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!

Up next: Rome, Italy, and Catania, Sicily

Booking multiple flights and hotels, not to mention tourist activities, can be a pain – but


today I finally made my travel plans for Italy. I decided to delay visiting Greece until next year because of all the civil unrest there.

First, I had to book a flight from Zagreb, Croatia, to Rome. Because it will take me 4-5 hours by bus to get to Zagreb, I booked a 5:15 flight. One stop in Munich and then arrive in Rome at 9 pm. I booked a round-trip ticket because it was actually cheaper than a one-way. In Rome, I’ve reserved a room at Hotel Seiler for three nights, right in the center of the tourist area. I also booked a hop-on/hop-off bus tour for two days, so I can ride all around to see the sights, get off when I want, and take my time at each site. I’ll have two days in Rome to see the sights and sample the cuisine.

On Nov. 24, I fly to Catania, Sicily, on Blue Panorama Airways. Great name! Flight arrives late morning. There, I have a room booked at the Hotel Catania Centro for three nights. The hotel is centrally located, necessary so that I can use the three days to find an apartment. I also have a return flight from Catania to Rome scheduled for Feb. 23, at which point the plan is to travel to Turkey for a three-month stay.

All the travel and hotels will cost less than $800. I’m getting nervous again. And this trip I plan to take with just one suitcase and my backpack.

Today’s lesson: you gotta lie

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The day started early, as I couldn’t shut my brain down once I woke. I needed to resolve the apartment thing, and negotiate the amount I’m paying nightly for the hostel. Both tasks required the help of my new friends, Mario and Anita. But how to contact them?

Finished up my usual Internet stuff in the morning, including applying for a few jobs (what a waste of time, except you never know). But couldn’t make a call to Anita. The connection wasn’t very good and she might have had her phone off. So I packed up my trusty laptop and headed for the center (that’s what they call the center of town here – duh!, which basically is around where the bridge crosses over to Old Town). I’m trying to find a place within or close to the center.

The Wi-Fi signal at the square was poor and Anita might have had her phone off, so we didn’t connect for awhile. Finally decided to walk around a bit and take some pictures – a little different view of some earlier areas. Went back to the square, had a beer, called again and decided to head back to the hostel. Time about 5 pm.

Since Mario’s apartment was on the way, I tried to retrace my steps of two nights previous, but got lost. So I went across the street from the cafe Anita worked at, knowing the apartment was nearby, turned on the laptop, acquired the cafe’s wireless, and called her. The rest of the evening was great.

They invited me in and Mario started searching the Web site we’ve been watching for rentals. One came up that looked really good, down the coast a bit but really near the water, and still within decent walking distance of the center. So they immediately volunteered to drive me to see the apartment, after already making the phone call asking about the unit. Awesome! It gets better, right after it gets worse.

We drove to this house south of Zadar center, located in what was described as the old city before the center moved north. Very nice neighborhood. The house in question was a 2-story. a short walk down a path to the sea. It was modern and really very nice (for 320 euros/month) and I was ready to sign on the dotted line, except the landlord wanted someone for a longer term. I’ve discovered that the rental landlords try to leave June-September open for the high-priced tourists, and the rest of the year they like to rent to students to fill out the full year. Makes sense, but it’s absolutely killing my chances of finding an apartment. So, new strategy. Call it Plan G.

Whenever anyone asks from now on, I’m here until at least next June. What can it hurt? I can leave the country at any time. There would be no long-term lease that would be enforceable. The 3-month request was killing me. They want a longer term, and who can blame them. So I’m going to lie, and say I’m going to be here longer than I plan, or actually can do. After three months, I pull up stakes in the middle of the night.

But I lost out on that nice apartment today – simply because of the time issue. They had two students who wanted the place through next June. If I told them (through Mario, who’s great with the conversations) I would be there until June I might have gotten the apartment (old guy vs. wild students thing). But I didn’t. Lost opportunity.

Well, my new friends were not quite done with me. They needed groceries, so we stopped at Kaufland, the big supermarket. Anita says she likes it because the prices are lower. They picked up a bunch of stuff and I wandered around and grabbed a few things I needed. Then they invited me to dinner. And volunteered to drop me off at the hostel and to plead my case about the rent – in the landlord’s language. Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

Their first-floor flat I would think is quite nice here. Always, these places have small, but workable kitchens, sometimes they have balconies. Mario likes to work in the kitchen. He cut up some salami handmade by his father, Roma-like tomatoes from his family’s garden, and some excellent bread. They initially turned on some classic rock on their computer (they were using youtube to play music) and then asked what I wanted to hear. Well, I wanted to hear what they normally listened to. Among the artists we listened to was Darko Rundek, with his album Blue Airplane.

The salami is a dry sausage called Kulen or Kulin. Its making goes back many years, hundreds, I think, and today a stick of this can set you back more than $70. The piece we ate was prepared by his father who lives near Zagreb. Dinner was vegetarian, which Anita tries to adhere to, with sauteed peppers and onions in a sour cream/spice mix. On a bed of white rice. Quite good. Dinner was great but I still had my hostel problem.

Mario volunteered to drive me back and talk to my landlords. Anita stayed behind. Mario was incredible. To be honest, I couldn’t understand any of the conversation. Mario, the landlord and the landlady often were all talking at the same time. I could tell it was generally a friendly discussion. My fear was that they would take offense at me bringing in someone else to bargain. I simply told Mario what I was paying daily, what I wanted to pay and how long I might stay. He did the rest. He should get into politics. Seriously.

Through his efforts, I now am paying half of what I was paying before. I don’t even have to change rooms, except the second bedroom is where I can get the Wi-Fi signal, so I’ll change bedrooms tomorrow. The other downside is the bedroom I’m leaving has been booked and I will have to share the apartment with two people from the UK for two nights this weekend. I was told they might be female. Darn! But the landlords expect little business going forward, so I will probably have the place to myself again until I find a new home.