I should have known when the church bells rang loudly every hour from 6 am (Sunday) that my day would be difficult. But it turned out okay after a major problem. First, some odds and ends as I sip on some Croatian brandy ($10):
I converted $1,600 in U.S. dollars into euros at the Zagreb airport as soon as I arrived. DON’T DO THIS! They charged me about $90! Also, the shopkeepers here in Zadar really don’t like dealing with the euro. They much prefer the Croatian currency, the kuna. Some shops will only take kunas (5 kunas = $1).
There are virtully no places in Zadar for breakfast, maybe at the hotels but not out and about. Typically, what the locals do, if they don’t eat at home, is stop at a pekarna for pastry and then head to a cafe for coffee. And they don’t do American-style filtered coffee – it’s all expresso, about $1.20 per cup. Get the milk with it; otherwise, you will have a half-inch of coffee in the cup, barely two swallows.
Free Wi-Fi hotspots are common in Zadar, or you can often “borrow” from an unprotected router. There are eight Wi-Fi networks around the hostel and one is unprotected, which is what I’m using now. Many of the cafes, like Gin, offer free Wi-Fi to customers – order a coffee or beer and spend as much time as you want. Zadar does not have cable service, so you see a lot of satellite dishes on buildings.
Went into the local major supermarket Saturday to pick up a few things and check out the prices. Here are some examples:
Potatoes, large bag, $1.40; lettuce, head, $1; tomatoes, kilo (2.2 pounds), $1; coffee, 20 oz. ground, $4.40; Snickers bar, large, $1.10; microwave popcorn, 3-pack, $2.40; flour, 4.4 pounds, $2.10; spaghetti, package, $.65; chicken breast, skinned, kilo, $5.40; frozen pepperoni pizza, large, $3; bacon, kilo, $17.40 (yikes!); ground beef, kilo, $7.40; sour cream, large, $2; butter, 1/2 pound, $2.50; milk, liter, $1.65; eggs, 1o, $2.10; sugar, kilo, $1.60.
Walked to the Gin Cafe to meet up with Anita, my angel, who was supposed to be working until 1 pm. Stopped at a pekarna (bakery) on the way to pick up breakfast (a sausage wrapped in a baked roll for me and a fig-filled pastry for Anita). But she was not at the cafe. The owner said she wasn’t working today. Ordered a kava (coffee) and a bottle of water (it’s a long walk) and went on the Wi-Fi.
Left Anita’s phone number in my room, so I couldn’t contact her. Decided to just walk
around Old Town on the island and look for apartment rental signs – or just look around like a tourist and take a bunch of pictures (see slide show).
Gin Cafe is only a block from the walkway bridge to the island. You pass through a rock archway gate and then are faced with all these narrow walkways and streets. Old Town is the center of tourism here. Angel Anita, BTW, works a second job on the island giving henna tattoes. So I was hoping maybe I would find her as I walked around.
I walked around like a tourist all afternoon, snapping pictures of most everything.
Walked around the entire island (attached to the mainland by a landfill) and through most of the nooks and crannies..There were “wow” moments when you first see some of the older buildings.
The Rich American Syndrome
I finally saw a sign for apartments/rooms so I rang the bell. A burly guy with a ponytail came to the door but he didn’t understand English. A woman was talking to him from the top of the stairs. The man did tell me the room was 50 euros a night – the tourist price. I said never mind, that I needed a place for 3 months. This got the woman at the top of the stairs excited. Suddenly, they don’t have a room, they have an apartment. They asked me to come back in an hour.
So I decided to get my first meal of the day, and the island has numerous restaurants, big and small. I finally settled on Bruschetta’s, an Italian place looking over the Adriatic. Ordered a very large draft Karlovacko, a native beer that can be found often as the only draft served in the cafes. Quite good and better than its U.S. counterpart, Budweiser, by far. Lunch was a plate of battered and fried prawns (18) that I had to shell at the table (very messy). The prawns were on a bed of julienned onions, zucchini and peppers, also battered and fried lightly. Delicious. Ate the whole thing, which is good because it turned out to be my only meal of the day. Then back to the apartment building where now a tall young man named Eric was waiting. He spoke English and was the reason they wanted me to come back in an hour. The man and the woman were still there and I’m guessing Eric is their son.
The building is located in the middle of Old Town, just a short walk from the bridge It is on the third floor, two bedrooms, kitchen and bath, and a small deck overlooking a the alleyway (main pedestrian street) below. They normally rent out the bedrooms separately during the season (which is now over) and renters share the bath and kitchen. For me, however, they would rent me the apartment, without the second bedroom, all to myself, and keep the second bedroom unoccupied. It’s fully, if somewhat raggedly, furnished, with kitchen stuff, gas stove, refrigerator, TV, no Internet, washing machine and an area to dry clothes on the deck. How much? I asked Eric.
The first price he gave was 500 euros a month, or just over $700. Since that was twice my budget I said thanks but no thanks. He immediately said 400 euros and I explained my budget was 300 euros. I thanked him for his time and started down the steps. The landlords live on the second floor, and as I passed their open door, Eric was talking with the woman. She apparently decided that three months guaranteed at 300 euros a month was better than getting an occasional renter for 50 euros a night. Since I was to see a couple more apartments, and hadn’t hooked up with my angel yet, I got their number and said I’d call back today.
Feeling pretty good about myself for having negotiated the rent price without knowing the language, I was ready to drag my weary bones back the 2 miles to the hostel. There, I could call Anita to set up a time to meet on Monday. Except, guess who was working at a trinket stand just inside the entrance gate? Yep, there she was, my angel. Coincidence? Maybe.
Turns out, she had been let go that morning shortly before I arrived at the Gin Cafe. We walked to the square, ordered two beers and talked some more and she made a couple of phone calls on my Skype before she had to return to work.
This morning (Monday, Sept. 12), I called her to set up a time today, but she’s working until 4 pm, so I plan to make calls myself and hope for someone speaking English on the other end. At 4, I’ll connect with her. I plan to rent an apartment today, the one I saw yesterday if necessary.