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Greetings from Zagreb

November 20, 2005

Greetings from the Palace Hotel in Zagreb, Croatia. I just got back from a lovely dinner at the Agava Trattoria just a few blocks to the north of here on Tkalciceva, in the shadow of the great cathedral. Over a wonderful steak in a mushroom sauce, I looked out onto the road below and across to that cathedral, not ablaze like would be the case in most major cities, but dramatically lit just in the bell towers. After a long day of flying from Amsterdam through Frankfurt, I was eager to eat and go to bed early. So before dinner I wandered around the downtown area of Zagreb. Unfortunately, just like my first walk through the streets of Oslo on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks back, most of the shops were closed. I really need to start considering flying in on a Saturday so I can get a better feel for a place.

The flight in was a bit interesting. First off, I was surprised at how close it was. I know Europe is tiny compared to the US and I should get used to it but for some reason I still feel that traveling from one side to the other should take a while. From Amsterdam to Frankfurt was about an hour and Frankfurt on to Zagreb was another hour. So a direct flight could have been about 1.5 hours. Its about the same distance as Miami to New Orleans, or Denver to Dallas, or a flight I was quite used to, San Francisco to Seattle. Unfortunately there is only one direct flight and that’s on Croatia Air. I am sure it’s a great airline and all, but I have this thing against flying on airlines I never heard of. For that reason, I probably won’t be flying on Thomas Cook’s airline.

Yeah, the foreign exchange people seem to have an airline too; their name was painted on a number of tails of planes in Frankfurt airport. So instead I flew Lufthansa. Both airlines are part of Star Alliance with United so I was able to build up the miles. Unfortunately this year I will come just short of the 100,000 mile mark to make the Premier 1K status. United is running a promotion where you can pay 200 bucks and they will double any elite qualifying miles, but you have to fly on United flights, not just any Star Alliance flights. Next year I will have to start concentrating my flying on KLM and related airlines (Northwest, AirFrance, Continental, Delta, etc). I lose my Silver Elite status on Northwest in February, but I think I could probably gain the basic level by the end of February.

Anyway, the flight from Amsterdam was mostly cloud covered but towards the end there were a few spots I could see. One of the most dramatic was looking down into a mountainous area. Looking at Mappoint I am guessing it was either just north of Zagreb in Croatia, or a little north of that in Slovenia, or perhaps southern Austria. It couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes before landing and they were incredibly steep mountains. Some were tree covered, but others bare rock, with ridges as sharp as chisels, but very jagged chisels. Landing in Croatia was just like any other landing, albeit a bit hard. But there was no jetway into the terminal. Like the boarding in Frankfurt, we stepped onto the tarmac and boarded a bus to go between the plane and terminal. It was a bit exciting getting a Croatian stamp in my passport. Why is it that so few places like to stamp your passport anymore. This was my first stamp in my new passport, besides the sticker that shows that I live in Amsterdam.

When arriving in any foreign city, I would never expect a partner to meet me at the airport. But it certainly is nice when it does happen. In fact I think it was the first time that I have ever had anyone meet me at the airport with a sign with my name on it. That was my chance to meet up with Miroslav who guided me into the city and to my hotel. Afterwards we had a drink at the hotel café and talked about business in Croatia for an IT-related company.

Like most Americans, I know little about the region apart from the fact that there was a war going on here up until fairly recently. Turns out the fighting stopped about 10 years ago. And Zagreb itself only saw about 3 months or so of threats of bombings and fighting. Most of the war was at least 100 km to the south. Zagreb is where many of the major US software companies have a home: Microsoft, Oracle, and more. But most IT or software related companies here are smaller than their US counterparts…perhaps as large as 150 people, but more often around 5-25 in size. One of the factors that limit how large a company can get here is the limited customer base. Most of the tech-savvy customers are to the north and west in the European Union and doing business from a non-EU country is difficult. Apparently talks are underway to bring Croatia in and they are hoping to join the club in just a few years. That will certainly make it easier for companies to do more business and grow.

Well, its getting late and I am beat. Goodnight.

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