Zdravo and welcome to episode 6, wherein another protagonist enters the tale. So begins a rapid realisation that I’m not the only person with needs. On the plus side, I don’t have to talk to myself anymore. Wild.
An Oktoberfest veteran, Melba has a life-threatening bruise on her shin. We amble along the foggy Zadar coast considering her imminent demise, past a lone fisherman in overalls who converses with an army officer. There are musical steps nearby that breathe eerie, hollow tones from the sea. It’s a pale white day and there’s not so much to say so we take shelter at a landmark recommended by google maps. It’s an absolute treasure of a fountain filled with riches.
We arrive in Dubrovnik to a strange woman who takes naps in her kitchen and slaps our cheeks and pulls on our clothes. She interrupts her ironing to welcome us with a big hug under grape vines. It’s a small house with three bedrooms and a patio complete with a vinyl tablecloth, plastic chairs and no wifi. That night I dream of leeches and a lady with just enough teeth to chew that snarls and cackles, crouched next to my bed. A martial jolt returns me to the room but it’s still dark and empty except for a sleeping Melba and our pieces of luggage.
We stroll to the Old City in the morning and lose ourselves in ancient walls overrun with masses of tourists and stray cats. Game of Thrones means very little to me—my stubborn blasphemy renders the lauded alleyways just as alleyways if not for all the souvenir shops.
On our way down to a stone beach I spin a rhyme (word):
It takes a lot of practice
to pull pears off a cactus,
Desperate demand for sand
but there are only bland rocks and stinky socks;
no clocks here.
I chase fish around the classroom through a foggy borrowed scuba mask. The quivering mass of silver explodes as I torpedo through towards a small, deep grotto. I’m practicing equalizing my ears with each descent and Anonymous Boy is proud.
We swim again in the evening, where both of us stumble through home-baked poems and feast on the nectarine sun coating the silky blanket of sea with its mildness. I wonder which greedy eyes are next to receive the sunset.
Back at the house, things take a catastrophic turn when we switch the oven on, our sweet huggable host metamorphosing with a macabre flourish. She yells and thrusts her hands up and retreats teary-eyed to the terrace. We’re frozen and blank, standing above a large pile of cubed zucchini. We attempt to fix our hideous mistake with google translate and an apology, but to no avail. I’m spinning circles and expressing my alarm via eyelids that open wider and wider. We pack a picnic for the jetty and duck past her shuffling slippered feet.
Our last goodbye is a 5:30am door-peeping fiasco featuring an argument with one currency and two dialects. We shuffle out with the leftover zucchini in our day packs, and I fall victim to clasping reluctant hands towards the painting of Jesus Christ on her wall.
Fraza dana: Hvala
Pjesma mjesta: Hey Jude - The Beatles (this song followed us around like a mosquito in a humid bedroom)
I could stare at this ocean for hours with a Kellogg‘s mug of camomile. My stiff hair and hairy legs are caked in salt and propped up on the railing. A huge ship docks overnight, offloading Maersk containers and rudely obscuring the mountains. My four days in Rijeka are bejewelled with 3am crepes, 6am swims in diamond water and a 22 dollar bedroom view that rivals the tacky travel posters pasted on airport walls.
I’m nicknamed “animal” by the host who talks only about sex and insists his blood is 10% alcohol. He’s a strange man who seems to never sleep and wears his torso and a pair of too-tight blue boardshorts. “Sexy”, as he’s called, is eager to show us a photo displaying the bare buttocks of last weekend’s guests. Every night he offers a nudie swim but prudie me says ooh…dear no.
A long stroll leads me past a traditional fruit market and towards a Croatian woman leaning out of her window, destroying an apple with a paring knife. With every chew she drops chunks onto the pavement and spills frothy juice out of her wrinkled mouth. Narrowed eyes follow me carefully and suddenly I’m victim to a loud rant and a furious hand that points over my shoulder. I reach another dead end and shamefully tiptoe back the same route, copping another yell and frantic thrust of the apple.
There are two German boys at the hostel who’ve cycled through the Balkans. The pesky one won’t stop saying “she’ll be right mate” after I tell him I’m Australian. To my horror and disgust, the phrase has now embedded itself in my vocabulary.
At dinner time I’m finally able to cook veg chilli for someone other than myself and it’s surprisingly edible. I’m gifted with a bottle of wine from the English guy and with a pop of the cork, Sexy is asking for a glass. An impromptu Android photoshoot features me and the wine bottle and you’ll never see it.
My first Jägermeister experience commences at an underground tunnel bar and I can assure you it won’t be repeated. Within an hour we’re sprawled in different parts of the city in various states of inebriation. Our loaf of discussion crumbles and miraculously we stumble back to the hostel for a nude dip and one of Sexy’s crepes. But shit!! The German boy has passed out and missed out on the doughy jam-slathered circles of greatness. In a mad stupor, I drag one upstairs and force feed it to him by blocking his nose so his mouth opens. Without waking, he swats my hand away and the plate hits me square in the forehead as I tumble over and probably wake up the seven other guests. What can I say? Crepe time is important. No man gets left behind.
My hangover is shooed with eggy toast, an icy plunge and some unwarranted selfies of puffy eyes and upturned noses. Stone skimming quickly morphs to rock throwing and our high school shot put skills are truly put to the test. The Swedish girl and I play beached whales and morph into land monsters that emerge and stumble onto stones that line the shore.
A plump white-moustachioed man is bitten by his angry dog and his scolding hand hovers as they stare each other down. The dog won’t stop yapping, the waves are calm and lapping against the ground but the old man is bleeding and using his shirt to stop it seeping.
We say an English goodbye to the Germans on bikes and the motorcycle-bound Englishman. The Swedish nugget of joy joins me for another swim in layers of turquoise water. Hot and cold pockets force fog vibrations to swirl above remains of Roman columns and pieces of plastic. We’re joined by two Croatian men with beach ball bellies and toothbrush moustaches who plop in with their crocs on. We embark on a pumpkin curry-flavoured mission to Lidl and head back to the hostel.
I don disposable gloves and enact the worst hair salon service I can muster. A older Croatian guest examines the cardboard L’Oreal box and tells us he doesn’t think blue is a good idea. I force a laugh and slap his hand away from the sunflower princess who will soon be sporting mermaid locks.
It’s a valiant effort and judging by the satisfaction of my first client, maybe there’s a hairdressing future for me. She braids the little hair I have left since my life-altering chop last July and we play never have I ever with two German girls who share their chips with us. Our zany host flips us a last crepe in the morning and we part ways to Zadar and Zagreb with zero zebras onboard.
Fraza dana: She’ll be right, mate
Pjesma mjesta: Dog stole my earphones back in Florence (not a song, but a cold hard fact)
Guys. GUYSSSSS. I had a moment. A tourist ahead of me decked out in Camelbak glory turned around not once but TWICE to check if I was following him. How the tables have turned! Hi, what’s your name? I’m Creepy Mia.
In Florence, I power walk past the cathedrals spilling queues out their wooden buttholes and affirm my status as Worst Tourist Ever. I pay a round man for one peach and walk away with a kilogram of yellow plums and a pat on the cheek. They are delightful and I eat fourteen (14) of them.
Michelangelo’s David and I share a special moment and I take a naughty selfie that I won’t include because there are parents reading! There are some genuinely weird mutant babies in the museum and I’m wondering if they might have popped out of the womb as fully grown shrunken prunes.
Back in Fontanella I spend a relaxing afternoon in my Airbnb with a belly full of stolen grapes after being followed home for the umpteenth time. I’m perfecting The Snarl™ and reserving it for viscous dogs and barking men. Dinner is peanut butter and peanut butter because the only store is closed on Sundays and SOMEBODY didn’t prepare.
An uneventful train ride to Bologna lands me in a city bustling with history and hipsters. I meet a polite German girl and we explore huge cathedrals with tomato-shaped roofs and celery columns with string cheese decor. We gobble the creamiest gelato in all the world with our turkey tongues, made of I don’t know what but it’s got no milk and feels like silk.
We climb a tower that may as well have been a pipe with a view unworthy of the desperate sightseers clogging the plumbing. There’s a one-woman fashion show featuring sparkles and glitter and if only my bag was bigger. Our shopping extravaganza leads us to fluffy heels and lavish jewellery sparkling in fluorescent incandescence. I’m glad my preconceptions of Italy are somewhat accurate because there is So. Much. Gucci.
I hear a lot of the word “tutti” and have vivid recollections of one weird orchestra conductor who would swiftly raise both arms and smack them down again with a flick of glossy Lord Farquaad locks. ‘From letter A, tutti!’ he’d exclaim melodically.
Dopa Hostel, which is dope-as-shit, has good tea for once, which I enjoy twice. There’s a long discussion about thinking about nothing and trying not to have fun. The Dutch man doesn’t want to be the one in the hostel that plays guitar but I’m only half awake and the Oxford professor is meditating again.
A poetic interlude:
Bread and pasta
Scoff it down
Digest it faster
It’s dinner time which means time to check on my spaghetti. It’s a slow growing plant but I have high hopes. Halfway through a very delicious bowl of eggplant penne (not grown by me), I consider the spiritual possibilities and skin benefits of bathing in pasta sauce. They’re quite religious in Italy. Maybe they baptise their children in salsa al pomodore.
Frase del giornio: PREGO
Musica del posto: La Dolce Vita - Ryan Paris