I felt good arriving in Croatia. I had woken up on the right side of bed so to speak, even though this had consisted of the back seat of the bus.
On speaking to the guy at the information centre who spoke fluent English and was extremely helpful, I set off to meet my couch surfing host at a movie theatre. On the way there I came across a massive student demonstration which had apparently been taking place for the past week or so. At this stage I didn't know this of course and was a little bit on edge walking into Zagreb's city centre for the first time to the raucous chanting and banner waving of hundreds of students surrounded by hundreds of military police.
They were pretty controlled though and I soon felt at ease enough to observe them for about half an hour or so. It was very passionate and got very heated at times, especially when the TV crews were filming. Eventually they dispersed, at which point I asked a girl next to me what was going on. She explained to me that they were complaining about the unemployment rate in Croatia and student fees.
I thanked her and then asked her if I could borrow her phone to ring a friend as I had suddenly realised that I was supposed to be at the movie theatre in 5 minutes. She said no problem, what's the number. I told her it and as she typed it into her phone she started cracking up and told me that, that was her phone number.
So I had found my couch surfing host. The second person I talked to after the information man in Zagreb. After discussing the odds on what just happened happening, we set off to a pub, where we did a greet and meet and I got to taste my first Croatian beer. She was/is a nice girl who worked/works for the United Nations. Very trustingly I thought, she gave me the key to her apartment and the address and shot off to the documentary festival she was supposed to be attending.
While we had been talking a drunk couple next to us had started a conversation up with us. Now that my host had gone and as I was getting up to leave, the man ordered me a beer. I was
exhausted and not really in the mood, but I had already been told declining an invitation to drink in Croatia is considered bad form, so I stuck around.
Now this was an interesting couple to meet first up. The man was suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and was kitted out in full military uniform. His girlfriend was skinny to the point of being anorexic and extremely volatile. They were both kind-hearted though and I found myself entering a wild and spontaneous conversation that steered through wild seas over the next hour or two.
The girl/lady spoke German really well as she had lived there for 12 years. She told me about her boyfriend and started complaining that she couldn't marry him with the state he was in. She explained that he had fought in the Yugoslav wars and had seen a lot of his best friends die in front of him. She said he still hadn't moved on. He for his part was getting rather restless with our German conversation and started twirling his knife around in the air.
The last thing I wanted was this guy getting jealous, so I tried to engage him
in conversation, the problem being the lack of a language that we could communicate in. He appreciated the effort though and against my protests ordered another beer. During the consumption of this round a friend of theirs arrived who was quite a good guy and sober. This was when the lady started to get really emotional and put an ultimatum forward to her bf, that if he didn't ship up he had to ship out. This was the point where he stabbed the table with the blade of his knife.
Fortunatley, the bar owner had been observing, came over and put a stop to the blossoming argument. It was closing time anyway and I bid my farewells. By this time they had returned to normality again and were inviting me to stay at their house. I politely declined and then made my way to an apartment I had never been to before in the middle of the night. Luckily I found it and probably the best salad I had eaten in over a year, a shark and brocolli salad
that my host had left in the fridge for me.
On waking up the next day, I found a
note from Jay (my host) giving me advice on what to see and directions for where to meet that night. So I spent the day doing some sightseeing around Zagreb, by the way of a two hour run through the city centre and Zagreb's massive graveyard. After a nice croatian meal for lunch, I went back to the apartment to shower and what not. To my suprise Jay was there as she had finished work early. The liquor was flowing and all I could think as I looked out from her 25th floor apartment was that I had struck gold with this one.
We went to Zargeb's international documentary festival that Jay had managed to get tickets for me for. The most interesting documentary that I saw was Waste Land or ''Lixo Extraordinario'', a brazilian/english documentary set in Rio's Gramacho Municipal Landfill. Based on workers whose job it is to sift through garbage as it pours out of the garbage-dump truck, (looking for what their customers have ordered and earning a pennance for doing so). The documentary shows the efforts of Brazilian artist Vik Muniz to make portraits of the main characters out of garbage, with their help and
then the subsequent selling of the portraits via auction in London. I would recommend watching it..
We watched another documentary about an astronomy centre in Santiago, Chile that was so bad, that even though I had applied for a job at that centre when I was in Santiago and it was in Spanish (which usually lifts the interest barometer for me) we both fell to sleep during its screening.
After that we went out to the early hours of the morning with her work colleagues and friends, having a good and drunken night. The next day, I woke up after having slept through my midday alarm clock and thus having missed my lunch date. Luckily I still got to the restauraunt which was a seafood restauraunt and whose quality was evident from the ques out of the door two hours after the peak hour lunch rush.
That night we went to some small town an hour or so out from Zagreb to enjoy the carnaval celebrations there.
The next day I was off bright and early to my next destination Ljubljana, Slovenia.
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