We hit the road from Plitvice to Zadar under stormy skies and incessant rain. Kacey and Allison were soaked from their excursion in the park, and I was tired and hungry, my gas station turkey sandwich a rubbery mess between two slices of white bread that did not make it past my lips.
Our hopes were pinned on Zadar for sunshine. Being a coastal city, with a warmer forecast, perhaps we could leave the rain behind us.
With 30 minutes remaining in our drive, and Kacey and Allison fast asleep, I crested a hill and saw the rare and wonderful rays of sun shining through the clouds over the water. Perhaps Zadar would bring some dry, sunny joy into our grey, rainy trip.
We parked our car in a public lot a few blocks away from our AirBnB and rolled our massive suitcases over Zadar’s cobbled streets to where the apartment was. Kacey buzzed the door and we were let in and faced with multiple flights of narrow, winding stairs.
Allison offered to go upstairs to find the apartment before we lugged the heavy baggage up the stairs. She came back down with a thumbs-up, and we started hauling the cases up. Allison went up first, ringing the bell. Kacey and I were halfway up the stairs when Allison came back, confused.
“There’s a man and his family in there,” she said. “He said they’re staying there.”
“Why’d he buzz us into the apartment then?” I said.
“Are you kidding me? Did she double book us?” Kacey wondered, trying the phone number.
“Is this definitely the right building?” I asked.
“It is. I can’t get a hold of her,” Kacey said.
After driving for so long, our collective patience was wearing thin. While Kacey tried ringing the host again, I went up to the apartment and rang the bell twice. An older man opened the door and glared at me.
“We are staying here,” he said, about to close the door.
“We’re supposed to be staying here, and the number for the host isn’t working,” I said. “Can you give me the phone number that you have?”
As he read it out, I called it down to Kacey who said she had a different number. The man again began to close the door.
“We’re having trouble with our phone,” I said. “Can you try calling her?”
The man looked at me, exasperated, then suddenly asked, “Are you American?”
“Ah! You are not staying here. You are staying in the other apartment.”
“…the other apartment?”
The man then waved me into his apartment, where I met his family, all camped out comfortably and probably unhappy to be pestered by three frustrated Americans. He led me into the bedroom, where his wife was unpacking, and pointed out the window to another building.
“That is your building,” he said. “You have to go around to reach your apartment.”
I relayed this information back to Kacey, who was now on the phone with a man called Marco, the husband of our AirBnB host. Marco promised to meet us outside the apartment building we were currently at, so we turned and dragged our luggage back down the stairs and out the door.
Marco arrived a few minutes later, sweaty from cycling over to us from wherever it was he’d been. Breathlessly, he apologized for the confusion and led us into the new building, where we lugged our suitcases up another flight of narrow, windy stairs, to the topmost landing where Marco removed the keys from his pocket and —
“Ah, I have the wrong key,” he said. “I’ll be back soon.”
He left us standing on the landing for a good 15-20 minutes before returning again, sweating, and letting us in.
Immediately, some of the stress dissipated. This apartment was by far the best we’d stayed in so far – and one of the best on the entire trip – with wide balconies overlooking the harbor, two spacious rooms with their own private balconies, a kitchen, a clean bathroom. Marco walked us through the registration process and gave us a recommendation for dinner, and then left.
In all, from parking until this moment, it took an hour and a half.
We freshened up and headed out for another late dinner, after 9pm. We pushed open the doors of the apartment, stepped out into the night, and…rain.
It seemed to me that rain was going to be a fourth, uninvited guest on this trip, and we might as well get used to it. We walked carefully across slick cobblestones down along the Adriatic to Bon Appetite, Marco’s recommended restaurant, where tables were placed on the grass and covered with tents to keep the rain away. It was dark, but you could still see lights twinkling on the sea.
We were told that there were no more seaside tables, but then the owner came and said that one had cleared out, and we could take it if we waited a short while.
“Can we get drinks?” Kacey asked a waiter.
“No,” he said.
He smirked, then laughed at us and agreed to give us some wine. Eventually, he led us down to our table where he refused to let us pour our own wine.
“This is my job,” he said, shaking his head at our poor pouring skills. Everything out of his mouth was sarcastic, which was both surprising and enjoyable. When Kacey accidentally bumped into him and broke a plate, he said, “That’s okay. You will stay one extra week and wash dishes.”
At one point, as I dug into my lobster, he came out and tied a bib around my neck. I saved the bib. It is the only souvenir I have from Zadar.
The night ended after one too many bottles of wine, and we headed back to the AirBnB via a street concert. We were there for all of two minutes. The three of us walked into the crowd. One minute, Kacey was jumping up and down, the next, Allison was grabbing us and marching toward some girl.
“What is it?” we asked.
Allison pointed at her head. “Don’t you notice anything?”
She then grabbed her hat off a stranger’s head and marched off.
“She stole my hat,” Allison repeated, but the girl seemed too happy for any of us to be angry with her.
In the morning, I woke up early and walked along the promenade to the sea organ, Zadar’s famous coastal attraction. An architect designed steps down to the Adriatic with pipes beneath them. As the tide comes in, the pipes fill with water and play music. It’s a beautiful idea, and the panoply of notes you hear when a boat passes by and sends high waves to the shore is worth sitting around for.
I did this for some time, then grabbed my book and went for a light breakfast at an alley cafe. Once Kacey and Allison woke up, we grabbed some coffee and Kacey brought her luggage down to the car, where she found a parking ticket.
“Apparently this happens all the time,” she said, waving the ticket at us. “I asked the guy in the coffee shop. We just have to pay it before we go.”
The ticket was 140 kuna, or $22. To be fair, I just paid that to park in a private lot in Asbury Park last night, so I guess it isn’t as steep as I thought.
We headed to the police station to inquire where the courthouse was so we could pay our ticket.
“Where do we pay this?” we asked.
“You can pay it down there,” said the police officer. “Or, you can just give him the money,” he said, gesturing to a random man he was speaking with. The random man waved and said, “Yes, give me the money.”
Then they both laughed.
Croatia has clearly embraced sarcasm with fervor, which is entertaining, but not when you can’t find out where to pay your parking ticket.
We spent the morning at a restaurant along the water, where I sipped an Aperol Spritz before joining Allison in the walk back to our AirBnB to return the key to Marco and ask him where to pay the parking ticket.
“The post office,” he told us, which felt odd, but at least we knew where to go.
We returned to the restaurant where I finished my lunch and Allison and Kacey went to the post office to pay the parking ticket. It took them 30 minutes to walk there, pay the ticket, and return, but they came back with keychains and stories of all the knickknacks the post office was selling.
In need of some relaxation, we headed down to the sea organ and sat there a while, soaking in the sun – finally! – and the salty sea water that splashed up at us each time a boat passed by. We spent the next hour wandering the small harbors of Zadar before returning to a seaside restaurant for one last drink.
It was there that we witnessed a wedding procession, led by the bride and groom, where all of the wedding party and guests paraded behind them while a band played celebratory music.
“They do not seem happy,” our waitress commented. “And her dress, I do not like her dress.”
I am not sure if this was sarcasm, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It was a nice way to round out our day in Zadar before we hit the road for Split.