Tuesday, August 08, 2006

If YUGO to Yugoslavia, Plan On Staying For Awhile

In total Log and I spent about five days in Dubrovnik. We did things at a leisurely pace and took our time meandering through the old town. We had an extremely limited budget but we were still able to enjoy ourselves.

We toured old buildings, museums, churches and other places of note that we found in our guide books. One particularly funny tour was the afternoon we spent in the “aquarium”. Talk about a little shop of horrors. Imagine a really dark, dank old rock building with huge dirty tanks full of murky green water holding the darkest, scariest looking sea creatures in existence. We’re not talking about fresh, clean tanks full of clown fish and coral. We’re talking about alien creatures that looked like they could be floating in formaldehyde-filled jars in the lab of the demented Dr. Evil. It got so creepy that Jeff had to leave. I gutted it out just to see how bad it could really get. It got pretty bad.

One definite downside to Dubrovnik was that everything seemed to close around 8:00 p.m. so there wasn’t much to do at night. One night we had heard that there was a movie theater in the public square so we went to check it out. We laughed until we cried watching Eddie Murphy in “48 Hours” in the Dubrovnik “theater”, which was an empty stone building with a bunch of mismatched folding chairs and a television set with a VCR playing the movie. The real beauty was they had dubbed over the English in Croatian so it was awesome hearing the Russian-Italian sounding Croatian come out of Eddie Murphy’s mouth.

Another night we found a tiny bar that was open. Bar really isn’t the right word. It was more like someone’s house and they had set up a few tables and chairs out front and were selling bottles of beer out of an ice bucket. The bar keep didn’t seem to pay us much mind, so we sat down and had a few beers while watching a rerun of the Academy Awards on the rinky dink tv set with bent rabbit ears and poor reception. I thought that was so incredibly strange that we were watching the academy awards at 10:00 at night in communist Dubrovnik.

Meals were always a lot of fun. We only ate at restaurants once a day and they were so lovely and Mediterranean. Sometimes you had to climb up hundreds of white stone steps to get to the landing where a few tables and umbrellas would be set out. You could always feel the breeze, smell the ocean air and see the beautiful blue water in the distance. We rarely had a clue what to order so we ended up with more “misses” than “hits”, but it was always fun and enjoyable nonetheless.

That’s how I met Victor Vladymere. Victor was 6’8” tall, thin and he wore an old, faded tuxedo with the pant legs just a little too short. He escorted us to our table in the narrow outdoor walkway of his restaurant and sat us down with great flourish. Pulling out my chair, placing Log’s napkin in his lap, giving me the flower from his lapel, lighting our candle. He spoke very little English, but spoke better French, so we managed to converse with him throughout the evening. We let him order for us and he brought delicious food forward. That was the first time I’d ever had calamari or ceviche, both of which I loved. Log and I hadn’t had any wine during the trip, but Victor brought out a bottle and we enjoyed it. He had the violin player play a song for us. It was a very relaxed, fun evening and Victor bid us farewell with as much exaggeration as he had said “hello”. (As an aside, that was our largest meal in Yugoslavia and with wine and tip the bill came to just over $20. Quite amazing).

The next day Log wanted to take an organized boat tour with a large group of people. After having nearly died with Ishmael earlier in the week I didn’t feel up for it so Jeff went without me. I had a wonderful afternoon wandering through the streets of old town. When I stopped for something to drink, I heard someone say “Hello American Girl”. I turned around and it was Victor Vladymere. He asked me to sit down and join him, which I did.

We had great fun laughing and TRYING to converse. He loved the fact that I was American and asked me all sorts of funny questions. As best I could understand, he was around 40, from Dubrovnik and owned his little restaurant. He was extremely proud of the fact that he had his own business, an apartment and a CAR. You would have thought he was driving the finest Porsche on the market, the way he was talking, but it was a real coup to be able to afford a car in Yugoslavia.

I agreed to go on a driving tour of the city with Victor and when we got to his car I had to stifle a laugh. He had a YUGO. An old YUGO. Up until that point I had never seen such a small car in my life. It was about the size of the small Mini Coopers that are so popular today. Victor was so tall that he had taken out the front seat – he sat in the back seat so his legs would fit and he could operate the clutch. I truly wasn’t sure we’d both fit, and it was definitely a tight squeeze, but we managed to fit in the little tuna can and off we went.

Victor drove like a crazy man and I had to gulp down a little fear that I was going to die – either in a car accident or at the hand of this strange man - and no one would know where I was. But it turned out to be a grand adventure. We drove along the Adriatic coast line and would stop here and there – at a park, at an overlook, at the beach – and walk around. The beach was very rocky, not sandy at all, so it wasn’t really easy to stroll along the water, but Victor did find one comfortable spot and we sat on a blanket, drank orange sodas and continued to communicate, as best we could. The water was absolutely beautiful. We spent hours together that afternoon and it was extremely memorable.

As the evening advanced, Victor had to get back to his restaurant for the dinner service so we said our good bys and I walked up the hill to Sandy and Grandpapa’s a little bit smitten with my tall, crazy waiter friend who drove the Yugo.

The next morning we left our kind hosts and headed towards the train station to travel back to Geneva. I was in such a good mood walking back down that hill for the last time looking at the pretty, sleepy little town. The moment passed quickly when Jeff and I looked at each other with apprehension as we arrived at the eerily quiet train station and there was a sign on the front door that consisted of a picture of a train with a big red circle and slash over it (as in “no trains”). Our conversation with the ticket agent went something like this (speak loudly and use your best Russian-Italian sounding accent):

“Two tickets to Vienna, please.”


“Excuse me?”


Blink…blink, blink….blink

“Well, when will they be running again?”


Blink….blink, blink...blink…

“So there are NO trains running AT ALL right now?”

“NO TRAINS!” – Slam ticket window down.

We got the same answer at the bus station too. No buses were running – not even private charters. To say we were worried is an understatement.

According to some other tourists who had a better command of the language, the Yugoslavian government had halted all internal transportation because of a fuel shortage. There was no airport (and we didn’t have money for a plane ticket, regardless). We tried to call the American Embassy to ask for advice but we may as well have been trying to make a direct call to Mars. We were absolutely baffled about what to do. Jeff and I were both supposed to be back at school and work in two days, we were almost out of money, everything in our meager backpacks was filthy, and we were stranded in Dubrovnik.

So we just sat there and looked at each other.

Blink….blink, blink….blink…


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