The Great Croatian Adventure (Part II - Getting back)7am, 19th October 2006 - Humour, Travel
English summers are not all they're cracked up to be... and they're not cracked up to much. Jane and I were looking paler than a pair of albino frogs in blenders. We needed a bit of sunshine, heat and if at all possible, a beach.
Italy has all of these things by all reports but don't they know it ! The costs of going to Italy were in line with it's reputation but our intrepid bargain hunter found out that Croatia is significantly cheaper and is remarkably similar in many respects to Italy. The websites all confirmed that it was full of sunshine and the random photos we found on flickr also made it seem like just the ticket.
I wrote about the first half of the journey earlier and promised the second half so here it is.
There was a mix-up of languages (and possibly some missing knowledge) on our last night in the hotel in Vis and the German/Croatian old guy manning the reception had some trouble figuring out what information we wanted and then, once he knew what we wanted, how to tell us what he knew. In the end he wrote down "830" on a piece of paper in response to our question about what time the ferry left in the morning.
We woke at 7:00 or so, saw the catamaran (not our ferry) leave at about 7:30, had a leisurely breakfast and wandered round to the ticket office to buy our tickets in advance. I was mildly concerned that the ferry was not in the bay as it had been last night when I went to sleep but there was plenty of time for it to arrive before it had to leave again at 8:30.
The ticket office was not open and didn't open until 10:30. We asked around and found out the reason for this was that the ferry left at 12:30... and 5:30am. We had missed it by several hours and the next one wasn't for several more. This put a bit of a spin on our plans of catching the bus from Split at 11:00am back to Rijeka in time for our 10:30pm flight... the timings just weren't right. 12:30 + 2 hours for the ferry + 8 hours on the bus wasn't going to get us to Rijeka before the plane left (actually, it might have... the plane was late but we didn't know that at the time.) so we started investigating alternative routes.
At first we thought of just trying to catch up to the ferry, after all it was only a couple of hours ahead of us. If we could charter a fast boat we could be in Split in time for the same bus we had planned on catching. Again, we asked around but it seems that you can't hurry a Croatian. Especially one who lives in a lazy fishing island of fewer than 1000 people. One guy said he could ask a friend on a neighbouring island to drive his speedboat over here and then to Split for a measly 400.
The Croatian currency, the Kuna, is worth about 10p. Our hotel was 600 Kunas per night so 400 seemed all right, certainly cheaper than missing the flight and having to stay another night. However, he mumbled something after the "400" that didn't sound very much like "Kunas". I asked him to repeat it and it sounded distinctly like he said "Euros" which aren't quite so cheap. In fact, Euros are worth more than Australian dollars so 400 of them wasn't going to be cheaper than staying another night... not by a long shot.
The decision was made to catch the next ferry at 12:30 because that was the only practical way off this island and hire a car to drive to Rijeka. We tried to book the car over the internet and locate a car hire place near where we would land in Split but it was not to be. Croatian car hire websites leave a lot to be desired in terms of functionality. We found ourselves in Split at 2:30pm, 6 hours later than we had intended with little more than a vague outline of a plan. A taxi driver told us that the nearest car-hire place was only 200 metres away, just past the McDonalds but it would take him about 15 minutes to drive there due to one way streets so we decided to walk. 300 metres later we see a sign stating that Maccas was only 400 metres... and when we finally found the place, it was closed until 5:30pm. Croatians also seem to like their afternoon naps.
Another taxi and another bright idea from Jane: "Take us to the airport ! They're sure to have car hire places there." They certainly did and we got in the line for the EuropCar booth which was one in a series of about 15 booths. After 20 minutes of listening to the lady in the booth pulling fee after charge after fee on the unsuspecting couple we went to the next booth along (EuropCar was the only one with a line...) and the lady in there was extremely helpful. She realised we were in a hurry and had everything finished in about 5 minutes and somebody from out the back bringing the car around so we wouldn't have to walk. We were in our car before the other couple had left the booth. Not only that, the car was about 2/3rds the price of the cheapest EuropCar available and that was before they had put on all those extra charges and fees.
I hadn't driven a car in 10 months and this one was a left-hand drive. I also didn't have my license with me so I was a little nervous as I drove around the very tightly packed car park to the outside world. The trip was reasonably uneventful in that "everything-is-backwards-and-on-the-wrong-side-and-very-very-fast" kind of way. The speed limit on Croatian highways is 130km/h however if you want to travel in the left hand lane you'd better be going a lot faster than that. I did 150km/h most of the way there in the middle lane and people were flying past me in the left lane. None of the pictures of Croatia's mountains really do them justice. They really are amazing. Also amazing are the tunnels that pass right through them. I was not uncommon for us to see a sign on the way into a tunnel stating that the tunnel was over 1.5km long.
We arrived in Rijeka at about 9:00pm and drove to the same coach stop that we had started at three days previously only to find that Rijeka was completely devoid of any signs pointing to the airport. All we had to guide us was a vague memory of what the trip from the airport had looked like three days ago. Amazingly, we made it to the airport with minutes to spare, parked the car in the first available spot and ran inside to check in. As we were checking our bags in we realised that we hadn't prepared them with the one-time tamper-proof tags and didn't have time to now but I joked that there wasn't really much that could go wrong; there was, after all, only one plane in the entire airport! After check-in we found the car-rental guy who sympathised with us about the lack of signage in Rijeka and returned the car keys.
The plane was delayed (the car-rental guy said that the Rijeka-Luton plane was always delayed. Usually by an hour or so.) so we sat around for a while and relaxed, now that we had caught up to our original plan of leaving the island on the first ferry.
Fast-forward to Luton airport and we are waiting to go through customs. There are three people manning the desks for EU passport holders and one guy checking the non-EU passport holders. They were being waved through with a cursory glance to make sure that the photo resembled the person holding it while we were being subject to a series of questions about why we were coming to England and how long we were staying. Then one girl, three or four ahead of us got stuck. We don't know what the cause was but she was still there when the entire other two lines (about 70% of the plane) were finished. We were waved through to the other two desks and got through the process just fine only to find at the baggage claim that Jane's bag had been moved off the conveyor belt into a little pile and my bag was nowhere to be seen. We waited and waited but eventually the conveyor belt was switched off and the remaining bags were put in the pile we found Jane's bag in. After some enquiries we headed to the desk where we could fill in a form about missing baggage. It seems that the woman behind that particular counter had misplaced her sense of humour as she wrote down "toothbrush" after asking me if there was anything valuable in the bag.
It's getting pretty late by now; the plane was delayed an hour, we were in the slow line for customs and my missing baggage had eaten up another hour or so. As we left the airport we spotted the poor girl who got stuck at the customs desk opening her bags and going through each item one by one, showing them to the same official who started the whole thing.
The shuttle bus to the train station wasn't due for another 45 minutes so we teamed up with a couple of people who had arrived on the next flight in and caught a taxi to the train station. The train was also going to be 45 minutes but after a failed attempt at sharing a taxi all the way home we ended up all catching the train together. One was a German who lived in England and had just come back from Berlin where he was a journalist covering a sporting event there. One was born in Berlin and was visiting friends and family and the last was a Londoner through and through but was a cabaret dancer who had been personally requested for a show in Berlin.
We got home around 3:30am and discovered that I had locked every lock on our door and Jane didn't have every key on her key chain and my keys were in my bag... in Croatia. After trying to break in a few times we gave up and trundled down to Michaela's place about 800 metres away and rang her mobile until she woke up. It is now around 4:30. We curl up on Michaela's couches and set our alarms in time to go to work. Jane is fine; she still has the clothes she was wearing on Friday when we left for Croatia so she just climbs back into them and sets off for work. I need to ring my work to say that I'll be late and pay a visit to our landlady to get the spare set of keys and get some more appropriate clothes. I couldn't ring work until 9:00 so it was decided that everyone else would leave and I could pull the door shut behind me when I left.
Unfortunately the landlord of the flat downstairs was showing a prospective tenant around the flat and deadlocked the door on their way out, trapping me inside Michaela's house. I spent some time contemplating the various ways of jumping out windows before ringing work and telling them that I wasn't going to make it in today. I then rang the real estate agent by sticking my head out of the window and dialing the number on the "to let" sign. Things went comparatively smoothly after that. My bags (apparently they were left on the tarmac... go figure !) were returned while I was at work the next day so they left them with the next door neighbours. (Who by some random chance just happened to be trustworthy enough not to rifle through my bags and take everything of value before denying all knowledge of ever receiving my bags.)
That wraps up the Croatian adventure. There were some good parts. In fact, there were plenty of good parts and with the knowledge I gained from this trip I think I could make another trip to Croatia much more enjoyable and less stressful. I'll write some more about the good bits at another time but for now you will have to be content with simply looking at some of the photos. Jane has created a flickr account and is uploading the best of our photos to it. I'm thinking of doing the same so I'll let you all know if that happens.
Avoid my language problems, get your Lonely Planet Language Guides before you go !
Related posts:The Great Croatian adventure (Part I - Getting there)
The Great Croatian Adventure (Part III - The Good Bits)
Oooooh, shiny !
So many servers, all hacked.
They took my shower !
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