I wake up to discover that snow is blanketing Zagreb. AAARGH! Yes, it’s white and fluffy and picturesque when covering the blue Zagreb trams, but NOT what I want when I have to drive 300 km! I set off in a hurry after breakfast but soon find myself in a total white-out. My route takes me on the main motorway towards Belgrade, there’s not much traffic, but all the cars and lorries are proceeding in single file behind a snowplough. No more than 50 km an hour for a good 100 km east of Zagreb. I resign myself to being late and phone ahead to warn my customer. No problem, so I settle back and concentrate on keeping my car wheels on the tracks in the snow. As I go along, I notice that the older motorway signs have had Beograd painted out and replaced with Slavonski Brod. The latter is only a mid-sized town along Tito’s old “Brotherhood and Unity Highway”. After the wars of the last decade there’s not much brotherhood and unity left around here, and Belgrade seems not a destination to be mentioned!
My visit today is in Osijek, not far from both Hungary and Serbia. The place was along the front line in the Croat-Serb war, and the town of Vukovar is close by. The Serbs saw fit to blast the place to smithereens in 1991 and the scars of war are still evident: burnt out houses, walls pockmarked with bullet holes, factory buildings with concrete walls blasted out. Reconstruction has been going on, but it’s still disconcerting to see a brand new glass and marble hotel surrounded by blackened building shells. And on opposite sides of the Danube, long lines of Serbian and Croatian flags defiantly face each other. Not pretty.
The road back to Zagreb is much better compared to the morning slog, with most of the snow cleared off the road. Still, it takes me until seven in the evening to get back, and by the time I’m in the hotel, I’m knackered and with no desire to explore the Upper Town as I had wanted to. I decide to try out a Slavonian restaurant nearby the hotel – note, not Slovenian, or even Slovakian, Slavonia is a region of Croatia that I had passed earlier in the day, supposedly famous for its good meat. I say supposedly, because the restaurant I entered is a Big Mistake: the starter of Slavonian salami is remarkably like a chorizo sausage without the spicy taste, the main course of “Slavonian steak” turns out not to be a juicy grilled meat as expected, but instead a fried pork cordon bleu affair, with more of the tasteless sausage, far too many breadcrumbs and a heavy cream sauce. Nah! Never again!