We got married in 1972. It was quite a small wedding and we had a delayed honeymoon. This was because the private language school where we both worked gave us four weeks’ holiday in the summer. We were extremely badly paid so we had to do it as cheaply as possible. Earlier that year I had read about how it was possible to go island hopping in Yugoslavia so that is what we decided to do. We had already been to Yugoslavia. John had been to Zagreb as a member of a drama group when he was a student and in 1971 when we were living in Turin, we went to an island called Krk near Rijeka. That trip was just for a long weekend so the idea of going for longer appealed. We knew very little about Yugoslavia which was behind the Iron Curtain so not much visited. What little I knew came from reading a book about Sir Archibald McIndoe, the New Zealand plastic surgeon, and the partisans during the second world war. I read this when I was a teenager and could remember very little of it.
We planned to do this trip by train and boat. We had a very tiny Collins guidebook (price five shillings) which my brother-in-law had given me when I first arrived in England. From that we picked out an itinerary which was to go to Venice by train, catch a ferry across the Adriatic and start our Yugoslavian experience from Rijeka. We planned to spend a week on one island, then a second week on another and then to make our way inland. We wanted to go to Zagreb because John had been there and we realised we could go to Sarajevo. We knew about that from history at school. After Zagreb we planned to go to Ljubljana and then take a train to Munich. We would have a couple of nights there so we could visit the main art galleries and do a little sightseeing. The Olympic games were going to be held in Munich later that summer so we assumed there would be a lot of things we could do. Our train tickets would then return us to England. The train tickets did not include all the little trips we planned to do while in Yugoslavia but at least we knew we had the main journeys paid for.
We were eligible for cheap train tickets which helped but knew we would be staying in the cheapest accommodation, although we did not plan to hitch-hike. Following the plan in the newspaper article plus the information in the Collins guidebook we began by taking the train from London to Milan. As it turned out we started out on the day the pound was floated on the foreign exchange market. This could have caused major currency problems for us because in those days there were no credit cards and you had to use some combination of travellers’ cheques and hard cash. Fortunately John had an older Italian student who exchanged some sterling for lira for us. The journey to Milan meant taking a train from London to Newhaven, then a cross-channel ferry to Dieppe, then a train to Paris where we had to change to the overnight express for Milan. Of course we went second class so we were in a couchette with a very hard bed made from the seat. We had both been to Italy by train before so we knew we would be shunted around the sidings in France in the middle of the night. I remember very little of this part of the journey and what I do remember may not have been that particular trip. We had one night in Milan. This enabled us to visit the cathedral and walk around the main area. I remember a large shopping arcade in high Victorian style which reminded me of the arcades in Sydney and Melbourne.
From Milan we took another train to Venice. We had been there at Easter the previous year when we were living in Turin. Although it had been very crowded with tourists at Easter and difficult to find a pensione, the weather had been quite good. Now we found ourselves in a steam bath. We had one or possibly two nights in Venice and then started on the real adventure. First we had to cross the Adriatic on a large steamer. The journey took the inside of a day. It was potentially a boring journey so I spent it reading ‘The Magus’ by John Fowles. We arrived in Rijeka ready to spend a night there. We went for a walk down to the wharves where the ferries left from and bought tickets for a boat to Rab. We had chosen this island on the basis of the Collins guidebook. It was quite a big island and we thought we would have no trouble finding somewhere to stay. We would then move to an island that was further south. Then we went to find something to eat. It was about 8.30 pm by this time, early for most of southern Europe but we found that everything was closed or closing. The chairs were being put up on the tables and I cannot remember where, if at all, we found somewhere still serving food. We realised we were in a different country from Italy.
On Saturday morning we went back to the ferry terminal. There were people everywhere. Most of them were Yugoslavian but there were also a number of Germans. It was early July and we had hit the German holiday season although it was too early for any English people. There were lots of small ferries going to small islands. We had to read the headings on the signboards very carefully but we managed to find the boat that went to Rab and got on it. It was quite large compared with many of them. We settled down to a journey that we knew would take the whole morning. We knew that the boat would call at a small town on one side of the island and then go round the island to the main town. As we did not speak any Serbo-Croat we could not really check anything with the crew or other passengers. It was a lovely day and the sea was flat calm. We sailed along happily and then pulled up to a jetty. There did not seem to be a town so we realised this was not where we were getting off. There were a few people who had come down to meet the boat and what I really remember was that there were donkeys. Also how clear the water was. A lot of people got off but we did not worry because we assumed we would soon reach the main town.
It was only when we set off again that we realised there were very few people left on board. It was now lunchtime and I think we had bought sandwiches that we ate on deck. Then all of a sudden a man, obviously one of the crew, appeared waving our ticket. He came up to us and we had one of those conversations where neither side can really understand what is being said to them. He took us down into the saloon where the crew were eating lunch and told us that we were not on the boat to Rab! His main sentence appeared to be ‘big boat very, very better for you’. Somehow we made out that we had got on the wrong boat. I do not know where we had called but there would be only one more stop and that was back on the mainland at a port called Zadar. At some point in the conversation the man we were dealing with realised that we could speak German. The conversation improved a bit after that. Because of the second world war, all the older Croatians (as we now know they were) had learnt some German. The message we got was that if we got off this boat in Zadar and hung about a really large ferry would take us back to Rab late that evening. The disadvantage of this plan was that we had no accommodation booked and the ferry would reach Rab some time in the middle of the night. As there was nothing we could do until we reached Zadar we sat and read the guidebook and tried to identify another island we could go to instead of Rab.
We reached Zadar around 3 pm. It turned out to be a lovely town which had been a Venetian colony some centuries earlier. The architecture was very Venetian with turned columns and pillars on many of the buildings. There was also architecture and ornament from Roman classical times. It all looked very interesting and we thought it would be good to investigate it on our way back from whichever island we went to. It appeared to be very traditional in its way of life. I remember that it was rather quiet on a Saturday afternoon. All the women above a certain age were sitting at their doorways in the afternoon sun, making lace. Our first need was to find somewhere to stay the night as by this time we were very tired from travelling and the idea of getting on another boat late in the evening did not appeal. Somehow John managed to find a hotel that he thought we could afford. As I remember it was a very nice hotel. It was only later that we realised it cost far more than we had budgeted for.
We sat on the terrace and had a drink while being bombarded with mayflies. We ate well and had a good night’s sleep. We also went through the guide book again and decided that the best thing to do was to go to the island of Pag. This was near the mainland, in fact so near that it was connected by a causeway and we could just go there by bus. So on Sunday morning we made our way to the bus station. There was a local bus and we joined the peasants who must have come into town for church or the market. They were really laden down with their shopping and I still remember the live hens some of them were carrying. The bus took us to Pag and deposited us in the centre. The causeway/bridge was quite impressive. I remember this area was later badly damaged during the Balkan wars in the 1990s and I think at one point Pag was cut off from the mainland.
We found a room above a restaurant/club. It had a blocked hand basin but for five shillings a night what could we expect. We decided it would do. The club downstairs obviously did a good trade, the main feature of which was the playing of the John Lennon hit ‘Imagine’. This has stayed with us as the dominant image of the holiday but we always remember the song as ‘Im a dreamer’ as that is the way the singer pronounced the first line. Pag was totally undeveloped in those days although now it is a very popular holiday destination. There was just one hotel geared to the holiday trade and that was situated about a mile out of town. It overlooked the sea and also played loud music which we could hear. Our overall impression was that this was not a tourist destination which suited us fine.
We spent a week there as planned. Each night we ate from a restricted menu of kebab type dishes and barbecued fish accompanied by salad. Both here and on Hvar, where we spent the next week, all food had to be imported from the mainland so there would be a glut of tomatoes and tomato salad would be on the menu for several days. Then it would change and the salad would be composed mostly of peppers. Turkish style coffee was the order of the day throughout Yugoslavia but we had to cope with several languages as we moved around. This John did with ease and by the end of the holiday he could ask for coffee without sugar in several languages. I am afraid I have never been able to drink coffee with sugar, although it resulted in some funny looks from people.
We cannot remember how we spent our days but I think it must have been a traditional beach holiday. We certainly could not have afforded to go and visit anything, not that there appeared to be any tourist sites within easy reach.
At the end of the week, we moved on. We took the bus back to Zadar and then got on a boat which took us to Hvar. It may have stopped in Split but we did not get off it. Hvar was much more developed than Pag and there were landladies who came down to the boat to tout for guests. We went to a house where there were several guests other than us. I remember there were Germans but the food was much the same as on Pag. However, we probably ate out in cafes there as it was a bigger town.
By the end of our stay on Hvar we realised we really were running out of money so we had to rethink our plans for the rest of the holiday, given that we had tickets back to the UK from Munich on a particular date. We decided it would be a good idea to give Zagreb a miss. When we reached Split we went to Diocletian’s palace which has amazing mosaics. Split is a large city and I do not remember much about it. Our review of our finances led us to decide that the best way to save money was to travel overnight so that we did not pay for accommodation. I had done two very long bus journeys like this in Australia but the roads there were good and this was not the situation in Yugoslavia. Our first haul was Spilt to Sarajevo. I know we went via Mostar and crossed the original bridge but my main memory of the journey is of being very carsick. I knew I had problems on coaches but this was particularly bad and ever since I have avoided this form of transport if at all possible. I remember getting out of the bus at some point which I think may have been Mostar.
Sarajevo was wonderful and we spent several days there. Like most people we knew it as the scene of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand which led to the First World War. We found the place where the assassination happened and stood in Princeps’ footprints but there was much more to the city. It was very different from Europe as it was the place where three cultures met. As this was 1972 it was also before the winter Olympics had been held there and long before it was besieged in the Balkan wars. I would not want to go back there now as it has undoubtedly changed beyond all recognition. One outstanding feature was the main market place. This was large and oval and full of cafes. Everyone congregated there with various national dresses being worn. It was the first time I had seen people wearing fez type headgear as normal hats. There were people in baggy trousers but also Croatians in European dress. There were large numbers of pigeons everywhere. The shops around the market place included people making traditional articles. I bought a Turkish coffee set as a souvenir.
The museums were also a delight even if I could not read the inscriptions because of the Cyrillic script. One of them had an excellent textiles department which inspired me to make a ‘Balkan’ tablecloth although I bought the materials for it after I returned to London. The archaeological museum had some very interesting exhibits. I also remember a Jewish museum. The city was a real melting pot. Because we spent longer there than we had intended we were able to look beyond the centre. One day we went on a bus trip to a suburb. The buses were half the size of English ones because the hills were so steep. The views looking back over the city were very good.
The outstanding feature of our Sarajevo stay though was the thunderstorm. By this point our shortage of money meant we stayed in the youth hostel, even though it meant we had to be in separate dormitories. Sarajevo is situated in a bowl in the mountains and we had the most enormous thunderstorm either of us has ever seen. The storm just rocketed around between the mountains. John was very sensitive to it and all the hairs on his arms stood up.
From Sarajevo we went to Ljubljana, again on an overnight bus. My main memory of Ljubljana is the contrast with Sarajevo. This city was very Western European. I think we just had one night there but now we were able to use our train tickets again. We did an overnight trip to Munich via Austria. We were shunted around Rosenheim in the middle of the night but arrived in Munich with a couple of days for sightseeing and art galleries. I remember the Alte Pinakothek as being a highlight.
Then it was back to England. We took a train all the way from Munich to Ostend followed by a night crossing to Dover. This was not without incident either. The boat was full of teenagers en route to holiday English language courses in Britain. Having been on the train since 9 am we were looking forward to a drink at the bar, only to find they had closed it to prevent under-age drinking. In the middle of the Channel we were becalmed in fog and sat there for some time with the boat’s foghorn blaring to inform people of our presence. We finally arrived at the pier in Dover and there was an almighty crunching noise. We had hit the side of it.
Then I had to get myself back through immigration. Although I was now married to an Englishman I had not had time to get an English passport so I was travelling on a New Zealand passport with a letter that said I had right of residence in the UK. The immigration officer was not impressed. I came away with the distinct view that if he had been able to he would have refused to let me enter the country. Meanwhile John stood there waiting. So ended our honeymoon.