Szia Hungary, Hello Croatia.
Starting early today, we made good progress along the remaining 40(ish) kilometers of the route out of Hungary which is, pretty much, smooth tarmac paths all the way to the Croatian Border. The border crossing was ridiculously easy and we breezed through without any trouble at all. In fact, everyone was very friendly and the border lady sheepishly handed us some leaflets in English and then smoked a cigarette as we quizzed her and her colleagues about the best place to eat.
Amusingly, the leaflet has details of ‘What’s in on Croatian roads this summer’ in the style of Smash Hits magazine designed to guide teenagers through adolescence. Lights and speed limits are ‘in’ this season and (unsurprisingly) drink-driving and speeding are ‘out’.
Shortly after crossing the border I withdrew some Kuna from the cash-machine (actually it was a Post office, but anyway) and then we stopped for a cold beer to celebrate. I ordered in my best Croatian and this generated a lot of smiles, either because few foreigners ever bother with Croatian or because I made loads of mistakes and ordered a tree by mistake.
I don’t know why, but I’ve developed a soft-spot for Croatia and Croatians and it was nice to be back on Slavic soil and in the company of people who also remind me of Slovenia and the Slovenes.
Our trip today was 80km which is pretty hard work in +37 and the cold beer was the fastest possible way to kill any motivation for cycling, however we persevered and arrived in Osijek, Croatia’s fourth largest city, just after lunchtime.
We were planning to camp, but nobody in the city knew anything about a campground, so we opened booking.com and booked a roon, just accross the river at ‘Pension Ana’. We rode over and checked-in and for the first time since I was in Kosovo in 2007 I was staying in a hotel littered with bullet holes.
Osijek, like Vukovar had been in the frontline of the Serb-Croatian war between 1991 and 1992 and the scars are still evident all over the city. Despite this, the city is actually lovely and its a lively student town with a young population and a very relaxed feel to it. Like Kyiv, it also has beeches by the river and Croatians, like Ukrainians, clearly enjoy relaxing there.
Our Stay at Pension Ana was, from start-to-finish, entertaining if not exactly luxury. When we arrived, the door was open but there was nobody around to meet us or show us the rooms etc. So, we called the number and 3 minutes later Noimee, who we assume to be the owners daughter, huffing and puffing and with her hair all over the place. She had clearly been rudely awoken by our arrival.
She was friendly, but also quite amusing as she stomped around, swearing in English and tring to find us a key.
At no point did anyone ask us for any ID and when the owner arrived (presumably Noimee’s dad) he took Dylan downstairs to show him the ‘party room’ and gave him a shot of some local liqor – confirnimg that Croats are keeping up the good Balkan tradion of forcing hard alcohol on guests.
My ‘first swim in the Danube’ later in the afternoon was a failure as I found out that it was actually the Drava, but the disappointment was short lived as the barmaid at the beach spent 5 minutes telling me very enthusiastically how England was her favourite country in the world and that I should be there and not here.
Like a good Englishman I responded with a comment about the weather.