Home is the favourite holiday destination of this herpetologist and conservationist who has travelled to many remote and beautiful spots on the planet for work
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Having successfully eschewed the nine-to-five lifestyle, holidays were not a big deal. But one weekend, fifty years ago, was memorable because it provided such timely heartsease. Hitchhiking solo to India from the UK, I had just left the familiar cultural moorings of western Europe. Walking out of the railway station in Zagreb (the capital of Croatia), I found to my dismay all the public notices written in the Cyrillic script. At the youth hostel, I was invited to join a group of local students on a Sunday morning walk through the surrounding villages. Stefan, our guide, banged on the very first door and a wizened white-haired granny bundled up all in black peered out. “Slivovitz,” Stefan uttered, which I took to be a friendly greeting. Without batting an eyelid Granny shuffled inside and returned with a tray full of tiny glasses and a bottle of what appeared to be water. Solemnly saluting Granny, as the tossed-back contents hit my vital parts, I stood corrected. Slivovitz in no uncertain terms declared itself to be Granny’s home distilled plum brandy of a potency considerably more ardent than the labelled variety. Thereafter, we staggered from one village granny’s home to another topping up freely until we came to a bandstand. There those who could remain upright danced to the strains of an accordion. From being a fearful traveller in foreign parts faced by a script I couldn’t read, I had been transported to a Slavonic realm of instant and uttermost delight, capped by the conviction that there’s still hope for humanity. Now when I raise my glass, it’s not for slàinte mhòr (great health) but to the salt of the earth — Croatian Grannies.
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