Well Off the Beaten Path

Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
Trip End Oct 23, 2009

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Flag of Croatia  ,
Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I sweated through my last hours in Prague before ending up here in Croatia.  Yes, Croatia.  One more item is needed for my list of summertime in Europe:

        5.  The hotter it gets, the more evident that deodorant has not caught on universally.

And to think I have missed out on this heat over the years by visiting in the off season. 

While taking one last look around the Old Town in Prague, a t-shirt on a college age girl caught my eye.  It was a clever design but on her was poorly executed.  "Czech These Out" was emblazoned across the front in the red, white, and blue of the Czech flag.  Just below Czech These Out were two small arrows pointing at where two boobs should be.  Maybe she bought the shirt at the sex museum.

 I looked and I looked but I just couldn't figure out what the arrows were supposed to be pointing to.  Right on cue Double G came bouncing by on her Segway and I thought to myself that is really who we should be czeching out in that tee.

Ryanair delivered us as only Ryanair can to a tiny Stalinist style airport in Osijek, Croatia about the size of the one in Valdosta, GA, and 180 of us waited outside in the sun and heat to enter the terminal.  We had to pass through customs and the area could only hold about twenty people at a time.  A tourist guide describes it as "small but functional." 

I have traded the civilized streets of Prague for the postwar streets of Osijek, and there is not a tourist to be seen.  I love that.  Osijek is city of just over 100,000 in a flat as a board area of Croatia called Slavonia.

I need to take a quick detour and give you a quick history lesson so you can understand what I am experiencing here besides clouds of second hand smoke.  I know, I know.  History...bear with me.  For decades Josep Tito held communist Yugoslavia together and it was a federation of competing ethnic groups, religions, nations, and languages.  When he died in May 1980 the country started to splinter slowly as different groups tried to gain supremacy.  Big bad Serbia became the dominant force. 

So sometime in the early 1990s Croatia said enough is enough with this Communism that isn't working and they decided to chart their own course.  Realizing Yugoslavia and communism were not the keys to a prosperous future, Croatia declared its independence on June 26, 1991.  You can figure out how that went down with the Serbian military, and in August 1991 Serbia invaded this part of Slavonia.  By November Osijek was captured and a nine month siege followed.  Osijek was shelled all the way until August 2005 when Croatian forces finally won. 

So now that the history lesson is done you can get a feel for what Ryanair has deposited me in.  A bus to the city passed through miles of sunflower and corn fields that suddenly gave way to the typical Soviet style apartment blocks.  As always in Eastern Europe they are crumbling, gray and on their last legs after only a few decades of use but these caught my eye in a different way.  A closer look showed me that these buildings are living history books with their wartime shell holes and damage.  Can you imagine living in a place where your home is constantly being shelled?  Not everything in Osijek has even been rebuilt yet.

The city center is also a mix of different styles and buildings of various states of repair.  Turn of the century buildings are rare treasures that are buried in between faceless concrete blocks.  If you can look past the neglect and mortar damage, Austro-Hungarian architecture is there. 

The city is slowly on the mend, and it seems that sidewalk beer pubs and hair joints are the main industries.  I guess no matter who you are you gotta get your drink on and your hair did.  I hope Osijek can keep what is left of its past.  Then again, maybe this is a place that doesn't want to look back

One blast from the past I saw is clinging to life.  It was a beat up old Yugo.  Remember those pieces of communist crapola?  This tired old thing was moving noisily up the street and it has seen communism fall, war and now rebuilding.  It has survived it all like a cockroach and is probably the only living examply of a Yugo left out there. 

I peeked inside a McDonalds out of curiosity since it was the nicest storefront downtown.  How ironic that a shrine to all that is wrong with America in my opinion would have antique pictures and drawings of turn of the century Osijek gracing its walls.  I would expect something more along the lines of Subway with its NYC metro maps or anything American.  A backdrop of architecturally pleasing buildings just doesn't seem right against all the grease and crapbombs coming across the counter.

Four hours was all I had here since I am only here to catch the bus to Belgrade.  I finally found my corner of authentic Europe with real people and no tourists.  Since no other tourists were there to blend in with, I stood out like a sore thumb hauling my heavy bag around on my back in the 95 degree heat.  I would have stored it at the ancient bus/train station but no such facilities existed.  The decrepit buses here look like they haven't been cleaned since Tito died and they look like an interesting ride.  Wish me luck on board these hoopties!!

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