Setting the Scene:
If you’ve never taken an overnight bus ride for more than 12 hours through 4 countries with at least 40 complete strangers, you’re missing out. On our first trip to Europe together, Ryan and I thought we’d take the budget travel option to get from Munich to Split and ride an overnight bus. Thinking ahead, we sat towards the back so we wouldn’t have people getting on and off past us all night.
Unfortunately though, we couldn’t snag the very back row of seats (5 seats side by side) – prime real estate for snoozing. That was taken by a 175-year-old woman with the Black Plague. We’ll refer to her as The Dinosaur going forward. She was also a nun, who spent the better part of the journey hacking up a lung. The Dinosaur was a kindly seeming woman who was apparently moving her life’s possessions from one country to another. Oddly enough, that seemed to consist of only a desk chair and a suitcase. Who occupies a seat on a bus with a chair, I can’t really make sense of either.
In addition to The Dinosaur, the cast of characters on the bus was quite eclectic. You had the standard poor travelers like ourselves, the hardened albeit ornery Skipper, and Juice Man – the large man sitting across the aisle from us who brought on a liter of juice and nothing else – no luggage, no snacks, no rolling desk chair. Juice Man, once settling in to his oh so comfortable chair then proceeded to consume the entire liter within the first 5 minutes. Not a wise move unless you’re fond of bus bathrooms, which are really only a step above Thai train bathrooms.
On the bus’ two rest stops somewhere in the middle of Austria or Slovenia, we grew too nervous to actually go inside the rest stops, fearing that we’d get left behind. The driver’s announcement at each stop was very much in Croatian. He could’ve yelled “we’re leaving in 90 seconds, good luck!” and we’d have no way of knowing. I do regret not using the restroom, however, as at around 3 a.m. I was shaken awake by two armed guards.
We were crossing some international border, and I’m almost certain that the Skipper singled out the only two non-Croatians on the bus. So there I was half-awake – amidst Juice Man’s snoring and Dinosaur’s coughing – being interrogated in broken English by two large men with guns. I had an expired work visa from the UK in my passport, which was oh so suspicious to the KGB guards standing over me in not the UK. Meanwhile, across the aisle, Ryan sat there saying nothing to my defense. They could have taken me off the bus and out into the night in whatever country it was we were in and he’d have sat there silently nodding. I’m sure the whole bus loved me for delaying the journey for 20 minutes, but eventually, the guards determined I was not a threat and we continued.
While on the bus, Ryan and I did have a few concerned conversations about how we were going to get from central Split to the airport where our rental car awaited us to carry us swiftly to Dubrovnik. Unfortunately, we had no local currency to pay a cab driver and were unsure a bank would be open at 6 A.M. when we’d arrive. But being the easy-going bunch that we are, we pushed this from our minds and tried to take a quick snooze, lulled to sleep by the blaring Croatian sitcoms being broadcast at deafening volumes through the bus speaker system from the hours of midnight to 4 A.M. Peaceful white noise is really the only way to describe it.
Upon awakening, we noticed we were nearing our final destination but that the bus stopped regularly at random village houses to let locals off. Princess treatment if you ask me. As we approached the town in this start and stop manner, we noticed a tower that looked like an airport. Or maybe a guard tower. I’d say the odds were 50/50. In a frenzy, Ryan ran to the front of the bus to ask the driver to let us off while The Dinosaur, mistaking me for a German (must be my perfect accent) starts pointing her crooked finger and saying Flughafen! Flughafen! Why yes, thank you The Dinosaur for confirming what I already suspected.
The driver stopped just past the airport and let us off in a rustic Croatian field. Not a problem, we could walk! Except that the land mine clean-up from the war for independence wasn’t expected to finish for another two years. No biggie. What are 50,000 land mines when you’ve managed to not contract the Black Plague from The Dinosaur who has been coughing behind you from sundown to sunrise. Saying our Hail Mary’s we delicately made our way to the Flughafen to rent our car.
The only real kink in our plans was that the rental car agent just decided to not show up for some 2-3 hours. Though we had no way of phoning him, he seemed perplexed that we hadn’t called some random number surrounded by Croatian words “on display” in the back corner of the booth. The silver lining was that he threw in free GPS for the inconvenience, and that he had a car at all – unlike our friends in the Ukraine. And we’re going on 3 years now with no signs of the Plague, so we’ve got that going for us!