Zagreb

Trip Start Jul 01, 2007
1
16
29
Trip End Nov 25, 2007


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Flag of Croatia  ,
Saturday, September 29, 2007

We take the night train to Zagreb, except because of track works we had to take a bus until around 4am, then transfer to a train for the last section. The bus driver takes us along narrow lonely foggy country roads and after a while we realise that he is hopelessly lost, as he does a number of U-turns and makes a number of calls on his mobile phone to his base.
Eventually, he deposits us at a lonely station at 4am, and our small bleary-eyed group straggles across deserted train tracks to a waiting train - it is so lonely and cold and desolate that we feel we are being deported to somewhere unpleasant.
We arrive in Zagreb at 7.30am and walk a couple of kilometres to the Hotel Ilica, where we thought we had a reservation, but we don't according to them, however they can fit us in. The Hotel Ilica is decorated in an overblown rococo style, that is so over the top that we love it. No surface is undecorated with colour or fabric or gilt and there are kilometres of red velvet and scores of chandeliers and mirrors and statues, etc. In the small breakfast room alone I count 18 chandeliers and 7 mirrors. The proprietor and employees have deep Slavic voices that seem to rumble up from their stomachs.
Zagreb is so different to the Dalmatian coast. The interior of Croatia was within the Austro-Hungarian empire for centuries and the architecture and feel of the place reflects this, overlaid with the 50-odd years it was communist, compared to the coastal cities which were under the rule of the Venetian Republic in the same period.
There is a heaviness about the architecture, and many shops have window displays and merchandise that seem 30 years out of date, although there are also many up-to-date places. There are the old communist-era trams, which are narrow and dingy, but also modern streamlined trams.
We visit the market, which has excellent produce (it's pumpkin season and they are available in all shapes and sizes), the old town, the Cathedral, the Museum of Modern Art (which has some great art), the Botanical Garden, and the Ethnographic Museum, over a period of 2 days.
On the last night we have a fantastic meal in a basement restaurant of octopus and squid cooked under a 'bell' on a bed of vegetables - the cooking seems to be some form of moist roasting which makes the meat very tender and the juices from the seafood has permeated the vegetables.
On the third day we take a bus to the lakes in Plitvice, about halfway to the coast. I visited these lakes many years ago but am very happy to go and see them again. The area is mountainous and heavily forested, with bears and wolves still roaming about. There is a series of 16 lakes, one below the other, with waterfalls and rushing streams connecting them. The whole area has a travertine marble base and the water is highly calcified, so any logs, branches or anything else falling in to the lake becomes calcified over time. You can see ghostly white branches and rocks through the crystal clear water - it's hard to do it justice in words, so look at the pictures.
The weather the day we were there was extremely variable - one minute it was pouring rain, then the sun came out, then it rained again. Alice bought a very fashionable pinky purple poncho, which she teamed with her lovely striped beanie.
There was one fly in the ointment - even though it was not high tourist season, the place was swarming with elderly tour groups, and if you got stuck behind one on the boardwalks it was very slow going. I got a bit impatient and elbowed a few old people out of my way and they fell in the water, where they immediately started calcifying (from the outside as they were already calcified on the inside) - ok, just in case anyone takes me seriously I made that up :)
That night we ate a hearty meal (at least I did) at a local rustic restaurant, then stayed at a cosy B&B in a tiny village a few kilometres away. Our host was late picking us up in the morning to take us to the bus stop because he celebrated his birthday with his girlfriend very late into the night.
So, we arrived back in Zagreb at 9.30am, and immediately rushed over to another platform to catch the 9.44 train to Ljubljana in Slovenia for the next episode of the trip.
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