I arrived at 11:00 PM at the bus station. Everything was quiet. I knew that the tram stopped at 11:30 and that my hostel was located somewhere in the heart of downtown. Following my directions, I found an ATM at the bus station, got some money, then found the tram. After piecing together which tram went where, and which direction I needed to go I found the right one and jumped on board. The tram itself was an outdated old trolley. It clunked along at a steady pace and despite the presence of working speakers, the driver’s stop announcements were inaudible. As each stop approached, I would look out the window hoping to catch the stop name and then trying to figure out if it was the one I needed. Eventually I pulled up to a large square, looked out and saw something that resembled what I had written down. Between my poor hand writing and differences in the English version and the authentic Croatian version I wasn’t sure I’d found the right stop until I happened by several people speaking English. They directed me into a dark doorway and into a little yard, where I found a set of stairs that led up to the hostel. Luckily, while hard to get to, the hostel so far has been good.

This morning I awoke and began to explore the city. For this post I’m going to try something a bit different. The city in many ways reminds me of the song by America: A Horse with No Name so I’m going to parallel my writings with select excerpts.

On the first part of the journey
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
And the sky with no clouds
The heat was hot and the ground was dry
But the air was full of sound

When I awoke the sky was blue with one or two puffy clouds. Compared to last night when it was in the low 40s today was probably in the 60s or so. Having come from Vienna, which is a pristine city with bright, classical architecture, Zagreb is a big transition. In comparison it seems dull, tired, and worn. After being followed by rain during the bulk of my trip the last 3 days have finally been clear and mostly sunny.

Ive been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
cause there aint no one for to give you no pain
La, la …

After two days in the desert sun
My skin began to turn red
After three days in the desert fun
I was looking at a river bed
And the story it told of a river that flowed
Made me sad to think it was dead

Zagreb is a city in a rebirth stage. As I wandered around, I was really shocked by the number of buildings that were under construction or renovation. Despite this, many are still in dire need of attention. Walking through the streets and looking at the market places and cathedrals you can tell that at one point Zagreb was fairly prosperous. Now, however, many of the buildings sport cracked paint and plaster. The fecades are worn and in some places the buildings look almost abandoned. The trams too are an odd mix. With many that have been in operation for years and other select lines that are newly acquired.

You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
cause there aint no one for to give you no pain
La, la …

After nine days I let the horse run free
Cause the desert had turned to sea
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The ocean is a desert with its life underground
And a perfect disguise above
Under the cities lies a heart made of ground
But the humans will give no love

While apparently not hurt too badly by the war, the economic harm the war caused can be seen everywhere. As tourism and the economy recovers so too has the city. As I mentioned earlier, the city has an odd contrast between the old, worn, and damaged and the new. Most of the historic buildings have work being done, either in the form of repairs, cleaning, or re-painting. Though a bit crude, the desert metaphor seemed perfect as I see the city as something coming out of a long stretch in the desert. Cracked, near crumbling, stumbling…to add to the image many of the major historic buildings have been painted an odd deep yellow, which looks all the more grittier with the slight smog and dust covering that coats them. Now, as the city comes back to life, you can see it slowly re-hydrates. Five years from now, I think it will look a lot different and might have more draw.

Perhaps its the city, perhaps its that I’m coming from Prague, Vienna, and Munich. Either way the city itself has been fairly boring and drag. It’s definitely not beautiful and the full day I’ve had here was more than enough to take it in. That said though, there were some interesting parts. The best of which was the market. It’s a fairly unique thing in that it was apparently initially built underground, just off the city center. Later, the buildings on top of the underground section, were demolished to create a large square. The modern market now has flower stalls and produce merchants in the open air, as well as a building with fishmongers…while the underground section is full of meat stalls sporting various slices and cuts. Some are more along the lines of butcher counters back home, while others have whole hairless, gutted pigs hanging from hooks, next to smoked pig’s leg, lamb rib, and skinned rabbits. The fishmongers building is fascinating. Holding some 20+ stalls each has a wide assortment of fresh seafood on ice. Everything from bizarre looking fish pulled from the dark waters of the deep sea, to tanks full of carp. The poor carp get the rough end of things, perhaps because of their hardiness, or perhaps because of some sort of local preference, they are delivered fresh and alive. While some are then put into tanks until purchased, many are tossed onto display. Prawns, octopus, eel… take your pick. It’s a very different market than anything back home.

Not sure what tonight will bring…hopefully the city has some fun night life. It seems like most of the people that come through this part only stay a day or two (myself included) so most of the hostel has emptied out and a new batch should arrive later today. From here, it’s off to the south.