Welcome to Zagreb. That was what I thought to myself as we rolled into Zagreb's main train station. What a journey it had been. A seven hour ride from Budapest, where we had just made the train with six minutes to spare, after a crazy Hungarian cab driver saved our behinds and delivered us to our destination with much enthusiasm. (Thank you again kind sir).
After finding our accommodation, we embarked on the local cuisine. The reason for coming to Zagreb, was to meet my long lost cousin Dijana for the first time. After almost half a century of bloody conflict in the Balkans, keeping in contact with us in Australia was the absolute least of their concerns. However, just as fate wanted us to, we reconnected and I got to meet my Cousin, for the first time in my life.
We bonded immediately, grabbed an amazing meal and I introduced her to my traveling posse of friends.
Fueled by the emotion of re-establishing a blood line, I was completely blown away by the city of Zagreb too. A city of youth, culture and nightlife, defined (and rightly so) as a showpiece of any Balkans tour.
A night walk with our posse ended up trying delicious and tasty burek and stumbling upon an indie film festival nestled on top of one of Zagreb's highest and most beautiful vantage points.
As the journey continued, I met my other cousin Milena and we continued to discover the beautiful city like we had known each other for our entire lives. On our final night, we set off for the nightclub district, which consisted of a large lake surrounded by 30-40 bars and clubs. We danced the night away to a wide range of music and drank shots of Rakija from plastic test tubes.
The undeniable charm of Zagreb, has the seemingly free spirit of its inhabitants to thank. After asking my cousin about buying tickets on trams and buses, she replied "Don't worry about it", and went about her business unaffected by the question. It's this mentality that provides much of the vibrancy and liberalism that is not only associated with Zagreb and Croatia, but with the entire Balkans too. It's something so unique, that one must experience it and travel here with an open mind, not a pre conceived idea on what it will be like.
This mentality will yield the best results to completely traversing yourself in the nit and grit of the city, whilst also changing your outlook and perspective on a wide variety of issues and stereotypes.
If there is one piece of advice for someone who is planning to travel to Zagreb for the first time, it's that you should go with the flow. Leave any ideas or expectations at the port of entry as no expectations equal no disappointments (not that there will be any!)
Finally, Croatians are fun loving people and are amongst the most welcoming in the world. If that wasn't enough to convince you to visit Zagreb, then the Women are amongst the nicest and most beautiful in the world.
Zagreb, is an ever changing and dynamic city, so be sure to treasure every experience there and add the city to your travel itinerary.