A dream come true

The past couple weeks have been some of the best so far.  It has been a while since I have felt this level of happiness.  I celebrated my big 30th birthday in Croatia and with my friends back in Madrid, I went on another day trip out of Madrid, I have met so many great new friends from around the world, and I have already booked my next trip out of the country.

I will never forget the feeling when I first arrived in the Zagreb airport: complete and utter bliss.  I finally made it to the country I have wanted to visit since I was a little girl.  And there I was standing in the country’s capital’s airport with hearts in my eyes. As I was walking through the airport, there was an advertisement over the luggage conveyor belt that read, “Welcome to your dream.” Never have I felt more that I was right where I was supposed to be.  I walked up to the information booth and, without any issue, I was able to communicate with the lady working there to determine the best way into town.  I went to the airport shuttle bus and waited anxiously for the bus to fill so we can head into the city. After about 30 minutes, the last couple people came onto the bus, one who sat right next to me.  I could tell he was Croatian and, in my head, I was running over what to say to him.  Thankfully, he beat me to the punch and asked if I was a tourist.  “What gave it away?” I replied with my travel pillow and map of Zagreb in my lap.  After sharing a laugh, we continued to talk the entire way to the city center.  Since he was so kind offering me recommendations and giving me a personal tour of the places we drove by, I asked if he would like to grab a beer that weekend.  What a success, only a couple hours into the trip and I already made a friend with a local.

The bus dropped us off at the bus station closer to the city center and I began my small journey, which included much walking in the dark and a tram ride, to my hostel in the center of the city.  After arriving to the hostel, I got ready for my night while listening to accordion music playing outside my window.  I grabbed dinner with a friend from Turkey I met on the Couchsurfing app. (I highly recommend this app for anyone who is traveling, especially alone. In addition to finding hosts to crash on their couch, you can meet up with other travelers and locals.  The app even includes a reference capability, so you can read references from other Couchsurfers on the people you meet up with).  After dinner, we met up with other Couchsurfers, two Canadians and a Croatian for some drinks and then to a night club. Let’s just say, day 1 was a huge success and a great start to my two-week solo trip in this amazing country.

The rest of my time in Zagreb was perfect.  My Turkish friend and I conquered the city and even ventured out of the city center to an artificial lake for a change in scenery and drinks.  I had great conversation, Croatian beer and wine, and even a small “romance” with the Croatian guy I met on the airport shuttle bus.  From there, I packed up my stuff and hopped on a bus at 5AM to head to my next destination, Plitvice Lakes National Park.  Plitvice Lakes is absolutely breathtaking.  I have never seen such clear, turquoise water before in my life.  I spent about 6 hours there exploring the waterfalls, lakes, and unique land formations. That night, I jumped onto another bus to the city of Zadar on the Dalmatian coast.  Once I arrived at the Zadar bus station, I took a local bus to the old town, where the city welcomed me with a stunning sunset over the Ugljan Island and Adriatic Sea.  I spent the next day exploring the city and watched the sunset while listening to the sea organ and had a traditional Croatian dinner outside the old town with a new hostel friend from California.

The next morning, I walked to the Zadar bus station to head to another city on the Dalmatian coast, Split.  Once I arrived, I made plans with a local Couchsurfer for coffee.  What started as a simple coffee meet up turned into hours of great conversation and fun.  He gave me an amazing and interesting tour inside Diocletian’s Palace, which included chocolate and ice cream samples, beers by the port, and a hike up the Marjan Hill with beautiful views of the city and the sea below.  Afterwards, I met up with another friend who lives in Split, who I meet through a friend back home, for dinner.  As he had to work the next morning, he sent out messages on Couchsurfing for me to meet up with some more people.  I ended up meeting people from Split, Paris, Vienna, and even Madrid! 

The rest of my time in Split was amazing.  I had an adventure traveling to the beautiful beach of Bol on Brac Island, I visited several beaches on the mainland with my friend from Split, my Parisian friends and a new Polish friend, and friends from Madrid.  I explored Marjan hill, enjoyed traditional Croatian cuisine with my Madrid friends and with a guy I met from Dubrovnik, went to a small house party with tasty American dishes and homemade Croatian liquor, and even learned how to play darts and a new card game.  My time in Split was definitely unforgettable.

Afterwards, I took a ferry with my new friend from Madrid to my final destination, Dubrovnik.  Although Dubrovnik is absolutely beautiful day and night with its high city walls, water crashing against its cliffs, red rooftops, and waterfront restaurants and bars, unfortunately, the tourism has taken its toll on this city.  The city has lost its authentic, Croatian charm.  Everything was extremely expensive and the people were quite rude.  I stayed in Dubrovnik for three days, one day exploring the city center and enjoying a fun night with two Couchsurfers from New York and Canada, another day I went to a local beach about an hour walk north of the city center with my new hostel friend from Peru, and the last day and my birthday, I took a relaxing day trip to a small coastal town 45 minutes south of Dubrovnik called Cavtat.  I explored the main sites of the city and lounged at one of the beaches while admiring the beautiful, crystal clear blue water.  On my last night, I grabbed birthday beers with a new Couchsurfing friend from Barcelona.  Check out my photography from Croatia here.

The next morning, I went back to Madrid and reality. It was weird coming back to the city full of people. Almost like everything is starting anew.  But thankfully, work is slowly picking back up for the fall.  After much deliberation, I have decided to no longer be a nanny.  I am no longer going to wear myself out by working 6 days a week from 7 AM to 9 or 10 PM. I am going to stick with my original goal of working less, traveling more, and improving my Spanish.  I am already looking forward to my next trip to the beautiful and historic city of Rome, Italy!