Trip Journal - Croatia




Dubrovnik -- 10 September 1998

We were up at 5:00 a.m. so that we could have showers and get to the ferry by 6:00. Our landlord came out in his bathrobe to take the key from us and say goodbye. (Maybe he was getting up to go have his first beer of the day.) We'd been told the boat, Marco Polo, would be right outside the ferry office, but it wasn't. Paul went to investigate and came back with Kit and Lisa, two Canadians, who had found out where the boat was. We all got on the boat together and sat in the cafe on deck. They're about 24 years old and got married a year ago. They're in England right now, where Kit is working on his Doctorate in Philosophy and Lisa works in investments and insurance. Apparently any member of the British Commonwealth up to age 27 can get a two-year visa to work in England, and Lisa is doing this. (That explains why so many Aussies tell us they're based in London.) Kit was full of interesting knowledge about everything, but Croatian history was a big topic of interest. He told us about the Ustasa, and kept us abreast of the various islands we were passing. He told us that George Bernard Shaw called Dubrovnik "Heaven on Earth" and that his wife was buried there. He had read the Rebecca West book, or at least the relevant 200 or so pages. I was very impressed.

Lisa provided me with some very much-needed girl talk. She told me about her office, which is very professional, and has clients in all the time, but many of the men think nothing of having pictures of nude women hanging up in their offices. This, along with the "Lad" attitude, which seems to consist of womanizing, drinking and sports, is starting to get her down. I think not having a real home is as well. She and Kit got married and didn't even know where Kit would be going to school until shortly before they left. Brits think there must be something wrong with Lisa because she's had "so many" jobs. Many of the women her age in the office have already been there eight or ten years. They even sympathized with her upbringing because each of her parents had two careers.

We also hooked up with two Brits, Charlie and Dave, because Charlie heard us talking about Philosophy and told us that he was studying that and Physics. He had some pretty wild travel stories (eating mice, death by waterfall) to tell. Dave seemed to be the calming influence of the two. I'm willing to bet he's bailed Charlie out of jail a time or two.

The trip was incredibly beautiful, so much so that it got almost boring after a couple of hours. I'd look up during a lull in conversation and see an incredible island and think, "Oh, there's another one." The water was fabulous: deep sapphire blue, and incredibly clear. Croatia has 1185 islands along its coast and only 66 are inhabited. Kit told us that Korcula was supposed to be the only place on Earth that you'd regret not going to. Someone else famous (or was that also G.B. Shaw?) said that. They had planned on stopping there on their way back but we got an email from them later that said that they hadn't been able to, and needless to say, they regretted it.

We had a great time talking with Kit, Lisa, Charlie and Dave and the time flew by. Before we knew it we were pulling into the harbor and we all got shy, not knowing whether, now that we weren't captive on the boat, the rest of the crew would want to hang out with us in Dubrovnik. I didn't want to let them go just yet. But as Paul said, if we were meant to meet up again, we would. The other four went off in search of the Youth Hostel; we stayed at the bus stop to catch a ride to the campground. That's where we met Sado. He was in there with all the old ladies in black offering rooms. He was telling us there was no camping. Lisa and Kit came by and told us that Sado had been very persistent with them. They had had a bad experience with their room in Split so they were disinclined to trust anyone at the port. So was I, and I really wanted to camp because it seemed so beautiful and the weather was perfect. It's a good thing Paul was trusting, because Sado made our time in Dubrovnik some of the best of the trip so far. I had read a little blurb in a travel brochure on Croatia that said,

"Once in Croatia, please make yourself at home. In our country, you are not a foreigner, but a guest whom we regard as a friend of our country and of our people. We will respond in the same manner."

I sort of took it as so much marketing drivel but Sado meant it. He finally said, "Look, I'll take you to the campground so you can see it's closed. Then I'll show you my place and if you don't like it, I'll bring you back here. Okay?" Okay. We piled all our stuff into his car and we were off. First Sado took us to a beautiful spot where we had a great vantage point to view the Old Town, and took our picture there. Then he showed us the Youth Hostel ("Very bad, six in a room and it costs too much money"). On the way, he yelled out directions to some New Zealanders who had declined a room with him in favor of the hostel. And finally we arrived at the campground. And knew why it had been closed. It had been bombed. They're building a disco there now. So camping was out. Sado took us to his place. The room was fine. It had a refrigerator and a bed, which was all we needed. And there was a communal kitchen we could use. Double louvered doors opened out onto the terrace which had tables and chairs on it, as well as orange, lime, and cherry trees, and kiwis and grapes hanging from a lattice-work "ceiling". It was like Eden. Sado gave us some juice from the cherry trees while we gave him our passports so he could fill out our residence cards. We were more than convinced. Before we'd gotten to Sado's, we already knew who our neighbors were, what they did, and where they came from. Sado even took us in their rooms, which his wife, Badema, was cleaning. He did everything but let us look in their luggage. We knew we'd meet them later. Now it was time for a swim at the beach we had a glimpse of from the terrace. We walked down to "flights" of stairs and then it was a two-minute walk to the beach. As in Split, there was no sand, but the water was lovely and warm. We walked back up the stairs, which is much harder than going down. The old people in this town must be in great shape. We took the bus in to the old town and had a look around.

Dubrovnik declared itself an independent republic in 1358, when the rest of Croatia opted for foreign rule by Hungary. It was a huge trading port and was as prosperous as Venice at that time. Inn 1272, town planning laws were passed which required that all buildings should be made of the same light golden limestone and be of the same height. As in Split, the doors and shutters are all painted green and the roofs are of red clay tile. All of the streets (with the exception of the main Promenade) are too narrow for cars. The planning laws weren't that good. The whole town is surrounded by a 100 foot high walls that were built in the 1300's. I believe they were 500 years in the making. You can walk all the way around the city on the top of the walls. It's about 2 km.

Near the walls at the Eastern entrance is a small cove, and we sat down on a bench there to watch the waves and talk. We wanted to get some dinner, so we went back inside the walls, kind of thinking we'd see Kit, Lisa, Charlie and/or Dave. All the restaurant hawkers were out on the promenade, thrusting flyers into hands and offering free drinks if we went to their restaurant. We didn't want a big production and we certainly didn't want all this pressure, so we opted for a modest little pizza joint and had a matched pair of vegetarian pizzettes. I had lemonade (great stuff - I went back for seconds) and Paul had a beer. Then we sat in an outdoor cafe on the promenade to do some people watching. We never did see any of the people from the ferry. We caught the bus back home and were in by 11:00. There we met Claire and Will, an English couple staying in one of Sado's apartments, just arrived from London on a two week holiday. We were serenaded by a group of drunk students, friends of the student that was currently living in Sado's other apartment. As we drifted off to sleep, we realized that even though we had planned that Corfu would be our "real" honeymoon, it was going to begin here in Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik -- 11 September 1998

We were up early and had coffee and tea out on the terrace. We finally talked loudly enough to wake Helen and Gavin, our Australian neighbors and they soon came out to play. He's a phys. ed. teacher for kindergartners and she's a journalist. At least, that's what they'll be doing when they get back. They're on an 8 month trip around the world. Their first two months were spent in the US, where they bought themselves a used Dodge van on the West Coast, drove it all around the country, sleeping in it, sometimes in Walmart parking lots, and then sold it to a guy they met in a campground near Boston. From there they came to Croatia. While we were talking, Sado appeared and invited us to join him and Claire and Will for mussels which he would be preparing that night. We all enthusiastically accepted. I figured I'd make pasta.

All of a sudden, we all realized how late it was getting. We quickly dispersed, Helen and Gavin to go with Sado to pick up their rented scooter, and we to take showers and head into town. We were going to walk the Old City walls. The views from up above were breathtakingly gorgeous. We snapped picture after picture; of course, they all came out looking about the same. The news coverage of the attack on Dubrovnik brought the 1991-92 war to everyone's attention. In 1990, Yugoslavia had attempted to break down into a confederation of autonomous states, but the whole thing collapsed pretty quickly. Croatia wanted complete independence, the Serbs, who dominated the military and government, didn't want Croatia to completely secede.

The Yugoslav Army began shelling Dubrovnik, including the Old Town. Sixty percent of the city was damaged in the war. Over 85% of the red tile roofs in the Old Town were destroyed. Sado told us horrible stories of how he and his family were affected. He slept in his bathroom for six months and of course, there was no income because there were no tourists. His daughter lost her house and everything in it, including her piano. She now lives with Sado and his wife, Badema. Badema is originally from Bosnia, and she lost 15 members of her family in the war. It's so tragic. But according to Kit, the Old Town didn't have to be shelled at all. It was the Croats who put guns up on the Old City walls in order to gain media attention. Only then did the Yugoslav Army start firing there.

As in Split, the limestone has been worn smooth, and the steps on the Wall were pretty treacherous. Paul came down from one of the towers on his elbows and heels. From the walls, we could see a great spot to swim right next to the city walls. There seemed to be a little door leading out onto some rocks. It looked great. We vowed to find the door before we left Dubrovnik. The last stretch of the wall was kind of depressing, because the view was mostly of ruins. Hordes of cats live there now. This may be the Dalmatian Coast, but cats definitely rule here now. There is a church with a fenced-in stone-paved area around it where all the cats do most of their congregating, fighting, hissing, and yowling. One night, we saw a cat chased off by another fly by a woman and through a hole in a door at her (the woman's) eye level. Was she surprised. Periodically this gets to be too much for one of the women who live nearby and she'll come out and throw a bucket of water on the whole lot. But I also saw a lot of these same women throwing scraps out for the cats too. It's a kind of love-hate relationship.

We were starving when we came down off the walls, and in desperate need of rehydration. We picked a little restaurant in a side alley and sat down outside. This place had a little bar and some inside seating, but a lot of the so-called restaurants are just a kitchen, and they serve food to their customers at tables and chairs set up in the alleys. Already narrow walkways are made even narrower, but it makes for some charming ambiance, with laundry fluttering overhead, and lots of people watching below. I had tomato soup (a bit watery) and some fries. Paul had fries and a salad. There was some confusion about the WC. I went in to use it was engaged, so I waited in the little area by the sink. And waited, and waited. Finally, I came back out again, wondering if I should tell someone that there was someone in the bathroom who had evidently collapsed of a heart attack. But then a man pointed out the key near the bar. Oh. I sheepishly took it and went back in. After lunch we headed out around the harbor to the outside of the city walls to have a swim. This was our "make do" spot until we found the secret door. But it was a fine consolation prize. I changed into my suit behind a towel, then bathed in the sun for a little while to work up my nerve to jump in. It was incredibly beautiful, but I found it a little daunting. The water is the clearest, deepest sapphire blue I've ever seen. You can see all the way to the bottom, which gets quite deep immediately. That, combined with the walls towering above us, made me feel quite small and vulnerable. I was afraid of unknown things brushing up against me. The only other people there besides us were one woman sleeping in the sun, and 4 or 5 men playing cards. Periodically, they'd finish a hand and all jump off the rocks into the water. I finally followed Paul in. It was wonderful, so calm, with no waves. Just floating. We had decided the day before that it was time I got a bikini. Topless sunbathing had been the norm since Budapest and Croatia is the nudist capital of the world. Paul had already gotten a black Speedo earlier in the day so he could maximize his tanning. We kept our eyes open for a suit for me from then on. We finally found it in a sport shop near the entrance to the walls, but it took me a couple of days to work up the courage to actually wear it in public.

We looked for pasta fixings in the Old Town, but the produce selection was terrible. The same was true near the bus stop headed back, so we went home and decided to take our chances at the little store in the same street as Sado's. We took showers and then went to the little store. With some hunting, we were able to get penne pasta, sauce (which turned out to be paprika not tomato), canned mushrooms, paprika and beer and wine. We hung out on the veranda until the troops started arriving. Sado was very excited and started the preparations long before he really had to. He was a cook on a passenger ship for seven years and loved it. Paul opened the wine, which Will and Claire had gone to get more of, and we all sat and talked. I went in to cook the pasta, which was fun. Sado came in every once in a while to do something to the mussels. He showed me how to make the sauce, which included olive oil, water, lime, and paprika. He tossed the mussels in the sauce and then gave me a taste of the sauce and asked me if it needed anything. I was a bit nervous about tasting it (that allergy to shellfish) but had to concede that it was quite good.

Paul and the others had set the table in the meantime. It looked great. As it turned out, there was way too much food and I was the only one who had pasta. We finished the wine, and beer was produced, and stories told. There seemed to be no barriers although we didn't all speak the same language. It was just wonderful company and wonderful conversation. Sado was a little boy during WWII, when the Germans occupied Yugoslavia. He told us he didn't like the Germans because the soldiers hit him. But he liked the Italians because the soldiers gave him chocolate. He also told us that, at one point, he had Iraqis, Iranians and Kuwaitis all staying in rooms downstairs, and an Israeli couple living upstairs at his place. The Kuwaitis had pillow cases full of dollar bills and passed them out constantly to Badema and the woman who was working for them at the time. One night at about 3:00 a.m., the Israelis came to Sado and told them they couldn't stay another minute. Sado asked them why not and they replied that it was because the Kuwaitis were rude to them. So Sado went to the Kuwaitis and said, "When you get up in the morning, just say 'Good Morning.' That's all, just be polite to the Israelis." And it worked. Peace in Sado's Middle East was restored. Friends of him told him that he should go to the UN in New York and open a bottle of champagne because he had singlehandedly achieved peace in the Middle East. It was a great night, and by the end of the evening, which had somehow slipped into past 2:00, all that was left on the table was a huge display of empty bottles.

Dubrovnik -- 12 September 1998

As Sado had predicted, we had rough weather. Maybe he'd seen a weather report, but it seemed like prophecy to me. Paul was up at 8:00, which seemed way too early to me, but I couldn't go back to sleep. There were really stiff winds (the towels out on the terrace kept getting hopelessly tangled in the roses near the clothesline) and some rain. I had a cold shower because the heater switch was off and I didn't realize it. We hung out lethargically on the terrace. I drank coffee and finished the Clarke book, then started in on the journals, which never seem to be less than a month behind.

Paul came out to tell me that I really ought to come to the kitchen and try the sardines Sado was frying up. I've never been thrilled with the idea of them. I mean, it's so obvious you're eating a little fish. But I bucked up my courage and went into the hallway near the kitchen. Everyone was in Helen and Gavin's room, relishing these little fish. I gingerly ate one (minus the head and skeleton). It tasted pretty good, but it still seemed more like a fish than food. Then Sado came in with a fresh-cooked batch and told me I should just pop the whole fish in my mouth. So I did, but it was weird.

No one, least of all me, was very motivated about doing anything. We were the first to leave to go downtown. There was tentative talk of possible meetings later but I think everyone was just too tired to make any plans at that point. Paul and I went to the ferry office and got a cabin for two on the next boat to Igoumenitsa, which is on the mainland of Greece, and the nearest port to the the island of Corfu, where Gary and Laurie had given us a time-share week as a wedding present. The boat would leave Thursday, travelling via Bari, Italy, and would get us there a day before we were to be on Corfu. With the ticket all arranged, we next went to the internet place that Sado had told us about to see if we could check the email. It was closed. We hadn't really expected it to be open since it was Saturday, but some information on the door about hours would have been nice. But it was a nice walk. We walked the rest of the way into Old Town. We met Helen and Gavin there in the street, and chatted for a few minutes, then parted. We wanted to find the secret door to the swimming place outside the walls. We did finally find it, and the funny part is that we should have just walked into the alley behind where we met Helen and Gav. But instead we took the long, circuitous path along the outside wall, meeting many dead ends and having to backtrack more than once. But, we had found the secret entrance. Someone had spray-painted "No Topless, No Nudist" in black on the tunnel wall. We emerged on the other side of the wall and came down a little stone staircase onto the rocks themselves. The sea was so different from the day before. Calm blue water had been replaced by roiling, frothing white waves that crashed against the rocks. Obviously, there would be no swimming today. We stood at the edge of the rocks for a while and let the storm impress us, then stepped back through the secret door, and came back into town. We went home and wolfed down some of the leftover pasta for lunch then settled down for a nap. I didn't really sleep because there was a huge thunderstorm, but the comatose buzz was nice. Claire and Will came by our door with Will's coat over their heads. They'd gotten caught downtown in a little pub when the deluge hit. The power had gone off and they sat drinking wine with candles for light and watched a wedding party drive to the church across the street. It sounded very romantic. After Gavin and Helen surfaced (they'd been napping too), we all went down the stairs to Konankova, a restaurant owned by a friend of Sado's. He'd said we'd get a discount, but it never really materialized and we weren't any of us very worried about it. I had the vegetarian platter, which was quite bland: potatoes, carrots, and beans. It looked like everyone else had pretty good food though, mostly shellfish. We all retired fairly early, around 11:30.

Dubrovnik -- 13 September 1998

Sado had told us that the weather would be good today, but he was only half right. It didn't rain all day. The six of us headed out to the Hotel President on our peninsula to see if we could get a boat to the island of Lokrum. It was a really nice walk, right on the water, with great views and lots of wave-watching. The water was still churning and rough. We weren't even sure the boats would be running. As it turns out, they weren't. (It seems that the way they let you know is to tear the poster advertising the trips in two.) And there'd been a misunderstanding; the boat was actually to another island called Lopud. But it didn't matter. We were all too impressed with the power of the storm to care too much. Waves were coming right over the sea wall into the cafe of the Hotel President. The surf was so strong, it had hurled sand and rocks into the outdoor cafe. The woven awnings were all twisted, and some had ripped. We played in the waves and skipped stones from the cafe out into the surf. We didn't know what to do with ourselves. We watched a woman come way too close to the waves near the rocks and nearly get sucked in. We found out from Sado later in the day that two tourists, a German and a Japanese, had drowned in the strong surf. Apparently, it's really uncommon for the Ionian Sea to get like this and few were prepared.

There was talk of going to a cafe to have coffee and something chocolate-filled. We had all disappointed Will the night before by being too full for dessert. We pretended to be making it up to him by going to a cafe now, but really it just sounded like a great idea. We sat down at an outdoor table and it immediately began to rain. We all huddled closer under the umbrella and the guys bravely went to inspect the pastries, but pretty soon, the rain had become a torrential downpour. Claire and I, the last two holdouts for fresh air, finally made a mad dash into the cafe, which was too small to hold all its occupants. The atmosphere was lively; lots of wet people were pouring in from the street. Three old ladies knocked back stiff after-Church drinks while guys from the cafe valiantly tried to keep the awnings from filling up with water. Great Croatian folk music was playing and Pete Sampras was playing Australia's best guy on TV. (Apparently, he's considered the sexiest guy in Australia, whoever he is.) We had coffee or tea and pastries, but when it became obvious that the rain would continue, the women congregated at a table and talked while the guys slipped off one by one and all ended up leaning on the bar with beers in front of them. We couldn't believe the guys were drinking so early, but when in Dubrovnik...

The rain finally stopped and we payed up. We backtracked around the peninsula to a hotel that had a pair of pools built into the rock by the sea. No one was in them and we didn't think that anyone would mind if we had a swim. It would certainly be safer than a swim in the sea. Or so we thought. Every once in a while, a series of huge waves would break over the rock and completely flood the pool. But it still looked fun. We got into our suits (I in the bikini for the first time) and went in. It was really nice, although it was too windy to play with our new beach ball. But soon the clouds threatened again and we got dressed and walked back around the peninsula. We stopped in at a huge, old abandoned house, which we jokingly talked about buying and fixing up. You have to wonder why someone would leave such a nice place. They were probably forced out. We'd heard that soldiers are being given such houses, and talked about how it would feel to live in a house where the original owner had been killed or forced to flee. We didn't think we could do it. The house had steep stairs that led down to the sea. We heard yells, and from above, watched an incredibly reckless boy and his even more reckless father battle and get battered by the rocks and the waves. We expected them to disappear under the next wave, but they kept popping back up and laughing triumphantly. It was fascinating and frightening to watch.

We stopped at a little sandwich place to have lunch. It was right near the beach. It had two small rides for children, the kind you see in front of grocery stores. Inexplicably, the music accompanying the rides was "Greensleeves." After "lunch", it felt like we'd been eating all day, but across the street there was a terrific cafe with dozens of pastries to choose from. We couldn't not stop there, so I had a Linecki, or whatever it is that they call them in Croatia, and everyone else indulged in his or her favorite. Will finally had his chocolate.

The sun was out again and we thought we'd put in a little time sunbathing at the local beach. The guys went in the water briefly, but admitted that it was too rough. We'd already seen a couple of paddle boats smashed to bits. I didn't need to go in. Besides it got cool soon after we shed our clothes. We just weren't going to have the perfect weather we'd had when we arrived and we had to accept it. We went back to Sado's to rest up before dinner, but in the end, no one was very hungry.

There was a travel-ready, dusty motorcycle in the driveway when we got back. It had a 43 liter gas tank on it, plus metal storage boxes. It was a huge bike. We soon found out that it belonged to an Irishman named Ruairi, who was staying in the room next to ours. He's riding his bike around the world, or at least as far as Libya. Why Libya? As far as I can tell, because it's the most dangerous place he knows, and because he was denied a visa the last time he tried to get in. Ruairi is like a cowboy of the old West; he would prefer to sleep in the saddle, and especially if it will make a good story later. He disdains comfort. I think the purpose of his trip is to prove that "Life works, but watch out 'cause the bastards are out to get ya", whereas the purpose of my trip is to prove just the first two words with no caveats. Ruairi had just come in from Sarajevo and was very excited about it. He regaled us with stories about staying there, his first trip, about which he's written a book, and about life in general.

We all sat out on the terrace and talked, and pretty soon we had all brought out our little odds and ends of food, which we'd all thought was nothing, but together amounted to a feast. The family Ruairi had stayed with in Sarajevo had given him plums from their trees and hard-boiled eggs from their chickens. The rest of us had bread and cheese. Helen and I went to the store to get more bread and cheese just in case. Then the guys went out for beer. It started raining and Ruairi invited us all into his room. We sat on the bed and got louder. Then Sado came down, with a bottle in each hand. He'd come down a little earlier while we were on the terrace and we'd tried to talk him into drinking a beer but he'd declined. Now he went around the room and poured one bottle for the women -- a "Lady drink" -- and one for the men. I was glad I was a lady. The men's drink looked vile. Ours was a fruit digestive, very sweet and yummy. I had a little sore throat and it coated nicely. A little while later, I said goodnight and went to our room, but didn't sleep. Everyone was up 'til pretty late, so there was no chance anyway.

Dubrovnik -- 14 September 1998

Claire and Will left early in the morning, which was sad. I felt like we'd really become friends in the last couple of days. I wanted this little group to stay together. But one aspect of this trip is learning to be able to let people and things go when it's time, and we were getting the chance one more time. The rest of us, Helen, Gavin, Ruairi, Paul and I, walked to HPT (the internet place) to try to check our email. It was a bust. It's actually an office that sets you up for internet access in your home, but the local guidebook lists it as the place to come check email, so Sado's not the only one sending tourists there. The place was a zoo, and the office small. Everyone was smoking and talking at once and loudly on the phone. One very nice woman helped us out and found out where the internet cafe was. We thanked her and fled.

Cafe Otok was right next to the secret door. It was a cafe, a gallery, and the cultural affairs office. It was all dark when we walked in and there was a woman picking out a melody on the piano in the gloom. She told us someone was using the computer at the moment, but that we could have it in 15 minutes or so. She suggested that we go out to the rocks through the secret door. Maybe it's not that big a secret. We all went out. The waves were still really high and crashing on the rocks, but it was sunny and warm. It didn't look like any boats were running to Lokrum Island though. I guess we wouldn't be able to go again today either.

The person who had the computer still wasn't finished. We had a look at the "gallery", which was very strange and sparse. There were just a couple of photographs, some crash-test dummy heads and a strange pin-cushion "father" with needles stuck into him in uncomfortable places. We went to get sandwiches at a little place Helen and Gavin had found, and brought them back to eat. Ruairi had declined to come with us. He seemed very busy composing a letter to send to someone who was interested in seeing his book. I'd really like to see the book. Ruairi had told us the night before that he'd had an editor look at it and that she'd found it to be offensive to women and un-multi-culti. I think Ruairi likes to be thought of as irreverent and needing no one.

The whole email experience was very hard. I think we all willingly entered into Ruairi's view of reality for a little while. He sent his emails first. He made a point of telling us his account was overdrawn, although it didn't sound like he was worried about money. (He'd just had a hassle over ATMs before we arrived however. He only has a Visa card, and told us that most banks here have an agreement with Mastercard. It's some sort of conspiracy.) Helen and Gavin had their turn next. More people had come in and were waiting behind us at that point. Ruairi came back in and wanted to send more mail. The woman running the place kept fluttering in and saying that she had to leave by 2:00. Paul and I finally went and reforwarded most of our emails back to ourselves, and printed a couple more to respond to later, since there was nothing urgent. Ruairi got on the computer again and started typing. After he got the whole letter typed, Netscape hung on him and he lost everything. He finally relinquished the machine to the next guy however. Paul had to change the default settings back after the waiting guy had started, but he really meant it when he said he'd just be a couple of minutes.

We went to see if the boats were running or not, and got drinks on the way. Boats weren't going and so the next idea was to go swimming on the rocks. But the waves were still too big. As we left the Old Town, Paul had to get some of the mysterious green fruit from the old woman in black at the entrance. They turned out to be fresh dates, which I'd never seen or eaten before. They were delicious.

Later that evening, the five of us went to dinner, again at Konokova. We had the same red-haired waitress, whom Ruairi talked up shamelessly. When we asked the difference between the white seafood risotto and the black, she said, "The color!" as if we'd missed the most obvious fact in the world.

Dubrovnik -- 15 September 1998

More sad goodbyes. Helen and Gav left in the morning. It was really hard to say goodbye. But we made the best of a hard situation by searching out the nudist beach on the peninsula. It was quite a long way and turned out to be more of a rock outcropping than a beach per se. In our search for a WC, we walked into a hotel. A woman came out of an office; there had been no one at reception. She stopped us and said, "We are closed." Oh right, I said, it must be the end of the season. "No," she said, "we have no guests." How sad. I now suspect that the pools we swam in yesterday were also "closed" due to a lack of guests. But who's paying all these people who are sitting around in empty hotels? And of course, there's the other question that always arises: if you are closed, why is the front door wide open?

We now assumed that our best course of action would be to go back to our room. That way, we could also get the mats to lie on at the beach and pick up some sandwiches for lunch. Which we did at the cafe where we'd eaten pastries the day before. There was only one other woman in sight when we arrived back at the nude beach, which was fine with me, although a a part of me had hoped for more of a "view". As is turned out, there were others around, but they were obscured from sight by the rocks. It was actually quite a nice little spot. We had the sea, which was much calmer today, a nice breeze to keep it cool, and we had the place nearly to ourselves. We got into our birthday suits and reclined on the mats. Helen had given me a Rolling Stone magazine (the Fall TV preview issue, which was pretty amusing) and I read that and thought how I sure don't miss American TV.

We stayed on the beach all day lounging in the sun. I was wonderful. A little ladder and pier had been built off the rocks and we went swimming, which was great. I lost my second pair of sunglasses by putting them on the pier. I think they must have immediately been blown off in the water and sunk. (I lost the first pair in Ceske Budojovice, when I was running to get food before our train left.) Luckily I'd brought three pairs of cheap sunglasses with me on this trip. I may have to invest in a local pair soon if I don't watch out though. The water was a bit cool, but refreshing and I got over the glasses pretty quick.

Later that evening, we caught up with Ruairi, who'd elected to adjust his valves on the bike rather than swim. A couple from the former DDR had arrived and were staying in Helen and Gavin's room. And a whole slew of Brits had also arrived. The group consisted of a mother, Kathy; her daughter, Lydia; her son, Adam; and two college friends of Lydia's, Alex(andra) and Sarah. They were all staying in Will's and Clair's apartment, and had a very complicated itinerary. They were all staying for various lengths of time, leaving at different times, and some were meeting up again somewhere else. Lydia had done her year abroad in Germany and had met a Croatian guy there. She'd been living with him here for the last year. Kathy was really interesting, kind of a free spirit, very laid back about her kids, and very into this homemade strawberry liquor that seemed to be available everywhere. She brought out her stash and Ruairi brought out a bottle of vile, ever-clear-like stuff. Mixed together, it seemed to be a drinkable brew. I was still not really liking alcohol so I didn't have much. Besides, I was still dragging a bit from the cold.

The Germans returned and as they spoke very little English, Lydia and I talked with them in German. I had a really hard time with the conversation, but it was really interesting. I finally dragged myself off to bed at midnight.

Dubrovnik -- 16 September 1998

We had reserved a scooter for 10:00 with Sado's nephew the night before. We had breakfast with the whole gang and then headed out. We had talked to Ruairi about travelling around together, but in the end, we didn't meet up. We had intended to go check the email again, but then forgot about it, and then decided not to double back. This was the first time I'd ever been on a scooter. We had helmets and wore them, but we were the only ones on the road who did. The traffic is insane in Croatia and cars routinely muscle their way through the swarms of scooters. So we wore helmets. Paul got the feel for the scooter on the steep hill down to the main road. We headed South along the coast. It was a beautiful ride; I, as the passenger, got to see more of it than Paul did. Sometimes we were down low, but we spent most of the time high above the water on the edges of cliffs., with the sun glittering on the water all around us. We didn't have a map, and at one point, we ended up on a road that had been closed. There was fallen rock everywhere, but we got around it, shot through the barriers on the other side and rejoined the main road. Sixteen km south of Dubrovnik, we came to a small spa town called Cavtat.

There were recently huge forest fires outside Dubrovnik (over 2700 hectares were burned) and a lot of the area on the way to Cavtat was black and scorched. But Cavtat itself is lovely. It's about as close to being an island as a peninsula can get. We stopped at a cafe to have coffee and cheese toast. The place was full of French people; maybe they prefer Cavtat over Dubrovnik. We got back on the scooter and continued South. We somehow ended up on a road that gradually headed up and inland. As I said, we didn't have a map and I was worried about running into the Albanian border unexpectedly. But we finally got on a road leading to Molunat, our destination. Sado had recommended it as a beautiful place to swim. It was gorgeous, although again, there was no sand on the beach. We drove around unpaved roads for a while and finally picked out a nice pebble beach. Our only other company was an older woman. She sat in the shallow water for quite a while and then got up and towelled off. To do this, she pulled her swimsuit down to her waist. She then put on a floppy hat, but the suit stayed the way it was while she walked around, beachcombing. When a man walked nearby, she made a pretense of covering herself with her towel, but that was all. Later a group of very overweight and pink (sunburnt) people came and joined us as well.

We got hungry and took the scooter out to scout out some food. Just as we were leaving town, we ran in to Ruairi. We showed him where the good swimming was and left. We couldn't find anywhere to eat. In the end, we went into a gas station shop and got chips and chocolate and went back into Cavtat. We took our "lunch" out to some rocks near the water and ate there. On the walk back to the scooter, we mailed some postcards that we'd had in the pack for days, then drove home.

Badema had admonished me to take a long-sleeved shirt, which I'd pooh-poohed at the time, but now I was glad to have it. (She was always yelling at me for going around barefoot too. Apparently it's somehow bad for women's reproductive organs.) The ride was great, but my posterior was a bit sore by the end of it. I couldn't believe it was 6:00 when we got back. The day had flown by. Just as we were coming in, Ruairi was installing Kathy on the back of his bike for a ride into town. I think she enjoyed herself immensely.

Adam left at 7:00 p.m. There was more drinking and laughing. We all brought out our food again, and it was like the old folk tale "Stone Soup". The Brits kept talking about getting dinner, but they were having too good a time, and kept forgetting to leave. At 9:00 they finally sent out a group to go get pizzas from down the stairs. I went to bed early, to write emails and read. No sleeping was possible. Kathy sent in a cup of the strawberry liquor for me; she said it would be good for my throat. I admit it didn't hurt. Everyone stayed up 'til 3:00, and I may have been a bit grumpy when Paul finally came to bed. It's not that they were so loud, but there were only louver doors between us. Ah well, I guess I'll sleep in Corfu.

Dubrovnik -- 17 September 1998

We said goodbye to Badema in front of the house. She wished me happiness and told me to come back with my four or five children next time. I think she really liked us. Sado drove Paul and me to the ferry and Ruairi followed on his bike. We were all going to Igoumenitsa together, because Ruairi realized he wasn't going to be able to get to Greece overland through Montenegro as planned. The border is closed. I bought groceries while Paul took care of checking in. Ruairi also got a few things. The cold had really set in and I was feeling lousy. A boat ride and enforced sitting still sounded like a great idea to me. When we said goodbye, Sado kissed all of us on both cheeks.

We had a cabin, and Ruairi, the adventurer, had a deck-class ticket, which gave him permission to sleep anywhere he could find a spot. The check-in process was very funny. We were given a key and then a uniformed man showed us to our cabin, which was just two bunk-beds, a bench and a sink. I felt very silly being shown the way, like the Beverly Hillbillies on the Love Boat, but that seems to be the way things are done. I don't know whether the guy expected a tip or not. We spent most of the day on the deck in the cafe. Ruairi kept flitting in and out, going off to meet people who were also going to sleep on the deck. I think he found our stillness a little confining.

We went back to our cabin for dinner. Ruairi had a small camp stove, which he used to make soup, then later, tea. We had to cover the smoke alarm with a plastic bag. The stove wasn't holding pressure properly, so Paul oiled it (with dish soap, as we later found out, because ruairi mixed up the two bottles.) We ate the soup with bread, apples and chocolate. It was great. Then Ruairi left to go get a prime spot on deck before they were all gone, and we went to bed early.