Stranded in Split
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
It was the last day of a week-long holiday to Croatia with my sister. We decided on a dual-destination trip, flying into Split and spending a few nights there exploring the city followed by a weekend on the party island of Hvar. We had never been away just the two of us before and a typical 'girly' holiday was somewhat alien to me, but it had turned out to be a fun trip. We had both enjoyed rambling around the ancient Roman ruins of Split and getting to know the nearby beaches. One of our most fortuitous discoveries was stumbling across the last two tickets to eat a luxury three-course lunch in the sky (yes, exactly what it says - lunch in the sky) - needless to say that we ditched our picnic lunches pronto!
But the holiday had finally come to an end and we returned to Split to spend the last day at our favourite spot on the beach, before catching the bus back to the airport.
My sister and I definitely share the same genetic traits when it comes to lifestyle management: our organisation can be slightly chaotic and we both suffer from chronic tardiness. Our mother was particularly worried about the prospect of us holidaying together and had expressed her concerns about whether we would manage to return in one piece, or even return at all. In spite of this, the trip had ultimately been a logistic success and we had planned our return journey to the airport meticulously, arriving at departures with plenty of time to spare and a rather smug sense of satisfaction at having beaten the sceptics who doubted our time-keeping abilities.
We approached the check-in desk and I handed over the booking paperwork (which I had taken great care to print out in advance and store securely inside my passport throughout the trip). The check-in assistant unfolded the sheets of paper and began tapping on her keyboard as my sister and I waited patiently. Then she paused; her eyes darted towards me, then quickly scanned over the printout, then returned to me again.
"The date on this booking says July 29th," she said, slowly.
"Yes," I smiled back at her, slightly nonplussed at this statement of the obvious. "And...?"
She raised her eyebrows in response. "Today is the 30th."
This information took a split-second to register. When it did, I felt my previous sense of smugness rushing out of me like air from a deflating balloon. I braced myself before turning around to face the impending wrath of my sister (it is important to note at this point that we had distinctly divided up the travel responsibilities, with the accommodation being her domain whilst the flights and transport were mine) and I knew that at this moment we would need to choose between whether to laugh or cry. I opted for the former.
It worked - a shocked grin began to spread across my sister's face. "Laurraaaa!" she exclaimed in exasperation, momentarily transporting me back to our childhood days of teasing and bickering. "What have you done?!"
In terms of what it was I had actually done, I'm still not sure to this day. The entire way through the trip I had been telling myself that we were leaving on Sunday. When my sister had previously asked about the dates for booking accommodation, I told her we were leaving on Sunday. When I arranged the airport parking, I had booked up until Sunday. When I printed out the booking documents and, so very carefully, put them inside my passport for safekeeping, of course I looked at the date... but I did not register that the return date of the 30th was not, in fact, Sunday.
All of that aside, what was more important than how this predicament had managed to occur was what we were now going to do about it. Ever the proactive one, I headed over to the ticket service desk and began to make enquiries. Cue dilemma number one: there was only one seat left on the only remaining flight back to the UK that day.
After a brief deliberation with my sister it was decided that she should take the seat. She had to get back for the Notting Hill Carnival taking place the next day, so staying longer was not an option for her. Plus I was technically to blame for the unfortunate situation in the first place. Decision made.
This led to dilemma number two: we were sharing the same suitcase. It had seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, saving the extra fees that are often incurred on budget airlines and meaning that we did not have as much to carry between us. But now, this ingenious idea meant that one of us would be left without our belongings.
Again there was a brief deliberation, and again it was decided that my sister should be the one to take the suitcase. After all, she would be driving the car from the airport so it would be easier to transport the case home than me lugging it around on public transport. And of course, I was still technically to blame for this entire debacle.
So the suitcase was unceremoniously flung open in the middle of the check-in area, with underwear and flip flops strewn all over the floor. I had my beach bag with me and was already wearing a bikini underneath my dress from our day at the beach. I made some quick wardrobe decisions and plucked out the essentials: a beach towel - check - a sundress - check - hairbrush - check - washbag - check - clean pair of underwear - check. I was now armed and ready for every occasion.
My sister and I said a rushed goodbye (by this point the flight number was displaying the final call) and she disappeared through the departure gate. She returned back to the UK, and I returned back to Split to deal with dilemma number three: where was I going to sleep that night?
I picked up a picture map from the tourist information office and began scouring the city for a suitable place to stay. I opted for hostels, being the cheapest option considering that this extension of the holiday had not been part of my budget, but each door that I knocked on gave the same response: 'sorry, we're full.' It was the peak of summer and the city was heaving - what else could I expect without having booked ahead? I moved from hostel to hostel but to no avail; memories of a childhood nativity and Mary entering Bethlehem sprang to mind. The sun was now setting and the daylight slowly fading, and I started to wonder whether maybe I would end up sleeping in a stable with the cattle as well.
I had exhausted all of the hostels on the city map except for one - Al's Place. It was my last remaining hope. I crossed my fingers and toes as I approached the door and pressed the entry bell.
A window swung open from the floor above and the head of a young guy popped out. "Can I help you?" he called down to me.
"A long shot, but do you happen to have a bed available for tonight?" I shouted up to him from the alleyway.
"It's your lucky day," he replied. "We've got one left!"
A wave of relief washed over me. "I'll take it!"
A minute later the entrance door in front of me was opened by a middle-aged guy (who I assumed to be Al) with greying hair and a small hoop earring in his left ear. He welcomed me inside and glanced at my scant attire and modest beach bag, noting with a quizzical tone, "You travel light, don'tcha?"
"Yeah, it's a funny story..." I began.
As we ascended the stairs I chattered away, informing him of the situation at the airport and the nature of the predicament that I now found myself in. As we rounded the corner of the stairwell it opened out into the communal area of the hostel where various groups of people were sat, heads turned towards me and mouths open in disbelief - they had obviously heard every word of my story as I had climbed up the stairs.
"You turned up a whole day late for your flight? How do you even manage to do that?!" one of them exclaimed.
"I'm not quite sure myself," I laughed.
"Oh well, at least you won't ever make the same mistake again," another volunteered.
I began to feel slightly embarrassed. "Erm, well, it's funny you say that..."
You see, as it turns out, this was indeed the second time I had made that mistake. There had previously been an occurrence of a similar nature where I had been three whole days late for a connecting flight at Kuala Lumpur Airport in Malaysia, but I won't go into that just now. And I'm pleased to be able to say that I have, indeed, not made the same mistake again since. Not yet, anyway...
It ended up being another two days before I could find a seat on a flight back home. I booked another night at Al's Place and it turned into a pretty brilliant ending to the holiday. I was promptly adopted by the group of travellers who had established themselves at the hostel over the summer (to the extent that Al even offered me a job managing the hostel for the following season) and we all had some great fun together. I made the most of my bonus time in Split by cliff-jumping, drinking with the locals and making the climb to the viewing platform overlooking the city. I also made some lasting friendships that led to a free holiday the next year in the Spanish town of Tarifa... but that's also a different story.
There are a few pearls of wisdom that I can offer as a direct result of what I learned from this trip. Be ready for plans changing unexpectedly, and just go with the flow when they do. Be open to new people and opportunities as you never know where this will lead. Being able to travel light is a useful skill to master and isn't as difficult as you might think. And lastly, but by no means least - always, always check your flight dates.
(Details of Al's Place can be found here - https://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Als-Place-Hostel/Split/8415) Note that all recommendations and reviews within this blog are genuine and no money has been received through advertising.)