Important: the following post contains very personal opinions. Keep in mind that these are the impressions of a very young guy (almost a kid ;-)) who just did this job because he was hoping to go to Italy. It is not my intention to offend today's country of Croatia and its people. However, the situation was pretty different in the early 80s. – Happy reading!
GOODBYE GERMANY/ITALY – HELLO YUGOSLAVIA!
I had finished the summer season in Mallorca (you can read the first part of my adventures here) end of October. As usual – I did not get a contract for the winter season (that happened to all beginners). So I went back to Germany, continued my long-distance studies, and took lessons to improve my Spanish. I also escorted coach tours to London (that work included the preparation of hot sausages and coffee on the bus – peculiar, but I kept smiling). The long-awaited info regarding the summer season 1981 came, and what a shock – they sent me to Yugoslavia (which, of course, no longer exists today)! I went to Hannover to pick up a red company car, and a few days later, I started my tour down to my dream country Italy to visit friends in Milan. Well, after a few days there, I had to continue to Yugoslavia (that part being Croatia today), specifically to the tiny little island of Rab. What a change once I had crossed the border! In those days, Yugoslavia was called a socialist country, not 100% communist but with good connections to Russia (Tito was still governing Yugoslavia, which later fell apart). And it was quite far from being chic or trendy. It was cheap and – I had to admit – home of beautiful landscapes. Many people just did their jobs and looked like not having fun or motivation at all. On a positive note, many villages had a strong Venetian architectural influence – some people even spoke Italian. Their language was (and still is) called "Srpsko Hrvatsko" - how charming does that sound ;-)? At least I learned a few things in this strange language so that I could manage a fundamental communication with the bus drivers – I still remember the sentence "Ja sam vodic" (I am a tour guide). However, and honestly, I prefer Roman languages.
Photo: This cute little car took me to my dream island ;-)
MY AWESOME HOTEL AND THE COSMOPOLITAN CITY OF RAB
I got a small room in a complex called San Marino (at least an Italian name!) on the Northern part of this small island. That place had 2 stars (I would only have given it one, if at all) and was always full of a very international crowd, led by Germans. In those days, TUI guests brought a little booklet with them that we collected. It contained vouchers that were given to the hoteliers and served as a base for their invoices. I remember the accountant of San Marino very well – Tony, a grumpy little man. He was always keen to get the vouchers as soon as possible. So – we called him Voucher-Tony. One day – and that was my day off – Voucher-Tony knocked on my door at 7 am, shouting "Voucher voucher." I could have killed that guy since I was still in my deepest sleep, possibly dreaming about Italy. May God bless Voucher-Tony - if he is still alive.
Photo: That`s how I and the cars looked in those days - photo was taken in Zadar, ex-Yugoslavia
I tried to go downtown as often as possible. Downtown – well, don't imagine a big city. Rab City was/is the capital and had at least some charm. The hotels did not have such a big communist appeal-like my hideaway – although it was impossible to buy anything nice other than local food. Well, I saved a lot of money in that season. The highlight of our evenings was a pizzeria called "Black Jack." After dinner, that place turned into a sort of a club (called "disco" in those days). At least you could listen to good music. I recall that one night I went back to my luxury hideaway, and all over sudden, I run into two donkeys making love in the middle of the road. Sorry to disturb you, guys! Boy, even animals got crazy on this island! – As strange as it may sound – nudist beaches were allowed in Yugoslavia and were very popular. I just watched them from far. As usual, you hardly see the nicely shaped young bodies but rather leather-skinned people (baking in the sun from morning until the afternoon). Their bodies were victims of the force of gravity. Oh well.
Photo: TUI meeting in Rijeka - in those days you could still smoke in bars and restaurants.
THE "GARLIC EXPRESS"
Once per week, we had to go to Rijeka, the closest "big" city, to pick up guests arriving by train. Unfortunately, we could not go with our cars but had to take a local bus at 4.30 am. Those buses were called "garlic express" because of the many farmers (not rarely toothless) who went downtown to sell their goods, including live chicken. And many of them consumed garlic in big quantities. Healthy guys (apart from the teeth...)! So, my dear colleague Barbara and I were sitting among these people, dressed in TUI uniforms and with TUI clipboards in our hands. What a comedy! It took almost four hours to get to Rijeka and the garlic express used to stop in a little village. We had fun by having coffee in a run-down place with a music box – we always played "Only crying" and "Bette Davis Eyes" before continuing our way. And the locals looked at us as if we had just come from Mars.
THE CHARMING VILLAGE OF JABLANAC AND ... OVERBOOKINGS!
Another charming place that I remember was Jablanac – a few houses, a church, and the ferry, which brought tourists to the islands. This place was always busy. An older lady was sitting in a little wooden box selling ferry tickets. She was as charming as a bulldozer and also missed a few teeth. However, she was always wearing bright red lipstick and hold that big stamp in her hand that opened the door to the tourists` island dreams. We made naughty jokes about that stamp in her hand, and I better don't go into further details.
You could see charming Jablanac from the island of Rab – and in the high season, you could watch loads of cars on a mountain, waiting for their ferry ride. Some people waited up to half a day before they got some space on a ferry. Waiting that long with 38 degrees C outside and presumably, no air-conditioning in the cars must have been an unforgettable holiday experience. And not enough – there were times when clients arrived on the island by car to find out that their hotel was hopelessly overbooked. Some of them had to camp for a few days - no kidding. Enjoy your vacation!
Needless to say that some clients got upset and overloaded us with their serious complaints. All understandable, but when one client spit at a colleague, I told him, "Enough is enough." Lovely people!
Photo: With guests in the charming village of Jablanac - as you can see, I took it easy!
NOT ANOTHER ISLAND - PLEASE!
Towards the end of the season, my boss asked me to look after a hotel on the neighboring island of Pag. There was no direct ferry connection, so you had to go to Jablanac first (admiring the charming lady with the red lipstick and the stamp in her hand) and from there to Pag. Unfortunately, I was told not to use the car but a bike instead. I was already looking forward to some exercise on a nice race bike, but they gave me a small kids bike, no kidding! For my first visit, I took this "bicycle," but it went so slow that I did not have a chance to ride from the ferry station to the hotel. In the end, I hitch-hiked and asked my boss for approval to use the car. Thank God she agreed. I remember that on my way to the hotel little snakes were dozing on the road. And there was a big signboard promoting "the best disco in Europe" in a place called Novalja Semlja. My idea of a club in those days was instead something like Studio 54 in New York or Le Palace in Paris. When I decided to have a look at that "disco" in beautiful Novalia Semlja, I realized it was already closed. I am sure I have missed a fantastic place with very cool parties!
STUNNING: PLITVICE NATIONAL PARK
One of the highlights was the excursion to the Plitvice Lakes National Park (the largest in South-Eastern Europe). The big advantage of getting up in the middle of the night (which I hated) since it took a few hours to get there. Sixteen visible lakes, mostly connected by impressive waterfalls in stunning nature, a lovely place that also served as a location for many European Western movies ("Winnetou" and others).
On the bus, we had to explain how this beautiful area had emerged, why it became a UNESCO World Heritage, and so on. I remember that once I had Germans and Italians on the bus, so I tried to make my explanations in both languages. I kept smiling at the Italians, hoping they understood everything I said, but they seemed to be happy.
Photo: With Barbara and Edith in the Plitvice National Park - we were just friends, even if this photo may suggest something different...
A NICE TEAM ... AND A SLOW GIRL
Well, despite all the glitches, I have to say that my summer in Croatia (as it is called today) was not bad. That has to do with the fact that most tour guides of various companies (and there were many) stuck together. Apart from my beloved colleagues Barbara and Edith, a nice Yugoslavian chap who has passed away a few years ago, I also remember Vesna from Dubrovnik. She represented a company called Yugotours, spoke pretty well German, and was a nice girl. However, she was so slow that you could almost resole her shoes while she was walking. I think she liked me a lot – when I was back in Germany, she kept sending me letters, including drawings of me that she painted from photos (and they were not bad).
WHAT CAME NEXT? SPAIN AND KENYA...
So I went back to Germany in late October and did not expect to work in winter (which would have given me time for my studies). I took advantage of a very low airfare and spent a few weeks in Thailand ... before TUI offered me to work on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria during the winter season. And I did not have any idea that the most adventurous season was yet to come after that - escorting round trips in Kenya! – Stay tuned for part three (to follow soon).
Photo: During my vacation I visited Barbara in Kathmandu/Nepal while she was working there - this photo was taken at the impressive Kathmandu International Airport! - And yes, I know ... those white socks!