Belgrade 1977 - lost luggage #3
I recently re-read my travel diary of 1977 - the year of packing the 14 t-shirts - and I discovered that my suitcase went missing that time as well, a detail I’d forgotten.
My friend Lorraine and I had spent 10 weeks travelling through Europe. We parted in Italy where she went on to her uncle in Israel and I continued to Belgrade. I'd had endless problems getting a visa - denied in Athens and in London - but my Serbian uncle was able to secure me travel papers.
I was welcomed at Belgrade customs by Serbian officials:
‘Vee haff been expecting you, Slobodanka,’ said the customs officer as I extended my South African passport.
I didn’t know whether that was ominous or welcoming. I was concerned as I had flown into Belgrade without a formal visa, but all was good thanks to my uncle and I didn’t languish in a dreary jail - as I had feared. In hindsight, it might have been risky to travel through the former Yugoslavia without a visa, no South African representation, and only a paper permit, but hey, I was 21 and carefree!
But it wasn’t all good news upon arrival: my suitcase was missing. This was particularly distressing as I was at the end of my European holiday: how would I do without that Fiorucci T-shirt or those Levi jeans? Oh the callow cares of a young person!
I’d flown from Rome to Belgrade via Dubrovnik where I saw my suitcase on the tarmac as we exited the plane. Surely it wasn't meant to be there?
‘Excuse me,’ I pointed out my case to the baggage handler, ‘that’s my suitcase over there. I’m flying to Belgrade. I think my suitcase should go back on the plane.’
‘No problem,’ he replied, hoisting my yellow case into the trolley. ‘Vee make sure it safe.’
Why wasn’t I entirely convinced?
You know the next part of the story: my case was not on the Belgrade airport luggage carousel.
By that time, I was surrounded by my family - all speaking Serbian and most of whom I was meeting for the first time. My missing suitcase soon became a topic of speculation: 'It's been left behind in Dubrovnik!'; 'I'm sure it's been sent back to Italy!'; 'That's typical of the airline: what's happened to good service?'; 'Don't worry about your luggage; it will turn up in a few days' time.' - none of which was very helpful.
My uncle took charge: he charmed and persuaded the airline staff to do a thorough search - and eventually they found my suitcase.
I think what happened in Dubrovnik was that my suitcase was sent to International, while I arrived at Domestic. In any event, I had my dear little yellow suitcase back and the order of the world was restored. I didn't think about that experience for the next 40 years - until I started writing about Planepack.
I left Belgrade airport with my family to spend 10 days in Eastern Europe, which was exciting and drear at the same time - but that’s another story