We got an early start out of Ljubljana so that we had time to visit Plitvice Lakes on the way to Split, with most of our day spent driving in Croatia. We even decided to skip breakfast and even coffee to get a jump on the day and make driving in Croatia as seamless as possible. We thought most of our driving problems were behind us (remember when the mountain defeated us!?)… but you know what they say about well laid plans.
Brendan drew the short straw and was driving in Croatia today, since I had the long and rainy mountain road day a few days back in Slovenia. We got to the Croatian border heading south quickly enough, in about 75 minutes, and that’s when our adventure began.
After clearing immigration (Croatia is not part of the Schengen Zone, but is part of the EU), and celebrating at my 81st country, the fun began. Our back right tire and the low tire pressure light came on, and we began losing tire pressure, about 5 kPa (kilopascal) every 5 minutes . We were about 6 miles over the border and luckily we were very close to a gas station, which we quickly pulled in to. The attendant spoke a little English and we asked whether she had air for tires – she said she didn’t, and that we should turn back towards the border because there was a larger gas station there. While that was not the direction we wanted to head in, we agreed that it was the prudent thing to do, even though there was no guarantee that we would make it.
The tire pressure continued to drop as we retraced our tracks, and we noticed this was the same gas station we has chuckled at on the way in because of the name – “Cro-Can.” It was a Canadian gas station with a big maple leaf on the logo. Never in a million years did we think we would be back here, in a tiny town just over the Slovenian-Croatian border called Jurovski Brod.
The gas station was quite large and even had a cafe, which we decided to grab some coffee from while we assessed the situation. Our first experience driving in Croatia was not a positive one.
Our tire pressure on our passenger rear tire was at about 195 kPa (which is like 19.5 PSI) when we sidled in to the free air filling station at the Cro-Can. We were delighted that it was free.
We filled up the tire (after scrambling with internet and manuals to try to figure out what the actual tire pressure should actually be) and it appeared to stabilize. So, we decided to get some gas and use the rest rooms, and wait for a bit to see what happened.
After a while it started to drop again, so we were pretty sure we had a leak, but we couldn’t find it. At this point we also began searching the trunk for a spare tire or a patch kit, neither of which were available (we did later notice an air compression kit and foam that could patch it for 10 km). Always check your rental car for these things prior to driving in Croatia (or anywhere for that matter!).
We decided to call Sixt and get some help, calling the main roadside assistance number as instructed. I used Skype to talk to man named Blas who explained that, because the Mercedes was knew and within warranty, we had to call the rental agency in Slovenia that rented us the car so that they could deal with the Mercedes dealership. We did not understand this, but we did as instructed, making sure to take down his name for later. I called in to the Sixt rental office at the Ljubljana train station and talked to Jasha, the same woman who checked the car out to us in the first place. She actually remembered us.
I explained the situation and what Blas had asked us to do, and she said she didn’t understand why either, so she said she would call him and to call her back in 10 minutes (since I was using Skype, I had to initiate the calls since my US number was inactive).
At this point, Brendan was able to locate the culprit in the tire. We actually felt better after identifying the problem. We also thought the solution would be easy – change the tire. The gas station we were at even had a mechanic arm than opened at 1500 (of course it was 1100 when this all went down, so we had a while to wait).
I called Jasha back and she explained the plan of action – someone from the Mercedes dealership would be calling us to arrange a solution (even though at this point the solution was still not clear). We did not feel any closer, but process-wise, this apparently was what had to happen. Because of the warranty situation and the specifics of the contract with Mercedes, we couldn’t simply “change the tire”. We felt caught in a procedural catch-22. She told us to hang tight, and that someone from Mercedes would call us to get to the next step. We of course got the Mercedes phone number in case the call never came.
In the meantime, we put a little extra air in our tire to keep it afloat, and moved the car to a nearby spot in the gas station parking lot in case anyone else needed to use the air. We also updated the gas station staff (two really helpful young women who spoke great English) on our situation and that we had moved the car out of the way. They had been allowing us to use their restrooms (had to ask for a key every time) when we needed to.
We went inside to the cafe and decided to have lunch while we waited for the call that was supposed to come in on my Google Voice number.
The cafe staff (husband, wife, and daughter team) were all really kind and we were so lucky we got stuck where we did. We ordered some sandwiches with were quite good – I had a ham and cheese and Brendan had a hamburger. We shared a cake for dessert, after we saw a gang of Italian motorcyclists ride through and order espressos and cakes. The sandwiches were better than the cakes. The name of the cafe is Bistro Renny.
In between bites of food, I was blogging on my laptop through the Tep and organizing our Game of Thrones tour in Dubrovnik on the day of the season finale. Brendan was dealing with the Mercedes dealership and a guy named Karlo, after they bizarrely called his number (which apparently worked through WiFi calling) instead of my Google Voice number.
Karlo was really great to work with, but the process continued to get sillier. Karlo explained that they were going to send a tow truck to us to come get the car (and presumably us), and then the tow truck would take us back to Zagreb to the Mercedes dealership so that we could get a different car. The whole thing seemed like the height of inefficiency and a colossal waste of our time so that Sixt could save money. Zagreb was in the completely wrong direction of Split and would set us back 4 hours, meaning that visiting Plitvice Lakes was also totally out of the question (and there was no way they would drop be able to tow us all the way Split to do the exchange). On top of that, it would be 2 hours before the tow truck would be able to make it to us, because it may also have been coming from Zagreb. We set our clocks for 1500 (ETA of the tow truck) and patiently waited.
A yellow tow truck with a nice but non-English speaking guy showed up right “on time”. He very quickly hoisted our car on to the tow, I settled up with the cafe team, said goodbye to the gas station women, and we were soon on our way to Zagreb. An hour and a half later (traveling at super slow tow truck speeds) we arrived at the Mercedes dealership here:
We met Karlo and he called Sixt to let them know we were here so they could bring the other car, and luckily they were only 10 minutes behind us. Sixt brought us a slightly worse car, a Fiat, but with a larger trunk which was helpful for keeping all of our luggage nearly out of view. The Sixt guy had trouble finding the screw in the flat, but did ultimately concede that it was losing tire pressure so recognized there was a problem (which was all that he needed for the paperwork).
We did the vehicle exchange, transferred our luggage in to our new Fiat, and were on our way around 1700, taking a 6 hour set-back all in all. We were already gearing up for the fight with Sixt when we returned the rental car, as we expected somehow we would have to pay something out of our deductible for the privilege of this inefficient experience and our lost time. We were thankful that at least Sixt offered a solution and didn’t kick us to the curb.
We said goodbye to Karlo and started to make the 4 hours drive to Split, continuing driving in Croatia.
The rest of the evening went smoothly. We were exhausted and grumpy, but did ultimately decide to truck it to Split rather than overnight in Plitvice Lakes, forgoing that experience for another day. It was about 4 hours on very good toll roads, over very beautiful scenery changing from green valleys to tunnels through rocky mountains while driving in Croatia to Split. With fading light, we experienced the beauty of the Dalmation countryside, and also had fun Googling Dalmations :).
We arrived at 2100 after communicating our lateness to our guest house owner. We were fortunate that Split was a late night city, with most restaurants and bars closing at midnight or 0100. After a long day and things not going according to plan at all, we were happy to be somewhere rather than nowhere.