Our arrival in Zadar, Croatia was an accident of sorts in the sense that it was unplanned, unexpected and upsetting. Like any accident, my version is only one of many, as inherently flawed as any eyewitness account.
During May and early June the ferry from the island of Mali Losinj to Zadar operates only twice a week, Monday and Friday at 4PM, arriving in Zadar at 10:45 PM. When my husband and I and two other couples planned our bike trip on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia in early June, we planned around the shoulder season ferry schedule from the island of Mali Losinj to Zadar. The twice a week ferry would arrive at 10:45 PM. Because it would be dark when we docked and we didn’t have lights on our bikes, Gary and Anne painstakingly found a small hotel, Pansion Maria, just two blocks from the ferry terminal. Zoran, our host provided a detailed map of the area and Gary confirmed the directions and our arrival time of 11 PM via email.
As the ferry approached the coast, Rich commented that it looked like we were going past Zadar’s city center. The rest of us all agreed that it must be another nearby city’s lights that we observed. The ferry docked in a dimly lit, almost vacant, industrial area. Confused and increasingly uncomfortable, we began to think that those lights were indeed a forewarning. Some of our fellow passengers departed in a bus, most were picked up by cars and taxis. Another cyclist, a Croat we’d spoken with on the ferry, took off into the night before we could ask him where we were. Indeed, before we knew we needed to know where we were.
Using my new smart phone, equipped with global roaming capability, Gary called Zoran. He assured us that we need only ride over the foot bridge, turn right and go two blocks. We followed the directions despite signs that indicated that the city center was to our left and we were clearly not on a foot bridge but on a four lane road with no sidewalk. In the dark with no lights in a deserted industrial parking area elevated tension levels. Gary remembered a small flashlight that he pulled out of his pannier, but still, we all knew that none of us knew where we were. We continued over the bridge and on to what soon became apparent was an entrance to a freeway with no shoulder. We got off the road and turned back walking our bikes through the brush on the side of the road. All, that is, but Mike, who rode his bike down the wrong side of the road seeing no need to walk.
Back at the base of the bridge, we decided to turn left along a more brightly lit street. Rich’s non-stop, confident, but unfounded, speculations comforted no one and irritated some. As was his way in a crisis, Mike took off looking for signs or other directional clues which only served to make everyone else anxious. Where was he? What was he doing? Didn’t he know that no one could see him with only reflector on his bike?
Gary and Anne felt responsible because they booked the hotel…that was clearly not where they thought it was (despite the map). Gary stoically moved toward the lights. Anne, usually the group’s emotional ballast, was uncharacteristically beginning to melt down, perhaps on the verge of tears. I was trying to keep Rich quiet, and Margaret was doing her spousal best to keep Mike with the group. Confident that we’d find our way eventually, we were apprehensive about the toll on our tired bodies and fragile morale.
At the next intersection, we called Zoran again. We told him that his directions had led us onto a freeway and that we were on a big road near what looked like a Mercedes car dealership. We couldn’t see any street name signs to give him a better idea of where we were. He couldn’t understand why we weren’t already at his hotel. We followed occasional signs for the City Center. We called again, unconcerned about the expensive global roaming charges. Zoran continued to say “… follow the signs to the Center, we are only blocks away”. As we rode on, streetlights were more numerous and for a long stretch, we rode in a car-free lane technically closed for repair. We were silent and focused; tensions eased a bit. Gary and I continued to call Zoran probably more to comfort us than to get the repeated but not relevant directions. At last, after riding in the semi-dark for almost six miles, more than an hour with stops, we reached a sign indicating a left turn to the City Center.
We were now on Zoran’s original map. We turned, then stopped and asked a taxi driver if we were on the right road to reach Pansion Maria. “Yes, yes, stay on this street and then bear right onto Put Petrića”. We were in a residential neighborhood…could this be right? Were we lost again? As we approached the address, we saw Zoran, in the street waiting for us, waving us into the driveway. It was 12:30 AM. Zoran welcomed us and showed us to our rooms. He told us that he didn’t realize we were coming from Mali Losinj…”that ferry hasn’t come to the City Center dock for over three years.”
Exhausted we fell into bed. Only the next day did we realize that it was also an “accident” that we hadn’t thought to try a previously unused application on my smart phone…the GPS!
Zadar, Croatia—June 13, 2011
Written—October 17, 2011