At 6AM this morning, I left the United Kingdom for the first time in a decade.
Since before I even became an adult, I have known that I didn’t particularly want to live, work, and die in the United Kingdom. I didn’t know what form that desire would take, but I wanted more - I had seen too many people in my birth town get ‘trapped’ there. I didn’t want that.
As I grew older, I knew that I wanted to be free to travel our world, rather than settle down. I have decided that I want to travel with minimal possessions, and find ways to express my creativity and try to make money whilst doing it. I don’t want to be stuck working a job I hate, I want freedom. I’m lucky that in the age I was born in, it’s easier than ever to make money whilst travelling because of the internet. So that’s what I’m going to do.
This flight is the start of that freedom. The adventure begins.
The Last Day
I spent my last full day in the United Kingdom (yesterday) picking and carving Pumpkins with my sister and my niece.
We picked all variety of Pumpkins, from small white ones, plump black ones, warty ones, juicy orange ones, and a smooth-beige-one-that-actually-might-just-be-a-squash. We even found a head of corn, despite being bordered only by the a field of sunflowers, a farmhouse, a road, and a construction site.
We had a great time.
It was important to me that I spend this day seeing my family; one of the few hesitation I had about my plan was that it meant I would be away from them for long periods. I always missed my Uncle whilst growing up because he lives in Germany.
I had already made most of my preparations for my trip, so I was left to just pack my bag, check in to my flight, and print off a few documents. This went smoothly, but packing my bag was a little awkward because I to make everything I might want during my flight accessible. Whilst I packed, I remembered about a box I have full of foreign change I was given by a Chinese student girl who moved back to China. In there, I found 5 Euros. Croatia doesn’t officially use Euros, they use the Kuna; I had forgotten to get any Kuna in advance, but I was hopeful I’d be able to use my five Euros for something, even if just at my layover in Brussels.
My parents had agreed to drive me to Birmingham airport. Given that I hadn’t flown for a decade, I was anxious about some aspects of the process, so I asked them to explain some of the steps before they left.
The thing I was most anxious about was the security check-in, as it wasn’t really something I was familiar with and it seemed like it would be easy to screw up and get into trouble. The fact that I was so anxious about brought me closer to trouble than anything else, as I forgot to empty my pockets; otherwise it was far easier and less painful than I was expecting. It was still surprising to see armed guards, even though I was expecting it.
I only had a short wait of 25 minutes or so before flying, which left enough time to comfortably find my gate. As I was only taking carry-on luggage and I had already checked in online, my time at the airport seemed a lot easier than what I could see of other people, and of what I remembered from holidaying as a kid.
As I made my way through the airport, boarded the plane, and taxi’d across the runway, I listened to Tame Impala’s Let It Happen. It seemed appropriate; it’s been anthem of my expectations of the freedom of travel, and the music video is set in an airport and on an aeroplane.
Birmingham to Brussels
Within a minute of liftoff, we had already passed above the cloud layer. The moon was full and bright, but the city below was brighter. I could see the colours of the lights of the city below illuminating patches of the shifting clouds as they tumbled through the sky, and it made me think about the ingenuity and scale of Humanity. We have transformed our world. We began as creatures living in woods and caves, subsisting on that which nature gave us. Later, we scorned Nature by taking control of the land with agriculture. Now we don’t even stop for the night. At this early hour in the morning, the light of Humanity was more powerful than the light from the moon.
At night, this world is unmistakably ours.
Light penetrating a thin cloud layer
Twenty minutes into the flight, and the clouds had cleared somewhat. I could see individual lights from the buildings, as well as the well-lit highways snaking through the black abyss below; like individual threads connecting knotted balls of yarn.
We passed over suburbs, and I was reminded of visualisations of neurons firing in the brain. I marvelled at the imperfect geometric shapes.
I must have looked so green, staring out of the window. Everyone else was looking at their phone or reading their papers. For them, the routine. For me, an incredible experience I had never been able to appreciate before.
Later, whilst beginning to write this entry, the sun began to rise. We were flying towards the sunrise, and the horizon was transformed into a rainbow. The powerful, deep red colour shifting into oranges, yellows, and then a pale blue which enveloped the whole of the rest of the sky. Regardless of what I had previously thought about Mankind just minutes prior, Nature proved to be far more beautiful and powerful. The dull, orange lights of humanity cowered away from the majesty of the technicolour morning.
I was thinking about how I would describe what I was seeing, and couldn’t help but think of Gagarin describing Man’s first voyage into Space.
Rays were blazing through the atmosphere of the earth,
the horizon became bright orange,
gradually passing into all the colors of the rainbow:
from light blue to dark blue, to violet and then to black.
What an indescribable gamut of colors!
Just like the paintings of the artist Nicholas Roerich.
– Yuri Gagarin, first human in space
I couldn’t help but let out a tear. I was literally and figuratively leaving the darkness behind, and embracing a new morning. I felt hope.
From up here, the ripples of the clouds looked like the ripples of sand on an untouched beach.
Before I knew it, we were being told to put away our laptops and other things as we were landing in Brussels Airport.
When I booked my flight, I didn’t realise that you can’t realistically leave the airport during a layover, so I booked a flight with a 5 hour layover at Brussels Airport, as I was hoping I’d be able to tour Brussels as a bonus ‘for free’. Sadly, it wasn’t until after I had booked my ticket (ignoring other tickets at similar prices that didn’t have Layovers) that I found out this wasn’t the case. Oops. Lesson learned.
I was really quite thirsty in Brussels airport. I hadn’t had much to drink the day before, and all the walking I had done, combined with my sleep deprivation gave me a headache. I spent the 5 Euros I had brought with me on 2 500ml bottles of water, which didn’t really help things. Eventually I found a water fountain hidden at the entrance to the bathrooms, which felt like salvation.
The 5 hour layover passed uneventfully, as did the flight from Brussels to Zagreb. The customs officer barely gave me a second look as I passed through.
Franjo Tuđman airport, named after the first president of Croatia
I was able to use the airport ATM with my Revolut card, and take out money using the official interbank exchange rate. Rather than taking a taxi or anything like that, I decided to take the bus to the Zagreb city center.
The first thing I noticed about Zagreb (And I noticed it from the plane too) is that the center of the city is very classical 18/19th century European architecture, whilst the outskirts have tower-block flats that I would assume were built in the communist era.
Most of the trams I saw were modern, but there are a few which are very old. In the right part of the city, at the right time of day, the old trams and the tower-blocks align to give quite a startling effect.
There’s also a lot of flags everywhere, both the national flag, the flag of the city of Zagreb, and the European Union flag. There are also occasionally others that I don’t recognise.
I had booked a hostel before I left the UK - I didn’t go for quality or anything nice, just the cheapest one I could see at the time (€38.40, £34.10, $43.69), which was Youth Hostel Zagreb. I chose a room that fits 6 people, with free Wi-Fi, and I booked for 4 nights - the plan being that I look for an apartment during those few days, though I could always have an option to extend.
I had only a little trouble finding it, which was because I couldn’t locate the bus station on the map. The walk from the bus station to the hostel was a little un-nerving. Block after block was covered in floor to head-height graffiti, which made me feel like I was walking through a dangerous area; everything turn out okay though!
When I arrived at Youth Hostel Zagreb, the receptionist told me I still had 56 kuna (€7.52, £6.69, $8.59) to pay; A little for the ‘city tax’, but mostly because I wasn’t a Hostelling International member. He gave me a stamp card - collect 6 stamps, and you become a member for free. Each night translates to one stamp, so you will quickly go back to a price similar to what I had been expecting. In total, this meant I was paying £40.79 for my 4 nights; at £10/night, this was now more expensive than some of the other options I had seen, but I guess that’s what I get for not reading the whole page comprehensively. The receptionist also told me about the key situation, which I find very strange: At Youth Hostel Zagreb, there is only one key per room. This means that the last person out of the room has to lock it and give the key to reception. In theory it makes sense as the room is locked when nobody is there, but it’s putting a lot of trust into strangers.
Before I went to my room, I decided to go and see the city a little. It was here that I discovered that Zagrebians (Or perhaps just Croatians in general) love breads, pasties, and pastries. There are three Bakery chains here called Mlinar, Pan Pek, and Dubravica that I have already seen far too many of; I’ve seen many independent bakeries too! And I haven’t explored much more than the city center!
I bought some tasty potato bread from a Mlinar for 7 kuna (€0.94, 84p, $1.07) - I hadn’t eaten since Al Bader back home, which had been 18 hours at this point, so I was quite hungry, but the potato bread fed me nicely.
The Hostel seems fairly clean, I have no real complaints. No kitchen or laundry around, so I will eat out in the city and clean my clothes in the sink.
It turned out I was sharing this room with three Croatian guys. I had expected to meet foreigners like myself. The guys were quite friendly but also quite tired. I was the last to go to sleep, working to edit my research paper and write down my thoughts in this entry.