Croatia was a perfect vacation, an exclamation point to end our European travels. It was calm and relaxing but also full of debauchery and insanity and much nudity. I'll talk about that much later even though it's probably the only interesting part of the whole trip.
We were picked up at the Dubrovnik airport by Miho, a cheerful early-twenty-something who owns and manages the apartment we rented the first few days. Miho is in the right business; I've never met someone so eager to help people. He smiled constantly, told us where to eat, what to see, who to meet. We mentioned we were going to the sparsely populated island of Mljet in a few days but didn't know where we were going to sleep. Before the end of the sentence, Miho grabbed his phone and reserved us a room in a private home plus a pick-up at the ferry. Miho was a rock star -- a rock star who lives in flip-flops.
As we enjoyed the view of Old Dubrovnik from our balcony, Miho knocked on the door and tossed us a few cold Croatian beers -- our "welcome drinks" he said. We drank them and deemed Croatian beer "not too bad!" Then we turned on the TV to see if we could find some English-speaking news and discovered 400 channels, half of which were porn and the other half which were someone reading The Bible. We concluded Croatians must be struggling with some conflicted feelings.
We have Seattle friends who've been to Dubrovnik. They advised us to look for a sign posted high on a wall in the Old Town that said, "Cold Drinks with the Most Beautiful View" and to follow it to the ends of the earth if necessary. We did as instructed and ended up with Cold Drinks and the Most Beautiful View! I love it when signs don't lie, unlike that "Best Crepes in Paris" sign in our 'hood whose pants are on fire.
We ate seafood for dinner, right next to the docks where gray-haired whiskery fishermen untangled their fishing nets. The waiter plunked down a huge kettle full of all types of seafood and we dug in like animals, ripping sea creatures apart with our fingers like the barbarians we are.
It's about then Alex and I started saying "That cat's a dick." It was in reference to a cat who wouldn't leave us alone with our bucket of seafood. He was all up on our table like "gimme a shrimp" and we didn't like it one bit. After that, every cat we saw (and there were a ton roaming the narrow streets of Dubrovnik) Alex or I would say "That cat's a dick" and then we would laugh and laugh.
I made the unfortunate mistake of saying "That cat's a dick" out loud, with Alex nowhere near me, while standing next to a large group of American tourists. Several heads quickly snapped my direction -- heads with question marks for eyes. They were like, "Whaa? You said whaa about the precious kitty?" I just walked away because I like to keep people guessing.
Here are some pictures of beautiful Dubrovnik, just in case I haven't yet convinced you to go there on your next vacation, what with the ambiguous nudity claims, and the cats who are dicks, and adorable Miho who wears flip-flops...
Although it's certainly not in keeping with my usual irrelevant subject matter, I can't gloss over the war that happened in those parts twenty years ago. There are still visible signs of the conflict -- shelled buildings that were never rebuilt, bright orange roofs in stark contrast to the original, not destroyed, more muted ones, the signs posted throughout the town detailing what happened when the Serbian/Montenegrin forces invaded, and memorials to those who died.
The shelling of Dubrovnik was gratuitous. It's a small town, off the main roads with no port. It demilitarized itself in an attempt to save itself but to no avail. It was shelled for no "good" reason other than to terrorize and destroy. We watched news footage of the attack in the wartime museum and it was hard to reconcile the wartime footage with what was outside the museum doors -- a vibrant place full of the smiliest people we've had the pleasure of meeting in our European travels.
You should have left it alone, Milošević
Alex and I went to spend the night on Mljet, one of the Dalmatian Islands between Dubrovnik and Split. It's rumored to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world; in fact Odysseus himself got stuck there for seven years or something, though I'm not clear if it was because of the beauty of the place or because he was being held prisoner. We hoped the "stuck for seven years" thing wouldn't happen to us, especially if it was the prisoner reason.
Mljet is a common daytrip for tourists in the summer, not so much in the off-season. There was no one around. We were thankful Miho booked us somewhere to stay. We were not thankful to learn the ferries had switched to the winter schedule so the only one leaving Mljet the next day was at 5:55 in the goddamn morning.
We headed for the beautiful lakes in the center of the island and rented bikes. There wasn't much time before sunset so it was fast, dangerous, hot dog bike riding.
I almost killed myself taking this picture, not to mention seriously injuring Al when I nearly plowed into him. I hope you enjoy it.
Finding a spot for dinner was a challenge because everything was closed and there were no people around. Finally Alex spotted what looked to be a restaurant across the harbor so we headed for its promising glow. It was a restaurant all right, with a nice fire going to boot.
Alex ordered grilled squid. A woman came out, moved some embers around on the fire, and started grilling squid over them.
When the squid were done, she turned around and put them on Alex's plate. They were so good, we started rethinking the whole "stuck for seven years" thing. Odysseus must have really liked squid.
After dinner, a couple glasses were placed before us. "Grappa" said the gruff waiter. "We didn't order grappa" we said. "You get grappa. Everyone gets grappa" came the answer. So we drank our grappa. The German couple next to us also dutifully drank their un-ordered grappa. Grilled squid lady drank grappa. Gruff waiter drank grappa. It was fun, right up until we woke at 4:30 the next morning to catch the 5:00 a.m. bus to the ferry dock. Then grappa (and life in general) sucked pretty badly.
The bus driver looked shocked to see us standing there pitifully by the side of the road. I don't think he gets too much business at 5:00 a.m. in October. He smoked a ton of cigarettes and listened to Neil Diamond on our way to the dock. Here's what it looks like to ride a bus through a sparsely populated Croatian island at 5:00 a.m. Sing "Forever in Blue Jeans" while sticking your head in an ashtray to get the full experience.
Here's what it looks like to wait for the ferry at 5:15 a.m. --
Here's what a Croatian sunrise looks like from the ferry --
100% worth it
Now here's a travel tip. If you're ferrying through the Dalmatian Islands and you feel like pointing to one of them and saying to your significant other, "If I was on that island right now, I would go all the way up that mountain and stand on the tippy-top" -- resist. Don't do it. You will sound like a stupid child, something that will only become obvious to you after the words have left your lips and Alex is looking at you funny.
I've got my Seattle ladies coming Wednesday. Then after them, Chicago O. I'm pretty damn excited about all that. I'll be back soon, though. I know I have to finish writing about Croatia -- all this babble and I still haven't mentioned any debauchery, lawlessness, or nudity.
Thanks for bearing with me as I try to sear Croatia into my memory forever.
Slobodan Milošević was the real dick, but those cats were a close second,