Croatian War Veteran and Truck Driver

I was by a petrol station, where I spend most of my time hitchhiking in countries with motorways. I was in Slovenia trying to hitchhike from Ljubljana to Zagreb. There wasn’t much people around, just a few cars getting petrol and none with Croatian license plates. Behind the station there was some space for trucks to pull in and I spotted one of these trucks reversing out of its space, so I ran over waving before he pulled off. It had a Croatian plate.

I hadn’t yet hitchhiked a truck before (this was back in 2013 and before Croatia joined the EU), so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but he rolled down his window to hear me.

“Hey, speak English?”

“So, So”

“Austostop to Croatia, Please!”

“hmmm, I can take you to border”

He didn’t seem thrilled but he was happy to drop me off at the border, so I climbed into the passengers seat and threw my rug-sack onto the bed behind me.

We did the standard introductions and what-not. An elderly Croatian man (sixties I presume), his English was great and he seemed to enjoy the fact I was Irish. A bucket of tobacco sat on the floor in between us and I watched him reach down, grab some tobacco and roll himself a cigarette with one hand (filter and all) while steering the truck. I was impressed to say the least.

“I had friends from Ireland”

“Did you? Where”

“When I fight in Croatian Army”

“There was Irish men in the Croatian Army?”

“In war with Yugoslavia, Irish men come here. You are Catholics like us.”

This seemed to explain everything to him, but not to me. I thought the days of Irishmen going abroad to fight had long ceased by the nineties, though maybe there was a couple of Irish men here, possibly ex-IRA men who came to fight with other Catholics. It was surely possible. I even heard of a man from Clonmel (a town near my hometown in Ireland) who died fighting for Afghanistan against the Soviets.

“How many Irish?”

“I knew some, one still live in Croatia I think”

He didn’t seem bothered by the subject of war, and my curiosity got the best of me.

“So you didn’t like Communism?”

“No”

“You liked Communism?”

“In Yugoslavia, Yes”

“But not Tito?”

“Tito was great leader”

Now I was confused..

“But you fought to leave Yugoslavia in the war?”

“Yes and before that I was in Yugoslav army”

Really confused now…

“And you liked Yugoslavia and Communism and Tito?”

“Yes, we had many jobs and one month holidays every year, education, doctors.”

“Why did you fight against it then?”

“It is not easy say, I am Yugoslavian but also Croatian. When Tito was leader, no problem, we are all Yugoslavian. When Tito die, problem. Politicians make problems, I am Croatian, and Serbians no longer my brothers. I fight against my brothers because of politics but I am only soldier, no question. After war I drive truck.”

This shocked me really that a man could fight the army he was a part of originally. Also the praise for communism was news to me. I did history in school, I suppose a typical Western education will tell you that Communism was awful and no-one appreciated it except for the corrupt dictators. This man spoke so nostalgically in favour of Communism.

“Is Croatia better today?”

“No, but Yugoslavia is not possible without Tito, I must stop at border for hour. Why? In Yugoslavia we were all brothers, I could work and take my holiday. No holiday now, I never see my children, always driving trucks now. Croatia join EU soon. Good but not good, more tourists but hotels, restaurants all bought by Germans now. Money not staying. Understand?”

“Yes, you don’t see your children”

“They are big now, but I never see them small, always driving. In Yugoslavia you work and take break, now in Croatia if you find job, big if, then you always work. I will retire soon and become taxi driver I hope. Taxi driver is good job.”

He then proceeded to tell me about his house on the hills where he will retire and fix a Lada (old Russian car).

I guess for the man who wanted the freedom to move around Yugoslavia, earn just enough to support a family and still go fishing or fix his car at the weekend then Tito’s Communism must of been a dream come true.

In the end he took me past the border where we chatted for an hour and then onto Zagreb.

I wanted to share his story I guess to remind us all that the best way to learn about a countries history is to speak to someone who lived it.

It might just contradict the history book you had in school.

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Hitchhiking from Split to Dubrovnik and also Krka National Park

Hitchhiking from Split to Dubrovnik

After spending a couple nights in Split drinking at a hostel with a group of English tourists it was time to hit the road again. The sea, beers and conversations where I didn’t need to speak slowly were refreshing, but I wanted to get to Bosnia and Herzegovina for a change of scenery.

I walked to the Ina petrol station located at the red dot on the map in order to find a lift towards Bosnia. I actually got lost on the way and the Croatian man I asked for directions was sound enough to get his car and drop me at the petrol station.Hitchhike split

I waited there for maybe an hour but every person I approached either spoke no English or indicated that they were only local traffic. I was beginning to get very impatient at this stage.

I was lucky enough however to strike up a conversation with two Chilean guys in a rented Croatian car, tourists driving around the country. They ended up offering me a lift to Krka National Park and after that to Dubrovnik. Deciding that there was still more of Croatia for me to see before Bosnia I took them up on the offer.

Overall Rating : Bad, mostly local traffic, for getting to Zagreb I would recommend finding a way out further from the city to the OMV Station. For the direction of Dubrovnik I would try walking along the coastal road instead with your thumb out.

Waiting Time : 1 Hour (Krka)

 

hitchhike krkaSwimming at Krka National Park. An example of how random hitchhiking can be.

Before : Hitchhiking from Zagreb to Split

After : Hitchhiking from Mostar to Sarajevo

Hitchhiking from Zagreb to Split

Hitchhiking from Zagreb to Split

Hitchhiking from Zagreb to Split proved quite difficult for me but I got to Split in the end. The best way to get out of town is to reach the Lucko toll station. I used tram 14 (or 7 is good) to get to Jadranska avenija. 

My plan was to walk this street until I got to the OMV petrol station on the motorway south instead of getting a bus. It
hitchhiking zagrebfailed though as by some chance of trying to cross the roads at the busy motorway intersection (very dangerous) I ended up at the wrong petrol station, the one marked in the map in red.

This petrol station/motel was more suited to traffic going west however I stuck it out all day and waited.

Two Serbian truck drivers befriended me. They were also stuck there after their truck gotten broken into and their documents stolen.

This is something else worth noting about Zagreb, the edges of the city is riddled with Gypsys so caution is necessary. Just ignore any offers to buy a cheap iphone.

I eventually got a lift to Split from a German guy who was driving to Split because his dog dosen’t like to fly. God bless that dog.

Overall Rating : Bad

Waiting Time : 4-5 Hours

The spot I would recommend using is the point marked in green on the map. The Lucko toll station or the nearby petrol station. The toll booths can be reached by using buses #111 or #132 from Savski mostJust ask the bus driver to tell you when you reach Lucko.

Locals will often hitchhike closer to the city center on Jadranska avenija. Bring a sign for Lucko if your feeling confident and hitchhike a lift to the toll booth instead of using the bus.

Use the signs ST (Split), ZD ( Zadar), DB (Dubrovnik) or try all three on one sign if your not fussy.

Before : Hitchhiking from Ljubljana to Zagreb

After : Hitchhiking from Split to Dubrovnik

Hitchhiking in Croatia Tips

Hitchhiking in Croatia Tips

Capital : Zagreb

Population : Around 4.5 Million

Languages : Croatian (Similar to rbBalkan Languages)

 English (Most Younger People, Especially Students),

 Italian (Widely Spoken)

Difficulty : Good country for hitchhiking, the coastal road has a lot of useful tourist traffic but Zagreb can be difficult to leave.

Money : Kuna, cheaper than Western Europe but nowhere near as cheap as other former Yugoslavian states like Serbia. Tourist towns like Dubrovnik are noticeably more expensive.

Hitchhiking in Croatia is a great way to get around a country which is home to a beautiful coastline, two world famous national parks, and many barely inhabited islands. In other words it offers something for the sun-bather, party animal, hiker and adventurer. 

When hitchhiking to Dubrovnik it’s important to remember that you will enter and leave Bosnia and Herzegovina in doing so. The border is a bit strange as it cuts Dubrovnik off from the rest of Croatia. Be prepared as when I crossed this border hitchhiking from Split the car I was in got searched and we were delayed an hour or two.

Zagreb is a nice city with a very unique museum, “The Museum of Broken Relationships“. Most of the tourists in Croatia head for the coastal towns like Split, Dubrovnik and Zadar. The hostels in these towns are full of drunken tourists from Western Europe visiting for the beaches and cheap alcohol.

Usually these young tourists make up the majority of the summer coastal traffic with over-packed cars, however hitchhiking a ride is definitely possible. When travelling with locals it is best not to bring up the Yugoslav Wars. Most Croatians have lived through the war and it’s a touchy subject. If you just came from Serbia then don’t talk about it.

When travelling away from the coast I highly recommend Krka Park because you can swim in the waterfall at this park. The nature is quite stunning. When camping however be wary of land mines leftover from the war, they aren’t common. If you see a warning sign however do not go any further off the beaten track.

hitchhike croatia

The route I hitchhiked in Croatia.

Hitchhiking from Ljubljana to Zagreb

Hitchhiking from Ljubljana to Zagreb

I hitchhiked this route in the summer of 2013. Although hitchhiking from Ljubljana to Zagreb is easy enough I would hitchihike ljubljana zagrebrecommend starting in the morning. Getting out of Ljubljana in the direction of Zagreb can be tricky like any city.

To hitchhike out of Ljubljana and Slovenia I took the bus 1 or 1B is good in the direction Mestni Log from the city center. Get off at the second last stop called Koprska.

Continue straight along the road (don’t follow the bus which turns) after 2 minutes you will cross a bridge over a small river. Continue straight and cross the motorway over the bridge, and on the left side the petrol station is about 500 m away.

There is a golf course between you and the service area, which you can cross by climbing its hitchhike ljubljanafences (or other means) if the personal see you then just talk your way out of the situation. Tell them you are hitchhiking from Ljublana to Zagreb and are just heading to the petrol station.

You are just walking across after all and it shouldn’t be a problem. Say “autostop” for hitchhiking if your not understood. Try and stay unseen though to avoid issues.

Overall Rating : Good, in fact the best spot for Zagreb.

Waiting Time : 30 Mins (Zagreb direction)

I got speaking to a pair of Slovenian guys in their late twenties at a picnic table by this petrol station. They agreed to take me further along the motorway and even rolled up a nice joint on the road to smoke.

They dropped me off at one of the petrol stations along the motorway to Zagreb, because I was high I can’t really remember where. I do remember however getting my next lift easily enough. Once you are on the motorway to Zagreb it’s safe to assume most traffic and especially trucks are driving there.

I caught a lift with a Croatian truck driver to Zagreb, he agreed to take me to the border but we had such a great chat about the history of Yugoslavia that I didn’t mind waiting at the border 2 hours while hitchhiking from Ljubljana to Zagreb. Once his paperwork was done he continued to Zagreb.

I remember him emotionally recalling his days as a soldier in the Yugoslav army, he spoke highly of Tito. When the war broke out however he fought on the Croatian side against his former Comrades. This really struck me as an amazing story, he fought because he loves Croatia but he never wanted Croatia to leave Communism.

Hitchhiking can introduce you to people who have lived through history that we learnt biased opinions on in school.

He dropped me off within walking distance of Zagreb center.

Before : Hitchhiking Budapest to Ljubljana

After : Hitchhiking Zagreb to Split

Hitchhiking in Slovenia Tips

Hitchhiking in Croatia Tips