Balkan Honeymoon – Part Five: Zagreb

[Continuation — check out parts one, two, three and four.]

This time we catch our train. We had purchased fancy first-class tickets for €10 extra, which were supposed to come with a power outlet, but turned out not to. We also sort of expected there to be free coffee, but what there was was €4, tiny, and revolting.

I work on the still slides for the video of my presentation and drink two awful coffees (I’m a cheap bastard) while Becky reads, watches the scenery, and captures photos for you lovely readers to enjoy.

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We arrive in Zagreb, and after handling the sudden crises of (a) a forgotten-on-the-train sweater and (b) an angry, non-english-speaking bathroom attendant, we set off through the city to find our lodgings. This is how Zagreb welcomes us:

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Our Airbnb for the night is rustic and bohemian, which means it’s an attic with low ceilings and very basic furnishings. The living room is outside the front door, in the public stairwell. It’s perfect.

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The decor is. Um. Eclectic.

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Bonus track: see how that shot was made!

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Here’s what it looks like from the outside. You can’t actually see our window; it’s on the roof.

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We gird our stomachs with chips dipped in potted mystery meat, wash it down with some of our Slovenian absinthe, and head out to explore Zagreb. It’s 6pm, and the streets are boisterous and full. The city has a scale model of the solar system which was constructed without official approval. We only had time to spot the sun.

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Croatia is the birthplace of the modern necktie (a fact we learned from a very informative television program). Here’s me standing in front of a shop that only sells ties.

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We also found Nikola Tesla. Nikola Goddamn Tesla.

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Cities that are built on hills have solved the “how should I get up there?” problem in many ways. Sometimes you walk. Sometimes you ride an elevator. Zagreb has a funicular, the second one we’ve seen on this trip, and the second (of two) I’ve ridden in my entire life.

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At the top of the hill, we have enough time to visit just one of the two museums that are on our list. We choose the one about breakups, and it’s fascinating. We wander for at least an hour.

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Then we go looking for dinner. We pass up our first choice; we’re not feeling that fancy tonight. We head for the noisy district where the rest of Zagreb is eating, and we stumble right through a street chapel with people kneeling in prayer. (Awkward.) Dodging through the throngs of Tuesday-night revelers, we also pass this place, whose name is (I’m pretty sure) Croatian for “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

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We end up at a Croatian chain pub and order the “mixed grill,” which is a large plate stacked with about 6 kinds of unidentifiable meat and sausage. It’s delicious. We also stop by the Slastičarnica Vincek for some guess-the-flavor gelato (the labels and service were only in Croatian). I end up with Nutella! Then, and only then, do we put heads to pillows.

In the morning, we hunt the elusive quarry that is breakfast in a Balkan nation. Many of the cafes have breakfast menus, but none of them open until 9. We end up with a ham-and-cheese crepe, something that looks like a quiche, and excellent-as-usual-if-you’re-not-on-a-train coffee from the only bakery that’s open.

We sit in Jelačić (“yeh-lah-cheech”) Square, and are briefly accosted by a Croatian-Australian (!) retiree with an accent so eclectic I could never have guessed its origin. He lectures us on the importance of family (as well as six or seven other topics) before we make our excuses 9 minutes later.

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Back to the apartment to pack up and leave.

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Our hike to the rental car office takes us through several parts of Zagreb which aren’t on the historic walking tour. There’s an interesting mixture of old-world grandeur, communist-era concrete, and modern shiny glass.

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2 kilometers later we find our car, and an hour on the road finds us hungry. We stop at a place simply entitled “Grand”, whose pidgin-English menu’s back cover says “Thank you for trusting. Good luck!”

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