So, let’s check the itinerary… where to next? Ah, looks like it’s ZAGREB, the capital of Croatia (something that I wasn’t aware of until about 2 months ago, why did I think it was Dubrovnik?!). Despite being the biggest city in the country, it doesn’t seem to attract anywhere near as much tourism as the coast does so we wanted to compare it for ourselves. Is Zagreb just a city to fly in and out of or is it a hidden gem? Let’s see!
I can’t possibly write this post without first addressing the INCREDIBLE hostel that we stayed in. Despite having stayed in dozens of hostels, I can safely say that this is the best one I’ve experienced in my entire life, never mind just this trip! Hostel Mali Mrak is located on the outskirts of Zagreb (about 20 minutes by tram from the centre) in a suburban neighbourhood. At first, we were a bit sceptical… ‘Would it have been better to stay in the heart of the action? Is it too much hassle to get the tram every day? Will there even be any travellers choosing this hostel if it’s so far out?’ but as soon as we stepped through the front door we knew we’d made the perfect choice.
It’s a super hippy hostel and I’ll admit it helps if you have a super hippy personality too. If you’re uptight, hate mosquitoes, don’t want to socialise, aren’t on a budget and don’t like basic dorm rooms then this certainly is not the place for you. However, if you love art, music, yoga, good people, incredible energy, group cooking and DOGS (🐶❤) then you need to check in to this hostel immediately.
The staff are amazing – super down to earth and willing to help you with just about anything. I think the vibe of this place attracts a certain kind of traveller and for that reason we found ourselves with true friends in just a few days. People with stories from all over the world, incredible talents and amazing missions in life – surrounding yourself with good energy is a sure-fire way to be happy. I will miss you Mali Mrak and I thank you for the memories!
The tram into town was super easy and although it’s supposed to cost £1 per journey nobody ever pays and theres no inspectors, so you don’t have to worry about transport costs eating into your budget. You’ll want to get off in the main square, because everything is pretty much walkable from there and it’s the centre hub of the city. As per usual, I’ll make sure to bullet point you guys a list of all the things we got up to in Zagreb:
- Observation Deck
Surprise, surprise – we’re viewing a city from above again… C’mon we all know 360 degree views are the best way to truly appreciate the scenery, I have no intention of giving this habit up! The difference with this observation deck is that you buy one ticket and you have unlimited access for the day – meaning you can see the city in the morning, at sunset and at midnight all for exactly the same price of about £2 – such a good deal! The views of Zagreb aren’t quite as captivating as the places on the coast but it had a very Madrid feel to it – low rise buildings, plenty of plazas and distant mountains – so I felt super nostalgic up there. You can order drinks and play some board games in the café at the top too, which is a nice way to pass some time but we were on a pretty tight schedule and had to decline.
- Exploring/Eating/Eating some more
I bloody love this city! Both Ellie and I said that it was our favourite of all the stops so far, which really surprised me because I’m not usually a city girl. Make sure to set aside a few hours to roam the streets and get totally lost, we had so much fun just wandering through markets and parks and admiring the architecture. Plus, when you do lots of walking it’s (obviously) a free hall pass to eat lot’s of food and Zagreb food is 3 of my favourite things: CHEAP, EASY AND TASTY. I can’t emphasise enough how affordable life is here. Compared to what we’d been paying over the last few weeks this was such a relief for us! So, please, spend as much time as possible here and explore every nook and cranny. Do the things that we didn’t have time for – hike the mountains and visit the lakes, take every tram to the outskirts and eat all of the ice cream you can find.
- Room Escape
If you’ve never heard of Room Escape before it’s essentially a teamwork activity that involves being locked inside of a room for 6o minutes with clues to solve in order to escape. It sounds weird, I know, but I can assure you that it is the most fun you can have in an hour and it’s definitely an adrenaline rush. Now before you say anything, the games are not easy. It’s not a case of ‘Oh look, here’s a key and here’s a lock‘, there’s physical teamwork activities, mathematic equations to solve and so much attention to detail. For example, if you’ve forgotten exactly what was played on the voice clip at the start you may not be able to solve the puzzle at the end and if you’ve forgotten to plug one wire into the right place then there’s no chance of escaping, etc. etc.
We actually completed both of their games – The Bunker and The Zombie Lab – with time to spare! The Zombie Lab was far scarier and the fact that me and Ellie did it as a duo made it 10x harder because we had to move a lot faster. Luckily, we had 5 of us in the Bunker because we recruited some of our hostel friends and this meant that there were more brains to help solve the clues. I can’t give anything away about what we had to do, but I can tell you that you should go to your nearest Room Escape (they’re all over the world) and try it for yourself. Not everyone completes them in time and it’s a test of friendship, that’s for sure!
- Museum of Contemporary Art
I have somehow developed an addiction to contemporary art museums over the last year. Yeah, yeah I know, it’s the cliché of ‘I studied in Europe and now I’m super artsy and cultured’ but no seriously, I’m definitely one of those people now. I dragged Ellie about a million miles (exaggeration, of course) out of the city to this big glass building. There was nobody inside which makes me think it’s not that popular because we were there in high season, but it did make the experience a lot more personal for us.
Unlike the museum in Belem, Portugal and the Guggenheim in Bilbao, this collection wasn’t quite as impressive but there were still some works that I liked (as well as tons of utter garbage). If I’m completely honest with you though, the main reason why I wanted to go was for the slides. Yes, slides as in playground slides. You exit the museum by these super long twisty glass slides and although it’s actually a piece of art and probably has some meaning behind it, I had no control of my inner-5-year-old and I was whizzing down them faster than you could blink without actually paying any attention to the information written about them. Oops.
- Museum of Illusions
My first taste of an Illusion museum was in Wanaka, NZ and I think I was pretty spoilt considering it’s one of the best in the world. However, the museum in Zagreb is still good despite it’s much smaller size and much simpler illusions. We had tons of fun running from room to room taking silly pictures and some of the tricks were actually really clever. If you have some time to kill and need a pick-me-up then this is the perfect place to make a pit-stop.
- Museum of Broken Relationships
Okay, so I’ve been obsessing over this museum since I heard about it a year ago and it’s actually one of the main reasons I scheduled a stop for us in Zagreb. The name is super depressing, I know, and at first when I read about it I was thinking it would just be for bitter people who want to mourn an old relationship but it was totally different to what I expected.
The museum itself is basically composed of quotes on the wall, random items and a paragraph explaining the date, country, length and information about how the relationship ended. It takes quite a lot of time to see everything and there’s a lot of reading involved so I’d recommend leaving a morning or afternoon free so that you can dedicate your full attention to the exhibits.
Okay, so I’ll try and give you a feel for the museum without giving too much away. Some of the stories are funny and light hearted like this basketball jersey with the words ‘He was a player.’
I think my favourite one was the toaster with the words: ‘I took this when we broke up. Ha, how are you going to toast anything now?’, that’s a pretty good revenge technique in my opinion. There was also a letter from a girl trying to convince her Australian love to stay in the UK, which I appreciated:
At the same time there were some deeply moving stories: a postcard from a guy who declared his love to a girl but was not allowed to marry her, as they were from different social classes, so he drove himself off a cliff. There were even stories of non-romantic relationships: children whose parents had left them or people who had gone mad from mental illness. I found myself tearing up at the family ones, mainly because there’s been times in my life that I’ve been hung up on guys but through everything I’ve always had the most incredible support system: my parents. It just made me realise that not everyone is so lucky and it certainly put my problems into perspective.
I wouldn’t recommend visiting the museum with your significant other – I imagine it would be quite depressing to start thinking about how your relationship might end. Instead, I think it’s a museum built for solo people or groups of friends and families and I certainly don’t think you have to have been through ‘heartbreak’ to appreciate it. In fact, the museum made me question if I’d ever really experienced heartbreak before. I mean, I always thought I had with past relationships and even post-Madrid I was feeling pretty low but I’ve never really been sure if it’s real heartbreak or just heartache. Then, when I read these other stories, I started to realise something important: we’ve all felt it in one way or another and we aren’t alone in our experiences.
We think that what we’re going through is so unique and so different but in reality, we all break hearts and we all have our hearts broken, it’s a constant cycle. I know this sounds ridiculously depressing but I actually found a lot of hope in this idea; it reminded me that life goes on. All the people in that museum had donated these items and moved on from the past and that, in my opinion, is a beautiful thing. Of course, it’s all open to interpretation but underneath the depression, the tears and the sadness there seems to be a message that the heartbreak is worth it for those moments when you first fall in love. I’d like to think that’s true anyway.
And so, that’s all. We return to the UK with the same backpacks, in the same clothes, as the same girls but, as always when you travel, something changes slightly within you and it’s usually for the better. Goodbye Croatia, you have been the best end to my 15 months of living abroad and a special mention to my travel partner and soul sister for the last 3 weeks; Ellie – it has been a pleasure to share this journey with you!
England, I’m coming for you and this time I’m here to stay (well, for a few months at least)! 🇬🇧🇬🇧🇬🇧