Zagreb, Croatia

Travelogue EE 4: Zagreb


14 August 2010

Having done one helluva music festival and all our sight-seeing in Budapest (including some things we didn’t want to see, like the punk assuming the number 2 position on the pavement right outside Sziget on a road full of people making their way to the station), we were very ready to move on to Croatia. And very ready meant up and out in a 05h45 taxi to catch the 06h30 train!

We nonetheless managed to pass pleasantries with the driver, who was very well-spoken in English (very uncommon in Budapest based on our experiences) and apparently a few other languages, which he learnt on course in winter when it was quiet season for him. He told us that the lack of English was because kids had to learn Russian in school as a mandatory second language during the communist regime so English was optional. Makes sense.

The train trip from Budapest to Zagreb was 7 hours, made easier because we’d left so early (and been out so late the night before) and slept the first 3 away. A few games of Spite & Malice and a happy picnic pack (our now usual smokey bacon chips, bananas, drinking yoghurt, chocolate milk and choc chip cookies) helped pass the rest of the journey relatively painlessly.

Got to Zagreb and were immediately enchanted. It was a city that neither of us had any burning desire to go to, but had included primarily compelled because it’s the capital and seconded because Budapest to Dubrovnik direct would have been a hell of a journey to tackle in one go. There was no direct flight – we would have had to go via Paris if you can believe it! And no online train routes because too many stops, and car and bus simply too long to want to do.

Zagreb is a lovely city and very easy to move around. Trams and buses right outside the train station, with simple and logical routes covering all sides of the city – a welcome change from Budapest’s complicated mesh (made more irritating by how unbelievably close together the stops are – no more than a couple of hundred metres each, making for a very stopstart journey!)

A short tram ride and we were at Ban Jelacic Square, which is the hub of the city, with parks and museums between the station and the square, restaurants, shops and hotels around the square and presumably residential and suburbs up the hill and beyond.

We found our hotel with little trouble. Hotel might be a strong word though. We made our way to reception, which was housed in a third storey apartment and were met there by 2 stoner types who look like they don’t leave the apartment much (and are happy with that). One had a glass eye – an odd running theme with the guy on the Gautrain sitting in front of us who had an eye-patch (and moved because the sun was in his eye!), a fellow patron at the table next to us later that day with a noticeably lazy eye and a chap called Istvan Kiss we’d spotted on a Budapest House Of Terror monument that had the squintest squint eyes we’ve ever seen.

Anyway, turns out we’re in the 3rd storey apartment – but they count from reception up, so we had to put the lug into luggage and haul them up SIX flights of stairs. The stoners had warned us that we might happen upon an old lady who cleans the apartment. Also turns out that the ‘cleaner’ is actually the primary inhabitant of the flat and ‘our apartment’ really is a sleeper couch in her front room! This was hardest on Christian with his aversion to shared bathrooms, but softened with the building’s prime positioning on the main happening street in town.

Said street’s name was something wildly unpronounceable – like a lot of things here. Between the lack of vowels and a whole bunch of accents, kappies, inverted kappies and double dots, we don’t have a hope of phoneticising anything so have taken to renaming almost everywhere and everything to suit our tongue better. Our ‘cleaner’ had also provided FIVE ply toilet paper. We joked about it being so absorbant that it just about cut out needing the toilet as the middleman! *grin*

Grabbing a quick pizza slice (despite ourselves, being fascinated then horrified how traditional food has been quite hard to come by while there is a pizza bar or spaghettaria on every corner) we hit the sight-seeing. The tourist bureau at the station had given us a lovely glossy book, with routes mapped and pictures, descriptions and historical significance of everything we needed to see. A very manageable walk and we saw almost everything – lots of parks, museums, fountains, statues, old buildings and churcheschurcheschurches.

With best intentions of pausing for sundowners and a bite before seeing the last quadrant of the city, we settled into the brauhaus we’d earlier pinpointed as watering hole of choice. We’d narrowed the search from a leaflet at the train station and that serendipitously happened to not only be across the road from our lodgings, but was also recommended unprompted by Glass Eye Guy. The pub was called Pivnica Mali Medo (mountain of the bears). We were lucky enough to get an outside table on this stiflingly hot (mid 30 degrees!) and humid day. All the restaurants have pavement tables, but the roads are narrow so tables are limited and there were loads of people out and about being Saturday evening in downtown Zagreb.

We shared 2 excellent local specialities: goulash pasta and mixed grill of Medin Brlog pub sausage, chicken fillet, minced meat fingers, braised potatoes, overdone beans, and mustard. Christian’s beer was a darker red ale called Mrki Medvjed and mine a light lager called Zlatni Medvjed. We had several. We also had a few Jagermeisters, which they serve in a tumbler with ice and lemon – we got some funny looks when we threw it back so surmise that it was considered a sipping drink in Croatia.

We ended up rolling out of there the better part of midnight, having had a most excellent time (and having only spent about R220 for the whole bangshoot! Bargain!)


Word to the wise planning a stay in Zagreb. If you’re only spending one night (as we did) and think you may end up overdoing it on bar street (as we did), do it on a Friday night, not a Saturday night (as we did). Church bells start chiming at a ridiculously early hour. Every few minutes another church starts its sequence. We’re guessing it’s because there are so many churches in such a small town that they all need to get a go and – rather than a deafening cacophony on the hour – they’ve dished out random times, so you’ll for example get a church that relishes it’s turn and goes hammer and tongs celebrating the 23rd minute of each hour or somesuch. Not easy the morning after the night before… When it’s already sweltering outside! … and your ‘apartment’ only has net curtains!

We did manage to pull ourselves toward ourselves and do a flash half hour trot around the last quadrant ticking the last few must-see checkboxes. We were very sorry to say goodbye to Zagreb – it was an amazing little city and well worth including in your itinerary if you’re ever in the neighbourhood.

But super-excited to see what was going on in Dubrovnik.