Tuesday, October 02, 2001

Kako si? Dobre, hvala. Dva pivo molim. Tomislva, ya. Jebi se.

Just a few days here and I'm virtually fluent in Croatian now. Almost indistinguishable from a native Zagrebian. Yup, we're still in Zagreb and will likely remain here for the rest of the week. Maybe heading off into Bosnia on Monday. Zagreb is excellent. I expected nothing of it whatsoever, and it's been a massive surprise. Everything about it is great - the people, the cafes and bars, the beer, the law that forbids ugly birds from going outside. It's relaxed but vibrant. A really wonderful city. And like New York for me, I don't really have to be doing anything because just walking around feels good.

It's been a good few days and I'm hoping the next few should be likewise. Even better, we've left the crap hostel with the only bad-tempered people in Croatia and moved to a new one, which is much further away and marginally more expensive, but infinitely better. It's a great little place, one of the best places we've stayed. Only open for a couple of months, and still getting built partly, but it's new and clean and the people in charge are wonderful. I think it might be a family-run thing, and I've met both the mother and daughter and they've been great. The daughter, needless to say, looks good.

So, what's been up for the last few days? Drinking mainly, with a mixture of Croatian girls, and Argentinians, Irish, Finnish and English. I think it was Saturday I wrote last. Saturday itself turned out to be a quiet affair. I phoned Bozica and arranged to meet up with her for a drink. Not counting on her bringing her two friends. Curses. I mean, it's almost as if she thought Big Nev's intentions were anything but honourable. Yes, anyone who knows me will be as shocked as I was that anyone could doubt my intentions. I am a man of honour in the old fashioned mould. Thoughtful, respectful, considerate. But uh, yeah, it turned out cool anyway. We went to this pleasant cafe in the street and had a drink and talked about stuff. They were cool girls. And mighty attractive. Bozica, Maria and I still haven't got the blonde girl's name, and it's now got to the point of no return. Because I know I've been told a couple of times, but each time I've just plain forgotten or not heard properly. Very considerately of them, they've taught me how to swear in Croatian, which I can promise all those I know in Aberdeen will be virtually the only words I'm going to use upon arriving home. Anyone who knows me well knows I never swear - in English. I am a filthy mouthed son of a kurva in Croatian.

It was just the one drink in the early evening, because they'd been in town all day shopping (or looking at shops rather) and were tired from the night before. But I arranged to meet up with them in a couple of days time, and headed back to the hostel (still the crap one at this point).

Jesus had arrived. That was my initial impression when I walked through the door. A long-haired beardie lay in a lower bunkbed, dozing. Rather disappointingly he looked less like Jesus upon getting up and speaking to me and Simon. His name was Luciano, which might appear to be a girl's name but he's from Argentina so things are different there. He'd been living in Berlin for two years and was doing a little tour of Europe before hoping to study in Rome. Him, Simon and myself were hungry so we went out to get a cheap restaurant meal and we headed back to the hostel again. The intention was to go out for a few drinks, but we all had a quick lie down and promptly all fell asleep until the next morning.

Sunday then, and I already can't remember what happened. Hmm, let me think. Oh yeah, I wandered about town, phoned mum for the first time since I've left (I made sure she had to pay of course) and generally just enjoyed the Zagreb sunshine and city centre, before going out and getting drunk. With Simon, Luciano and an Irish guy, called "Cathal" but pronounced Ca'al. I think. Some people have pointlessly difficult names to pronounce. Like the Israeli guy from Budapest, "Zaci" but pronounced in a way I cannot possibly reproduce in words. When I'm in charge, all names will have to be reduced to one easy syllable. Like Niall. Can't go wrong with Niall, can you? Well, actually, the Italians from the camper van saga way back in Brno had huge trouble - "Nee-yall... Nee-ello..."

Oh, hang on. Yeah, I did go out with them, but before that we had a meal - minus Cathal and plus a guy called Martin. He was English, and estimates as to his age have so far ranged from between 40 and 60. What is known is that he'd seen quite a bit of the world. He'd just quit his job to see a bit more, which included a couple of the ex-Yugoslav countries which were the only countries in Europe he'd not yet seen. He also seemed wildly enthusiastic about ceilidhs, apparently attending them quite regularly with friends in Scotland. He even wore a kilt for them. An Englishman in a kilt? I can't imagine such a concept.

Yeah, so we'd a meal with him and he was rather cool actually. Even Simon, English-hater extraordinaire, got on with him. He had some good tips for us too, which we'll probably follow up. Mostar in Bosnia was one recommendation in particular that we'll check out.

Being between the ages of 40 and 60, he couldn't handle the pace of a night out, but Cathal replaced him and we hit the town. And the Tomislav.

Man, Tomislav is good stuff, but it's powerful. It was only Monday, upon inspecting a bottle, that we realised how powerful. It's 7%, which after about five pints/500mls, really hits you. As I found out the next morning, with memories of speaking to politically angry beatnik Croatian theatre puppeteers (seriously) and some guy with a very odd moustache.

Monday then, and it was time to up and move hostels, arriving in the refreshingly cool morning at our current hostel. We arrived and were settled by noon, and I headed off downtown for the day. Taking a wander round random streets in the north of the city, before realising all I was actually doing was wandering around residential areas. I went back to the centre, bumping into Simon, and so had a Tomislav with him. It was the afternoon, so just the one Tomislav was enough, and I decided to go find out about Croatian dance music. By very good fortune, the first record shop I sourced was a gem. It had stuff like Speedy J, four Aphex Twin albums, and even Banco de Gaia. Yup, I just know you're all excited. So I asked the guy if there were any good Croatian dance/electronic dudes.

No, basically, but there was some guy who appeared on some compilation album, so I gave it a listen and it was actually rather good, so I bought the CD. I think it's some Belgian club or something, called Kozzmozz. Already it's been a massive relief. One of my big regrets about stuff I didn't take with me is that I left all my CDs behind. It's killing me. All I've got to listen to is Simon's CDs, which to be diplomatic, is mostly "not my sort of thing" and two CDs I've bought in the last month or so. One is Mr Oizo, you know, the guy who did the music for the Flat Eric Levi jeans advert. It's good, but not able to sustain a month's listening. The other is a Leonard Cohen album, which I've actually had to ban myself from listening to. Not because it's sometimes suicidally depressing, but because every time I hear the song "Famous Blue Raincoat" it gets lodged in my head for days and days after. On continuous repeat, and it drives me mental. A great song, but it shouldn't really be your soundtrack to travelling Eastern Europe.

So, anyway, I bought the CD and then asked the guy if there were any decent clubs in Zagreb, and he got me a few fliers and one especially looks good. It's in some old abandoned factory on the edge of town and looks very promising. On Friday. Worryingly, Simon's shown an interest and I really don't know if I could survive a Simon "megabop". I'm scared, I admit it.

I met up with Bozica, Maria and "Girl 3" after that, for an extended drink. They'd heard of the club I'd been recommended and said it was good, then recommended some good Croatian hip hop. Apparently, Croatia has a few good hip hop bands, so I've now got a list (somewhere, I hope I haven't lost it) which I might look into. The girls also demonstrated a quite astonishing knowledge of British culture - the Royal Family especially. They were big fans of Prince William, and they liked Camilla too, thinking her and Charles really loved each other. They knew a good bit of TV too. It seems 'Allo 'Allo and Are You Being Served has, alas, escaped our shores. They hadn't heard of Neighbours.

Oh yeah. If anyone reading this knows what's happening in Neighbours, email me. I'm a month and a half behind now.

As luck would have it, Bozica's had to go to her grandmother's in... oh, what's the place called. It got shelled a lot in the war. Anyway, she's had to go there until Sunday, so it looks like my hot date has gone unfortunately cold, but it was agreed to meet up then if I'm still in Zagreb and we'll be in contact anyway because we all got on really well.

That night it was just more drunkenness, with myself, Simon, Luciano, Cathal and Tuomas the Finn who we first met in Pula and happened to also be in Zagreb. They were all leaving the next day so it was one final night, although I just about remember everything, except for getting home. Tomislav, man. There's no way the stuff would be legal in Britain.

Ok, so that's about it up to date then. Still in sunny and charming Zagreb and planning to for the next while. It really is a great city. We've realised too that on Saturday Croatia play Belgium here, in the last game of the World Cup Qualifiers. If Croatia lose by about four goals, and Scotland beat Latvia by about the same, Scotland have a chance of going to the World Cup. So if possible, we're going to try and score tickets for the match and be in the unlikely position of supporting Belgium. Otherwise, we'll just see what turns up as something usually does. We haven't seen the Ameri-Croats for a couple of days, and the last I heard was Nick was heading homewards while Jack and Josipa were in Dubrovnik. But I expect we'll meet up with them again in the course of the week.

So yeah. Zagreb. It's good.

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