Croatia Part 1: Zagreb & Plitvice

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We said our goodbyes to Katie’s brothers and our new friend Emily, and headed to a country that had been at the top of my list for a long time: Croatia.  We were doing a whirlwind tour covering three cities and two national parks over the course of nine days.  Because of extensive level of activities we crammed into our time here, we divided these posts up by city.  This is our post about the first city we visited, the capital city of Zagreb.  Zagreb would be the farthest north we would go, and would include a tour of the world-famous Plitvice Lakes National Park.

What We Did

Day 80 (10/10/16):  Arriving late at night, we located our Airbnb (after first wandering into the wrong building).  We were greeted in traditional Croatian fashion, with shots of local liquor.  We dropped our things, headed out to the grocery, and returned to feat of frozen junk food including pizza and chicken nuggets.

Day 81 (10/11/16):   We awoke early and started with a quick stroll through one of the city’s many parks.  Afterwards, we headed to Zagreb’s main fresh market where we perused the many stalls selling vegetables, fruits, nuts, dairy products, and flowers.  It was extremely cold outside, and even though I was wearing absolutely every layer of clothing I owned, Adam and I still had to stop and purchase gloves from a local vendor.  We wandered up into the older parts of the city before joining a free tour group in the Ban Jelacic Square.  As part of the tour we saw St. Mark’s Church, the Zagreb Cathedral, Upper Town, Tkalciceva, Lower Town, Dolac Market, Lotrscak Tower, an underground bunker and tunnel from WWII, and the “original” neck-tie shop.  After the tour, we took the guides recommendations and headed to a place called La Struk to try a local specialty, strukli.  Afterwards we took another one of our guides recommendations and went for a beer tasting on Tkalciceva before heading the city’s most famous museum, the Museum of Broken Relationships.  We stopped at a wine bar to try some local vintages before heading home to watch Catch Me If You Can (oh yes Tom Hanks!), and gorge ourselves on our first Skyline Chili (in the form of skyline dip) in almost three months.

Day 82 (10/12/16):  We again awoke early, and boarded a bus bound for Plitvice Lakes National Park.  We spent almost the entirety of our day wandering along the wooden plank paths through the many waterfalls, lakes, and wooded areas.  It was absolutely stunning.  Like something out of a fairytale.  We stopped to eat our packed lunch and to play euchre at a rock outcropping overlooking yet another brilliant blue-green pool.  We hiked two of the trails and took about five million pictures before finally returning to the entrance and catching our bus home.  Exhausted, we spent the rest of the night in and enjoyed a home cooked pasta dinner courtesy of Katie and I.

What We Learned

  • When in Zagreb, make sure you try strukli. It is a local specialty and unlike anything else I have tried.  Strukli is a thin crepe-like pastry dough filled with a local cheese, egg, and cream mixture and then topped with additional cheese.  It can be either sweet or savory (and mixed with vegetables or fruits), and comes either cooked or baked.  We tried a traditional plain one, a savory truffle one, and a sweet apple cinnamon one.  They come out looking a bit like lasagna, and steaming hot.  However, once they cool down and you have a chance to dive in, you will find them to be a delicious and unique dish.  They will fill you up quickly and did well at thawing our insides after the cold of the tour.  The truffle ones at La Struk were my absolute favorites!
  • If you are looking for a happy, fun, and/or upbeat activity, do not visit the Museum of Broken Relationships. And especially don’t go after you have had a few drinks. While it is a worthwhile and interesting attraction, it is also one of the most depressing museums on the planet.  You will leave thoroughly put out and unhappy about love.  I mean, I guess we should have seen it coming given the name, but unfortunately, we did not.  The museum itself is full of mementos representing relationships between normal people from around the world, accompanied by heartfelt stories of loves lost and relationships shattered.  While some are funny, most are just plain sad.  They even have different rooms to display the different types of relationships that were broken from short, passionate flings, to long-term marriages, to relationships between family members.  No stone is left unturned, and thus no heartstring is left un-pulled.  When planning to visit this museum, come prepared to leave in a bad mood and ideally have a happy activity planned for afterward to boost your morale.
  • The city of Zagreb is actually home to more museums per capita than any other city in the world. And as such, they also have some of the most creative museums in the world.  While I did just issue a warning about the Museum of Broken Relationships, it is well worth a visit.  The Museum of Illusions and the Torture Museum are also supposed to be good.  Our tour guide told us that the government was also turning the bunker/tunnel we went through into another museum.  So, they spout up all the time!  If you are looking for traditional museums, or something a little more outside the box, this is your city.
  • It is surprisingly cold here. I had always heard of Croatia being a sunny warm place (mainly because the pictures you see are either from summer or from more southern cities like Split or Dubrovnik), and therefore was unprepared for the 40 degree temperatures that greeted us.  So take it from us, when travelling to Croatia outside of the summer season, pack pants….and a jacket….and gloves…..and a scarf…..and lots and lots of layers!
  • Tom Hanks has made a lot of epic movies. During our beer tasting, we made a drinking game of naming as many Tom Hanks movies as we could, and the loser had to finish their beer.  Adam eventually conceded.  However, I must say we did rather well though.  If you get on IMDB and scroll his entire filmography, you will find very few of those films that are either unknown or poorly rated.  Way to go Tom!

Memorable Moments

  • Our visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park was one of the highlights of our entire trip thus far. We took a bus from Zagreb that runs daily every hour or so.  Since we had the entire day, we chose to do Trail C first, and then part of Trail H at the end, when we found we had extra time.  I cannot even describe the beauty of this place.  It was more stunning than the pictures I had seen of it.  You could go through whole SD cards if you stopped to take pics of every beautiful sight (believe me, we tried).  And the way you get around, mainly on wood plank paths that sit overtop of the water made the whole experience feel so organic, like you were still in nature, not just seeing it on display for you.  Since we were there during the off season, the park was not overly crowded, except at the beginning when we had to fight past a couple of tour groups.  On that note, I would not recommend taking a tour.  I felt like it was a place better experienced at your own pace, without being herded around in a line, stopping only at primary photo sites.  Take some time to take in the moment as you walk through.  I promise it is an experience not to be missed
  • WE GOT TO EAT SKYLINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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