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The Dangerous Business of Going Out Your Door I am often tired of myself and I have a notion that by travel I can add to my personality and so change myself a little. I do not bring back from the journey quite the same self that I took. - W. Somerset Maugham

Looking for Croatia and Seeing Myself, and the Numbers

CROATIA | Thursday, 19 May 2016 | Views [446] | Comments [2]

Why Croatia?

Trundling through the Austrian Alps, I was excited to finally see Croatia, a country that had been calling to me for some time, even before the sabbatical began to take shape. The pleasure of solo travel had worn thin in the preceding weeks, but now it was beginning to renew as I approached the last new country I would see on this trip. How blissful it was, relaxing on that long bus ride from Munich through Austria and Slovenia, warmly wrapped in the passing images of snowy peaks, lush valleys, and picturesque villages. Having to cross such majestic scenery made the promise of Croatia all the more intriguing.

As I was pressed for time during the planning of this trip, I had almost decided to leave Croatia out and just return home from Germany. It would have been easier, but I thought I would regret it. I could not shake the feeling that my sabbatical would not be complete until I had seen Croatia, that somehow Croatia held the power to bring closure to this chapter of my life in a way that neither Germany nor any other country had. My initial thought was to go to Dubrovnik, way down on the southern coast, but it was difficult to get there quickly, and I did not want to add so much extra time or expense, so I had decided on the more easily accessible capital. Unlike the arrivals in other new places, there was absolutely no fear or dread of arriving in Zagreb. Instead, stepping off the bus into the city seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Even though I knew it may not happen on the first day, I expected to be met with some palpable sense of having finally reached my destination. Croatia would soon reveal why it had insisted on being included in this trip.



For days, however, Zagreb maintained a gloomy silence that was broken only by the rain beating down on drab, gray streets. I could find nothing to distinguish this city from anywhere else, and feared I had made a mistake in choosing it over Dubrovnik. Zagreb just wasn’t remarkable in any way that I could find, and it was certainly not what I had envisioned for Croatia. It was kind of cute in some areas, but Tallinn had been cuter; it had some former Soviet feel, but Sofia had had more; there were good bakeries, but Germany’s had been better, etc. The best thing I had found was a really delicious meat-filled pastry called burek, but that wasn’t even originally Croatian. All in all, Croatia was turning out to be a disappointment.

I met another solo female traveler from Vancouver who was just embarking on a five-week trip through Croatia. Zagreb was her first stop, and she was enamored of it. I tried to see the city through her eyes, the eyes of one just starting out, who had not yet become jaded enough to make comparisons to other cities, but it was to no avail. I enjoyed her company for a couple of days and seeing her enthusiasm, but it failed to be contagious. Reporting my impression of Zagreb back to a friend at home, she sympathized that I must just be drained at this point. At first I agreed, but on closer inspection, I actually felt the opposite of drained: I felt overly full. My “travel cup” has normally always been empty, or nearly empty, so that I have always craved more. Was it possible that the cup had now been filled beyond capacity?


Everything is New under the Sun

The rain remained unrelenting, and I stopped looking for this “Croatia” that I had imagined. Perhaps the dull days provided an opportunity for my “travel cup” to empty out a bit. Finally on my last full day, the sun appeared, and I saw an entirely different city before me. In the warm light, Zagreb became pretty, interesting, invigorating, and everything I had wanted it to be. The rough, graffitied brick walls now held a certain charm that I had not seen before. Had the rain prevented it from being all those things in the beginning, or had I just been unable to see clearly through my own expectations? Was the change really just due to the effect of the sun, or had my new acquaintance influenced my outlook after all? Perhaps it had to do with the fact that it was my last day, as I seem to like most places best at the end, when I face the reality of having to leave them. I rushed around to make the most of this new Zagreb, and it was not at all disappointing.

On the last evening, I climbed up to one of the overlooks to see the rooftops of Zagreb before dusk set in. The cities I have liked best have all had such a vantage point, where the character of the rooftops adds a new dimension to the city’s personality. These red rooftops were not particularly special compared to others I had seen, so my mind wandered off to a series of questions. How was it that I was indifferent to this view now? Why had I been feeling like I just wanted to go home lately? If travel wasn’t what I wanted and who I was, then where did that leave me? I’ve always been the person who wanted to travel more than she could. Now had I traveled too much? I stared blindly over the city, unable to come up with any answers. Suddenly, I was no longer seeing Zagreb, but all the other red rooftops I had witnessed during my sabbatical. I simultaneously saw those of Lisbon, where my sabbatical had begun, and Tallinn, where I had first entered the former Soviet Union, and Prague, where my husband and I had reunited with an old friend.  A more impressive cityscape might not have allowed the viewer to see beyond it, but Zagreb had been able to remind me of my whole journey. After the memories faded, I saw humble Zagreb again, and I knew that it was enough. Though it had neither the best of anything nor the most of anything, it was still a nicely balanced city. In the same way, I realized that what I really wanted and needed going forward was balance. I can neither travel continuously nor stay home constantly, but I need a balance between the two. I have had more than two months of travel, during which time I have experienced more beauty, awe, and inspiration than I could process. And it was enough for now. Zagreb did not have to be any other place, because it was enough just as it was. And I did not have to travel anywhere else for now, because my travels were enough just as they were.


The Numbers

The numbers from Croatia include 5 full days.

  • Bus from Munich to Zagreb (one way): $24.94
  • Private room with a shared bathroom in a hostel for 5 nights: $87.10
  • Guidebook (for Eastern Europe, expense divided among the countries I'm visiting): $7.00
  • Daily expenses (food, laundry): $68.44
  • Currency exchange fee (kuna to euro to USD): $23.64

Total: $211.12

Average: $42.22 per day

Wow, this is my lowest daily average yet! The previous record holder was Riga, Latvia at $49.18 per day. Prices are low in Croatia, and were even lower because it was still off-peak season. In addition, I have nearly mastered the art of travel grocery shopping now. I am very pleased with this number, and now Zagreb, which I had thought lacked any superlatives, will hold this record!

Tags: balance, budget, croatia, enough, red rooftops, sabbatical, solo, travel, zagreb




Hello: Which bus company did you use going to Zagreb? Thank you.

  AC Sep 14, 2016 4:18 AM


Hi AC! I booked through Deutsche Bahn (www.bahn.com). It's the German railway system, but they also have some buses. This one was from Munich to Zagreb with a short stop in Ljubljana. It wasn't a stop to change buses; it was just for some people to get off and others to get on.

  wanderlustgail Sep 14, 2016 9:55 AM

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