A Long Way Home

In the Spring of 2009 I was traveling with my older brother through western Europe. We had stopped in Venice and had planned to continue our journey through Southern Italy followed by a sea voyage to Greece. One of our sisters flew in to join us on our Italian escapade and so it was to be the three of us together for the next several weeks. However, the day before we were to disembark I decided on a whim to change the plan. I called my parents back in the States and informed them that I would instead be traveling to Greece by way of the Balkans and that I would be going alone.

Traveling with my parents as a child exposed me to countless foreign cultures and I learned early not to fear the unknown but to explore it. Perhaps it was this early exposure which led me to think western Europe mundane. Train hopping through western European nations seemed to be the norm for most young travelers. Seeing the Colosseum in Rome or relaxing for a few days in Santorini was to be had by those looking for an unforgettable vacation. And, in that sense, continuing the trip with my siblings sounded appealing enough. In truth though, I longed for something else, for something different – I longed for an unforgettable adventure.

Venice train station at sunset

Some of the most memorable moments of my trip throughout western Europe happened aboard a train; the trip East would prove to be no different. Leaving the Cathedrals and oil slick waters of Venice behind, I snagged a ticket on the first train headed to Zagreb. I had never ridden in a sleeper car before and I expected to be quickly lulled to sleep by the constant thumping of the track below me. That said, I never made it to sleep, instead I partied the night away with a handful of other backpackers who were headed for the beaches of Dubrovnik. We traded stories, read palms, sang songs, and drank all night long in the luxury of the marble floored dining car.

We arrived at Zagreb early, the sun was just cresting the horizon as we pulled into the station. All of the vendors were closed and my late night companions collapsed on the empty benches around the eerily deserted station. When the stalls did finally open, I was ripely ready for breakfast. A merchant obliged to take my euros for the purchase of some fruit and happily returned my change in the form of Croatian kuna. I learned that I had some time before the train to Sarajevo was to depart so, for the next couple hours, I walked around the city of Zagreb. It saddens me that I did not spend more time there as I discovered Zagreb to be a beautiful city.

Panorama of Zagreb

When I made my way back to the station shortly before 9am, I walked past several vendors and salivated at the thought of eating. At the time, I refrained from buying more food because I only had a few kuna left and I expected that more reasonable prices awaited me in the food car on my next train. As I stepped onto the train and began to look around, I realized that there was no dining car to be found. My plan to eat had been dashed and I was famished when I felt the thumping return, we had left Zagreb. Damn.