However much I try to fight it, I seem to never get good sleep before flying. Following the usual trend a.k.a habit, me and my best friend Alina, who always sees me off at the airport, went to bed at 12 and woke up at 3 in the morning. Driving through Saint Peter’s suburbs, I realized that I have never been this ready to leave Russia – at least not when I depart for the United States. Maybe staying on the same continent makes the distance seem shorter in mind. Not maybe, it does – being closer to home does make my heart happy. See you very soon – we said to each other. Come visit. I hugged Alina, my mom, waived goodbye to my beautiful city and went for the security check. The hardest thing about traveling and moving they don’t tell you in inspirational books is parting ways with the loved ones. This time, however, it didn’t feel nearly as much of a burden.
The flight seemed extremely short – only an hour to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, and then 2.5 more to Zagreb; we have barely taken off, and it was the time to land already. I knew I was being greeted at the airport (which was quite a relief, to be fair) – by my friend Filip, whom I met while solo-traveling through the Balkans this past summer. Filip has a heart of gold and an amount of enthusiasm very unusual for a modern human being – he has made my stay unbelievable so far. Pleso airport is Zagreb is tiny, so there’s no chance of getting lost. I passed the customs, smoothly and quickly – as compared to the U.S., where I have to wait in line for two hours and then be inspected. Walking out, I saw my friend all smiling, with a tablet reading “Welcome Anna!” and a Milka chocolate in his hands.
Filip and his dad took me all the way from the airport to my new home – a lovely two story apartment on Novakova street, up on the hill. Zagreb is definitely a place to be if you like a bit of a physical challenge; all those ups and downs keep the leg muscles working. Upon my arrival, we had to meet with the landlord and the agent, to discuss the policies and the rental term. After all the formalities were cleared out, my landlord, teta Štefa (aunt Štefa), a 50-60-something-year-old woman, invited us over for some juice. Caution: when a Croatian invites you for a drink, it entails some 2 hours of talking about life (and possibly complaining 🙂 ). As I was used to it from my own, Russian culture, a warm-hearted conversation with teta Štefa wasn’t a surprise – more of a discovery of yet another similarity between us. I was actually very interested to hear more about Croatia and Yugoslavia, especially because the conversation was carried out entirely in Croatian. The older generation mostly does not speak English – which leaves me with nothing but a necessity now to practice the language often.
After the conversation was over, teta Štefa said “Vi su moje djece” – “You are my children”, as if signifying that there’s no distinction between me and Filip for her, even though I am not a Croat by blood. We are all Slavic descendants, distant relatives – but not immediate ones. She grabbed my cheeks in her hands and chucked them a little, just like Russian grandmas usually do. I’ve suddenly felt skin crawls all over my arms and shoulders, the good crawls though. Did she really say that to us – to me in particular? Does that mean I am ‘accepted’, to a certain extent? Then, Filip and I went for a stroll around the town – and it looked just the way I left it in August, only the leaves on the trees have fallen down. I could feel my heart beating faster with every new turn we took, every other building I’ve recognized. We bought some delicious Croatian milk, other dairy and fruits, purchased a SIM card, and walked back to the house to unpack. That night, I couldn’t stop thinking about the last sentences we’ve exchanged with teta Stefa, and a smile didn’t come off of my face for another day.
I opened my eyes the next morning to witness the sun wake up above Zagreb, slowly, like a lazy cat on a hot mid-summer afternoon – lighting up the steeples of Zagrebačka Katedrala (Zagreb Cathedral) and orange, almost toy, brick roofs. The location and the apartment itself is better than I have ever imagined – it is in the historic part of the town, and all the main attractions, as well as some of my favorite eating/coffee places and bakeries are right around the corner. The best part is, however, the view that I have a privilege to enjoy every day.