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.

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.

Turkey or Romania

The third leg of my southern European trip is still in limbo and now I may have a choice


between Turkey and Romania. I can’t stay in the European Union countries for more than 90 days at a time because of what’s called the Schengen Agreement, so I have to visit a non-Schengen country for 90 days between my stays in Greece and Italy. I was focusing on Turkey for the third leg of the trip but now I have an invitation to stay with two friends from Sarasota who live in Oradea, Romania.

The problem , however, is that Romania has been accepted into the Schengen area but has not yet officially joined. It is scheduled to


do so in 2011 but the process may be delayed. If Romania finalizes the process before March, I won’t be able to go from Greece to Romania, and Turkey would be my next choice. And then on to Italy – aaah, summer in Sicily.

My research of the cost of living in Turkey shows: rental costs 17% of U.S. (vs. 24% in Costa Rica); groceries 41% (vs. 85% in Costa Rica); restaurant prices 26% (vs. 67% for Costa Rica); consumer prices 33% (vs. 76% for Costa Rica). So Turkey is far less expensive to live in than Costa Rica was.