Trip Start May 07, 2012
Trip End Jun 06, 2012

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Flag of Croatia  ,
Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Alarm call at 3.45am and can’t believe how good we feel considering the early hour. 10 minute walk to the station then onto the Belgrade to Zagreb train. Interesting to witness the night club near the station still in full swing at 4.45 on a Tuesday morning with the kebab stall outside doing great business with partygoers (not sure this is the cause or effect of 24% unemployment).

Settled onboard for a 05:13 departure and train left on time, as usual. Extremely miserable Serbian ticket inspector looked like he was hopeful of turfing us out of first-class even before departure but he was disappointed on seeing our tickets! He did however have success with every other passenger who joined our carriage at various stations across Serbia. He seemed to take delight in letting them get their luggage sorted out and settling in before checking their tickets and ejecting them into second-class. John has become an expert at helping old ladies get their suitcases up and down from the racks and transferring them to their appointed position on the train! One of them even gave him a biscuit.

All changes at the Serb/Croat border at the cutely named town called ‘Sid’. It’s goodbye from Serbian misery guts and welcome from a smiling English speaking Croatian customs man. Immediately the stations we see are neat, tidy and modern. It’s raining heavily and the sky is black so not a bad day to be on a train rather than walking around. Unfortunately we seem to be stuck in a nasty bit of low pressure and the forecast ahead is not looking good. The only downside of the friendly Croatians is that our new ticket inspector appears to be rather lenient on the ticket front and our carriage therefore becomes much busier than when under Serbian control (please note that having a first-class ticket turns you into the ultimate travel snob).

Seven and a half hours goes very quickly (feels like two). Virtually all the journey is over flat arable land but enough leaping deer, birds of prey, livestock and rural village life to keep it interesting. Arrive in Zagreb and what a difference. Walk out of the station to see a busy square with strawberry sellers everywhere, trams and a lovely park opposite with impressive old buildings facing in all directions. Our hotel is 100 yards from the station and another good one (something must go wrong soon). First impressions of Zagreb are favourable. 

Out in the evening and city confirmed as being good on the eye and vibrant. We walked the 10 mins to the City Centre through a park and a couple of (damp) open air concerts in play as well as a nice selection of bars and restaurants in lanes and alleyways off the City Square. We made a schoolboy error by not checking the strength of the dark beer we ordered in the MK Bar and chewed our way through a rather heavy 7.3% Tomislav – definitely not a session beer! After a light bite we headed back to the hotel via the Square where a band was playing their final number of the evening. We were entertained by a dancing local vagrant who had presumably acquired a taste for the aforementioned Tomislav or something similar!

Forecast for Wednesday not good at all and woke up to rain. But despite storm clouds gathering from time to time we had a fantastically sunny day. Did the sights over several hours including the wonderfully colourful St Marks Church, the Cathedral, Botanical Gardens etc etc and really enjoyed the day. By good fortune we discovered the City food market, which sold a full range of meat, fish, cheese, fruit and vegetables both inside and out. Lunched in a small café next door to the fish market which specialised in fish (of course) and sampled rather too much of their delightful fare. No more food today.

A late afternoon rest in the hotel then out for a walk in the Old Town early evening for a few drinks.  The weather finally does turn on us so umbrellas are required. One of the three places we visited was the Orient Express café wonderfully kitted out as an old railway carriage – you can’t keep us off trains! Walk through the Square on the way home with another rock band playing as part of a festival. Pretty tired now and the end of another good day.

Zagreb has been the surprise of the trip so far and is definitely a hidden gem in this part of Europe. It is quite compact and full of impressive architecture and museums (none of which we had time to visit) but also has enough green space to avoid any claustrophobia. It’s very clean and had a good atmosphere with a buzzing café/restaurant/bar scene. Food and drink prices are excellent compared to the UK. It also appears the Stag Night packs haven’t discovered it yet. We would recommend for a 3 night break any time (EasyJet fly there).

One thing we can't quite understand is the chalk and cheese difference that exists between Serbia and Croatia as they both became independent out of the old Yugoslavia at virtually the same time. Answers on a postcard please.

Can’t believe we’re through the half-way stage now as we edge ever closer back to Western Europe proper. Just Slovenia to go from the old Eastern block and we depart for the capital Ljubljana in the morning.

Just a final note for our friends and blog followers John and Rose East who are emigrating to Belize next Tuesday. Wishing you good luck and every success with your new life in Central America. Keep following.

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Dave P on

Croatia is a true gem which in most parts remains undiscovered by Brits. It's beautiful, will try Zagreb myself!! Was going to wish JE good luck on his new life but see I'm a bit behind the times, it's already wednesday!!

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