The Good and the Bad

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
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Trip End Nov 21, 2006


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Friday, August 25, 2006

In the first seven and a half months of my trip, spanning three continents, I had only been to seven different countries. When I crossed the border from Bosnia to Croatia about 10 days ago I had hit my eighth country in less than a month. Eight countries, eight different cultures, eight different currencies, all in roughly 28 days. For whatever reason, it was finally the Croatian Kuna that I could never get my head around. Maybe it was because Croatia was so much more expensive than any other Eastern European country (accommodation, food, even a pivo -- beer -- was roughly three times as much as any other place) that when I converted it, it just couldn't possibly be right. Either case, the monopoly money syndrome had kicked in and I would just hand over how much ever money I was told to without knowing for certain how much I had exactly spent. A little dangerous when you're on a budget.

I started my time in Croatia in Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is a very nice city, sitting on a stunning sea with some decent beaches, so it has a lot going for it to make it a prime tourist hotspot. But there was something unspoken, unseen about it, a vibe or whatever you want to call it, that made it really special. I spent three full days there but I could have easily spent three full weeks. The first day there I was in the Old Town. Dubrovnik's Old Town is completely surrounded by city walls which you can walk along and on top of for the length of the circuit (for a price, of course). As my buddy Adrian said, 'If you don't do the walls in Dubrovnik, there's no point in going.' It's a fantastic way to spend a few hours. The views are amazing, whether they're of the city with it's lines of red roofs and church spires or the Adriatic, one of the most perfect blue bodies of water you'll ever see. Once I was through with the walls I went into the town itself and wandered up and down the main streets and wound my way through as many of the small alleys and side streets as I could manage. It was hard to get my head around the fact that this was an actual town, where restaurants and bars stayed open late and people actually lived in the houses. So many of the other old towns I've been in, especially within walls, were like museum pieces, places to pay admission fees and snap photos and then when 7 or 8 rolls around they shut down and you go back to your hostel. But Dubrovnik's Old Town is still perfectly functional, with delicious (if not brutally expensive) restaurants and chilled out bars where people congregate on the alleyway steps and listen to live music, it just happens to be set within very old walls.

My final day in Dubrovnik I spent on Lokrum, a small island just 15 minutes by ferry from the walls. The beaches are much emptier and the interior of the island is lush and contains several historic buildings, including a monastery and a fort at the top that affords great views of the city and a deckchair at the top of the tower to lounge on. One thing about the beaches in Croatia. They're not what you'd normally imagine a beach to be. There are hardly any sand beaches at all, it's all rock, so they can be really uncomfortable if you find the wrong groove. The rocks may be uncomfortable, but the water is about as refreshing as any I've ever swam in, and crystal clear too. You barely need a mask to snorkel. When I got back to my apartment from Lokrum, I was informed by Dennis and Darren -- the two Croatian-Canadian boys who were also staying there -- that 'Baca' Ana, the crazy Croatian grandmother who lived in the same apartment was making us dinner. We weren't sure if this was a normal occurrence or she was just excited to have someone understand her when she rattled on in Croatian (she spoke Croatian to everybody as if we were fluent in the language, it so happened that the two guys had a passing knowledge) but we weren't complaining either way. The dinner was spectacular -- fresh fish, fresh salad, bread, everything you could want, and way too much of it. Ana was the typical grandmother, every time our plate was empty she was chucking more food on it, even if we couldn't cram down another morsel. Each time one of us cracked open a new beer she would point and say 'pivo malo' which I took to mean a little bit. So, each time a new beer was opened, Ana got a little bit of beer. I suspect Baca Ana was more than a little tipsy by the time the last fish was picked clean.

From Dubrovnik I took a great coast-hugging bus ride up to Split. I went to Split only because I had been told a ferry to Hvar (an island near Split) only ran from Dubrovnik twice a week. This, I later learned was not even close to true as one runs every day. Split was a decent town with a nice old town centered by the Diocletian Palace and the surrounding Roman ruins. There wasn't a whole lot to the town, but certainly enough to kill an evening. The next morning, at way too early an hour, I was on the boat to Hvar. As it turned out I had awful timing for arriving on the island. Had I showed up a day earlier (as I had wanted) I would've had a night with Tonye and Lin, the two Norwegian girls I met in Sarajevo and spent half a day with in Mostar. Had I stayed a day later I would've been able to hang out with the two Australian girls I started talking to in Lokrum after overhearing one of them say she had studied at NC State. I also happened to arrive on a date where not a single apartment owner seemed to have a single available. After an hour or so of asking every person with a backpack if they were also looking for accommodation, I finally tracked down Anna from Sydney who was in the same predicament. We finally found a place, but the only option we had without getting ripped off was sharing a single in which I slept on the cot. Once that was squared away, I spent two days of nothing but laying out on the 'beaches' trying to reverse the fading my tan had been going through after a month of being in landlocked countries (and don't give me that, 'poor Dan, your tan is fading, woe is me,' you all saw me before I left. It was a solid decade since I last had a tan, I need to milk it for all it's worth).

Aside from the cost of living, I enjoyed Croatia, beautiful scenery, great swimming, relaxed atmosphere. At the same time though, the lack of hostels was starting to really drag on me. Unlike Asia, which was also all private accommodation, Croatia is more touristy than backpackery and it was that much harder to find people to eat dinner with or share some drinks. It was one of the rare times that I was feeling a bit lonely. The timing of my time in Hvar didn't help any and I was in a bit of a funk as I sat around Split during my final afternoon in the country waiting for an overnight train that would take me to Ljubljana, Slovenia via Zagreb. It also set the stage for the worst moment of the trip.

Throughout Eastern Europe, I had been weary of overnight trains. I had heard enough bad things about the Prague-Krakow route that I was willing to give up a better part of a day to take the morning train. For whatever reason, I didn't think Split-Zagreb would be a problem. When I woke at 7 am, already in Zagreb, feeling much more rested than I should have after sleeping 6 hours in a train, I knew something was wrong. I looked to my watch to see what time it was and it wasn't there. I looked in my backpack and quickly realized my camera wasn't there either. I had that feeling like I was still dreaming since my watch and camera were the only two things I had moved around since being in the train. After the one other girl in the carriage announced with relief that her iPod was still in her bag, I had one of those 'oh shit' moments and realized that was the one other thing missing. I've tried to put it all in perspective, saying at least I wasn't harmed and at least the dickless sons of bitches who robbed me didn't take my three full CDs of photos (every picture I'd taken in Europe) or my eight and a half months worth of journals and email addresses. Still, that watch had sentimental value. The camera was brand new, and I went through way too much stress waiting for it to arrive in Ios and for it to be sent at all for some asshole to just run off with it. Not to mention that my night time photos of Mostar plus every single photo I took in Croatia was on the memory card inside. And for the final two-plus months of the trip I'll have to be like Andy DuFresne in solitary. The music I want will have to be in my head and nowhere else. It was the first time I really had the distinct feeling of wanting to go home. But that won't happen just yet, I won't let these 'people' ruin this trip for me.
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