Well, I’ve been back for over a week and have finally recovered from my 12-day trip around the Balkans. It was amazing, we had tons of fun and we did it all by spending as little money as possible – and I’m finally ready to tell you what we did and how you could replicate the trip for yourselves.
We started with an 11-hour coach ride from Prague to Zagreb, Croatia. Originally, we had hoped to fly, but those 30 euro flights jumped up to 100+ overnight, while the bus (at around 1000Kc/40 euro) remained constant. The thought of spending so long on a bus was daunting, but it was an overnight one so the possibility of sleep existed. I spent several weeks planning our trip and around an hour cramming my new backpack with Jeff and my clothes, swimsuits, my SCUBA mask and snorkel and all the random bits and bobs I thought we might need. Here’s a hint – take mosquito repellent. I forgot about those little buggers, and my arms and legs did not thank me for it.
At 9pm on Friday (27th), we made our way to the bus station, armed with our bags and tickets. I took one look at the coach and realised, to my horror, that it had no toilet. 11 hours with no toilet? Of course they would stop for breaks – they’d have to – but knowing that I have to wait for an indeterminate amount of time always kicks my bladder into life somehow. I panicked and vowed not to drink a drop of water on the trip. Upon entering the bus, things got better when I realised that the aisle separated Jeff and I, and that I was sharing my seat with a man who loved to spread his legs out into my space and snore. A great start! OK, it wasn’t really that bad after a while – we had books, the PSP, iPods and managed to get some sleep, and the bus stopped twice for half an hour each time. The frustration did start to mount, however, when the sun rose and we spent two hours waiting to cross the border (thanks to roadworks, too), arriving in Zagreb two hours later than expected.
We were finally there at 10am, and the first stop was our Couchsurfing host’s house. Unsure of where to buy tram tickets from, we were lucky enough to overhear somebody at a drinks/magazine stand asking if she could buy tickets from there, to which the answer was yes. We paid 40 kuna, which is around £4, for a day pass – although the stop was only 5 away and we didn’t use public transport again while we were there. The tram was a little confusing to work out – we had to closely study the map (unless we just didn’t find the intuitive Prague-style timetables) and work it out. Here’s a note – you validate your daily ticket with the yellow boxes on the tram, but it’s likely to only be the one at the very front that accepts your card (the rest are for locals’ digital ones). I have no idea how great the fine for not having a ticket is, but if it’s anything like Prague you’ll be fined even if you have a ticket that you didn’t validate.
Our Couchsurfing hosts, Jurica and Jelena, were a lovely Croatian couple with a sweet, shy Alsatian and a lovely apartment. They offered us breakfast – delicious egg-fried honey toast and melon! – and invited us on a hike with them. We were a little too exhausted to accept, preferring to shower, relax and wander around the city aimlessly. So, after freshening up, that’s what we did.
Zagreb is a nice city, and it reminded me a fair deal of Prague, with its nice architecture and relaxed, yet exciting, vibe. Saying that, I have yet to find a city that makes me feel quite like Prague does, which is possibly a good thing as it stops any “grass is greener” lamentations about wanting to live somewhere else (for now). As it was summer, most of Zagreb’s inhabitants had made their way to the Croatian coast, meaning that it was a very quiet city. We walked around, looking at churches, cathedrals and whatever we could find.
The highlight of the day, though, was the Museum of Broken Relationships. Admit it, you already want to go there based on the name. Originally a travelling museum, it collected stories and scraps of broken relationships from people across the world – perhaps an old lover’s tie, a piece of glass broken in anger after learning of adultery, or – more sadly – a departed spouse’s poetry. Each item is accompanied by the story surrounding it, each one with its own touching, heart-breaking or awkwardly hilarious anecdote. To catch glimpses into so many people’s hearts is a lovely thing, and with entry being so cheap (25kuna, around £2.50) it’s a great way to spend an hour or so.
The rest of the day was spend wandering around the streets, every café, restaurant and pub spilling out onto the streets and offering happy hour deals. We found a place boasting not the Karlovačko or Ožujsko beers being offered everywhere else but its own brew. The average price of beer was 15 kuna (yeah, £1.50 or so), with happy hour deals offering it for 90. We tried this pub’s brands, wheat, light and dark, and found them all very nice. As I’ve said before, I “hated” beer before moving to the Czech Republic, and my tastebuds have recently evolved to the point where they can detect subtle flavours in beer and be delighted by them. It’s no longer about drinking to get drunk, people, it’s about appreciating the sheer variety of microbreweries on offer… honestly!
We went on to a restaurant recommended by our hosts, which I can’t remember the name of but I’m pretty sure that it’s here (Rubetićeva ulica) – just off one of the main squares and up a lot of stairs!
The outside terrace overlooked the city (give or take a lot of vineyard), and as we sat down a rounded, friendly-looking man with a nice beard walked over and read us the list of daily specials (in English!). Everything sounded great, and for a moment we panicked – this must be an expensive place, after all. Tentatively, I asked how much the “beef in red wine sauce with gnocchi” would cost, and was told 80 kuna (8 euros)… not bad at all, I supposed, so I ordered it while Jeff ordered duck with “mlinci” (I think), which is a lovely type of pasta. It was great, and the waiter regaled us with stories of Croatian history, before offering us free coffee.
We met up with our Couchsurfing hosts a little later, and wandered around a bit more, enjoying cake and beer. I was surprised to find that it’s common to give a glass of water (for free) with things like cake and ice cream – if only they tried that in Prague. Ah well.
The next day, we headed to Plitvice…