12 Sep 2008 - Rod's Diary - Croatia


Apologies for the delay but when I came to download pics onto my laptop I found that the connecting lead to do this had been inadvertently left in some hotel room on the last few days of the tour. The camera, Olympus Stylus 600, although digital, does not use a card so no option but to order new leads on the internet and await delivery.

After a fine evening in the nearby a bar after the show in Prague, we set off for Split the following day, catching some great views of the Balkans and Dalmatian coast along the way. Split is the major Croat city on this coast with a population of 200,000 and this is our first visit although we have played Zagreb before, the first time back in the eighties when it was part of Yugoslavia. Croatia came into existence when declaring independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. It was originally founded by the Romans, from whom some magnificent ruins still remain, and is a major tourist resort, more to do with the scenery and climate than the history possibly. During the war it was of course under the Nazis until Marshall Tito came along.

Coming into Split

Over the Balkans

There are very few major shows there, the last one being Dire Straits in 1984 -- after the show the promoter asked us to come back and play again -- in 2033!!. In Belgrade a couple of year ago there were a lot of Croatian fans -- along with Serbs, Bosnians, Montenegrins and other surrounding areas (see past diary) all flying their flags -- and I promised some we would visit Croatia this time round as we see them at a lot of our shows so our turn to go to them. As its such a popular resort at this time of year we decided to play Split rather than Zagreb although we were told that a lot of fans travelled down from there. Must be a fantastic drive over the Balkans.

Unusual graffiti

On arrival there were the usual obligatory autographs for the Airport staff and quite a few fans had turned out to greet us. Checked into the hotel and got on with some work then called Gaddsy to see where everyone was. Nicko and Jan were in a bar on the marina with Ian so I set off to walk down there taking me through the old Roman Diocletian's Palace. It really was a stunning semi ruined walled in area with very narrow alleyways with interesting shops. Sadly I have no pics of this at all as it was always dark when I went there and my flash just isn't good enough but if you are interested google it. It is worth checking out.

Some of the welcoming party

I eventually found the three reprobates ensconced in a bar chatting to the owners who were telling them about the city and offering them a beer or two. Adrian soon joined us after hearing Nicko's laughter from about 500m!! We had a few beers and the guys signed autographs for passing fans. The Maiden colours were out in force again. After a while the continual interruptions become hard to deal with so we asked the fans if they could just wait and we would do them all together which we did so thanks to you guys like the "cool fans" in the pics who were patient and gave us a bit of time out. There was also paparazzi around which is always a pain but I guess they have their job to do -- if they had asked us for a decent pic in return for leaving us alone and not snapping away we would have obliged as it was it gets irritating someone poking a lens at you all the time. In a situation like this with the paps I do feel some sympathy for the "real" celebs but if you are in a public bar its part of the game.

Cool fans

All mine!

Bloody papparazzi                                                                                     

We were going to get some dinner but every time we were to make a move the owners brought us more beer, and good local beer it was too! Eventually they told us the owner's father was going to get some fish for us and we should just stay there. Sounded good, we thought, but as time passed we were starting to doubt this -- no doubt the band's presence there added to their customers!! But they were really nice hospitable people so we stayed and then they turned up with some brilliant cooked fish for us which as you can see by the pics were devoured eagerly. After we had a wander round the Palace and visited a couple of bars -- it was quite late by now but still pretty lively -- then eventually headed home. Couldn't find a cab though and got a bit lost so no idea which direction was home even though the hotel was only about 15 min walk away. Fortunately some fans came to the rescue and called a cab for us -- thanks!!

Fish dinner 


Jan and Nicko meet even cooler fans

The day of the show I was sorting out some final details for Moscow when, around late afternoon, Ian called me. You may recall Bruce had gone home with Bruce Air from Prague -- he always returns with his "guests" and flies schedule back to the tour. His flights always have safe backup for Plan B but this time Plan B went sadly awry. The Croatian Airlines flight from Heathrow to Split direct which was to get him in around mid afternoon had "technical problems" so did not leave. Not a problem, back up fly to Rome with BA and connect to Split on Croatian Air arriving in plenty of time for an onstage time of about 9. The first part went fine but incredibly the flight out of Rome developed "technical problems" too. They were saying they would be fixed "soon" (it never was, not in time anyway) but we couldn't take a chance so Ian got on with Plan C -- getting a private jet to fly him in. It took time to line up the private plane and fly to Split and everyone was getting very nervous. There were well over 20,000 fans there waiting. We had delayed the supports a bit to cover as much time as we could and, even arranging the Air Traffic control to get a clear passage in and with the local police for a very fast police escort from the airport (still some 30 min), it wasn't until about 10.30 that we could get on stage. Our crew pride themselves on always getting us on stage on time but this time there was little anyone could do. If any of you guys were there please accept our apologies, we tried our best and we didn't wish to keep you waiting so long!! Fortunately the police allowed us to go over the midnight curfew so we were still able to play the full show. From now on we will have Plan C and D for more difficult destinations. You can get to say Milan or Paris or Frankfurt easily but Split and other cities just don't have as many options.

In the end the show went fantastically well and the audience didn't seem to hold it against us. However the local paper in its review said we were late because Bruce wanted to spend more time with his family. As if he or any of the others would do that and affect one of our shows.

The venue was the Poljud Stadium home of football team HNK Hadjuk Split, a major team. Brilliant architecture -- sorry no shots as was so involved in all problems and how to deal with them. The promoter was getting very worried at times, as I suppose I would. But one thing about Bruce, he will always find a way!!

Poljud Stadium

Afterwards we went back to the hotel and, by now being quite late, the bar was closed but the hotel opened it up again for us on the balcony and it was a wonderful warm evening -- in fact the whole tour we have had incredible hot weather which is superb for stadium shows. A bit of sun puts everyone in the right frame of mind. If anything it has been too hot at times but l suppose when it comes to climate we Brits are never happy!! It was very pleasant to spend some time with just the band, all of whom were out for a beer, and gaddsy and Ian as usually there is a whole mob with us!

In the hotel the spa was right next to my room so I forsook the sightseeing and had a bit of R and R there with some very fine pampering then a bit more work on Moscow.

I am typing this the day after England played football in a World Cup qualifier against Croatia in Zagreb. Croatia, since coming into being in 1991, has never been beaten at home over some 50 plus matches, and, of course, England has been pretty lame for some time. So it was a bit of a surprise to see this morning we had won 4-1!! (like most in the UK I didn't get to see any of the match as the TV rights to all England's away World Cup qualifiers went to the relatively new cable channel Setanta, which relatively few people have. They had not even concluded a highlights deal with any of the terrestrial channels which is the norm. Now I don't care too much but I bloody well would if I was a fan. I think it's outrageous. Maybe the football authorities don't want the fans to see the games which is possible considering the some of the performances of the England team in recent years.

Now I mention this not as a fan (note though that we won the crickets ODIs against South Africa 4-0, with the 5th rained off!! Now that is sport!!) but because Sleven Bilic manages Croatia. Sleven used to play for West Ham (the mighty Hammers!) and Steve of course is not so much a fan as an obsessive and knows Sleven from that time. Sleven had invited us out for dinner that evening in a very good local restaurant in the vicinity of the Palace and once again all of us went out. It was very interesting listening to Steve and Sleven talk about football tactics and we also had a chat about management. He is very serious about it and despite this heavy and unexpected loss I think he will go far in football management. He has a shrewd football brain and a lot of experience of course but also has a leader's personality and I am sure we will hear a lot about him in future. Very nice bloke too. He invited us to attend the return match at Wembley next year and I hope to be able to go along -- I have never been to Wembley Stadium, new or old, would you believe, so it would be a new experience. I saw England football once when they played USA in LA in the eighties when I lived there -- haven't much felt like it since!!

After an excellent meal we decided to go back to the marina front bars and set off from the restaurant. Some very young fans were walking towards us down the alley. I was with Jan and Steve and they couldn't believe their luck. Autographs and pics. Then Dave and H came out, soon followed by Nicko and finally Bruce. They almost swooned -- wow, the whole band, with time and no one around. These were really young kids some of them and they were so made up it was great! The bars were a bit hectic so Sleven took us to a very trendy but brilliantly appointed outdoor club. We are not really a nightclub band and are very rarely seen in them, we are basically a pub band for all that means, but the place was pretty impressive and fairly quiet and, although the music certainly wasn't our cup of tea, it wasn't too obtrusive so we ended out having a pretty good time, so thanks Sleven for an excellent evening.

The next day a group of fans dropped round a belated birthday cake for Bruce to the hotel as we were leaving. As you will see from the pics it was an incredible cake so we took some time to cut it and some pics for them before we set off for the airport and beautiful Budapest and the Blue Blue Danube. So more later.



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