I’d wanted to go to Split after Zadar, but due to some techno festival taking place at the weekend, prices were insane. Rather than pay through the schnoz for a bunkbed for one night in Split, I booked a couple of nights in a town a 30-minute drive away; the tiny historical island of Trogir.
I really enjoyed my time in Trogir. I met some excellent people: a 47-year-old Canadian named Randy (the youngest 47-year-old I’ve ever met, both in looks and outlook), Georgia, a 20-year-old English girl who writes a travel journal and makes films and does Workaways and was briefly in a cult, and Stefan, a 24-year-old German who loves Kerouac as much as I do and is just as confused by life as I am. They were a thoughtful and empathetic bunch. We made a good little gang; I felt very comfortable with them and we laughed a lot.
Trogir as a town is very touristic, but then seemingly everywhere in the country is touristic. Trogir is at least deservedly so; its sandy-coloured old town is very beautiful, and the water it sits on has that delicious Croatia-green hue. Many of the buildings are over a thousand years old, and many appear stacked on top of one another – architecture growing over itself for millennia. Initially I was a little disappointed to see these gorgeous ancient structures being used as places of business rather than preserved – money changers, bakeries, tailors, cafes – until I realised they probably housed money changes, bakeries, tailors and cafes back in the day, too. Fair.
I only had a few hours in Split. I got the bus from Trogir to Split with Stefan, with whom I spent many hours talking about books and writing – he’s into all that as well. We wandered Split’s old town – still lugging our backpacks in the heat – then hiked up to a viewpoint above the city and watched ships criss-cross the harbour. We both forgot to fill up our water and nearly died in the heat (again), but at the summit we found a life-saving tap.
It’s strange seeing the cities in Croatia from a distance. They just sort of… end. English cities don’t really end – they peter out into towns and villages, industrial areas, motorways, national parks – it all overlaps and intermingles. In Croatia you just have gigantic expanses of mountainous nothing, and then a little city with one road in and one road out, and then another humungous sweeping expanse of slate and shrubs. It looks slightly unreal and unfinished, like how a child would draw a landscape. But then I suppose Croatia has less than half the population of London, so it’s bound to look a little empty.
To conclude my time in Croatia, Stefan and I went for lunch in this trendy health food place. We sat and ate burrito bowls and talked about travelling – specifically, about how travelling is often better when things don’t go to plan, and how you’ve got to take the bad with the good. And then, because God needs to smite me regularly just to keep me humble, I went to the bathroom… and immediately got locked in.
I rattled the key in the lock: nothing. I wiggled the handle. Nothing.
“Oh you have got to be joking,” I groaned, face a-flush with shame.
I pictured Stefan waiting a few metres away at the table, unaware of my plight, wondering why I was taking so long. I continued to tug at the key, but it didn’t make a difference, so I tried a new tactic: gradually easing the key around at every conceivable angle. A millimetre forward – attempt to turn – nothing. Millimetre right – attempt to turn – nothing – and so on.
This can’t genuinely be happening, I thought. It was too swift, too obvious an irony. If you watched a sitcom and a character was sitting there going ‘yeah travelling is best when things go wrong’ and then got immediately locked in a fucking toilet you’d roll your eyes, man. God DAMMIT.
A couple of minutes passed, and I alternated between rattling the key around and punching the air while silently screaming in frustration. To make matters worse, I’d needed a dump badly but couldn’t even go because some other git had blocked the toilet. And it was getting hot: it wasn’t a stall, it was a tiny room, and without any air conditioning or any way for fresh air to get in, the one-metre square space was fast becoming a sauna. Beads of perspiration trickled down my back, and my hands got too wet to properly grasp the key, forcing me to wrap it in toilet roll in order to twist it.
And then: my saviour. A voice came through the keyhole.
“Are you okay in there?” said a man’s voice.
“Ahh… no,” I replied.
“I’m locked in,” I called back, hating everything in the world.
“Okay. I’ll go get help!” said the man.
I heard him leave the bathroom – there was an antechamber with a sink between the toilet I was locked in and the main restaurant. He must have left the door open, because I heard him exclaim to the restaurant: there’s a man locked in the toilet, can anybody help? I heard a chorus of concern ripple through the diners and waitresses: I was now, officially, making a scene.
God shitting dammit. I did a little scream of frustration and karate chopped the wall and hurt my hand. A moment later, Stefan’s voice came through the keyhole.
“I just heard this guy say you are locked in the toilet?”
“What the fuck man?”
“They said someone will come to get you out. The waitress is going to call someone.”
“It’s really hot in here,” I said, feeling very silly.
I had nothing else to do to pass the time, so occupied myself with trying to flush the turd someone else had clogged the toilet with. No dice. After several more minutes, by which time I was sweating from every inch of my skin and thoroughly regretting ever leaving England, there was a knock at the door.
“Hello?” came a man’s voice.
“Are you locked in the toilet?”
“Can you take out the key?”
The door handled twisted up and down forcefully.
“Take out the key please,” said the man.
“I can’t take out the key.”
There was a loud bang as the man kicked the door. With a sigh, I put the toilet seat down and sat on it to wait, legs crossed, head in my palm. Another bang and the doorframe splintered. Another bang and the frame cracked and chunks of wood flew everywhere and the door sprang open and cool air rushed in to bathe my beet-red face.
“Hello,” I said, looking up at the large man staring down at me.
I wasn’t really sure what else to say.
“Thank you,” I added. And then, a second later, as we both surveyed the wreckage: “Sorry.”
The large man – I think he was the chef – opened the door and looked at the key stuck in the lock. He gave it a wiggle and it came free instantly.
“It was stuck,” I said, my cheeks glowing fiery red. “It was totally stuck. I promise.”
And then, for some mother fucking reason, he opened the lid of the toilet and stared at the turd within. He looked at it for a long moment, then back to me.
“I didn’t– that wasn’t–”
Fucked it. On every single level, fucked it. Time to bail.
Covered in sweat, hair slicked against my forehead, red as a slapped arse, I grabbed my bag, and along with a pissing-himself Stefan, we beat a hasty exit.
“I’m really sorry!” I cried as we left, waving over my head.
Why me, man.