Politics and partying in Croatia

Posted by jswt | Posted in Croatia - Zagreb, General | Posted on 21-11-2010


It’s 9:43 on Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 and I’m sitting on a train having just crossed the border into Serbia from Croatia.

The past week was spent in Zagreb, a city in the North of Croatia.

It’s an old city, with a mishmash of classic ornate architecture muddled about with bleak grey communist era blocky buildings, surrounded by new shiny strip malls and modern facilities.

I’d come in with the words Kosovo, Serbia, Serbs, Croatia and war left over in my head from a stream of youthful media feeds, but when I was trying to figure out the gruff demeanour and hard stares I took the time to read up on the history of what went down and it made a lot more sense.

A quick summary delivered by my inner valley girl/ghetto slut (that’s probably historically inaccurate to piss off both Croats and Serbs):

– Yugoslavia is grooving along made up of different regions (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, etc)…
– Belgrade is running the show and rocking the communist vibe.
– Around 91, Croatia is all like, “we’re so over you and we’re gonna get all up on the independence… Serbian bitches get out!”
– Belgrade is like, “nuh-uh! lets fund our peeps in Croatia and be all gangster from within!”
– Smackdowns bust out bigtime and shit like totally hits the fan warcrime style.
– Around 95 Croatia is recognized as an independent democracy, and Serbia’s leader (Milosovic) totally goes to detention.

Or something along those lines

I mean, it’s easy to joke about as an outsider, but it’s really just a deflection mechanism for having to come to grips with the horrible shit that went down. When you’re in a car asking the driver what all the candles along the road are spelling out and for, and he says it’s a memorial for the fall of a village on the Serbian border, and then starts talking about the bloody battles he was part of and how the Serbs walked into a hospital and executed everyone (patients, doctors, kids – everyone) and how there’s still thousands and thousands of prisoners of war that are unaccounted for and buried in mass graves somewhere between Zagreb and Belgrade… It’s not so lighthearted.

So Croatia is relatively new to the international scene, and not somewhere terribly familiar or used to tourism (especially Zagreb vs the southern coast which is a lot more beaches), but with that comes a cultural honesty you don’t get from a lot of other places that’ve put the caricature of themselves on display.

We spent the week at an amazing historic hotel right by the train station in the centre of town. It was a beautiful hotel built in 1925 that was constructed as a layover point for the Orient Express (…put into the context of home, it’s like staying at the Empress in Victoria or the Banff Springs hotel). The room was beautiful, and the internet was reliable, and it made for a beautiful stay.

Monday was a day off so we explored the city and wandered the many streets that are lined with infinite outdoor cafes and the old town and market.

We got a restaurant recommendation from the hotel in the evening that blew our minds at a place called Gallo – by far one of the best meals we’ve had since we’ve been wandering. Fresh made pastas better than anything we had in Italy, and though there were menus they were just more of a price guide, and once we grew to trust his word a bit, the waiter simply asked what we liked and made custom menu suggestions based around what they had fresh that night. We also had an *amazing* Plavac wine… Sooo good.

Tuesday, we both worked and that evening Chris had a team dinner that I was invited to, so for a second night in a row we were dining well. Truffle season is in swing here, and the truffle menu had me doin a happy truffle shuffle through dinner. For the first time, the number of Chris’ team with their partners on the road outnumbered those without (4:2) and the meal had more of a relaxed family vibe to it than a work dinner. Good food, good wine, and good company!

Weds and Thurs were mostly workdays, but I took some time off on Thursday afternoon to hop a bus up to the Mirogoj Cemetery – an enormous, old cemetery up in the mountains above the city. It was worth the trip up, beautifully tranquil with big old crypts and memorials tightly packed as far as you can see. There’s crypts set up for entire families dating back centuries, and it’s always interesting to see how different cities honour their dead.

Chris had Friday off we had an evening workout then took the opportunity to counterbalance the healthy endeavour and went to investigate the cocktail special the (otherwise overpriced) hotel bar was having from 7-10pm through the weekend. (Grey good martinis for $4cdn?! Why thank you very much!) Chris is someone who appreciates good value, so with stunning efficiency, jumped into double fisting with abandon and ordered his 7th and 8th cocktails of the night just under the wire at 9:59. As the repercussions of that caught up with him, we had a great night hanging out with his crew, chomping on a Cohiba on the back deck, and giggling excessively.

The next morning, we got up and went out into the city but realized what we originally mistook to be a (not unexpected) hangover for Chris was actually a bout of the flu that’s been floating around his office. I wandered around for a bit, but then went back to the room and just lazed around once he was tucked in, and fed him some flu medication in the form of a trashy Hugh Grant movie. Took the night easy, ordered in some chinese, applied and enjoyed the nice room (and fantastic robes) to the soundtrack of a sniffling Chris.

Saturday I had a nice afternoon tea on the terrace in the middle of an otherwise productive workday. There’s a great entertainment district in Zagreb that’s built up along a lake and is just lined with big clubs and restaurants and we’d planned on going out for a bit of a rocket on Saturday night. Chris had landed us guestlist for some DJs I heard were good live, but towards the end of the day Chris was still feeling really nasty and sent me out to party on his behalf. I recruited M for some dinner and then we dragged G along for some drinks before we all headed out to the club just after midnight… The club was picking up speed as we got there, and after suffering through the worst coat check evar, we hit the floor to the opening DJ was some chick in a bikini who was playing mediocre house. G was feeling beat and took off about 1:45 – about 15 minutes before the Freemasons took over the decks and proceeded to beat the hell out of and blow the roof off the club.

Shortly after 5, I was still bouncing at 140bpm, but M had completed his investigation of braziers for contraband and had to work in the morning, so we headed out to find some questionable street food and a cab.

T’was a really good week in Zagreb, and I’d really like to come back to Croatia and explore the south and the coast a bit, or even the (rumoured to be spectacular) UNESCO protected national park just outside the city, especially in the summer when I can only imagine how beautiful it would be.

Anyways, it’s now 10:27 and we’ll be pulling into Belgrade shortly, so I should pack up this laptop and gather the troops…

Week 2/10 down, 7 to go, and once again, morale remains high! 🙂