Monday, March 29, 2010

Philosophy of Hosteling and Split, Croatia

From Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia
In Zagreb there is no public wireless internet, and there seem to be only two internet cafes. One of these cafes requires that you—I cannot believe this—feed coins into the computer in order to surf. I'm at the other one. Most of this material was written at the Oliver Twist Pub.

After that wild last night at Saloon, I returned to the hostel, then walked to the train station. I was a bleary-eyed wreck. I rode in a semi-conscious state about 7 hours down to Split, a celebrated coastal city in Croatia.

Most surreal after experiencing the spring temperatures of Zagreb was the sight of snow-capped mountains overlooking fields covered in snow. Much of the interior of Croatia is national parkland. It's gorgeous. Nice though the snow was, I was pleased that warmer weather awaited me in Split.

I stepped off the train to a chorus of people shouting, "Do you need accomodation?" "Do you need a room?" and so on. I hate that.

Then I couldn't find the hostel. I wandered up and down the street seeking the Hostel Split Mediterranean. It was at No. 21 along the street, but the numbers jumped from 19 to 23. Since I had never received a confirmation from the hostel, I was unsure as to whether or not the hostel even existed anymore.

I wheeled my baggage to a second hostel, called Croatian Dream, which I had seen on the way up the same street, but while some too-trusting guest buzzed me in, the staff was not there, and after five awkward minutes of waiting (the sign on the door said "Back in 30 minutes"—30 minutes from when?) I decided to split (forgive me).

I went on to a third Split hostel, one for which I had collected a flyer in Budapest. It's called "Al's Place," and it's run by a British fellow whose name you can guess. But when I finally found it it was closed for renovation.

I was at wit's end.

Fortunately, while Al's Place was closed, a dusty and disheveled Al was there. He was renovating the hostel. Remarkably, he took time out to talk to me. It turned out he was in a spat with the very same Hostel Split Mediterranean I sought, because they had taken a very similar internet domain name (his is, and theirs is The spat was serious enough that he was reluctant to call the number I had for them, but he encouraged me to go back and find it. He even let me keep my luggage at his place while I made my second search, a great burden literally lifted from my shoulders. Al is obviously a terrific guy, so if you find yourself in Split during the summer season be sure to make Al's Place your first choice.

When I returned to the original street and found myself facing the same 19 to 23 quandry, I heard a guy shout, "Hello! You're Andrew? You made reservation for hostel on internet?" It was a grinning old man in a cap standing in front of a gate in a little alley off of the street proper. Clearly he was a true blue Croatian.

So I found the place, or rather the propreitor found me. I was deposited in a cozy, three bedroom apartment all to myself for 100 kruna a night, which is less than $20.

The proprietor was very friendly, if a bit perfunctory, in explaining the details. Then he left, and I never saw him again—even when I had decided to spend some more time in Split and wanted to pay the necessary money in order to do that. After fruitlessly knocking on the man's door, I wound up stuffing money into it with notes explaining my intentions. I guess this was acceptable.

Al had told me that Croatians are suspicious of strangers, and that this colors their style of running hostels. Why would anybody want to fraternize with strangers who might try stealing your stuff? they reckon. So, often a solo traveler can be placed in a room of his own for no additional cost. But although having a space to yourself is nice, for the solo traveler it's also alienating. Al spoke passionately of the importance of bringing people together at a hostel in order to facilitate the creating of new friendships. Despite my general introversion, I had to admit he had a point. The times I spent at the hostel in Kiev, with the gentle/hard-partying Gautier, the talented writer Keith, the wise beyond her years Lauren, and the affable mega-snorer Piet were among the best of my trip.

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