9th Jun 2023

In Dubrovnik on a budget

"Oh, my God there it is!…" And then, immediately: "I hope we'll find somewhere to stay." The two young French people on the ferry were clearly anxious. Arriving in the glitzy and monstrously expensive Dubrovnik by ferry at the weekend at the beginning of August, without having reserved a room, is erring on the side of the adventurous.

This time, floating to Dubrovnik, I put on my Romanian identity. I am the poor owner of a Romanian passport. What happens when a Romanian citizen with little money arrives in Dubrovnik on a weekend in August? What are his chances of survival? A hotel, as all the tourist guides will tell you, is out of the question, unless you are prepared to spend your monthly rent back home on a one-night bedsit in Dubrovnik, in a room which might not even face the sea and with a bathroom that will certainly be windowless.

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  • Dubrovnik (Photo: European Commission)

The first thing one has to cope with after touching land in Dubrovnik is the professional look of appraisal by the room-renting people on the quays.

There they stand, tough-looking little ladies, holding hand-written "Zimmer frei" signs. Most of them can judge a person with one single look and know immediately how much cash you are carrying, what your guilty pleasures are, whether you cheat on your wife, whether you are a weak or a tough negotiator. The secret services should hire these people, they would make splendid interrogators.

So it is with much apprehension that I approach them, dragging my heavy, battered suitcase and with a Romanian passport in the back of my pocket. The unwritten code of the merchants of sleep has very strict rules. First, they do not jump on the travellers. They all remain behind the open iron gate of the docks and none of them steps in front of the tourists something that would amount to an undue advantage of a couple of centimetres. The voyager, in turn, has the unpleasant task of choosing one of them to start the negotiations.

My choice is made without the intervention of my will. The magnetic stare of a beautiful old lady orders me to come to her. With only her eyes, without moving any muscle of her face, that lady takes control of my brain. She has been Circe, Medea and Delilah in previous lives, and her accumulated will power is irresistible. The other couch-providers seem to be used to this phenomenon. They don't consider her magnetic stare to be an unfairly obtained advantage, or maybe they are afraid that she might transform them into unclean beasts, or garden dwarfs, so they don't do anything to stop me from going to her. "Room?", she says uselessly, losing something of her magic. "Zimmer, chambre, komnata?" Mmm... "Camera?" No, I say: I want an apartment. "I'll give you a nice room", she replies.

I am a poor Romanian tourist, I can't afford to stay in a hotel and I need to rent something from the locals, but all of a sudden I realise that at the end of this long trip I cannot really face the prospect of sharing a bathroom with someone in the morning. How much is it? "40 euros," she says, "but we can discuss."

Seeing me hesitate, she hastens to add: "You only have to cross the living room, but you'll have your own key to the room, you can lock it." She can clearly see that something escaped her control, but she doesn't know where she made the fatal mistake. She's angry now because she wasted time with me and most of the tourists who wanted rooms have now got them from her competitors.

The only other potential sleep-seller is a tall young gentleman who clearly sees that I have no other choice left. So it begins again: "Room, chambre, Zimmer? I have apartments at 60 and at 80. The one at 80 is gorgeous and I highly recommend it to you." Dejectedly, thirstily, I pull out a map. "Show me. Where is the one at 60?" He puts his finger on the map, somewhere close to the old town and the Pile Gate. "OK," I say, "let's go." "How many nights?" "Four." "You pay in advance."

We drive to the suburb of Lapad, and when I understand how far we are from the old town, I also realize that the young tall gentleman has grown fingers so thick that when he points on the map he can cover half of it. The "apartment" at 60 euros a night proves to be a student flat above a bakery, and later I am to discover that the window opens on a power generator, or industrial refrigerator, which hums and buzzes continuously at night...

But the young gentleman has gone with my 240 euros, after having made a photocopy of my Romanian passport somewhere in the bakery. Dubrovnik, here I am!

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