Croatia: Birthplace of the neck tie, the ballpoint pen, the parachute, and Marco Polo. And now….fashion capital of the world?? Who knew Zagrebbians were so fashionable? Nobody warned me. After stumbling around in the 30-degree heat with my 25-lb backpack in tow (note – quite proud it only weighs 25 lbs), I couldn’t get to my tiny hostel room fast enough to flip into the only somewhat fashionable outfit I brought along. I swapped my crumpled, sweaty khaki pants and hiking shoes for my crumpled but dry little black dress and wrinkled silk scarf so quickly it made the hostel hostess’s head spin. I headed back out into the bustling square with renewed fashion confidence. But…no. Something was wrong. People were still staring. Could it be that the sturdy nylon daypack (I am cursing it already) and sensible walking sandals (completely the wrong colour) revealed my true status as a salty backpacker instead of a Croatian model on her day off? Despite the fact that I dont care about fashion, I’ve secretly prided myself on my ability to pull something together at a moment’s notice that lets me blend in with the best of them. Not this time. Everyone here is tall, gorgeous, and thin – especially, for some reason, the moms pushing strollers. Giagantic sunglasses and designer hangbags flash in the dusk as expensive footwear clicks along the cobblestone streets. I am most assuredly a tourist. After checking in, I set out to find that international traveller’s staple: food. My meal was less than spectacular, but I guess I can’t complain about turkey “medallions” (McNugget-like creations) with rice and mushroom sauce, wine and an after-dinner brandy for a grand total of about $10 CDN. I then strolled up and down the quaint streets lined with millions of outdoor terrasses (honestly, millions) filled with Croatia’s see-and-be-scene, nursing expensive-looking drinks. Montreal’s got nothing on the terrasse industry….Zagreb is where it’s at. It was all rather intimidating, so I just kept on walking. I shared my hostel room with a couple from New Zealand currently living in Ireland, and a guy from Missouri. Thankfully we all agreed to lights-out around 10pm, which would have assured me a good night’s sleep had it not been for the fact that our room is DIRECTLY over an outdoor bar. When the crowd finally thinned around 2 am, I dozed off…only to be awakened a short time later by a drunken, rowdy gaggle of Croat men singing their favourite Croatian tunes at the top of their lungs, such as that old standard, Moja Stikla, and my personal favourite, Idi leða mi okreni. Always brings a tear to my eye. Someone finally (after about 100 years?) threatened to call the police and sleep was once again mine. Still, arrival day was not a total write-off. Davor and Anna and little Lucca surprised me by picking me up at the airport and dropping me near the square, so that was nice. And…just to be here, soaking up the history of this country that has been bounced around so much throughout its history that I fancy it must be dizzy, is part of a dream realized. Interesting notes: 1) approximately 40% of Croatians smoke. Indoors. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone smoking at a baggage carousel at the airport. As I sit in the internet cafe, I’m typing as quickly as I can to get out of here before my clothes and hair completely absorb the smoke that I am immersed in from fellow internet addicts. 2) A study in contrasts: Despite the fashionable nature of Zareb, the prices do not match. I knocked back a fabulous latte and freshy-baked almond croissant this morning for less than $4 CDN. I can easily survive on a diet of nothing but this if I have to. 3) Despite my expectations, I have not immediately fallen in with a gang of friendly backpackers. Everyone sort of goes their separate ways from the hostel, and out in the street, I am having a hard time even finding a tourist. As soon as I spot someone I’m sure is as lost as I am and hoping for a friend to walk around with as much as I am, out comes a string of Croatian words. Granted, Zagreb isn’t anywhere near the tourist destination that the coastal towns and islands are. It’s more of a stopover on the way from the airport to the coast, and that’s rather how it feels. It’s not unlike many other large European cities: busy, people catching trams to work, going about their daily lives while we tourists (so far, only me) trip about amongst them with our maps and walking tour guidebooks. Off I go to discover the charms of Zagreb. I know there are many.
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