Monday, May 20, 2019
Budapest – Osijek
We departed Budapest at 9 am after a good breakfast. We all (16 in our group) fit in a mini bus with our luggage in a trailer behind the bus. This is the largest group we have travelled in with Intrepid.
It was an uneventful drive with a “pee break” and time for a cup of tea or whatever you would like.
The first obstacle came at the border between Hungary and Croatia. We (our group) suspect that somehow our driver pulled up to the border office before he was supposed to. They told him to go back a few meters and stay there until they would call him. Well, they let us wait for more than an hour! Then we were motioned to pull up – we all had to get out of the bus with our passports. We showed them to the woman at the booth on the Hungarian side. She had the power to let us leave Hungary. Right beside that one was the booth with the person who had the power to allow us into Croatia. He did! We got the stamp of approval and could get back in the bus to continue our journey.
It was raining quite hard while we were waiting there. As we drove away (in Croatia now) we met a line of 71 trucks (Brian counted them) waiting to leave Croatia! We decided that it must be very expensive for businesses to have their trucks stand at the border crossing so long!
We arrived at our guest house Maksimilian in Osijek at 3:30 pm. Our hosts Vladimir and Jasmina had prepared a wonderful lunch. Salamis, cheese, salads, wonderful fresh breads and then sweets and strawberries. It was delicious!
The guest house is built within the old city citadel with it’s huge walls. The structure is very old with all kinds of nooks and crannies. They have renovated the place beautifully while keeping the original look and feel of the place. Our room is quite large with deep windows, a king size bed and a private bathroom. The courtyard is small and very peaceful and quiet. The streets are cobble stone – so having good shoes is important.
At 5 pm we met our local guide for the next few days – Matay (Matthew). He took us on a three hour orientation walk through town. The old part of the town has a rich history. We went to the main square which has a statue with five saints right in the middle. It was built as protection against the plague. Further into town we saw a burnt out house – a souvenir from the war between Serbia and Croatia in 1991-1995. There is a law in Croatia which states that if they cannot find the owner of an abandoned building, it has to be left alone for 40 years before the city can claim it.
Matay was between 8 and 13 years during the war. He shared some of the experiences that he had during that time. For some of the time he was sent away to family elsewhere in Croatia because Osijek was bombed regularly and was also a place where quite a few of the battles were fought. He couldn’t call home because that meant that his parents had to leave the relative security of their basement and go upstairs to answer the phone. It was a very uncertain time for him. He remembers that when he was home, he had to stay in the basement and couldn’t go to school. He played cards with others who were in the same situation and sometimes their game was interrupted by grenades exploding close by.
We also saw some places with lots of bullet holes in the walls. Walking there now peacefully, we were confronted with the fact how fast and tragic things can change. Matay told us a lot about Croatia’s history from WW II, the Yugoslavia time under Tito and the more recent times. He has some clear opinions about it all. It was interesting to hear from a “young” man (he is 40 this week) how he experiences his country politically in the world.
Then we went to the newer part of town where we saw the old and new architecture side by side. Some old homes have been restored very nicely keeping the original beauty. Some are very much in decline and some have been renovated into a mish mash of old and new.
We ended up in the center of the new part of town and had the opportunity to get some kunas (the currency here) and some euros. We also had time to have something to drink at an outdoor patio.
Then it was time to head back. We walked along the river Drava which had some nice restaurants with patios. It was a peaceful walk as the late afternoon sunlight became softer. We stopped at the “bridge of Youth” that had been built during Tito’s time. It was destroyed during the war and rebuilt with money from Coca Cola. If the city collected one bottle cap per person, Coca Cola was paying for the reconstruction of the bridge. They did and Coca Cola did!
We ended up at the old city walls and heard how in very early times attacks on Osijek were bogged down by the wetlands surrounding the city and the open space outside the walls. We climbed up the wall and viewed the area a bit.
After a short rest, the whole group went to the Slavonska Kuca for dinner. We had made reservations much earlier because to make our meal, a goulash from venison, takes three hours to prepare. We had seen an outdoor cauldron hanging above a wood fire outdoor at the restaurant earlier when we walked by. The meat and mushroom “stew” was served with potato “noodles”. We had ordered one portion to share because the meals are huge here. It tasted delicious – the meat was very tender and the thick gravy (sauce) was wonderfully spiced.
That was the end of another day of travelling and having new experiences.