Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful, once wrote a man much cleverer than I. And nowhere in Croatia has that magic wand been waved with such success as the capital. Luckily, and thanks mostly to the British Embassy, I traditionally have an opportunity to visit Zagreb over the Advent period.
I can genuinely say that it is world class in every aspect. There are more festive houses than spectators at a Manchester United home game, more lights than in Las Vegas and more decorations than in a Harrods window over Christmas.
“Where are you guys from?” I asked a group of mid-twenties admiring the ice park. “We’ve driven down from Graz for a few days,” they answered between sips of steaming mulled wine. From Austria to Croatia at Christmas? That would be like traveling from the Seychelles to London in summer to get some sunshine! “We heard a lot about this fair and that it won an award for the third year in a row,” the colourful group added. I nodded approval and wished them a pleasant stay.
On a rainy (and pretty chilly) Thursday evening Zagreb was absolutely packed. Massive queues formed just to cross the street at a zebra crossing. Houses emptied onto the streets as a mixture of Zagreb locals and tourists from all over the world, it was fascinating to simply “people watch.” And the hit this year is “sarma to go.” Tiny, piping hot sarma are just the thing to keep out the cold.
The journey to Zagreb started in the usual manner. Croatia Airlines cancelled the plane ten minutes after it was supposed to take-off giving low cloud as an excuse. The fragility of Dubrovnik in the winter was brought home as a plane full of passengers were sent to find another solution to visit the doctors, friends, family, the business partner, etc. in the far off capital. Sometimes it helps having a familiar face, so I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank the man behind the desk at Croatia Airlines who booked me on the flight in the morning without me even asking. I didn’t get his name but if he reads this “Merry Christmas!” And Merry Christmas to the taxi driver who drove me home after my cancelled flight and charged me half price, because as he said “it’s Christmas.”
However, I have a little festive complaint to Croatia Airlines, and yes I know they are public enemy number one in Dubrovnik anyway. It would seem that they have packed so many seats into their new planes that you have to be a contortionist to get in them. I am not the biggest of humans on the planet, in fact in Dubrovnik terms of height I am a virtual midget, but squeezing into the leg room was nearly impossible.
After I had dislocated both my knees and elbows and packed the rest of my body in the seat I had the bad fortune to drop my glasses. Without them I am basically a poorly-sighted mole! As the landed on the floor I realised I would need to need the long neck of an emu to pick them up. Try as I might (and I tried for ten minutes) to pick them up I was not even close. I pushed them with my foot to the side of the plane and then attempted to slide them up the plastic interior wall. And yes, before you start thinking that I was molesting the lady in the next seat I was sitting next to the window.
With my knee at a 45 degree angle I had the glasses balanced on my boot. I them took the opposite arm and, with more luck than judgement, managed to grab them. The lady next to me probably thought I was desperately trying to scratch my arse! Not my proudest moment ever. And then when I thought I was “home and dry” my mobile plopped out of my pocket due to my excess stretching and landed on the graveyard floor. “Oh blimey, that can wait until we land,” I muttered in disgust to myself.
Of course Murphy’s Law was waiting around the corner and just about as the wheels of our plane were touching down the mobile rang. I kicked at it hoping to hit the mute button, and yes I know I should have put it on flight mode. Passengers around me were looking at me in abhorrence. I put my foot on it to soften the screaking ring tone (I really need to change that ring tone.) The plane and taxied in front of the terminal and it finally went to answerphone. After the plane had emptied and the flight attendants and tutted in my direction I rolled down to pick it up. The screen read one missed call from my mother-in-law!