Exit Dublin and on to Dubrovnik.
We board our flight by groups. Fairly simple — A then B then C then — you get the point. Normally, I wouldn't bother to explain something that is so self-explanatory, but for the passengers on Aer Lingus 446 it was like teaching calculus to Alzheimer patients who've had a melatonin and barbiturate cocktail — impossible. The boarding agent had to leave her post at the jet bridge and ask each individual passenger if they were group A. The passenger would look at their ticket, whimper, then present it to the woman.
"Yes, this is an A you go now" or "No, this not an A. No yet for you. Later. You B. Wait here." A portly grey-haired man in front of me blurted out, no less than four times, "What about D?"
The good news — when she finally says boarding all rows all groups, the crowd just stands and stares. Unimpeded, I casually stroll onto the plane.
In the Dubrovnik airport, a burly man in military uniform notices the cardboard tube sticking out of Dan's backpack and pulls us aside.
"What is tube?"
"Is new map or antique?"
Like a seventeenth-century maiden asked by a suitor to see her ankles, Dan gingerly pulls back the lid giving him the just the slightest peeksy of the map's edge. Like a red cape, the sliver of map causes the bull's officer's nostrils to flare. He snorts and adjusts his gun belt. After some coaxing. Dan is forced to reveal the goods.
Unwashed hands besmudge the haul. "Careful please," Dan says, confused as to who is in charge.
"I AM CROATIAN CUSTOM'S OFFICER," says Mr. Croatia 1976, pounding his chest like King Kong. "YOU BREAK LAW, DO NOT DECLARE MAP, AND I AM THE ONE TO BE CAREFUL." At this point I'm excused from the airport, so Dan and his new friend can have some alone time for the prostate exam group-hug portion of the interrogation Croatian welcome.
Having refused to pay a bribe, Dan and I limp from the airport to beautiful Old Town. On the wall that encircles the city, we lick our wounds and take in the view.
Two kilometers outside the wall is the bombed out remains of Hotel Belvedere.
We walk through the mortar-blasted grounds, down ten flights of stairs carved into the Dalmatian coastline, and jump in the Adriatic.
It's mid-October and we're swimming in the clear turquoise water. The dichotomy of this site is much like the contrast in the people — War torn /angst ridden and overwhelming beauty/kindness.
Hvala is Croatian for thank you. We said it often. The citizens of Croatia fall into one of two categories — the most friendly, gracious people in the world or brutish, ready-to-extort-money, one-rubber-glove-on cavity searchers. The concierge at our Hotel in Split, our apartment manager in Dubrovnik, and the staff manning the wall in Mali Stone fall in to the former.
I think the Croatian Civil War of the early nineties must have left some of the residents scarred, their residual hostility a side effect of war. But three days later while in our Dubrovnik apartment, I come to understand the true orgin of the citizen's irritability. It isn't the 1991 war. It's chaffed buttocks.
I haven't seen peach-colored toilet paper since the early 1980's when my friends and I would toss it into trees during our midnight house rollings. At first I thought the emblem on the paper was a feather, but now have come to recognize it as the Croatian pine cone. The toilet paper, made from a mixture of coarsely ground cones and sand is held together with communist-era, Eastern-European, textile adhesives. With just one sturdy square of paper, you can easily remove your intended target along with several layers of skin.
Highlight - the beautiful scenery and weather.
LOW POINT- second hand smoke
In Split the cigarette reigns supreme. 300 AD relics are so common they're relegated to ashtray status.