Hello, Mom and Dad!!! After four months away from family and friends, Kevin and I met up with my parents in Zagreb, Croatia---and to say that I was excited to see them is an understatement. (I was VERY pleased to see they were at least as excited to see us, as we found my mom waiting for us on the porch of our Zagreb hotel with camera in hand as we arrived). We would be spending a full week with them traveling throughout Croatia. The rough plan was to spend one nıght ın Zagreb, one nıght ın Plıtvıce Natıonal Park, two nıghts ın Splıt, and three nıghts ın Dubrovnık.
From the beginning, my parents told us that they wanted to travel our way... I think my dad even said it something like "essentially doing whatever it is that you would be doing had you been traveling by yourselves, with minor adjustments when necessary to meet our standards" (in other words that meant no hostels). Well, those are the words we essentially lived by -- accommodations and activities were made as we went, which didn't always go as smoothly as would be desired. But then again, that just makes for the experiences you remember and laugh about years down the road, right? :-)
One such experience occurred when we arrived in Split, a coastal city on the Adriatic Sea. Previously, from Zagreb, we went to the Plitvice National Park for a few days--which was great fun, but lacked internet connections (it also lacked sunshine for that matter, not to mention fog and rain, which doesn't make for the best combination when trying to see the scenery, but alas I digress). Due to not having internet connection in Plitvice, we were unable to book our hotel accommodations for Split (our next stop) in advance. We weren't too concerned about this since we were taking a 3-hour bus to Split that should have had us arriving late afternoon in plenty of time to look for accommodations. Also, our trusty Rick Steves guidebook told us that Croatia is famous for "sobes," which are similar to bed & breakfasts in the US. The owners of these accommodations are usually found in hordes at all the train and bus stops waving signs with advertisements and photos of their places, trying to get the tourists to stay at their particular sobe. At the very least, in the bus and train stations you can find sobe booking agencies where, for a small fee, they can show you pictures of all available Sobes and book one for you immediately upon arrival.
This, however, didn't work out to be the smooth operation we had hoped. First of all, our intended 3-hour or so bus ride ended up taking over 7 hours! When we asked the hotel receptionist in Plitvice the length of the ride, maybe she assumed we meant "if we traveled via Concordé jet." When we FINALLY arrived in Split, it was after 9pm, raining, and we were starving, tired, and had no place to stay. And to our bad luck, the expected masses of sobe owners were not to be found (probably due to the late hour and the weather) and the booking agency had closed for the night. Luckily (or so we thought), one little old lady who couldn't speak English approached us with her sobe advertisement sign. After several minutes of my mom and I trying to communicate with her via sign language, charades, and even the use of a random bystander for translation, we finally confirmed that she had two rooms available in her sobe located in the middle of the Old Town (downtown area), each with its own bathroom. Our luggage getting a unwanted free wash from the rain, we decided to follow her.
After a painfully slow walk through the rain, we finally reached her sobe. We walked into the lobby of a large apartment building and all stared towards the winding staircase that went directly up. Kevin and my dad decided to wait with our luggage on the bottom floor, while my mom and I followed her to check out the rooms. After a couple flights of very steep stairs, the lady stopped on the landing. Whew! Well, two flights is manageable wıth luggage we thought (though barely!). "Which room is ours?" I asked. She giggled quickly with her hands on her knees taking in several large breaths. "Up, up" she said between breaths and pointed further up the staircase. "Rest," she said next as she moved to the handrail to support herself as she tried to steady her breathing. My mom and I just looked at each other. More stairs? Finally we climbed the remaining flights of stairs and reached her sobe apartment. When she opened the door it was chaos. A scraggly dog came running over. An older man was watching TV in the next room over. Junk was everywhere. My mom and I later reported that it felt like we walked into someone's cramped, very busy home without warning -- nothing was picked up and this didn't appear to be a business that they regularly entertained. "Where are the rooms?" I asked. So she led us to two bedrooms, moving furniture and items out of our way as we followed her. We saw the rooms and immediately knew we couldn't stay here. It smelled thickly of tobacco smoke, among other (and more glarıng) problems. We didn't find the promised attached bathrooms and asked where they were (I whispered to my mother that this was our excuse to flee...since she had promised attached baths). The older man who spoke great English said that the bathroom was just down the hall; we'd share the bathroom and they would use a different one. The gentleman took us across to the other end of the apartment to a bathroom, moved some furniture out of the way and said it was all ours. We peered inside. Then we looked at each other. We knew there was no way we could stay here. No chance. We felt terrible (it obviously wasn't easy for the older lady to walk so far and up so many flights all for a wasted effort), but we politely declined and walked away. (Once we were outside, my mom and I couldn't help but crack up laughing. The place was so awful and just plain strange, the only thıng we could do was laugh about ıt.)
So now the four of us were outside with our luggage in the rain, still starving and getting wetter and colder. We needed a game plan. We saw an overhang from a convenience store and quickly huddled under it for protection while we looked at our map and discussed our next steps. To our good fortune, the woman who runs the convenience store overheard our conversation and asked if she could help us. We quickly explained our predicament and she promised to have someone over soon that could show us some good rooms (and with attached bathrooms she confirmed). We thanked her profusely when Jane arrived and followed her several blocks to another sobe.
There were two bedrooms to choose from: one was on the second floor and was nice enough, though extremely homely. The other is what Bepo (Jane's son) liked to call "The Love Abode." It was decked out in hearts and mirrors and clearly decorated to "get you in the mood". Though the room was extremely large and clean, I couldn't help but laugh out loud when we saw it. The advantage of these rooms, however, is that they did have their own attached bathrooms and felt like separate apartments or hotel rooms.
We decided to check out a nearby hotel before agreeing to book the sobe -- while the rooms were nice enough, there was a funny vibe that we got from Jane and Bepo. So we left Kevin and my dad back at the sobe while my mom and I checked out some nearby hotels. Of course, these didn't work out as they were unbelievably expensive compared to what you get. (Hotels in downtown are ridiculously priced -- there are very few in the Old Town, so they charge a premium.) So, fighting the rain and cold, we headed back to find Kevin and Dad to let them know we'd agree to stay in Jane's Sobe. Unfortunately, that wasn't as easy as it sounds. The streets of Old Town are the tiniest, most narrow and winding cobblestone streets you've ever seen. It's literally like wandering through a maze. After several turns and efforts at trying to retrace our steps, we realized we were lost and couldn't find our way back.
Eventually I started calling out Kevin's name hoping he'd hear me. Nothing. I soon remembered that Jane had given me her business card so I pulled it out and showed it to some Croatian guys I found smoking in the corner of one of the streets. They tried to show us, taking us down several streets until finally arriving at a hostel we had never seen before. With big smiles on their faces they pointed and said "there!". Mom and I sadly shook our heads and said that wasn't it. They kept insisting "yes, yes". Clearly our language barrier wouldn't enable us to explain that we had already been to our sobe on the card and knew that the hostel wasn't what we were looking for. So we just walked away apologizing. Finally, a block down, I see Kevin turning the corner! He came looking for us with Bepo, and was able to track us down.
So, in the end we stayed a few nights at Jane's Sobe. Was it okay? Yes, it turned out to be fine, except for the smoke that reeked in our Love Abode. (It is usually Bepo's room, who is a heavy smoker). And Jane and Bepo WERE very interesting people, to say the least. We'll have to tell you more about our conversations with them (and other people regarding them) another time.
All in all we ended up REALLY loving Split. And the sun returned the next day making the rest of our stay very enjoyable. The city is gorgeous and we had so much fun just walking around the Old Town pedestrian-only streets and the bustling promenade. The accommodations were something else, but we learned our lesson and made certain we had advance reservations for our next stop --- Dubrovnik. (In fact, we spent several hours at a local internet cafe picking and booking the room). And while we (my parents included) are laughing about this experience now, it definitely was an adventure we hope not to repeat!
Next stop: Dubrovnik. The adventure continues....