Saturday, August 10, 2013

Waterpipe Maker Made Mistake – You Must Pay (Cres Island, Krk Island, and Split)

On Wednesday morning the water in our hotel on Cres Island stopped working. It turns out the whole area had a major pipe problem. No big deal, and we enjoyed lunch on the water in our great (and therefore nameless) little beach town. When we got back to the hotel, there was still no water, so, trying not to be the ugly Americans, we enjoyed some time on the beach. The water was perfectly clear and the ideal temperature to cool us off.

When we’d had enough, and my first Tuborg of the trip (yes Rob, I know it’s basically the same as Carlsberg, but it’s another sentimental favorite from Denmark), we returned to the hotel to find STILL no water. It was now 6 pm, and we had not had water for about 7 hours. You would think they might provide some bottles for guests to hold us over, but, instead, they directed us to the small market in town to BUY water. Who needs water after only 7 hours? At this point we began a search for another hotel in the vicinity. We had planned to visit the island of Losinj for dinner, but now entertained actually just moving there for good. Booked. I guess the locals know about the water problems on Cres. We found a place on Krk Island, our next day’s destination, but just as we booked online (their last room), our hotel called to say that the water would be on in 30 minutes. A mad dash to cancel our new booking ensued. Luckily, though they were unwilling to provide water, our hotel was willing to make a call on our behalf to cancel the new room, even if the receptionist started to look at us like we were the Ugly Americans. A wonderful dinner in town of mussels and fresh fish overlooking the quiet beach momentarily restored our faith in Cres Island. 

The next morning J showered and no sooner was she out than the water was off again. This meant no juice or coffee at breakfast (and by the way, just for the record, Croatian hotel coffee machines suck, providing that awful no man’s land of coffee between espresso and real drip). Once again, they offered to let us PAY for water if we wanted it at breakfast. So generous. After this bout of Croatian hospitality, we decided to pack up quickly and get out. Unbelievably they offered us 5% off the bill for our troubles – only after we asked (and mentioned the words “put this on Trip Advisor”). 

All of this reminded me of a story from Prague circa 1993 that I’ve always planned to tell when I give a Ted Talk on the history of capitalism: one day in Prague, Adam and I ordered a delivery pizza. We were college students, and so we opted for the less expensive cheese option. When the delivery guy got to our dorm, he informed us, in the exact words I remember, “Pizza maker made mistake and made pepperoni pizza. You must pay for pepperoni.” Fast forward 20 years, and apparently customer service in central/eastern Europe is little changed. It’s not just the idea of paying high European prices for a bottle of water at breakfast when the restaurant can provide no other liquids that bug me – it’s the sheer lack of any sort of understanding of basic psychology. Any experimental economist would tell you that spending $1 on free lemonade for guests deprived of water more than pays for itself in good will and bonhomie (and recoups far more revenue than a few bottles of water sold at breakfast). Maybe the EU jumped the gun a bit on Croatia (it joined July 1), but I guess the corruption laws were a higher priority than ensuring American-style customer service standards.

We drove to the ferry on the east side of Cres (this route had fewer harrowing cliffs than the day before’s western route) and took it to the island of Krk, which represented a change of plans; we had originally planned on a night in Zadar, but we decided that another walk through a city during a heatwave was not worth it. We needed more beach time, and luckily the town of Punat was happy to oblige on short notice.

Remember when I wrote here that Europeans have a liberal interpretation of “beach”?

But a few minutes’ walk past the cement paid off. Indeed, at Punat's Aqua Park we happily rented our very own chairs and Kon-Tiki hut.

Croatia has disappointed on the beer front so far, so the Pilsner Urquell on tap here (real glass, on the beach ...) was restorative. It’s still damn good for a macrobrew, and in lieu of returning to Ale Civilization, it did nicely.

J has been saying since Lake Bled that my trunks are too 1990s (I said they’re perfect for Croatia …). We had some time on our hands, so we decided to go shopping for a new suit. I have a lot of trouble making decisions, as most people reading this know, but with the help of our new friends on the beach, I was able to narrow the choice down to two: yellow and striped. 

Too bad, it turned out, these guys had already bought the last ones. We spent the bathing suit money instead on a nice dinner of fresh calamari and branzino (which, remarkably, is what they call a Class TWO fish here, rather than Class One … I could write much more on the whole Croatian system of labeling fish Class 1, 2, and 3 on menus, which has to be a holdover from the communist pricing/measurement system. In 1993 you could still see menus that promised exactly 300 grams of french fries and 250 grams of salad on the side …)

Friday morning we began the longest drive of our trip: to Split. We had heard great things, and, in fact, the amazing Roman ruins and buildings that make up the Old Town are a case of justified hype. The Roman Emperor Diocletian built his retirement palace at this port and it is still mostly standing and in use. The pictures say it all.

Out hotel was in a classic tiny old street close to the harbor, and the owner’s son kindly offered -- for 10 Euros -- to park our car overnight and then bring it to us at 7 in the morning so we could catch the first ferry to Hvar Island. We tried to eat at a restaurant highly recommended by Sam’s brother, but it was full (once again demonstrating Croatian customer service, the place had failed to answer our emails). We had to make do with delicious lamb and fish stew nearby. Split has a lot of tourists, but with good reason – it’s pretty damn classically European terrific at night.

J has suggested a timetable for the events of the next morning.
6:15: wake up (D listens to Orioles blow the lead in the 9th against the Giants, though they did win in the 10th)
6:45: D and J happily exit room and await car’s arrival in small alley outside villa
7:05: first look at watch
7:14: J sits down. D starts to get angry
7:16: D finds Croatian-American willing to call Villa. Almost assuredly he wakes up owner’s son. Woman on phone seems very confused but says she will send someone.
7:30: Nothing
7:35: D finds a Croatian in the street who calls the villa and cannot get through (I know dialing in Europe is screwy, but she was a local). Concern grows.
7:43: first (half?)joking mention that the guy who gave us the room key and took our car is not in fact the owner’s son but is rather a professional car thief involved in an intricate scam with our villa
7:49: guy shows up flustered, claiming it’s been “a hell of a morning” because our new rental car with 500 hundred miles on it would not start. He says that luckily, however, his villa provides such good customer service that he called a friend who came and jumped it for us. And he won’t charge us for the parking (though he would like cash in Euros for the room).
7:49 and 30 seconds: J bursts out laughing at obvious lies. D gives the guy the benefit of a doubt because he said, “And I never lie.”
7:55: Car miraculously starts on the first try en route to ferry area
8:14: D and J arrive at the cluster*&^% scene at the harbor and buy a ferry ticket, only to learn that our friend had failed to print the correct ferry schedule for a Saturday. We actually still might have made an 8:30 (even with an hour delay), but the ferry had left at 8:00, and so we waited with the hordes of backpackers and Yacht Week participants (I think our incomes were decidedly in the middle of this crowd) until the 11:00.You can tell Hvar is Croatia's most glamorous destination.

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