Episode 5 : Hospitality isn't dead in Europe!
At first, I was wondering. I had heard so many time that hospitality was an old custom. That people were considerate, that the world was much safer…, that it was all gone somewhere, somehow. So what about now? Here is what I have discovered on the road!
Hospitality is a big thing which apparently belongs to the past. At least this is what I have been told. Therefore I started my trip with very little expectations. I would take care of my tent and would stick to my stove. Far away from home, I would potentially find nice people without relying on it too much.
I may be exaggerating a bit, but surely I wasn’t expecting at all what will soon happen.
I discovered that people don’t need a reason to be kind. They just need an occasion, and there are so many.
Will it be because they love the idea of cycling around the world, because they are amazed, because they respect the commitment even if they don’t really understand the reason behind... or because somehow they want to be part of the Journey.
The lowest common denominator for hospitality is a warm and friendly welcome. I could write boundlessly about the numerous situations where I received such greetings.
I ended in luxurious villas, in schools, in small poor flats, on a boat… People opened their door so naturally to me, the stranger on a bicycle. They Offered the best they have, will it be big or small, expensive or cheap. All these people became the faces of the trip. They gave it a sense, a taste, a colour. They are the real reason to do such a trip.
I was welcomed so many time that I can’t imagine not helping back one day. I now know that hospitality is not only very well alive but contagious as well :)
Sometimes, Hospitality goes crazy, like in Vukovar.
Vukovar was the frontline in the war between Serbia and Croatia. Two regions of the former Yugoslavia. The city still carries the scares of the past. The only way not to see the stigmas of the war is to be blind. Many buildings are still standing with bullet and rocket impacts. The property market is not really flourishing as young people tend to leave the city for a place where the burden of the past is not that heavy. Here, everyone seems to think that Vukovar is just too full of history for people.
I met Zoran in town. In his mid 30s, Zoran is a kid of Vukovar. He left the city to Zagreb just before the beginning of the war. He eventually came back with his family in 1996 when Croatia became independent. For Zoran, the city has never been the same since the war ended. The soul of the town left with the tanks. After so many years, he still can’t recognize the city of his childhood. The former people of Vukovar who could leave the town before the conflict never came back. The one who live here nowadays stay for the cheap rent. What about Zoran? It’s his home town, where all his family live… where he belongs to.
Zoran is quiet but very nice. He soon offer me hospitality in his relatives’ house. The house has remained empty since his relatives died 6 years ago. It couldn’t sell. No one really want to settle down here.
I quickly understand that I will have the entire house for me. Zoran give me the keys and kindly ask me when I want to leave tomorrow. At 06 am, he will be in front of the house and I will be ready to go. Before, I will have to spend the night alone in a very strange big house…
Nothing has moved since the last person passed away. Even the wardrobe is still full of old fashion dresses. The TV, the phones, the walls… comes from another time. A time which I haven’t seen, being only 30 years old. Everything this night was an adventure. From the shower with the noisy plumbing, to the cooking with the oldest stove I have ever use.
It was 10pm when I eventually decided to make a tour of the house… before locking myself for the night in one of the room at the first floor. Of course, the old big house makes a lot of strange noises in a way that you feel like something is moving around. The yellowish light provided by the very old bulbs doesn’t help. In the basement, I discovered a relic from the war. A kitchen with some provisions under the ground level. Probably the shelter for the long hours of battle during the war.
So much things seemed to have happened in this house. I could actually very much understand why it couldn’t be sold.
I was very happy to see Zoran the next day. I couldn’t confess to him that I barely managed to sleep. This night was probably the strangest I have had so far on the road… and my journey is far to be over.