All EVS volunteers attend at least one training course during their project. For projects of six months or more there are two, those less than 6 months have just the on-arrival training. Our on-arrival training was organised for the end of September and would involve 5 days in Orahovica, Slavonia (an area in the east of Croatia, not to be confused with Slovenia).
We boarded one of Croatia’s fantastic public buses in Umag on Wednesday evening, heading to Osijek. From Umag we travelled down the coast to Pula, and then back up the other side of Istria to Rijeka. This does not sound too bad, but we stopped every 15 to 20 minutes at every town that had a “bus station”, making it very long. Our night journey meant we did not see much of the scenery on our scenic route, but heading down a long winding mountain road from the Učka tunnel to Rijeka was impressive, even in the dark; on leaving the tunnel the lights down below become visible, with the dark sea expanding beyond, Rijeka is located at the point of a V, with the sea funnelled towards it by the Dalmatian and Istrian coasts.
After a night of intermittent sleep we arrived in Osijek at around 5am. With over 4 hours to kill in Osijek, we decided to watch the sunrise from the bus station, which, with coffee, a bakery and free WiFi, was practically perfect. We tired of perfection though, and decided to wait for our train at the train station. This decision was not well loved when the train station was less comfortable and modern than the bus station.
I took this, and the plentiful time before our train, as an opportunity to do a little exploration, and hunt down some breakfast. From the train station I headed off into a bright Osijek morning towards an area known as Trvđa, ‘the fortress’. As I wandered, I noticed that for a city of 110 000 it was subdued for 7.30am on a Thursday morning (compared to what I was used to from the UK), with little activity. I assume this is because of the economic situation: Slavonia is one of the poorest regions of Croatia (figures are hard to find, but unemployment is around 25-30%).
Trvđa was not quite the fortress I expected (not even a moat); I was in the central square before I realised. The buildings are in the Habsburg style, and whilst most of them are in good condition, having been restored, some still bear traces of the War of Independence. I also noticed a small network of segregated bike lanes, which seem like a good idea for a very flat city.
To end our journey we expected a simple, direct train to Orahovica, but in true Croatian style we had to change to a bus part-way before boarding a different train, to bypass a section of the single track that was being maintained (we were not told of this arrangement at any point before catching the train). In Orahovica we were met by Martina from the Red Cross Centre, where we were taken to begin our training.