Travel diary from a Danube river cruise. Thursday June 22.
We are moored in Vukovar in eastern Croatia. Serbia is on the other side of the river. Smoking my morning pipe I watch a war ruin. I finish breakfast quickly and have time for a short walk in Vukovar before the bus leaves for Osijek.
During the war against Serbia in 1991 Vukovar had a very hard time. The town was shelled to rubble and occupied by Serbian forces. There were also some ugly rumours about massacres. Not far from the harbour are several ruins that have not been rebuilt. Maybe they cannot afford it; maybe the owners are gone or dead. Many of the houses that were not destroyed have wounds and scars from gunshots or grenades. As in defiance a ruin has flower boxes with blooming geraniums in the glassless windows. On top of a small tower is a statue of a stork. When I return the statue is not there, and I realise it must have been a real stork. Around the corner I find the stork's nest on top of a chimney with many gunshot wounds. The house that once used the chimney is a ruin.
Osijek is 45 minutes drive from Vukovar, and the local guide, Miriam, tells vividly about Croatian customs, about weddings, about daily life, about the time during and after the war and also about the tense relations to the Serbs. Miriam speaks English, and Søren is a good translator.
There are various crops in the fields, but actually farming was not resumed for real until a few years ago. It was too dangerous because of many uncharted mine fields and it has been a slow and painful process to clear the mines. Despite this effort some are still killed or maimed by mines every year.
Osijek is the principal city of the region. Before the war it had some 10,000 citizens, but now there are 120,000 souls. Osijek was not occupied, but the Serbs sieged and shelled the city. Miriam tells about a scary life in the cellars with few provisions.
We enter Osijek through the industrial district, and everywhere you see the signs of bombardments. Where a roof has been repaired with new red tiles, a grenade left a hole. There are many new red tiles. The bus crosses a bridge over Danube's feeder river and parks in a park-like area. Miriam finds a place in the shadow and points out the different city districts on the other side. To the left is the industrial district, which we passed through, in the middle is the old town and to the right the new district.
We cross the bridge again and walk around in the old part of town. The old houses are quite pretty. Many need repairs, but money is scarce. The school where Miriam teaches is here too, but it is a holiday today.
Having seen the cathedral we get refreshments outside the new Hotel Osijek. It is probably expensive, but prices are attractive for Danes none the less: 0.8 Euro for 0.25 litre of imported Stella Artois. If I had been lucid and ordered 'pivo' instead of 'beer' I would probably have had a glass of the local brew.
Shops are closed because of the holiday, but Helle manages to spend the last of our local currency buying a T-shirt in Vukovar's harbour.
Lunch is a tender piece of lamb with haricot verts, potato cake and a delicious rosemary sauce. Dessert is a warm apple cake.
Past noon the Danube carries us towards Novi Sad in Serbia. There is a breeze and it is wonderful to sit on the deck. I read my book and look at the landscape. There is not much to see though; the banks are covered with trees and only here and there are a few houses. Now and then we meet ships working their way up against the current. The next time we go on a tour like this I must remember to bring binoculars.
At half past four we arrive to Novi Sad, and when customs and formalities have been dealt with we can go ashore. Here we must bring our passports for the first time. Helle is uncomfortable with the heat and prefers to relax in the cabin's relative coolness.
We walk to the city centre in about five minutes. There are pretty houses on the way, but the pedestrian street is like pedestrian streets all over the world. Here you can buy fashion clothes, fashion shoes, fashion bags etc., and if you need a break from fashion you can relax at a pavement café. As John from Copenhagen said later: "For all that matters it could have been Aarhus - the same stuff and an incomprehensible language!" (Aarhus is a city in Denmark).
The Americans bombed one of the bridges by Novi Sad in the late nineties. The Serb built a temporary bridge, which could be passed by ships at certain hours only. This required timing and created convoys for years until a new bridge was built.
One of the Danish passengers has a defect sandal, and Søren helps him ask at a local shoe shop if they can help with repairs. A kind lady takes them to another shop where she buys and pays for some glue. The Danes want to pay her in Euro, but she will not take the money and just expresses the hope that they will return soon. That is hospitality!
You cannot (and may not) pay with Euro here, and to exchange money makes no sense unless you want to buy something substantial
The fashion shops do not appeal to me and I turn around quickly. On a bench near a park I discretely watch life unfold. On the next bench a family is busy with children, comforters and other family trivialities, and a young girl in fashion clothes gets a smoke before rushing on. A bit to the side is a disabled man in a wheelchair and he looks a bit shabby. I cannot say precisely why I think of him as a war victim, but maybe it is the haunted look in his eyes.
Not far from the river some residents have put a table and chairs on the pavement in front of an apartment block. A big pot hangs from a tripod over a gas fire. There are glasses on the table, people talk and laugh. I have stopped on the opposite pavement taking in the scene, and they throw me glances. I would like to take a photo, but feel embarrassed and force my legs into motion.
Dinner is served at 19:30 while we sail towards Belgrade, Serbia's capital. The menu is Serbian. For starters ham, feta cheese, beans in tomato sauce and some ajvar. Then Serbian soup and grilled meat with chips, tomato, beans and slices of raw red onion. Dessert are small hard cakes with honey. As we eat we flow past large flooded areas.
After dinner folklore dancers perform in the lounge and there is a 'fashion show'. The performers came aboard in Novi Sad. There are musicians and dancers and they do a good job. The men's dance is powerful and they must be very hot. Between each dance they get a break while two black haired hinds show knitted jackets. The jackets are very pretty and cost 'only' 160 Euro, but the models used by the slim girls would not fit many aboard - I think more wool is required.
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