Our first flight with Croatian Airlines was pleasant and as one always hopes, uneventful so after a short taxi ride from the airport to our accommodation (it was too late in the evening for the airport bus to be running) we retired to give ourselves a full day of exploration.
I hadn’t heard much about Zagreb, but the one friend I’d known to visit here hadn’t exactly been glowing, so perhaps our expectations were lowered.
Nevertheless, first impressions were good. We were unwittingly fortunate with where we’d booked to stay. It wasn’t as close to the heart of the city as we’d hoped, but we quickly learnt it was a 5 minute stroll to the main bus station, and 10 minutes to the train station.
Very convenient for when we needed to get our train on to Hungary in a couple of days time (as we were so close, we quickly arranged our tickets for our onward journey).
There was a feel of past grandeur to this old city, the sort of old Habsburg feel I was looking forward to seeing in Budapest and Vienna.
Further to this feel, was the lovely route (perhaps it was dumb luck) we were able to take to city’s Ban Jelačić Square (which for the internet fiends also is a free Wi-Fi hotspot). Much of the seemingly short stroll took us along wide tree lined boulevards. Considering we were surrounded by gorgeous old buildings, and it really was an impressive introduction to this capital city.
Making it to the square afforded us an opportunity to pop into one of the cities information centres with some very important questions. You see, there was a very deliberate purpose for flying directly to Zagreb and not heading on to Zadar. It was to find a tour to the Plitvice Lakes National Park.
This was something we had researched online back home in Australia, however everything we’d found seemed overpriced and seemed limiting on time. It was our hope that we’d find something better local. That something better came in the form of a DIY tour!
When we explained to one of the information centre staff our predicament he simply said, “Well you could catch the local bus?” Our internet trawlings had suggested that buses did run, but many didn’t guarantee running via the park, and were often irregular.
Thankfully the local information was far more reliable, and as luck would have it, the buses in fact ran from the main bus station, right near where we were lodging.
With our plans now certain for the following day, we continued to explore some more of this city. Exploration of the nearby cathedral was followed by a half hour trek to see Mirogoj Cemetery, Zagreb’s main burial plot.
They can often be fascinating places, but sadly the highlight of this place was its main entrance. All of the graves and headstones were mainly modern, garish affairs, although one surprise was that the inscription for many headstones was for people who are not yet dead (now that’s planning for the future).
Munching on a freshly purchased packet of Paprika flavoured potato chips (crisps) we made our way back to the main part of town and took in the nearby Dolac market.
Anyone who has followed our travels through south-east Asia will know we love markets (not the trashy tourist types), and the more local, the better. Whilst not as full of life as others we have attended, with the intense summer heat, I think the people here can be forgiven.
We were also able to spy some of the largest tomatoes I have seen in my life (I can’t however vouch for how tasty they are).
From there it was but a short, yet mazy walk to take in the beautiful St Mark’s Square and also some great city views from the Lotrščak Tower, conveniently positioned on a hill beside one of the smallest funiculars (cable cars) I have ever seen.
As seems to be a recurring theme on this trip, the heat was taxing, again making motivation seemingly evaporate in the heat.
We hatched a plan over a cold beer (another recurring theme on this trip) to investigate the botanical gardens, where after some strolling in the shade, we sat by a pond and simply had a rest for a while.
Highlights of the afternoon included gelato and more beer before our final mission of the day found us seeking a restaurant serving traditional Croatian fare for our dinner.
Our Lonely Planet recommended two, so we chose the 2nd option. Partly as it seemed likely it would be less busy, and mainly as it was closer!
We would quickly discover that were to be the restaurants only patrons for the duration of our meal, but that certainly didn’t stop us enjoying it.
Happily following the waiters suggested meal option, we sat and waited (apparently summer is their quietest time, as their local customers all head to the beach and most tourists seem happy eating fast food).
Before long a delicious pork dish served with Nokedli and an Apple & Prune sauce and we retired for the not very full and very satisfied, ready for our 5.45am departure for the lakes the following morning (we purchased our tickets for the bus on the way home, choosing the earliest possible option).