It was a very big night for me
The writer of this piece is writing a series, or at least insofar as there will be three separate posts that function as one overarching narrative. That sounds like the definition of a series, but the writer is at pains to point out that they shall be somewhat episodic . Read them at your leisure. Respond as feels appropriate.
Looks a touch like the New Forth Crossing, which I’m told has been called ‘Kevin’ after Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges.
Above is a picture of a bridge from a boat. Where is that bridge? What is that boat? Allow me to explain.
So my fiancée and I have lived in Prague for a decent amount of time and haven’t exactly been flush with coastal holidays. We needed the sea. For her part, she is from a land of rivers and lakes. Water is important to her. For me, I feel like I belong in the sea. At the very least sea adjacent. During the first 23 years of my life I saw the sea more times per year than I can count. Scotland is essentially an island. In addition, my family had amazing holidays. The sea has become rarer for me in recent years. The West Highlands of Scotland is famously nowhere near water, and I worked there for 6 months. I’ve been in Prague for a year and a half. Rivers are okay, but give me those watery depths!
It is at this point, my friend, that I feel I have caught your attention enough and can reach out the text to tell you a few things that are coming up. This is a travel article, but not as you might expect it. Instead, I’m delving into what it means to be a person on a bus for a really long time, what different countries’ bathrooms are like, and how to travel authentically while recognising that you are always a tourist to someone. Seatbelts fastened and please keep all arms and legs within the safety lines.
Travelling in Central Europe presents few real challenges. There is not much in the way of borders, the occasional errant passport check. It’s almost always quite affordable getting from point A to point Z. The real bitch is time.
The Prague-Brno road, connecting the two largest cities in the Czech Republic, is almost always slow and blocked. Accidents, roadworks, you name it, that road will find some way to keep you there. It’s why our Hungarian adventure back in April took almost double the time to get there. This time I was pretty sure we were in the clear as we were heading south. The bad news? To Zagreb.
Prague to Zagreb is a trip that’d take you 8 hours by car. It is therefore longer by bus. Why on earth were we taking the bus? Same reason as anyone, really. The price is right. We found a deal that gave us multiple bus trips for a flat rate. Given we had three large buses planned on this trip and another fairly long one later on in the month, we figured it was a good deal.
Being a generally positive person, it begrudges me to say anything too bad about the trip too soon. But here I think I can be honest about the buses and say that so many long buses is not generally a good idea. For all that the bus company offered, plug sockets, wifi, toilets, there was almost always something not working. I am hesitant to mention companies as I’d always prefer to go to them first to complain before naming and shaming them in print, but I will say their name rhymes with Pricks Fuss. Buyer beware.
The Place of Borders
“Get out the bus”
This broke my slumber quite effectively. We had set out fairly early so I was taking in a cheeky wee snooze. Crossing the Czech-Austrian border and the Austrian-Slovenian border there wasn’t an awful lot to see. There were a few big shops, and lots of strip clubs and casinos for some reason even though Austria also seems to allow them, but other than that there was very little to distinguish the switch in country. The road signs changed a little, but it’d be imperceptible to people not paying attention to the road. Slovenia-Croatia was something else though.
“Get out the bus”
That metallic voice from the intercom system, demanding like some dictator over a loudspeaker. “Citizens must carry valid ID at all times!”, “Follow the yellow line”,”Move along, sir”, but this one felt a bit more brutal. As an English teacher I know that more polite verbs, “can”, “could”, and “may”, are a bit more complacated than simple demands, but as a traveller I was quite amazed. Most European land checks are somebody pulling up alongside the bus, coming aboard, and having a wee look at everyone’s passports. Here we were being commanded off the bus, to report to a window, where some guy gave them a proper seeing to.
I figured the Croatians were maybe a bit keen to stop refugees coming in.
So we got off, waved our papers in front of a man in a box, and then were told to stand a little further on by the road. Our bus started to drive. The icy terror that filled us all was tangible. Half the people waiting seemed to tense their shoulders. The bus stopped and we got on again, but it was a streesful few seconds.
We got back to our seats and nestled in. Now we were finally in Croatia! At long last. I had heard good things and was expecting quite a lot. I could hardly wait to see that Adriatic foam below us as we take a cliff side drive down the coast from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, taking in the famously beautiful landscape that really put Dalmatia on the map back when it was part of the Roman Empire, then riven by pirates, the Republic of Ragusa and The Most Serene Republic of Venice…
“Get off the bus”
What the fuck?
“Get off the bus”
Nah, mate. Two passport controls. They made us get out of the bus twice to flash our papers at the guy. It’s not really on. Having just looked it up, Croatia is supposed to be part of the EU and you’d imagine that’d mean easier travel arrangements. I never need to have my passport ogled by a human that much when I’m going into the UK. Unimpressive, but at least it was day time!
The City of Storms
Zagreb, an ancient city dating back to Roman times. Distinctive because of its size and the many beautiful Austro-Hungarian buildings there. At least this is what wikipedia tells me.
Our Zagreb was a very small and quite modern place, the bus station. The overall weather above Central Europe that week was a bit murky and grey in places. In Zagreb there was a downpour. And it continued pouring down. And then it went a bit more.
I’d invite the rain to fill its boots but it filled mine so I guess that’s not really worth discussing. We took only one picture of Zagreb.
Much to my dismay, the storm followed us. It seemed to reach right across the country, chasing us all the way to Dubrovnik. I can tell you that with some accuracy having been kept up all night by the blisteringly bright lightning strikes.
See, I don’t mind being a bit uncomfortable when I sleep; I can always contort. I don’t mind when it’s loud; I lived up the road from a club, noise is fine. But light is just something else. Even obscured starlight can keep me up. Lightning? That kept me very awake and focused the whole way down. Desperate times, but we move on.
As an extra, I got to know how deep is my love. My fiancée’s head was in my lap and so I held a fart in for 40 minutes until she’d moved.
The Land of Sweat
I noticed the sun rise a few minutes after I think the lightning stopped. I had an eye mask for a few hours which helped somewhat, but could not fully defend from so many photons. The sun rise was gorgeous, orange and yellow above the dark land, the outline of bus seats and other passengers imparting a shadowy theatre to proceedings. I removed my eye mask.
I guess tired is the way forward. Tired but near blinded by the colours.
Here seems an appropriate time to tell you that we’re relying on my powers of memory and description here. If either is lacking I apologise but I don’t take pictures out of bus windows as it always has some irritating reflections. Just imagine.
The road down the coast was not quite how I imagined it. It was very high. The curves were not so sharp as I might have thought. The sea below was bluer. It seems pretty stupid to build mental pictures of places before you go there, but why not, I did and do.
Something that shocked me was that Bosnia and Herzegovina has a coastline. It shouldn’t be that shocking, really, a lot of countries have a coastline. But when you’re bleary eyed at God knows when, the sun is coming up and you’ve been up most of the night, it sure is peculiar to come across a street sign saying ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina’, I can tell you.
This border check was far better. The woman came onto our bus. She paid that quick attention to detail which shows you that the border guard is a professional. It’s always nice to see someone like that, and especially handy when you are pretty much asleep.
We drove through Bosnia and Herzegovina for what felt like 10 or 15 minutes, maybe. The coastline is apparently 20km so that would make sense. It looks pretty similar to the Croatian one, all things considered. Kind of rugged, a little yellowy to my eyes but that might have been the rising sun’s light. Very filmic. I could imagine horses on this terrain.
Eventually, we wound our way down the hills to Dubrovnik. As we approached the sea I felt a sense of trepidation. I hoped I’d remember how to swim. We weren’t swimming here, of course, and I had been for a swim since the last time I saw the sea, but these kind of strange thoughts occur when you’ve been up all night.
Dubrovnik was cool.
It has some brilliant cliffs.
A couple of alleyways in the old town that feel mysterious but comforting.
Amongst so many other things. Really we didn’t get a brilliant chance to see much of it, only the tourist centre. It must be said though that they are really cashing in on this Game of Thrones thing while it’s hot. It seems every second museum or t-shirt shop was flogging something for that show. It’s a good show, but I get the impression there is a lot more to the place. Sadly, we will need to wait several years till this whole GOT thing has died down and we are substantially richer, hopefully but not necessarily boat rich.
The Toilet Review
I promised you a bit of this and I want to honour it. The bus toilet on the way down to Zagreb was alright as far a short bus toilets go. It smelt like chemicals but it’s to be expected. It’s a hole full of chemicals.
Zagreb’s Central bus station had a really shitty toilet. Low provisions, quite vandalised, a bit dirty smelling. Not really worth spending the money to get through the turnstyle but necessary for the time. When you have to go you have to go.
They put us on a bus from Zagreb to Dubrovnik with no toilet. That suffices to explain that problem. 10 hours with no readily accessible toilet and having to wait for seemingly randomly placed stops. The stops themselves were okay. It’s a very good thing I didn’t drink more water.
The toilets in Dubrovnik were quite acceptable in comparison. They were generally clean, decently provisioned, and had working seats. Something I noticed all throughout Croatia however, why is the hand drier over the sink and in about the middle of the mirror? Totally weird position.
Overall, 2/10 – really suffering from that low toilet access for 10 hours thing. Get your shit together, Croatia.
When not being puerile and inappropriate the writer of this piece enjoys appreciating everyone for being so lovely, and is especially grateful to the planners of this world for facilitating dreams. He is also on zero drugs at present.