“And what is the purpose of your visit today?” asked the border control. “Business,” I replied. Yes, I had my first international business meeting for The Dubrovnik Times last week, well maybe not the first but certainly the most unusual.
One businessman called me and asked me for lunch, “Is it a problem if you come to me?” he asked. And so it was that I was waiting at the border for my international business meeting in Ivanica.
Strangely enough Wikipedia describes our neighbours as “It has an unobstructed view of the Adriatic Sea. Due to its close location to Dubrovnik Ivanica gravitates to Dubrovnik and many of its inhabitants work or live in Dubrovnik. Recently, the settlement has been experiencing rapid development and expansion due to construction of many new apartment projects.” And it was due to this “rapid development” that I found myself abroad!
I must say that the new border on the neighbour’s side is very impressive. But although the hardware may be first class the software is still lacking behind. “Can you show me your green card for insurance’” asked the border control, which would be a normal question in normal situations, but as the border control man was asking me with a stamp in one hand and a burning cigarette in another it probably wasn’t up to the level of the EU imagined when they signed an agreement in Schengen. I crossed the border with a smile on my face but little did I know that this would be a theme for the day.
“Welcome to chaos,” joked my business connection as he met him within spitting distance of the new border. “First let me give you the grand tour of Ivanica then we’ll have some lunch,” he added. I must say that the number of new apartments, houses and villas is impressive, they have sprung up like mushrooms after the rain. “And many, many people from Dubrovnik are buying them,” he smiled. And who can blame them. Whilst real estate prices in Dubrovnik are spinning out of control just across the border you can buy a brand new, fully furnished stone villa with a swimming pool and Jacuzzi for 250,000 Euros. Or a two-bedroom house, again with all the furnishings, for 150,000 Euros. British, Germans and of course people from Dubrovnik are snapping them up like hot biscuits.
Interestingly the company selling them always tells their clients that in the summer “expect a wait of at least 2 hours at the border.” Enough real estate on to lunch.
We parked in front of what appeared to be a private house. No signs that it was a restaurant, no Michelin Star, no menu and no tables outside. Walking through what seemed like someone’s front door we were greeted with one of those scenes from a cowboy movie when a stranger walks into the local saloon. A handful of tables and turbo folk blasting out. On the walls photos of Dubrovnik and the aroma of homemade food, well manly onions.
With no menus on the tables the owner leaned around from the table behind us and proclaimed “We’ve got cabbage stew with lamb today,” and got back to his work. It was then that I spotted numerous passports all over his table. “Bloody Albanians, look at this one’s name,” he swore to himself. Yes, thirty Albanian passports filled his table and he appeared to be filling out visas. To make matters even more surreal a border control man was sitting at another table eating the cabbage stew. I later found out that all these Albanians were working in Dubrovnik for a construction company but quite clearly sleeping above the city in Ivanica.
The waiter appeared with a small plate, “try this and if you don’t like it we will make something else,” he dropped the cabbage stew on the table. I looked unappealing, no awards for plate appearance, but tasted yummy. Seeing us raise our thumbs he came back with two mountains of cabbage-filled plates. Again this would have all been pretty normal behaviour had it not been for the burning cigarette hanging from his hand.
The cook, was from Serbia, the waiter from Ivanica and the owner from Croatia, yes I was having lunch in Yugoslavia. “Do you want to pay in Euro, KM or Kuna?” asked the waiter as he collected our plates, which we had wiped clean. I thought to ask if he accepted Yen or Ruble, but stopped myself as he would probably have even accepted dukats. “So in your opinion when do you think BIH will be a full member of the European Union?” asked the businessman in front of me. I had no answer.