Hi everyone, and welcome back to another edition of the blog. This posts covers my time in Croatia, which was spent in the towns of Zagreb and Split. I decided to do all of Croatia as a single post, and hence why it’s been a little while since the last update.
Sorry to disappoint you, but I had no misadventures getting to Zagreb (if you haven’t read it already, go read my previous post on Slovenia and see how my trip from Venice to Ljubljana went). All I got was a new stamp in my passport. In Zagreb I got acquainted with Croatia’s currency, the Kuna, whose name I find strangely funny. I also picked up a few Croatian words from the staff at the hostel I was at, but like Slovenia there are a fair number of English speakers in Croatia so I never really had much of a language barrier. Zagreb is the capital of Croatia and it’s largest city. You can see all the major sights in a day, and I think most people would be satisfied with just that. The city is divided in to what are known as the upper and lower towns, with most of the older sights in the upper town and most of the (relatively) newer sights in the lower town. Between the two and marking the center of town is Zagreb’s main square, Trg bana Jelacica (take a stab at pronouncing that one). Any tour of the town starts of ends there, and for me it did both. I started at the square and then moved on to Zagreb’s cathedral, which has it’s own defensive wall around most of it. A few hundred years ago, the Ottoman Turks were advancing farther and farther into Europe and were getting close to Zagreb, so walls were set up around the old city and cathedral. Today the city walls are gone, but the cathedral still has three sides of it’s original walls intact. From there I paid a visit to Zagreb’s outdoor market, which sells mostly produce, and then over to what I call the “chapel in the underpass,” which is small chapel set up along a road in a tunnel through a building. The chapel houses a Madonna and Child painting that miraculously survived a fire (or something else) and is a special place of worship for the city’s catholic community. While walking about I also saw the Croatian Parliament building and the nearby St Mark’s church, which has the Croatian national coat of arms in the tiles of its roof. After this I came to what I personally thought was the most interesting sight in Zagreb, the Museum of Broken Relationships. The museum seems like a bad joke at first, but is actually dedicated to mementos from various people’s broken relationships that have been donated to the museum. Each item comes with a story from the person who donated it. Some are serious, some are silly and some are just tragic. After perusing the museum and waiting for a rainstorm to stop, I came back to the main square and then spent an hour or two walking around lower town, but I didn’t go into any of the museums or buildings. That ended my day in Zagreb, though the next day before my trip to Split I did a brief bit of walking around the area near the main square.
Getting to Split, which is on the Adriatic coast, takes a little over six hours by train. Croatia’s rail system is ok, but nowhere near as good as those found in western European countries. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a small herd of room sellers, who are drawn to tourists like sharks to blood (more on blood later in this post). My first full day in Split started at Diocletian’s Palace, which was originally the estate of the roman emperor Diocletian, and after the empire fell it was occupied by residents of a nearby town who were seeking refuge from barbarian raids. The whole place is now a combination of historical sights, shops, hotels and a few residences. Unfortunately it was a national holiday that day and all the historical sights in there were closed, so I decided to come back again the next day. I worked my way through town to the base of the hill overlooking Split’s harbor and began my ascent. The hike to the top was long and tiring, and at one point I thought I had reached the top only to realize I still had another long set of stairs to reach the actual summit. The top of the hill is capped by a cement structure which offers good views of the town and surrounding area. On the way back down I counted over 800 steps back to the bottom, but on the plus side you don’t need to climb all the way up for the best view of Split. The actual best views of town are from a panorama point about halfway up, and there’s a road that leads up to it, so if you have a car you can just drive to it. Back at the bottom I walked the harbor front back to my hostel and then got set for the water. My hostel was located just a one minute walk from one of Split’s few sand beaches (most are pebble/rock beaches) so all I had to do was walk down the street to reach the beach. The Adriatic water was both clear, cool, mostly wave free and stayed shallow for longer than I’m used to. I had to walk a bit of ways out into the water to get above waist height. I spent a little time in the water before moving farther out to a set of pillars that people swim out to, to climb on and dive off of. I pulled myself onto one of the pillars and sat for awhile taking in the scenery. After a few minutes I decided to not jump off the pillar because I’m a terrible diver, and I lowered myself back into the water and swam back to shore. There I discovered my right foot was bleeding. My best guess is that I got cut when I dismounted the pillar. The only things on the sides of them that your feet can grip are these mussel/clam things that are attached to it, and they have rough edges so I must have slashed myself on them. Back at my hostel I disinfected and cleaned the wound (digging sand out of your own flesh is just as pleasant as you might think) and bandaged it over. I also checked with the State Department and confirmed that American blood in the water officially makes the place ours, so congratulations everyone, we now own the Atlantic (or at least the Adriatic)!
The next day in Split I didn’t walk around too much because of my foot injury. I went over to Diocletian’s Palace again, and now that stuff was open I climbed the bell tower, which had a nice sea breeze blowing through at the top (it was a hot day that day). After that I got lunch at a seaside restaurant named Karaka. If I had gotten a sit down meal at a seaside restaurant in western Europe I would have dropped quite a few euros on the meal, but since I was in Croatia and their currency isn’t worth much, I paid only about the equivalent of seven US dollars. After eating what was possibly the best burger I’ve ever had and enjoying a free dessert pancake, (the restaurant has a deal with the hostel I was at) I rested briefly at my hostel before going back to old town again. To escape the heat I went down into the substructure of Diocletian’s Palace. Because the areas under the palace were not occupied by the locals they are fairly well preserved. I returned again to the hostel and spent the rest of the daytime there. After dark, I went over to a nearby bar and had a drink (read: Sprite) with an Australian couple I had met at the hostel and then did a short night walk through old town. I would done more that day, but I didn’t want to risk reopening the wound on my foot so I had limit my exploration.
The next day I got up and while I was getting ready for the day a few guys were watching a pirated copy of American Pie 4, which had hilariously inaccurate subtitles. Since I had a few hours before my train, I did one last visit to old town and visited the small cathedral in Diocletian’s Palace. Outside the palace, along the harbor front, I found that every policeman in the city had all shown up at the same place, and many of them were in riot gear. I wasn’t sure what was going on at the time, but was later told that there was going to be a gay pride parade, and the police were there to make sure the parade was not harassed (Croatia is a more conservative society than some other European countries). Returning to my hostel, I got my backpack together and left for the train station. The ride to Zagreb was uneventful, though I had to switch trains midway there. In Zagreb I didn’t do much of anything since I had already seen the city. The next day I left for Budapest, thus ending my time in Croatia.
So, that”s all for Croatia. I am typing this update from Budapest, Hungary and will be leaving tomorrow for Vienna, Austria. The Budapest entry should be a good one, so look forward to it.