As soon as I step into my suite at the glitzy Hotel Europe in Sarajevo, I do what many gay men traveling tend to do: I log onto Grindr to see what the local men have to offer. It’s my attempt at finding Prince Charming — my soul mate is just as likely to be in Timbuktu as on the streets of Toronto.
I’m about to embark on a week-long tour of Bosnia and Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, eager to explore a corner of Europe largely undiscovered by tourists. Over the next week, I’ll find myself sipping champagne in ancient medieval palaces, slurping local brew on a sunset cruise and shooting spiced grappa on an oyster farm.
Scrolling through Sarajevo’s Grindr community, I’m shocked to realize there are only five gents from Bosnia online, with the remainder chiming in from neighbouring Serbia and Croatia. It’s obvious that connecting with a local gay man in the Balkans will be trickier than I had previously thought.
In Sarajevo, I chat with a handsome 27-year-old man for some time. He plans to meet me one evening after I finish dinner — but ends up as a no show. He tries to apologize the following morning, but I’m not having any of it.
Our final stop in Bosnia before arriving in Croatia is the UNESCO World Heritage city of Mostar, famed for its medieval Old Bridge that stretches across a roaring river. The petite town is Bosnia’s top tourist attraction, a popular stop that welcomes the hordes on holiday for a few hours each day. I find one friendly local gay man who immediately asks me if I need a tour guide. “I’m the only gay that lives in this village,” he tells me.
“Tourists from all over the world visit each day but rarely do they pay for a hotel night here,” he says. “I’ve found the easiest way for me to meet gay visitors here is by offering them a private tour of the town. In the summer I make a decent income connecting with gay tourists on Grindr, the app has opened up an entirely new means to making a living.”
I spend the next week in Croatia chatting with a collection of blank, obscured or torso-centric profiles. I find one open gent who lives in Dubrovnik.
“There are no gay bars here. Gay men live in fear of being exposed,” he tells me. I have over 48 hours to adventure through the walled medieval city of Dubrovnik, and am hopeful we’ll find time to meet for a pint. I’ve learned from past failed attempts to be rather direct and to that point — I plan to meet him one afternoon for a beer in the lounge of my hotel. He doesn’t show, and apologizes via message the following day.
I arrive at the Frankfurt airport shortly before 8am to discover my connecting flight has been delayed until 6. I am one unhappy zombie, so I throw myself a pity party at the airport’s German restaurant, Kuffler & Bucher. I sit by the window with a fabulous view overlooking the tarmac — and spend the next hour nibbling on booze-soaked Black Forest cake and sipping on a frothy latte.
Inspiration strikes. I grab my phone, connect to the airport’s free WiFi and log on to Grindr. The investigative journalist within me suddenly finds a spark of hope at one of Europe’s busiest airports. While scrolling through a fine selection of transient gays, I think to myself, “If I’m stuck here for eight hours I’m going to treat this misadventure as a glass half full.” I enjoy a wildly memorable day at the Frankfurt airport after switching my profile details to “Canadian Journalist stuck at the airport until 6pm at Kuffler & Bucher restaurant. By the window. The guy with the manbun. Come join me for a drink!”
I meet with six men before the end of the day — all total strangers, each coming from a totally different walk of life. The only things that connect us are our sexual orientation, boredom, curiosity or hunger pangs. My server is taken entirely off guard as gay men keep popping by my table to order a pint or a cup of coffee. I let him know I’ll be using the table as an office that day; he just raises his hands and walks away with a smirk on his face.
After an hour, I have nearly a dozen transient gays chirping at me via the app to find out what I’m looking for. I make it clear that a rough quickie in the nearby wheelchair-accessible bathroom is out of the question.
By midday, I have four gents sitting at the table sipping Hefeweizen while devouring plump brawtwurst, rindswurst, nurnberger, frankfurter and weibwurst. It is literally a sausage party, filled with refreshing conversation from a sexy Spanish pilot, a dorky college student from Philadelphia, a model from Berlin and a doctor from Sweden.
As massive jumbo jets taxi to and ’fro, I can’t help but joyously blurt, “This is by far the best time I’ve ever spent stranded at an airport.”