The Five Star Hotel

Today’s post is a guest post from Sarah Nathan. Enjoy her story about finding free campsites while on bike tour in Eastern Europe. You can read Sarah’s blog here.

There they go, around the corner and down the highway, shouting and laughing. Three girls from Spain.

“Where you go?” one of them asks us.

“Zadar tomorrow” we reply.

“We too!” she shouts as they roll by, dreadlocks flying in the wind, rickety bicycles bouncing on out-of-true wheels, bongo drums dangling precariously attached by bits of twine to makeshift panniers made of cloth and used milk jugs.

And so Steve and I give up deciding which is right – the GPS or the map – and we follow the three girls from Spain. Blanca, Jema, and Christina are heading to Zadar by bike, just like us.

A few days prior, on September 30, Steve and I left Senj headed for Plitvice National Park in Croatia. We took a shortcut near the end of the ride, and popped back out on the highway near the park entrance facing a farm house with a room for rent, owner having a smoke out front. When we asked the owner where we might find camping, he offered to let us pitch our tents in his backyard. And then, as rain clouds loomed, he upgraded his offer and suggested we pitch in his shed; complete with chicken coop. We took him up on his offer.

For me, this trip has included a number of memorable free camping nights; including the backyard of a friendly Finnish family (see my second blog post); the front yard of a family’s home in Slovenia; a restaurant parking lot in Hungary; a stressful road-side night in the Czech republic; and a campsite on the Croatian coast, already shut down for the season, where fishermen, coming away with their haul, gave us about a dozen small fish to have for dinner.

While scenery and fish on the Croatian Coast and a chicken coop near Plitvice are both high on the list of memorable campsites, I owe the credit for weirdest camping experience of my life thus-far to the three girls from Spain.

Steve and I catch up with Blanca, Jema, and Christina, and we ride on together towards Zadar. At sunset, we reach a small town about 60km from Zadar; a good place to stop for the night.

“I saw on the way in a five star hotel!” exclaims Blanca as we wait for Jema and Christina to catch up.

Blanca had already explained to Steve that their primary mode of accommodations on the trip is squatting. Five star hotel is a euphemism for abandoned house with roof intact.

Steve checks to make sure I’m comfortable with this. I’m not so sure about comfortable, but I am intrigued. I’ll try most things once.

An hour later, Steve and I are cooking dinner for the five of us in what was once a bathroom. Our tents are set up in what must be the living room, and the three girls pitched their tent in what is probably the bedroom. All in all, five stars indeed – except for the rat shit we have to avoid while pitching the tents and cooking!


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