“Everything needs to be done twice” became the wry motto Emily and I adopted as we traveled this past week along the Adriatic. From ancient walled city to ancient walled city we ran into metaphorical walls at every turn — regardless of signage, websites or verbalized, personalized directions.
From where to buy tickets for the ferry/bus/site (not here, over there); to when the ferry/bus/tour starts (not now, later); to which direction to walk in to find our Airbnb/restaurant/hotel/tour (not right, left); to taking money out of the ATM cuz the 500 Serbian dinar ($5 US) I withdrew from my first visit to the ATM wasn’t enough to pay the angry cab driver who — of course — dropped me at the wrong location; to which hotel is mine (not this one, the one across the street with the same name); to which cafe table to sit at (nope, that one is reserved — even though there are no reservations taken. P.S. we refused to move, causing the waiter to have a hissy which was totally worth it to see the sunset over Dubrovnik. And it was funny!); to every turn of every key in every lock…
All actions needed to be performed at least twice to be gotten right.
It’s frustrating and exhausting and, eventually, without even realizing it, just the norm. I’m not sure when the shift happened, when I went from irritated to accepting of every thwarted first attempt, but I’m grateful the calm finally descended on me or else I don’t think I’d be able to survive this year.
Though I’ve traveled quite a bit and am accustomed to the delays, mix-ups and snafus that are common, I’ve never done it at such a frenzied pace or by the seat of my pants — booking the next set of accommodations and transportation just days, sometime only hours, before departing and hoping things go mostly right.
And, with the exception of having to do every little thing twice, the first leg of our trip did go, mostly, right.
Friday/Saturday – Dubrovnik: Despite being really sick (Emily now calls me L’il Sneezy) and sleeping on the worst mattresses outside of the Town of Bedrock, we walked along the top of City Walls of Dubrovnik, sipped cocktails at our controversial, non-reserved table at the non-reservation-taking cafe while watching the sun set behind cliff-jumpers, visited the green market and oldest Sephardic Synagogue in the world, heard too much about Game of Thrones (I don’t watch, but I may have to start) and hopped a very hot bus to Montenegro.
- Travel Tip for Dubrovnik: Despite what the tourist office says, you DO need a ticket before ascending the wall walk. You can’t buy it at the top. The office is behind a tree. Of course it is.
Saturday/Sunday/Monday – Montenegro: In magical Montenegro I felt like I fell into a Fellini film. Our apartment on the second floor of an ancient building opened onto Museum Square below. Teaming with visitors during the day, the entire Old City of Kotor clears out. The locals left behind gather at cafes tucked into nooks and crannies to listen to live music or, in the case of the cafe outside my window, to enjoy a Three Stooges movie projected onto the side of an historical building as scores of stray cats casually roam the city. We had one fabulous and one terrible meal. I think I got suckered into buying a too-expensive blue opal ring ring. Whatever. It’s pretty and I like it.
- Travel Tip for Montengro: Do NOT order the breakfast sandwich at the Harbor Pub across from the church in the picture below. Its a piece of dry chicken and gnarly bacon on dry, white toast. It’s almost not food.
From there we parted ways. Emily left for Oktoberfest in Munich and I breezily booked a $175 flight to Athens with a 22-hour layover in Belgrade, Serbia where I intended to pop into the city to see the sites before heading to Greece where I’d tour the Acropolis and other ancient landmarks, then ferry to Mykonos for a few days before jaunting back to Split.
This is where things — and by thing, I mean I — began to go off the rails.
Monday/Tuesday – Belgrade: Serbia sucked. From the confusion over the currency to pay the angry cab driver, requiring 2 trips to the ATM, who dropped me off at a dark, creepy, construction zone while indicating that my unpronounceable hotel was “over there,” — only to try to check into the wrong one “over there” with the same name as the one I was booked at — to the handful of creepy men hanging out in the lobby, to the handle of my hotel room door having deep scratches on both sides making me wonder if someone had tried to get in our out, or both, I was freaked. Hey, at least it had a state-of-the-art hair dryer!
I FaceTimed a friend, wrote a wigged-out Facebook post that worried a lot of people, drank the only 2 mini bottles of wine in the mini fridge, watched Gilmore Girls on my computer on Netflix (never underestimate the soothing effect of a visit to Stars Hollow!), took an Ambien and went to sleep.
The truth is — I felt really vulnerable. It hit me that I stood out like the physically vulnerable tourist that I am, traveling solo in a dark, confusing former war zone. This was a new, really uncomfortable and scary feeling for me. I hated it.
The next morning I discovered I was just on a shitty corner in a nice neighborhood 2 blocks from the historic Church of Saint Sava. I spent the day walking the city, seeing the sites: The Belgrade Fortress, Republic Square, Skadarlija, and eating 2 foot-long sausages. It was fine, but I was soured on Serbia. That afternoon, I gratefully got into the cab of a really nice driver and went to the airport.
- Travel Tip for Belgrade: Skip it. Yeah, I’m bitter.
Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday – Athens: In Athens, the cab driver dropped me at the wrong hotel (of course) with the second worst mattress outside of the Town of Bedrock (the Balkans really need to get a Sleepy’s) in a room where the electricity kept going out. Thank god I brought my phone into the bathroom! After 2 tries (of course) I figured out the electricity (you gotta leave the keycard in the little slotty thing) and headed out for dinner.
The next day, I did Athens! I love this city! Everything there is to photograph and say about it has already been photographed and said, so I’ll just tell you 2 important things you may not know:
- Travel Tips for Athens:
- The H&M in Athens is way nicer than any other H&M I’ve ever been in. It’s nicer than even Bloomingdales in NYC. Not nicer than Saks, but definitely nicer than Bloomies.
- Cut & Blow on Lekka does a fab blowout for only 16 Euros (and they gave me a trim for free after seeing my sad split ends)!
Completely satisfied and happy with my day and my hair, I returned to my hotel to make seemingly simple travel arrangements to Mykonos for the next day before going to dinner.
I’d been warned that accommodations are hard to find, so that morning, before sightseeing, I looking online, consulted an actual travel agent and ultimately returned for a second time (of course) to my computer and booked 4 nights at a nice Airbnb at $105/night.
What I had not been warned about is that you can’t get back from Mykonos to Split in under 3 days for less than $1,000 and with fewer than 2-3 layovers. WTF???? Theoretically, this should only be a 3-hour direct flight!
I spent the the next 3.5 maddening hours trying to make this work out before realizing that it was impossible unless I wanted to spend an exorbitant amount of time and money. So much for breezy.
Reluctantly, I booked the only direct and affordable flight from Athens to Split for $375, leaving the next afternoon, ultimately forfeiting my entire Airbnb payment, but cutting my losses on the additional time and money that I couldn’t afford to spend.
Thursday – Athens/Split: Disappointed and totally worn out, but grateful for the good times I’d had and the new calm I acquired about how many tries it takes to get anything done while traveling, I returned to my apartment in Split.
ANNOUNCEMENT! Here I’d like to introduce a new feature called, “Loren’s HotFlash,” (previously called “Travel Tips”) that are nuggets of information about my travels that might be useful for other Middle-Aged Digital Nomads!
As I have some catching up to do, I’m wrapping this puppy up with 6 HotFlashes for you!:
- Loren’s HotFlash #1: Just cuz you can get there doesn’t mean you can get back. A little research goes a long way.
- Loren’s HotFlash #2: You really do get comfortable with being uncomfortable, uncertain and just plain wrong.
- Loren’s HotFlash #3: Don’t be freaked out about going for a drink alone. Nobody is going to hit on you or look at you weirdly. The truth is, they’re not looking at you at all. Even the cutest of us middle-aged women is invisible in a bar occupied by even 2 millennials in tank tops.
- Loren’s HotFlash #4: The cheesy touristy Hop On Hop Off busses are totally worth it. They give you a great perspective of a new city and, again, nobody is looking at you!
- Loren’s HotFlash #5: As I mentioned, all the mattresses in this part of the world blow. Gather every blanket you can from the closets and the other bed to create a padding to avoid hip and shoulder bruises from sleeping on your side on, what is commonly referred to, as cobblestone. NOTE: I covered this with the top sheet from the other bed so I didn’t have to actually lie on these blankets (who knows when they’ve been washed last. Ewww).
Loren’s HotFlash #6: In addition to It Taking Two (tries) To Make A Thing Go Right while traveling, for me It Takes Two People To Make A Thing Be Fun.
I’ll travel solo again, for sure, but I now know that sharing the experience with someone else makes it much more enjoyable. I mean, who am I going to point out all the stupid t-shirts to with non-nonsensical phrases on them if I’m alone? That’s no fun at all.
Cheers for now!
PS – Time for a little dance break! I love this song!