Zagreb, Croatia: Short but Sweet
After 5 days in Budapest, we took the midday train through the countryside of Hungary to Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia. We boarded the train as soon as it pulled into the station 20 minutes before departure, and I had to fight (in English) with an older Hungarian woman (speaking only Hungarian) for our second class window seats. Nik and I had specifically requested them because of the 5.5 hour ride, and we did not want to be stuck looking over people to see out the window. I think she misunderstood the seat numbering system, which I understand because it’s bogus. Once the train started moving, I felt bad because I couldn’t apologize so I pulled out my phone and wrote a quick apology and translated it into Hungarian and showed it to her. She smiled and nodded her head, so I guess she understood.
It was a pleasantly warm day outside, and as the train moved through the smaller stations along the outskirts of town, our car continued to fill and became increasingly warm. There were no operable windows, the air conditioning was not working, and almost all of the 80 2nd class seats were taken. We had plenty of water and snacks, but I started to dread being packed in this metal box for hours. After our tickets were checked, I darted towards the front of the train to catch my breath. Luckily, the dining cars were next door, fresh air was already blowing through the 8 open windows, and all of the seats were empty. I went back and told Nik that we had to move, so we grabbed our luggage and made our way passed the other passengers sweating bullets.
We soon found out that the open windows were great when the train was moving, but not so good when we were sitting at one of many small town stations where the exhaust fumes were sucked right in. After we finished our beer and a couple snacks, I decided to explore the 1st class cars a little to see if there were any empty compartments. I found that there was an ENTIRE 1ST CLASS CAR EMPTY! That’s at least 8 cabins with 6 seats each with power outlets and individually controlled air conditioning. They were all empty while those suckers were roasting back in 2nd class. Geeze. I asked one of the conductors if it was okay if we moved up, and even though I didn’t understand what he said, I assumed he said yes.
The rest of our journey was definitely the best train ride I have ever taken. It certainly helped that we had a cabin to ourselves, but the scenery was top notch and Nik had just downloaded a couple new albums that fit the occasion perfectly.
We pulled into the train station after dark and our month in Croatia had officially begun. Zagreb was our introduction to the former Yugoslavia, and we only gave her 36 hours to make a first impression. Luckily, she was up to the task and we had a wonderful day.
We strolled under the iconic red umbrellas of the Dolac Market, walked through the cafes and bars in Upper Town near the Cathedral, climbed the hill to St Marks, descended through one of many valley parks lined with old and new homes, had a fantastic lunch on one of many pedestrian streets, and took the tram to the Miragoj Cemetery. By that point, Nik was exhausted, so I left him in the room and continued to explore the shopping area in search for the perfect sandals. After a successful purchase, I picked up take-out sushi for dinner in our room at the Palace Hotel.
It was an intense day, but Zagreb gave us the best first impression of Croatia we could have asked for.