Remember Yugoslavia?

In 1977, the country north of Greece was called Yugoslavia. Now it is divided into political and ethnic regions such as Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, and others. I neither knew nor cared what their political problems were. I only needed to get through this country and back to Austria and Germany.

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At the Greek-Yugoslav border at Gevgelija, we tried to buy more gas coupons. Tourists could buy coupons and use them to get a little break on the price of gas, so we got in a long line to change our Greek drachmas to Yugoslavian dinars. Of course each time we changed money, we paid a percentage for the transaction, but still it was worth it for the savings on the gas price. Now, with a fistful of dinars, we stood in a second line to buy gas coupons. At last our turn came up.

“No,” the official told us. “No coupons with dinars.” He pointed at a sign written in funny letters as if I should have read the sign and known better. “Greek drachmas, German marks, or American dollars.”

“But I have dinars,” I said. “This is Yugoslavia. It’s your own money.” I turned to Gary and said, “What kind of country doesn’t accept its own currency?”

“No coupons  with dinars. Drachmas, marks or dollars.”

I argued but made no headway. The people behind us in the line were getting impatient, but I had a hard time letting go. The injustice of it all made me stubborn. Then, a very large uniformed man shouldered his way through the crowd and repeated what we had already figured out.

“No coupons for dinars.”

We thought this would be a good time to say, “Thank you. Goodbye.”

At the next gas station we filled up. Not only did we pay extra without coupons, but it smelled as if we had just filled the van with paint thinner. It didn’t surprise us when afterwards the van sputtered and jerked and bogged down on the slightest incline.

We had been told to take the inland highway rather than the coast road because of the poor condition of the latter. Except for a few freshly paved patches, the inland road wasn’t all that great either, but it was the way people drove it that had me more worried.

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Detours like this one involved driving along the pot-holey country road for a mile or more when serious accidents blocked the highway completely. There were many of these pile-ups, and no wonder; drivers passed us without regard for the solid “no-passing” center line. The highway was narrow enough that meeting an oncoming transport truck more than once had me wishing I’d been nicer to my little brother or hadn’t been so lippy to my mother when I was 14. If the truck’s rear view mirror hung over into our lane  too much it could be deadly as there was often no shoulder to allow for avoiding contact. The fields and valleys beyond the shoulder were littered  with burnt out wrecks of transport trucks who had failed to stay in their own lanes.

With these wrecks on our right, we were shocked to see that we were being passed by two small cars, not one after another, but side by side. At one point we were three vehicles abreast in a no-passing zone of the narrow two-lane highway.

The strain of the road was beginning to tell on us by the time we turned in at a sign that said (in western alphabet lettering) “CAMPING.”

The man behind the desk at the motel office of the camping place looked like Count Dracula. In spite of the warm evening, I shivered as I handed over my passport. We paid the 42 dinars for camping (about $2.50 at that time) and waited for our passports to be returned. His English was suddenly unintelligible and he pointed at his watch to indicate we’d get our passports back later.

We parked the van, looked about, decided  to try the supper which was advertised at the motel. In a bleak dining hall, two rows of long wooden tables were placed end to end with chairs along each side. I don’t remember  the meal, only that it was lousy, and that the beer tasted like warm piss.

Twice we told some employee we’d like to get our passports back, at last insisting on getting them now. As we were shown into the office, Dracula seemed surprised to see us. He had our passports in his hand and appeared to be copying them. Reluctantly he handed them over.

I had nightmares that night, as if foreboding the next day’s traveling. And that is just how it would turn out. A “daymare” coming up. Stay tuned for More Yugoslavia.

31 thoughts on “Remember Yugoslavia?

  1. As U.S. Army sergeant with a Top Secret Clearance in the type work I did, I was not allowed any closer than 5km from the border of any communist block (iron curtain) country. Hearing your story Now I Am Thankful that I could not travel to/in/through Yugoslavia.
    I like your travel stories, brings back many memories from a time a long, long time ago in a different galaxy.

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  2. Now that sounds like a place to avoid… but you obviously survived, so I wait patiently for the daymare… you and Hubby were real brave tourists if you ask my opinion…

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  3. I only went through one time by interrail, on my way to Greece. With no money that could by anything yugoslavian. Today I would like to visit Croatia and other former countries of Yugoslavia.

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    • I have no idea if the animosities from the war are still at work there. I would imagine that when so many atrocities were committed, it would be hard to forgive and forget and get on with life. Such a shame because we thought the country was beautiful.

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      • Sounds like that van saw countless roads. I wonder how the stories would be told from the van’s pov. The poor thing spitting & sputtering after Yugo’s bad gas, and then pushed aside by fellow vehicles. Heh. Looking forward to more of the story.

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        • That van was sold to us by an American who was going home after driving it all around Europe. He said he’d been to Iran. It would make a great book, I think, to tell the stories from the van’s point of view.

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  4. My husband just told me that in those years Jugoslavia was much freer than other countries (for example, Czechoslovakia). Can you imagine how it was in the rest of those countries behind the “iron curtain”??? I must say, you had “guts” to drive through such places. But I remember that when we were young we did many foolish things. So glad you made it back home!!!

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  5. OMG – seems like survival of the fittest drivers. My gosh!!

    Love your detail & photos. You’ve really travelled so much… envy! 🙂

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