From Windhoek to Zagreb - Off to Croatia
Updated: May 20, 2022
A Final Dinner and Giraffe “Hitchhikers”
Traveling in the COVID-19 era, you need to account for some extra logistical hurdles. Flying from Namibia to Croatia, this reality meant scheduling last-minute tests. With negative results required no more than 48 hours from arrival in Zagreb, we had a fairly narrow testing window. Fortunately, we both passed.
This last-minute test requirement had a silver lining, though - an extra weekend in Windhoek. There was no way we could meet the 48-hour timeline in Swakopmund, so we booked a room in the capital for a couple nights. We’d test and print travel documents during the day, then explore in the evenings.
On the recommendation of our new French and Ukrainian friends, part of that exploration included dinner at The Fisher, an aptly named seafood restaurant in the Klein Windhoek part of town. Despite its location on the second floor of a somewhat nondescript office building, we couldn’t have asked for a better final meal in town - delicious grilled fish served whole, fresh-baked bread to soak up the flavors, and countless carafes of South African wine.
Likely related to this abundance of wine, we both did a double-take at a strange sight outside. A truck with an open-air enclosure around its bed drove past us. Peaking out of the top of this enclosure, two giraffe heads jutted out - towering creatures calmly taking in their surroundings without a care in the world.
With the prevalence of conservation areas around Namibia, a rational explanation likely existed (e.g. needing to move giraffes from an overpopulated game reserve to a more accommodating one). But, rational explanation or not, it was hard not to smile at the things-you-only-see-in-Africa image!
Reflections on Six Months in Africa and the Importance of Flexibility
Related, this final meal in Windhoek marked - just about to the day - six months in Africa. From Tanzania to South Africa to Namibia, we spent far more time on the continent than we could’ve imagined when we first came up with this harebrained travel-and-work plan of ours.
When we hashed out the original idea, we planned to travel down through South America, hop across to New Zealand, bum around Southeast Asia, then wrap things up with Jenna’s folks in Ukraine. When the pandemic kicked off, those initial destinations were some of the first to close their borders.
In a when-life-gives-you-lemons-drink-vodka philosophy, we called an audible, instead starting in Ukraine (via Turkey). After that, rather than - foolishly - try to plan an entire year’s travels, we took the journey one leg at a time, deciding on our next destination based on what countries actually allowed visitors.
The result? We spent six months in three absolutely incredible countries on a continent that hadn’t even been in our initial plans. With any long-term travel, flexibility is important. With long-term travel during a pandemic, flexibility is paramount. And, sometimes that flexibility takes you to amazing places you wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
From Windhoek to Zagreb - via Frankfurt!
And, this plan-as-you-go approach led us to Croatia, our final stop before returning to the States. We got engaged in Montenegro - Croatia’s southern neighbor - years prior, so in one respect, it’d be nostalgically fitting to return to the Balkans.
But, more importantly, Croatia served another purpose - a destination our parents could all visit. We’d talked for years about a trip where Chipp’s parents could come from Buffalo and Jenna’s from Ukraine. Now, we wanted to make it happen, to finally get everyone under the same roof.
Croatia checked all the boxes. Stunningly beautiful country? Yep. Visa-free travel for Americans and Ukrainians? Yep. Travel from the United States, Ukraine, and Namibia all allowed during the pandemic? Also yep.
Decision made, we were off to Croatia to spend a month and a half, with our folks meeting us on the back end for a couple weeks. To get there, we’d fly from Windhoek to Zagreb - the Croatian capital - via Germany, which is how we found ourselves sitting in the Frankfurt airport.
After a pre-dawn drive to the Windhoek airport and ten-ish hour flight to Germany, we were exhausted and ready to board the next flight. You know what helps with exhaustion? The perks of German culture! At a Hudson-News-esque airport kiosk, Chipp was thrilled to find three German staples for sale: a schnitzel sandwich, a big can of German beer, and a shot of Jaigermeister. Dinner of champions!
Our First Morning in Zagreb - Looking Left and Small Coffees
We finally made it to our Zagreb apartment after midnight. Fortunately, Croatia and Namibia are only one time zone apart, so we fell soundly asleep without needing to fight the effects of jet lag.
The following morning, we headed out to explore the neighborhood, grab some breakfast, and get groceries for the week. It quickly became apparent that we’d have to get used to two new realities in Croatia.
First, crossing the street, we were back in the world of looking left. After the past few months dealing with cars driving on the left, we adapted to looking right first when we stepped into the road. The sharply beeping horns of some of Zagreb’s drivers quickly remedied this behavior.
Second, in a European capital, we’d also returned to the world of ridiculously small coffees. Craving a big cup of coffee that first morning, we found a little corner bakery:
Chipp, speaking Croat-lish: “Coffee [gestures for a large glass with his hands], molim [“please” in Croatian].
Gal behind the counter: [Insert rapid-fire Croatian Chipp certainly didn’t understand].
Chipp nods his head and hopes for the best.
Gal behind the counter hands him a to-go cup of coffee the size of thimble.
Chipp, in his head: “Oh, it appears that I’ve ordered a single shot of espresso…”