I’m a bit unconventional in terms of what I desire out of visits to foreign places (I’m so churched out!), so I popped in my headphones and took a proper wander through the historic city. Down one little alley near in the Lower City, I came across colorful tags adorning the the old European buildings.
Zagreb, Croatia was my the first stop in my 30-th Birthday World Tour in September, 2009. It was also the city which reinvigorated my love of travel, re-introduced me to crazy backpacker antics courtesy of some Aussies, let me believe (for a moment) in Hollywood endings, and eventually, began this crazy journey I am on today.
My first day, I simply wandered with my camera, shooting photos of daily life in this mesmerizing city that blends old with new.
It’s no secret I love Croatia. My first trip to Croatia is what started me on my current life path. It spawned my career-break, and to this day, holds a very, very special place in my heart.
I have spent more time in Croatia than I have in almost any other country, other than America. I can close my eyes and instantly recall the mesmerizing bluegreen of the Adriatic. I can almost taste the homemade olive oil on my tongue. I can feel that warmth in my heart that Croatia first evoked.
This photo is from my first trip, in September 2010. It was before I knew … anything.
In Zagreb’s Upper Town, there are little streets with exposed brick, colorful graffiti and narrow paths that branch out from the gorgeous cafe-lined main roads. Often short cuts to some amazing view, restaurant or museum, I found myself wandering the tiny paths only accessible to people and motor bikes. I’m pretty sure this photo was taken the moment I fell in love with Zagreb.
“Come by and see me at my coffee shop,” the note on my Facebook wall said from one Jonathan (my Travel Love from Zagreb) who was now residing in Amsterdam.
As soon as I received that message, a little glimmer of what I felt in Zagreb shot through me. I had sent Jonathan a message earlier in the week, keeping it real casual because I didn’t want to come off as that crazy girl he shared one night with way back in September in a foreign country.
Before learning Jon was not going to be meeting me in Zadar, Amy and I adventured to Plitvice Lakes National Park.
After an hour of sleep, a haul to the bus station, and the pure adrenaline and hope pumping through my veins at what the day would bring, sinking into the seat on the bus was divine.
Quickly, my head bobbed to the window and sleep coursed through my blood. There were a few times along the way when my eyes would flutter open and I would marvel at the road we journeyed down. Amy had nudged me at one point to show me homes that had been destroyed by the 90s war; another time I was greeted with the sight of turn-of-the-century homes teetering over waterfalls and rushing waters.
When we finally arrived to Plitvice, you wouldn’t have known what was contained beyond the thick forest where we departed the bus.
To say Plitvice Lakes is a stunner would be an understatement. Its sheer technicolor natural beauty around each and every meandering turn is jaw-dropping. Its 16 turquoise lakes link together through waterfalls cascading down sheer rock cliffs. Unlike most water bodies I have seen, you can see straight to the bottom with astounding clarity. That twig resting on the lake floor? You can see even the most minute detail.
The four of us walked aimlessly at first from the bar, trying to determine where we were headed. The boys wanted to go clubbing, and I wasn’t going to debate.
Jon and I led the group. I had seen the club, Park, earlier in the day. Tin had pointed it out to me on our drive. The club was tucked in (shocker) a park by the cathedral, so I kind of knew where to go. Being backpackers on a budget, we opted to stop first at the gas station across the street and stock up on some beers.
Well, Jon and I did. The others just hung out. Slightly buzzed already, we stared at the cooler debating which poison we wanted and what size. We ended up with some super-sized cans of Croatian beer. Two a-piece. The plan was to sneak them into the club, so we shoved three of them into my purse and one into his shorts. It wasn’t the classiest. It wasn’t the most honest. But, it saved us a few KN so we weren’t going to feel too bad about it. Especially after Jon forked over cover for both of us.
Inside was unlike any club I had ever experienced. There was a terrace, a bar and a dance area with the DJ set on a slightly raised stage. A mix of Euro house music and cheesy 80s music flooded the room. Jon and I looked at each other and headed straight for the bar for a shot.
Needless to say, we did not last long there. We bopped our heads to the bad music and when the DJ made an announcement in Croatian, Jon could only interpret it as an apology for the crap we were listening to, and reasoned that he must have left his music at home and what we were listening to was the backup.
The rest of our party seemed to be having a good time so they weren’t keen to follow us when Jon and I decided to depart for greener pastures (and to meet his friends at another club). The thing about greener pastures is this — once you get there, they aren’t so green. Luckily for us, we never made it to another club.
Davor and I stood on Fulir’s balcony, overlooking the tiny shops and bar below. He was telling me a Canadian girl was staying here and also going to Plitvice Lakes the next day, and when she got back, he promised he would introduce us so we could take the bus together the following morning. He had tried to explain to me where the bus station was, but when I became exasperated because of my lack of map-reading skills, I just asked if him or Tin, a worker at the hostel I had befriended the night before, would come with me so I wouldn’t get lost. Instead of agreeing to that, Tin said he would drive me to the bus station to purchase the ticket.
It worked for me.
That’s when I saw Him on the street below. He caught my eye immediately. Perfect height (I’d probably recon around 5’9 or so). Perfect weight (the right blend between athletic and non-athletic). And completely different from the typical guy.
He wore plaid shorts, a dark shirt and shiny gold-framed sunglasses. He had a healthy serving of tattoos on his arms and legs, and a lip ring hooped through the middle of his bottom lip. His brown hair was cropped close to his head.
There was no way he was staying at Fulir. He just didn’t fit the mold of a typical backpack-hostel-goer. But, he walked up the ancient, red colored stairs, pulled a key out of his pocket and walked through the yellow painted door into the room I was staying in. When he walked in I caught a glimpse of a tattoo peaking through his hair on the back of his head and melted just a little bit.