Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Over the Hills and Through the Woods to Grandmother's House We Go...

Arrived in Zagreb yesterday around 5 pm sans any accommodation in a town notorious for having absolutely no accommodation. We therefore hung our hats on an "agency" whose job it is to find travellers private homes or apartments to stay in.

The Zagreb bus station can only be characterized as disappointment on a major scale: horrid, depressing communist era cement block housing surrounded by dishevelled tram lines and traffic jams with no apparent end. On a happy note all the block housing is painted a strange pepto bismo pink: no doubt to liven things up.

I was already beginning to hate Zagreb.

After calling the "agency" we attempted to negotiate our way to their office by way of the trams. After getting lost for an hour we decided to get a cab. Strangely, though it is not a big city by any means, our cab driver, like all passers by, cannot recognize any streets on the basic city map. They would stare incomprehensibly as if we were showing them a map of Mars...

A "scenic route" taxi cab drive about Zagreb later, we arrive at the "agency", I in a complete fume at already having ripped off.

We are offered a "lovely private apartment(with TV!)" some way out of the main centre at a rate twice the amount we have spent, on anywhere, anyplace, so far. I am reticent. We really can't afford it. C however takes the bull by the horns and books us for two nights, cash up front.

Off on the tram again, and on to our private apartment. Now the last private place we booked was wonderful: parquet floors, the best matress ever, a balcony overlooking the sea...

We wind our way down the streets finally finding our apartment in the creeping darkness. I unlock the door and in we go:

C and I look at each other. The walls are crumbling, plaster and paint peeling down; there are no windows and those that there are, our covered with old, dark curtains; the place has dirty, stained decorative plates on the wall with the requisite faded photos of Pope John Paul II pinned up in between ubiquitous crucifixes which hang above each doorway; the stench of cigarette smoke, sewer gas and old cooked cabbage hangs in the acrid heavy air: we appear to have arrived at someone's "less than fortunate" grandmother's flat.

On the walls are huge communist era pipes running beside large 'Metropolis' like ceramic fuses. Underneath the 'china cabinet' are two pairs of completely worn cheap, slip on shoe sandals, complete with some kind of electrical tape used as a form of insole. The toothbrushes left mid-brush on the sink, etc...gave the appearance, (if I didn't know any better or the photos hadn't been so resolutely Catholic) that the inhabitants might have been "ethnically shoved" out of their flat leaving it available to be rented to foreigners...

C and I look at each other. She attempts the usual platitude she pulls out each time I get persnickedy or pissed at something when we go abroad: "Well we're lucky that we even get to go anywhere, most people can't travel any...." I cut her off.

"We're lucky to pay alot of money to live like someone does, who is not very well off, in a former communist country????!!!" I reply incredulous. She has to agree. It is not very nice.

Faced with the gloomiest place I have ever, I think, been in, I realize why, just maybe, alot of people here go out to cafes and start chain smoking and drinking very large bottles of beer at oh, say, 9:30 am...I immediately tell C I am going out to buy some wine.

I return some time later, worried that, as in the Roman Polanksi film "The Apartment" C will have become possessed by the spirit of our miserable flat and I will return to find her sitting at the stained, doiley laden table, chain smoking Marboroughs, quaffing straight vodka and complaining bitterly about the Serbs and the economy.

The TV though does work, although it only gets two channels. In the middle of the night I am awoken from my slumber by the stench of cigarette smoke imbued in the pillow and all the bedding. I change the bedding. It still stinks of smoke. This reaction coming from someone who used to smoke at least a pack a day. I finally scare up the bottle of Lavender oil I bought in Hvar. I put it all over myself thinking that I may suggest in the "Reader's Exchange" (see very first blog posting) the following: "Do you ever rent out apartments when you travel that reek of cigarette smoke and old cabbage? Just carry essential oils with you at all time..."

Next morning C wakes up with a large bruise on her knee from what I can only call the "Stalin Springs" which are a feature of our bed. I actually considered just sleeping on the floor as it would be more comfortable but the cold from leaving all the windows open made this even more unpleasant than the "bed"...

By the way, the end of the story is this: we hate the apartment, but love Zagreb: a beautiful, wonderful and brilliant city that inspires artists here to great painting, theatre and music...and maybe, I hope, some good blogging too.

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