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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.