish he would succeed and don’t understand why he can’t get anything accomplished. Their idea of the president, brought on by their history of tyrannical rule, is that he should be able to say it is so, and it will be so. I’ve been trying to explain the realities of the process, but we’re just getting started. My son-in-law would be interested to know that Mario was asking about the Federal Reserve today, a topic I’m not well versed on. I’m sure in the next three months the three of us will have some lively discussions. One thing that did come out was that they believe the whole world, not just those of us in the U.S., were embarrassed by the Bush presidency.
I am constantly amazed, BTW, at how good their English is, so we talked a little about that. Mario was shocked that we don’t start kids on a second language usually until they reach high school. In Croatia, kids take a second language in first grade, and then take a second 3-4 years later. English and German are the recommended languages. By the time they reach high school, they are fluent in three languages. They do not understand why we don’t do this in the States, and if I had given an answer, it would have been that Americans are too arrogant to believe they need to know other languages. And that we have so devalued our public education system that we are hurting our future generations.
Mario is an intense Yugoslavian who, when he was 11, was moved to Belgium to get away from the war. He is a civil engineer by training and currently is trying to start his own business. He thanks the U.S. for our involvement in that war. Everyone in Croatia and Europe, he says, look to the U.S. for guidance, and are confounded when we do stupid things, like invade other countries.
Anita, my angel, talks about the inequities in her new democracy. You need to know people here in order to succeed, she says. Hard work and ambition will not get you a good job. Only connections will. They are both disillusioned with the opportunities their country provides and Anita would absolutely love to visit the U.S. She has never been outside Croatia. I told her I would help if I could. She would absolutely excel in the U.S. She is hoping to land a job writing a column for an online site, about politics and police activity. She says they will pay her 4,000 kunas, ($800) a month and says that’s all she needs to live well. Once I get settled I’ll see what I can do to help her get into journalism.
Before we parted company they invited me to join them and Anita ex-boss at the Zodiac, a bar in Old Town. Means a long walk back but if I can get Internet and get her message I will gladly go. Also, Mario owns a car, and they mentioned going on a “picnic” trip in the next few days, somewhere outside Zadar. I’m all for that, aren’t I Jack?
Finally, I still can’t believe the opportunities I’ve been presented with to learn through these two intelligent, inquisitive and friendly people. The stars were aligned.
After we split, I went to the grocery and loaded up, even knowing I had a long walk back with lots of weight to carry. Bought some eggs, bacon, ground beef, pasta, canned tomatoes, garlic, salty, sugar, instant flavored coffee, candy, cheese, sodas, brandy, can of beer, onions and butter (just over $40, one-fourth of that for the brandy). It was a tough walk back. Now, it’s about time to make some spaghetti.
Since I can’t get Internet, but the landlady gave me a code I assumed was for Internet, I went downstairs to ask. She checked with a neighbor and best I can tell I’m supposed to have Wi-Fi, except it still doesn’t work. Was able to determine that they are German. They also have a beautiful German Sheppard in the backyard, but he didn’t take kindly to my approaching him, even with his master right there.