From the Balkans to Bavaria, and back

"I realized again that I would never understand the German people. The misery of these travellers was purely amazing. It was perplexing that they should have been surprised by the lateness of the train. The journey from Berlin to Zagreb is something like thirty hours, and no sensible person would expect a minor train to be on time on such a route in winter, particularly as a great part of it runs through the mountains."
Thus wrote Rebecca West in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, a few years before the Second World War, when she traveled from Germany to Yugoslavia by train. I had to think of her as I traveled myself from Zagreb to Munich and back. A single trip takes nine hours. I doubt that's faster than in her time. The mountains are still there, some border controls disappeared, others reappeared, communism has reduced public transportation to a deplorable state, and from Villach to Zagreb even a dackshund could keep up with the speed of the train. It seems not to matter how you come to Croatia. By bus, train or car; Slovenes always manage to slow you down. Very annoying, especially when your head is being blown apart by a fever, as mine was.
The train was on time though, and unlike West's German fellow travelers, I don't get upset about some delay. If you can't deal with delays, don't go east.
When I bought the handwritten ticket (649 kuna for a round trip) from a woman with an almost visible but very common dislike of customers, I was "advised" to reserve a seat. Thank God I didn't. All reserved seats were in the old passenger cars with defective heatings. We could see our own breath. The brand new car (manufactured in Croatia, I should add), however, didn't have a single reserved seat and were comfortably warm. When I went to Sofia last year, I spent 17 hours in a passenger car without heating, so I have had my share of cold. The only source a warmth back then was the ouzo we got from a nice Macedonian lady who shared the compartment with us.
In Munich I bought many things that are unavailable or overpriced in Croatia: foodstuff, quality newspapers, good beers. I ate what you can't eat here: Vietnamese, Indian, Arabic. I visited things that don't exist here: palaces, lavishly decorated churches, beer halls, outstanding museums.
If you are wondering whether there is actually a good reason to go back to Croatia, I must say there are. Croats don't dub movies. And the girls are so much prettier here.

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