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New Europe

Day Five: Rijeka

Rijeka's dockside 
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On the dockside at Rijeka, where ferries leave for the south.
Michael Palin - New EuropeWe walk into the Old Town, along the Korzo and through the Gradski Toranj, the gateway that is one of the few relics of the medieval town. Captain Sablic has long since given up working for Bengal Tiger Lines and now captains the Ramsgate-Ostend Ferry. When I last saw him he was a Yugoslav. Now he's Croatian. I ask him about the war of the early 1990s that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia.

He tells me that he took part in it. When the predominantly Serb-controlled rump of Yugoslavia forbad Croatia to import arms, he brought a ship packed with smuggled weapons and ammunition from Constanta in Romania to Rijeka.

I'm surprised by his matter-of-factness. He never struck me as a man who'd take risks.

'What would have happened if you'd been caught?'

He shrugs. 'Maybe I will go in prison. Who knows? It was my duty to help the country.'

He takes me to his house, which has a stunning view down the Adriatic, and I meet his vivacious wife and his daughter who's a doctor; and I understand now why he missed his family so much on those long, anonymous days at sea.

We eat at their neighbourhood restaurant, where lamb is being roasted on the spit in the car park. I opt for scorpion fish with blitva, or mangelwurzel, which complements it perfectly. Captain Sablic insists I call him Miloje and we talk over marine matters like the outrageous price of tugs at Ramsgate (600 a manoeuvre), which led him to take a pilot's course so he could do it himself.

It was worth meeting up again, if only to see another side of the captain. Miloje Sablic is, I can see now, neither quiet nor resigned.

We leave Rijeka on the night ferry to Split. It's called the 'Marko Polo', which sounds like a good omen at the start of a very long journey.
Captain Sablic 
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Around The World In Eighty Days reunion. Captain Sablic who took me safely from Madras to Singapore, with the wife he left back home.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Five: Rijeka
  • Country/sea: Croatia
  • Place: Rijeka
  • Book page no: 20

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  • Eating
  • Day 5 
  • Around the World in 80 Days
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  • Full Circle
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  • Pole to Pole