It is a long trip from Munich, Germany to Zagreb, Croatia; so, I decided to take the night train. I planned to spend almost two weeks in Croatia because I wanted to spend as much time as possible with the side of my family that I have never met before, in the country that I have wanted to visit since I was a child.
As an aside, Zagreb, Croatia was a stop on the Simplon Orient Express route famously recreated in the Agatha Christies mystery series.
My train to Croatia departed Munich at 11:00 p.m. I walked up to the first conductor and asked in German if I had the correct car and he answered me in Croatian. In that moment, I wished that I had learned more than hello and thank you in my newest language. I had no idea what he was saying and he did not speak German or English, so, off I went down the platform to the next conductor and asked: “sprechen sie English, Deutsh?” He said, “Yes, English.” He told me which car and off I went. I arrived first to the four-bunk couchette (cabin). Now, the train was circa 70s era, but clean and comfortable. I was only there a few minutes when one young man showed up and greeted me in German. I responded in German, but he realized that I was neither German nor a Croatian citizen, and asked again in German where I was from. I told him America and he switched to English. Then the next roommate showed up, another twenty something male.
I had a flashback to the night I purchased the ticket. Jen (my sister), Fletcher and I were at their home in Germany and they began making references about train travel in Europe, and I had no idea what they were talking about. So they played the movie Eurotrip, which is full of stereotypes of young backpackers traveling through Europe; the film was pretty funny. There is a scene on a train where the friends were seated in a car and an Italian man joins them. Every time the lights go out he ends up too close for comfort with one of the travelers. As the lights come on he just keeps saying me scusi (excuse me). It’s hysterical.
Back to my story –– As I sat staring at the two men I was about to share the couchette with, me scusi played on a loop inside my head. I thought about asking for a different couchette, and then decided this too was part of the adventure, right?
One of the young men was a professor in an eastern European country on his way to Zagreb to visit his family, the other, a German student returning to his university in Slovenia. The conductor came to collect passports because of the middle of the night border stops; the train to Croatia travels through countries with hard borders that are not a part of the European Union. We talked for a short while, mostly in German, mine not so good, then off to sleep.
As the sun came up, my Croatian friend and I prepared for more border inspections. He kindly explained how it would go and that there were three different inspections. Then he began offering tips on the culture of Zagreb and what to expect; he also gave me a crash course in Croatian (with proper pronunciation) so that I could get by. Though, my cousin Mia speaks better English than some of the students at my university.
The border guards seemed interested in my Croatian last name/American passport. Each inspector made a call, I suppose, to see if it was valid and then asked questions about why I was there — more than the standard what is your business here question. Afterward, my roommate said Zagreb wasn’t a hotspot for Americans. But it should be…more on that later.
He and I hopped off the train, said our goodbyes, and when I turned around a lovely young lady walked up to me and asked if I was Lori. I said yes, how did you know? Mia said, “You look like your mother.” And off we went…