Homecoming: Zed and Beyond

Trip Start Aug 20, 2012
Trip End Sep 18, 2012

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Where I stayed
Private Apartment

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Sunday, September 16 - Tuesday, September 18

Zagreb: The Final Chapter

My month of travel and adventure was nearly finished as my train arrived in Zagreb from the Belgrade station. Most of the train ride, I had spent reflecting on the stories, adventures, experiences, and people that I had met along the way of the month in the Balkans. I had spent more time in Zagreb than any other city, and yet, I was excited for my final visit to Zagreb. One of the symbols of Zagreb is the heart. The heart feels justified as part of my experience of this past month, and particularly, of Zagreb. The month of traveling has been an incredible experience, but I've grown tired of constant touring and coordinating train or bus schedules. As these travels are coming to an end, I'm grateful that this experience is ending (as it began) in Zagreb. It was also Erev Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and a great place/timing to "begin" new tidings in my life while reflecting on the past year.

Arriving in Zagreb, I was slightly disappointed with my choice of an apartment. It was fine, but not nearly as central as I was expecting, nor did it have the one thing I had sought specifically in all of the previous apartments - wifi. I'm not sure how I could have become "sloppy" in my apartment search on this last and final apartment, but it presented a new opportunity to better utilize Zagreb's great public transportation. Zagreb's trams create a great network of rails connecting even the outer neighborhoods with the center of town. While there are some Cold War Era relics that still aimlessly run the rails, they are in the minority AND despite their age, air conditioning seems to be current and working well among the otherwise newer light-rail trams.

Adventures await! Time to rediscover Zagreb! I had been able to connect with another person from TripTrotting.com - a great website connecting locals with travelers (on this trip, I had also previously met Anada in Dubrovnik) - and was excited to meet Jelena. Jelena met me at a bar on the outskirts of the center of the city at a reggae bar overlooking a tennis complex with her friend, Marie. Jelena is a social media manager for an events promotions firm, and a lifetime Zagrebite. She and her friend were both excellent resources of describing their love for Zagreb and telling me more of their favorite places while I continued to be a sponge trying to learn as much as I could from their conversation. They, like others I had met over the course of the month, were surprised and curious to learn why I had chosen Croatia and the Balkans among my travels. Their collective curiosity of my choice only seemed to further confrirm I was happy and excited of my choice of these travels, of these places, and surrounding myself with these conversations and questions. We should surround more aspects of our lives with the unexpected, and strive to appreciate those surprises and moments of our lifetimes.

After a few drinks, we were later joined by Domagoj, who was another friend I had previously met while in Dubrovnik when Dom was my guide with the jet-ski adventure. Dom met Craig and I for drinks in Dubrovnik after the jet-ski, and several days later when I was earlier in Zagreb. Within the course of two weeks, I had accumulated a mini-community of friends in Zagreb. The four of us proceeded back to the center of town for another round. The first of my last two nights in Zagreb was great to be out and meet "old" and new friends.

My final full day of my travels was for me. Yes, I had hoped to go to Zagreb's Plitvice Lakes National Park; or to Zagreb's famed Miragoj Cemetery; but this was a day that I did not want to have my day compromised by bus schedules or feeling that I had to do "more" with my travels. Through this point, I had felt very accomplished with my travels and was preferring to wander the streets of Zagreb at my pace to explore and discover things I wished to see again.

After several visits while it was closed (either after hours, or closed for mass), I returned to Zagreb's beautiful neo-gothic Cathedral of the Assumption. Another final day's highlight was returning to Zagreb's Stone Gate. The Stone Gate, an ancient gate entering Zagreb's Old Town, has become a beautiful non-traditional place of worship since a painted image of Mary was discovered at its entry, surviving a city-wide fire that had engulfed Zagreb in the 18th Century.

The most interesting touring destination on this last day was a visit to one of the most ingenious museums I've ever visited - the "Museum of Broken Relationships". This was a museum with a collection of artifacts from relationships that had gone awry. There were wedding dresses from blushing brides who blushed further upon finding their husbands cheating with another woman; relics symbolic of the tormented "relationship" between West and East Germany"; gifts from star-crossed lovers and notes of the sudden departures of those same lovers; and an axe. The axe and the story associated with it was one of the museum's highlights. The ability of the museum to capture such narratives was a great journey through the comedy, romance, and tragedy of broken relationships. Please read the narrative from the axe in the picture here for a better idea of the nature of the articles preserved at the museum.

As the night progressed, I again met Jelena and another of her friends, Nevo, for drinks. We shared laughs and exchanged memories of different travels at one bar before walking cross-town to another bar. Along the way (as there were images of the same throughout my travels), we came across yet another statue of St. George and the slaying of the Dragon. I have always enjoyed altering perspectives of statues, and also of the legend and story of St. George. There is so much allegory and from so many different cultures and periods of this myth. It has been interesting to see so many depictions of St. George (religion "slaying" the ancient pagan elements) and how each culture has celebrated that imagery.

Jelena, Nevo and I made it to an artists' underground collective of Zagreb that had established their creative commune as a squatters' community in Zagreb. Amid artistic graffiti and abandoned/repurposed cars in a dilapidated factory complex, we climbed to the roof of the artists' shanty-town dwelling. Bottles of Croatian wine and beer were passed among the crowd of 10 as subdued bass beats played from a nearby windowsill. "Medika" is an Autonomous Centre for Culture, and Zagreb's first legalized squat that hosts an open-door policy for artists, workshops for the community, and its own bar (closed tonight).  Jokes were exchanged and dreams were articulated under the lunar reflections of Zagreb's most intelligent gallery of street art. It was a perfect night to close my time in Zagreb and the Balkans.

I found my way home and sheepishly dragged myself out of bed at 5 am in order to catch my flight back to the Bay Area.

The past month was incredible. In order to offer due praise and reflection for the past month, I anticipate one more entry to this blog to summarize my travels.

Next up... Reflections from home
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