Behind the Curve: Croatia

Continuing the theme of writing about things that happened last year: the work trip to Croatia that I took in October.

There can be few things more ghastly than a red-eye flight on a Hungarian budget airline.  Nonetheless, the trip went smoothly until I received a text from the Chief Brain to the effect that France was on strike again, so her flight connection in Paris problematic.  She promised to text me when she knew what was happening.   My cerebellum exploded.

The Chief Brain and I were to meet at the airport in Zagreb, and go together to find the conference organiser.  Without the Chief Brain, I would be a lone woman in a foreign airport waiting for somebody unknown to whisk me off to somewhere unknown.  I hadn’t had time to procure a guidebook or learn any Serbo-Croat.

At Zagreb airport I commenced standing around like a tool, waiting for something to happen.  There was nowhere to sit.

An hour and a half, 60 pages of The King’s General, and countless stares later, the Chief Brain appeared!  Sweet relief.  Her flight to Paris was delayed and sat on the tarmac with her on board.  They took off just in time for her to make the connection.  She tried to get off her first flight, to avoid being stranded in Paris with no way of either returning home or completing the journey.  They wouldn’t let her – there is a god.  She then pelted through Charles de Gaulle airport and was unable to text me because it was a matter of life and death.  Choose life!

Thankfully, the Chief Brain speaks many languages, one of which closely resembles Serbo-Croat, so she could make herself understood to the gruff taxi driver and get us to the meeting place.  At the meeting place, no-one was there.

Eventually, a frantic woman wearing three-coloured hair, thick glasses, and stripey knee-length socks arrived (let’s call her Marge) and talked loudly about her assistant screwing conference-related things up left right and centre, and let’s have coffee over here where all the old people come to die, while we await the alignment of conference-organising planets.  Meanwhile, here! meet this incredibly important person who speaks with an utterly incomprehensible accent.  Marge was wonderful.  It was all wonderful, in a chaotically messy but extraordinarily good-humoured way.

I consciously shut down the stress part of my brain went with the flow.

We flowed to a two-hour lunch in a restaurant located in some steep cobbled back-streets, meeting some other fabulous women.  I enjoyed Croatian food, which is both vast in quantity and composed mainly of meat, potatoes, and cheese, with some kind of sauce.  By the time I stood up, I felt wider than I am tall.

Then the Chief Brain required comfortable privacy so we flowed to Marge’s apartment, where I played with Marge’s dog and a rubber chicken for a while, and admired Marge’s phd thesis.  After a time, we flowed into a people-carrier to get lost searching for the conference hotel in the hills outside Zagreb.

You know how when you arrive somewhere and it’s dark and you’re exhausted and you could be anywhere, and the world seems suffocating, and then the next morning you open the curtains and your eyes are massaged by a beautiful sight, and it’s like a gift to your ability to carry on?

I didn’t care that I couldn’t understand the conference proceedings because they were unexpectedly all carried out in Serbo-Croat and there was no simultaneous translation.   All I had to do was look out the window to feel better.  The Chief Brain and I had some productive meetings, and I felt a bit closer to her after the whole experience of traveling together.

More food, and drink, and meeting lovely people later, I was awed by the dedication of folks trying to sort out the situation here.  There’s no war any more, but things aren’t easy.  A woman younger than myself told me how she studied law through the war period: I imagine it’s difficult to concentrate when the conflict front line is less than 30km away from your university.

We drove back to the capital without getting lost.  The next morning the Chief Brain took her flight home at a truly ungodly hour, and I wandered around Zagreb by myself killing time before my taxi to the airport.  I love walking around cities by myself.  I tracked up to the old town to try and find a market someone had told me about.

Here, I saw a pair of monks in full brown robe regalia (one with a rucksack on) talking animatedly.  Hidden around a corner was the market, selling fruit, vegetables, cheese, and tourist tat.  There was a very impressive flower section.

Sadly, it was time to go.  I packed up my pots and pans, and to the airport incident-free.  After navigating the most ridiculous boarding system unfeasible in modern society, I got home only slightly delayed.  I was so tired I had to have an afternoon nap, but it was worth it.

It was a surreal trip, and I’m now desperate to go back to Croatia (I hear they have excellent picturesque coastline) on a not-work basis.   Has anyone else been?  What did you think?


5 Responses to “Behind the Curve: Croatia”

  1. 1 Jenn @ Juggling Life January 26, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    The way you described it, surreal was the word I had in my mind.

    It really looks lovely.

  2. 2 janet January 27, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    I was there 24 years ago, pre-war. It was surreal then, too. I only changed trains in Zagreb. We went on to Split (spelling?) and Hvar — gorgeous! Then we spent a few days in Dubrovnik, an amazing city. The Spousal Unit went just a couple of years ago and reported that not much had changed. I would love to go back. You should, if you can manage it.

    • 3 nic February 3, 2011 at 9:19 am

      Split! Yes, there were people on the conference from Split – they said it’s just beautiful. I understand that tennis dude Goran Ivanisevic has a huge villa there.

  3. 4 Kristy January 31, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    You should consider studying Esperanto for trips to this area of the world. It’s much better known there than in the U.S. and certainly easier than trying to pick up Serbo-Croat.

  4. 5 Pilgrimchick February 2, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    Sounds like a fascinating place–I’ve never been. I’ll take meat, cheese, and potatoes anytime.

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