I spent my final day in Zagreb (pronounced Zaa-greb) doing a self-directed walking tour of the city. While it was tempting to while away the hours in a pub crawl-style coffee consuming situation, I chose to learn a bit more about the city instead. And I enjoyed plenty of cups of tasty, aromatic java along the way.
At the hostel the night before, I’d bumped into a guy named Stephen. He’s a writer from the US on a three-year worldwide travel binge, for which I envy him for. (Check him out here) Wifi briefly went down, which forced us to start chatting, and I told him about my plans for the following day. I figured it would be more fun with two people instead of just one, and he seemed nice, so I invited him along.
The next morning I got up half an hour later than I said I would, but Stephen was waiting for me in the lobby. I bolted into the shower.
Now, there’s something not many people know about me, but I happen to have a strange fear of getting locked in a bathroom. Every time I lock a bathroom door behind me I take into careful consideration how the latch closes, and which direction I have to pull, push or unhinge it so it will open. In my haste to shower quickly, I had not observed the lock mechanism of this particular door on the way in, and I now found myself unable to open it. I jiggled the key left and then right. I could hear the lock turning over, but the door would not open. After a minute or so of this I knocked on the door. “Hello?!” I said. Stephen heard me and came to the door.
“Are you locked in?” He asked.
” . . . Yes.” I said, turning the key back and forth and back and forth.
“Hang on, I’ll get the lady.” I heard her walk over. She directed me on how to unlock the door, but it didn’t work.
“Ok, one moment. I will call the boss,” she said. A few minutes later she was at the window, beckoning me to open it. I did, and she climbed awkwardly in, avoiding a ventilation system, an air duct and a pile of bird feces that had manifested on the window sill. I apologised. She started speaking to a guy on the other side of the door in Croatian.
Suddenly she flipped the key and opened the door. On the other side was the hostel owner grinning. I was dumbfounded. I apologized again, and we all laughed.
I looked at Stephen. “The first thing we need to do, if you don’t mind, is go for a coffee,” I said. He nodded enthusiastically, and informed me that he was a coffee addict. “Then we are going to get along JUST fine!”
As our coffees arrived and our breakfast orders were taken, I looked around me and realized I didn’t have my camera. “I could have sworn I left the hostel with it,” I said, slightly panicked. My bathroom door flub was turning into a day of scattered mental disarray.
“I’ll stay here with our stuff if you want to go look for it.” I jumped up and sprinted back to the hostel. It wasn’t in my room. Then I spotted it behind the counter. I’d obviously left it lying around, and a staff member had picked it up.
“My camera!” I said, and pointed. He smiled.
“It’s a nice camera. You a photographer?” He said. I nodded. “Could you do me a favour?”
“Could you take some pictures of one of our rooms for our website? I’ll give you a discount on your room?” It ended up being a lucrative trade. I snapped a few photos and then headed back to my breakfast now waiting patiently for me on the table, and he took 25% off my room charge.
Our tour was fun, and took us through the old part and the new part of Zagreb. I’m not sure how much history I absorbed, as I found the supplied text a bit dry, but we saw plenty of interesting sights, and the rain eased up long enough for us both to get some good photographs. One church in particular was stunningly beautiful. I have a special affinity for the architecture of cathedrals. I’m fascinated by the structural brilliance of these buildings, that were created hundreds of years ago. So much effort, time and money were poured into monolithic places of worship that soared above modest villages. Some took more than a hundred years to complete. “Let’s see if we can go inside,” I said.
“It doesn’t look open.”
“Churches are always open.”
“Really?” We crept up to the front door. It was closed but I tried the handle and it opened. We looked at each other. I shrugged, and entered. As we went through a second set of doors the temperature dropped. A dank but pleasant smell tingled our noses, like that of stone that had absorbed a century of burning incense. It was dark, but inside we could see an elderly nun walking down the aisle carrying something that looked religious, and a few other tourists. We walked in, hushed to silence by the atmosphere. I felt as though I’d stepped back in time. Huge, stone arches bowed towards each other, meeting in the middle at a dizzying height above our heads. Paintings depicting a different era were splashed on the walls. This was a romanesque cathedral, it was apparent by the thick, heavy walls, and the lack of lavish detail and windows. Romanesque architecture pre-dates gothic, and was in vogue before people were able to construct whimsical ornamentation. Romanesque cathedrals look like they could withstand a tornado. Gothic cathedrals look like stained-glass palaces, require flying buttresses to hold them up and seem as though they could tumble at the slightest breeze.
Our tour ended in the main square, a grand central space occupied by pedestrians and trams. Most European cities have them, and its something us North Americas could learn from. Our cities tend to be clogged with traffic, but here one could sit on any given bench and watch scavenger pigeons, drink coffee and relax away from the constant honking and fumes of vehicles. The sun was finally poking through the mass of clouds that had followed us around all day, bathing us in that warm goodness we photographers like to call the golden hour. We stopped at a convenience store for some ciders and beer before heading back to the hostel.
It was fun having someone to spend the evening with. The only part about traveling alone that actually feels lonely, are the evenings. Dusk for me is a time for socializing, getting dizzy from a bottle of wine, and sharing good food with good people. To be alone in such a vibrant city at dusk seems so empty. Stephen and I sat around and consumed our drinks before heading out to see if we could find a bit of life. We ended up at a pizza joint, and then on to more drinks at a place called History. It was fun, though the night club was filled with teenagers and the DJ had a thing or two to learn about his profession.
I went to bed late, but happy to be travelling through such a beautiful place.