TCN’s Stuart takes us through his continued amusing adventures as an expat in Croatia, this time, he gives Hrelić a go…
An alarm blaring at five o’clock in the morning on any day is soul destroying enough, but when you make that a Sunday and you’ve not had a lie in for the best part of a month, it’s enough to make anyone launch the blasted, buzzing phone against the nearest wall. It’s that annoying jingly-jangly tune as well, the one that’s desperately trying to keep you happy in the face of your morning rage and despair, and you hate all the more for it.
It was the weekend, we were both exhausted, yet we were going to Hrelić.
What fresh hell is this?!
I must stress a few things before I continue. I’ve had plenty of lie-ins. I’m nocturnal and I’m trying to become a writer. Writers get out of bed around 11 am and only because we need the toilet. My partner, Alex, on the other hand, is not so blessed. As a school teacher, the poor wee lamb is up at the crack of the crack of dawn every day of the week and must have the patience of a saint in dealing with my demand to try and offload as much of my unwanted crap as possible at this market.
And that brings me to my second point – we’re not buying; we’re selling. Here then, is a first-hand report from US and UK expats on our experiences at this Zagreb institution. I was praying we’d come back alive.
In the wake of making the decision to end my seven-year travel adventure and settle in beautiful Croatia, I ordered a container full of my worldly belongings, formerly in storage, to be shipped over to the new apartment in Zagreb. I’d forgotten what treasures were contained within, having packed everything in a hurry to flee the country following the passing of my parents, and the sale of our family home. I dangled the carrot of potential riches, priceless antiques, heirlooms and functioning food processors to my better half, and the arrival of the shipment was heralded like Christmas.
As the dust settled and I polished off the last of the antihistamines, we discovered a crate encompassing a large proportion of junk and a mountain of clothing that was now too small for me. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d put on that much weight in seven years.
My parents (and I in turn) were clearly hoarders, and so it all had to go. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure as they say, so without further ado, we set about researching where we could offload it, and maybe make a bit of coin in the process. In the UK, an extremely popular pastime is attending car-boot sales, usually taking place on a Sunday, where everyone is either trying to flog their unwanted belongings or pick up a bargain themselves. The constant battle is not coming home with more stuff than you left with. Seriously, folks – the struggle is real.
The cold, foggy morning did little to help foster our already waning intrepidness. For a start, we weren’t even sure if we would be allowed a pitch, as our previous inquiries bore little fruit. All we were told, is that if you turn up super early and pay the fee, you’ll hopefully get a little plot of land from which to dispense your wares. Alex nursed a coffee flask as we pulled into each possible entrance around the site, only to be told it’s the wrong one, with Alex using a befuddling mixture of Russian and fledgling Croatian to try and ascertain where we need to go. Following grandiose displays of hand gestures, we arrive at the correct gate, pay 30 kuna to get in and pull up next to some stone slabs embedded in the floor.
Naturally, just as we’re about to set up, we’re told we’re in the wrong spot and we need to move.
A trader wanders over through the fog and explains in extremely broken English that these plots are for those with a license. My heart sinks as I believe my worst fears are about to be confirmed, in that we should have applied in advance for the right to host a stall. Thankfully, this doesn’t seem to be the case, and we’re directed to another section in the enormous (even though we couldn’t see it) market grounds. We gingerly ask a large, burly tyre salesman – wheezing heavily on a cigarette – if it’s ok to park up next to him. He responds with a gruff nod, and with a little dance of glee (man, we must have looked stupid) we began to set up shop. We were in business.
Now I’ve had much experience with flea markets and car boot fairs back in the UK, having done several in a row while trying to empty the family home in time for sale, and to be perfectly honest there was little difference here. Before you’ve even got the stuff out the back of the car, hands are reaching through the gloom to examine what you’re peddling, as super-keen bargain and antique hunters descend like a committee of vultures. They’ve surely not gone to bed. Such is their enthusiasm for the weekly feed, we’re already being propositioned for random old tools, empty picture frames and a 1988 vinyl single of Cliff Richard singing Mistletoe and Wine. You can have that for nothing buddy.
We begin to settle in as light adjusts and we can see what we’re dealing with. The fog remains heavy throughout the morning, but looking around we can at least discover what our neighbours are offering. Burly tyre guy is having a screaming match with a fellow burly tyre guy – presumably about tyres.
I do happen to know that even though they’re only inches apart, talking at the same time and yelling through a hurricane – this is just how you converse in Croatia. This goes some way to allaying my fear that we’re about to experience a brawl over some rubber. Before us is a puffer-jacketed chain smoker who has similar offerings, displaying stacks and stacks of hub-caps, while to our immediate right there’s a chap selling window frames, random strips of ragged cloth and a selection undefinable metal cogs. I turn proudly back to our modest display of X-box games, sheet music, old mobile phones, books and quality shirts that I’m only selling because I’m fat. Yay for diversification.
The morning rush dies to a steady trickle of punters and we’ve already got continuous interest in what I’ve dubbed ”the big three”. There’s an Epsom photo-quality printer, four cordless Panasonic phones with answer machine and docking bays, and a 5-piece set of cast-iron Le Creuset cookware. I want 200 kuna, 300 kuna and 400 kuna, respectively. I know how much these things are worth new and if I were to sell them on eBay back in the UK.
There’s one major thing I’ve forgotten, however. I’m not IN the UK. Oh – and this is Hrelić. Cost of living is reflected in the cost of buying, but I’m still reluctant to be bullied into lowering my asking price. A giant of a man with a weathered face and a neck bigger than my head barks something about the phones being junk and I should sell them for 10 kuna. In spite of him being able to kill me with his bare hands, I stand my ground, even though I feel my knees shaking and I could potentially wet myself. He shuffles off unimpressed, and the phones remain in my possession to this day.
Selling at Hrelić also affords me an opportunity to practice Croatian numbers, but I’m still utterly useless and terrified of giving something away for a song. We’ve brought a little phrase book just in case, but we manage to get by with the basics, and there are a few shoppers who know enough English to assist in the transaction.
”This for my son” smiles one lady, who has admirably chosen one of my best ever shirts for picking up girls in. A Friday night stalwart. She clearly has taste.
”5 kuna” I beam back, albeit dying inside that I have to say goodbye to an old friend while absent-mindedly reminiscing about wearing it for the last time. She notices I have a lot of V-neck cardigans on display.
”I like.” She exclaims. ”My son no like,” as her face turns to a frown. ”I try to tell him, they very sexy.” I couldn’t agree more and resolve to hit the gym.
There’s a mildly alarming moment when we discover Alex’s used underwear for sale on the clothing pile, and while some people might actually be interested in this particular item, I suggest that it’s probably for the best if we remove it. Before too long the haze gives way to brilliant sunshine, but to my dismay, folk are already beginning the process of packing up, a day’s business done. There’s little foot-traffic on the other side of midday, so we follow suit, although lingering over the removal of the ”big three” until absolutely necessary. Maybe someone setting up a small business in their kitchen is still out there.
On reflection, we had an eye-opening and entertaining experience, and we’d recommend anyone with unwanted goods to sell to give it a go. And nothing is sacred either, as, for some unfathomable reason, there’s always someone who wants even the naffest, most useless, falling-apart junk you can imagine.
Trying to flog a stack of UK phone adaptors was a pretty hard sell though. In the end, we emptied three boxes and came away with our dog Margot throwing up in the middle of the night from a bone she was chewing all day, and just shy of 1000 kuna. Which was instantly swallowed up by bringing this crap over here in the first place.
Although the Le Creuset set was undoubtedly the main attraction, we couldn’t quite get someone to take it off our hands, and we failed to make the real killer sale. But hey – there’s always next week though, isn’t there?
Incidentally, anyone interested in the “big three” can drop me a line at TCN. This whole piece has basically just been a glorified advert.