"Moj put u Hrvatsku" by Diane Mahoney
Thought I would write you about my recent trip to Croatia. I just got back
from Zagreb and Vukovar on Tuesday. I want to thank you again for the
recommendation of Adriatic Tours as a travel agent. They were great--arranged air
transportation and hotels for me.
The trip was wonderful. We went to Croatia to attend a close friend's
wedding, spending a couple of days in Zagreb before going on to the wedding in
Vukovar. My father, daughter and I enjoyed everything. My daughter and I had been
to Zagreb before with my husband, so it wasn't hard to navigate around. We
had some city maps and an idea in our heads of what we wanted to show my dad of
the city. We saw all the historic sights in Gornji Grad, shopped at the
Dolac Market, and went to two museums. We found our way around to do some
souvenir shopping (walked directly to two gift shops that looked interesting from the
guidebooks) and a place to eat dinner ("The Writer's Club," on Ban Jelacic
Trg, a nice restaurant that had been in business for 50 years). We even found
an internet cafe in an old house (off a side street and a courtyard, with the
first floor rooms converted to be used for sending and receiving e-mails) so we
could contact my husband more cheaply than by phone!
I drove through Eastern Slavonija to Vukovar and it wasn't hard at all! The
roads were smooth and straight and the signage out there was very clear to
lead us to our destinations. We found Vukovar with no problems, and took a day
trip to Osijek on the day of the wedding without getting lost at all. Our only
difficulty was in coming back to get to the airport. We did get lost in the
outskirts of Zagreb, because there were no signs to guide us there! Very
strange! We eventually saw 2 or 3 signs, very near to the airport itself, but
that was after stopping to ask directions twice.
Our friend's wedding was just wonderful. His new bride seems to be perfect
for him. They certainly seemed very happy together at the wedding. The
wedding was very elaborate. I am told the reception went on until nearly 6:00 a.m.,
though we gave up and went to bed (upstairs in the Dunav hotel) at about 1:00
a.m.! The wedding had some of the same elements as American weddings do, and
some that were different.
The beginning was very different. All of the groom's friends and family
gathered at his house about 2 hours before the ceremony, to socialize for a little
while. After an hour, we all piled into cars, led by one waving a large
Croatian flag out the window, and drove by caravan to the bride's house nearby,
with horns blaring. We left the cars on her street and all went into her
backyard, greeted by her parents and brother. Our friend had a bouquet for her and
went up to the porch, where she came out to meet him. Then they both greeted
all the guests for about another hour.
There was a lot of food and drink spread on a couple of big tables in the
back. Many of the men were drinking wine and slivovica freely before the wedding
ceremony got started. I wondered what the reception would be like if they
were drinking before the wedding started, but actually, there was less alcohol
served at the reception itself--just table wine left in bottles on the tables,
along with bottles of water and soft drinks. There was no champagne as we
have at American weddings. I liked that, actually. People ate and danced and
sang more than they drank.
About 20 minutes before the ceremony, we all piled back into the cars, in a
caravan that was twice as long because it included the bride's family and
friends, and went off to the church. Horns were blaring again and the flag was
waving from the first car. People came out of their houses to see what was going
on, and it was good to see smiles in this town that had seen so much
devastation 10 years ago.
At the church, we had to wait for another wedding to finish, but then were
allowed inside. The church looks good from the outside, but was devastated in
the fighting and still shows major damage inside. It appears structurally
safe, but has no paint or decorations on the walls--just exposed brick. The
windows are all plain, no stained glass at all. The pews are rows of chairs. They
have decorated the church with flowers, though, and some religious statues,
and the altar looked nice at the front. It is a very long and narrow church,
so the procession came inside in two parts. The groom and his best man waited
with the priest half-way into the church for the bride to walk in with her
father. When she met him, they walked together up to the altar.
We were able to follow the exchange of vows (no Mass) even though it was in
Croatian, because all wedding ceremonies are similar in that regard! At the
end, there was a receiving line right at the front of the church. Our friend
looked so happy, and I felt really happy for him. He had waited a long time for
that day. He and his bride posed for some pictures in front of a side altar
in the church while all the guests headed to the reception in the hotel where
we were staying. The caravan got going again and drove through town,
celebrating with the horns and the flag.
At the reception at the Dunav Hotel, we sat at long tables and were served
the food "family style." We sat with some of our friend's colleagues from the
local high school where he and his bride work, which was great because they
spoke some English. We had roasted lamb, chicken, and pork with potatoes to eat,
plus cabbage and tomato salad. It was very much "Hungarian" and "Slavonian"
food. There was dancing, but it was nice in that it was folk dance with
large groups in a circle. We joined in at one point and it was really fun. The
band our friend had hired came to his house at the beginning and was playing
all night long, including at the wedding ceremony. They stayed with the group
through all the moves from house to house to church to hotel hall and didn't
pack up their instruments until about 5:00 a.m. They had stringed instruments
and played traditional Slavonian and Dalmatian songs. Everyone seemed to know
all the songs and sang along to many of them.
They cut the wedding cake (3-tiered, chocolate) at midnight and then had a
money dance where anyone could put some money in a basket and dance with the
bride. Both men and women danced with her. I put some money in the basket, but
didn't dance with her because I couldn't really talk to her. The last one to
dance with her was the groom. They looked really happy to be together, which
was nice to see.
The plane rides to get there and back were long, but the trip was worth it.
I was glad we went, and it was quite a cultural experience for my daughter, as
I'd hoped. It was an honor to share in a special occasion like this with our
friend and his community. Everyone made us feel welcome, and people were
very impressed with my limited abilities to speak with them in a little Hrvatski.
Vukovar looked somewhat better than it did two years ago when I visited with
my daughter and husband for the first time. The downtown has some new
construction going on, and my friend's residential street is nearly totally re-built.
There is still obviously massive work to be done to bring the town back to
the way it looked before it was razed by the Serbs, but I was struck by the
number of young families and people with babies that we saw on the streets.
That's a good sign for the future that people are coming back and that they want
to re-build the town. There's a Velepromet market open downtown now, and
several restaurants, including an outdoor fish place that faces on the Danube and a
pizza place near the Dunav hotel.
Anyway, that's "what I did on my summer vacation." Croatia is an amazing
place, and every time I go there I am most impressed with the friendliness and
welcoming nature of the people. Sorry this is so long, but I am excited about
the trip and all that we saw and did.
Thank you for all your good work with CROWN. I read every new posting and
always find something of interest.