Eurotrip 2011, Part 8: Long Train Runnin’, Destination Zagreb

Flash Forward: Zagreb, Croatia

This installment covers Days 19–20 of my 2011 trip to Europe…

After our relaxing stay in Basel it was time to resume our trip. We hopped on the train in Basel at 9:30 a.m. for a roughly 15-hour ride that would take us through Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and finally into Zagreb, Croatia. That’s a long time to be cooped up in a train, but on the plus side, our Eurail passes afforded us first-class seats for most of the trip, so the ride was more comfortable than the trains we had ridden in Italy.

And the scenery was breathtaking. If you like riding trains, I highly recommend taking one through Switzerland and Austria—I can’t imagine a more picturesque journey. Here are some photos from that part of the trip. The quality is poor because they were taken with a cell phone through the glass window of a moving train, but it gives you some sense of the beauty of the countryside through this part of Europe.

We arrived at the last stop in Austria late in the evening. The next train would take us into Slovenia and Croatia. The station was a bit creepy, tiny and isolated. Huge, long-haired guards were patrolling the grounds. They did not look like the kind of people you wanted to cross.

The layover was fairly long and we were starving. We had been on the road since the early morning without really having a meal. The only available food in the station was the finger food being served by a casino/bar, so we decided that we would wait and eat in the dinner car on the train. This turned out to be a mistake because the train to Croatia was basically equivalent to an old commuter train, so there was no dinner car, not even someone walking around serving snacks. Alas, we would not be eating until we reached Zagreb.

Riding through Slovenia at night was an interesting experience. It’s hard to put into words but it had a different feel than riding through Western Europe. I kind of felt like I was traveling behind the old Iron Curtain or something. When we reached Croatia we had a bit of a scare around 11 p.m. when Croatian police boarded the train to check our passports. One officer looked at my uncle’s passport for the longest time, and then began asking us questions about where we had come from and why we had no entry stamp.

I explained that customs never stamped our passports when we landed in France. He replied, “They must! They must! That is why we have stamps.” I thought we were going to have a problem but he finally said, “It’s not your fault,” and stamped our passports.  So word to the wise: when you land in a foreign country, make sure you get your passport stamped.

We finally arrived in Zagreb around 11:30 that night. It was obviously too late to go out for dinner so I settled for a sandwich being sold by a shop in the train station. Fortunately, the hotel was right across the street from the station, so we didn’t have far to walk. We didn’t do much unpacking since we would only be here one more night, so I gobbled up my sandwich, went online for a bit, and then straight to bed.

We spent the entire following day walking around the city. It was the only day we would have to check out Zagreb on this trip so we tried to make the most of it. We didn’t have any planned excursions; we just meandered and soaked in the sites. I noticed right away that more people spoke English in Croatia than they did in Italy, so I wasn’t at all hindered by my failure to learn any of the Croatian language before the trip. In fact, I don’t think I encountered one person in Croatia that didn’t speak English, a much different experience than in Italy, where the tiny bit of Italian I picked up before the trip came in very handy.

For lunch we had some good doeners (a Middle Eastern/European dish similar to a gyro) at a little café. Later on we snacked on some tasty fritule, which are like fried donut holes or zeppoles. Uncle Kipp had his with powdered sugar while I opted for cinnamon (I never turn down a chance to have something with cinnamon). Later that evening we had an excellent dinner at a cute restaurant called Hansel & Gretel that featured a rustic, fairy-tale décor. I don’t recall exactly what I had, but I remember that it was a very rich and creamy dish, and quite delicious.

Here are a few photos from our day in Zagreb:

We didn’t stay out too late because we had to be up early the next morning for our train ride down to Split, which will be covered in the next installment.

Zagreb was a hopping city, kind of like Croatia’s version of New York.  It’s a shame we didn’t have more time to take in all it had to offer, but who knows–maybe I’ll see it again.

View more photos from Zagreb

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