During the Croatia leg of my month in Europe back in 2011, I spent one gloomy November day in the capital city of Zagreb before heading down to Split and Dubrovnik. Zagreb is a very interesting city, with a mixture of the old and the new; definitely worth a visit.
This was one of the first buildings I saw during my walk into the city: the Art Pavilion in Tomislava Square.
November 8, 2011: Our final non-travel day in Europe featured summer weather and a cool cable car ride to the top of a mountain to see Dubrovnik in all its glory. But first we visited the impressive Fort Lovrijenac, which sits atop a massive rock looming over the entire city.
Just like the previous day when we walked the city walls, the fort was devoid of crowds (the advantage of being there in November). In fact, we basically had the entire fortress to ourselves, as you can see in the photos below. If you viewed my post about Game of Thrones filming locations, many of these photos will look familiar (click on any image to view a larger version):
The fort is a great place to enjoy spectacular views of the walled city:
After our visit to the fort, we headed to the other end of the city to catch a cable car ride to the top of Srd Hill.
This is where you get the iconic view of Dubrovnik from up high.
Here’s a panorama of the landscape behind Srd Hill:
While up there I visited a war ravaged building called Fort Imperial. Inside is a museum dedicated to the 1990’s Croatian War for Independence. After visiting the museum I walked around the outside of the building where there are signs saying to do so at your own risk, due to the structural damage and leftover debris.
Here are a few more photos from on top of the hill:
After descending Srd Hill, my uncle returned to the hotel while I decided to stay in the city. We agreed to meet up later for dinner. I thought I’d to visit the city aquarium but unfortunately discovered that it was closed. Instead I headed out to the rocks on the shore outside of the city walls. There was not another soul in sight so I was able to sit back and relax as if I had the entire city to myself. I sat beneath the rock in the picture below and gazed out into the sea as the water crashed against the rocks. Simply sublime.
Being alone also allowed me to get a little goofy, as I used the self-timer to snap my traditional Karate Kid photo, which I do on almost every trip:
I then decided to check out a café that serves drinks on the rocks along a different part of the wall. It can be easy to miss if you don’t know to look for it; it’s basically through a little hole in the wall. I had a couple of drinks there and watched the sun set. Here’s a photo of the café taken from up on the wall (it only seems to be open in the early evening):
Later I met up with my uncle and we had our final dinner in Europe at nice a place just outside of town. We then headed back to the hotel to pack for two days of planes, trains, and automobiles until we finally made it back home to New Jersey.
We awoke early the next morning to catch a cab to the bus station, where we hopped on a bus for the four-hour ride back to Split. When we arrived in Split we once again had to fend off all of the people at the train station looking to rent us rooms. We had a long layover before the train to Zagreb was due, so we stored our luggage in lockers and headed into the city. I was glad to be able to pay one final visit to Split; our stay there had been the most pleasant surprise of the entire trip. We had lunch at an outdoor café in the square pictured below, where I had a very tasty pork dish.
The train to Zagreb ran very late, so we didn’t arrive at our hotel until late that night. We had a super early cab ride to the airport the following morning, and thus did not have time to go into the city for dinner; I just had a panini in the train station, then packed for the flight.
From Zagreb we flew to Amsterdam for a 3-hour layover, where they were already celebrating Christmas in early November—there were decorated trees all over the airport. From there it was a long flight back to JFK Airport. I mentioned in Part 1 my desire never to fly out of JFK again, and the return trip only reinforced it. On a good day you could probably drive from JFK to my house in about 90 minutes, but between ridiculously long customs lines, a disorganized shuttle service (which I will also never use again), and bumper-to-bumper traffic on the roads, it took us roughly 7 hours to get home from the time we landed. Finally, we made it to my front door, where I was greeted by my wife and dog after a month apart. It was good to be back home.
And with that, our epic 28-day Eurotrip was over, as is my two-year odyssey of writing this journal. But before signing off I need to give a shout-out to my Uncle Kipp, who made the entire trip possible, first by organizing our group’s two-week stay in beautiful Tuscany that helped me realize my dream of touring Italy, and then by inviting me to accompany him to Switzerland and Croatia after the rest of the group went home. Croatia might never have been on my radar as a place to visit if not for Uncle Kipp, but I’m so glad I went. What an amazing country. The entire trip was an incredible experience that I’ll always cherish. It truly was the trip of a lifetime—lord knows I’ll never be able to take that much time off from work again. 🙂
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.
I thought I’d kick off the new Videos section of this blog with the very first video I made from one of my trips. This video covers most of my month in Europe in 2011, including visits to Italy, Switzerland, and Croatia.
This video is nearly 18 minutes long, so I’ll understand if you don’t want to sit through the whole thing :-), but it is accompanied by a couple of pleasant pieces from Holst’s The Planets.