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Oh those Communists......!
The People’s Republic of Yugoslavia – Opatiya and Riyeka.
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 Communist countries.
An unexpected period of holiday from work left us with the choice
of going somewhere, or staying in West Berlin, again.
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
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 Communist authorities?
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
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
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
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 exchange!
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
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 -
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
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 ones mobile!
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
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 prices 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 about everybody!
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 sorry..........
(Fish market riyeka) A sort of 'cathedral!'
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
Partisans living out in those hills - never mind the Communist spies!
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 stars- nothing!
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 recent doubts!
The night progressed, so did the meal, so – unfortunately – did the
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 Hotel!!
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- the Russians are still there, but as multi millionaire
Old vehicles fit for the tip don’t exist, everybody has a
a BMW or a Japanese thing, local people keep to themselves,
Tourists are even more suspicious than before!
Sad times - but we had known the glad times! Later in life,
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......!
(iwmpop) (Mr. le Marquis)