Oh those Communists......!
The People’s Republic of Yugoslavia – Opatiya and
Image via Wikipedia
The first time we went to this
(still) charming part of Europe,
was completely by accident.
We were living in West Berlin
at the time, and had been
there for a couple of years
(see earlier articles) and like
most of “West Berliners” we
loved the place, but needed
the occasional trip out of the
closely guarded confines of
the Western part of the city, and having to deal daily
with the Eastern countries way of living, we had lost a
great deal of our natural suspicion for the
An unexpected period of holiday from work left us with
the choice of going somewhere, or staying in West
As chance would have it, my wife got hold of a brochure
from one of the West Berlin holiday companies, an
organised coach holiday company, and we finally
deciphered that we could go off on holiday to
Yugoslavia’s Adriatic coast without visas and other
time consuming paper work.
It was a Thursday, and a quick phone call to the
company told us that there were places available on
the Saturday (very early) for 10 days holiday, at a price
which we couldn’t even get out of West Berlin for, with
our own car transport.
Transport, hotels, various visits for 10 days were to be
had for the very reasonable price of 99.00 D-Marks!
I ordered, and was told to be at the main City Coach
Station at 04.30hrs on the Saturday concerned
(2 days later!)
Used as I was to starting work at 0400hrs, this gave me
a “long” lie-in on the day in question, and we were
there as ordered! In Germany it was always better to
follow the orders “schnell-schnell!”
The month was October, so well out of school holiday
time, and on arrival, we found ourselves surrounded by
what seemed to be hundreds of Pensioners, all hell-bent
on getting onto a coach and going somewhere!
Thankfully there were quite a number of destinations,
so finally we found ourselves installed on a “luxury”
coach, together with some 60 or so “over-sixties”.
We were told not to play radios, games, not to make
noise, not to eat crumbly bread on the coach, and not
to comment on any activities at the various border
control points we would be crossing! Did we all have
our ID cards/Passports or other documents, was there
anyone on board actively being looked for by Eastern
We did what the Yorkshire people always do (my wife
being a Yorkshire lass) and we “said nought”.
Off we went, and arrived within 10 minutes at the first
control point, West Berlin into Eastern Germany.
After controls where we lost only one traveller (!) on
we went, and finally came out into Western Germany,
somewhere in the area of the Franken, in Southern
Germany. At both borders (and at all subsequent border
points) the coach driver opened his “reserves” and
distributed liberally half litre bottles of good W.
German beer to the border officers, which enabled us
to be controlled and sent on our way much more quickly!
Our first stop (overnight) was planned in Austria, I
don’t recall the name of the place, and in fact I don’t
think it had a name, but the Hotel was of good quality,
typical Austrian tourist at the side of the road, with
geraniums falling out of every window, even the toilet
We had the pleasure (and duty) to attend the “heimat”
evening, with accordions, zithers and “Harry Lime”
theme music all evening, together with what was
really Bavarian knee and backside slapping dances.
Our pre-selected (by the company, not us) menu
consisted of cold haricot bean, tomato, and red
cabbage coleslaw salad, followed by the invariable
“schnitzel”. We ate this (promising ourselves that
this was the only schnitzel we would eat on this holiday)
and washed it down with some excellent “frascati”
Italian white wine, which was excellent!
We watched the knee, backside slapping dancers, and
then realised (at around 10pm) that we were the only
people left in the place, our co-voyagers ( being of a
certain age) all having retired!
It is true, we had to get up again at 5am for breakfast,
ready to leave at 6.30 am, so around midnight, and a
few “Weissbiers” later, we retired at our turn.
The following morning, we set off for our destination,
the town of Opatiya, on the Yugoslavian Adriatic coast,
deep inside Communist territory!
After an uneventful crossing of the border point, into
Italy, and then into Yugoslavia, where more bottles of
beer changed hands, we eventually saw the blue/green
Adriatic in the distance.
People we didn’t see on the roads, and very little traffic
as well, but this pleased our driver, who did the route on
a weekly basis, and was used (in the summer season)
to lengthy hold ups at the border points, hence the beer
We presumed that some people DID live in Yugoslavia,
and that we would see them later. We were pretty well
fed up of multiple stops made so we could stretch our
legs, but in particular so that the Driver and his hostess
girlie could sell us “a last German hot sausage” and a
“last real German beer” – at horrifically exaggerated
We only took one, at the first break, and were
thereafter termed “undesirables” and nobody
wanted to speak to us! This suited us very well,
not having a great deal to say to some 60 odd
over sixties, who had probably spent the last 20
years in Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen – or even here
in Yugoslavia - AS GUARDS!!
Finally arriving in Opatiya, we found quite a large town,
beautifully situated on the coast, and (after having had
all German bars/Ice Cream parlours/schnitzel houses in
the town explained to us by our driver). We ignored the
advice, and finally found our hotel, as I recall described
as roughly a 24 star hotel!!
We had no problem booking in, since all the Germans
had immediately disappeared to lay their large towels
onto the loungers at the side of the swimming pool,
ignoring that it was October - out of season - and the
pool held no water, just dead Autumnal leaves!
In fact it was quite reasonable, and thankfully we all
had the choice of eating in the large “dining hall” with
everyone else (where the menu was pre-selected, as in
the hotel in Austria), but was included in the price, or
we had the choice of a restaurant at the lower level,
where local dishes were served a la carte, payable,
but if you were a Hotel Guest, then they made a
deduction. We ate mostly there, since local wines
were available and local specialities as well.
It also gave us the chance to select other places
in the surrounding town and country side, and with
our little Fiat dustbin car rented for the week, we
rapidly became more acceptable for one or two of
our German co-patriots! After all, we were the only
The weather was great, but the sea had a slight chill
to it, so we spent most of our time exploring the inner
country side, and the town.
We quickly (as was our wont) made acquaintances,
in spite of the language barrier, most natives able
to speak either some German, or some English, or
some French etc!!
It became our habit (once we had figured out that the
were ridiculously low, and the portions exceptionally
large) to leave the hotel/restaurant and take our
coffee-cognac in the local bar. Actually, our cognac
rapidly became “slivovic” (a local plum brandy)which
is a very insidious drink, the first one is horrible,
the 2nd one is reasonable, the third one requires a
4th and so on……
This seemed to make us acceptable by the locals, and
since we were in possession of a “magical” camera
(a Polaroid instant picture thing, for which the films
cost a fortune) we rapidly became “sociable” and for
the price of a slivovic, we took instant photos of just
The most impressing event was when we took a photo
of one guy, who immediately disappeared, only to
return 30 minutes later, with a guy in full dress
ceremonial Police uniform! Oh gawd, we thought –
it’s forbidden to take photos probably!
No – not at all! The young man, who had disappeared,
had quickly returned home to get his Uncle, who turned
out to be the Chief of Police at Opatiya! Photos had
to be taken, in mass, but this seemed to be the least
we could do, and in fact made us totally acceptable
by all and sundry!
I finally had to explain that we had no more films,
that we would have to go to the next big town/city
of Rayika, to get new ones, and that we were very
(Fish market riyeka)
This didn’t seem to matter, and a nice fellow told us
that we could get a bus in the morning into the city,
we didn’t have to worry about buying a ticket, it was
his cousin who owned the bus, and was also the driver!
This was all arranged, and then he invited us to go,
that evening, with him and a friend to a lovely place up
in the hills, to have something to eat.
Now all this was happening in a mixture of
German/French/English, and even we were a little
sceptical about going off into the surrounding hills of
rural Yugoslavia in the evening with a couple of guys
we had only just met! After all, according to our
co-holidaymakers, there were still Bandits and
Partisans living out in those hills - never mind the
However, outgoing people as we were, we met at 7pm,
and in the falling dusk, off we went into them there
hills, with them there guys, in a tiny vehicle, which
had never seen the inside of MOT Inspection shed,
much less the inside of a garage, probably having
been pinched from the Germans in the last war!
It rocked and rolled us ever upwards, ever onwards,
and it seemed like a very long time of upwards
winding roads, in ever increasing darkness, before
(with a screech of brakes which took off the last
remaining traces of rubber on the tyres) it finally
halted in front of a sort of ruin, which looked like
a mixture of ruin and building site. No lights, only
Our friends suggested that we shouldn’t worry, and
they were right, it was too late!
We followed them round the back, and our friends
kicked open a door. So this was what being kidnapped was like!
A wave of music, light, odours of food, chatter and
conversation, light laughter, all hit us at once!
Waving us in, our host escorted us, amid back slapping,
hand shaking hordes, to a table right at the front,
directly in front of the band/orchestra/group, and
beckoned us to sit down, pleese!
We did so, and were instantly supplied with small
pitchers of Slivovic as our aperitif.
In fact it was served during the whole meal, the
pitchers simply being replaced, together with the
local and wonderful wines. A door opened at the
back of the stage, and lo and behold – our friend,
the Chief of the Police was there!!!!
The music stopped (which pleased us somewhat,
because it was that sort of droning, never ending
Muslim style music) and our Police Chief started to
give a speech! Our other friend (the one we had
suspected of kidnapping us) stood up and started to
translate into English!
In the most perfect English I have ever heard, outside
of Oxford or Cambridge, and we felt ashamed of our
The night progressed, so did the meal, so –
unfortunately – did the music!
We found out that almost all the people present were
able to speak English, to varying levels, and our
translator friend was actually the English Professor
in the nearby city of Riyeka!
We passed the most magnificent evening and early
morning, and were quite disappointed when the time
came to leave. I pulled out my money, and got a clip
around the back of the head! A friendly one, but
forcefully making me understand that one didn’t ask
friends to pay when they were guests in one’s home!
The only problem that remained was the return journey,
with all the gifts of local wine, slivovic and various other
edible products, because that journey had to be made,
downwards, in the winding darkness, by the same driver,
who had partaken of at least a gallon of slivovic!
Never mind – we couldn’t walk, we didn’t know the way,
there were no taxis, and anyway it would have been
insulting to our new friends. We got in, closed our eyes,
and in 40 winks we woke up outside the entrance to our
We made the plans to meet at the bus stop in about
2 hours time and stumbled into the Hotel for a quick
shower and the rest!
By god – we were tired, but happy! I wonder if I'll ever
get the chance to return....?
So, you see, adventures were possible, and happened
all the time!
Nowadays, those things simply don’t exist.
Yugoslavia doesn’t exist, it’s now Croatia, and has
been over developed- old vehicles fit for the tip don’t
exist, everybody has a Mercedes or a BMW or a
Japanese thing, local people keep to themselves,
and Tourists are even more suspicious than before!
Sad times - but we had known the glad times!
Later in life, when we lived in Southern Germany,
we passed many long weekends in the area - it was
only about 3/4 hours by car from Munich! We were
never disappointed, except for the one time we
followed the electricity cuts around for 3 weeks all
over Yugoslavia, and - of course - being a Communist
country, each day of the week was ruled by one
choice of Meat - country wide, vegetables always in
"miniature" format (fertilizer was too expensive)
and - OH DEAR - that "turkish coffee!"
But that's another story......!
I’ll be coming back to the theme, without doubt, in the future! (An account of the day in Rijeka is in planning!)
republished Mai 2011)