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Report 1912: Spring Time in Croatia

By Letha from California, Spring 2011

Trip Description: April 28th 2011 to May 10th 2011, a couple spend time traveling through the the Balkans -- Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro.

Destinations: Countries - Croatia

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Beach; Day Tours; Sightseeing; Walking/Hiking; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 10: Away and Arriving - Wed 27th April/Thurs 28th April - Zagreb

photo by Oscar Saldanha

Zagreb: The Promenade from the station with the 'Regent Esplanade' in the Background

We flew from San Francisco to Calgary to Frankfurt. This was our first time on Air Canada and I had requested the last two seats which puts you next to the bathroom and galley which has its advantages and disadvantages. As it turned out, the stewardess offered us first choice for dinner as she was sure they would run out of choices by the time the cart got to our end of the aisle. Other wise uneventful.

The Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Zagreb was a small aircraft. Oscar and I were split up and I had a Bosnian American lady next to me. My interest in Croatia came from reading much about their history over the ages, and then the recent war of the 1990s. My travel companion for this leg of the flight, Jamila was one of those ‘other side of the story.’ She lives in Detroit where she came as a war refugee in 2002 or so after several years in Germany. She fled Bosnia at the start of the war in 1991, after losing her husband to the war. She was now going back to her village in Bosnia every summer to slowly rebuild her house and her garden she said. Her kids who were young when they fled, did not want to go back, but she had to do it ... interesting human story from the ground that set a framework for the rest of our trip in this area of much history and human conflicts based on religion and ethnicity and above all the resilience of the human spirit.

She also feels that Detroit threw her another curved ball on account of its economy. She used to work for one of the car manufacturers testing the car doors by opening and closing it. But this damaged her shoulders and she is now on disability which is why she has the time (and money she said!) to go back and rebuild in her village which is two hours drive east of Zagreb, across the border into Bosnia. When the stewardess brought drinks, I asked for a wine and she followed suit, telling me that she usually did not drink wine and was doing it just because I was, and we drank to better times; she also gave me her phone number both in Bosnia and in Detroit and hoped I would visit her in Bosnia one Spring/Summer to share the vegetables she was planting in her garden restoration. I have a feeling we just may... If this was the warmth and openness of the Balkans, I was going to like them, be it Croats, Serbs, Bosnians, Montenegrons, Kosovons or whatever others history brings along..

We arrived in Zagreb and took the city bus from the airport in the southeast (Pleso) to the Zagreb bus station. The bus, run by Croatian Airlines, runs efficiently every half an hour or so, and for 30 kunas ($6) gets you downtown in 25 minutes or so. From the bus station, we bought tram tickets from the newspaper vendor and took tram #6 to the main train station (third stop). The ‘Regent Esplanade Zagreb’ in all its glory from the Orient Express days is a walk away. Just like the passengers of the Orient Express, walk we did, down a promenade to the hotel.

I wish I could say I loved the hotel; I am sure there are others who will love it and I do not want to deter people from staying there; suffice to say that I am not cut out for its ‘pomp and splendor.’ I don’t think that I had their ‘early bird’ discount helped; the check-in girl was quick to mention that and then asked me what room choice I wanted. She of course gave us the room without the view which did not bother us as we were either going to be out or sleeping.

The room itself was very comfortable and had character, the kind I love, but the rest of the ambiance was too stuffy for me. We did not eat at the restaurants which were expensive, but did have a drink at the bar the next day while watching the local British elite expats coming in for an official reception and viewing of the royal wedding at a private banquet that the British Embassy was hosting.

I would have left my comments at that except that, late night, when we got back from dinner, I told Oscar that I would just check out the gym to see if I wanted to drag myself there early next morning to work off some of that dinner. So I headed to the gym area downstairs. The girl at the reception told me to go ahead into the small gym area with half a dozen pieces of equipment and a raised platform where a buffed personal trainer was working on a clients hamstrings. Just as I strolled in Mr. Buff raised his voice and charged down from his platform and told me to stop and that I could not come in as my shoes were ‘dirty’; I was wearing regular shoes as we had just come back from dinner. I tried to explain that I was not going to work out and was only looking at the equipment, but he said that they use the floor to ‘roll’ whatever that meant (later he said they use it for push-ups); meanwhile the receptionist came and tried to tell him I was a hotel guest, but I left at that point with an apologetic receptionist behind me, and decided to write it off as yet another experience. Needless to say, I did not return to the gym the next morning.

Prior to that, we walked down to the main square through some elegant parks and also visited the famous cathedral there. We then had dinner at Restaurant Vinodol (Nikole Tesle 10, Zagreb) that had been recommended in another travel group. We had our first bottle of Croatian wine, a Grasevina, which was the preamble to much good Croatian wine. The food was good as was the service, Dalmatian smoked ham, stuffed veal cutlets, and a lamb dish for a total of Kuna 321 including the wine. So a nice start to the first day of our vacation.

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