From Italy we quickly shot across Slovenia and soon enough were at the border crossing to get into Croatia. This crossing was important because it took us out of the Schengen zone, that area the covers most of what people think of when you mention Europe, and which restricts our stay to 90 days in any 180 day period. You may have read, or heard, our discussions about this rule and how we needed to make sure that we didn't run ourselves out of touring time and have to leave France before we really wanted to. So, the beauty of that is that the countries of southeastern Europe generally aren't included, so we clear customs into each country and can stay in each of of them for their own selected allowable visit - generally each also allowing 90 in any 180 days.
Croatia is the first non-Schengen country we run into, and luckily enough the capital city of Zagreb is just over a 3 hour drive for us and someplace that we always had listed as one of our 'must see' stops. We originally had planned on spending another week in the Schengen region of Slovenia, but with the timing being the beginning of August and a peak travel time, the pricing was a little too steep for us. We moved Slovenia to the end of our tour of the Balkan peninsula, and are hoping that the early October prices are a little kinder to us.
But, onto Zagreb - we booked an apartment for 3 nights so that we would be able to relax and cook our own breakfasts and maybe a dinner or two. The place we had booked was about a 5 minute walk for the old city center, when we pulled into town we found the place, parked, and went to a local bar to grab a drink and use their free wi-fi to get the final confirmation from the apartment of the door codes to use to get into the unit and grab the keys. Some places, like Krakow, Poland, sent us door codes almost a week in advance, this one we had to email and call the night before and then codes were emailed to us sometime on our drive into town. Not having data on our phones means that we need to find wi-fi as that final connection. It's not a major inconvenience, just something to think about if planning on utilizing AirBnB or other apartment rental options since they mostly will not have a staffed front desk that's operating 24 hours.
A quick beer, a code for the unit, unpacking and then heading out for a quick stroll around the town. The city has almost two distinct city centers, or at least two levels as the city is somewhat built into a hillside. We walked over to the Ban Jelacic square, which we would say is on the lower section of the city. From there we strolled up hill past a pedestrian restaurant street, over to the Cathedral of Zagreb, and then back past the Dolac Market Square (empty since we were there on a Sunday afternoon).
The Cathedral was beautiful, but with one of the two spires under wraps for renovation it was somewhat disappointing. Horrible to say, since I'd hazard a guess that 80% of the old sights people travel to see are in some stage of renovation of general preventive maintenance upkeep. It'll be great to see on a return visit when it's fully repaired, you could see the newer white stones that had all been replaced on the first spire, and the original badly deteriorated top from that one was on display in the square in front of the Cathedral, and it really had needed to be replaced.
Feeling like visiting one Cathedral was a great start, we headed back over to the pedestrian street to grab a drink and watch the world go by.
We found a great wine bar right on the corner, Barrique. What made it great was the server who stood with us and gave us great descriptions of the Croatian wines that they had and he picked out some great ones for us to enjoy. Actually we ended up trying 4 different wines that night, all excellent, and we wrote the names down of the locations so that we could look for them when buying wines, and when making our future travel plans. The top things we listed on our site were Wine - Travel - Books, and so far all we've talked about are our travels. Now that we are stepping into the portion of our travels that includes great wines, we'll try to cover those great ones as well.
Day two of our time in Zagreb we climbed up to what we've been referring to the upper town. First we walked through the Dolac market, now in full swing, and purchased some fresh vegetables and cheese so we could make a salad that night to have with dinner - already putting the apartment stay to good use, we had previously purchased fresh pasta in Italy to cook up. Actually Tina was given an onion as a gift since it was to small for the woman to bother with asking us for some small change.
After the market we climbed up to St. Marks Church, the iconic beauty that every gets a photo of. We were there on a hot day and although there were tourists milling about, most of them were staying out of the sun and we managed to get a few great photos with nobody in them. We went over by the funicular that turns out to be the world shortest, not the one in Pau we had seen a week earlier, and then decided to walk down instead and explore more of the city.
We enjoyed the parks that surround the opera house and the toured quickly there the train station before we decided that the oppressive heat really was to much and we returned to the apartment to enjoy a nice salad and pasta dinner.
There are a lot a museums and sights that should be seen in Zagreb, at least that's what any internet search will tell you, we skipped all of them. Maybe we should have stopped into one or two, taken advantage of the air conditioning, especially the Museum of Broken Relationships which was also recommended to us, but instead we decided to spend out last day hiking up the hills to the Mirojoj Cemetery.
The cemetery is supposedly worth it, maybe if you're there a month. It's nice, but there are more interesting ones elsewhere. We were thinking it'd be something on par with the La Recoleta in Buenos Aries or even the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. It did have a moving monument to the fallen Croatian Soldiers of WW1 and a quite large German cemetery from WW2 in the back corner.
It was another hot and horrible day though, and the hike to the cemetery took a while. We waited for a bus on the way back, but couldn't figure out how to pay the driver for the fare. There are signs - in English - that you need to have a valid fare ticket, or that you can buy one from the driver, but our hand symbols and his complete lack of English didn't help up that day. Or maybe it did, I went to walk off the bus, he pointed to the seats, so we got a free ride back down the hill to the center where we could enjoy an excellent meal on our last night in Zagreb...