From Tisno to San Francisco: The Final Week of the Voyage
As you might have heard (since, of course, my whereabouts are reported upon regularly in publications as the New York Times and BBC News), I’ve finally returned home. Home, being the place I was brought back to after delivery; home, being the unchanging residence of my two loving parental units; home, being the warm refuge from the chaos of college and “the outside world.” Yes, I’ve returned home, after this eleven-month journey, to reflect and repair and prepare myself for my next big adventure.
And though I had been counting down the days until my return (as well as listing the hundreds of things I was excited for: burritos, medical insurance, clean utensils, my own room, access to a car, not dragging around my 30 kg of luggage anymore, etc.), I am happy to note that my final week in Europe encapsulated almost perfectly the insanity and unpredictability of my Voyage on a whole. It also reflected how I’d changed in the past year, how eagerly I sought some permanence but how content I was with the constant ebb and flow of life and its many ridiculous moments. I’m glad to be home, but there’s a distinct part of me that can’t stay still for too long (we might call this TADHD – traveler’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and this recap might explain why.
July 18 – July 22
I decided to use Croatia’s Soundwave Music Festival as a bookend for the Voyage, so after contacting a few people also searching for solo accommodation, I spent my final week with the Englishman Sam and the Australian Gabriel. We made a lovely little gang, immediately bonding upon our coincidentally staggered introductions in Split. We bussed up to Tisno together, meeting the English couple Jack and Jen, who later introduced us to their friends, a group of eleven medical students gathering for the last time before they embarked upon their separate medical internships all over the country. Did I note that Gabe and I were two of the only non-British people at the festival? Because we were. We also liked to nap a lot, so we naturally separated from the others and would oftentimes be found on beanbags beneath fig trees near the main stage, soaking up some Vitamin D.
I’ll write about the festival in depth a bit later, but for the most part, my experience was positively swayed by the amazingly talented musicians, wonderfully sunny weather, and an awesome beach-meets-mini-golf-course set-up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as perfect as I had imagined it to be, particularly because I realized that I no longer have the energy or tolerance to deal with drunk, image-oriented, party people. Unlike festivals I attended in the States, this one seemed a bit too pushy, too raucous, and too cliquey. Aside from the group I met in the beginning, and a few other couples, I didn’t meet nearly as many people as I usually do; maybe it was because I stayed off-site, or maybe it was because I didn’t spend most of my day sunning on the beach, or maybe it was because I try to avoid crowds as much as possible and stay on the fringes. Maybe I’m just tired and was ready to go home?
So unfortunately, from that perspective, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked – however, there’s no denying that it was still a unique, fun, and worthwhile experience. And the music! It was on point, and that was why I went anyway. Acts I really enjoyed (* indicate Top 5): Bonobo, Submotion Orchestra*, Quantic and Ondatropica*, DJ Yoda, Alice Russell, Ghostpoet, Riot Jazz, Craig Charles, Kelpe*, Flako*, Shigeto, Andrew Ashong, DJ Gilla, Renegade Brass Band*, and Dub Smugglers.
On the morning of the 23rd, I woke Sam and Gabe up (mistakenly thinking we were doing a group breakfast, provided by the hotel we were staying in – though weirdly lacking free internet…) and then jumped on a 4.5 hour bus trip to Zagreb with Jack, Jen, and their friend Ethan. While I paid around $30 (or 169 kuna) and spent a good portion of it awkwardly avoiding the touchy man next to me (Croatian buses are frequently overbooked, causing people to stand in the aisles and for strange bedfellows to be formed), Gabe hitchhiked his way to the same hostel three hours later, eventually making it in only an hour after me. I had checked into the Chillout Hostel for two nights, and thought it wasn’t the cheapest option at $20 a night for an eight-bed dorm, it had been recommended to me and had a pretty cool set-up, with huge under-bed lockers and funky raised wooden bed coverings (which Gabe surmised meant the hostel attracted travelers keen to hook up). I hung out with the Brits, then met up with Gabe to tour the city a bit and check out the highly-recommended Museum of Broken Relationships, which, despite its depressing subject matter, was really well-done and quite moving. Sadly my camera’s memory card was full, so I didn’t take too many photos of the city, but suffice it to say that it’s very beautiful, trendy, and full of thriving restaurants and parks. We ended up getting delicious to-go pasta and eating it in a park, where we witnessed a bizarre scene in which a group of 11-year-olds were consoling a boy who apparently was upset that his friend had broken up with someone else in their group. We then returned to the hostel, played some Dinosaur Memory (I think we’re the only people who’ve ever played it), and then corralled some “bogans” into playing a couple card games with us.
Considering we were going to Plitvice National Park the next day, we planned to sleep early. A group of guys overheard us and gave us some recommendations as to which routes to take, as well as one of their used tickets, which Gabe used the next day to get into the park for free. I busted out some rusty Spanish to endear a cute Andalusian girl to me, and now I think I’m her new best friend (sorry, Nusha). But here’s where the trouble begins. I went into my room to sleep around 12-1, knowing I had to wake up by 7. Around 3, a group of rowdy Irish guys (I’m 90% sure they were Dubliners, if that gives you an idea of what kind of Irish I was dealing with here) bust into the room, turned on all of the lights, invited their friends in, and commenced being extremely loud and obnoxious. One had the decency to remind the rest that people were sleeping, and they should be considerate. But they weren’t, and despite my half-asleep annoyed chastising, speaking up for the other four people in the room, they kept at it until 4:30, when they finally fell asleep, farting and giggling to themselves. Maybe I am becoming a premature old woman, but these kinds of hostels are strict no-nos to me these days – I like hostels that form communities, not mega-dorms that foster immature, inconsiderate alcoholics, and as such should have veered away from places advertising themselves as 170-bed party pads.
The next morning (or rather, two and a half hours later), I requested a change in rooms, repacked my stuff (which was a particularly annoying side-effect, considering how happy I was to not have to repack until I left for the airport), and met Gabe for our trip to Plitvice. We took the tram to the bus station (for anyone visiting Zagreb – the overground tram is basically free; it covers the small city and is, as far as I know, unenforced, so I saved a bit of money by jumping on and off it as needed), then upon finding that the bus was full, asked if we could stand for the 2.5 hour journey. Luckily, two people didn’t show up, so we slept on the bus and woke up to the gorgeous splendor of this amazing park.
I’ll write about Plitvice more in another post, but just know: everything everyone says to you about Plitvice is absolutely correct. It’s a stunning fairy-land which, as Gabe noted, is miraculously well-maintained for being in the middle of a formerly war-torn country. Every turn brings a view more spectacular, and the temptation to swim in the crystal clear, turquoise waters is counteracted by the knowledge that the park officials have done a wonderful job of retaining the geological and ecological life of the park. It was truly a highlight of my Voyage, and a fitting way to spend the last full day on the trip.
Gabe suggested we hitchhike back, avoiding the $20 (or 100 kuna) bus ride. I had spent another $16 (or 80 kuna, thanks to the student discount) on my valid day ticket, so I was keen to save a bit more. He made a sign on paper towel using a bright pink highlighter saying “Zagreb,” and we held it up at the entrance of the car park and the conjunction with the main freeway. We met another Soundwave-attendee doing the same thing (though minus the sign), and we learned that he hitchhiked the entire way from the UK to the festival, and now was making his way back at a leisurely pace. Maybe twenty minutes later, a pleasant English-speaking Croatian baker in a nice-looking Volkswagon picked the three of us up, and in 1.5 hours (partially due to the mobility of a car, and partially due to his death-defying speeding, and despite a 15-minute stop-over at a bakery his uncle owned) we were back in Zagreb. Interestingly, we learned, through Gabe’s story of volunteering with what he later learnt to be a cult in Spain, that our driver was the chillest Jehovah’s Witness ever. I wasn’t a part of this conversation, as I had fallen asleep and woke up to the tail-end of it, but he was extremely eloquent about his beliefs and very “live and let live,” which is thankfully becoming a policy taken by most religious and secular people alike these days.
After we were dropped off near a tram station in the outer ring of the city, Gabe and I ended up walking all the way back to the center, through the intriguing Museum of Contemporary Art, some abandoned squatter buildings near the train station, and Zagreb’s version of the East Side Gallery. We grabbed some “world food” and my first boba in months, then sat in the main square to people watch and enjoy the last few minutes of life out in Zagreb. Needless to say, I was very satisfied with my final day – it was a beautiful mix of nature and city, spontaneity and plan, several forms of transportation (bus, hiking, train, boat, hitchhiking, tram, plane) and a happy acceptance of the end.
After arranging all of my things for the next day – setting devices to charge and gifting Gabe the entirety of my photos from the past week – I had everything ready to go for my 6 AM departure. From experience, I know how annoying it is to be woken up by someone packing early in the morning, so I had minimized any potential noise I’d make. I called United, confirmed my vegetarian meal and window seat, then fell asleep at 1. But of course, heed what I had said the previous night – this hostel was not meant for me.
At 2, the last guest of the room returned, having forgotten his key slamming on the door, then stumbling into everything and making quite a noise. Everyone was thoroughly irritated, but he went to bed quickly, and we returned to our dreams. An hour later, I awoke to the disgusting sounds of retching from the bunk across from mine, and alarmed, I suggested he rush to the restroom. Either drunk to excess or just insolent, he didn’t heed my warning, and almost invoking my own gag reflex, he started vomiting/spitting off of his bunk onto the floor beneath him. Which, of course, would have been gross enough on its own – but as I pointed out, increasingly annoyed with this man-child who can’t hold his own, he was also spitting on the man sleeping beneath him and the entire collection of his things lined up next to his bed. This went on for another 15 minutes, during which the man himself woke up, absolutely disgusted, and went to clean his things or complain, I’m not sure which. This whole incident shook me, as I began to fear that this was the kind of guy who, as we overheard at our hostel in Bangkok, would pee on people’s bags. Considering my packed and covered bag was on the other end of my bed, I thought I might be safe, but I still was quite agitated and couldn’t sleep for the sound of vomiting still lingered in my head.
So of course, I overslept my alarm for 5:45 by nearly half an hour, and though I was out by 6:20, I still had to wait for the tram to the bus station and again to find the airport shuttle, that only left every half hour, on the hour. Oscillating between taking an expensive taxi (100-150 kuna, or $20-$30) or the more reasonable shuttle (30 kuna, or $6), but ultimately realizing they’d take about the same time and I didn’t have the extra time needed for haggling, I jumped on the 7:00 bus. My flight left at 9:05, so I knew I should have been at the airport at the latest at 7:35, and this shuttle took a half hour. But the bus driver and the man sitting across from me calmly assured me that there’d be absolutely no problem, that I’d be totally fine, and that there was no reason to rush. I was a bit suspicious that they just weren’t understanding the fact that I had a connecting flight all the way to California, but as it turned out, the airport was so small that I literally walked up to the check-in counter within twenty seconds of disembarking the shuttle, and then went through security and to the gates in another ten minutes. The Zagreb airport is almost laughably small, with all of the gates in one massive room and only one two-stalled bathroom past security. I ate an extremely overpriced sandwich, then jumped on my extremely underbooked flight to Frankfurt.
Frankfurt Airport is a colossal maze, fully requiring a tram as the terminals are so huge and spread apart that one could easily spend a good portion of their layover just traversing the airport itself. I had a 3.5 hour layover, so I opted to spend it in Terminal D’s “Leisure Spot,” host to a room full of comfortable chairs and loungers. I edited some photos and did a bit of writing, then when my battery ran out (not all of the sockets work, unfortunately), jumped on the tram (which counts down in increments of ten seconds… amusing to me). I made it to my gate, after walking what felt like a half-marathon, and to my and most other passengers’ confusion, there was chaos! Apparently United forgot to tell everyone they had to go through a secondary check-in, so agents were standing at the entrance of the gates to do just that. I don’t know what they were looking for, but I feel like I can empathize with those in the Inquisition now – my agent seemed absolutely unconvinced of my traveling lifestyle, and when I told him I hadn’t been home in nearly seven months, he took it as a cue to question everything about my trip from “how did I get from my hostel to the airport” to “why did I decide not to work and to travel instead?” It surprisingly shook me up, and I started to get a bit sarcastic, so it was good to note that the questionnaire was finished soon after.
I made it to my seat in Economy Plus, thanks to my dad who had pulled some Mileage strings and ensured I got a cushy window seat. Then, of course as anyone’s would in this situation, my heart sank. A woman and her two children had taken up my window seat, as well as the middle seat in between. Then she asked the question I was dreading:
“Oh, is this your seat? Would you mind switching to 20J? – it’s that middle seat two rows ahead.”
What are you supposed to say in that scenario? “No, woman with two small children, please separate your offspring only because I’d like to sit by the window.” I sighed – I told her that my back had been killing me all week and I had specially requested a window seat, because, after all, it’s an 11 hour flight. Not being able to lean against the window would probably drive me utterly insane, after the past several nights of little sleep, and I would end up getting thrown off the flight somewhere over the Atlantic. Defeated though by her persistence in stealing my seat, I told the steward that I didn’t care where I sat, as long as I had a window seat. I should have specified – “I want a window seat, i.e. a seat from which you can see the outside world.” I ended up getting the seat right behind my original one, only with no window, and instead of a curved recess, a hard vertical wall. Not only that, my original seat back was broken, so the woman and her child regularly would smash into my head as I reached for something in my bag or would threaten flooding my entire area with apple juice during mealtime.
To be honest, I was a bit irritated with this woman – not because she asked me to switch, but because she sat down in my seat before I even got there. She must have known what an awkward situation that would have put me in, and as such waited until everyone was seated before trying to move. Besides, if she wanted to switch, shouldn’t she have asked two people in the middle 3-4-3 seating, or at least the woman on the aisle? As I learned later, it costs extra to place a seat reservation when using miles, but my dad had in order to ensure I would have the seat I wanted, so it is frustrating in that regard as well. But with earplugs and Vicodin, I made it through, reminded myself repeatedly that I had to start making sacrifices since I was now “a mature adult,” and convinced myself that I had flown enough that I should give the gift of staring out the window to the new generation. As it turned out, they didn’t even look out the window! (Ugh, grumpy, but maybe that’s just because I’ve been having the worst back pains for the past 24 hours…)
But then, it was over. My parents were waiting at arrivals with balloons and flowers. They drove me home in our silver Prius, a fitting return to the California lifestyle, and we wound through the beautifully hilly 280 to make our way back to home, where nothing and everything had changed.