Spring break came and passed way too fast for me to handle. I’m still reminiscing about sitting in cozy cafes in the main square of Zagreb eating chocolate croissants, living in a house with 12 other crazy, amazing people, and having the opportunity to volunteer with the Croatian Red Cross.
For spring break, I traveled to Zagreb, Croatia through a program called Alternative Break Program at Indiana University. Our group of eleven students and faculty adviser volunteered for the Croatian Red Cross (CRC) to help with the refugee center located in Zagreb. This was an incredibly rewarding experience, as I was able to learn more about the refugee crisis, meet with empowering people working on this issue, and travel to a city I had dreamed of visiting.
On the first day of break, all thirteen of us jetted across the Atlantic Ocean to Zagreb, Croatia. After two plane rides, a lot of mediocre airplane food, and mild jet lag, we reached our final destination on Sunday. We were tired but ready to explore the city. We first got to our hostel and claimed our bedrooms for the week. After (sort of) settling in, we met up with a Red Cross worker who had been of our main points of contact. We all ventured out to the main square to explore and grab some dinner. After walking through streets lined with cafes and restaurants, we went to a Italian restaurant and I ate some bomb homemade pasta.
Every morning, from Monday through Friday, we volunteered at the CRC picking up garbage around the building, cleaning many of the rooms, and compiling hygiene packages for the refugees. I did not truly realize the extent of this crisis until I witnessed first-hand the situation of the asylum seekers and heard some of their stories. While I did not interact with many people there, the people I were able to talk to opened my eyes to the problems that so many people face, but so many people are completely unaware of. Most of our work was to help the employees of the CRC , not so much interacting with the refugees. The work we did was some of the tedious work that Red Cross workers have to do; now that we had done it, they could focus on actually integrating the refugees and meeting their needs. While we may not have a made a direct impact on the refugees, we were able to help the workers of the organization.
I was also able to form relationships with the workers at the CRC. Talking with them and hearing stories of how they started working for the organization was incredible and inspiring. I honestly did not understand the extent to which these individuals care for the work they do and the passion they have for coming in to work every single day until I was able to listen to snippets of their stories.
After volunteering from 8-3 each weekday, we were able to explore the historical and cultural attractions that Croatia boasted. After volunteering each day, we created a tradition to trek to the main square and settle into a cute cafe for coffee, croissants, and a little bit of relaxation. After this daily ritual, we would walk through many of the alleyways that crisscrossed throughout the city, skirting in and out of stores and taking advantage of every photo opportunity with the European style architecture and scenery.
We also visited some ~unique~ museums.
One of them was the Museum of Broken Relationships-sounds so heartwarming, doesn’t it? In this museum, broken hearts and old lovers had sent in memorabilia accompanied by short stories about their personal love stories gone wrong. The museum is meant to heal broken hearts, but to me, it was simply depressing. I have to say, though, it was unique and something different to see. We also delved into the darker parts of our souls and visited the Museum of Torture. It was creepy to say the least. I learned a lot about painful weapons that I hope to never see again or mention.
Aside from checking out some interesting museums, we experienced taking the metro, visited famous historical buildings and went to the Festival of Lights that happened to be taking place in Zagreb. We took the metro to a different part of the city to attend a Red Cross Training session. The people in Zagreb do love their graffiti, as you can see from the metro pics below. We also visited St. Mark’s Church and the Zagreb Cathedral. We climbed a lot of stairs to get to St. Mark’s Church, and on the way, we stopped on a landing too see a view of the whole entire city. Many orange roofs and white cement buildings could be seen from the landing, which looked so so cool. Within the Festival of Lights, we saw beautiful murals on many of the city walls. We walked through tunnels that had lanterns hanging from the ceilings and unique art pieces lining some of the pathways.
Aside from cultural experiences and exploring the nooks and crannies of the city, I ate one too many scoops of gelato, or any other dessert for that matter. From pizzas to pastas to pastries, I definitely loaded up on my carbs this week.
~insert food pics~
On our last day, we went to a coastal town called Rijeka, which was the one of the prettiest towns I have ever seen. In the city, there were cobblestone roads that were lined with small souvenir shops and restaurants and many colorful buildings. While it was raining for most of the day, the city’s beauty was not dulled one bit. This day trip was the perfect ending to an incredible week of volunteering, exploring, and fun times.
Zagreb stole my heart, and I hope it will steal yours one day too.
instagram: @ritika.mehta (check out more pics from my trip!!!)