‘Let’s go to Croatia,’ Mark exclaimed to me. You know what? He took the words straight out of my mouth. We’ve been umming and ahhing about where to go for our three weeks away together. We’ve already tried to explore the possibilities that we could go to countries such as Japan, USA and Cuba. But money was always a factor and we simply wanted to go back to our roots and the way we met each other and became, well, best friends (he probably would told me that I was going soft in my old age). Destiny brought us together at the height of Summer 2012 in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia in Reggae Mansions and before we knew it, we were running away together to Singapore and South East Australia where we bonded deeply over his distaste for my silly jokes that permeated his every day life. (Oh, it got worse in Croatia…)
So, as we landed in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, one summer day in 2014, I knew that I simply wanted to get back to my roots of my blogging adventure that started many years ago. A diary to tell you what I got up to in that country. Nay, an inspiration to get you to follow my roots that you shall have a journey of a lifetime in my footsteps whilst chuckling away at the many escapades that I unexpectedly stumbled into without any warning. And let me tell you, the next 17 days, Mark and I won’t disappoint! It would be a series of bellowing laughter, a close budding bromance, cringe worthy adventures and memories to last a generation.
So here it is, I give you Ed and Mark’s Adventures Backpacking in Croatia. And it all started at the airport in Zagreb…
‘What do you mean you don’t know the way to the hostel?!’ Mark thundered at me while he hoisted his backpack onto his shoulder. Already the signs of our enthusiastic start were starting to crack. I was withdrawing some money from the ATM thanks to my Caxton FX Currency Card and I just uttered those words. I was in charge of the planning and already I forgot to write down the directions to the hostel from the airport. I thought to retort that I would have done on the way to the airport in the UK earlier if I wasn’t gripping on the panic bar as his mum skillfully yet scarily weaved her way through one of the busiest motorways to drop us off. But I thought better as I already had a plan. All I had to do was wave my iPhone in his face. He gave me what I would call the ‘grumpy stare.’
‘It’s on my email from Hostelworld so all I have to do is download it…’ I said while I scanned to connect the wifi, ‘wait, I need to fill out the form…’
But before we knew it, we were on the shuttle bus to the main bus station. And we had big massive grins as the first sights of Zagreb appeared before us. Oh, I didn’t mean we were smiling because we could see Zagreb. It was all to do with a gorgeous Croatian Policewoman who had a gun by her side sauntering up and down the gangway of the bus who gave us a winning smile to us.
Mark turned to me, ‘I love Croatia.’ We had only been in the country less than an hour.
Arriving at the bus station, I went forward to our hostel, Palmers Lodge Zagreb, which is only 10 mins walk away and really conveniently located for the city. Checked in by another gorgeous Croatian lady, we were pretty pleased with our first lodgings, a twin bed room with en suite and our own corridor. It was already late afternoon and I was itching to get out and explore. After all, we only had two nights here and we were in the biggest city in Croatia. But first, we had to work out the shower. You see, I’m pretty vain so naturally I was first in the shower. But what laid before me was a befuddled system. There was a stop-gap in place and as soon as I flicked on the lever, water gushed out of the ‘tap’ that was level to my crotch. No, I wasn’t stood inside a bath, it was a shower cubicle. I was slightly perplexed at this and assumed it was for washing your bottom vigorously with. All, I wanted was water to come out of the shower head above me. Easy, there was a stop-gap. I tried lifting it up to shut off the tap valve and it worked momentarily only to spit at me freezing cold water. Shrieking girlishly, I let go and water again gushed out of the tap. Hmm. Crouching naked, outside of the cubicle, there was no way to budge the stop-gap and water still continued to gush. Already I was sweating more than possible in the humid environment in Zagreb and soon, Mark was knocking at the bathroom door wondering what was taking so long. Feck. I just had to go for it. I squatted down under the tap and let the water gush over me while I nervously hoped that the last people didn’t wipe their bottom over it. Leaving the bathroom, I knew I had to warn Mark what had happened so I did the British thing to do. I didn’t tell him. Minutes later, I could hear Mark wonder, ‘What the f…’
Refreshed, we were walking through the Kralja Tomislava Park and came to the conclusion that everyone was wrong about Zagreb. When I talked to many of my fellow travel bloggers and others who have visited this Mediterranean country, they literally dissed the capital city. Rundown, boring, too grey, nothing much happening were the many words used to describe. Actually, they were utterly and completely wrong. Zagreb was quintessentially charming, green and dare I use the word, hip! Sure enough, there is an edge to it but that’s to be expected after the devastating Yugoslav Wars of the 90s. Our first view of Zagreb opened our expectations of the city. Take a look at the pics below.
It’s a nice little walk from here to the centre of Zagreb that is Jelacica Square. Here you’ll find the best place to people watch. My favourite was the drunk granny who kept chatting up bemused teenager boys.
Well, feeling our tummies rumbling, we took our hostel coupon to Mali Medo Restaurant on Ivana Thalcica Street. Basically, the street where all the good restaurants and bars are. Warning: It can be quite touristy but we were so hungry we didn’t care. I ordered the Pub Goulash with Strudel and I have to say it was fairly yummy but didn’t exactly wow me. Here was my first proper Eastern European Food.
Now I’ll come on to this in a later post but don’t expect fantastic Croatian table service. It’s hilariously rude. But we opted to stay on and try out the first tastes of Croatian Beverages. Starting with Rakia – a fruit brandy popular in the Balkans that’s an eye-wateringly 40% Alcohol! The honey flavour is the most mild one so I opted for that whereas Mark, in a macho moment, tried the Peach flavoured one, meant to be the strongest. Downing mine in one gulp, it was a warm tingling feeling down my throat and I set my empty glass down with a thud on the table with a pleased grin on my face. Mark, however, was a different story. He gagged mid-point and his eyes became ‘moist’ as he coughed and spluttered before spilling some of the brandy over the table. I had a sip and yes, it was like a firework in your mouth!
As a result, we needed to have a locally brewed beer to calm our fiery (more his) throats. The verdict?
Dusk fell and a bromantic setting was set. Candles appeared at our table, we huddled in closer to speak to each other. But the icing on the cake? On a window above us, a singer crooned (slightly out of tune) songs. A leg over the window sill, he sang with gusto into the microphone above his head.
It was a rather sweet I do have to admit. But it did get too romantic with snogging couples surrounding us. So we bid a hasty retreat back to the hostel for an early night for a full day’s exploration the next day.
But as luck would have it, the hot Croatian receptionist had a surprise for us. A delicious delicacy called Baklava. A pastry wrapped meat snack, delivered from the local takeaway store. A perfect accompaniment as we browsed our Lonely Planet Guide to plan the next day.
Little did we know we should have gone straight to bed instead…
If you’re looking for a Backpacker’s Guide to Croatia by yours truly, why not check out this article?