(1) Kelowna, Canada to Zagreb, Croatia via Munich: My first real couchsurf

I left Kelowna bright and early Sunday morning with my parents seeing me off at the airport. I had really been hoping to be able to take my pack as a carry-on, but it ended up being a bit too long. The upside of this was that I was able to pack my Swiss army knife. The downside was that I was now nervous about being able to catch my transfer in Munich. I only had 2.5 hrs between my flight’s arrival and catching a train from downtown Munich to Zagreb, Croatia.

I was also in the air for Game 6 of the Vancouver-LA series, and as would be expected on a Canadian flight, the attendant was able to ask the captain for me what the score was, which he then announced to the rest of the plane.

After stops in Calgary and Toronto, a few naps, 3 movies, and some tail wind later, I arrived 30 minutes early and caught the train with plenty of time to spare. Happy to not spend too much time in a country where my only familiarity with the language comes from 80s and 90s music (Achtung Baby, Bei Mir Bist Du Schon, 99 Luftballons). I was headed on a day train to Zagreb, Croatia, through the eastern end of the Alps as I passed through Austria and Slovenia.

The plan was for me to enjoy the lovely views of mountains from my assigned window seat, but the local family looking to spread themselves out in our compartment had other ideas. An older teenage son and young daughter sat across from each other in the window seats, playing card games. A grandmother sat in the middle, across from me. I was sandwiched between the daughter and her mother, who had a tendency to wheeze, cough, and eat loudly. For a while I played the passive-aggressive game of leaning over the daughter to snap pictures of the views and generally looking longingly at the mountains, but this tactic got me nowhere on this nine hour journey. I ended up sleeping on and off for much of the journey, waking intermittently to note the similarity of the landscape to that of Chilliwack and Hope.  The daughter ended up being a bit of a cutey. She liked offering me pretzel sticks and scratching my sleeves and giggling.

I arrived at night in Zagreb, with instruction from my first Couch Surfing host on how to get to her apartment my tram. I had made the decision to try couch surfing just a few days previous, and Marina thankfully responded to my request. (For those not familiar, Couch Surfing (www.couchsurfing.com) is an online network of people willing to share their spare beds or couches to fellow travellers. There are Couch Surfing hosts all over the world, even in Turkmenistan.)

I wasn’t able to change any money at the train station so late, and the kiosk at the tram stop wouldn’t take Euros, so I got on the tram without a ticket. And of course, my luck would have a ticket checker get on the tram halfway through my journey. I looked helpless, waived my 5 Euros to the Croatian-only ticketer, and after a few phrases that I shrugged at apologetically, he waved my Euros away dismissively with an air of “you-idiot-tourist-get-with-the-program”.

I arrived at Marina’s (+ roommates) apartment and knocked. No answer. Knocked again. No answer. Rang the bell. No answer. I paused to consider my options, but I didn’t know what my options were. After a phonecall from the bar around the corner, turned out Marina just didn’t hear me at the door. Marina is a journalist and also volunteers with a Croatian environmental organization; Marin is a documentary director and has an amazing collection of National Geographics; and Sandra is an engineer with the government’s power company. I learn much about the government’s tactics to develop the coastline by rezoning agricultural land as golf courses, of which 25% of each can be developed into residential and commercial space. Marina explained that 2 years ago, there we no golf courses in Croatia, but golf has since been named a national pastime/treasure, and something like 40 are under development.

Marina was a gracious host and offered some homemade vegan rice cookies and distilled pear alcohol, but we were in for a quiet night. She said one of the main reasons she accepted my Couch Surfing request was because I was 29. She wasn’t in the mood for 20 year olds that just want to party.  Not me.

I hope to Couch Surf a lot more on this trip, both to save money, and to meet local people. It was especially nice on the first night of my trip. I was looking back in a journal I kept for two past trips to Cuba and Peru, and my first nights were always bad – tended to involve crying of sorts. Not that I waned to go home, but more like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, and I’m tired and cranky. Once I get some sleep and figure out how the transportation system works in a country, I’m pretty good. This first night: no tears, and I slept until 11am.