Long ago, the mayor of Zagreb was beside himself because the church bells that signaled noon and dinner rang at wildly different times. So, he installed a cannon high in a tower that overlooks the Old Town. Twice a day it would be fired and then the churches were to all ring their bells at once.
Last night people thronged Zagreb’s central square, which is lined by cafes and clubs and is a gateway to winding streets with more cafes and clubs, and also to the “old town” which is home to ancient churches and the national parliament. On a raised stage, musicians sang passionately about Croatia while images of the country’s scenic wonders panned by on a plasma screen behind them.
My friend and colleague Charlie and I had rented bikes and ridden 15-20 miles along the Danube Sunday and marveled that we rented bicycles for two hours for only 225 dinars – less than 4 bucks!! I couldn’t believe how “cheap” the rental was, but it was explained to me that what is cheap to Americans is dear to Serbians.
Centuries of misery have been visited upon the countries through which we are traveling. They have been invaded, sacked, bombed, absorbed, cast out, had their people driven into exile and their soldiers sent home blinded and humiliated. On occasion, their territory has simply been a convenient theatre for bigger empires to wage war against each other. Conflict and defeat have left scars on the land, the buildings, and the people.
I had studied Cyrillic characters and common Bulgarian words and phrases prior to our departure but confronted with the reality of navigating the language and having to act quickly, in real time, I could make neither heads nor tails of the language.