In Croatia old ladies make a living by offering tourists a room in their home for a reasonable price. For many of them that is the only income they get all year so they try to cram as many people as they possibly can in as little space as they possible can and they try to get them to stay for as long as they possibly can. Most of their guests are backpackers who they pick up at the bus and rail stations. Getting out of a bus in a place like Dubrovnik can be a nightmare because these old ladies jump at you before you even get out and try their best to sell you the idea of spending the night in their home. The facilities they offer are as different as the ladies are many and in this as in other business deals, jumping at the first offer is not always the best thing.
When arriving in Dubrovnik, on my way through Croatia, I had planned to stay at a youth hostel. When I got there it was filled with very loud English people so I decided to give it a miss. Instead I ended up at Mama Maria's. Mama Maria was a lady of about 80 years. Her house was next to the pathway leading up to the youth hostel and she lured people into her garden by whispering to them as they were walking by. Her English consisted only of the simplest words but somehow she managed to bargain about the price and convince people her house was the best anyway.
Mama Maria had a son who was about fifty or sixty. I suspect that she saw a wife in me for him because she was from the first moment extremely nice to me. I later found out that I was the only one of her guests who got a formal introduction to the son. She even gave me dinner one night and let me sit in her kitchen and watch American television with hvratski, Croatian, subtitles. Sitting in her kitchen, eating the oily sausages and sauerkraut, is one of my favorite memories I have from traveling.
Mama Maria had a big temper and she was not everyone's favorite. There was another woman who had rooms to rent living on the bottom floor of the house and at least once I heard them screaming at each other in Croatian. I guess they had both been living there forever and this was probably not the start of the argument. They accused each other of stealing customers from the other and that is exactly what they did. When Mama Maria first got me into her garden and I told her I had to think about whether I should take the room or not the other old lady tried to steal me on the way out. "Maria no good" she said with a stealthy voice and shook her head.
She was good though. Her guests who came from places as far from each other as Iceland and South-Africa loved her and her strange behaviour. She was growing turtles in her backyard, she had a bunch of cats and a couple of hamsters in the bathroom. She wore the same blue dress the whole time I was there and she used the hands of her male guests to wipe the sweat of her forehead when demonstrating how hot she was. She washed the clothes from those she liked and it was Christmas for her when all her rooms were filled with young people who spent the evenings at her terrace getting to know each other over a glass of wine. What is there not to love? She has probably had about a million people sleeping in her home, favoring those who stay for long and giving those suitable as her daughter in law the royal treatment. Sure her furniture was odd, the beds not all very comfortable and taking a shower with the hamsters was not that pleasant but it was all a part of the experience (not to mention all the cool people I met at her terrace.) All that and so much more for lousy 100 kunas a night.