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Torture Museums, Tramlines and Tower Blocks - Welcome to Zagreb


Once I was on the coach to Zagreb three days of cheap wine and near death in Slovenia finally caught up on me. At a moment’s notice I was conscious admiring my last minutes in Slovenia, and then suddenly I fell into an overdue slumber, only to find myself sharply awoken at the Croatian border for passport checks.

All went smooth for me, yet a Mexican couple were singled out and taken off the bus for an interrogation due to alleged passport issues. Keeping in mind I was more in the land of dreams than Croatia at this point; I wasn’t sure if in fact the Croatian border guards had been switched with ICE as the Mexicans were marched into a room for questioning, and then the rest of us continued onto Zagreb.

Yet one thing that became clear over a week later was that this event was some sort of twisted dramatic irony in my own story; one hinting at a certain incident at the Bosnian border involving yours truly and angry border guards(I won’t spoil it for you now).

The best way to described Zagreb is that it’s like Croydon and Vienna’s love child. It’s a grungy mix of nice architecture coupled with tower blocks plus a massive tram system which makes crossing the road alive an accomplishment in itself.

Zagreb is a city of tramlines, racist graffiti and lastly one of museums. From museums dedicated to Croatian art and Yugoslavian life, and to museums composed of medieval torture devices. I was truly spoiled with choice, as there were more than enough museums to visit for my three day stay. It’s the perfect city to ask strangers to take candids of you in front of obscure portraits, so people on Instagram will think you’re cultured.

I started off with the Museum of Torture, and once I had finished viewing the best of what humanity had to offer I headed for the Museum of Broken Relationships. Originally started in 2008 by an artistic couple that had broken up, the museum’s purpose is to collect symbolic objects from other

relationships that had ended, and display them with a message explaining about how their relationship fell apart and why they chose that object.

Yet the museum that was the most enjoyable was the 80’s museum in Zagreb. The museum is a fully interactive one, which allows you to explore a fully recreated Yugosloavian apartment in which you could touch everything on show. Whilst rummaging through a cabinet in the living room I stumbled across a serious stash of vintage Yugoslavian porn magazines in mint condition, and as you can imagine in my shock I put down the magazines immediately and shut the cabinet door... Yeah this museum wasn’t as family friendly as it seemed. On a more PG note the museum had Yugoslavian vinyl’s you could pick up and it even had a games room where you could sit and play Space Invader.

As the sun and the moon swapped shifts over Zagreb I headed out for my first Croatian pub crawl. The first bar my group arrived at was borderline sinister with its drinks policy, which was that everything was free for an entire hour, meaning my self control went straight out of the window like Michael Jackson’s son Blanket when he was dangled in front of the paparazzi.

Once in the next bar I made an effort to boogie with the locals as much as possible, with a slurred voice and broken English I told them all how beautiful their country is and that they need to be proud of it. Yet in hindsight my statements weren’t necessary as Zagreb is a city where soldiers march with sabres and stop to pray to the Virgin Mary, so I highly doubt patriotism was in short supply.

I soon discovered that Croatian bars and clubs subscribe to the notion that if you play a shit song louder, it becomes better. I seriously began to hope that my travel insurance covered hearing aids, as once I ditched the club at 5 in the morning I was left with ear drums like Tom Hank’s at the start of Saving Private Ryan. But rather than storming the beaches of Normandy, I had to storm back to my hostel as I was supposed to be up in an hour or so to visit Plitvice Lakes.

Plitvice Lakes although a natural wonder had larger lines than the shower queues at Reading on a Sunday, so it felt at times more like a shit conga line as I tried to view its waterfalls and lagoons. Yet the sheer beauty of Plitvice alone enabled me to disregard the crowded paths, as the only Blue Lagoons you see in London are in large pitchers mixed with ice in Wetherspoons, so I was in no position to judge.

Many people argue that Darwinism and natural selection are still observable today whenever a poor soul meets his end in a preventable manner, and that it’s just the gene pool rectifying itself. My own Darwin moment involved a ‘Gap Yah’ view for instagram; a panorama of Plitvice Lakes with a rock for me to pose on in front of it all. I could not resist, even with a sign next to it warning tourists of certain death below.

I decided in that moment that it was better to have come home in a body bag than with regret as I shimmied towards the rock and got the shots of my trip, with a gang of worrisome tourists shakily watching the whole thing.

Once I was back in safety and with enough heart attack material for my parents, I left Plitvice Lakes and ended my time in Northern Croatia on an adrenaline fuelled high.