Within hours of arriving into Zagreb, I noticed a significant difference in my mood as compared to when I was in Lviv. While I got less than four hours of sleep back in Budapest and the weather in Zagreb was just a bright and sunny as I remember in Lviv, I was remarkably cheerful. It was a strange feeling that I couldn't quite put my finger on, but I couldn't stop smiling. I strolled through through Zrinjevac Park in the middle of downtown Zagreb for a half-hour before it finally dawned on me why I was in such a positive disposition - the people here are smiling! They seem so much happier than in Lviv! Even after three weeks of traveling through Ukraine, I still can’t get over how ingrained the simple act of smiling is in my life and how significantly it effects my mood.
It felt like a breath of fresh air.
I took a seat on a nearby bench overlooking the park and reminisced about my time in Lviv as compared to my few hours in Zagreb. While physically close and ascetically very similar to most Western cities, Lviv feels like it is a world away from the rest of Europe. There are significant cultural differences in Ukraine, and what’s so remarkably funny is how quickly the social atmosphere of Ukraine became normal to me. By the end of my three-week visit to the country, I became accustomed to not talking to anyone on the streets, accepted that (in my opinion) people generally appeared angry at my mere existence, and understood that perpetual communication issues were the norm. Now that I’m in Croatia; however, it feels as if a veil has been lifted from my eyes, the weather is fantastic, there is a cool breeze in the air, kids play outside in the beautiful parks with their families, everyone has a friendly smile, people speak English, and there is a general lighthearted feeling that permeates the city.
I’m already glad I came to Croatia.
Zagreb is an incredibly pretty city that most travelers usually use as brief layover spot on their way to the coast. Since Zagreb is located inland, you will not find any sprawling beaches that the country is renowned for, but the city still has a great deal to offer and is full of amazing food, nice people, perfectly manicured parks, and tons of history. My first day in Zagreb I simply let myself get lost. I wasn’t in a rush to get anywhere and was happy to simply relax in one of the many parks around town, spend the afternoon out in the sun, and generally wander aimlessly through this beautiful city. Unlike Lviv, I could tell the buildings and public spaces here in Zagreb are given much more love and attention. After strolling through the Botanical Garden, hiking through the Upper Town, visiting Petar Preradović Square, and seeing Zagreb Cathedral I was beyond exhausted – remember I had four hours of sleep the night before.
In total, I spent five days in Zagreb, but unfortunately three of them were complete washouts. I’m thankful I was able to appreciate a few perfect days in the city, but the second half of my stay was full of wind, rain, and surprisingly low temperatures – the city pulled a complete 180 on me. On these days I ventured outside – I've never let a little rain get in my way before - but these excursions were horribly unpleasant and only served to soak my shoes and give me a horrible chill.
I am really not equipped to deal with cold weather.
While the change in weather didn’t bode well for my upcoming hiking trip to the Plitvice Lakes National Park, the moment the weather flipped back, I was out the door exploring the city. On one such day I stumbled upon a rather unique attraction called the Museum of Broken Relationships. Unlike most museums that house various famous works of art, this one is full of simple, ordinary objects associated with failed relationships over the years. The items are mailed in from people all around the world can range from shoes, video games, letters, and stuffed animals all the way to old olive pits, an axe, and even a heroine test kit. Accompanying each item is a story written by the donor describing the rise and fall of a failed relationship.
While not the most lighthearted topic to base a museum on, the stories are fascinating - and often times shocking - to read. Initially I was quite hesitant to visit the museum since I was coincidentally dealing with a similar issue in my own life, but the exhibits had a remarkably soothing effect. While it isn’t necessarily an uplifting museum I highly recommend it as the concept is something every human being out there can relate to. Seeing what so many other people have been through put things into perspective and served to remind me that life moves on.
I firmly believed the story behind a piece of art is just as important as the piece itself. This applies as much to a world-renowned Van Gogh painting you'd find in the Louvre as much as the random stuffed animal found in a museum like this. The biggest issue I have with modern day museums is that they never tell the story behind the works of art and this is something the Museum of Broken Relationships nails perfectly.
The pieces themselves are not important it's the stories they symbolize that make them special.
While I loved my time in Zagreb, tomorrow I'm off to hike through the famous Plitvice Lakes National Park and will spend the night camping at a nearby site. Unlike the last unexpected camping experience during my hitchhiking trip, this time I planned a bit and I'm even equipped with a sleeping bag, so I should be good to go. Even though the weather has been hit or miss the past few days, I’m determined to go through with my plans regardless – at the very least, if all goes wrong, it will make for a great story.
Onwards to the Plitvice Lakes!
One of the greatest aspects of my trip through Croatia, aside from the stellar beaches and picturesque cities, was the music. Unlike many of the countries I've visited so far, I have an entire soundtrack for Croatia and over the next few posts I'll include a song associated with each city I visited for your listening pleasure. Enjoy!
The song of Zagreb:
More to come so stay tuned!