The early start on leg seven of our adventure was rather refreshing. The cool morning air mixed with the heavy fog draping itself over Ljubljana’s castle and river was mystical. We were sad to be leaving Slovenia, as it is such a beautiful country from the scenery to the friendly welcoming people. It was on the train to Zagreb, Croatia that we really started considering stopping back there on our way to Budapest to soak up more of Slovenia’s beauty.
The train ride was fairly straightforward, 3 hours and we were in a compartment with a German backpacker. We seem to come across a lot of these and they are always very distinguishable with their cargo pant cutoffs, usually all their cooking utensils and the complete Lonely Planet guide stored in their heads! This guy had seriously traveled everywhere from China to the Cook Islands, New Zealand, and now he was doing Eastern Europe. Anyway it made the train journey pass fairly quickly and before we knew it we had arrived in Zagreb.
Sticking to our guns we decided to walk the 5kms to the hostel from the station through the city. We stopped off to grab some of the local money out of an ATM first, another currency to learn the conversions for – this time the Croatian Kuna. When I am going such a distance with my 16kg+ backpack everything seems to just be a blur in amongst the sweat and haze, so I didn’t really pay attention to much on the way.
We were overjoyed when we finally made it to our hostel and what is even better is that we were greeted with ice-cold shots of honey liqueur. Hostel Swanky was fantastic; the two guys who run the place were always willing to help us out with directions and advice. The room was nice and the kitchen was super; oven, dishwasher – pure luxury. Since we were paying under 40 Euro a night it was an absolute bargain.
We decided to fight off the tiredness and have a couple of coffees at the hostel before heading into the center of town. This time we opted for the tram and because we didn’t realize you had to validate your tickets, we ended up riding for free and validated the tickets the next time we rode the tram. Ooops!
The center of Zagreb is very ‘Habsburg’ inspired, the buildings reminded me of a small scale Prague. We had a wee wander and also popped into the tourist information center to find out some information on what there is to do around Zagreb. We found a lot of information about a couple of wine roads just out of the city however after further investigation later that night , we found out that they aren’t really accessible via public transport plus you must ring all the wineries to make appointments so we decided to skip it and see what else we could find on the net that night. We opted to walk back instead of taking the tram as the scales at the hostel were pretty awful to me and I was feeling a small bout of self-hate for what those numbers showed.
Right near our hostel was a huge supermarket so we went and grabbed a couple of bottles of vino to match with our tuna, veggie, and sweet chili pasta. Delicious and oh so backpacker friendly. The night was spent researching, catching up with Mum on skype and having a pretty early one; it had been a long day.
The next day was a stunner, 25 degrees and bright blue sky. We decided against taking the tram anywhere and we just basically wandered. We had a quick look in a few shops as we had heard that the weather was going to start going downhill and we are both pretty much living off our Dubai closets still. We wandered around the ‘Cathedral of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ near the town square (Trg Bana Jelacica) as well as the beautiful coloured tiled gothic Church of Saint Mark’s. Beside the cathedral we found the 16th century fortifications from when the Turks threatened Zagreb.
We then meandered through the alleyways to the famous bar and pub road – Tkalciceva. One of the guys at the hostel suggested we try out a place called ‘Mali Medo’ which translates to ‘little bear’. They brew 5 of their own beers however our experience at the restaurant wasn’t the greatest. First we couldn’t order the beer we wanted, and then the beer was warm that came out and our meals (cordon bleu for me and Morgan had a beef goulash) were missing parts and what was there was pretty crapy. Needless to say it wasn’t a favourite meal and I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone. I think maybe Ljubljana set our expectations too high!
In the afternoon we decided to visit one of the more unique museums in Zagreb and in Europe as a whole. The Museum of Broken Relationships. There are now about 10 over the world but the Croatian one was the first of its kind. It cost us 40 Kuna to get in and basically people who have been heartbroken have donated things as well as told the story of what happened. These objects ranged from shoes to frisbee’s and even to fluffy handcuffs. Very strange but it was rather cool at the same time.
We chilled at the hostel in the evening with a few more bottles of Croatian wine. We had to try the famed Croatian wine made from the traditional grape – Plavac Mali. Not bad, we did buy a cheapie so maybe that’s why the wine lacked a bit of structure. Anyway we figured it would get us in the mood for our visit to ‘The House of Croatian Wine’ (THOCW) the next day.
Wow it went from super sunny and 25 degrees to absolutely pouring down with rain and 10 degrees. I think this is the coldest we have been in years, and wet! It was rather nice though I have to admit to wake up to the rain pounding on the roof and the grey sky overhead but by the time we took two steps outside I wasn’t so sure. Our hostel was absolutely fantastic and supplied us with a huge umbrella and all the directions we needed to get to THOCW.
By the time we got down the end of the road we were already freezing so stopped into the bakery to grab two burek sa mesom, which we had been introduced to at the hostel. The closest thing I can compare it to is a swirled up sausage roll. Basically pastry and meat. Yum! It warmed up our throats but not really our feet! So we jumped on a tram which was suppose to take us to the city center, however halfway through the tram changed its number so we were heading in a different direction. We had to jump off again and jump on another one to make it to the bus station.
We finally made it to our bus, and the driver was fantastic – chatting to us all the way and telling us where to get off. All up the journey from the hostel to THOCW ended up taking about 2 hours!! However it was definitely worth it. It seems like it is located in the middle of nowhere, however it is pretty close to Zagreb airport – a good place to stop in on your way to or from.
We met with Tamara, the lady I had been communicating with over e-mail. You can just show up, however if you send an e-mail or give them a call before you arrived they will make sure you are well looked after. We had a tour of the facility, which was laid out and organized so well. The main wine shop was spread out over 5 rooms. The main room housed some souvenirs as well as liquors while the other 4 rooms were each dedicated to the 4 main regions of Croatia. In each room were little relics and photos from the region, so you could get a real feel for where the wines actually come from.
Under THOCW’s roof you will find over 1600 different wines so it really is your one-stop Croatian wine shop. Adjoining the shop is a cozy 2storey restaurant where you can enjoy some of that lovely Croatian wine at fantastic prices as well as get stuck into some local gastronomy. I bet it would be a fantastic place in winter, with the open kitchen, fireplaces and chunky ‘spend a few hours with me’ wooden furniture. I think next time we must visit in the heart of winter.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the private room out the back where we got to mingle with the 10 staff at THOCW and of course try some delicious pours. These included: Miska 2010 Skrlet (white), Krauthaker 2008 Chardonnay, Legovina 2006 Cabernet Franc and Madirazza 2007 Plavac Mali (red). Overall the wines were good, some may of not been a favourite on my palate however I have to admit that they all had the most intoxicating noses on them. I really never thought of Croatian wines being so aromatic, but they are.
By about 6pm we thought we had better do the responsible thing and head back to the city to get organized to move onto the next place the following day. Though Morgan’s mistake was giving me the job of picking A BOTTLE of wine for dinner while he got some food for dinner and what do you know, Casey shows up at the counter with not one but two bottles of moderately priced wine. It wasn’t hard to twist his rubber arm ?
It was nice to get back to the hostel to have a nice hot shower, hot meal and some great Croatian wine before packing up our things for the morning.