|Lucked out with this one in Italy...|
However, throwing caution to the wind hasn't always worked for me. Even though I like to think of myself as brave and spontaneous, that isn't necessarily honest. I remember my first night in Croatia. Let me back up. My friend, a seasoned traveler and native German, told us that it was a snap to find a room in the city of Split where we would be staying overnight before ferrying over to our island destination. I took her word for it, so we made no reservations for that leg of our 30 day adventure. After all, it was just overnight.
"Here's how it suppose to work," she tells me "You get off the plane, hop on a bus and when you get to town, there will be all these people hawking rooms - you will have no problem finding a place to stay. 'It's very safe'," she assured me. "They are on the Plaza. Oh, and don't forget to get some of the local currency, as Croatia is not in the EU." I twitched, but okay, I can do that.
When you fly over to Split from Rome, the only flight arrives on the mainland at night, a little detail that I hadn't really thought out very well. Keep in mind, this is one of the native languages that I have not studied beforehand, I have no idea where the bus is to take us into Split (the "town") and I have no idea what a Kuna is even worth. In short, I am not prepared, I have not researched this adventure very well, it's pitch black outside and I am now officially in panic mode.
We find what appears to be a money changing machine, and we figure 200 Kunas ought to be enough for the night. We follow the herd of calves to the outside, as they all seem to know how this works. The bus driver throws our bags into the bowels of the exhaust-belching transport and takes all but about 25 of our Kunas. Evidently, a Kuna isn't worth much. Little beads of sweat start to form on my drying upper lip.
We find a seat behind the driver and start the trip to town. After about 30 minutes, I'm not only sweating and fidgeting, but I may be hyperventilating. Quietly, of course. Discretely. As the minutes wear on and town is nowhere in sight yet, the reality of my situation has morphed into a full scale anxiety attack on the inside, even as I am still pretending to be a brave, taking everything in stride, being the seasoned traveler. Smiling.
"Are there any hotels along the Plaza," I calmly inquire of the bus driver, not wanting him to see the fear in my eyes. I try to imagine the Plaza: busy...nightlife...people. Safe.
"No, not really," he deadpans in English.
Sweet Jesus, what was I thinking! We have no Kunas, no room, it's midnight, I will be wandering the streets dragging my luggage, we will be trapped in an alley by an axe murderer. I grab the hubby's hand and he just smiles at me. He's enjoying our "adventure" and I am ready to stroke out!
"Do you need a place to stay?" I hear the driver say in my fog. "I will fix you up, not to worry."
Did I just see him wink at my hubby? He's having fun too! After what seemed like 2 hours, the bus rolls into town, and sure enough, there they are...dozens of little women grabbing at us, offering all manner of sleeping arrangements. They don't look like axe murderers. We dutifully stepped off to the side and waited, as the driver had instructed. Before long, a tall Croatian gentleman approached us after chatting briefly with the driver. Conspiracy? I gather this is our man. He smiles.
"The rate is ----Kunas," he explains, which turns out to be something around 35 Euros. Who cares...WE HAVE NO MONEY! The hubby explains our situation, and he takes us to another Croatian money changing machine just off the Plaza, the key word being "off". Is this where we are murdered? But he stands the appropriate distance from us, hands folded, as we do our math and get our Kunas.
He leads us down the narrow streets, through doorways, up stairs, past young locals still partying at a bar. As we start up the narrow stairs of his apartment/home, he's jabbering on his cell phone. Panic. He tells us he is very "international" tonight...he has a Swedish couple, a Japanese couple and now Americans. He laughs softly. 'Has' them WHERE? Okay this must be where we are put in a dungeon to rot forever. My kids will never find us! He unlocks the door of the room. I take it in...
"It was my son's room," he says proudly. "He liked to paint." Still sweating a little, but I'm starting to breathe.
I'm settling down...the kid liked the Doors, Laurel...Dad can't be all that bad.
Twin beds. Clean, no bedbugs...no axes or chains in the corner. I can hear the revelers' laughter wafting up from the street below. Happy.
"I hope you will be comfortable," he said sweetly, taking the Kunas from Dave. "Enjoy your time in Split."
"Do you have any towels?" I queried, feeling terrible about all the sinister thoughts that I conjured up about such a kind man in this very foreign country.
"Of course...I am so sorry." He bows out of the room.
I showered in my tiny, tiny shower, rubbed my skin dry with the scratchiest little towelette (do I smell Tide?) slept like a rock and dreamed of a Four Seasons long ago and far away.
Sometimes it just works.