On to Croatia, and finally some time out of the Schengen Zone. We were up before the sun to catch a train to the nation’s capital, Zagreb. We spent all day there, checking out the small city, relaxing in its many parks, finding more Olympics to watch, and finally sorting out our Croatia plans. We had been in touch with Didier- a Belgian guy with a summer house on the Croatian island of Hvar which he had kindly opened up to couch surfers. We’d heard his place was out in the middle of nowhere, and only half built. It was really going to be more like camping, but we’d scored some second-hand duvet covers in Budapest, so we were totally ready. We had to carry all our food out there so we did some shopping in Zagreb as well, filling up our H&M bag (the only one without an anti-theft device on it).
Then it was an overnight train to the coastal city of Split. We got lucky and had the whole room in the train car to ourselves. Of course sleeping conditions weren’t ideal, so when we got to Split we were pretty dead. But there was no time to waste. We got the next ferry (which turned out to be leaving in 10 minutes) to the town of Stari Grad, on Hvar. There we got a bus that took us to the other side of the island, to the tiny town of Zavala. Finally we had a chance to relax. We got some food at what I think was the only restaurant in the town. Surprisingly, they had wifi. We got in touch with our host, and before long he was there to meet us. We drove with him on a rocky dirt road to the tiny grouping of houses known as Gromin Dolac- home sweet unfinished-home.
We spent 5 days out in the Croatian wilderness, half-camping on an air mattress with our duvet covers as blankets. The place was 30 seconds from a wonderful pebble beach where the sun was hot but the crystal clear water was perfectly refreshing. We watched the sun set and the moon rise with our new friends from all over- France, Russia, Scotland, Belgium, the States, Croatia, Australia. I think we made a lasting impression with the drinking games that they vowed never to forget.
It was fun times all around, with only a little bit of trouble regarding the lack of internet, electricity or running water. For that we made it into the sizable town of Jelsa for a day- our awesome Scottish friends Andrew and Catriona by our sides. They are also masters in the art of buying the cheapest menu item to get the wifi password and use unlimited internet. We spent a relaxing day, getting the necessities taken care of, then heading back to camp.
Before long we were moving on again. The island was nice, but there was more of Croatia to see. We made it back to Split on the mainland and met up once again with the wonderful, bearded (at the time) Keith Bailey! From there it was again the unknown. We had no where to stay and only a few vague recommendations on where to go. We found some wifi, sent out a few requests, and then just headed up the coast towards Sibenik-a place we’d heard was cool.
More wifi when we got to town yielded no couches to surf, so we started walking in search of cheap accommodations. As it turned out, we showed up in the middle of one of Croatia’s biggest festivals- everywhere was completely booked, it didn’t matter the budget. But we had one last resort. One of the couch hosts that I had sent a request to, Danilo, had posted his address. Well, the address of the bar he owned. So we went there. When we got there the pretty bartender lady told us he was napping. Apparently the previous night was a rough one. So we had a beer and watched the Olympics. There was wifi at the bar, so we took advantage. Before we knew it it was 2 hours and 3 rounds of beer later. Danilo finally showed up.
At that point we were pretty committed to whatever this guy had to offer. We soon learned that it wasn’t much. We spent the rest of the night between the bar and the super market down the street, meeting a few characters in between. We had quite a few drinks on the house, and partied a bit with the owner and a couple of his friends. For the sake of avoiding inaccuracy, I’ll leave it at: time seemed to disappear and the rest is a blur. We were woken up by soccer practice of the 8 and unders in the field next to the bar, wrapped in duvet covers- gotta love ’em.
The Danilo saga continues. The next day he promised to take us to the trailer he had to offer (he’d just divorced his wife and there wasn’t room at the apartment he now shared with his girlfriend- excuse me if this is too much information). Retrospectively, maybe this wasn’t the best idea- driving out to a trailer in the middle of nowhere in the heat of a Croatian summer with a random bar owner we had just met. Don’t ask me why, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Anyway, we literally pulled off of the highway then j-walked across it, hopped over the guard rail, hiked down some sketchy rocks and followed Danilo to what must have been a joke. At first I was wondering how they got the trailer down to that rocky clearing above the Krka River- then I saw the state of it and realized they must’ve just rolled it. When we all stepped through door, half of which was broken off and hanging, the whole trailer dropped to one side because one of the wheels was broken off the bottom. There was half a bed, filthy from whoever was stupid enough to sleep in it last. The rest of the thing was pretty much stripped bare except for a few jars of god knows what.
Personally I couldn’t stop laughing. Was this guy serious? This had to be some kind of joke- he didn’t actually expect the three of us to sleep here? He certainly did. Before we knew it he was walking back up the trail saying “I’ll be back later maybe”. That’s about when we all looked at each other and wondered what each other were thinking. We came to a consensus pretty quickly that we wouldn’t be sleeping there. But first we had to get some swimming in. Stashed our bags in the trailer and hiked down the trail to Danilo’s family’s mussel farm. They had a cool dock floating out in the middle of the river that was perfect to swim out to and reflect on the insanity of the last couple days.
We ended up hitch hiking back to town, all the way to the tourist center. They laughed at us when we said we needed a place to stay. But they also tipped us off on the idea of going up to the town of Skradin, at the edge of Krka National Park. After some standard backpacker salami and cheese sandwiches and a call to Danilo to tell him thanks but no thanks, that’s exactly what we did.
The bus to Skradin wasn’t much over an hour. The first street we walked up featured a crazy grandma yelling at us in about every language but English. Eventually we sorted it out that she had a room that would accommodate all three of us and it would only cost us slightly more than the grass field had the night before. A place to sleep and still enough day light to take a swim in the river and a stroll through the town and up to the fort. Not a lot of energy for much else. We had a good dinner and were able to relax because we had a bed awaiting us- technically the first accommodation I paid for on the trip.
After such a good night sleep we were ready to check out Krka National Park. A boat ride up the river, an awesome hike up and around the countless waterfalls, then a swim in the pools below them. It was a great day in a beautiful place with good friends- not much to complain about. We took the bus back to the coast and then south to the awesome city of Primosten. With our revised budget it didn’t take us too long to find a place- we figured we’d saved big the last two nights, we might as well splurge our last night together. And what a great last night it was, watching the most beautiful sunset yet from an awesome bustling ocean front area.
The next day Keith was off to meet an old friend, so we said our goodbyes. Jess and I hung out in Primosten, giving ourselves a tour of the city, getting some souvenir shopping in, then chilling out on the beach for lunch, a swim, and a nap. Eventually we made our way back to Split where we killed more time seeing some sites and playing cards in a cool market place. We doubled back to our reliable wifi/dinner spot before the hard trekkin’ began again. It was an over night train back to Zagreb, breakfast and goodbye to Croatia there, then an all day train (with a full car this time) back to Budapest. Barely enough time in Budapest to sneak in some shopping (we heard things weren’t going to be cheap in Switzerland, and we had a perfectly good H&M bag to fill) and dinner/train-beer run. Then it was another overnighter to Zurich where we would hopefully be meeting Robin who we had just learned passed her quals.
Many more celebrations to come. First, thank you so very much to all the people that made eastern Europe on a budget possible. Todd- you are a legend and I will never forget your generosity and eagerness to learn from the travelers you helped. Mr. Honzo- you’ve got even more friends to speak of in California. Make that Tahoe log cabin dream a reality. Gabor, we never met you but you’re probably cool- thanks for the place. Didier, I know you were gathering up so many awesome friends from all over the world because you’re going on a world tour soon- a decision I am in full support of. Do California right and hit us up. Danilo, once I thought you were crazy, but now I realize you were just so eager to help out some travelers that you offered up some accommodations that maybe you should just burn down. Either way, I greatly appreciate your effort.
Thanks everyone for reading, especially because this one was so damn long. I apologize that I’m so far behind and appreciate your patience.