Another whirlwind stopover in New York for a few beers with Jules during which I decided that “It’s going to be summer, I won’t need a jacket”, and I boarded a plane bound somewhat ridiculously BACK to Europe, to meet up once again with the Heavy Metal Finns. Way back in February they’d mentioned the Burning Sea heavy metal festival held in Zadar, Croatia, and invited me along. Because I had more money than sense – at that time at least – I had pre-purchased a ticket/t-shirt package for the festival, a return ticket out of New York to Croatia, and planned to spend a month or so bouncing around Croatia and Eastern Europe afterwards.
First stop was the coastal town of Split, where I met up with the HMFinns and planned to do some dining, drinking and diving, probably not at the same time. Immediately my stupidity in assuming that Europe would be warm in summer was evident, as the next three days were rainy and cold and necessitated the purchase of yet another winter coat. Bringing my total to at least 3, scattered around friends houses on this trip, NOT including the several I have had stolen / lost to the power of beer and tequila shots. For a smart guy, I really am extraordinarily stupid.
Unflustered by the poor weather and a developing cold (solution: Take enough pseudoephedrine to supply the average meth-lab), we set out to sample the infamous Croatian diving.
It turns out that Croatia apparently DOES contain some brilliant cave dives and natural channels etc, but not where we were, and when it comes to vibrant colourful marine life, you’re shit out of luck. The water was cold such that our noses bled afterwards, the visibility was craptacular, and for the most part the only thing to see on the ocean floor was a sparse scattering of wine bottles. Not ancient Mediterranean amphorae, mind you, just giant modern glass wine bottles presumably dropped by Croatian fishermen drunk and fed up at the boredom and lack of any fish to catch.
We did check out a pretty decent wreck and I amused myself playing with my new GoPro which proved both capable AND waterproof, which I guess counts as a win. On the flipside however, the irony of taking photos of gray rocks and barren sea bed with a camera designed for action and adventure was not lost on me 😉
Afterwards, we amused ourselves with a casual stroll around the township, checking out the old cobblestone streets, cafes and stopping in frequently for what the HMFinns call “middle-beers”. This label applies to any beer any time that you can pretend that you’re in the middle of two arbitrarily defined non-alcohol-based activities (say, “leaving the hostel” and then “finding a park bench to sit on”), so that it feels like you aren’t actually just walking around looking for bars. Each vendor is then rated according to their “pivo (beer) index”, which basically allows the beer drinker a mechanism by which to rank the relative affordability of their beverages at each venue. If none of that made sense, basically, you walk around looking for cheap beers with which to fill in the time between when you’re buying more expensive beers.
Things got mildly awkward when we started venturing into more public areas, as it became quickly apparent that there were a number of other Finnish tourists walking around Split. This normally wouldn’t be a problem as generally speaking I quite like Finns – except when they’re feeding me shots of paint-thinner-like spirits for breakfast, and sometimes even then. No, the problem was that upon my arrival, my HMFinns had given me a gift, a t-shirt printed with the face of a Hitler-esque moustachioed gentleman, a date range at the bottom and the word “KIITOS” (“Thanks”, in Finnish) in thick bold font at the top. From the way they had reverently presented it to me and then as a group exploded into fits of laughter, combined with the sinister serial-killer-like stare of the shirt’s occupant, I knew instinctively that I was now the somewhat uncomfortable owner of a brand new Neo Nazi t-shirt – level of intended irony unknown! 😦 Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Pekka Siitoin, a now-deceased Finnish clairvoyant, occultist and most awkwardly, vocal Neo-Nazi.
Laughingly accepting my “gift”, and thinking that it was a) a “gift”, and b) different to the 3 shirts I’d worn exclusively for 11 months, and c) clean, I pulled it on figuring we were thousands of miles from Finland and so theoretically it could do no damage. However, the Universe is not so easily defeated. From that point on it seemed everywhere I turned, be it cafe, church or mid-range restaurant, I’d hear the happy tones of some pleasant-sounding tourist woman talking to her smiling children in what I would suddenly realise was Finnish. I’d cringe as I hurried to face a wall or dive behind a hedge to avoid the awkward moment where they’d see the shirt and have to decide whether they thought it was worn in ironic fashion, or if I was actually a white-power-embracing nutbag. All to the great amusement of the HMFinns. And the saddest bit? This creepy posterchild of the Finnish neonazi movement would go on to feature in such photos as the following:
We climbed hills and towers looking for a good view of the city,
and roamed aimlessly just soaking in the relaxed atmosphere of Croatia, and by night would chill along the dock where the street vendors would set up their stalls selling Croatian souvenirs and local sweets.
It was very cool when we at one point wandered up to the front of a decent looking restaurant as several staff wearing aprons sat outside staring at us oddly, while they themselves sipped on impressive glasses of red wine. A woman stepped up slowly to let us know that the kitchen was unavailable because the restaurant was actually going through frantic last-minute construction, as it was due to open for the first time ever the next day. As we stepped back, she paused, spoke briefly in Croatian to the chefs seated out front, raced inside and reappeared moments later telling us that the chefs had agreed to cook for us anyway, and insisted we sit down. She then brought us rounds of free entrees and a bottle of free wine, and we enjoyed some seriously good meals while we chatted to the manager, who laughed and hoped we would bring her good luck. Very cool indeed: to the staff of the somewhat dryly named “Chops Grill Steak and Seafood”, I thank you!
Piling on to a 6 hour bus north to Zadar, we readied ourselves for the luxury of a rental home and some heavy metal-inspired mischief. The original plan was to get our heavy metal fix at Burning Sea, but you know what they say about the best laid plans…
While I would at least get some use out of the Burning Sea t-shirt, the ticket was destined to go unused after the Croatian government decided to slap a 25% entertainment tax on all music events basically overnight, and the entire festival was cancelled. Rising from its ashes however, several of the bands – including some thrash metal guys I know from Slovenia – had agreed to reorganise and hold an impromptu festival, Underwall, at the local university.
We found the rental house, dropped off our bags and went for a wander through Zadar, the university (and location of Underwall) of which, sits right on the ocean and so is really quite scenic. Also, my new jacket was rendered utterly useless by the perfect sunshine. But that’s alright.
With the first day in Zadar to kill, more beers and food and wandering was required. The owners of the corner stores and restaurants must have wondered about our motley crew, a bald singlet-wearing Australian surrounded by a team of long haired Finns wearing band t-shirts and all skolling beers. But at least I wasnt getting my arse kicked in front of a crowd of people this time.
Along the way, we bumped into my mates from Eruption, the Slovenian thrash metal outfit, who were suffering from a previous night of drunken debauchery, and I tried to note down the time of their gig to make sure I saw them live.
Except of course, we decided to rent scooters and ride through the Croatian countryside instead and subsequently missed their gig entirely. No one ever accused me of being organised.
When we finally made it to the gig, we proceeded to party what I would have previously defined as “quite hard” and what the Finns would describe as “about primary-school-level”.
One of the best things about hanging out with the Finns is that as you sit and watch them talk to each other, without necessarily understanding a word, you can see that despite a reputation for stern mannerisms and reserved personalities, pretty much every sentence as they speak back and forth brings forth a round of laughter. I’m sure I’d love their dry irony and sarcastic sense of humour, if only I could manage a language where the average word has 18 syllables. On the flip side, one of the worst things about Finns is that no matter how hung over you are, they insist that the best cure is a shot of vodka and a beer, even when I just want to sip on my by-now-trademarked fruity drink.
Typically followed up with a hug.
The music festival was very small, but pretty cool, a bit of thrash, mostly serbian and croatian bands, some heavily tattooed girls with flame throwers and angle grinders performing quasi-strip and fire-twirling shows to various heavy metal,
and me falling off chairs a lot to the amusement of the Finns and general passers by.
A whole bunch of other stuff happened, including some nude Finn swimming (too cold for this guy) despite the protests of the private beach security, more free drinks back at the previous restaurant upon our next visit because we’d apparently brought them good luck, a ferry trip out to one of the nicer islands, and finally, on the last night, this:
I awoke the next morning, telling one guy “Yeah, when I get tired and mashed, its the only time I can fall asleep on my back”, to which he laughed, pulled out his camera and showed me the above photo. I laughed too, “ho ho ho”, I thought, “good natured Finns snapping a photo of me after I’d passed out on my bed”.
It wasn’t until several days later, when I was sitting in an airport going through photos on my OWN camera, that I discovered this:
And that is why I still hate Finns.