Some of you know that locked-down, masked-up me is now unchained. I’m in one of the few European countries that an American can visit with a vaccination card and without a legitimate reason.

I’m in Croatia hiking, trekking and roustabouting for the next month. You gentle readers can follow my every exploit by simply checking this page occasionally. Relax, there won’t be a quiz afterward.

I’m currently staying in the capital city of Zagreb for a few nights at the Grande Dame of the city, the Esplanade Zagreb Hotel.

Upon arrival in my hotel room, I was greeted by this screen on the TV:

And here is the car that picked me up at the airport:

About the car, manufactured just a few hundred kilometers across the Adriatic Sea, I can’t back that up. And I mean that in both senses. My actual transportation from the airport was not that fast, not that sporty, and didn’t drop me off anywhere near that close.

But even after my arrival in a smoky shuttlebus (they smoke in this part of the world, a lot), I’m confident that European royalty on the Grand Tour never had it so good.

Of course, I personally would never spring for such accommodations. My traveling companion found this place last month when helping me plan the trip, before abandoning me. My abandoning companion is much more discriminating than I about things such as food, wine, lodging, wine, food and wine. More about that later.

Croatia is one of those countries into which Yugoslavia split when the Soviet empire collapsed. This happened back when socialism was considered a failure just because it failed every time it was tried, without considering the “fact” that it had never been tried correctly. That added up to dozens of failures. They weren’t a bit woke in those days, and had little faith that they could make socialism great again if only they did it correctly.

And so after half a century under the yoke of dehumanizing, demoralizing, dis-incentivizing, destructive socialism, Croatia is relatively poor. But not Third World poor.

I know I’m not supposed to say that poor countries are “Third World.” Because that suggests they aren’t just as good as countries that are First or Second World. But let’s be honest. They’re lucky we don’t rank them by their order of wealth. If we did, we’d call Mexico not a Third World country but a “71st World” one. And Ethiopia would be a “139th World” one. Croatia is certainly poorer than France and Switzerland, obviously, and even poorer than Portugal. Heck, they’re waaay poorer than Mississippi which, as most people don’t know, is richer on a per capita basis than Great Britain.

But some of the pre-socialism splendor of Croatia survives. Such as here at my hotel. In fact, both of the restaurants in this magnificent little gem are Michelin rated.

This evening I enjoyed delicious perch wrapped in grape skin. Is there anything that grapes properly grown, handled, blended and fermented, can’t do?