Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Long-Suffering Mother

From Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia
My mother is very concerned about the photos I post of myself drinking beer after beer during my travels. Unfortunately for her, I have been especially busy these days exploring various night spots, a task which inevitably invites the associated consumption of alcoholic beverages. My last several pictures, taken on St. Patrick's Day and St. Patrick's Night are sure to upset her further. I torture my mother with every good night out.

The trip to Zagreb was spoiled by my boarding the right train but the wrong car in Gyékényes, Hungary; the cars split at one point and I was on my way to Budapest with a ticket saying "Zagreb." I spent an hour sitting at a train station in Balatonszentgyörgy, a town which, despite its sexy name, was dead. Three and a half hours after my expected arrival I made it to Zagreb.

Hostel Junis, first choice in the new Lonely Planet guide, exudes a hippie sort of cool, much as did the excellent Hostel Nap I had stayed at in Pécs. Unfortunately, it smelled like a locker room in my six bed dorm, which is not the fault of the staff so much as the luck of the draw. Due to a lack of room there tonight, I have now moved to the Nocturno Hostel which, based on my first impression, may be superior to the celebrated Hostel Junis, though it also costs $7 more a night.

I met a terrific young Californian named Darren at the hostel. He is a 23 year-old international studies student, table busser, and death metal DJ who is exploring many of the same countries I am. We started with drinks alongside the people-watching paradise that is Tkalčićeva utica. Then we headed to Sax! pub, which was hosting a St. Patrick's Day celebration with live music. Dismayed by the cover charge (about $6 US) and lack of activity in the early part of the evening, Darren and I decided to make that a miss. We passed time at a hip little cinema-themed cafe. Then, Darren proposed that we pick up beer at the supermarket and drink it on the street. I asked him, "What are the rules here with regards to open containers?" to which he replied, "It's ZAGREB!" and to which I replied, "One might say, 'It's SINGAPORE!' "

Still not clear about Zagreb's open-container laws, I opened our beers with the hostel's key anyway, and we strolled and sipped until Darren spotted a McDonald's. He wanted to drink the beers inside because it was too cold outside. I was reluctant, but agreed out of curiosity. As we entered I noticed people seated at their tables staring at us bemusedly—perhaps worriedly. We sat in front of a TV showing men's handball, followed later by a Barcelona/Stuttgart football match. Darren ordered and ate a cheeseburger in order to buy good-will from the McDonald's staff for our transgression.

When he disappeared for a bit, an older McDonald's manager came up to me and scolded me for the beer bottles. She marched them out of the restaurant in a huff. I rose from my chair and found Darren engaged in conversation with a Bible student at an internet station in the restaurant. At one point Darren seemed to get a bit effusive and, to my ear, nonsensical; the Croatian Bible student looked terribly confused. I made a snarky comment, which offended Darren greatly. In retrospect I realize there was no need for my remark, and I wish I had contained it. The remark, for the record, was, "Dude, I'm an American and an English major, and even I cannot follow what you are saying."

He was sore about that for a while, so after we hit the streets I proposed that we go back to the Sax! club and that I pay his cover. This cheered him up, and it cheered me up too, since I felt bad that I had hurt his feelings.

It was a terrific decision. Two excellent live bands played, the first serving up a pint of traditional Irish music, the second offering two pints of raucous Flogging Molly-type rock.

Two Finns from the hostel that Darren had invited showed up, and the four of us, who share a great fascination with foreign affairs, got into a fabulous discussion about the World. What more perfect thing to discuss over several beers, a pint of Guinness, and two Johnnie Walkers while seated with two Finns and an American in a Croatian bar on St. Patrick's Day?
From Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia

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