Wednesday 6 August 2014

European Adventure: Day Nine - Zagreb, Croatia

Wednesday we decided to leave Hungary for the day and drive into Croatia. I ashamedly admit until last fall I had no idea where Croatia was or that it even existed. I remembered Yugoslavia and that counties had separated but had no idea Croatia was one of them or that it was in Europe. Through Ivan and Dan my dad was invited to Croatia last September when they went home for a family wedding. All of us t home had no idea where he was going or what it would be like. So imagine our surprise when he came back and we saw photos of a beautiful European country with sparkling seas and amazing buildings. The area of Croatia that is most well known and travelled to is in the south which is where Ivan is from and that area has a lot of beautiful coastline. Dad would have loved to squeeze in going back there, but it was a 6 hour drive from where we were and our schedule was already packed. However the capital of Croatia - Zagreb - was only a two hour drive from where we were.

Zagreb isn't really a tourist place per say. According to Iva people in Croatia would go there for concerts or possibly to hospitals for certain specialties, but that it is it. In the guidebook I read all European countries were listed with 3 or 4 main city areas and their highlights. Zagreb wasn't even on that list in the Croatia chapter, still we decided to go and check it out. 

We started our day at a local cafe for coffee and croissants. It was a cold day, which was lovely after so many hot and humid ones. I had the best hot chocolate ever at this cafe and their deserts all looked amazing - It was just too early for desert! It started raining as we left, but eventually the rain stopped and we were just left with an breezy overcast day.

Driving in we passed two borders - the first being the old Hungarian border which is now abandoned since the EU was formed. Seeing an abandoned border was creepy and I wish I got some photos. It looked very Zombie Apocalypse. The second border was the one ow used by the EU. I do not get how the borders work within the European Union. We did passport control when we fly into Germany, but nothing when we reached Prague. On the train to Budapest they looked at our passports and stamped our train ticket in each country we passed. The train from Budapest to Vienna they checked our tickets but not our passports, but when driving in and out of Croatia they checked - and stamped - our passports each time leaving us with 6 stamps from that day for some reason. Can someone please explain the border and passport thing to me? Because it doesn't seem consistent!

Driving in Zagreb was confusing even with Iva and Ivan who spoke the language. The first place we planned to park was only a two hour limit, so we drove up toward a restaurant Iva had found on line only to find the road was massively torn up. We drove up a portion of it (not sure if we were supposed to or not) but finally found a parking garage. Then we trekked the rest of the way uphill for about 20 minutes which brought us into upper town. At first glance the restaurant didn't seem that appealing - It was small with not much around it probably due to the massive road work being done nearby. The menu also didn't have anything that really appealed to me as a lot of the dishes were veal or lamb. The recommended dish was a steak but I wasn't in the mood for red meat. I settled on ordering a soup, until the waiter came and explained the steak was turkey. The dish was a traditional Croatian dish of thin turkey meat wrapped up with cured ham and cheese, then breaded and fried (a lot of these main local dishes we are encountering on this trip are fried in some way).  I decided to give it a try as everyone else was, but wasn't expecting much. I was so wrong! Hands down this was the best meal of the trip. It was amazing but so filling I could not finish it. It was another family run restaurant and the name - Didov San translates to Grandfathers Dream. The atmosphere inside was cute as it was fashioned like an old, traditional Croatian home and the staff were friendly and helpful. I admit that my first impression was way off because this place was fantastic and worth the drive from Heviz to Zagreb. 

My dad is trying to do "duck face"
Now all the guys are doing it...
After lunch we walked into the main part of upper town which was pretty quiet. There were some old beautiful buildings as well as a pretty church. As we walked toward lower town, we passed the Museum of Broken Relationships which had been on my list of possible things to do. I had read about this place online and in the newspaper and both places described it as strange, sad and odd, but worth a visit. Dad and Ivan had no interest and wandered off, but Brian, Iva and I went in.

It's more of an art exhibit them a museum but it is exactly as the name suggests - dedicated to the end of relationships. There are various mementos like stuffed animals, photos, shoes, and some strange ones like MP3 players, plastic toys, a wireless router and so on. Beside each is write up from the person briefly detailing the item and what happened. Some are funny like the router one which simply said - We couldn't connect - but many are sad. The two that stick out for me are a stuffed toy caterpillar who belonged to long distance couple. Each time they saw each other they would cut one of his legs off with the idea being by the time all the legs were gone they needed to move closer. The relationship ended so the caterpillar still has some legs. The other one being a postcard that a young man slipped into the mailbox of a girl stating he wanted to marry her. His parents came over to talk to her parents but her parents refused saying she was worth more. The next day he killed himself. The woman who sent it in was over 70 years old. It was a strange place, and definitely sad but I am glad I saw it. It was also surprisingly packed considering how few people we had seen in upper town. It is also a travelling exhibit so someday you may get a chance to see it without having to visit Zagreb. 

We walked to the staircase which led down to lower town and chose to walk down now but ride the funicular up. It was a steep walk but ad nicely spaced out stairs that led through a small alleyway. Once at the bottom there were many people much unlike the quiet, deserted upper part. We walked passed shops and galleries into the main square which was beautiful. It was large and full of life. More shops and restaurants were there along with statues and fountains. A few minutes up from there we reached the main church which was stunning. It was undergoing repairs so scaffolding was on one side, but it was still a beautiful building. 

There was a hop on bus right beside us so on a whim we decided to do it. There were two lines - one that was the main town, and the second which went to the outer part of Zagreb. The one leaving was the outer town, so we figured we would do that first and then come back for the inner town one. What a mistake! This was so boring and almost an hour and forty-five minutes long. The English audio guide was rarely comprehensible and the places the tour took us were a bit pointless. Sure there were a museum or two along the route but mostly it was the outskirts of town, some of which was housing from the communist period that looked run down. It would be like a Toronto sightseeing bus travelling into Scarborough as part of the tour. I fell asleep at one point as did Ivan and Dad but we heard from Iva and Brian we missed nothing.

After that was finally over, we walked back through the square and along the main shopping streets and rode the funicular up to the top (none of us wanted to do the other bus!) After walking downhill through the construction site, we got our car from the garage and made the drive back. The border stopped us for a few minutes - they never said anything but just took our ID and made as move to another area. I guess having 2 Canadians, 1 American and 2 Croatians in the same car may have looked suspicious. But after a few minutes we were able to go. Dad put on Gone Girl for the rest of the drive much to the delight of no one!

By the time we got back to the resort I was worn. My throat and ears hurt so much and I could barely walk. I had been feeling like I was fighting something for a few days but that night I was hit hard by fevers and illness. I quickly packed my bags as we were leaving the following morning and basically collapsed in bed. 

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