December 19-22, 2016
Bla Bla Car Across the Border
We begrudgingly left our awesome apartment in Budapest, feeling sad to leave the incredible city. We walked with packs strapped to our backs for over two miles, into Buda to meet out Bla Bla Car driver. He was a young Croatian guy who seems to use Bla Bla Car as a primary source of income. He loaded up his van with four passengers including us, a man from Croatia and woman from the UK. The drive was a little short of 4 hours and included a brief stop at the Hungarian-Croatian border. A first for us since we've been in Europe- we haven't had to stop at a border or show our passports once. We were hoping for more stamps in our passports!
We were dropped off at the central train station in Zagreb, Croatia (it was raining of course as that's all it seems to do in Europe in winter) and within minutes of us emptying out of the car the driver was collecting more passengers to drive back to Budapest. We were charged $50 USD for the ride so we imagine he must make a descent living.
Yummy Pit Stop
While researching things to do in Zagreb we continuously saw mention of this silly sounding museum, The Museum of Broken Relationships. It received great reviews, so we figured we had to check it. We walked to the museum with a pit stop on the way at a small tented market.
The market was selling local food and goods and had tons of free samples! We tried a bit (seconds and thirds) of everything as we strolled from stand to stand. There were many standing selling pumpkin seed products like pumpkin seed oil, pumpkin seed pesto, and a pumpkin seed spread kind of like peanut butter. They were so interesting and delicious! They must grow a lot of pumpkins in Croatia? We also sampled a bunch of home made jams, cured meats and tons of olive oil. It occurred to me that Croatia, being parallel to Italy is likely in the same temperate zone, which makes sense that they too produce a lot of wine and olive oil.
The Museum of Broken Relationships
The museum, though small, contained just the right amount of artifacts. Dozens of items were showcased in the museum, donated by people around the world to heal, share and purge themselves of unsuccessful relationships. I can see how it may be therapeutic for some. Each item had a note written by the person who donated it. Some notes were bitter, some not. The exhibit covered the spectrum from young love, to married and divorced to broken family relationships. We enjoyed the museum, it was a less information heavy museum than others and thus an easy hour of observing.
From the museum we wondered the dark, quiet and surprisingly empty streets in search a of a restaurant and had a difficult time locating any. During our Bla Bla Car ride to Zagreb, we talked with the woman from the UK who works in the wine industry traveling between Hungary and Croatia for work, she said that Croatians do not earn high salaries and can't afford to eat out, they'll go out for drinks instead. So restaurants really only cater to tourists who can afford it. We looked over some menus and found meals to be pricey and comparable, if not more expensive, than neighboring Western Europe. We settled on a restaurant at a hotel right as we were about to give up on going out to eat. The food was ok, but we did get to try some really good Croatian wine
Second day in Zagreb
We awoke in our hostel room the following day and were questioned by a funny, friendly Serbian guy about our travels. So friendly in fact that within ten minutes of conversation he invited us to drive to Serbia with him in his car. He told us to visit Serbia because things are "incredibly inexpensive." He was excited about his own travels and super curious about our trip- why are we here, where will we go, how much are we spending? His friend, also in our hostel room commented, "don't ask rich people how much things cost." It was interesting to see his perception of American culture. He assumes that because we are from America we must be rich. And from his perspective I can't fault him for that belief. With the excess and lavish lifestyles that are portrayed in the American media, no wonder he thinks that. When considering that even low salaries in the states are high compared to average Serbian income, yes Americans are rich. But our living standard and expectations are also high so perhaps many aren't even aware of the luxurious lifestyle they live.
Friendly Locals and Free Products
We set out for the day to explore the city. We stopped at the store, Lush, just to look. Surprisingly this franchise in Zagreb was the third lush store to open after the two originals in London. Our "just browsing" ended up in bags full of free samples for each of us. The friendly sales lady took us under her wing and really encouraged us to try the products insisting she give us multiple free samples to try: face washes, soaps, face masks, shaving cream- not sure Scott is as exciting for our impending spa day as I am!
Markets, Markets, Markets
We couldn't resist another visit to the tented market from the day before with the bountiful select of free samples. We enjoyed some more pumpkin seed products. Yum.
We then headed to yet another market, The Dolac Market, a daily farmers produce market. Their fresh produce was delicious and inexpensive. We picked up some fruit for the road.
We stopped at a very smoky cafe bar for coffee and a beer before heading to an old cemetery. We've noticed many restaurants and bars in Eastern Europe allow smoking or having a smoking and nonsmoking section.
We spent some of our afternoon walking around the old Mirogoj cemetery. It was quiet and peaceful and the sun finally decided to make an appearance. We entertained ourselves by trying to find the oldest dates on the gravestones. Many of the graves were very ornate and well maintained. There was a small army of cats manning the cemetery that encircled Scott when they saw him eating something. They lost interest quickly as a woman walked around the corner calling to them. They took off dutifully following this cemetery cat woman. Bizarre.
Arriving in Split
After a 5+ hour bus-ride that we nearly missed we made it to sunny Split on the Croatian coast. It was the best weather we have had in the last month. We got dropped off at the main bus station and walked to our guesthouse right in the center of Old Town, a few steps away from the old palace.
Walking the Promenade
It was evident that we were closer to the coast with the mild, humid weather and palm trees. We walked toward the coast, following the ocean view until we arrived on the beachfront Promenade. This seems to be where people, locals and tourists alike, go to see and been seen. Men and women were well dressed occupying outdoor seating overlooking the water smoking cigarettes and drinking espressos. As we walked by caffe bar after caffe bar we realized that none of them actually served food- just coffee and alcoholic beverages. Don’t people need to eat?
I observed that the women were surprisingly heavily made-up with thick makeup and heels on a late Sunday afternoon. While researching our next destinations in Eastern European countries I stumbled upon a blog where a solo female traveler was traveling in Macedonia and a local man told her that he would consider a women who was not wearing heels to be ugly. I’m not sure if the same sentiment is true in Croatia, but I feel sad for women if they feel pressure to look a certain way to be found desirable by Eastern European men’s “requirements.”
We found a bench overlooking the water and sat basking in the sunlight, soaking up some vitamin D that we’ve been too long deprived of. It was quiet on the Promenade with no traffic noise or hustle and bustle. It was nice to share a few moments of quiet together with such a beautiful backdrop.
Hiking up Park Suma Marjan
We left the solace of the ocean and headed toward Varos, the oldest part of the city. Narrow winding cobblestone alleys and small stone houses marked this area of town. We followed the streets until they turned into stairs. We climbed the stairs uphill until we reached a beautiful panoramic look out of the city. From here we could see some of the old walls of the palace and the bell tower rising above all of the other buildings. We continued farther into the park as it rose higher above the city and stumbled upon a tiny old church from the 1200’s- this ancient looking church isn’t even the oldest in the city, St. Duje’s Cathedral dates back to 305 AD!
Walking back from the park we got lost in the alleys that seemed to wind this way and that way without rhyme or reason. We walked by several bakeries, and admired new and exciting pastries including burek- a flaky pastry filled with savory fillings and rolled into a narrow strip, and lots of pizza- perhaps an influence from Italy, Croatia’s neighbor across the Adriatic. The streets were very quiet, with the exception of dozens of stray cats. Many shops were closed. It was a Sunday and Croatia is a predominantly Catholic and a very religious country.
The next day we explored Diocletian Palace in the heart of the city. The historic center of the city is built in an around the remains of this old Roman Palace. Walking around, it was easy to forget that we were in fact inside the Palace until catching glimpses of the old walls. We walked underneath the excavated remains of the basement marked by high vaulted ceilings, mirroring the architecture on the first floor of the palace. Two Egyptian sphinxes sat inside the confines of the palace walls, originals brought from Egypt by the Roman emperor Diocletian.
Markets and Bacvice Beach
We walked through the daily fish market, smelling it from a block away, and checked out the Green Market, which sells produce, flowers and knickknacks. While passing by one stall I was dismayed to see a pigeon land on a carton of almonds, burying its feet amongst the almonds while the vender, unfazed, lazily gestured it away after several seconds. This was just about too much for my germaphobia to bare as I thought about those tainted and contaminated almonds that will be sold to some poor unsuspecting soul : (
From the market we walked to Bavice Beach, goofed around on the playground and touched the water of the Adriatic Sea. Walking through the city, it felt like we were the only American tourists around.
Wine by Moonlight
We hiked back up to Park Suma Marjan later that evening to drink some Croatian wine while taking in views of the city. We cuddled up on a bench overlooking the coast, wrapped in a blanket and enjoyed the wine under a full moon. The sparkling lights of the city were quite magical beneath the bright moon. The Croatian wine reminded us of a zinfandel.
On our last morning in Split we picked up breakfast at a bakery. I sampled the local burek pastry filled with cheese and spinach. We walked to the bus station and sat at a café for coffee with milk. It seems that unless you order an American style coffee you get a mini coffee in a cup the size of a double shot glass. The coffee is delicious but as much as you try to savor it, it’s gone in three sips. How I miss a generous serving of American coffee. I am curious to try the coffee in Bosnia which supposedly has a Turkish influence and thicker more syrupy texture. We spent our time at the café writing the blog and running through our mental travel checklist: checking bus routes and schedules, finding the location and address of our next accommodation, figuring out visas in advance, downloading maps, reading up on the next countries culture and points of interest. The planning never stops; there is always something to do!