A walk and a strudel

It’s another beautiful day in Vodice – clear blue sky, little wind, bright sun and about 60

A typical street in the center of town, Vodice, Croatia

degree high. Time for a walk into town, made easier by the gradual healing of my big toe, which has been infected as the nail makes its way off the skin. Ouch! (Probably more information than anyone needed to know.)

I had two tasks today. First, I needed to use an ATM; second, I needed to print out my travel documents as I’m not traveling with a printer. I didn’t remember seeing anyplace in town where I could do this but thought I’d take another look around. My hope is that Zdravko has a printer in his downstairs office but I wanted to try doing this task on my own. The walk is about a mile, past all the large, stone and cinder block houses, all with their vegetable gardens, rosemary bushes and olive trees.

The ATM was easy. Same process as in the States. English is one of the default languages. Took out what I hope will be enough kunas to make it through Nov. 21, when I leave. However, I could not find anyplace that looked like it did any printing.

My next trip into town will be for a haircut. It’s getting gnarly.

On the way back, I stopped at a pekara for a pastry, opting for a cherry strudel ($1.40). The shop is right across the street from the grocery, Konzum.

A Little History

Since a friend mentioned that she had a completely false impression of this country (backwards, poor farmers, etc.), I thought a little background might be in order.

Croatia covers 21,851 square miles. Croatia’s Adriatic Sea coast is has about 1,200 islands and is characterized by its rocky, mountainous terrain. The population is about 4.3 million; the main religion is Roman Catholicism.

Until 1991, the country was part of Yugoslavia. That year, it declared independence, after which came the 4-year Croatian War of Independence. Even cities on the coast, such as Zadar, were bombarded during the war. Today, Croatia ranks high among Central European nations in terms of education, health, quality of life and economic growth. Per capita income is $15,633.

Croatia is a member of the United Nations, NATO, the WTO, and is waiting for approval to join the European Union. It has had troops in Afghanistan. Tourism is a prime source of income during the summer, with Croatia ranked the 18th most popular tourist destination in the world. The Croatian government has been rapidly building the country’s infrastructure, as evidenced by the new highway from Zagreb to the coast, which includes several tunnels bored through the mountains, one 5 kilometers long. The country has universal healthcare and free education through high school. By all measures, the Croatian health system ranks far above the United States, while costs are far below the U.S.

There is a thriving wine-making industry, with many individuals also growing their own grapes and making their own wines. Olive oil also is produced heavily, and again, many individuals grow their own olive trees and make their own olive oil. Jams made from native cherries and figs also are prevalent. The country also produces several fruit-based brandies and liquors, including several made from local cherries.

At least along the coast, the natural beauty is spectacular. The old towns in almost every coastal city are a must-see for visitors – or at least one or two before it gets monotonous. All the people I’ve met have been friendly and very helpful, although I don’t get much eye contact from strangers on the street. The women working in the grocery never seem to smile, either, but that might just be because it’s not a great job and probably has long hours. Enough edumacation!

False alarm …

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

… but you gotta love the effort!

Woke up this morning with two goals – trek into town with my laptop to catch up with everyone and then to walk around old town looking for apartments. Ran the laptop battery out of juice at the cafe, after two cups of espresso (I know now to have it with milk) and a cherry strudel. Tried to load a short video to my Facebook page but the connection dropped a couple of times and the upload takes more than an hour. Also checked on airfare from Zadar and Zagreb to Athens, Greece, for the middle of October. Turns out I can fly cheaper on a round-trip ticket than one-way. Also, it is much better cost-wise to take the bus from Vodice to Zagreb to catch a flight than to fly from Zadar, when you also have to endure two stops. However, the cheapest flight out of Zagreb going to Athens leaves at 6:50 am, so a hotel stay would be necessary in Zagreb.

Then I set out exploring, looking for “apartmeni” signs. Found some places where I can sit in the shade (to reduce screen glare) and perhaps steal some free Wi-Fi from nearby cafes. Because my battery was too low on power, I was not able to boot it up to find out if there were Wi-Fi connections available, but confident there are. At the cafe, at least 15 Wi-Fi connections showed up, some without security codes. Bless those dumb people.

Then I just started walking the alleyways. I guess they’re really streets but you can barely fit a small car down these things, much less two-way traffic. So, here’s this American, walking around blindly, barely able to say “hello” in Croatian, trying to find an apartment in a strange land. Somehow, I needed to ask if an apartment was available, can I see it, how much is it, and, importantly, I wanted to rent it for two months (dva mjesec). I had to keep going back to my dictionary to memorize the word for month.

At the first place I found, I tried to engage an older man who was outside but he did not understand English. I did get the concept of what I was looking for through to him, though. At precisely that moment, another older man walked nearby and the two of them spoke. The second man understood English. (It’s important to understand that mostly the people who understand English here are younger. The older people mostly speak Croatian and German.) He did, in fact, have available apartments but I would have to speak with his wife. Seems like the women here handle the personal business decisions, the men just nod and agree.

They showed me a couple of flats, a bit old and used, but possibilities. They wanted to know what I was currently paying for rent before they gave me a price, and, of course, their price matched what I am already paying. They also do not offer Internet service but I could probably just pick up a signal from the town square, the apartment was so close. We’re talking a couple of blocks from the water. Then we got to talking. They lived in Cleveland for 10 years, leaving in 1992, and had all sorts of U.S. mementos in their apartment. (Yes, they invited me in, a common practice here.) They gave me a card and I said I’d call them back.

I kept walking and found a street with two nightclubs, one a disco and the other called The Playboy Club, open 9 pm to 5 am. Interesting. Might warrant further investigation. There was an apartment building right next door to the Playboy Club, with a young guy who spoke English who was in charge. He showed me three apartments, two of which were renting for slightly less than I’m now paying. They were a little seedy, did not have much outside access and I was a little afraid of the possible noise level with two clubs next door. Said I’d call him back.

I kept walking, now getting closer to the water. Found a house of apartments and talked to a young guy who lives in Zagreb but had come to Vodice for a week to help his grandmother harvest her grapes and make some wine. The dry summer meant the harvest was not as good as usual but they did bottle 400 liters of wine just from the grapes in growing in her yard. She owned the apartments and speaks no English. The young man showed me a studio apartment (too small) and two first-floor one-bedroom units, both for 2,000 kunas a month ($400). They were respectable and only a block from the water. Told him I would come back the next day if I was interested in renting because he was going back to Zagreb and she would not have understood me if I had called.

All these people were anxious to rent their apartments in the off-season for far less than what they get during the summer ($60-70 a night). Better to have some revenue than an empty apartment, so getting the rents down to my level was not a problem. They all asked first what I wanted to pay, so you have to be careful not to give away too much negotiating power.

The weather had turned a little warm, with a bright sun, and the pack was getting a little heavy, so I stopped at a store to grab a Karlovacko for the walk back. I stopped at one more place, an obvious tourist apartment complex. A nice young lady who spoke English said the rates there, off-season, were 65 euros a night. I said thank you, no, and she invited me back anytime if I needed any information or help. Hmmm.

Now, I needed to find out the situation at the apartment I was already renting. My sole purpose for moving would be to get closer to the center, primarily for quick access to the Internet. None of the apartments I looked at, however, had Internet access, and would require me to find an available Wi-Fi signal, either from the apartment or in the center of town where all the cafes are.

Visnje was home when I returned and invited me in, offered me a seat and something to drink. I probably looked like I could use something. She also offered me lunch, and then pulled out two bottles of homemade hooch. One was a bottle of sour cherry wine, which I tasted. Quite good and sweet. The other was the Croatian moonshine I was given a shot of at dinner last night. It’s called slivovitz and is a clear plum brandy. Looks like water but tastes like fire water. Paula in Punta Gorda knows what I’m talking about. Visnje told me it is routine for the restaurant to give diners a complimentary shot of a local liquor with dinner.

I asked her about the Internet. Turns out things were not as bad as she made out the night before. The TV and Internet service is back on but I can’t go online until Zdarko, her husband, comes home from work and enters a code into the system. So, tonight I will once again be connected – and I will not need to move. Except I need to find out what I’m being charged for Internet access, because they have a printout in the apartment that says Internet service is charged by the minute. That would bankrupt me, as I turn it on when I get up in the morning and don’t turn it off until bedtime. I’m sure they will settle for a flat monthly rate.

On the bright side of my trek around town, I did hone my skills at associating with strangers in a strange land and a strange language (to me). No need for you to pat me on the back, I’m already doing it. Quite pleased, actually, that in just an hour or so I was able to find three new places to live that would have been suitable for the next two months.