Day 6 - Vukover & Osijek, Croatia
Apr 28, 2013
|This morning we woke up to a big “RE” out our window (the first few letters of RESTAURANT) which was newly painted on the floating barge that we were tied up to on the shore of the Danube at Vukover, Croatia. It is the biggest river port in Croatia – and just across the river from Serbia – but seemed to be rather small in comparison to some of the other towns we have been to. It was severely damaged during “the War” with Serbia as was the town of Osijek (where we were going for lunch) and both were very depressed with very high unemployment rates – up to 17 to 35%. It was Sunday so we were told not to expect too many people to be around – for almost everyone is Catholic and they were in Church – plus it was/is their “day-off”.
Our first activity was basically a scavenger hunt where we went to the local open air market and were given an envelope which had some money and a specific item (in Croatian) that we had to find and pay for from the various locals in the market. Well our envelope was “leeks” and Susie found it quite fast and communicated quite well with the elderly lady (though she did not speak a word of English) that we had to purchase them from. In the meantime Wendy and I found some “Lilly of the Valley” flowers and purchased a couple of small bunches for our rooms – cost was $1 each – as we were supporting the Croatian economy – but they sure had great aroma.
On our way to that market we passed through a flower show or flower market where they were basically selling potted plants for summer gardens – and cabbage peelers (but we will come back to that). We passed buildings that were already under restoration and some that were completed and others that had not been started yet. It was amazing to see everything that they have done in the “short years” that have come since their last war (with Serbia) when so many of the buildings were destroyed. We passed an ice cream parlor which still had the holes in it from the war. We were told that restorations have to be done to replace the buildings with the same façade that they had prior to the war – so it can be difficult – and expensive, but the European Union is helping with the funding for the restorations. There was one glass bank building that not many of the locals like – in part because it looks so modern and does not reflect the architecture of prior to the war!!
Then we boarded our buses for Osijek (the 4th largest town in Croatia). We drove through lots of farm fields – some with wheat and some that have had corn recently planted – and it was just starting to come up!! We passed the yellow “canola” rapeseed fields as they stretched across the plain. We passed orchards and a few vineyards – but mostly open fields for wheat and corn.
We arrived in Osijek and our guide took us through and around the fortress – which is currently under restoration. Many of the buildings were reported heavily damaged in the Croatian War of Independence (and it was very visible). Many of the cannons used many years ago are also being restored and placed around the city. There is a report that once a cannon was shot and the cannonball ended up in a building in the city center quite a distance away – and it was never removed – and still is in that building. We learned much about “the War” – both its origins as well as what is happening today – as the country is still trying to recover not just physically but also on so many other fronts. One big debate that was reportedly going on now is whether the street signs should just be in the Croatian language or also the Serbian language (since there are Serbs that live in Croatia) – and since each group uses a different alphabet, it is quite an issue. We learned about the fact that the town populations was about 30,000 before the war, but today is significantly less people only about 17,000 as many people found new lives in other areas of the world and chose not to return…. all quite a modern lessons and “current” history.
We took the buses to our “host” family for lunch. The family to which we were assigned could not have been better!! There were 2 daughters (21 and 20 years old respectively) and the mom and the grandmom. The eldest daughter was going to the university (in her 3rd year) and studying Information Science – she was getting her masters. The younger daughter had completed high school and studied agriculture for 2 years – but was now looking for a job. The grandmom was 72 years old and lived down the street by herself. Rebecca (the oldest daughter) talked non-stop for most of the time we were there – sharing her experiences and answering our questions about the war with Serbia. Her English was excellent as she also translated for her mother and grandmother. She had been studying English since the 4th grade. While she was very little during the war she told us of how they left their home for 7 years and went to Germany when the invasion happened…. And then how difficult it was when they came back to try to reclaim their homes and then rebuild (since their house had been totally destroyed and the townspeople had been throwing garbage in the remaining foundation while they were still away. She did tell us about how difficult it was when they did return as they were some of the first ones back and there was not much left of the towns/cities since they were one of the first towns encountered by the Serbs when the invasion started.
We had a wonderful lunch – the typically largest meal of their days – we started out with a delicious soup (vegetables and a very small pasta) and then went to the main course of meatloaf, green peas, cabbage with dressing, white beans and bread. We had plum brandy, sparkling water and cherry juice for drinks too. We ended the meal with what they called “apple pie” (but it was an apple-type cake) and a fruit dessert – so of course we had a little bit of both. Their house was wonderfully decorated as their father (and husband) used to be a cabinetmaker or woodworker and had made the tables, hutches, counters, bunkbeds (for the girls) and many other items. Then we went out into the back yard to see their garden, the chickens (they kept for eggs), rabbits (pets), dog and a brief walk out back through their neighbor’s yard to the water (a smaller tributary) that eventually went into the Danube. All quite an enjoyable meal and we were glad our program director connected us up with this particular family. Susie collected the meatloaf recipe and got Rebecca’s email address so she could get the rest of the recipes that we did not have time to gather then.
On the bus ride back we went to the top of the hill where the “water tower” was – and saw firsthand what some of the artillery & mortar fire did to such a structure – it was totally destroyed; except for the fact that it was still standing with its large holes that penetrate right through the structure. We were told by our guide that the plan is to have the tower remain “as is” and be a symbol to everyone of what could be done (the destruction) due to greed (for money) and desire for additional territory – which is what the basis was for the original war (or so our guide told us).
We returned to the ship and sat on the sun deck watching the river go by – as there was so little “traffic” on this part of the river. There was one little ferry – that probably holds 3 or 4 vehicles – that goes back and forth to Serbia – but that was it. There are some islands in the middle of the river that used to belong to Croatia (before the war) and now Serbia has possession of most of them – but has turned a couple back over – and our guide said that one island the Croats are allowed to visit in the summertime on weekends without passports…. Quite an interesting and probably difficult arrangement!
Dinner on the ship was the “usual” – great – but the dessert was particularly remarkable – as their “chocolate cake” with chocolate sauce was a big hit – and came with a musically treble clef! After dinner we listened to some musicians from Slavonia play some typical Croatian music on 6 different stringed instruments – kind of like crosses between guitars and banjos and of course a bass – bugarija, bisernica, basprim, cello and berda. What a way to end the day – except that we started sailing again (at night) and we either watched from our rooms with the bow webcam on - or from the top deck – with the awnings down in anticipations of some low bridges – which we did pass – but it was oh so dark!!!