False alarm …

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… 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.

A bit of a problem in paradise

Dinner out in Vodice (wor ee che – I think)

Not sure when this report will be posted as the Internet had been down here virtually all day, and it’s almost 10 pm here now. It’s frustrating not being connected to the outside world, but not something I’m unfamiliar with. Ubiquitous high-speed connections are the norm in the U.S., but not necessarily so in other countries. In this case, I’m not sure if it’s the DSL connection in the house or the provider’s problem. The owners have been away all day so I’ve been unable to ask.

NEWS FLASH. Just talked to Visjne about the Internet being down. Seems there’s a major problem with their cable that’s buried under the road and their terrace. That will take month’s of work if they have to start digging. I’ll be long gone. Wonder when they were going to tell me. In the meantime, however, I need to find another home. That’s right, another home. Internet access is absolutely vital. For the time being, I can hike into town and use the free Wi-Fi at any of the cafes. Not ideal, but doable. Not something I want to do until December, however. I like the look of the old town section so maybe I’ll see if there are any rentals there. That’s where most of the non-landlord locals live, anyway (i.e., younger people), and might be where most of the local activity is. Trying to make lemonade, you know.

Another option: Spend only six weeks in Croatia instead of 12, and make reservations for Greece for a month from now. Pay the rent here for a month and endure the daily Wi-Fi/cafe walk and experience – I might even meet some people. Why try to find an apartment here for six weeks? Maybe this is a sign to move on.

So, now I’ve got to check bus schedules back to the Zadar airport and flight schedules for Greece for mid-October.

Went fishing at the end of the day (9.20.11). Beautiful, quiet night. Didn’t catch anything

Sept. 20, 2011, sunset over Vodice, Croatia, harbor

but I did film a nice panorama of the harbor that you should be able to see on my Facebook page at some point (go to: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001772045648 and click on photos, and then videos). However, it takes more than an hour to load and I just lost the connection for a minute so I have to start over. Will try again later.

Determined beforehand that I would also continue on into town to get dinner. I decided on

Grilling fish, Croatian style

returning to the place where we saw the grill man cooking mackerel. Man, that was a hike! And to think Visjne and I walked the entire same route the day before. She’s a trooper to take me around so far so I could get my sight adjustments. I tracked every previous step last night and found my quarry. But I was crossed between the rolled meat and the suckling pig meals. The rolled meat sounded like it would be a bunch of meat types, ground, and cooked in a pastry shell. Nope. Meat sausage links and french fries, with a rice side. The meat was good but I should have chosen the pig. The waiter gave me a shot of a clear liquid that will clean out your insides quickly and thoroughly. I have no idea why he gave it to me. Maybe he thought I was cute. Meal and a Jack Daniels on the rocks: 85 kunas/$17, with a free shot of some Croatian moonshine kicked in.

On the way back, I stopped for an ice cream cone. There are several ice cream shops in town, each with their product showcased in the big front windows. Each ice cream flavor is decorated on top with whipped cream and colorings/toppings, indicating what type of ice cream is underneath. I chose something that looked like chocolate chip vanilla, and it was, sort of. A different, but good taste to the American staple.

I’ve been to the market twice already and still need a few things. Stopped this morning on my first walk to the sea and back to fill in what I missed yesterday. Here are some of the prices: plastic grocery bags. 20 cents each; fresh garlic, $2.80/kilo (2.2 pounds); fresh tomatoes, $1.80/kilo; orange juice, $2.20/liter; fresh light green peppers, $2/kilo; butter, $2.90/250 grams (about 9 oz.); bacon, unsliced w/rind, $17.50/kilo; salami, $7/330 grams; Parmesan cheese/block, $25.80/kilo; ground beef, $4.80/450 grams; chicken breast filets/skinless, $14/kilo; milk, $1.35/liter; paper towels, $3/roll; dry tea, $1.65/20-pack; ground coffee, $5.10/500 grams; bread, $2/500G loaf; fig jam, $2.15/380G; eggs, $2.20/10; olive oil, $7/quarter liter. Meats/chicken obviously are expensive. Fruits and veggies are cheap.

Right now, I’m at one of the cafes on the water at the marina. Quite crowded. I bought a cherry strudel first at a pekara and have had two cups of coffee (kava) here at $2 each. Free Internet here but my total for this is about $7. That’s pretty expensive if I do it every day. I’m going to find someplace around here where I can sit and steal Wi-Fi without buying anything.

I’ve started writing again. The book was more than two-thirds completed when all my traveling took hold. Couldn’t stay focused on it in Asheville, with all the people and activities. The nearly two weeks in Zadar were more about finding a place to live than writing anything more than my blog. Now that I’m settled, my mind can be clearer for the book.

Speaking of the book, the one already written, that is, a friend of mine in Charleston, S.C., just had her children’s book published by Tate Publishing, so I submitted my “Love Letters from Mama” manuscript to them for print consideration. It has been accepted for publication – BUT – I will be required to have a full-time publicist before they will publish the book in print. OR – they can handle the job for $4,000. So, who wants to be my “full-time” non-paid publicist? I’ve asked Jack in Costa Rica if I can use his name. I really don’t know what kind of verification they need that I have a “real” publicist but I’m sure they will tell me. Even if you actually have a GOOD book, getting it in print is difficult, unless you’re a recognized published author already. Certainly a Catch-22.