From London to Croatia: A Foreign Teen’s Adventures in Zagreb

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Mira Maughan

The top three questions I get asked to this day by Uber drivers and colleagues alike are, ”What do you think of Zagreb?”, ”Why did you come here?’, and ”What do you do here?”

In a brazen attempt to address the final question, I thought long and hard about what I could expose, what crazy stories I could tell, without telling too much. A few ideas came to mind that perfectly encapsulate my last year here, shedding light on what a foreign teen with no connections can experience when you give yourself up to chance.

From meeting strangers in the night to accidentally taking the wrong train to Budapest, I make up for the lost time spent in my room in England by playing into Zagreb’s strengths – drinking, socialising and working. It got to the point where I asked my friend “What I should I do tonight, I have nowhere to go!” and she responded crassly “How about going to that place that, you know, you PAY FOR ON A MONTHLY BASIS?, that little place called your apartment!”.

She gives good advice sometimes. I’ve managed to mould something out of nothing here and with little language skills thanks to those around me. I want to hammer that in, not at all to brag but because having read post after post in expat forums and online about “I want to travel to X place but I’m afraid of not making friends, I’m afraid of being lonely or stuck”, I can’t help but yell “It’s completely possible”.

One night I like to remember in particular, I found myself sitting tipsily in the corner of a karaoke bar with little recollection of the journey there. I was sat with people I had met only twice before (coffee once and that New Year’s night), drinking a decent 15 kuna glass of vodka and coke while periodically stealing sips of the friend next to me’s beer. He noticed eventually and bought me my own.

We were in an edgy and low-key karaoke bar, called Pračka (Croatian for sling or catapult), hidden in the centre of Zagreb. Let me clarify, I had little recollection of the journey there, in part due to my drunken state, but mainly because the bar was located on some street that looked like all other streets around it, at the bottom of a block of flats, indicated only by the entry door – a big, black metal door covered in stickers. I’m not sure how people manage to spot this sober let alone three Tomislav beers in to a night out.

I’ve come to have a few stand out memories of Pračka (Edit: I’m still unable to locate the bar on my own). One night was spent with a tram obsessive, a girl, and a man I’ve come to nickname Berlusconi. It was my first introduction to turbo folk and first lesson in how to awkwardly sing and dance along to a song you don’t know – a very important lesson for all new expats! As a result one of favourite folk songs is Kad Sam Bio Mlad by Riblja Corba.

The second was at an office party. Late into the night, I was waiting at the front of the queue for the bathroom. In an instant one of the doors threw open in a loud clamour. Out of the doors fell a couple, mid doggy style, who slammed their backs against the wall of the bathroom in full view of the entire queue and part of the club. We all burst into laughter and let me tell you, in this whole scene the couple were not phased (only a little surprised at the fall) and did not let it ruin their.. moment.

They promptly glanced at the crowd and closed the doors once again. Slightly taken aback, I accepted it for what it was and carried on with my queue waiting and got back to our group. The next singer was up, and I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw who rushed onto the stage but the same girl going at it in the ladies. A little unprepared she hurried onto the stage fixing her hair and proceeded to absolutely kill the song with the whole crowd singing with her. Girl, I salute your bravery.

What else have I done, well I’ve been travelling. First to Spain and by the time this is up I’ll be bathing in the thermal baths of Budapest. What I love about Zagreb in addition to everything else I ramble about – it’s a great location for taking a bus or BlaBla car around Europe for an affordable price.

Gone are the days of scraping together £200 for an all inclusive holiday to somewhere in Spain (Inbetweeners style) drinking as many cocktails as you can at the breakfast buffet to make the most of the all-inclusiveness. A friend of mine will often take a day trip into Italy when she has the time off work, while another friend just last month came back from a 5 day ski trip in Bosnia.

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Turning up the notch on the cringe, in true Mira style, trying to answer this question I found myself returning to the question of “Why do I do any of this?”. As a believer in personal privacy online, I find it difficult to write these (not so) monthly posts about my experiences. For the majority, I hope at the very least they are entertaining to read.

For others, I hope they help explain my situation, who I was and what I think about life in Zagreb. But for myself, I must remind myself why I write. I write for the young girl that I was. Hiding in my room, afraid of the world and afraid of giving life a serious chance, but yet desperately yearning for an escape. Typical teenager.

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I remember being fourteen trawling through sites about homestays abroad, how to get onto an exchange program, and I was desperate to get out into the world, Japan, Spain anywhere that would offer me excitement. I dreamt of swimming across the channel to France (if David Walliams could do it for charity, then surely I could do it too!). I thought about how I’d pack up my belongings in zip-lock bags so they’d float alongside me as I swam. I dreamt about running away to the eurostar and becoming a lowly waitress in Spain.

Sixteen came and I had been spending my time learning Japanese (you were right mom, it was just a phase). Planning how, when and where to go to become an English teacher there. Eighteen came and universities abroad were the topic of my free time. I write to give hope to the fourteen year old me cooped up in her room dreaming of suicide and life in another world. I write for my friend who, just last year, overcame some of his most fundamental fears and countered his psychological struggles (such as OCD) and travelled around Europe with a group of strangers totally off his own back. Creating memories I can’t help but admire. We were all typical teengers once!

I fantasized until I was finally met with the chance to leave. And so, in a rush against the clock, making the most of these teen years while I can, this last year has been a cacophony of unusual experiences interwoven with shifts at my equally unusual workplace, to create memories I’ll continue to tell.

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