For the last 4 months I have gotten used to being way more obvious than I usually feel however in Croatia that has changed. I was hardly noticed at all and was not even recognised as a tourist until I spoke… obviously not in Croatian! That is I wasn’t noticed for being blond, white, tall etc but I was noticed because of my nose ring! I had a couple of comments made about it. It was very funny when a woman on a bus was talking to another one about it. I recognised the body language so sort of realised but it was confirmed when she said ‘Hare Krishna’ so it appears I haven’t become a catholic in Croatia but a Hare Krishna! However, it was kind of nice to be not that noticeable and to just blend in with the crowd. Don’t get me wrong. I loved having the attention in India, Nepal and Turkey, as I generally love attention! But it was nice to have a break. The other thing I noticed was that no one was trying to sell me anything! Which was also a nice break.
Zagreb, which is the capital of Croatia, is an interesting city. The buildings in the older part of Zagreb are beautiful and there are a lot of cathedrals! I became so used to the mosques in Turkey that it was weird being in a cathedral. This journey has been an interesting religious experience as well as cultural. The Hinduism in India, Buddhism in Nepal, Islamism in Turkey and now Catholicism in Croatia. There is nothing like mixing it up a bit! I visited the main tourist spots and then wandered off to the University to look at some street art. I am always searching for street art wherever I go. I love it. Im not into the tagging as much but a lot of the art is amazing and there is something about it being on a building rather than a canvas. It also gives opportunity to see other parts of city (away from the tourist areas mostly) and gives another perspective of the city and the people’s lives in that city. It feels more ‘real’ than the tourist areas.
The very old buildings I saw as I headed to the University had a lot of tagging graffiti which felt like 2 worlds clashing (and a little irreverent!). I felt a sense that there was a level of discontent which was supported by a survey showing that many young people in Croatia are unhappy with their society and are experiencing very low employment opportunities. I noticed a number of beggars in the streets of Zagreb as well, however, as adverse to India where they are very assertive, they sat quietly and still with one hand out. Croatia has been subjected to many wars in its history with the last war, the Croatian War of Independence being fought between 1991 and 1995 when they won their independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It is understandable that this country would still be finding its way politically and socially. I’m wondering if there are any countries in this world that are not experiencing obvious social problems! Supposedly Finland is the happiest country in the world followed by Denmark and Norway. I will be interested to see what it is like in Denmark when I’m there!
I met a fellow traveller who is from the USA with Chinese heritage who I hung out with for the first few days. It’s like he is on a pilgrimage as he visits the various cathedrals in Zagreb (of which there are many!). He took me to some good coffee and eating places and was great company. We went up the mountain just outside Zagreb together which was very cool and somewhere I wouldn’t have known about. It snows there in winter and has all the paraphernalia of a ski resort…. which it is. However, at this time of year it was a cool refuge from the heat in Zagreb. I have been very fortunate while I have been travelling as I have never truly been on my own since I started which has been interesting. I have met some wonderfully interesting people. My USA/Chinese friend is a remarkably intelligent man who has been travelling for 19 months (including 3 month periods staying with family). He has been in Croatia for a couple of months and has no firm plans where he is going next. I feel that he is on a journey of self discovery which seems to be a common theme for a lot of the travellers that I have met (including myself).
My beautiful Kingscliffian friend arrived 4 days after I did. It was so wonderful to see her! The day after she arrived we spent the day looking around Zagreb. After meandering around some of the touristy places we went on a pub crawl of sorts and ended up at the National Theatre watching a Croatian ballet! It was pretty bizarre but we loved it. We then hired a car and heading down to the coast. This is where this travelling gig all started! My epiphany while watching Mamma Mia 2 (embarrassingly!). The coast is as stunning as the scenery in the movie which was the motivation for this journey.
Our plan was to go on a cruise between Split and Dubrovnik however that didn’t work out. Instead we drove to Sibenik, then down to the Split and Dubrovnik and headed back up the coast to Krka National Park and a quick overnighter at Zadar. Not only was the coastal scenery amazing, the old towns were incredibly impressive. I took hundreds of photos, which once again, were a nightmare to cull. Zadar was probably the least impressive of the towns so it’s probably better to start there and build up. We decided to go to Sibenik after talking to a Croatian woman we met who said that it was better than Zadar. She wasn’t wrong. We stayed in the old town and totally went back in time. Split was amazing too. It is a must to go to an island or two which you can do cheaply on the large catamarans. The small taxi boats are great for going to the smaller islands and not too expensive. We also ended up on our own on a small yacht with the 2 lovely crewmen but not enough wind to sail unfortunately. Regardless, it was very cool and fun! Dubrovnik was fantastic and I almost connected with the whole Game of Thrones thing even though I’ve never actually seen any of it…. well ‘connected’ might be the wrong word, however, I knew more about it. Not sure if it was enough for me to actually watch it! We walked the wall and I also went up to the fort (twice as I forgot to take my ticket the first time!). Man there were a lot of stairs in that place! Romeo and Juliet (in English) was playing in the fort that night however we were too tired to go after traipsing around the old city all day. It would have been amazing (after climbing all those stairs!) so if you ever have the opportunity…do it!
People have referred to this trip as a ‘holiday’ however I perceive my travelling experience, not as a holiday, rather as a ‘journey’. A process of experience, learning and reflection. Croatia felt like a refuge from my journey. It was so special having a friend who knows me, who understands me (to a degree) and who loves me. Going overseas with someone and being with them 24/7 can be fraught and damaging to relationships. Historically that has happened with me however I am lucky that most of these friendships have recovered enough to be sustainable. I don’t think I was a very good travelling companion as my fears and insecurities got in the way of my trust of them and the situation. However, I feel that this is changing. I noticed that I was calmer and less reactive to situations than I used to be. It was so nice not to have to be hyper vigilant about everything I said and did (which obviously adds to the stress of the experience for both parties!), constantly suspicious of other people’s motivation and feeling like I was always fucking up. I had an amazing holiday with my amazing friend and our relationship became stronger because of it.
So maybe this was part of my journey after all. Every step of the way, something unfolds for me. This time it was again self-reflection and coming to the understanding that I am not the same person with the same fears and insecurities that I used to be. Even thinking like that can be a pattern of behaviour which sabotages everything we do. And that I do have true friends who I can trust love me with all my flaws. That’s always been a struggle for me however I am further along the path of accepting that this is true. My gorgeous friend helped me to see this and I can’t thank her enough.
And so, my journey continues…. next stop, Denmark.