This weekend was our first weekend of independent travel, and the whole group headed to Zagreb, Croatia. We went to Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO site and personal bucket list item, and hit the town in Zagreb on Saturday night. Despite various issues (like forgotten passports and torrential rain), it was the most fun weekend I’ve had here. I really love our group and our adventures!
As we returned from the Plitvice Lakes to Zagreb, soaked and cold, I watched the rolling countryside go by, listening to my music and had a realization. Over the past couple of years, I’ve felt like my life has passed me by at times (the pandemic and lockdowns certainly haven’t helped). I didn’t feel like I was having the adventures and experiences I wanted to have in my early twenties, even though I know there is so much time. On this journey in Croatia, having been brave enough not only to live and study thousands of miles away from home, but also to plan and travel to another country, I felt like I was finally experiencing the moments that I wanted. I was creating a great story to tell – and it was wonderful.
friday september 16
On Friday the group gathered for our conference in Serbian and the private house and museum called Dom Jevrema Grujića. There we met the owner, Lazar Šećerovic, who is a descendant of the original owners and showed us around the house. The house originally belonged to Jevrem Grujicwho was the first Serb to be educated abroad (in Paris) and rose through the ranks to become an influential diplomat and socialite.
The museum had an assortment of various family-related artifacts, including teacups that various kings and queens drank from, a wedding dress, and numerous paintings. Lazar was a very interesting character; clearly, his upper-class upbringing taught him the rules of etiquette, and he had a charm that allowed him to be easily carried away by the glamor of his lifestyle. He, however, had an archaic view of Serbia as a great kingdom, which manifested itself in racist comments about the country’s ethnic minorities.
All in all, when the group left to return to school for our afternoon lesson, we all felt like we had enjoyed coffee and cake with a member of high society. It seems that his family may be comparable to that of the Rockefellers in the United States. How our professor secured us a private visit, I have no idea.
We had a lecture on memory studies that afternoon, as well as our first thunderstorm. It was muggy and rainy and overall a bit unpleasant weather, but I was excited to be in a thunderstorm!
That evening, I went home and packed my bags to go to Croatia! We had a bus to catch at 11:45 p.m. for Zagreb, the capital. We all got to the bus, but then Lauren forgot her passport so she couldn’t get on. Luckily, she ended up getting on a plane so we could meet on Saturday.
Saturday September 17
The bus ride went well and on Saturday we woke up in Zagreb! Unfortunately our bus had been delayed for about an hour so Emily, Isabel and I dropped off our things at the AirBnB and literally sprinted on the bus to go to Plitvice Lakes National Park!
On the way to the park, we stopped at a beautiful, picturesque village along a river. There were tiny cottages built above the river which still have working mills which they can use by diverting water from the river. It was like walking through a fairy tale village.
Then we arrived in Plitvice! For context, it was to pay rain all day. Literally all day. We were completely soaked – clothes, shoes, everything. The upside to this location was that the park was quite empty compared to its usual popularity and the lakes were beautiful even in the rain.
I’m so glad I made it here! Walking the boardwalks above the clearest blue water was beautiful, and I feel so lucky we made it. We also met an American, a guy named Henry, on our tour who was traveling solo through Europe for a month before finishing graduate school. He’s going to U Chicago and we’ve all been chatting throughout the day, so we decided to ask him out on a date that night.
We all had lunch (lots of meat) before taking the bus back to Zagreb. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive from the parks to Zagreb so we were back around 6pm. Then we all immediately showered and got warm and dry before getting ready to go out.
We met Henry at a bar called the Swanky Monkey, which had a great atmosphere. There is a hostel above so it was the most young people we encountered on this trip apart from each other. After the bar, we went to this club called Johann Franck, right on the square in downtown Zagreb. It was “MTV night”, so all the songs were American hits from the 90s, 2000s and 2010s. We were some of the only Americans in the room, so we knew 99% of the songs, and every one of them was a banger.
We were so thrilled to be there and just spent the evening dancing. I met German, Czech and French students studying in Zagreb. It was really cool to meet young people from a totally different end of the world! It was honestly the most fun night I’ve had since moving here.
Sunday September 18
We slept and woke up to get back on the bus, from where I am currently writing. The countryside here is so green and beautiful, dotted with small villages with white walls and red roofs. The sky has cleared and is now a brilliant blue, with the fluffiest white clouds. I think the clouds here might be some of the best I’ve ever seen (Morgan would definitely approve). Other than my seat being in a fully reclined position all the time and the Karen behind me being pissed off and kicking me from time to time, it’s very peaceful.
I am sitting next to a professor who is giving a lecture in Belgrade, but who lives in Italy and who comes from Spain. The people here are so interesting to me, and I really think the fact that they’re from Europe plays a role. For the most part everyone we interacted with was so kind and helpful – from our tour guides and bus drivers to our host parents and teachers.
Tonight, I’m sure we’ll all go to bed early. I have a reading to do tonight for class tomorrow, and then another week begins. Hard to believe that we are already entering the third week!
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