Having been in Novi Sad, Serbia for the previous four days for the 2009 Exit Festival, we’re now really on “day 5” of our full trip. But day 5 is actually the beginning of the second leg of our travels and our first day in Croatia – which brings much excitement! Here’s our Zagreb travel guide telling what we did.
Our story begins as we depart Novi Sad bus station promptly with the 9.30am Suboticatrans bus headed for Zagreb. It’s clear that our bus contains a number of fellow Exit Festival-ers, some of whom appear to be Croats heading home whilst others are travellers going on to Croatia for an extra bit of holiday – like ourselves.
We pay a mere 60 Dinars – about 60p – for each piece of luggage we have to store in the bus’s hold. The bus station in Novi Sad has a little gate through which only travellers can pass upon showing a ticket – and there’s nothing beyond here except buses, so make sure you get your bottles of water and snacks and so on before you pass through. Oh, and make sure you change your dinars! (Aside from keeping a bit to pay for luggage, of course.) There’s an exchange place right there in the bus station; this will probably be the last place you can change back Serbian Dinars that you will see…possibly ever! (They are not exchangeable in other local countries or your home country.)
Munching on our pre-bought breakfast (our usual Serbian “food surprise”: croissant with frankfurter inside), there’s not an awful lot to see as we head through Serbia towards the border. Once we get there, we pass through the border with ease this time, though have to disembark to go to a Croatian immigration office to show our passports.
It is only my friend who is travelling on a Malaysian passport that has a tiny bit of bother as they ask her to step aside for a moment whilst they a closer look at her passport. Slight panic sets in as everyone else on the bus reboards without problems, and she’s left behind in the office! Our eventual theory is that they haven’t seen too many Malaysian passports pass through this particular checkpoint, and they may also think she requires a visa (which she doesn’t – she triple-checked before she headed out to Eastern Europe). All the border patrol guards seem pretty relaxed and relatively friendly (as friendly as border guards can ever be – hey, at least they’re smiling); she isn’t asked to wait for long – barely a few minutes – and then rejoins us on the coach. Phew!
Just past the border, we stop off at a rather fancy looking INA petrol station (the motorways in Croatia seem impressively new as do, rather surprisingly, a lot of the petrol stations). Our stop there reveals usual rip off petrol station prices, but who can ever resist buying something at these places? “Slani stapici” (pretzel sticks) and “Flips kikiriki” (think peanut flavoured Cheetos) it is!
The long stretch of motorway towards Zagreb doesn’t reveal all that much in terms of countryside, though it is rather green and beautiful in its own way, with lots of fields of various crops on either side of the road. As we head into Zagreb just after 3pm (a city of which a large portion is made up of “suburbs” and “outskirts”, it’s a while after we enter the city that we actually reach the bus station itself), I can’t help thinking how pretty it all looks. It may be the bright sunshine beaming down, but Zagreb on that particularly day certainly looks like a bustling and cosmopolitan city.
We take a taxi (60 Kunas – approx. £7 – including baggage; I guess we’re not in Novi Sad anymore, Toto) to our accommodation. After a brief rest, long enough to indulge in the very English pursuit of cups of tea, we head out on a leisurely walk to the city centre – and you can’t get more central than Ban Jelacic Square (Trg bana Jelacica). It’s at this point I discover that English speakers have problems pronouncing “trg”; some even refuse to believe it’s an actual word. (“It has no vowels! It can’t be a word!”)
We stop off for a beer at one of the square’s cafes – a holiday requisite of course, what else does one do on vacation but stop off at cafes every hour? After a nice cold Karlovacko, we decide to head immediately to dinner and pick nearby Kerempuh restaurant, which is just by Dolac market (which has long since closed for the day).
There, we get served by a friendly, young English-speaking waiter, who’s clearly served many a foreign tourist in his time. The boys in our group get steak with mushroom sauce; also on order was veal cutlet stuffed with cheese, and a special kind of Croatian dish (usually found in Istria): pljukanci (a type of pasta) in a truffle sauce. We sample the first of one of our many 1 litre bottles of house wine for week – at 60 Kunas (about £7) it isn’t half bad and goes down pretty easily!
Exhausted after our travels of the day, and happily full from dinner, we had back to our accommodation and settle in for the delights of Croatian television. An episode of 24 (who doesn’t love to watch a bit of torture, Jack Bauer-style) and Seven is an odd mix, but a TV night in with friends is always satisfying.
All of that topsy-turvy getting up late + staying out late + long bus journeys of the previous few days makes for some pretty tired travellers. Not forgetting that we’re on holiday…so, a nice lie in followed by some pastries and cups of tea is the order of play for day two in Croatia and Zagreb.
Our first task is to head off to the bus station to buy our tickets for the next day’s bus to Trogir, but it’s luckily an easy walk to the station from where we’re staying. We head upstairs in the station to buy our tickets; the helpful lady behind the desk explained our various bus options and waits while we make our decision – the 8.30am bus it is, which will get us to Trogir just after 2pm.
So, what to do next? Having got our hands on a free tourist guide to Zagreb called “Zagreb City Walks” (pick it up at the tourist office!) we decide to create our own special walk – the second half of the Lower Town walk, mixed in with most of the Upper Town walk. The central part of the city is very well suited for walking, and there’s plenty to see in such a small area so it’s the best way of sightseeing. And, of course, it provides the perfect opportunity to stop off at one of the many cafes everywhere for some refreshments.
Heading down Branimira street towards the train station (Glavni Kolodvor), it’s time to get our cameras ready for some snapping. It’s another beautiful day in Zagreb, very warm and a lovely blue sky overhead, which makes for some perfect photo taking conditions. As we head up beside the collection of three parks that make up Zrinjevac, we marvel at the architecture of the surrounding buildings, though sadly the Art Pavilion is buried deep under scaffolding.
We never seem to be more than a few hours – or steps – away from a delicious meal so we decide to stop off at Boban (owned by Croatian football star Zvonimir Boban) for lunch – funnily enough, following exact instructions given to us by the Lonely Planet Eastern Europe guide who recommend people stop there for lunch on “day 2 in Zagreb”.
The cosy basement restaurant – decorated rather traditionally – is well known for its pasta, and rightly so, featuring a number of unusual dishes I’ve not come across elsewhere. We opt for tagliatelle, gnocchi, lasagna and black gnocchi in salmon sauce, which turns out to be giant, almost parcel-like bits of pasta – most delicious!
Refreshed, we decide to start our walk of the Upper Town walk and head towards Zagreb cathedral. We meander around the sights in the area, including Dolac market, Kamenita vrata and Tkalciceva ulica which is lined with numerous cafes on either side, filled with locals enjoying themselves in the afternoon sun. Our helpful “Zagreb City Walks” guide points out that a brook once flowed where the street now lies – who knew?
We wander towards St Mark’s Square to see the Croatian Parliament – Sabor – and the beautiful tiled roof of St Mark’s Church, certainly one of Croatia’s most iconic images. We then head towards the funicular railway just below Lotrscak Tower, deciding against taking the train down, instead taking the adjoining steps which place us in the middle of Ilica.
An important part of the day next – stocking up on provisions for the next day’s bus trip! Heading back to our accommodation, we stop off at Konzum on route for various snacks, including items to make kulen (our new favourite type of salami) and cheese sandwiches.
Heading out rather late for dinner, we want to try Baltazar restaurant which is opposite the cathedral. Arriving there too late (just before 11pm) we find that service has, unsurprisingly, finished for the day. Instead we make the short walk to Skalinska street which has a number of small restaurants open late serving standard fare – pizza, pasta, that type of thing. A pizza washed down with some Karlovacko pivo (beer) really hits the spot!