Every time that I’ve come to our New York office I’ve had a different style of haircut and facial hair. So much so that my colleagues often haven’t recognized their prodigal workmate. When I first arrived in November, I was nearly bald and clean shaven, following on the heels of a Halloween Party that saw me doing my best Walter White impression.
When I returned briefly in April I had a mane of curly Nuzzi hair and a full beard. I had visited a house in the Virgin Islands that I shouldn’t have and decided to let my beard grow out as a disguise. St. Thomas is a small island and I worried I would run into the homeowners again. Nothing untoward, I swear! Just a bit awkward.
When I visited the office again in June, I sported a mustache and a reasonable amount of hair. I found myself an awesome Dominican barbershop in Havensight where they would give me all kinds of styling gel and even touch up the face. Plus, I had just been gallivanting around Europe with my German counterpart, generally being cool and getting into adventures on our way to and from Joanne’s wedding!
Let me pause here for a moment to interrupt my style blog and reveal that these past three paragraphs have simply been a set up for me to talk about going to Joanne’s Wedding! Joanne sent me a message on WhatsApp about two years ago. I was proctoring an exam at Unique Learning in Vake when my phone emitted a muffled buzz. Joanne told me that she had just gotten engaged! Much to my surprise, about a month later I received another text saying that the wedding would be postponed a year because, in even more exciting news, she and Johan found out that she was pregnant! I promised her, “I don’t know what I’ll be doing in two years or where I’ll be, but I promise I will come to your wedding, whenever and wherever it is.”
Whenever turned out to be this past May and Wherever turned out to be Dubrovnik, Croatia! As soon as I found out my company’s vacation policy, I booked my time off and my flights to…Prague? Believe it or not, it’s not too expensive to fly from St. Thomas to Prague. Not much more than flying from Maine to Tbilisi, anyway.
But Raughley, my geographically astute reader(s) protest, Prague isn’t even in Croatia!
That’s right! It’s not even that close, European-ly speaking. But it’s pretty close to Leipzig, where Pauli lives, and Pauli has a car. Sounds to me like the perfect excuse for another of my annual European Road Trips!
I got picked up at the Prague airport by Pauli and our friend Rick, another former TLG who you may remember (or may not) from the time the Boot Strap Band played at Public School #175. Rick lives in Prague now where he just got his residency card and is working for a huge international association of English schools. He’s from Alberta, my hypothetically favorite Canadian province. I’ve never been, but in Sixth Grade during our Canada unit I had to make a brochure about Alberta and to this day I vividly remember my fun facts about Alberta (Banff! World’s Largest Easter Egg! World’s Largest Shopping Mall, circa 2000).
We had a fun little time drinking beers and playing Cards Against Humanity after hoofing it around Prague for the whole day. The next morning Pauli and I picked up Vivien and hit the road, heading south towards the Balkans.
Our first day saw us stopping at the derelict Czech-Austrian border for a whizz, getting hot dogs at a village gas station, and skirting Vienna on our way to Slovenia. We crossed the border and ditched the highway to save on tolls and enjoy the bucolic Slovenian countryside. The border was full of neon-lit “massage” parlors and Communist-looking block apartments, but ten minutes later we were in the lush rolling hills of rural Slovenia (as if there’s any other kind of Slovenia?)
We stayed at an awesome guesthouse on a hillside where we ate chicken pizza and I slept behind the fridge. The following day we explored Slovenia’s Second City, Maribor. Free parking, journalism students, Roman fortresses, anti-fascist monuments, swans, and riverside naps all led to Pauli and I concluding that we’d found the perfect city to retire to.
As sunset approached, we spent a few hours wandering around the Croatian suburbs, looking for hotels and striking out wherever we went. Finally finding a little hotel, we stayed the night, eating a delicious balcony dinner and plotting our day in Zagreb. I wanted to visit some sort of museum so I could learn a bit more about the region’s history. Vivien wanted to walk around the streets of Old Zagreb. Pauli wanted to get to the city early enough to have a nice leisurely coffee in Zagreb. The next day we accomplished precisely one of those goals.
Spoiled by the ample free parking of Maribor, we got picky and headed deeper and deeper into downtown Zagreb. As we eased onto a side street, there was a loud popping sound and the car shuddered to a halt. No amount of help from passing Croats could help us roll the car onto the curb. It turned out that Pauli’s front left wheel had essentially fallen off. Thankfully we were on a quiet residential side street less than one block from a major thoroughfare. This was literally the best worst case scenario. The wheel couldn’t have chosen a better time or place to fall off. Rather than killing us on a Balkan highway or stranding us in a coastal village far from civilization, we were in the heart of Zagreb and were easily found by a tow truck.
We spent our day in Zagreb sitting in the breakroom of the mechanic’s drinking coffee from a vending machine and reading/writing/chatting. Even though Vivien and I didn’t accomplish our Zagreb goals, we all took solace in the fact that we had managed to enjoy some coffee in Zagreb that day!
The evening found us dipping our toes in the Adriatic in the coastal town of Zadar, courtesy of our new rental car. Our itinerary had us eschewing the ultra-modern, awesome highway that Croatia has in favor of the stunning coastal roads.
After getting ripped off buying gas in the 10 km stretch of Bosnia that splits Dubrovnik from…Split, we finally arrived at our apartment in Dubrovnik. With a day to kill before the wedding we ventured down to the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. We found and picked up some hitchhikers in the No-Man’s-Land of the Croatian-Montenegrin boarder. I mention this because the Canadian girl from the Northwest Territories was named Breagh and we bonded over our membership in the sighlent “gh” club.
I also mention it because we had a mercifully easy time at every border crossing. In fact, most boarder guards just counted our passports and counted us before waving us through. We had to demand stamps to get any. (Talking only about Bosnian and Montenegrin crossings here as Croatia and other places are EU countries and so have no intra-EU borders.) We realized that we were lucky no one challenged us. Our story was wacky enough to raise eyebrows:
“Yes, hi, border guard of Montenegro. What are we doing in Montenegro? Well, see, we are two Germans and an American who met in the Republic of Georgia. We’re here as guests at a wedding in Croatia between an Irish woman who we also met in Georgia and a Swedish man she met in the Czech Republic when he was on holiday. They are named Joanne and Johan. We’ve driven here from Prague. What’s that? Who are those two women in the back seat? They’re college friends from rural arctic Canada and the Netherlands who are hitchhiking their way to Central Turkey. We just found them in the rain a kilometer or so back. … Would you mind stamping our passports?”
Returning to Dubrovnik in the pouring rain, we had some dinner and went to bed early—the next day was Wedding day! We got snazzy headed down to Sponsa Palace, where the ceremony would take place. We had accidentally crashed another wedding the previous night looking for a pre-wedding night out, so we didn’t really get to meet anyone of the wedding party in advance. It was pretty easy to recognize each other, though, as a crowd of well-dressed people all gathered about 20 minutes before the wedding started.
It was at this point that Pauli and I first encountered our unexpected fame. “Hi, I’m Raughley—one of Joanne’s friends from Georgia,” I would start, shaking hands with uncles, college friends, and Swedish colleagues. I didn’t usually get through my whole introduction, though, as I was regularly interrupted, “Raughley! The Raughley? Where’s Pauli? I am so excited to meet you!” Pauli was having similar conversations across the room, but we didn’t figure out where this sentiment was coming from until later in the evening.
We all made our way to our non-assigned seats. There were cute little vials of bubbles on the chairs with instructions to blow bubbles as the bride and groom kiss. I sat next to one of Johan’s friends named Johan and a Ukrainian-Swedish PhD Student.
The ceremony itself couldn’t have possibly been better. It was in English and Croatian and was absolutely beautiful.
That brought us to our first surprise of the evening: a boat would be taking us to the reception. It was a great idea, but choppy seas led to a few people getting seasick. You might be able to rise above this and power through, but when one of those people is maybe the bride, things are a bit trickier. Now, I’m not saying one of them was the bride, but we hurried ourselves to shore anyway.
Seating at the reception was assigned and we all had awesome namecards giving little bios of each of us. Serendipitously I was seated next to the Swedish-Ukrainian couple again and struck up a kind of rough conversation in Russian. The food was amazing, the dancing was better, and Pauli and I finally found the source of our celebrity during Joanne’s dad’s speech.
Joanne used to write epic emails home from Georgia and nearly every guest at her wedding was on her mailing list. What this meant was that everyone heard about all of our adventures. Everyone had seen our music videos. Everyone knew about our good times and bad as we traipsed about Georgia drinking, laughing, and having the time of our lives. In the words of Joanne’s father, “Roli-Poli were like Cartoon Characters to me! I never thought I would get to meet them in person.”
I know that I can speak for both of us when I say that Roli-Poli were incredibly flattered to have been such an important part of Joanne’s life and we wouldn’t have missed her wedding for the world.
Other highlights from the reception were the frequent compliments I got on my English! A cousin of Joanne’s marveled at my skills and said, “Your English is really good! I mean, I think I even catch a hint of an American accent! How’d you learn it so well?” “Well,” I replied, “It probably has to do with me spending 100% of my childhood in America, where I was born and grew up.” Turns out a lot of people thought me and Pauli were actually from Georgia. On the flip side, Pauli had confided to me that he was worried that he wouldn’t be able to understand any thick Irish accents. Some of Joanne’s relatives have thick brogues and come from the countryside. By the middle of the reception, I caught up with Pauli as we got fresh drinks. He was thrilled to let me know that he had been carrying on epic conversations with Uncle Joe and had no trouble with anyone’s accents. In fact, he picked up a new Irishism and wouldn’t stop describing things as “luvly” for the rest of our trip.
The next day we drove back to Zagreb and the following night made it to Prague. The whirlwind tur was over—or nearly. I had talked my boss into letting me stay a few days in London on my way back to the Virgin Islands. We have an office there and it felt important for me to get to know my colleagues in Britain. They are incredibly nice and hospitable and I was constantly reminded of how much I love Europe. After such an awesome road trip and an Irish-Swedish wedding in Croatia, how could I not enjoy being out to pizza with an Italian, a Greek, a Belgian, a Swiss, a Brit, and a Georgian in London?
I returned to St. Thomas, still high off my adventures. The first night I was back, my boss and I had some wine and talked about work stuff. “I think you should move back to New York,” he said, “In fact, you should move back tomorrow.”
And that’s how I ended up at our New York office with a mustache in June.