Croatia Road Trip (Part 1): Zagreb

Where: Zagreb, Croatia
When: August 2015
Hotel: Apartments Antonella
Why Zagreb: I had read that Zagreb was one of those overlooked destinations – a small, but charming capital city that couldn’t really compete with Dubrovnik or one of the state parks full of waterfalls. However, the fact that it was possibly a hidden gem made me really interested in checking it out. That, and the fact that from Stuttgart, it was only a 7-hour drive so it would be the perfect stopping point before we headed further south…something that was actually a blessing as we found out.

Look how happy we look!!! We haven't left Stuttgart yet.

Look how happy we look!!! We haven’t left Stuttgart yet.

The Trip: Oh, where to begin. I’ve retold the story of our Croatia trip, and each time I do, I’m actually amazed that 1. John and I were still talking by the end of it, and 2. I have really fond memories of Croatia…which, by the end of the trip series, will probably be a surprise to anyone who reads this as well.

Look how pretty, and empty the road was...

Look how pretty, and empty the road was…it didn’t stay that way for long!

As I said, the drive was only supposed to be seven hours to our first destination – which for John and I is nothing! And leaving Stuttgart was not a problem…so I drifted off into a peaceful nap not know what was ahead. And what was in front of us was every road-trip lovers worst nightmare – gridlock traffic. Only this kind didn’t just last near the big cities. It lasted the entire trip. Bumper to bumper, inching along at a snails pace traffic. To put it into perspective – it is only supposed to take 3.5 hours to get to Salzburg, Austria and it took us more than 7. I had bought an audio book (which John and I love to listen to on long drives) and it was over before we even got out of Germany. What we have since learned was that the first weekend in August is when EVERY German goes on vacation because the year-round school was on a hiatus for a month and so they leave the country…and do you know where they go? CROATIA! So for future reference = NEVER travel that weekend in central Europe.

Nothing but trailers, motorhomes and packed cars...the entire way.

Nothing but trailers, motorhomes and packed cars…the entire way.

We (and our GPS) didn’t help matters when we thought we were going on a detour, only to find out that the GPS had gotten confused, so we had to turn around…but not before we had gone 50 miles in the wrong direction. By the time we got mid-way through Austria, we started re-thinking our plan to go all the way to Croatia and instead considered stopping somewhere for the night. But we would lose money on the Zagreb hotel and it was too late to do any kind of exploring anywhere we stopped, so we (slowly) pushed through. John drove the whole way, and I honestly don’t know how he did it. It was incredibly frustrating just being the passenger.

Red break lights illuminating my face...the WHOLE DRIVE!!

Red break lights illuminating my face…the WHOLE DRIVE!!

Slovenia border

Croatian border – at this point, we had averaged 38 MPH…THE ENTIRE DRIVE!!

By the time we got to Zagreb, it was 1 a.m. The initial time of arrival was 5 p.m. And although it was obvious that Zagreb was a late-night kind of town, John and I had no interest in anything but going to bed. Luckily, the guy who owned the apartment pushed back our checkout time to 11 a.m. so we had at least a little time to relax before getting back in the car.

However, the problem was – I really wanted to see Zagreb. So, with John asleep, I decided to go on a morning run through the capital. And I could tell it was a place we would really have liked to spend time in – it was incredibly clean and there were pockets of really cute side streets that would have been fun to walk around. But, as it was, I was just happy to get a chance to run around. It is definitely not a big town so it didn’t take long to see everything I had us checking out had we arrived at a decent hour.

The car I really didn't want to get back into...Caesar didn't mind because he slept the whole way!

The car I really didn’t want to get back into…Caesar didn’t mind because he slept the whole way!

Our cute apartment - which we didn't get to fully enjoy!

Our cute apartment – which we didn’t get to fully enjoy!

One of the main side roads - clearly a good place to sit out and have a drink or a meal. Just around the corner from our hotel.

One of the main side roads – clearly a good place to sit out and have a drink or a meal. Just around the corner from our hotel.

Ban Jelačić Square (the main square in Zagreb)

Ban Jelačić Square (the main square in Zagreb)…it was just down the road where we were staying.

There are multiple cobblestone streets leading up to multiple squares and churches.

There are multiple cobblestone streets leading up to multiple squares and churches.

From the cobblestone road, and past this square, is the St. Mark's church and a great lookout of the city.

From the cobblestone road, and past this square, is the St. Mark’s church and a great lookout of the city.

This walkthrough is a shrine, with pews for prayer!

This walkthrough is a shrine, with pews for prayer, leading from the park to St. Mark’s.

Down the street is St. Mark's church with the Croatian flag on the roof.

St. Mark’s church with the Croatian flag on the roof.

Down the road is the Museum of Broken Relationships. I had really wanted to go into this museum - I had read it was worth a stop, simply because it was so unusual. But it wasn't open yet! :-(

Down the road is the Museum of Broken Relationships. I had really wanted to go into this museum – I had read it was worth a stop, simply because it was so unusual. But it wasn’t open yet! 😦

Look out on the city - you can walk or take a funicular.

Look out on the city – you can walk or take a funicular.

Around the corner from the lookout is this adorable church.

Around the corner from the lookout is this adorable church.

Down from the church, and heading to the main cathedral is this row of restaurants - which stretches in all directions here!

Down from the church, and heading to the main cathedral is this row of restaurants – which stretches in all directions here. They love their pubs and restaurants!

The Zagreb cathedral.

The Zagreb cathedral.

Those red hearts are Licitarsko srce (Gingerbread heart), given as gifts to loved ones.

Those red hearts are Licitarsko srce (Gingerbread heart), given as gifts to loved ones.

I just loved the architecture throughout the town.

I just loved the architecture throughout the town.

My ridiculously cheap, post-run breakfast!

My ridiculously cheap, post-run breakfast!

Final impressions: Tourism hasn’t boomed in Zagreb it is an incredibly inexpensive city. Two cappucinos, a croissant and a breakfast sandwich cost me the equivalent of $1.60 total. And the hotel, right in the middle of town, was only $60. Not only that, even for a Sunday morning, there were people out and about, the city had been cleaned from the previous nights activities and it really was charming. Plus, we got a bit of a chance to relax…which we both desperately needed before we faced another day on the road. Next up – the amazing Plitvice Lakes. But that’s for the next installment. I’m tired just thinking about the drive.

Final Impressions: 

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