Traveling with Kacey is like traveling with your very own personal travel agent. En route to JFK at the start of our trip, Kacey pulled a green folder from her backpack with directions to the AirBnBs, confirmation emails, and a loose itinerary penned out on lined paper that included dining suggestions, things to do in each city, and times for each activity.
I say “loose” because nothing was set in stone, but proved helpful when planning activities.
One such activity was a detour in Neum, Bosnia & Herzegovina, en route to Dubrovnik. It was a sunny day – finally – and outside it looked absolutely baking. Perched on the Adriatic, Neum offered blue views and the option to swim, which sounded heavenly after being cramped in our clown car for so long.
We had lunch at Bonaca, one of Kacey’s researched restaurants, and it did not disappoint. When we met our waiter, we realized that even though we’d left Croatia temporarily, Croatian sarcasm knows no borders.
“Do you take card here?” Kacey asked, noting that we only had kuna and euro, and no idea what currency Neum was using.
“Yes,” answered our waiter. “Or you can wash dishes. You will stay here one, two more weeks, to wash dishes.”
We took the credit card option and headed down to our car, which was parked in a lot that was basically the “beach.” We’d been envisioning smooth, sandy beaches but so far had only encountered rocks, which is not the most pleasant thing to find under your soft foot soles.
Sweating in the sun, we braved the rocks and waded into the water which was immediately freezing and then perfectly warm. We treaded the clearest water for 15 minutes before crawling over the boulders and back to our towels, where a lone man sat drinking a beer.
He watched us for an uncomfortable ten minutes, so we took that as a sign to hit the road. But not before sampling Bosnia’s gelato.
The AirBnB in Dubrovnik was called Rooms Jelena, and, like many previous AirBnBs, claimed to offer free parking. We crossed the main bridge into Dubrovnik and came to a traffic circle where, without warning, we collectively gasped.
You may be thinking about Dubrovnik, and how it’s a filming location for Game of Thrones. You may be thinking that Jon Snow or Jorah Mormont was standing in the roundabout waving at passing cars, or that one of the dragons was sitting on the bridge.
What we saw was even better: a brewery. Dubrovnik Beer Company was printed in a white circle on the side of a black brick building, with a garage door opening that revealed a handful of people perched on stools, drinking beers.
“We have to go there!”
It was the first time on the trip that all three of us were immediately in agreement about something we wanted to do.
The AirBnB was another 15 minutes away from the brewery and tucked out of Old Town and on the edge of a Croatian suburb, but that was fine by us. Kacey found parking around the corner, but we weren’t sure if we could actually park there. After all of our parking SNAFUs, we weren’t thrilled about risking it, so Kacey called our host.
“I can’t understand him,” she whispered, as the man’s voice crackled through the speaker phone. We deciphered that he was asking us to turn back to where the AirBnB was. He would show us where to park.
We circled back to where he stood, waving at us in the road, and pointing to a somewhat cramped parking spot between two cars.
By no means are we daunted by parallel parking. (Thanks, Dad, for deliberately parking near the driveway and leaving a space between yours and the neighbors’ car, every single day. I can’t say I’m rusty.)
What was difficult was that the spot was a bit cramped, and the AirBnB host was hollering at us from the road. Kacey expertly brought the car to the spot, turning the wheel and trying to gauge distance while Allison, me, and our host stood in the street trying to direct her.
Very quickly, it became clear that the host was not happy with her progress. He shouted a mix of Croatian and English and slapped his thighs in exasperation.
“What is the engine kind?” he asked me at one point.
“What kind of engine is it?” I repeated, unsure what he was asking.
“Yes, yes, the engine kind! I don’t know this engine.”
Puzzled, I replied that I didn’t know and he gave up, waving Kacey out of the car. He then clambered in himself.
“We just gave a total stranger the keys to our car,” Kacey said. “I think that was a bad idea.”
Suddenly, the car revved without moving, and we all exchanged doubtful looks. At least he wouldn’t be driving away with the car.
“You have to put it in reverse!” we called to him, the sound of the revving engine drowning out our voices. Eventually the car lurched forward, then he put it back in park and revved the engine again before emerging from the car on the verge of an aneurysm.
“I DON’T KNOW THIS ENGINE!” he repeated more forcefully.
“Nicole, you park it, you do this all the time,” Allison said, as the man threw his hands up.
I tried my luck, getting the car into the spot but not quite close enough to the curb so that it was out of the road. The man and Allison were both directing me, although it was hard to hear Allison over the man shouting at me.
“It is fine!” he said as I got out, noting that the car was still pretty well in the road, though it was nicely placed between the other cars.
“I’ll take it from here,” said Kacey, who is good at the finer details of parallel parking, the small turns of the wheel.
“It’s fine!” he shouted again.
“It’s not fine,” we said. “It’s half in the road.”
As Kacey fixed the car, the man got his keys and moved his own car, urging us to take a different spot near the curb and he would parallel park his car in the old spot.
It takes a village.
We followed him into the apartment, which was actually his home. Two rooms were located at the second floor landing, with two separate bathrooms.
“I booked only private apartments and homes,” Kacey whispered uncertainly as he unlocked our door to reveal a small room with two beds and a balcony. He gave us a key and assured us that our bathroom, across the landing, was only available to us, and not the other guests staying in the room next door.
Maybe we could have dealt with this, if it wasn’t for what happened next.
“I need your passports,” he told us.
By this point in our trip, this request was not unusual. Most hotels that you stay in ask for passports anyway, and AirBnBs in Croatia (and Slovenia, for that matter) were no different. Our first host in Croatia explained that the Croatian government required ID and documentation on any tourists staying in the country, so we were used to handing over our lifelines to the United States.
Kacey and I gave him ours and he stared at us.
“Now I will make you my slaves,” he said. Allison, who had her passport in hand, quickly exchanged it for her driver’s license and handed over the lesser form of ID.
“She is smart,” he said, wagging a finger at Allison. “You gave them away so easily!”
Then he disappeared down the stairs, leaving us to stare at each other in horror. When he returned, he referenced the passports again with what was either a friendly chuckle or a maniacal snort and said, “Bad joke, bad joke.”
Desperate to feel better about our situation, Kacey asked, “So, does your family live here?”
“Yes!” said the man brightening up. “Yes, my younger daughter, Nicoletta. Like your name.”
As he left, we all felt a little relief.
“If he’s an old man with a family, I feel a little safer,” Kacey said. We decided we’d earned some beers, so we freshened up and resolved to walk the 2 miles to the brewery. As we left the apartments, we ran into the man downstairs, where he sat petting a cat and telling us about Old Town.
Gesturing to his cat, he said, “This is Nicoletta.”
So much for harmless family man.
The walk to the brewery took us through Kings Landing, where we got lost. Kacey had inputted Dubrovnik Beer Company into her Google Maps, but it was leading us to the heart of Old Town, which did not seem right.
We hailed a cab, and the driver assured us he would get us to beer as soon as he could. After driving in two circles, he brought us back to Kings Landing.
“But…this isn’t where it is,” we said.
“Take us to the ferries,” Kacey said. “We can find it from there, where we came in.”
Frustrated, the man drove us down to the ferries where all three of us plastered our faces to the window at every roundabout until, finally, we found it.
To understand what a haven this was to us, consider that we had been driving all day, had endured a creepy man in Neum, survived an intense parallel parking session, aged a few years after being told we were going to be sold into the slave trade, and gotten lost for two hours.
The Dubrovnik Beer Company welcomed us through its one massive doorway with open arms and a milk stout that would have humbled the gods. Kacey charged her phone. We charged our souls. The World Cup was on, and we watched Belgium defeat Japan.
After, we grabbed dinner near the AirBnB and headed back, albeit reluctantly. The man was not waiting for us upon our arrival, but we figured we should get some defense plans in place just in case.
This involved the three of us packing emergency bags in case someone barged into our room in the night and we needed to escape out the balcony, several spontaneous scenarios where Allison would pretend to be an attacker and we would have to react, and arming ourselves with various “weapons” we found in the room, including a metal tray.
It was the first time I’d slept with a corkscrew under my pillow.
Clearly, we made it out unscathed, and spent the next day doing “dragon things”, as Allison termed our Game of Thrones exploring, before relaxing on a painful pebble beach with gorgeous views of the Adriatic.
Our lives in tact, and no parking tickets to boot, we bid farewell to Dubrovnik and headed on toward Montenegro.