Zagreb: You Learn a Lot at a Tableful of Journalists

Today I met a group of journalists who are all here to attend the World Tourism Organization conference.  As usual, there was pomp and circumstance, such as when Croatia’s Minister of Tourism glad handed his way through the crowd.  The men in suits were all glad to see one another, it was funny how they contrasted with the writers who dressed casually and then the photogs who dressed like they might be heading out for a stroll on the beach.

More than 300 people are here for a one-day meeting, to discuss how tourism and the media intertwine. I’m here, of course, to write about Zagreb…but this also provides me one of my all-time favorite things to do. Hang out and talk with writers from around the world.  We took a bus tour, taking in the sites of the city like the green horseshow, the belt of parks that makes a U shape around the city. We also saw the number one tourism attraction of Zagreb…the Mirogoj cemetary. According to TripAdvisor, it’s by far the most popular place; it’s massive and what we saw was a big wall with blue-domed gatehouses and pavilion chapels. There’s a long waiting list to get in, I’m told.

Upon arrival at the Okrugljak Restaurant, dancers and musicians in traditional costumes played merry tunes, and soon we were seated in an outdoor area and sipping some Croatian Merlot. I began speaking with an attractive German reporter named Stefanie Muller, who had commented on the bus about how America was going bankrupt and how diminished our power was becoming. Well, I wasn’t gonna go along with that, but she did mention, accurately, how well the Chinese seem to be doing versus the old US of A.  “We have a Chinese exchange student living with us in Madrid,” she said. “She speaks German, and now Spanish, and of course English and Mandarin. They just go and go, and some day they are going to overtake all of us. ”  I couldn’t really disagree, and the USA part, well that’s just Euro rhetoric.

Then I turned to a Mexican reporter, who also lives in Spain, her card said  that she was the correspondent ‘jefe.’ That means boss. I like that. We talked about Mexico’s problems with the drug wars and especially how this has impacted tourism there. She reports on Spainish life for her Mexican readers, and she said things were great in Spain. But San Sebastian, one of her favorite cities?  Apparently things are double or triple the cost there vs in other Spanish cities. Not sure why, but for some reason you better bring a lot of euros for a trip to this coastal city of Basques.

To my right, a reporter from Slovenia…she had driven over from Ljubjana, just an hour and a half. She writes about travel around the world, and Croatia is a popular destination of her readers. Hers was the first of the countries here to become part of European Union. Across the table, a young writer in a tee shirt  from Argentina. I had put one on after all of those tourism officials in their staid grey suits made me think going jacketless would cause them to think I was too casual. But as always journalists wear jeans and tee shirts and never worry, especially the young ones. I kind of like that.

A woman across from me was a freelancer photographer from Vienna, and she said she was planning a very long trip in the Himalayas to write a book and photograph places where few people travel. She’s still trying to get a publisher but I admire her for her bold idea. She said that Vienna is full of parks and sometimes you can’t believe you’re in a city, it’s so rural, with forests within the city limits. Oh the things you learn when you sit with a bunch of writers and someone brings out the wine!