From Zagreb to New York City
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
From Plitvice (after a Slunj dip!), we drove a couple hours north to Zagreb. We had a few days in the capital before heading back to the States. Next up: flying from Zagreb to New York City and the conclusion of (this leg) of our international travels.
Wine Tasting in Zagreb and the Importance of Air Conditioning
In the era of COVID-19 travel, every trip needs to factor in some extra logistics. From Croatia, before flying back to the States, we needed negative antigen tests. Fortunately, we found a hospital in Zagreb that took appointments and, being there anyway, figured we’d take advantage of a couple extra nights in the city before catching our flight.
On a whim, we signed up for one of the AirBnB Experiences. While we’d spent the past year staying in spots we found on the website, this’d be our first time trying a things-to-do-in-an-area option, what AirBnB brands as “unforgettable activities hosted by locals.”
Big hype, but our night lived up to it.
In great, know-your-target-audience marketing, AirBnB promoted a “Tasting of Croatian wines & bites at Pupitres wine and coffee bar” after we booked our room. A bit of a mouthful, but reading the description we knew this’d be right up our alley. Night of Croatian wines and snacks? Perfect - we signed up.
Pupitres, as the Experience title made clear, is a wine and coffee bar. But, “bar” doesn’t actually do the place justice. In the heart of Zagreb’s Lower Town, Pupitres sits in a centuries-old, grotto-esque space. Brick-arched ceilings give you the sense of visiting an ancient wine cellar, while the Croatian paintings covering the walls offer a neighborhood-art-gallery vibe.
When we arrived, the owner, Jelena, was just closing down the day’s operations and setting up our private tasting. For the next hour and half, Jelena - aided by a map of Croatia highlighting its different wine regions - curated a progression of local wines, cheeses, olives, and prosciutto, all absolutely delicious.
After six weeks exploring Croatia, we felt like we had a decent grasp of the area. Jelena’s stories and lessons on different wine hotspots in the country quickly made us realize that we hadn’t even scratched the surface - all the more reason to return!
So yeah, after our Pupitres success, we’ll try the AirBnB Experience thing again. But, strolling back to our apartment through the heat and humidity of summer in Zagreb, we learned another lesson - don’t skimp on AC…
Impressed with himself for finding a “good deal” on an apartment in a great area, Chipp neglected to check whether or not the place had AC. It didn’t. Nor did it have a fan. With windows wide open, we spent the night praying for a slight breeze to pick up, sticking to the sweaty sheets.
Between the incipient wine withdrawals and sauna-like feel, we may have slept a total of 10 minutes. Lesson learned!
Not Digital Nomads, a Final Karlovacko, and Off to New York City
Rental car returned, we checked into our flight. After nearly a year overseas, it was a strange sensation finally heading Stateside, but we were both ready. We saw incredible places, met great people, and ate and drank our way through some delicious culinary scenes. But, we weren’t home.
During our travels, people often asked us: “So what, you guys are some kind of digital nomads?”
Maybe it’s just Chipp’s ornery take on things, but that title doesn’t define us. Nomad implies a lack of home - of constant movement. We have a home. Actually, we have three homes. Richmond is home, because we live there. Buffalo and Zaporizhzhia are both home, because we grew up there and our families still live there.
We never intended to leave on an indefinite journey. We wanted to see the world - together - and do a little work to keep cash flowing in the process. But, we also wanted to come back to the States and build our lives. Fortunately, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. After spending some time doing the former, the next adventure will be tackling the latter.
Off the soapbox and back to Zagreb… Sitting in the airport terminal, Chipp had a more pressing concern than the meaning of life - figuring out what to do with the few Croatian kuna in his pocket.
Croatia joined the European Union in 2013, but it won’t transition to the Euro until 2023. Next time we’re back, the kuna will be a dead currency. Silly to exchange the handful we had, so Chipp took final advantage of a true European beauty - beer vending machines. Pumping some kuna coins into the slot, a button-press later and Chipp was sitting at the gate with an ice cold Karlovacko - gotta love the convenience!
A few minutes later, we began the boarding process. Flagged for some additional security measures (a sign of things to come), we went through that hassle then got on the plane. After a brief layover in Lisbon, we took off for New York City, the first stop on our US “reorientation” tour.
Welcome to the States! Are You a Terrorist?
When we first landed in Istanbul, our sleep cycles fell into a shambles. That’s what happens when you travel for nearly 24 hours and show up at dawn.
Flying back west, you can game the system. Our trans-Atlantic flight left Lisbon late at night, and due to the space-time-continuum-ish nature of traveling through multiple time zones, we’d arrive in NYC (well, technically Newark) at just about the same local time. If you can keep yourself awake through the flight, this timing sets you up for a great first night’s sleep back on east coast time.
Embracing this approach, Chipp arrived with about a bottle of airplane wine in his system, ready to pass out. Jenna, though also exhausted, had the maturity to stay awake drinking hot tea. Understandably, getting delayed clearing customs was the last thing either of us wanted.
Alas, a smooth passport control experience wasn’t in the cards.
As we handed over our passports, the customs agent did a double-take with Chipp, looking at her screen then back up at him a couple times. Chipp’s oh-this-doesn’t-seem-right sense was validated when she held his passport, telling him to step aside for follow-on questions. Jenna was allowed to continue - just without any knowledge of where Chipp was heading.
Our agent shut down her lane and proceeded to guide Chipp into the bowels of Newark International’s security system, eventually telling him to take a seat in some sort of waiting area. Looking around and listening to the multiple languages spoken by other “guests,” it seemed that most enhanced screening was targeted towards foreigners.
Slowly becoming hungover, exhausted, and having that all-too-common-military-vet annoyance with authority figures, Chipp had next to no f***s to give sitting in this security area, no details of what would come next. After 30 minutes of waiting, he approached the uniformed officer behind the desk:
Chipp: “Hey man, what’s going on here? When are you guys going to stop jerking me around?”
Uniformed authority figure: “Sir, please take your seat, and someone will be with you shortly.”
“Shortly” turned out to be a relative term. Another 30 minutes passed before a plain-clothed officer of some sort approached the desk, picked up Chipp’s passport, and “invited” him into an interrogation room.
As the investigator began with some pleasantries, he seemed to pick up on the fact that Chipp didn’t fit the normal terrorist profile. But, apparently military-aged males buying one-way tickets to Turkey and coming home almost a year later flag the counter-terrorism algorithm, so the investigator had to go through his routine:
Plain-clothed authority figure: “Mr. Naylon, have you experienced any extremist activity while overseas?”
Chipp, all patience gone: “I don’t know man, a suicide bomber tried to blow me up in Afghanistan once. That count?”
Authority figure, takes deep breath in and composes himself: “No sir, I mean on this trip.”
Chipp: “Not unless you count spending the last year eating and drinking in a bunch of new places with my wife.”
Authority figure: “Okay, I’ll escort you out.”
Having decided Chipp didn’t pose a terrorist threat, the investigator walked him out - much to Jenna’s relief, who had no idea when or if Chipp would be released.
Doing the New York City Tourist Thing
Any lingering annoyance with the customs SNAFU quickly dissipated. Our friends Sasha and Ruslan generously offered to pick us up from the airport - would spend the next couple nights with them in New York. Driving north from Newark, with Manhattan’s skyline lit up to our right, it was hard to imagine a better view in the world.
In an odd quirk, returning to the states via NYC, we didn’t feel like our trip had ended. For the next few days, we did all sorts of touristy things in the city - walked the Brooklyn Bridge, took the Roosevelt Island Tram, and had drinks overlooking Central Park, to name a few.
Despite an extended trip overseas, New York still just has a way of making visitors feel like, well, tourists. In an often-repeated phrase, Chipp claims he loves the city for three days, as any longer would mentally, financially, and physically break him.
So, for the next few days, we lived life as tourists, making the most of our time in NYC. We had a fitting back-to-reality bookend to this continued travel adventure, though - security at JFK.
From New York, we had a quick flight back to Buffalo to start getting our Stateside lives in order. Or, at least we thought it would be quick. Fortunately, we arrived earlier than normal. When we reached the security checkpoint, our tickets triggered some protocol. The lane immediately shut down and we had every single item searched, all the way down to a guy opening each one of Jenna’s make-up containers.
Another tremendous pain, but fortunately we wouldn’t be flying for a while - time for Chipp to figure out removing himself from the terrorist watchlist!
Thanks for Following Our Travel & Work Adventures!
When we first started our blog, we assumed a post per week would stay current with our travels. Obviously, it didn’t - just wanted to write about way too much. To all of our friends and family who’ve followed us (sometimes in the present, sometimes retroactively) on our adventures, thank you!
We’ve had a blast, and hopefully our enthusiasm came through in our stories. While the writing may lack Hemingway-esque quality, we wanted to make sure we at least passed along the spirit of our travels - adventure and the beauty of experiencing new places with people you love.
If all goes as planned, we’ll be doing more travels in the future. Yes, we’d like to build some sort of foundation in Richmond. But, what’s the point of a solid foundation if you can’t use it as a launchpad for more adventures?
We’d only change one thing. Ideally, our future travels won’t be in the midst of a global pandemic, with more opportunities for friends and family to hop over and join us along the way!