The Food, Fun, and Foibles of a First-Time Europe Traveler

Croatia

Zagreb Day 2: Long lines, flowers, and a Croatian from San Pedro

Me, Hanna, and a Metal Croatian Poet

Because we had gone to sleep at 9:30 the night before, we woke up early (about 7:45) and lounged around for a while. We took the tram into the heart of the city (Zagreb has a “free zone” where you can hop on and off trams without paying…very convenient).

Much more crowded than Halloween.

We pulled up to Ban Jelacica Square and immediately saw a huge line of people. Now when I say huge, I mean HUGE. Like extending for blocks and blocks. We were obviously curious, and decided to go to the front and see what the fuss was about.

The line ended at a bus stop. We looked at the people in the line and noticed that most of them had flowers or candles, and we put two and two together. Turns out the bus was going to the town’s biggest cemetery and people were going to pay their respects. It seems as if that while in America and Canada we celebrate Halloween, Croatians celebrate the day after Halloween…I think it’s called All Souls Day or something like that.

It was cool to be part of a tradition, but we soon realized that it was actually a national holiday. Because of that, everything we wanted to go to was closed. We peeked our head into the huge cathedral next to the bus stop, but there was a mass going on so we didn’t want to intrude. We spent the rest of the day looking at the outside of several buildings and enjoying the view from atop the old town.

We saw the town theater, which featured this cool statue on the outside. We also got to see St. Mark’s Cathedral, which had this strange tiling on the roof that was very unique and interesting.

Interesting, if not a bit pre-schoolish.

Other than that we kind of walked around, avoiding piercing stares and scowls from Croatians, and we picked up some food for dinner (salami, cheese, the usual).

We went to lunch at a restaurant in the square and were waited on by someone who grew up in San Pedro, California (small world). Then we decided to call it a day. We were back at the hostel by 3 pm, bored out of our minds. We booked our hotel in Vienna, watched some music videos, and goofed around on the internet for a while.

It was pretty clear that we had seen all we wanted to see of Croatia. We told the receptionist that we were heading to Vienna and she said, “oooh, romantic” so we were optimistic about our next destination. The receptionist was actually very nice and outgoing, but Hanna’s convinced she wasn’t Croatian.

 


Opatija Day 2: Die Antwoord and Steven Segal

Mmmmm...dinner.

Day 2 in Opatija was another relax day. We woke up around 9 to make sure we got the breakfast that was included in our rate. It was an American-style breakfast with sausages and eggs, along with the standard cold meats and cheese and croissants. I didn’t realize how much I missed good old-fashioned scrambled eggs until I gobbled down some (with cheese and ham) in about five minutes.

We went back up to the room and lounged around for a while. We were right on the water, so decided to take a stroll down. Oddly enough, there was randomly a free public WiFi spot right on the “beach”, which is actually just concrete steps that lead to the ocean. The only sand was clearly imported by oceanfront restaurants to create the illusion of a beach.

So I took the opportunity to post some articles while Hanna did some exploring. She returned with some roasted chestnuts and popcorn (I should have known) so we snacked on those while I finished up posting.

After that we walked along the water around the city, which seemed to be an area akin to Orange County in California. We got the sense that this is where Croatians and Eastern Italians came for vacation during the summer. During the fall it wasn’t so crowded, so it was pretty nice.

Before lunch, we picked up some stuff for dinner (to be sure we got something before the stores closed), and I was continually amazed at how cheap the beer was. I picked up two half-liter cans (which was not even close to the largest size they had), each of which cost about 6 kuna, less than one euro.

We ate lunch at the same Italian place we had gone for dinner the night before (we didn’t want to press our luck with another Croatian restaurant), where we split a pizza and, of course, I had another “big beer”…6 euro total. Not bad for lunch.

We went back to the hotel, vegged for a while and ate our dinner while we were entertained by one of the strangest music videos we have ever seen.

After that a Steven Segal movie came on so I watched and Hanna went to bed. The next day we were off to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, where we hoped to absorb a little more Croatian culture.

 


Opatija Day 1: Schmeck? Schmeck?

If only the people were as nice as the scenery.

The previous night we had set our alarm to get up at 8:30 so that we could make sure we had time to check out and get some food before catching the 10:00 train from Venice to Trieste (from there we would take a bus to Opatija, Croatia). I woke up to go to the bathroom, which in turn woke Hanna up. When I got back to the bed, Hanna calmly mentioned, “It’s 9:30.”

Suddenly it hit us that our train was leaving in half an hour, so we scrambled to get our stuff together as we wondered how our alarm could have not gone off. Finally we had everything packed and we were trying to figure out when the next train was (just in case we missed the 10 am), when I picked up my watch. I looked at it quickly, then did a double-take. “Um…my watch says it’s 8:45.”

We did some detective work and figured out that when she checked the time, Hanna had somehow hit the “Summertime” button on our alarm clock, which immediately moves the time forward an hour. Therefore the clock thought that the alarm had already gone off and we were left helplessly confused.

So we were on schedule after all, and our errant hustle allowed us to have a leisurely breakfast before heading to the train station.

We arrived in Trieste and found the bus station immediately across the street from the train station. There we bought our tickets to Opatija, Croatia. Hanna was excited, since it would be her first time in the country where her grandfather was born. Our only concern was that, once in Opatija, we would have some difficulty finding the hotel since we had no idea where the bus was going to drop us off.

Buying the tickets was easy and cheap (14 euro for both), and we boarded a bus full of Croatians apparently heading home. The bus ride was basically through a bunch of windy mountain roads (which made Hanna incredibly excited), and about an hour into our trek we arrived at the Croatian border. Since we entered France from England, we had not had to show our passports once, but we saw all the Croat veterans on the bus taking theirs out so we followed suit. Apparently since Croatia isn’t in the European Union, you have to show passports going in and out.

So we waited at the stop for a while, when suddenly an intimidating officer in a beret, complete with a gun on his hip, hopped aboard. He didn’t look very friendly and we quickly became concerned that he would have some questions about why a couple from Canada and the United States would be visiting Croatia. He looked at us sternly (our introduction to the cold, icy demeanor of the Croats) and said, “Destination.”

I shuddered with fear and spaced on the name, but luckily Hanna was there to save the day. “Opatija and then Zagreb,” she said with a smile. The smile was not returned, but he did give us Croatian stamps on our passports, which is pretty cool.

From there it was about an hour to Opatija, where we were unloaded at a bus stop right near the ocean. We were worried about finding our hotel until we saw a sign saying “Hotel Opatija” with an arrow pointing to the left. We looked over our shoulder and our hotel couldn’t have been more than 200 feet away. Well, that was easy.

We checked in and then got some lunch from an oceanside restaurant. We had been warned through online hotel comments that Opatija was a “tourist trap”, so we were expecting lofty prices. When we looked at the menu we were flabbergasted by a series of 60’s and 80’s. We soon realized that they don’t use the euro but instead use the kuna, which is about 1/7 the value of a euro. So after the conversions the stuff turned out to be pretty cheap after all.

The waitress was incredibly strange and pushy. She didn’t speak much English, but mumbled something about fish right after we sat down and then disappeared. She returned with a plate full of raw, whole seafood. There was a fish, some prawns, and some calamari, which she proceeded to pick up with her bare hands and put onto a separate plate while mumbling, “This good…this very good…this nice.” We mentioned that we weren’t in the mood for seafood and would just like to order some meat off of the menu, to which she responded by looking at an old, Croatian woman who was eating at the table behind us, mumbling something in Croatian and punctuating it with the familiar, “Jesus!”

We were very confused, but we ordered and got the correct food (with some “on the house” additions that mysteriously appeared on our bill at the end), and it was actually decent. I ordered a beer and it came in a gigantic ½ liter mug, which would be a very pleasant trend throughout our stay in Croatia J. Every once in a while, our waitress would return and say hurriedly, “Schmeck? Schmeck? Good? Good?”

Obviously “Schmeck?” became our mantra throughout Croatia. We got our bill for 225 kuna, which was weird but converts to about 30 bucks. Schmeck.