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Jared's Travel Blog » Tags
The Louvre in Paris

On my way from Sarajevo, Bosnia to Zagreb, Croatia I had to switch trains in a very-hard-to-pronounce Croatian town called Strizivojna-Vrpolje.

The station was very small, but it had a bar, so I figured I’d grab a pivo (slavic for ‘beer’) while waiting for my train. This is where I met Thomas.

Thomas is a 26-year old PHD student from France. As Thomas sipped his coffee and I drank my beer, we chatted. He had been in Sarajevo attending a conference on issues related to genocide and free speech, but on his way to meet his brother in Ljubljana he ran into cash flow problems. Having just come from Bosnia, he had no Croatian money (kuna) and there was no ATM anywhere in sight. After explaining his dilemma, he asked if he could borrow 100 kuna (about 16 USD) from me to ride to Zagreb. There he would be able to find an ATM, pay me back and take another train to Ljubljana.

“Sure” I said, reaching for my wallet.

After thanking me, Thomas said I was a great man and showed to me that his judge of character was impeccible :)

The train arrived and we climbed aboard and looked for an empty compartment. We ended up choosing a compartment where an old lady was sitting by herself. Thomas (who later told me that he took a Croatian course in college) asked if the rest of the seats were free and Elizabeth (her name was actually the Slavic variant of the name, but I cant remember it) happily encouraged us to sit down.

Elizabeth was a sweet old lady who appeared very happy to have someone to talk to. She was Hungarian but had been living in Croatia for awhile. She didn’t speak any English, but Thomas was more than happy to translate. Or try to, at least.

She would speak to him and then Thomas would translate what parts of her dialogue he could understand. At times, I went about 5 minutes without an update. Thomas later told me that his Croatian was very rusty and that he didn’t sleep the night before, but to his credit, he kept nodding his head, making eye contact and saying “da” (yes).

Elizabeth kept talking about her daughter and her grandkids and finally decided it was time to break out the pictures. We met the whole gang. Tomislav (Slavic variant of “Thomas”), her grandson who looked like he was about 15 and about 6’4”. Tomislav had very large ears and very bad skin. I later told Thomas I hoped Tomislav was good at basketball because it looks like he would get teased alot by his peers.

Her granddaughter’s name escapes me, but we first saw of picture of her at maybe 2 years. She was a cute blonde girl with a big smile. Fast forward 12 years to the next picture and she has short curly jet black hair, heavy eye makeup and an unhappy scowl on her face. “She looks a bit like the Cure here” Thomas said right when I was thinking it.

Elizabeth also told us much about the area. Although it looked flat, Zagreb, she said, had good skiing areas around. As we were arriving into the city, the mountains finally became visible and in Croatian she said to Thomas “See, there are mountains. I wasn’t lying. Tell him what I said.” Thomas relayed the message and it struck me as funny.

After showing us her current textile project (a blanket of some sort), she breaks out this oil she got from Germany. She told Thomas that it helps scare away bad spirits or something like that and had us rub it under our noses and on our foreheads.

At one point, I offer them both a drink of water, and Thomas takes me up on it. Elizabeth feels compelled to match my hospitalitty and shows us the bottle of ┼álivo (traditional Croatian/Bosnian/Serbian liquor), opens it up and passes it around for Thomas and I to sample. Whew! Wickedly strong stuff. She offers us both a second round, and we both decline. She tells Thomas that she never drinks and he says he doesn’t believe her.

As we are approaching Zagreb, Elizabeth has us apply the German oil again for good luck. We arrive at Glavni Kolodvor (which I believe means “capitol station”) and part ways with Elizabeth. I make them pose for a picture before she heads off.

Thomas goes to an ATM, pays me back and then we sit outside and drink a beer. Zagreb, by the way, is very hot at this time. I had just come from Sarajevo where it was raining and I was seeing my breath. So the pivo veliki (big beer) goes down very nicely in the hot Croatian sun.

We talk about many things, ranging from French politics to American politics to the Supreme Court to race issues in America. He tells me how surprised he was that at a conference related to genocide, alot of the attendees just wanted to drink and fornicate. Go figure.

We swapped email addresses and went our separate ways. Thomas and Elizabeth’s company made for an unexpectedly enjoyable 3 hours on the train plus an even more unexpected random beer with a new friend.