After a bus ride and a scary train, you’re finally in Zagreb at 7 o-clock in the evening in the pitch dark – this was in no way how you would have like to arrive in an Eastern European country. At the border of Slovenia a policeman threatens to fine you both 400 Euros each for not having stamps from the other countries you’ve visited. After you blatantly point out that this can’t be the case as no one else has asked for your passports, he simply walks off. Later on, Greg tells you that this guy was just a crook cop trying to score 800 Euros off naïve travellers. Despite your massive prejudice for Eastern Europe (wars, genocide, poor economics etc.) you’re surprise to find that everyone you come across is warm and friendly (apart from THAT guy). You manage to get lost on the way to the hostel only once, and when you eventually find the old building you’re greeted with a darling, black puppy! This easily puts Zagreb as the best welcome you’ve had on your trip.
You’ve been awake since 5.30 that morning, so you’re both in no mood for exploration or adventure. You find a healthy fast food place which serves bowls of fresh salad for less than 5 Euros, and feeling smug that you managed to eat something healthy for once, you head back to your hostel. You take a nice hot shower where your English genes decide to kick in, and your nose starts randomly bleeding. At this point you’re in kind of an awkward position: your nose doesn’t seem to want to stop bleeding, you’re naked and wet in the shower, and there is no toilet paper at reach. You grab your knickers and hold them up against the tide of blood expelling from your nostril, while you difficulty get dry and dressed with one hand, while trying not to bend your head down or you’ll swallow the blood. You stand there awkwardly for a few minutes before finding the toilet where you begin to use up the entire roll of loo-paper to stop the bleeding. After 20 minutes you’re fed up, so you ask Mik for assistance. She puts a cold towel on the back of your neck and tells you to let the blood run out into the toilet. The entire ordeal lasts a good 40 minutes, with you sitting in bed with a wad of toilet paper up your nose. You enviously look at everyone else and their perfect, non-bleeding noses. When it finally ceases you decide to call it an early night.
The next morning you wake up and go for your first ever run in 2 months. Having no other clothes except your thermals and Doc Martins, you look completely out of place as you huff along for the longest 30 minutes ever. Oh well – the intention was there at least. After a revitalising shower you take a stroll into town to visit the food markets, however, when you get there you’re disappointed to find that the markets are quite small and dingy, and don’t sell anything particularly interesting other than fruits and veg. You ask the lady at the tourism office advice for what to do, but apparently Zagreb somewhat shuts down over winter, and as it turns out, there isn’t a great deal of things to do. Having had not been to a museum for a few days, you visit the oddly names Museum of Broken Relationships: a space dedicated for people of all ages and backgrounds to send in a memento of heartbreak along with a story, or a few lines of what happened. The museum started a year ago in Zagreb, and has since blossomed internationally, with exhibits being shown across Europe, Great Britain and the States. Some stories are hilarious and odd, while others are grim and – rightly so – heartbreaking. After the exhibition you buy some postcards from the museum and think about submitting your own story one day to the exhibition.
Feeling somewhat down but also culturally refreshed, you find a dingy pub for lunch, where Mik orders Croatian pasta with a vague-looking meat while you feast on chocolate pancakes. Afterwards you take a walk along the old streets and buy some traditional Croatian sweets (gingerbread cookies plus a bag of Frija – donut balls covered in Nutella) while taking pictures of the surrounding buildings and café-lined streets. You decide that that evening you should do something a bit different, so you look to buy tickets for a symphony orchestra show in town. The tickets are sold out at the ticket office, but they said you can still show up that night and buy tickets at the auditorium. Feeling like you’ve both somewhat achieved something, you spend the next few hours window shopping before heading back to the dorm for a shower and Facebook. Back at the hostel you meet a fellow traveller Chris: an English writer who used to sub-edit for Empire magazine, (i)
(i) This was a big deal for me because it’s rare to meet anyone who’s actually made a semi-career out of writing. Also note to self: network!!!!!
who you manage to convince to come with you tonight to the orchestra. You all head off feeling completely underdressed in your winter, traveling gear chatting along the way about literature and music. When you get to the beautiful auditorium, you are expecting to pay around 10 Euros for tickets, but are given the 3 tickets as a gift! Everything becomes instantly better when it’s free! None of you have ever been to a classical music show before, so you don’t know what to expect. The show is truly beautiful, with the orchestra playing moving songs that are faintly nostalgic from Disney movies. Most of the songs are accompanied by opera singers whose voices resonate perfectly with the acoustics of the room. After the show you and Chris search for a bar for a couple of drinks, whereby he gives you some solid advice to get out of your headspace and just be happy. Makes perfect sense. When you get back to your hostel you find Mik with a nosebleed of her own – there must be something about this place…
That night you stay up watching crappy TV and chatting away, before calling it a night and having a well-deserved sleep in the next morning.