To walk through a city at 2 A.M., is to know her. It’s like seeing your lover without her makeup for the first time, or seeing what your future husband looks like on a lazy Sunday morning. During a nighttime city stroll, beneath the wanting street lights, in the waning hours of the night, all the pretense of presentation is gone.
Zagreb at 2 A.M., is unlike any other major city I’ve ever walked through at night. There is such little apprehension in the air, such a lack of aggression that it seems unreal.
Passing by the Main Train Station at 1:30 A.M., the crowd looks a little more frayed than the city’s daytime actors. Young people slouch and lean on just about every flat surface, some drink, others gossip. Every now and then a pack of young men passes through the area. Their boisterous, over confident voices tell you its a group of dudes before you even see them.
And then on their heels, comes a group of young women emitting similar sounds: shouts of disbelief at some rumored event followed by self-conscious laughter. Both groups are so into themselves that it is a revealing how little concern there is for their surroundings. There is no caution in their walk, no fear, no restraint. And yes, you’re at the train station at 2 A.M., but there are even old people here, mixed among the young, waiting for a bus home.
The beauty of Zagreb after hours is how similar it is to Zagreb in the daylight. This is unique. When I lived in New Orleans the nighttime was filled with raucous partying and fear. Amid the ever present smell of spilt beer and sometimes vomit, was the concern that you could very easily get mugged on your way home. Once you stepped out of the confines of the club, passing from the bleaching fluorescent light and into the darkness, all bets were off. My neighbor in the student dorm was robbed, but he was a judo champion, and like a scene in an action movie, he sent his knife-wielding attacker to the hospital. Others were less fortunate.
Walking in downtown Tulsa at 2 A.M., in my early 20s, the city was empty. You could only meet an accosting, aggressive beggar seeking spare change or a cigarette. Occasionally a lone weirdo might try to attach himself to you, hoping you might be headed to a house party or someplace to get high, because with all the bars closed, he clearly had nowhere else to go.
Meanwhile on my 2 A.M., walk from Zagreb’s center to my neighborhood, I see people walking their dogs. I see women, dressed for a night out hurrying somewhere. I walk past a guy. He doesn’t ask me for change or demand a cigarette.
Peace with the night
In my experience Croatians are much more at peace with the night. The nighttime isn’t something dangerous and fearful. To be able to walk home at 2 A.M., unmolested, and without having to really worry about such things, in a major city, is something I’ve only ever experienced in Croatia. In this case, even in the dark, it shows the true beauty of Zagreb.