Hello Alone (Croatia)

At the 8 week point now! On Monday, I made my way to the Venice train station at about 1:30pm. I was actually planning to spend more time in Venice and take the night train to Zagreb later that evening but in December, Italy decided that they didn’t want trains going through Slovenia or something so they stopped all of the night trains. Therefore, my time in Venice was cut short as I only got about 24 hours there. I was still feeling sicker than before so maybe it was good for me to get some rest on the train. In Croatia, trains aren’t a huge form of transportation; they mostly use buses. So I had to take a train ride to Trieste on the edge of Italy, then take a bus to Rijeka. We had to go through border control (for the first time on my trip) which seemed to take forever; I just wanted to sleep cause my nose wouldn’t stop running on the bus. We then got to Rijeka, which was right on the sea. When we got there, both of my ears were completely plugged but I didn’t realize it; I just remember walking through the streets and loving how quiet the city was. I was lucky to find a hostel close to the bus station so I rang the bell to see if they had a room. I was waiting and waiting and then I heard an extremely quiet voice on the intercom. And that’s when I realized how plugged my ears actually were; I could hardly hear anything! Anyway, they had room for me and it was by far the cleanest and nicest hostel I’ve been in so far! I had a late supper and went to bed.

Tuesday morning, I woke up early to catch the bus to Zagreb. You can’t book tickets online or anything so I’ve just been going to the ticket station and there’s usually always a bus about to leave in the next ten minutes. The bus to Zagreb was about two hours and afterwards, I went to my hostel to drop off my stuff before spending the rest of the day exploring. I started off by going to the Dolac Market, a daily market with so many fruits and vegetables, as well as some homemade souvenirs; it was really neat to see! Afterwards, I went for lunch to a Croatian restaurant. I had grilled vegetables and meat and for dessert, I had Gibanica, a four-layered cake with chopped walnuts as the bottom layer, then poppy seeds, then cheese, then apples. It was so good! I’ll have to try to make it when I get home. I then walked around the lower town and the upper town, just taking in the sites. It’s a gorgeous city! Croatia is a lot more welcoming and laid-back compared to many of the other countries I’ve been to. I can get a coke and just sit there for two hours whereas in Italy, I felt like I was always rushed to eat as fast as I could cause they were trying to get you out just as fast as they got you in.

Wednesday morning, I got up early again so I could make it to Plitvice National Park by 11. I read in a lot of reviews that it was too touristy and overcrowded and I could definitely see that since most people chose to do the 3-4 hour hikes. I chose to do the 6-8 hour hike, which went completely around all of the lakes, went up and down, and just had a lot more variety than the others. Luckily, my hike usually went to higher ground in the spots where there were lots of tourists so I could see all the tourists below me, but on my path I hardly ever saw anyone; it was so nice! I couldn’t believe how blue the lakes were, it was absolutely insane! The only logical explanation I have is that they put blue food colouring into the lakes every night. I’ve never seen such clear waters, it was amazing! Now I know why these are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well. By the end of my walk, my legs were just hurting and I was ready to go to bed. I stayed in a town called Grabovac, about 11km away from Plitvice. So I had to wait for the bus to take me there. I must have waited 20 minutes and still nothing had come, but the stop was starting to attract more and more people. Then a taxi driver came up and asked if we wanted a ride. Clever guy, he sits by the stop and once he can get a full car, he shows up right before the bus. He charged 100 kuna per person to go to Zagreb which isn’t too bad considering my bus ticket from Zagreb was 105. And then for me, he charged 20 kuna, about three bucks! So I got in the taxi with six other people and headed to Grabovac. There aren’t really any hostels around the area since it’s still not that touristy, but they have lots of guesthouses. So I had to go a little over what I normally pay for a room but I got my own room with an ensuite and balcony! Such a nice change from hostels! When I got there, a girl answered the door; she must have been 9 or 10. She showed me my room, asked for my passport, and got me checked in haha I was quite impressed! I then asked where the closest place to eat was, which was 500 metres away. I think my legs were mad at me for doing even more walking. It was a little restaurant at a campsite so it was quite cheap. However, Croatia is considerably cheap compared to everywhere else I’ve been in Europe. And they always give very generous portion sizes, unlike Italy.

Thursday morning, I caught the bus to Zadar. Every time I’ve talked to other travellers and told them I was going to Croatia, they’ve all been like, “Oh you’re going to LOVE it, it’s so beautiful!” but I was always comparing it to Switzerland and I couldn’t see what all the hype was about. But on this bus ride, I finally saw the beauty of Croatia. Gorgeous hills and mountains, and all of the leaves are just starting to change colour. I absolutely loved Zadar! It was another one of those really positive energy cities; I got a really good vibe from it. I had some shrimp risotto for lunch (yum!) and then walked around the old town. One of the coolest things about Zadar is its sea organ. There’s an organ that’s built into the water and it plays notes based on how much water is pushed into it. So when boats go by and make big waves, more notes are played; it’s really cool and it’s so hypnotizing; I just got lost staring at the water and listening to the organ play. After walking around the entire old town, I got some gelato and I was casually strolling down the street when I saw a sign. It said, “70% off, 29 kuna.” My brain quickly did the math as I continued to walk down the street only to find out that wow! That’s five bucks a shirt! So I turned around, noooooooo! I was doing so good! So four shirts, a dress, and less than 30 bucks later, I had another bag of stuff to carry. And once I started, I couldn’t stop. Crap… I went to two more stores and bought even more stuff. When I went back to my hostel, three of my roommates were there: two guys from England and one from Mexico. The four of us went for drinks and went for a night stroll along the coast, it was fun!

Friday morning, I caught the 3.5 hour bus to Split and then in Split, I was planning to catch the ferry to Hvar soonafter. However, when I went to buy my ticket (which I wanted for 11:30am), she said the only ferry going was at 5pm. I was so not impressed… Not only would I be stuck in Split but I would be missing the last of the nice weather in Hvar since it was supposed to rain the next day for the following week. Luckily there was a sooner ferry at 2:30pm that went to a different port. So I decided to take that one and therefore keep myself entertained in Split for the next three hours. Meaning sitting at a restaurant and reading and writing. I wasn’t planning on walking around Split carrying my bags of newly acquired items. I finally caught the ferry, which took about two hours, and then I went to my hostel and found out that they had overbooked.. So instead of having to stay in an 8 bed dorm, I was put in a one bedroom suite with a kitchen and bathroom for the same price. Score! I took advantage of having my own room. Since I was literally down to my last pair of underwear, it was time to do laundry. But standing at a laundromat all day (when you could be exploring the city) is not my idea of a fun time. So I decided to do it the old fashioned way… In the kitchen sink. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. I’ve never handwashed clothes before, but I’ve seen the washing machine work plenty of times, so I tried to imitate it as best I could, complete with a wash cycle and a rinse cycle. Couldn’t figure out how I’d do a spin cycle… Then I set up my drying station in the wardrobe, hung everything on the pole and hangers, and set up the fan to dry them. It worked quite well! I spent the night exploring the old town in Hvar. I went to an amazing restaurant and had the best pizza I’ve had in a long time (even better than Italy!). The thing I liked about Croatia was you knew all of the food was homemade. In Italy, I’m pretty sure everything was premade and just sitting there all day. In one restaurant I went to in Pisa, every time someone ordered a pasta, I’d see the “cook” walk into the room beside my table and walk back out trying to hide the frozen microwave pastas that she took back to the kitchen…no joke! And in Croatia, the bread basket you get at a meal is always soft, fresh bread. Not like in Italy, where the bread was always hard and stale. It’s funny how now that I’m in Croatia, I’m noticing all these things about Italy. I wouldn’t have noticed that the bread was so stale in Italy had I not gotten such fresh bread in Croatia. I wouldn’t have noticed the unwelcomeness from Italy as much, had I not felt so welcome in Croatia and Switzerland. But life is all about comparisons, is it not? I think it’s unavoidable. To find a better job, a bigger house, a cheaper lifestyle. To have a better day or year. I wonder if it’s what determines a lot of what we feel. If we didn’t know what a good day was like, would we still be upset about a bad day? Or would it just be like every other day and therefore there’d be no such thing as better or worse?

In Croatia, I really started feeling homesick. Backpacking alone is different than any sort of travel. Sure, it’s a great way to meet people but it’s tough! Leaving home for ten months to go to France was difficult as well but backpacking is a different form of difficulty. Au pairing in Rambouillet or even having my apartment in Paris for a month…it’s still a new world but at least you have a sense of familiarity. That same bed you sleep in, the same table you eat at, the same cafe you walk by on the way home, the same people you get to see. Even though it’s foreign at first, it becomes what you know, your rock, your anchor that holds you in place. But backpacking… Every night has a new bed, every meal has a new table, every walk has a new path, every stranger is a new friend, every day has a new adventure. Nothing is certain, you always have to be prepared for whatever’s thrown your way. Nothing is ever familiar. And even if it becomes familiar, it’s gone within a couple of days. You get lost in your own world, you start grasping what’s familiar to you: your memories. And because you’re so exhausted with all of the constant change, you hold on to those memories. And then you realize that you’re alone in a world full of people. Sure, I love seeing the world and meeting new people but I’m sick of having the exact same conversation with everyone I meet. “Where have you travelled?” “What are your plans after travelling?” I miss talking about nothing, or enjoying the silence with someone. I hate that when I get attached to someone, I have to say bye to them the next day. I hate constantly having to think about what comes next, where I’m sleeping the next night, how I’m getting to my next destination, and if it doesn’t work out, then what? Plan A, plan b, plan c. How nice it would be to stay in one place and not worry. I’m hoping that’s what Greece will bring me. That’s the difference with Croatia… Every night in Croatia, I’ve stayed in a different place, whereas in Switzerland and Italy, I’d usually stay for two nights in one place. I didn’t know it, but it makes a huge difference! Live and learn I guess…

Because I was so sick of moving around, the next morning I randomly decided to catch the ferry to Dubrovnik, meaning I would no longer be spending a night in Split. Lucky for me, the ferry only runs twice a week and Saturday was one of those times. So I went into town to catch the bus to the port. Unluckily for me, Saturday was September 1st. We were officially in the off-season and therefore, the one bus I could take to the port was no longer running. I was desperate to get out so I took a taxi. Fifty dollars later, I was finally at the port with a ticket for the 8-hour ferry ride. It was so relaxing and it was a nice environment cause everyone on board was in the same boat (ha) so even though most people didn’t speak the same language, it still felt like we were a little community. We had to stop at a port on the way there, which luckily had wifi so I found the ONLY hostel available (lucky for me!) and booked a bed. We arrived in Dubrovnik at 6:30 so I went to my hostel and then went to the old town with a couple of guys from Poland and Hungary. One thing I didn’t realize about Croatia is that since it’s still not part of the European Union, people are still allowed to smoke in the clubs. It was so gross, I’m so glad we don’t have to deal with that in Canada! We ended up not getting back to the hostel until 5 and then I was up again at 7, so I tried my best to get through Sunday with two hours of sleep.

On Sunday, I was still in Dubrovnik but I was in a different hostel since I had booked it way earlier. I spent most of the day on the beach and then that night, I met up with the people from my previous hostel. I didn’t stay out AS late that night, one because I wanted to get up early on Monday and two because I physically couldn’t. Of course though, I ended up getting lost and not getting back to my hostel until 2 anyway. On Monday, I got up and I finally went to Old Town in the daylight! It’s so cool, with the walls and all of the old buildings and churches. I wish I could have walked the walls but it was way too hot out; I wouldn’t have survived without shade! Afterwards, I just hung out by my hostel until I had to catch my ferry. Will be on a ferry for the next two days, should be a fun time! Love always

Hello Alone – Charlie Winston

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