Chillin’ in Croatia

Well, the fun weather has come to a screeching halt. After spending the last 16 months in warm, mostly sunny weather, Mother Nature brought reality back yesterday. Not that I’m complaining about my first month in Croatia. The weather has been unbelieveable – blue skies, light breezes, sunshine every day but one, low humidity – it’s just that I’m not ready for winter. I’m never ready for winter. Hate it!

The very black clouds started rolling in yesterday afternoon. They looked so bad coming over the mountains that I decided not to make a bike trip to the grocery. Good decision as I would have been caught in a major rainstorm on the way back. The wind blew very hard, the rain went horizontal and it got cold. Well, not New Hampshire cold, but I’ve been mostly in Costa Rica for the past 16 months, so this is cold.

The front is still coming through but today we have bright sunshine and high winds, and a forecast high of 62, although the wind makes it much colder. Forecast calls for some warming and then another cold front later in the week. Winter is on its way – and I need to head south to flee the coming cold.

Fortunately, I brought some clothes for the occasion, some of which had their first use during my morning walk today.

Surprise food

Visnja, my landlady (that sounds strange), showed up at my door yesterday with a plate of very thin pancakes, rolled and filled with fig jam, with nectarine halfs as a garnish. I would call them crepes but she called them pancakes. Had some yesterday as dessert after dinner and some more this morning with bacon and sausage. Delicious! The sausage is very good here, too, BTW, as are the dried sausage/meat products. The milk is tasty, too.

Moving plans

I’m still following the Greek news to see whether I should go there at the end of November as the next leg of my trip. Right now, the protesters have shut down many public services, such as the buses and tourist sites like the Acropolis. I still have another 3-4 weeks to make my travel plans, but if the public services are still an iffy situation I may have to think about going to Italy/Sicily first. After all, if I can’t take a bus or go to the historic sites that I’ve wanted to visit, Greece would have to wait.

All the countries I’ve targeted as possibilities are in relative close quarters (Greece, Italy, Turkey and Romania), so it doesn’t make much difference what the eventual order is – except that I need to be out of the Schengen zone for 90 days between Greece and Italy. And Romania is now back in consideration, with Turkey, for that out-of-the-zone visit, since its participation in Schengen has been denied for the time being. The Romania/Turkey trip would fall about March-June, so Romania’s weather would be coming out of winter. Plus, I have friends Emilia and Anthony there to help me get adjusted.

Also had been considering spending my last month in Croatia further south in Dubrovnik. I haven’t been very successful in finding an apartment there, as yet, and may eventually decide just to stay in Vodice. There’s not much to do here, but there might not be much more to do in Dubrovik once I finished touring the sites. I may, however, take a 3-day trip there to play tourist. It’s about a 5-6 hour bus ride from Vodice, so the travel is basically a day each way. A hostel, or even two nights in a hotel, would not be expensive and the bus trip would be relatively cheap, if long, and would afford me the opportunity to see more of the countryside, as well as towns along the way. Stay tuned.

Advice on Greece – an anecdote

Thanks to those of you who have expressed concern about my pending visit to Greece. FYI, I try to keep tabs on events where I am living or intend to live, so I’ve been keeping track of the financial turmoil in Greece. My main concern, however, is how it affects on-the-ground prices, not any hostility/rioting concerns. I’m reminded of an event from my past, when I was editor of American City & County magazine at Communications Channels in Atlanta.

I believe it was in 1986. One of my staff, Tim, was in San Francisco for a trade show when the area was hit by a devastating earthquake. It was so bad, they had to cancel/postpone (?) the World Series. Bridges were knocked down, overpasses collapsed on one another, water and sewer systems were damaged. It was a catastrophe.

I talked with Tim the day after the quake and his initial response was to get the heck out of there, to find the first plane back to Atlanta. Tim is a good journalist but the event had clearly shaken him. From my perch in safety I had a different perspective. “Tim,” I said, “you’re sitting on perhaps the biggest story of your young career, and it’s made to order for our magazine.”

American City & County’s chief area of coverage was about infrastructure – roads, bridges, water supply, sewage handling, disaster preparedness. San Francisco was, after the quake, a huge case study on all those topics. So, I asked Tim to stay and to canvas the local public works departments to write about their responses to the infrastructure collapse. He understood the moment he was in and ultimately turned in some fine coverage, which was our cover story for the next issue.

I bring that up only to illustrate that a journalist doesn’t run away from trouble. He/she runs toward the story, pen and/or recorder in hand, ready to document the moment. In other words, the trouble in Greece should only cause me to WANT to go there, to document some of what is happening, to take notes and photos to share with others. Otherwise, what have I been doing for the past 44 years? As long as the situation does not seriously increase the costs of going to Greece.

I have found an Internet expat forum for Nafplio, Greece, (http://www.placesonline.com/europe/greece/nafplio/map.asp) where I plan to go and have posted about information and asking to meet anybody there that speaks English. We’ll see how that goes.

My landlord

Came back from another fruitless fishing trip last night to find the landlord, Zdarko, shooting hoops in the side yard, which is a long, concrete-walled area primarily set up as a bocci ball court. So I put on my tennies and went out to see if he wanted a game. Turns out my shoulder won’t let me shoot baskets anymore but I did try my hand at bocci. Zdarko was anxious to teach me how and then “schooled” me to the tune of 11-1.

He was anxious, also, to talk. He works four days a week as an IT consultant and I think right now his client is a bank, just like one of my Atlanta friends. On Fridays, he says, he’s working on his Ph.D. He asked if I liked wine and then said he would get me some of theirs they made from last year’s grapes and some from this year’s crop. He also has 150 olive trees just outside of town and makes olive oil from them. He’s going to get me some of that, too. Wine and oil reviews later.

Zdarko also told me about the islands across the strait, how I can take a ferry for $2 to get to the first one, where there’s two small villages of stone houses centuries old. The ferry also goes to two other islands. He said the fishing might be better out there and that, at any rate, the fishing probably is bad because it’s still too warm. The ferry/island trip sounds like a good day trip very soon.

Dubrovnik

I’m still trying to line up an apartment in Dubrovnik for my final month in Croatia. Found one a bit too far from the water and without Internet. Still waiting on several that have not responded. The old town section there is really unique (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AU7zn1A1iJs&feature=list_related&playnext=1&list=SP0EB470C05638A8B9).

Fresh produce

I do my shopping at a Konzum store that I pass by every day on my morning walk. Actually, I usually stop there most mornings to get a few things. They have a fresh produce section and a unique way (in Croatia) of bagging and weighing your fruit and vegetables. Actually, the bagging is pretty straightforward. Each vegetable/fruit, however, has its own ID number, listed right next to the price (usually per kilogram). You weigh your own purchases by placing the item on the scale and then pressing the corresponding number for the item. So if red peppers are #64, you press that number on the scale, and a sticker with the price on it pops out to be placed on the purchase. Pretty efficient self-service.

Rude, preachy and condescending

First, a nightlife report from Vodice. Now that the tourist season is winding down, there really doesn’t appear to be any. I walked into town last night to check out a couple of bars, including the Playmates Bar, and to find the bar where I had seen a pool table the day before. One tourist bar on the water did have a few people, and there were a few people dancing there when I was walking home, but the Playgirls bar and the disco next door were closed. I couldn’t find the bar with the pool table because I think, it, too, was closed. This could be a real boring town at night over the next two months.

Now, about the headline. Yesterday, I tried to gather a little more information about traveling in Europe under the restrictions of the Schengen Agreement. There are 26 European countries in this agreement, which allow their citizens to move freely within the SA zone. However, those people from other countries, like me, can only stay in the zone for up to 90 days. Then we have to leave the zone for 90 days before we can re-enter. This is obviously the region’s way of keeping illegal immigrants out, particularly from Africa and the Middle East.

When I entered Croatia, however, I was struck at how little attention immigration paid to my passport. So, I decided to ask a fellow traveler, Roger, who I have met online and is giving me some advice on Turkey. Turkey is where I’ve decided to spend my 90 days outside the zone, and in between my stays in Greece and Italy. Roger is experienced in what I am trying to do and is the person who alerted me to the Schengen Agreement.

My questions to Roger were, “How do the SA countries police this policy? If I tried to go straight from Greece to Italy, bypassing 90 days out of the zone, would Italian immigration stop me at the border? Or would Greek immigration prevent me from flying to Italy? His answer was straightforward, that passing among the SA countries is perfunctory, and that probably the only danger point would be when I left Italy. At that point, Italian immigration might fine me, detain me long enough to miss my flight, ban me from re-entering the zone for years, or just ignore it. Apparently, all those options have happened to people. Roger also suggested, since he did not have any first-hand, or even second-hand, knowledge of the possible penalties being meted out, that I should try the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum for real-world experiences on the subject, which I did.

I signed into the forum and asked basically the same questions I asked Roger. You would have thought I was a bunch of Mexicans scaling the border fence in Arizona. The first response was rude, saying basically that the question had been answered many times already. I don’t know why the person needed to chime in if he/she was irritated by the question but he/she proceeded to tell me what I was suggesting was illegal. Subsequent posts were equally as condescending, rude and, especially preachy. It felt like a tea party slamdown.

I asked if they needed to be so rude and I guess that got their danders up. They weren’t being rude, just telling me that what I was suggesting could get me in trouble. Duh! No one really answered my questions except to tell me about the same penalties Roger had already shared. Finally, I told the person who answered first, and who was the main problem with my post, to go fly a kite – in more vivid terms than that. Which, of course, brought more derision – now I was not only inciting illegal immigration activities (discussion of illegal activities is banned on the forum), but I was also foul and abusive. Well, they got the latter right anyway. More piling on followed.

When I was researching my move to Costa Rica last year, I frequented a couple of forums and experienced some of the same sort of behavior from what I assumed were regular posters on those forums. But they weren’t nearly so nasty. Irritated a bit that the same old questions were being asked, but really, what do they expect?

So, here is what I’ve learned. First, Western Europeans, at least those represented on this particular forum, can be rude, condescending and preachy. They definitely are concerned about the alien hordes invading their space. Second, I can spend 90 days in Greece and then go to Italy for another 90 days – without any problem. However, once I’m ready to leave Italy, immigration might just pass me through as an American going back home (from what I’ve learned probably the most likely outcome), or they might be more difficult and make me “pay” for not observing the law. If I’m fined, it will most likely be less than what I would spend in Turkey for 90 days, so there is a tradeoff there. Being banned from the EU for a couple of years doesn’t bother me, and missing my flight to the U.S. would be inconvenient but not a huge problem, “forcing” me to stay in Rome for an extra day or two. My friend, Roger, says Turkey is a great place to visit, however. I’ve got four months to make a decision.

Used suitcase for sale

For some time now, I’ve been considering slimming down the 2 Bags and a Pack tour to just one bag and a pack (but not change the name of the blog). I carry around a lot of stuff, most of which I use, and mostly clothing for different climates, like I will experience over the next year. But lugging two heavy suitcases around is no fun, and costs me in airline baggage fees, so I plan to assess what things I absolutely need and what I can get by without. This might mean buying new clothes as I travel and wear out the old ones.

Also, here are three others doing what I’m doing, but with far more experience. A couple of them have written travel books and at least one of them is making money from his Web site to finance his journeys. The vagabonding site is putting up a short Q&A with me about my adventure.

http://thepocketexplorer.com

http://www.nomadicmatt.com

www.vagabonding.net