It is Grrrrrrrrrrroatia

This post got way out of hand. But the good part about photo albums is that you don’t have to read the notes, you can just flip through the pictures. Or scroll with your finger, I guess it is nowadays.

Croatia. Where men don’t cry, most people smoke and there’s a strict limit to the overwhelmingly warm hospitality. Here’s two weeks worth of pictures and short stories from this former Yugoslavian territory.

Above. Six hours after coming to the former capital of Croatia, Varazdin, I found myself at a packed, neon lighted, dance party next to a river with Iva and her boyfriend Dino. Initially, as the receptionist, Iva politely laughed, when I tried to be funny and later she asked me to join her and friends when she found me sat alone in a bar. A great introduction to the open Croatian arms. In Varazdin they had the yearly, Spancierfest, which according to the locals turns this former capital of Croatia from dead boring to ten days of happiness. You could buy anything from honey to vacuum cleaners, people in clothes from old days acted and played music and Coca Cola had the best spot on the central square.

- Everyone wants to get out of Croatia, Eleonora told me shortly into our first conversation. She’s a bartender now but wants to be a bicycle messenger in Frankfurt before going to college. And like many, many other Croatians I’ve met under 30, she’s living with her parents to save money. (bonus info: After I left Varazdin Eleonora told me, she earlier on asked her parents if I could stay at their place. They were not keen on the idea. Later, though, they saw me interviewed on local tv and asked her. – Why didn’t you tell us it was that guy? Oh, had I just been a tv star a little earlier.)

Monika and Matija are getting married next summer. Congratulations! They benefit from tradition, where guests give money, parents pay and the newly-weds keep the rest. They both have university degrees but as almost half of the young people under the age of 25 they are unemployed. I’ve met only a few young people working within the field of their degree – the vast majority works in restaurants, hotels, shops, plants or are unemployed.

In Varazdin I of course also met Kristijan – the local anchorman and standup comedian, who kindly invited on to his show - and after he left the bar, where we met, I tried without much success to introduce the most drunk people in the bar to my brother’s band Veto. They also happened to be the bartenders, Ivana and Slaven, and they liked  the artist Pitbull better. This attempt to share experiences and good music happened while a friendly young man repeatedly touch my thigh and told me I was beautiful. The Croatians go a long way to make their guests feel welcome. Oh, and the bartenders also played this Croatian hip hop.

Though Zagreb (top) was supposed to be a highlight on this trip, because of the time spent in Varazdin I only spent one night in the capital. I was heading for the big match in Croatian football between Hajduk Split and Dinamo Zagreb, so I passed the Croatian mountains (“our Wild West” as one girl living there told me) and quickly went to the island Rab to settle the past.

I’ve definitely written enough about my experiences on that island, still it’s worth mentioning 46-year old Zoran as he represent a decent amount of Croatians I’ve met (I forgot to take a picture of him). Zoran is back where he grew up to make money during the tourist season. As the owner of the restaurant, he told me, he has worked every day since mid May, which is more than 1300 hours, he is fed up with tourists, and his out-of-season life is in a big city, Zagreb.

- There I have a pizzeria, where I make shit pizza. I’m not a doctor, I’m not an artist. I have to work, because I have to live.

Zoran also told me about the ‘dirty’ Montenegro and the ‘wild’ Albanians. Being told about the neighboring countries and their lazy/dirty/aggressive/anarchist people I’ve experienced so far going from Slovenia to Albania.

Then football in Split. Last time the local team Hajduk met Dinamo Zagreb, people fought with clubs and iron rods on the highway, and I’ve heard a lot about the crazy Croatian mentality when it comes to football. Going down the coast, I saw Hajduk’s colors and letters and symbols painted everywhere with just a tiny bit of space for it, and talking to locals about the game made me really excited.

And the game itself was fairly good. Five goals, drama in the dying minutes and extremely disappointed Split fans after their loss. The fans of both teams sang through the whole match, still the most exciting thing that happened for me on the stands was that me and Ivan had gotten the same seat. Ivan got the whole section engaged in this little curiosity, while suggesting a few times mine was fake. I gave him my seat and took one of many empty ones. And so we smiled.

Shortly after this picture was taken, the woman giving the massage showed the whole kitchen ‘the seven spots’ on a woman’s body. Non of us ever found out what the seven spots were all about but they were (of course, one might say) centered in the most intimate areas of the body, and the woman wasn’t shy. In the end I was happy that a we were not talking about ten or fourteen spots.

The kitchen is in a garage in the Hvar-village Sveta Nedilja, a little sacred haven away from the worst tourism, and here, in this kitchen, was a constant influx of people from near and far drinking coffee, talking and most of all (I suspect) gossiping. I had gotten there because I met Katarina (second from the left) on a small ferry up north and she invited me to her mom’s place. Which made this the first and only time I crossed the Croatian limit, which strictly divides their open arms and their private homes. Here, they had room for everybody, as her mom said.

Oh, this is update getting way too long. And so was my journey down the coast. Like Zoran I was getting fed up with tourist but felt I had to stay in the famous Dubrovnik for one night. It was packed with tourists and they’d turned the old fabulous town into something reminding me of a Middle Eastern market. I felt tired like Santa, and before I got to hear this trio called a duo, I knew it was time to say goodbye to roaring Croatia.

And so I left.

Picture update: I forgot to give you the traditional headgear of the island Pag. Salut!