I met Fil on the second day of classes on exchange. He introduced himself as Filip and said that he was from Croatia but had lived in Canada most of his life. Too nervous to ask more about his Croatian roots, I tucked away this fact thinking only about bringing it up in conversation when my parents asked me if I’d met anyone interesting on exchange.
Three months later I found myself in an ancient Volkswagen van with Fil and four of our friends blasting AC/DC, while speeding through the countryside of Karlovac, Croatia. Our exams were over and the five of us decided to visit Fil’s birthplace.
Having travelled with these friends before, I was eager to set off on another adventure with them. This time one of us was going to be the tour guide. Due to his family’s deep Croatian roots, Fil speaks fluent Croatian which was great help during our trip.
Although most street signs, restaurant names and advertisements are in Croatian, most of the people we conversed with spoke English. I recommend looking up standard phrases in Croatian such as “please”, “thank you”, “Where is the bathroom?” etc. Even if you struggle with the pronunciation, the locals will appreciate the effort.
We were pleasantly surprised with Fil when he informed us on our first day in Karlovac that he had something planned every day for us. Spontaneous travel can be extremely fun, but having a plan, makes your travels feel a little more secure whether travelling with a group or solo.
The first two days of our trip were filled with countryside and castles. Even around the capitol city of Zagreb, Croatia is covered in lush, vibrant green grass and trees with clear blue rivers winding through.
Most residential areas are occupied by tall apartment buildings, still standing atop their buried communist roots. Even after twenty years the effect of the Croat-Bosnian war hovers around Croatia like smoke. Houses, churches and bars are still freckled with bullet holes and shrapnel damage.
The ruins are objects of remembrance, they do not stick out like a sore thumb but compliment the surrounding natural beauty.
After seeing seven incredible castle ruins and the gorgeous rain-cleansed countryside, Fil continued to amaze us by taking us to the seaside city of Rijeka. Steps leading into the ocean, fresh calamari and shops lining the shoreline, this was all too good.
The next day we were back in the van heading towards the Zagreb Zoo. Even for the short amount of drizzle and the lack of giraffes, I was taken aback by the space. The zoo rests in a large park enclosed by overhanging trees, singing birds and small, fish-filled lakes. There was so much peace in one place, I didn’t even need an ice cream cone.
After more sightseeing in Zagreb, polished off by some Croatian beers at sunset on a terrace overlooking the city’s central square, we piled back into the Volkswagen en route to Fil’s grandmother’s apartment in Karlovac.
She had just returned from a trip to Paris, Fil explained that his seventy year old grandmother travels more than he does. With our bellies full of delicious, homemade crepes we asked her why she travels so much. With Fil as our interpreter, she explained that when she travels, her pains and worries go away.
Moral of this story: Humbling peace awaits the eager traveler.
Thank you Croatia. Thank you Filip