As a recap of my 5 month solo Euro trip, I was part of an exchange program in which I lived with a family in Spain for the first 2 1/2 months. That means for the last half, I have been completely nomadic and solo, not living with a family or in a house and on the constant go go go.
If you have questions about my exchange program and experience then message me privately.
The capital of Croatia was my first stop! And no, the capital is not Dubrovnik....though that may be the only city most Americans know of in Croatia and not because of its beauty and history but because of (you guessed it) Game of Thrones.
Honestly, most Americans haven't even heard of Croatia. The Balkans are rarely explored by my fellow citizens. I'd be surprised if most Americans even know what the Balkans means! So much of this beautiful area of Europe goes uneducated in
good ole America
Stop what you're doing right now and quickly Google in this order:
1. Where is Croatia?
2. What are the Balkans?
Ta-Da! You have learned something new today. And you know what? Now I think you should start considering traveling here. Because it is uhhhhhhhhmazing here!
It was really cool for me to not only solo travel to a new country and earn a new stamp on my Passport but also to visit Croatia because I have wanted to visit this beautiful country since I saw photos of it as a kid.
No, Zagreb doesn't have beaches like Google image displays the beautiful country as but it does have a lot of diversity and beauty. Since it's the capital, the city is bustling with people of different nationalities.
Did you know that Croatia's history is intense with war and transformation? It didn't even become independent until 1991!
Oh and you know what else is awesome? Croatians invented the necktie. Pay your respect Don Drapers of the world. You wouldn't be half as swag-a-licious without this Croatian tradition.
Here are the 5 top things that impacted me while in Zagreb:
1. My hostel
You're probably a bit surprised. I know hostels aren't full of locals and may be void of historical culture but my hostel made my trip so much fun. It set the bar high for the rest of my trip.
I was always surrounded by friendly, upbeat people. Being a solo traveler, I thought I would have a lot of alone time. I learned quickly, especially at this hostel, that is a flawed misconception. I kept meeting people at the bar in the lounge or on the sidewalks and restaurants. I would be eating or walking and run into someone from the hostel and suddenly we would be hanging out. The workers at my hostel were incredible. They were always joking, laughing, and keeping an upbeat vibe in the atmosphere. My roommates were fun. I mean....I couldn't ask for a better place to stay when surrounded by happy people who just want to be your friends! (hostel: Chillout Hostel)
2. Coffee time
This is true for many Balkan countries but Zagreb's coffee time truly stands out to me. Rain, shine, winter, or snow, the locals will sit outside and drink coffee for at least an hour. They bring in heaters and umbrellas for the weather because they insist on this daily activity. Coffee time is important. Here, you drink with someone else while enjoying each other's company. It's the time that you truly relax. You even let your coffee get cold because you sip it slowly and talk a lot. It's also acceptable and common to pick up food from a local bakery and bring it to the coffee shop to eat. If you did this in the states then you would immediately be the rudest customer ever. The bakeries in Zagreb are really good and cheap so this custom made me happy. Everywhere I turned in Zagreb, I spotted a new outdoor cafe. Literally, every restaurant and bar serves as a coffee shop. People will be drinking coffee at any time of the day, including past midnight while others are clubbing.
3. Quirky places
Zagreb has a bit of artsy funk to it. It's got large parks in which people lounge in the grass and play music. I also enjoyed the original Museum of Broken Relationships, which is a museum archiving and telling stories of people's failed relationships whether it's between a loved one dying or a lover's broken heart. There are outdoor parks full of string lights and paper hearts, paper machete mermaids, animated creatures in spray paint over brick, live music, and good beer.
Strukli is a traditional food in Zagreb that consists of cottage cheese (it's good I swear), dough, and various fillings. It turns out like a baked casserole in a deep dish. You can eat it sweet or savory. My favorite was filled with sausages. It's seriously so good.
5. The Dolac Market
This market is open every day. It's an open market with veggies, fruit, cheese, meat, grains, and souvenirs. There are even flower markets surrounding it. Traditionally, women used to be the only vendors here (now some men sell) and they would wake up very early to gather the products needed such as picking the fruit or gardening their veggies. They would have to make their way to the city because most of these locals lived in the countryside of mountainous Zagreb. These steep walks are not easy. They would carry their massive baskets of products on their heads to the market and sell all day. Their nicknames were Kumica, deriving from godmother, and once a local started buying from her kumica then she never strayed. Staying loyal to a Kumica built close relationships between the vendors and buyers.
If you come to Croatia, which you should, then don't ignore Zagreb. I know it doesn't have beaches or Game of Thrones but it does have a popular lake, a lively but very relaxed atmosphere, and it's simply a beautiful city. Apparently Christmas here is a huge deal so I'm adding the holidays in Croatia to my bucketlist!