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It’s been almost four months since I returned from my mad dash to the Balkans, yet here I am, still waffling on about how pretty Croatia is.
(If Procrastination and Dragging Things Out were Olympic events, I’d be a double gold medallist for sure.)
Croatia is pretty though, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say that enough. I also think that it’s so out-of-this-world amazing that the word ‘pretty‘ doesn’t really do it justice. So, in order to add a little more pezzazz to this post and for the sheer amazingness of Croatia to really hit home, I just did a quick search on Thesaurus.com to try and come with a more flowery alternative.
And you know what it gave me? Pulchritudinous. What a word.
Waltzing through the narrow alleys of the Old Towns of Split and Dubrovnik, I had to constantly pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. It was almost as if I was walking through the streets of every fairytale I’ve ever been told.
This is where your minds are filled with romantic images of me gliding through the cobbled streets in my Cinderella gown, clutching a pile of books to my chest, effortlessly dodging mysterious puddles of water and singing along with a choir of pitch-perfect songbirds.
And that is exactly how the trip went down.
Minus the Cinderella dress, the pile of books, mysterious puddles of water and songbirds. So it wasn’t at all like how the trip went, really.
And to be 100% completely honest with you, when I say it felt as if I was walking through the streets of every fairytale ever told, it was actually more reminiscent of the Kingdom of Far Far Away, Duloc and all the other little villages on Shrek. That particular vibe was probably something to do with the fact the Old Town was all kitted out in medieval dress for the filming of Robin Hood (in cinemas 2018, very excite), but I digress.
TL;DR – Croatia is a very, very pretty country.
And I didn’t even scratch the surface of it on my visit!
However, one location I did visit which totally took me by surprise in Croatia was Zagreb.
Let it be known now that I am not big on cities. Coming from a country with a population of about 3 million, a mere tenth of which reside in the capital (Cardiff, in case you didn’t know), cities do not bode well for me. Especially those big old metropolitan cities, or capital cities in general.
Crowds, noise, pollution? Ych a fi.
I’m much more of a cutesy little town or village kind of gal. You know, the kind of place where people really do skip around in ball gowns clutching a pile of books to their chest, and the baker knows the butcher’s name because they’re more than rivals; they’re also second cousins twice removed.
Which is why I didn’t plan to spend a lot of time in Zagreb. Zagreb is not the kind of place where the butcher would be on first name terms with the baker.
In fact, had I not been told about the Museum of Broken Relationships, I probably would have used Zagreb solely as a point of exit from Croatia into Slovenia. As it so happens, the prospect of a museum dedicated to failed relationships and heartbreak was just too enticing for my sadistic soul, and so I booked myself in for a 2-day, 2-night stay in the capital of my newly-nominated favourite country in Europe.
Sorry Italy, you’ve been benched.
Zagreb and I got off to a flying start when, after walking all the way from the bus station to the train station (18 minutes according to Apple Maps, 10 minutes according to my feet), an absolute hero of a man shoved a bunch of McDonald’s vouchers into my hands, and I bought potato wedges for next to nothing.
Please don’t judge me for resorting to the safe haven that is the golden M. It was about 10:30pm, my phone had about 3% charge left, I had no mobile data and, to top it all off, I couldn’t even remember the name of the hostel I’d booked myself into, let alone the full address.
Those potato wedges – and the free WiFi that came alongside them – tasted like Heaven.
Zagreb 1 – 0 My Preconceived Idea of Zagreb
Zagreb’s 2nd point came when, after finally establishing the name and address of my hostel (Dots Hostel Zagreb, in case you’re wondering), I arrived there more than ready to block out the sounds of 5 other people snoring for a good night’s sleep, only to find that they were giving me a complimentary upgrade to a private room.
Because there was only me and one other guy in the hostel, apparently. Perks of off-season travel? I think so!
Now obviously this is just circumstantial, and Zagreb as a city had nothing to do with the upgrade. But I’m awarding it the point anyway because I’m the referee in this match and I make the rules.
Point number 3 was awarded for the city being super veggie-friendly, point number 4 for the hilarious Museum of Broken Relationships really living up to all expecations I had, point number 5 for the mere existence of the Mushroom Museum (which was closed when I visited, very sad about that!), point number 6 for there being an Indian restaurant that served pretty tasty food, point 7 for the random giant whale painted on a wall and point number 8 for the city just being really bloody cool.
1 point was deducted for the Museum of Illusions, because it left me feeling ridiculously queasy, and another point deducted for the Museum of Torture being pretty mediocre as far as torture museums go (I’m an expert), leaving the final score at Zagreb 6 – 0 My Preconceived Idea of Zagreb.
Now let’s move on from what I did in Zagreb talk about the city itself.
One of the most important things I always take with me wherever I travel is a good book. Kindles are absolutely great, especially when you power through books faster than the Road Runner trying to escape Wile E. Coyote, and especially when you’re limited to a 30cm x 40cm 10kg bag. Mine is one of my most valued possessions, but you just can’t go wrong with paper and ink.
In between getting off the train in Cardiff and onto the Megabus to London, I stopped in WHSmith to pick up something new to read. I was thinking something light and easy, not too tasking on the brain, and nothing too emotional. Maybe a nice easy breezy YA fiction.
Then of course I spotted I’m Travelling Alone by Samuel Bjork, and silly old me didn’t even bother reading the blurb, thinking “Oh it must be fate because I’M TRAVELLING ALONE“.
The book’s not about travel, guys.
The book is intense. It’s terrifying, and it’s fantastic. Highly recommend – A+++++ for you Mr. Bjork!
Anyway, I finished reading it on the bus between Dubrovnik and Split, and not wanting to spend the best part of 7 hours book-less on the bus from Split to Zagreb, I popped my head into a little internet cafe right next to Split bus station and bought a second hand version of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four for what I thought to be a very good price.
It wasn’t a very good price.
I’m absolutely awful at calculating foreign currency (proof: I once withdrew the equivalent of £50 in Omani rials at Oman airport when all I wanted was £5 to buy a Subway. Most expensive 4-hour stopover I’ve ever had!) and it turns out I actually paid £20 for a 2nd hand copy of something I could have paid half the price for brand new back home.
You’re sat there right now wondering why I’m educating you on my reading habits, right?
Well, I haven’t gotten very far into 1984 yet. I read about 4 chapters while I was away, but as soon as I got home it was put on the shelf in between the Life of Pi and Obama’s Blackberry.
But the 4 chapters I did read were absolutely brought to life by Zagreb.
Aside from 2 hours of blue sky on my second day in the city, Zagreb was grey the whole time I was there. And I’m not just talking about the weather, but the whole city just seemed grey. The walls seemed grey, the buildings seemed grey, there was an abnormal amount of grey umbrellas flying about, and even the pigeons had a particular grey-ish tinge to them I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a pigeon before. And I’ve seen a lot of pigeons in my life.
It’s kind of funny because since coming home, I’ve read countless other blogs about Zagreb, many of which portray it in a totally different light. That light being sunlight.
My favourite of the bunch has got to be this post by Christina aka Happy to Wander which makes Zagreb look like a beautifully colourful, sunshine-y city full of things to do. And I’m sure it is a beautifully colourful, sunshine-y city full of things to do.
But on my trip, there was an obvious lack of colour and sunshine (except those precious few hours on my final day!), and what I got instead was a not at all unpleasant grey.
And I loved every single minute of it.
It’s almost as if Zagreb, with its grey skies, grey walls, grey floors and grey everything else, was just a moody teenager trying really freaking hard to make you dislike it, but failing because it’s just so naturally awesome without even trying.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I really, really loved Zagreb, grey sky and all.
And I would absolutely love to go back, maybe when it’s a little brighter, just to see if it still has the unassuming sullenness when the sun is shining. And to give the Mushroom Museum another go, of course.
Have you ever been taken by surprise by somewhere you thought you’d hate? And more importantly, have you been to the Mushroom Museum?!