Considering how much I dislike flying, it’s a wonder I’ve voluntarily been on so many airplanes in the past year. It took me a total of four jets to get to Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city. It will take me five to get home.
The first flight was the tease, the puddle-hop from Victoria to Vancouver, the 15-minute plane ride that says, Are you ready for eight hours of this, at five times the altitude? During my four-hour layover in Vancouver I had time to cool my nerves, while facetiming my friend Cody in Calgary.
As I boarded the flight to Heathrow, irrational nervousness rose in my throat like a mountain, playing my heart like a war-cry drum. Shut up I told myself, commercial jets never go down . . . ok well, not never. Just rarely. And when they do they’re all over the news and everyone dies. Oh god that could be me . . .
I don’t worry about airplane crashes normally. Just when I’m on the airplane. I think its because I understand that thousands and thousands of flights take off and land safely every day. So when my family or friends are flying, it never occurs to me that they may not reach their destination. But when I’m on board, suddenly the reality of what it takes to get 836,000 pounds of metal off the ground hits me, and the very presence of it scares the shit out of me: every turbulent bump, every safety announcement, every rev of the Rolls-Royce RB207 engine, makes me wonder if my charred corpse will be part of the next 6 o’clock news. Sigh. My love of traveling and my hatred of flying are in constant battle with each other.
Getting into Zagreb was a relief, and I needed two things, a shower and some food. With my travels in Asia not far from the front of my mind, getting through customs was a breeze. They didn’t ask me a thing. I had documentation on return-flights and accommodation ready, but with a lackluster glance and a stamp to my passport, they waved me through.
Within minutes I found myself standing on the sidewalk in front of the airport, eyeing up the nearest bus.
Once in town, I showed the bus driver where I was headed and he gave me walking directions. Seemed like a piece of cake. I left the terminal on foot.
A few blocks later and I was at the spot my map claimed my hostel should be . . . but where was it . . . Without wanting to look like an idiot, I tried to keep my deer-in-the-headlights glances to a minimum. Then I spotted the sign! Approaching it, I searched for the entrance or the glimpse of a welcoming front desk through a window, or ANYTHING that would invite a guest to enter. Instead I was greeted by two heavy doors, like that of a nightclub closed for business. I paused. I looked left, and then right. There was no way these doors were unlocked, or even publicly available. I looked left again. I looked right. I walked up to the doors and tried one of them. It opened. I peered through it into a very dark hallway that looked like it was under renovation. I closed the door behind me. Silence. I searched for a light switch, found one and turned it on. To my right were another set of doors. This could not possibly be my hostel, but the fact I’d given them my credit card info was incentive for me to find it. As I opened the second set of doors it dawned upon me that perhaps the hostel was closed and under construction. This could be the only explanation. The second set of doors led to a staircase. I paused only momentarily before going up the stairs. What the heck?
When I got to the top I was greeted by another set of doors. On the front of the door was a small sign with the hostel’s logo on it. I’d found it!
My room is sparse but clean, which is all I need. And at $50 CAD a night it’s about all I can afford as well. I share a bathroom with other guests, which, after some of the places I stayed in Asia, is barely a detraction.
I took my much-desired shower, emptied out my backpack and climbed into bed at 10pm. I didn’t wake up until noon the following day, parched and so hungry that my stomach was concave.
This morning I threw on some clothes, brushed my teeth and grabbed my map. Peering out the window I was mildly disappointed to see a sulky sky and rain-spattered pavement, but the temperature here is quite warm, and I was comfortable in jeans, flip-flops, a tank top and light blazer. It was too late for breakfast, but nearby I found a little restaurant that served what was on the top of my list to consume: coffee.
If there’s one thing I miss fondly from my trips to Holland, it’s the coffee. I may not be able to order my North American staple, the mocha, but here in Europe I’ll happily forgo that for a freshly brewed espresso. And this particular cup was no letdown. As I savoured each foamy sip my head began to spin, and I realized my exuberance for a cup of coffee did not negate my need for food and water (roll your eyes, Dad!). When the English menu was brought to me, I ordered a soup and salad. My first Croatian dining experience was delicious, and pleasantly inexpensive.
After my meal, I consulted my map, and headed towards the main square. I poked my head into a few shops, and amused myself by going into an Aldo. The rain had eased up. In the main square was a tourist info centre. I popped in and replaced my map with a less-wet one. Then I found a huge outdoor market selling fruit.
“Can I have a banana?”
I smiled, nodding my head as I reached into my bag to retrieve my wallet. I’d exchanged my left-over American dollars from Sasquatch Music Festival, for a handful of Kuna. When I looked up again, the guy selling bananas was shaking his head. He was holding a banana out towards me, and he’d already peeled it. “No, no” He said. “It’s ok. Take it!” I thanked him, and walked away, enjoying every bite.
Next on my list was finding an outlet converter for my computer and cellphone. I entered a mall, and got completely side-tracked by an H&M. The irony here is that I haven’t even been into the H&M in Victoria yet. $50 later, and wondering how I was going to fit everything into my backpack, I was still in need of an outlet converter. I couldn’t, for the life of me, find an electronics store.
I did find an Apple store, and asked the guy behind the counter, a gorgeous young Croatian, if he sold one. The one they had available was over 400 Kuna ($70 CAD) so I declined. I stopped in at a camera store to ask the same question, but not before trying on a dozen pairs of sunglasses at another retail outlet.
The guy in the camera store, also ridiculously handsome, told me he didn’t understand what I was asking. No problem, I smiled and walked away.
Next into a key-cutting place, which I decided was a really long shot, but worth a try. What’s going on? I thought. How are all the men here beautiful? This guy was more helpful. With stunning blue eyes, he informed me that there was an electronics shop not far. “Just to the next block, turn left, maybe 100 metres that way. The sign says something like . . . Electronics.” He said, sweeping his hand in the air to signify signage.
I followed his vague directions, only mildly hopeful I’d find what I was looking for. I’d already shut my phone off to save juice. I turned at the next block, and after about 100 metres, off to one side was a very small shop with a very small sign that read Elektronik. It looked like a nightclub sign, and I almost missed it. But then in the window I saw exactly what I was looking for! And a reasonable 32 Kuna later I had an outlet converter.
My next stop was dinner, and of course with that I had to have another cup of coffee. The restaurant I chose had a nice outdoor patio covered by an awning like most, and free wifi. Over a plate of yummy pasta, I took the time to catch up with a few friends and let my mother know I hadn’t yet been abducted by crazy Croatians. I love European food!
Zagreb is an old city. Its architecture is Romanesque, heavy, and pleasantly pastel in its shades of colour. To the foreign eye it barely differs from that of other European Cities, and is even reminiscent of the parts of Victoria we’re most proud of. What’s different about Zagreb, however, is how that architecture is treated. Most buildings are covered in graffiti, they’re worn looking, tired. They’ve lived through a civil war, and its apparent.
Unlike Victoria, whose streets are fronted by inviting awnings, big picture windows, flower boxes, set-back entranceways and useless patches of grass, the narrow sidewalks in Zagreb are shouldered abruptly by the tall, flat fronts of old buildings, rising in uniform at a perfect 90 degree angle. Like that of a mote. You can walk right past a doorway and not even realize it.
I spent today roaming around the city, whose footprint is barely larger than that of downtown Victoria, yet houses over three times the population. It’s easy to get everywhere by foot. I was taken-aback by how young and beautiful the people here are. Especially the men!
Croatian people are pleasant but not overly-friendly. Perhaps its because, with my eastern-European facial features I look just like a local here, and therefor I’m treated like one. Not until I open my mouth do people realize I’m foreign, but even then I’m only greeted with mild interest.
It’s hard to believe I’m half-way around the world only eight months after coming home from Cambodia. Croatia is a completely different experience, and I get a sort-of high from being placed in the middle of an adventure with nothing but a map, a back-pack and my wits.