When I wrote last, I had just arrived in Budva, Montenegro, a place to my liking. It has a long beach, rocky of course, and a nice old walled town. (Have any of you ever been on a beach in Europe that was sandy, rather than rocky? If so, where?) My room was large and comfortable with a great view of the old town and the Med. Food and wine were good and cheap. It met all of my essential requirements to be a place in which to linger and linger I did.
I wish I could say the same for Dubrovnik. It is a place that I have wanted to visit for many years and it is worth a visit. You could spend as much as a half a day there; A few hours to see the old town and an evening to go up the hill and see the sunset over the town and the Adriatic. Then I recommend you leave the next morning.
Any town or city worth being referred to as such along the Adriatic Coast has a wall around it. I believe it is because at one time they had a nasty pirate problem. Dubrovnik is certainly the most famous, largest and most picturesque of the genre. Unfortunately, the pirates have returned. They are the towns people. They pillage and plunder the tourist that visit. For example, a small bottle of water can be purchased in any of the towns kiosks for $ 2.50. You can buy the same bottle in the grocery for 30-40 cents. The food seemed abysmal. Without competition the two worst meals that I have had in two months were there. Both were over priced and one was inedible. How do you render a simple pizza margherita inedible? It's simple. You substitute rock salt for the basil. Did they think I wouldn't notice? Dubrovnik has London or Paris prices, but offers old Warsaw Pact quality.
Split was much more to my liking; a real town with real people on the coast north of Dubrovnik. Its old town is built within the walls of the palace that the Roman emperor Diocletian built for his retirement. The size of the palace was 289,000 square. feet. It was good to be the Emperor! As time passed and the palace lapsed into decay, the petty nobles and rich merchants of the late middle ages built their homes within the ruins of the palace. It is quite remarkable and very scenic at night when the city is well lit. It reminded me a little if Avignon, with many small, winding streets opening into piazzas that were packed with cafes.
I rented a little apartment from a local woman. When she took me to the apartment, I was certain that I recognized the area from my last visit to Split. So much so, that the next building was very familiar, but I couldn't place it until after I had paid cash in advance for the apartment. The next building was the public fish market, which became more and more recognizable as the day grew warmer. No problem though, or so I thought, my room had an AC, at night, I will be able to close my windows.
That evening, after a good meal, and a cafe sit in the main piazza. I returned to my room and discovered that the AC didn't work. I had been to the woman's office earlier in the day, but I was certain at that time of night no one would be there, assuming I could even find it again. Do you have any idea how many cats hang out at a fish market at night? Its like a feline night club. I also don't believe that they have programs for neutering cats in Croatia, so more than a few of the cats at the club were in heat. Imagine trying to sleep during a warm night when your bed is in the middle of a large, empty tuna can that is surrounded by a cat orgy. I am thankful that I paid for only one night.
Dubrovnik, the cats and finally the birds helped wean me away from Croatia. After six weeks in the Med, on a variety of beautiful islands and scenic coasts, I was starting to suffer a little separation anxiety. Going to central Europe, leaving behind my Mediterranean diet for beets, cabbage, sausage and beer was not exciting me. I also knew that I would not be seeing another beach until I hit the South China Sea in Vietnam. But the bird broke the spell and helped to send me on my way.
I had just cleaned up for dinner was not out of the apartment for 10 minutes when I became ground zero for a big bird bomb. It was the second time I had been hit on the trip. I have become very adept at avoiding the ubiquitous doggie detritus in many foreign cities, but there is something nefarious about the Euro birds. I have never been hit by a good American bird and know very few that have. Yet, here, I have been targeted twice. Last year, in France, Linda Jo was hit twice within a half hour. I recall laughing at my friend and long time travel companion, Mike, 35 years ago when he was frequently bombed by birds in Europe. I can think of only two threads common to the incidents of bird terror that I have experienced or witnessed. Each time I was in Europe and there was an unpopular war going on at the time. With Mike, it was Vietnam. Linda Jo and I were victims during the War in Iraq. In between these wars, even though I traveled in Europe many times, there were no other incidents of this type. Could Euro birds be political ? Perhaps all Euro birds are doves.
On the the way to Zagreb from Trogir, yet another walled town on the Croatian coast, the bus stopped for lunch in the middle of nowhere and believe me nowhere in Croatia isn't even close to anywhere. The driver announced how long we would be there in Serbo-Croatian. Because my Serbo-Croatian is not what it should be, I thought I should keep the bus in site, so I sat at a table about 20 feet from it. I ordered pomme frites (French fries) and a beer.
I thought I would enjoy a snack while I caught up on my journal. When I was about half finished with my fries, the driver walked past me heading for the bus. I thought time to go, so I stood immediately, put my journal in my day pack, grabbed a handful of fires, wrapped them in a napkin, took a step toward the bus and saw every traveler's nightmare. The door of the bus closed and the bus started to move. For a moment, I was stunned. The driver or conductor didn't make the usual last call for the destination or even look behind them. They just got in the bus and left. I thought, for a few seconds, that they were simply moving the bus. A thought dispelled when the bus accelerated. When I realized that I was being abandoned. I went in hot pursuit, chasing the bus down the road. Under the circumstances, it was difficult to be mindful of my fries that exploded out of my napkin flying far in every direction as I took off. Fortunately, it was a cool day and few people eating outside or the potato shrapnel may have resulted in casualties. Unfortunately, the bus didn't slow down and my backpack with all of my belongings, but for the contents of my day pack was on it. Not being prone to panic, I felt I should explore my options before starting to cry.
There were two other buses at the restaurant. The first I could clearly see was not going to Zagreb, but it blocked the second that was loading passengers and about to depart. On closer inspection, I saw the destination was Zagreb. I ran over to the conductor, explained my predicament and received a dumb stare in return. He spoke no English. I showed him the ticket to the bus that just departed and pointed down the road and kept repeating Zagreb. He finally said 150 kuna, which is a much as I had paid for the complete trip to begin with. I explained that I had already paid once and didn't think I should have to pay again, but in any event I was getting on the bus. Perhaps, it was my persuasiveness. It might have been a look of desperation on my face or he may have feared that I had another pomme frite grenade, but he permitted me on the bus and didn't make me pay. When I got on, I told the driver to follow that bus, but I don't think he got it.
We were only about 10 minutes behind my luggage and in hot pursuit. I kept thinking that we might pass the bus or the bus would still be parked at the station when I arrived. I also took a mental inventory of what was in my pack which confirmed that never seeing it again would be very inconvenient. Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, is a relatively large city with a bus station commensurate to its size and status. I am certain that a crazy old, bald guy running from bus to bus was noticed. The bus with my pack was nowhere to be found. Was there another bus station? My optimism was being threatened. I did find the office of the bus company explained my plight to few different people until I found one that understood enough English to help. She told me that my bus had already gone to the garage. That bus didn't linger for long anywhere. She would check with the garage when it arrived to see if my bag was there. She asked me to come back in 10 minutes. I came back in 10 minute increments six times before I was told that they had found my bag. It would be delivered by the next bus out of the garage, which would arrive in an hour and half. I could have kissed the woman, hairy warts and all. I was so thrilled that the thought of waiting in the station longer was no problem at all.
When the bus pulled into the station, my pack was the first thing off. I expressed my thanks to the driver. He motioned for me to wait. He got back on the bus and pulled out my hat that had left to mark my seat. I didn't think there was a chance of seeing it again. I wasn't even concerned about it. He put it on my head backwards while he and his two buddies in the bus laughed and gave me a look that said, "in our day, if you were stupid enough to be left behind, you would be food for the Chetniks". I tried to assume my best military bearing and sternest look to communicate to him that "we leave no one behind". But I fear I looked more like a smirking George Bush talking about, "no child left behind", which was probably more applicable to me. I went quite happily on my way with all of my stuff intact.
Sorry this is so long, but I have been in ober-uber travel mode zipping across Croatia, criss-crossing Hungary and Slovenia, ending up in Warsaw, after spending the better part of 3 days on trains and busses.