Ahh, Croatia. The country holds so many memories for me and by far constitutes as the highlight destination for this Euro adventure. The first smile inducer? Zagreb - big park, another park, bigger park, traditional festival and concert on the promenade! City square, church, street filled with cafes! While we were in Innsbruck at an internet cafe, someone warned us against going to Croatia's capital city at all, claiming nothing was there. What was this guy thinking? All travel advice is definitely not good...even if this stranger meant well. Alexis and I spent three or four hours wandering the city and people watching over beers, astounded by all the people sporting neon orange and yellow color coordinated outfits. I think American fashion trends thankfully missed the band wagon there.
One tiny and smoke-filled train five hours later brought us to something we've been desperately missing: the ocean. Split's coast jutted out into the Adriatic, creating a harbor for all its beautiful ferries to neighboring islands of paradise. The beauty was somewhat lost on us though as we descended into the city. We had been e-mailing a travel agent for private accommodations throughout the day. Stjepan's English made us giggle, but his non-stop questions began to worry us. He wanted to meet us for 'café time' to discuss our trip in detail. This, along with his descriptions of our apartment landlord who would pick us up from the train, sent our imaginations racing with hilarious scenarios of creepy old men never leaving us alone.
Mr. Lino was standing outside our train car, among all the relentless women with other budget apartments, holding a printed sign with our names on it. His vocabulary was limited to a few phrases that cracked us up with each circumstantial usage. "Hello!" He was a loud, happy talker. "Come come," when he would stop en route to his place, look around with wide eyes, and usher us forward once again. "Plajia!" Plaza? Park? Ohh, beach! Wow, that's really close to our place. But is this neighborhood safe? "Oooohhh, very safe! Sicuro sicuro sicuro!" Well, then I guess it's safe. Everything this man said to us made us smile big and laugh from the gut. When he left us to our new apartment, we found a cute little kitchen, a gorgeous garden, free laundry, and satellite TV to satiate our VH1 retro music video deficiencies.
The next morning was our 'café time' with the agent, Stjepan, who turned out to be much older than even crazy old Mr. Lino. We had no idea who we were expecting based on his frequent and inquisitive e-mails. Stjepan walked us to the beach to participate in the morning, and almost hourly, ritual of drinking coffee and watching life go by. We discussed what we planned on doing during this trip to Croatia, and he offered valuable information to us about ferries, island trips, cultural insight, and some language lessons in Croatian.
The rest of the day was a fantastic time at the beach. Off the shore for nearly 150m, the water was thigh deep and the perfect court for Croatian beach handball, a game of hitting a little ball around to a few friends standing in a circle, involving lots of body dives into the sandy ocean floor. Alexis tried to creep into a game or two, but her attempts to blend in were not successful.
We unfortunately had no handball to start our own game, so I spotted the three young boys next to us with a ball they weren't using. I started off by trying to convince one via hand gestures to push Alexis off the boardwalk and into the water. He laughed and told me to do it. Then they threw their ball into the water, which I attacked like it was my juicy prey and kept it from three crazy ten year-old boys. Their English vocabulary was limited to two phrases: "I kill you" and another more inappropriate one, which was accompanied by middle fingers. It was all in good fun, needn't you worry, as they laughed together, concocting schemes to retrieve their ball from the foreigner taunting them. Ah, good times at the beach. Don't worry; I gave the ball back, eventually.
Two emaciated cats started joining our garden side dinners, made from the produce at a nearby stand, and our party soon doubled. Fondly named Cankles and Saddlebags, our new little friends ate hot dog bits like they were going out of style, but they never trusted us enough to pet them, sadly (I think those rabies shots gave me a false sense of confidence when trying to pet wild animals).
We were tempted to try out the nightlife at a beach club, but instead we watched a TV special on Tupac's death, nursed our new kitties to health, and got plenty of rest for our subsequent island adventure: experiencing the essence of Croatia's perfection.