The turning point of the Zagreb bus station

A bit over seven years ago, I was holidaying in Dubrovnik with my then boyfriend; at least, I was until I decided he shouldn’t be my boyfriend any more. That’s not really a story for a travel blog, but the consequence was that I decided to leave beautiful Dubrovnik the next day and head back to my temporary home in Germany.

View over Dubrovnik, Croatia

The trip started with a long wait for a bus, and a long bus ride from Dubrovnik up to Zagreb. During the long wait I’d been at an internet cafe researching my options and had seen a train leaving Zagreb shortly after my bus was due to arrive. I don’t remember the destination of that train any more, but it would have got me home relatively quickly. I didn’t take two problems into account: one, that my bus would arrive an hour or so late, and two, that the train and bus stations in Zagreb weren’t next to each other and I’d be arriving there in the middle of the night.

And that’s how I found myself wandering around the Zagreb bus station at two o’clock in the morning one Croatian summer night. It was one of those surreal moments where I could see myself from several different perspectives.

Zagreb bus station via davehighbury

I could see that here was a young(ish!) foreign female, on her own, in the dark of night, in a pretty sparsely populated bus station, lugging a nearly-too-heavy backpack, with no particular plan of what to do. Nobody knew where I was and if something happened to me it would be difficult for anyone to figure out where I’d ended up. If I’d landed in such a circumstance a few years earlier I would have completely freaked out. Anxiety would have consumed me, I’m sure.

But I could also see that here I was, a young, newly single woman, able to carry her own backpack, able to make her own plans and decisions, and then I reached the ticket counter. I’ll never forget looking up at the board behind the counter which listed the next dozen or so buses and their various international destinations. I actually began daydreaming about the places I might go and what I might do there, except it was more than mere daydreaming because if I wanted to, I could actually do it: would I head back to the Czech Republic and surprise my good friend Zitka; would I go somewhere entirely new and treat myself to a bit of a holiday first; would I take the bus to Vienna, where I knew I could get a reasonably direct train back to southern Germany.

I did choose the German option in the end, but not because it was the easiest way, it was simply the most practical at the time. But that moment of power, of being able to pick and choose from that destination board and go anywhere, that moment has stayed with me ever since. I don’t mean to sound clichéd about it but it was one of those turning points of travel (and life) that never leave you.


  1. Zagreb must be one of those places.

    Five years ago, on my first solo backpacking trip, I found myself there. It was the first time I’d ever truly felt outside my comfort zone. I didn’t realise that the hostel I’d booked was WAY out of town, and I arrived realising I hadn’t actually worked out how to get there. It wasn’t the middle of the night, but I did have to take a couple of trams and a bus before I finally arrived at the hostel, rather late and grumpy.

    However, it was one of those “I’m going to be okay” moments in life, and I was, and I am.

    (PS – I’ve included your war tourism quote in my story. I am, as always, absolutely rubbish at the email thing. I’ll let you know when it’s going to print :))

  2. Glad it all ended well. A country I would love to return to have not been since it stopped being called Yugoslavia.:)

  3. Hola!
    I have nominated you for The Addictive Blog Award
    I would be honoured if you accept the nomination.

  4. Most of the times Zagreb bus station is very busy during the holiday seasons and if we lost someone it’s a bit difficult to find out because I have the experience of it.

  5. You updated your site – looks fantastic!

  6. Hi Amanda! I know it’s been a long time- I’m slowly getting back to the blogging world once again 🙂 I love this travel post and the photos. Speaking of the power to choose one’s own destination, never underestimate that power. I have quit my job and have moved out of China and am now in Chile – doing a bit of studying Spanish, doing a bit of freelance writing and yes, a bit of traveling. Live, travel and learn. I’m glad you’re doing well and it’d be nice to hear back from you again – email me soon. I heard it’s almost spring in Aussie world 🙂

  7. Hi, just came across your lovely blog! Travelling is my passion, too. I’ve spent at least 10 years travelling, working & living around Europe, mostly (cca from 1992-2002)and altrought it wasn’t always that simple I still think of it as the best time of my life! I still travel but not as much, and I miss it! Best wishes!

    • Thanks for the lovely compliment, Maria! I feel the same – it wasn’t always simple but it was fantastic, and I too wish I could do more now … just have to wait a few years and hopefully I can again!

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