My first day in Zagreb is pretty darn scary
It’s really a sign of ignorance when the only thing I knew about Zagreb is a museum that revolves around broken relationships.
I’ve got a Workaway in a hostel, which is amazing because I’ve never done that before. But asides from that, I don’t feel much passion for Zagreb, since I’m only here to get out of the Schengen zone. To seal my existence in Budapest, I went partying with a bunch of Couchsurfers the night before. I haven’t even bought a ticket to Zagreb yet at that point— that’s how little I cared.
I stumbled into my host’s house just a little after 7 am. Before I head to Margaret Island with my hosts, Regi and Judit, I bought the bus ticket for 1 pm to Zagreb. It was a refreshing walk, especially after a night of intense drinking and dancing. Soon, we had to say goodbye and I left Budapest.
The Bus Ride
It wasn’t the most stimulating bus ride. To be fair, it might also be because I could barely keep my eyes open. The Hungarian countryside is beautifully depressing. It was the middle of winter, which means a lot of crops are dead and some farmers hadn’t bothered to clear them. Regardless, the green open fields occasionally dotted by random farmhouses are still a pretty sight to see. It’s easy to sleep on the bus since the roads are surprisingly well paved. I know, shocker, considering how corrupted the Hungarian government is said to be.
Thank goodness getting through the Hungarian-Croatian border was a breeze. The border police took my passport and smiled at me. I was dumbstruck. They’ve never smiled at me before! It’s always a lot of flipping through my passport as if they’re expecting to find ‘illegal entry’ written in bright red on my pages.
One of the border police came up to the bus while we were waiting and called for ‘Kevin’. Kevin shot up and handed the officer a second passport. The officer merely smiled and teased him. “Wrong passport huh?”, she asked, “I could arrest you for that”. He merely shrugged and grinned sheepishly. That’s how friendly the border police is. It’s amazing!
Pulling into Zagreb
5 hours later, we pulled into Zagreb.
It’s definitely not what I expected. As with most Balkan countries, I wasn’t expecting wide roads. The whole city glowed with an orange tint from the working street lamps. It reminded me of Skopje, Macedonia— both the condition of the city and my ignorant awe for the city.
I wanted to exchange my Pound Sterlings for Hrvatska Kunas. A man standing by the side of a bus ticketing office started calling at me and asking me questions. I kept my head down while he kept trying to make conversation. Brazened by my gradual intolerance for things like this happening to me (and residual alcohol), I asked him where the currency exchange office is. His demeanour changed immediately and he cheerfully pointed me to the currency office, which is literally 10 steps away from where he was standing. I thanked him and went into the office for some peace and quiet.
I wanted to be a law-abiding traveller, so I set out to find a ticketing booth for the trams. The weight of my backpack is making me cranky and I couldn’t find the ticketing booth. I gave up swiftly and just hopped on my tram. Adrenaline runs high the whole time I was in the tram; I was so scared of getting caught and deported. As I’d learn much later, no one actually pays for transportation in Zagreb.
Trg Ban Jelacic, the main square
I saw a bunch of men huddling together in near vicinity of the tramlines. Some of them had beer bottles in their hand. My spidey sense instantly perked up— alcohol and a bunch of men rarely mean good news. They started humming a little song. Trying to not notice, I whipped out my phone to get directions to the hostel. The humming gradually crescendoed into singing and then yelling. It was disconcerting. I was so nervous when I had to cut through them to get to the hostel. They left me alone, thank goodness, but it sure felt like I was getting a heart attack.
My new home for the next month
Chillout hostel was super hidden. As soon as I stepped in, I was greeted warmly by the rest of the volunteers. They showed me around and brought me food. It wasn’t too busy yet as it was just 7 pm. I can tell I’d like the place.
Petra, the events manager, invited me to Hanger, apparently one of the best clubs in Zagreb. It was in an airport hanger before being converted into a nightclub. Pre-drinks had undergone and we were sort of wasted even before we got into the club. It was generic pop/house but it was good music to dance to. Getting our entrance fee waived and a free bottle of vodka definitely made the night better. Being surrounded by beautiful people in fancy outfits made me feel like a shabby potato. I started dancing on the dance floor to drown my insecurities with Mariana and G, who are volunteers from the hostel. Not long after, G left for a gay club for better prospects. I never saw him again that night. 😉
My first encounter with a Croatian man
I was doing my stuff on the dance floor and a random Croatian man started dancing behind me. He was pretty good looking. He’s blond and had a full beard going on, both of which I liked a lot. He was a pretty good dancer and we generally had a pretty good time. Suddenly, he grabbed my waist and pulled me close to him and got close for a kiss. I was so taken aback I didn’t know what to do. It felt wrong and weird.
I laughed nervously to try and diffuse the discomfort I felt. I wanted to keep dancing, so I moved away but he was relentless. He came in for a second kiss. I’m sort of fucked up in the head and I gave him a second chance. It definitely didn’t feel right. His beard was prickling me. His tongue felt gummy. The movements felt forced. No, this is not happening.
Under the pretence of dancing with Mariana, I pushed him away. Thankfully, he was respectful enough to leave me alone. Mariana and I danced till 3 in the morning, then head back to the hostel. The night wind was sobering. We laughed and talked the whole way back. It felt great having some alone time to talk to a person I’d work closely with. I’m not going to lie. Between the singing men and the direct kisser, Zagreb is pretty intimidating so far. I can’t wait for what’s in store.