An artistic collection of relationship leftovers, a high-five to the border control officer and lots of mind-blowing nature – Road-tripping in Croatia

Now that we are approaching the most… let’s say romantic day of year (one could say “lame”, but let’s keep it unrealistic as the whole idea of it so demands), I can’t help but remember one of the trips that inadvertently made me think about love the most. In only a few days, Croatia confronted me not only with the love one feels for the beauty of nature, but also with the love humans feel for one another – how it begins, so magical and full of hope, and how it can end, tragically or simply leaving a sense of shame or, even worse, a desire for revenge behind.

Me and group of friends that the adventurous spirit once brought together, left Prague one Spring morning, in a humble rented car, towards Croatia. Because in Prague, expats know other expats, each one of us was originally from a different country: there was the Maltese designated-driver, his Polish girlfriend, and an Indian, a Portuguese and an American squeezed in the back of the car, with a dog, Jessie, peacefully sleeping at their feet (plot-twist: the peace ended when I felt something warm on my leg, and we realised Jessie was throwing up from too many hours on the road).

This Salad Bowl of nationalities, although very appreciated by our group, was looked aside right from the moment we were entering the country. The border control officer collected our five different passports with an unfriendly look on his face, and took hours to return them. In his defence, and looking back at the situation now, our car might have looked a bit suspicious, right from the moment my friend who was driving didn’t understand the officer’s stretched arm was an indication to stop. Instead, he opened the window and with a big smile on his face, gave the officer a sincere high-five and moved on. But because Croatian authorities are not there to play games, a festival of blinking red lights and a loud siren made my friend push the break and back off immediately.

Zagreb

Comparing to other parts of the country, the capital city is not very emblematic. Similar to others in the neighbouring countries, it has a vibe of antique and royal, shown through its old small buildings with ornamented pointy roofs and castle-like corners.

St. Mark’s Church and the Cathedral of Zagreb

Located in St. Mark’s Square, the church with the same name is one of the most famous icons of the city. Dating back to the 13th Century, it is one of its oldest buildings, well known by its colourful-tiled roof, adorned with the coats of arms of Slavonia, Dalmatia and Croatia on the left side, and the symbol of Zagreb on the right side. Another imposing building we made sure not to miss was the Cathedral of Zagreb, whose front door faces the tall golden figure of the Holy Mary Monument.

The Museum of Broken Relationships

Quite unexpectedly, one of the highlights of our trip was the established physical ground of an ever-growing collection of worldwide donated items, each symbolising the end of a romantic relationship. It took us almost 2 hours to walk around only 3 rooms, full of the most random objects one can imagine, together with messages from the person who sent them, explaining the meaning they once had to them, in a context, a time, a story that was once so vivid, and is currently only a remnant of what it could have been.

And there we were, reading sad stories with dramatic ends, stories with psychopath contours (there was a piece of dead skin that a girl had kept from the time her boyfriend got severe burns all over his body and needed skin patches, with the cunning intention of CLONING HIM if science would allow it by the time he was dead – how optimistic of her to assume he would be the first one to die!) and humorous relates of betrayals put to paper in the form of revengeful messages (my favourite of this section was a treadmill, next to what one could read: “I gave this to my wife so that she could start exercising more, unaware that she was already exercising enough with our next door neighbour!”). Some were heartbreaking, some hilarious, in the same balance as life itself.

Ban Jelačić Square and Maksimir Park

Sitting in Ban Jelačić, a central square surrounded by iconic buildings, we noticed through the open door of a palatial building that some party was taking place. Driven by curiosity, we went to have a look, and ended up crashing a Croatian wedding, where happy fellows danced to the sound of traditional music all well dressed and drunk, even though it was only lunchtime. Right after visiting the Museum of Broken Relationships, it was refreshing to make sure there were still people who believed in love (and also that there were still people creating memories and stories that would probably end up in the museum around the corner in a few years!).

After the party we decided to seat on Maksimir Park to enjoy the sunny afternoon and rest for a bit. Founded in 1787, and dedicated to the Zagreb Bishop, Maksimilijian Vrchovac, this park is considered a unique cultural heritage site as it was one of the first of its kind in Southern Europe. Originally in Baroque style, with romantic and neoclassical features, this park is home to a wide range of local fauna and flora in its sprawling lakes, creeks and meadows.

Plitvice National Park

Any true nature lover simply has to step into the wild green and transparent clear waters of Plitvice National Park. For a storyteller like myself, this place makes my job harder as no words seem enough, or accurate enough, to describe the majestic waterfalls and their never ending splashing sounds, the million shades of green of the trees, the unbreakable fragility of a thousand dandelions scattered through the vignette. Since I find it hard to describe it, and pictures will never make justice to the beauty of the place, I can only advise (and photobomb!) everyone to visit and be mesmerised like I was.

Stari Grad (Hvar) and Zadar

We camped near Stari Grad, a town on the northern side of the island of Hvar, in Dalmatia. One of the oldest towns in Europe, it is positioned at the end of a long, protected bay from where you can see strong orange and pink sunsets that feel like an illusion.

Before leaving, we decided to visit Zadar, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the oldest continuously inhabited Croatian city. There, we could hear the sound of the Sea Organ – an experimental musical instrument which plays music by means of how the waves of the Adriatic Sea hit some tubes located underneath a set of large marble steps under our feet. If I had to list the number of magical moments in my life, this nature-played concert would definitely be on the top 3!

I am not someone who regularly thinks or writes about love. I am that kinda girl who always have some galentines party to attend on the 14th of February. But Croatia made me think in just how many different shapes, meanings and ways love can assume in our tiny, unremarkable, lives. How we can live, love and laugh at all of it. And I believe this was a priceless lesson to be learned.

Wishing everyone safe travels,

Cae