After announcing our engagement on Saint Patrick's Day 1994, we spent our first vacation in Dubrovnik. I had never been to Croatia and only knew snippets of information about former Yugoslavia. Growing up in Australia I had school friends whose parents had emigrated to Australia during the '50s and 60s and the stories Nikša and his Croatian mates onboard had told me about growing up there.
Due to the earlier conflict with Serbia, Dubrovnik Airport was still under reconstruction and with NATO continuing to fly over Zagreb`s airspace both Airports were closed, the only way we could enter Croatia was by road.
We flew to Venice in Italy, caught the train from Venice to Trieste then caught the bus to Croatia. We stopped very briefly in Rijeka to visit friends then continued down to Dubrovnik.
In 1994 there was no motorway, just a very slow, winding coast road over some mountains for a short pass inland then back over to the coast.
During the bus trip, we had some very strange encounters with Border Police, Army roadblocks and makeshift bridges from truck tyres. However, the most vivid memory was a particular bus driver that chain-smoked for his 100 km shift and drank shots of rakija at every pick-up stop. You can read more about that in another post ;)
We finally arrived in Dubrovnik, a very emotional time for Nikša, he hadn't been home in a couple of years. There was so much damage, bullet holes and shrapnel lying about.
At 5.30 in the morning the most startling thing to me being an Army brat, were the many soldiers and police. These guys were all openly armed, from handguns to rifles slung over their shoulders just standing around drinking beer and smoking, long hair, AC DC and Def Leppard t-shirts visible under their uniforms.
Nikšas brother had met us in town and drove us to the family home, all the villagers were standing outside to greet us, they were overjoyed to see Nikša and more than curious to check out the foreigner he had with him.
Everyone was hugging and kissing us, the women were crying and so was his dad.
Nikša proudly introduced me to his mum, I was surprised how short she was under 150cm yet Nikša is close to 200cm.
I never mentioned to Nikša before we came I had asked one of the waiters on board to teach me some Croatian to surprise him and his family. Simple things like hello, nice to meet you, thank you and goodbye. I especially wanted to impress his mum, I had already heard she was not so happy with the possibility of having a foreigner in the family.
With my biggest smile, after Nikša had introduced her I said " Drago mi, ti si lijepa kučka!"
Not quite the reaction I was looking for, she gasped and physically took a step back.
Nikša looked as though I had just murdered The Pope.
His dad and younger brother both burst out laughing and his Aunt tried really hard not to.
Loosely translated, I had just said to his mother "Nice to meet you, you are a lovely bitch!"
What I had intended to say of course was "Nice to meet you, you have a lovely HOUSE!"
Unfortunately, the word for house is kuća, very close just without the k which obviously then creates the word "BITCH".
Not the recommended phrase to greet anyone really, especially your future mother-in-law.
Interestingly mother-in-law in Croatian is svekrva if directly translated :
SVE is the word for - all KRVA is the word for - blood ALL BLOOD.