Posts Tagged With: Zagreb

Z is for Zagreb

One final photos of lovely dubrovnikSalutations from Zagreb! Well, to be precise, hello from the sleeper cabin of a Munich bound train at the Zagreb Train Station. Brooke and I are settling in and prepping for an overnight journey to Germany. For me, one of the coolest aspects about this trip has been continually finding myself in interesting places like Zagreb, Croatia. Sometimes I look around, smile and shake my head bemused by the fact that I’m in a city that I couldn’t even spell three months ago.

Today we we’re just passing through Zagreb. We’ve managed to see such legendary landmarks as the famous airport, the beloved bus station and, of course, historic Glavni Kolodvor – AKA the train station. I’m exaggerating, but not by much. After our flight landed from Dubrovnik, we only had a few hours in town and we spent a good chunk of that time at a couple of cafes. It was a good opportunity to order some tea and hop online to tackle some traveling business such as booking rooms for upcoming days and determining how best to spend our time in Munich. It is worth noting that the weather changed on us quite quickly today! We seem to have left the seaside breezes with unseasonably warm temperatures behind and stepped right into the brisk days of late fall. I really have come to enjoy these travel days which are kind of like “off days” from enveloping ourselves in a city and new experiences. Tramping around newly discovered train stations and airports with my wife is quickly becoming on of my favorite pass times.

Brooke and I certainly weren’t in Zagreb long enough to gain any type of accurate impression, but we did like what managed to see. Near the city center, there are several pedestrian only boulevards alive with shops and restaurants. In fact, almost ever city we’ve visited has at least some sort of small walking streets bustling with activity. Makes me wish that more cities back in the states had something like that. In Zagreb, however, there was a pedestrian street with a pair of street car tracks running directly down the center. No gates, no signs and no raised curbs. Just speeding street cars. I’m sure the locals are used to it, but it made us think that there may be no Croatian translation for the phrase “Safety First.”. We also had a fantastic success rate with helpful clerks, postal workers, information booth people and more today. Usually, it’s a mixed bag of helpfulness and annoying there’s-nothing-I-can-do shrugs, but today the assistance we received was pretty stellar across the board. We even manage to make use of the Croatian Post office at the tiny Zagreb Airport. These occasional post office stops have been handy to for occasional drops of souvineers, books and more into packages that slowly travel back home. One less thing to carry and one less thing to worry about losing or breaking.

One of the nicer ones that we've seen lately!

The Zagreb Train Station

Brooke rocking it at the Croatia Post OfficeWe arrived at the train station well in advance of our scheduled departure. So far, booking train travel has been a bit like a delicious breakfast buffet – you never know what you’re going to get. No matter how in depth I search online, I am never able to nail down what the price is going to be until we show up at the ticket window. It’s always worked out though. And today was no exception. When we asked how much two tickets would be to Munich, the ticket agent let us know that two coach seats would be $230 total. However, they were “running a special today” and if we book a two-person sleeper, the cost would only be $208. Wait, what? While that seems to makes no sense, we aren’t ones to argue with fuzzy Zagreb math so we jumped on it. So, we’re now settling into a comfy room that’s doubling as our transportation and accommodation for the evening. By far, the best train car yet of our European travel. While prepping for the trip, I had dreams of grand, romantic European trains and only now are they starting to come to fruition. This nice and modern sleeper is full of nifty gadgets developed in the spirit of efficiency and functionality. The smoke filled, lumpy beds of our Bucharest sleeper train have been substituted for various knobs, charging sockets, a sink, hooks, large mirror, thingamabobs and more. The conductor even stopped by with a couple of bottles of complimentary water. I think I’m going to enjoy this train ride. Just don’t let those pesky border control agents in Slovenia and Germany interrupt my slumber. Ah, these are good days. Dovidjenja Croatia, guten tag Munich!

–Phil

Our train car for our ride to Munich!

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Sour Goodbyes and Gorgeous Hellos

St. Stehpen's at nightAt the crack of 4:30am, we woke up to get ready for our 6am train from Budapest to Zagreb, Croatia.  From there, we took a very short flight on Croatian Airlines to the coastal town, Dubrovnik.  Because today was primarily a travel day, we don’t have a lot to tell you.  However, I would like to share one good story and one lovely moment.

Whenever we leave a city, we try to have as little leftover cash as possible.  We have found it sometimes difficult to exchange certain currencies and so much is lost in the exchange that we’d rather spend it.  We’ve had mixed success in this endeavor, but in Budapest we did quite well–only 500 Hungarian forint in coins left.  That’s only about $2.25 so we felt it was a success.  However, we realized that is about 140 forint shy of the amount required for the metro ride we would be taking from the Hotel to the train station.  Phil was willing to risk it and go without a ticket, and even though I felt a little uneasy, I agreed.  (I should tell you that earlier in the week, Gina and Phil made fun of me relentlessly for being a “rule follower” and buying a metro ticket when they didn’t.  Phil said he was willing to risk it because he thought it was only about an $8.00 fine if we got caught.)  In this case, Phil figured since it was 5:30am on a Saturday and we were only going three stops we would be fine.  Although I didn’t love the idea of cheating the system, I agreed Phil was probably right and we boarded the arriving train sans ticket.

Stunning hilltop in budapestWe arrived at our stop without incident and thought we were in the clear.  Not so fast!  As we joined the line to board the ascending escalator, we noticed a large group of people checking tickets.  I blame the early hour and our surprise for our inability to think quickly and jump back on the train or avoid the inspectors in some other way.  So, when they asked for our ticket, I showed them a 24 hour pass we purchased 2 days before.  Knowing it wouldn’t work, I tried to blame it on a language misunderstanding between me and the original woman who sold us the ticket.  She wasn’t buying it.  She vehemently pointed to the 24-hour description of the ticket and the date so clearly written on top.  Knowing it was hopeless, I relented and asked how much we owed for the fine. She immediately responded, “8000 forint, per person.”  Sixteen-thousand forint total!  That was almost 80 bucks! What happened to the $8.00 ticket Phil expected?  Irritated and immediately regretting my decision to join with my rule-breaking husband, I asked if they would accept a credit card.  Of course, they did not.  She would have accepted euros, but we didn’t have that either.  So while Phil stayed trying to beg and fruitlessly plead with the ticket control agent, I sped up the two escalators and several steps to find the nearest ATM.  We paid, got a receipt and apologized (all the while Phil was still trying to convince her not to give us the ticket).  Walking away defeated, Phil felt terrible and completely responsible.  I’d like to blame him completely, but I’m a grown-up and I could have bought my own ticket if I really wanted to.  I just chose to go along with him this time. Next time I’ll think twice.  (On a side note, the only other people who did not have tickets were other tourists heading to the train.  Coincidence?  I think not!)

Dubrovnik by airAfter loving Budapest so much, the ticket incident left us with a sour departure, but it was our own fault and a hard lesson learned.  Luckily, we were able to shake it off and enjoy a lovely moment later in the day which I’d also like to share.  The Croatia Airlines plane ride from Zagreb to Dubrovnik is a short 40 minutes from take-off to touchdown.  All in all, it is less than an hour on the airplane.  Exhausted, we both fell asleep almost immediately.  Phil sleeps like a baby on planes, but it is more difficult for me and I wake up much more often.  As we were nearing Dubrovnik, I awoke to see beautiful mountains outside our window.  Feeling that we were descending, I woke Phil so he could enjoy the view before we landed.  It was spectacular.  All around we saw huge mountains and rolling hills.  The plane tipped its wings to make a turn and we saw the coast of the Adriatic Sea.  At seeing this beautiful sight, there was an audible gasp from the passengers on the plane.  The mountains and ocean seemed to extend all around us.  It was amazing, but we started to question where we would land.  Except for the water, there was no extended flat space in sight.  Luckily our pilot skillfully found the runway and landed us safely among the mountains.  Since Dubrovnik’s airport is quite small, we were not surprised when we exited the plane down the steps and onto the tarmac.  Once there, we were thrilled to be hit with the most gorgeous view from any airport we’ve been to.  Passengers immediately started snapping photos, trying to capture this picturesque landscape.  This lovely welcome ensured us that our time here would be wonderful.

Croatian Tarmac

Part of the awesome view from our terrace in Dubrovnik!

Now we enjoy discovering this beautiful seaside town and await the arrival of our friend, Jack.  We aren’t sure what we’ll do tomorrow because we don’t want to discover too much before Jack gets here.  I’m sure we’ll find something awesome to occupy our time.  Actually, I’d be perfectly  happy sitting on our terrace and staring out at the Adriatic Sea with a glass of wine all day long!

–Brooke

Categories: City Visits, Croatia, Customs, Destinations, Eastern Europe, Flights, Friends, Hungary, Landmarks, Rail, Surprises, Trains, Transportation, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Mummified Hand of a Saint and Hot Baths in Budapest!

With one last day in Budapest, Brooke and I hit a couple of remaining “can’t misses” that were still on our list. One of those was a visit to the nearby St. Stephen’s Basilica. The Roman Catholic church is a prominent feature of the Budapest skyline and just around the corner from our hotel. It’s true, we’ve seen a bunch of churches so far throughout Europe. It’s almost hard not to; they are often the most stunning, old buildings in town and encourage visitors to swing by for free. Each of these cathedrals really has been worth checking out so far. In other words, we’re pacing ourselves with visits and we’re not nauseatingly tired of them yet.  St. Stephen’s stood out because it has one of the larger, more gilded domed interiors we’ve seen. The nave and transepts (oh, that’s right) are loaded with statues, paintings and lots of natural light. The church offered more of a tranquil, relaxing vibe than some of the darker Russian Orthodox complexes. We decided to spend a few forint on a 302 step climb up spiral staircases to the outside walkway that circles the dome. Our reward for the walk up? One of the best views of the city from what has to be the highest points on the Pest side. We walked a narrow platform around the edge of the dome which is actually much higher than the church itself; the dome is empty inside with the actual roof of the church peeking out a bit below. It was the perfect place to break out the camera and just enjoy this magnificent moment. And, yeah, we took the elevator back down.

Brooke and Phil On top of Budapest!

St. Stephen's Right Hand.All of that was really fantastic, but that’s not what made our visit to St. Stephen’s remarkable. Yesterday, if you had asked us about the strangest thing we’ve seen on the trip, it would have to be the enshrined, dead body of Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi. But after today, I think we have a strong contender to take that title: the mummified right hand of St. Stephen. Stephen, who died over a thousand years ago in 1038, was the first king of Hungary and, as you might imagine, kind of a big deal around Budapest. So, clearly, what better way to honor him than to display his hand in a ridiculously ornate, jewel encrusted carrying case located in a chapel that’s part of the basilica. To make things more interesting, you have to pay a church worker a couple of bucks to turn on the light in the case so that visitors can get a better look. Yup, that’s a shriveled, decomposing old hand and it is a prized possession of Hungary. We’re told that this kind of thing (finger of a nun, toe of a priest) can be found from time to time in European churches. Wow.

Many people told us that a trip to Hungary is not complete without a visit to the famous hot baths fueled by local hot springs. Since we’re not ones to argue with the masses, we made an evening trip out to the Szechenyi Baths. A quick metro ride on Europe’s older underground Subway system got us out there quickly. It was easy to follow the small crowd to the sprawling complex. These particular baths have been popular with locals and tourists for about a hundred years. The collection of yellow buildings at Szechenyi is, not surprisingly, just as lovely as anything else in Budapest. The main outdoor heated pool was closed, but there was a perfect spot waiting for us at one of the inside pools. Sitting around the edge of the shallow pool with water around a hot 102 degrees Fahrenheit, I found the time in the water relaxing, inspiring, reflective and fun. We had a similar experience in Rotorua, New Zealand. I’m not so sure about the supposed healing powers of the water, but nothing beats a good soak. We ended the night with a dinner at a local pub for British & American ex-pats and one, final lovely and romantic walk along the Danube and down the Chain Bridge. Just…perfect.

The Royal Palace on the “Buda” side at night. Man, I can’t believe my camera captured this. What a photogenic city!

So, as we pack our bags and snag some of the fine toiletries from the hotel bathroom, we put beautiful Budapest in our rear view mirror. Our whirlwind tour of Europe continues! We can place thumbtacks on our imaginary map of locales we’ve visited since early September: Denmark, sundry day-stops at four Baltic capitals, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and now Hungary. Where does the biggest adventure yet go from here? Our next stops include Croatia (Dubrovnik and Zagreb), Germany (Munich) and ten days in Scotland and England. Since it’s worked quite well for us so far, we’re traveling with only a loose outline and general idea of what we might want to do. Plan or not plan, our gut and experience tell us that it’s probably going to be pretty great. We welcome and encourage any suggestions, input or comments on what we should do in these place! Let us know! For now, we’re going to hop on a six hour train ride leaving beautiful Budapest behind and heading down to Croatia. New passport stamps await.

-Phil

Some of the amazing detail inside of Saint Stephen’s. We found these two statues particularly stunning.

Our farewell photos from Budapest!

The top of the dome at St. Stephen’s that we walked around! Look closely and you can see the walkway!

Categories: At Night, Churches, City Visits, Diversions, Eastern Europe, Europe, Exploring, Hungary, Relaxing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Away we go!

Last night, I enjoyed a delicious homemade dinner on a back patio with some of my family. In a way, it was the quintessential American home cooked meal: Pork Chops from the grill, chopped & sautéed summer veggies, succulent corn on the cob and more. About halfway through dinner, whilst picking corn out of my teeth, it dawned on me that this is the last homemade American-style dinner for quite a while. Starting tomorrow, I stop carrying keys or anything around in my pocket. I’ve stopped sleeping in my own, comfortable bed.Very soon, I will stop being able to speak the local language. And all my cash is going to be in funny colors. In short, tomorrow Brooke and I are going stop doing what we’re used to and start diving into the unknown.

After all this yapping, planning and anticipating about the trip, we’re less than 12 hours out from our first flight. Amazing. Intimidating. Daunting. And then exciting all over again. It’s here, baby. (Some last minute shopping aside…I still need to procure a second dang money belt.) I’m ready to expand my horizons a touch, enrich my life if I’m lucky and come back with a treasure chest of memories. Embarking on the trip of a lifetime is right around the corner.

There is so much that is just unknown about this trip and that, in part, is what makes this all so damn electrifying.  Where will we be sleeping in Scotland? What will we be feasting on in Zagreb, Croatia? How on earth does an ATM work in China? Even the stars above our heads are going to look different when we’re in the southern hemisphere. But I am ready.  It has been an astounding amount of fun planning this trip over the last few months and getting set for it all. Every morning I feel like waking up and shouting, “What’s next?” This massive doings that began as idle conversation a long time ago is now, suddenly, somehow, unlikely, here. We are going to be travelers on a journey around the world for the next few months. Exciting. Well, surreal and exciting. It’s going to be a whole new way to spend our days. And we hope you guys enjoy following our journey through this blog. For now, however, I think I’ll catch a couple of innings of Reds baseball while I can.

-Phil

Categories: Eating, Flights, Random Thoughts, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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