I have been dreaming about going to Croatia for years. In January 2007, a girl in a hostel in Brussels told me Dubrovnik was magical. In 2008, one of my housemates in London couldn’t stop talking about Split.
I was determined to go. However, I didn’t realise that flights to Croatia are seasonal, and no budget airline was offering flights between Paris and Croatia in October. If I went with a ‘proper’ airline, my tickets would have been €200-€300 each way . . . no, not on my salary.
So the plan was: fly from Paris to Bari on Friday the 22nd, get an overnight ferry from Bari to Dubrovnik on the 23rd, then fly back from Zadar to Brussels on the 30th, and take a train from Brussels to Paris on the 31st. Easy.
The flight to Bari went to plan, though the hostel didn’t give me great directions (the directions from the port were quite good, but from the airport, Hostel World only said ’15 minutes from airport (by urban bus number 16)’).
Not to worry – I’d previously found destinations with less to go on, and this time I had the hostel’s phone number in case I got into trouble.
As I hopped on the bus, I said “Piazza San Pietro?” to the driver.
He nodded and beckoned me in. I relaxed; comforted by the thought that he would tell me when to get off. No such luck – I stayed on the bus until it reached the terminal at the central station.
I looked for maps on the bus stops. Nothing. I rang the hostel, but got a message saying that the person I was calling was unavailable. 17:00 on a Friday – everyone I knew in Paris would be at work or the pub. Everyone in Australia would either be in bed, or too drunk to help me. That left London.
“Hello,” D, my best friend and former housemate said, “how’s the trip going?”
“Okay,” I replied, “would you mind Google-mapping me?” I gave him my location and the name of the hostel, and my phone disconnected – I’d run out of credit.
Thankfully, he sent me a text: any road north of you will get you onto the peninsula. Have a good trip
North . . . I turned so the sun was setting on my left (the only reason I know that the sun sets to the west is because there’s a line in the Beauty and the Beast theme song that mentions the sun rising in the east). After about 30 minutes of wandering, I reached a castle. Across the road was a fence sealing off what looked like the parking area of the docks.
I couldn’t go north anymore – left or right? As a sign saying ‘Porto’ pointed to the left, I took that route. After about 10 minutes I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to turn north for some time, and that I was heading to an industrial area. After another 10, I decided that it was definitely the wrong direction and resigned myself to turning around.
Grr – I hate back-tracking. The official reason I give is because I don’t get to see anything new, but the real reason is because it will be completely obvious to any onlookers that I have no idea what I’m doing.
I returned to the castle and continued in the other direction. As no one I asked seemed to know where I was going, I recharged my phone and called D again.
“Hey, how are you doing?”
“I’m still walking. Can you give me some more directions?”
“Sure, where are you?”
“Okay, if you keep heading up,” he named a street (not the one I was on), “you’ll end up on the peninsula.”
I pursed my lips, “but I’m not on that street.”
“Oh, where are you?”
“Corso Antonio de Tullio.”
“Oh good, that’s closer. You should have the water and a yacht bay on your left . . .”
My heart sank – I’d already been going in the right direction. I turned back the way I came. After a few minutes I stopped. Did he mean I should turn left (i.e.: west) at the castle so the docks were on my right, or turn east so that the water was on my left side as I walked?
I called again.
It was the latter option.
About 30 metres past where I’d last called D there was a map of the peninsula. My mood picked up – I was going the right way! I suddenly started to appreciate the salty air, and a wave of gratitude rushed over me as I stared at the full moon hanging low over the sea – I was finally seeing somewhere new again.
After paying for my room, the boy at reception took my bag and left the building. Clearly my room was somewhere else, or he was making off with my bag. I followed him as we came out of a small street in front of the castle.
My jaw dropped – I could have saved myself close to an hour of walking in circles! Unfortunately his English wasn’t good enough for me to complain, so I comforted myself pizza and red wine with the people in my room.
I spent Saturday wandering through Bari, as my ferry didn’t leave until the evening. It was lovely, though there wasn’t much to do. By 2:00 I felt like I was done, and I returned to the previous night’s restaurant to eat lunch/kill time. I tried to take my time with my pizza, but I was constantly aware of one of the guys in the restaurant staring at me. While I waited for my pizza to arrive, he gave me some chocolate covered shortbread. While I was eating, he approached me with a piece of paper with his phone number.
I told him that I was leaving Bari for Dubrovnik that night, but he spoke less English than I did Italian, so it took a while for the message to get through.
“Yes.” He then gave me a bit of paper to write my number on and said (I think) that I should give him a call when I’m back in Bari. I’m not sure what we’d talk about, but it’s nice to know I have options! :p
After lunch I walked through the old town, going in circles as I followed the same streets again and again. I was stunned by the intimacy of the old town – in the small, winding streets everyone hung their washing out to dry on their balconies. Many of the doors were open, revealing people cooking, cleaning and eating, as well as showing small courtyards with stairs leading up to private flats. On a Saturday afternoon it was astonishingly quiet and I felt as though I’d stepped back in time. Down one street, a group of elderly men sat on folding chairs watching a soccer match on an old TV, which also rested on a folding chair. A few streets away, a group of boys in their teens and twenties watched the same game, all huddled around a couple of iPhones.
After I picked up my suitcase from the hostel, I sat next to the water with a book as the sun set, happy to have had an excuse for this detour.