We left Hungary and made our way to Croatia to accomplish two things: leave the Schengen Area and relax among the many vacation towns. While traveling through Europe, we have been in the Schengen zone the whole time. This area includes pretty much all of Europe except for Ireland, the UK, and some of Eastern Europe. Since we are backpacking without travel visas, we can only be in each area for 90 days before leaving and returning: 90 days in the Schengen, 90 days out. Lucky for us, Croatia is out of the Schengen area and we planned to spend a large amount of time there to help us prolong our trip.
We left Lake Balaton and started our strange journey by train into Croatia. We sat down in our 2nd class seats and when our tickets were checked, the conductor told us that this part of the train would disconnect and not travel past international boarders. We got up, hauled our backpacks and gear to the back of the train to find that there were tons of riders and very few seats. Emily grabbed the last remaining open seat on the train while Abby and I sat in the connection compartment between train cars. We weren’t the only ones hanging out in this uncomfortable spot, though, as we met a few girls from Denmark and Great Britain.
We crossed the boarder into Croatia, came to a stop in the first town, and had a long wait ahead of us. I was sitting on the steps in the connection area and the doors opened on both sides. Police officers stood guard to make sure no one hopped off or on. The Hungarian police came through first, stamping our passports to document that we were now leaving the Schengen area. Thinking that was it, we continued to sit and wait in the horrible heat (lucky for Emily, she was in the air conditioned train car). Following another long wait, another officer approached and yelled, “Croatian Police, passports!” We sat and waited our turn as they checked every passenger on the train. Once he got to us, signifying the rest of the train and letting every passenger, cat, dog and outsider know, he yelled, “Americans, here!” Since we are not EU citizens, we must have stamps and documentation done a little differently. We had a good laugh and our friends from Denmark and the UK said, “Well, that was a little much, right?!” We explained our situation and they had no idea, being EU citizens, that Americans had to follow a different procedure while traveling. After what seemed like hours, the train fired up again and we were on our way through Croatia.
The train to Zagreb had railway construction on one small part of the track, so we had to exit our train at one station about 45 minutes from Zagreb, hop on a bus and take that to the following village. Once there, we exited the bus, got back on a new train and made our final approach to Zagreb. To say the least, Abby and I were especially relieved to be done with the transportation to the capital of Croatia.
We stepped off the train and were immediately hit with a rush of blistering heat from a heatwave that was supposed to be around for about a week. We made our way to our Air B&B, climbed the many flights up (top floor, again) and kicked back to relax. Zagreb is a smaller city, one that many of our friends told us could be seen in two days so we were excited to be able to spend five days there and not have to rush to see anything and just relax. Kornel and Petra wore us out during our time in Lake Balaton sight seeing, drinking, shopping, swimming…so we were more than happy to do nothing. Little did we know, we wouldn’t have a choice but to do just that.
When we arrived, we unpacked and immediately went to the grocery store for necessities: food, beer and snacks. We made it back to our place and posted up for the night, playing Mario Kart on Wii, watching Netflix and excited to sleep in. The following day, we got ready to head out of our apartment when our key broke, locking us IN! In Hungary and Croatia, it is common that doors do not have latches or switches, but instead could only be locked by key: going in or out. We immediately called our host and she gave us two options. We could have the locksmith come and break us out while replacing the locks and handle, which we would have to pay for. Or she could send the key by bus from the Croatian coast, since she was away and hanging out on the beach. We decided to go the cheap way and have her send the key by bus so that her friend could bring it to us and unlock the door. The only problem with the bus delivery is that we would have to wait for the bus to arrive, which would be about 8-10 hours later. So, lucky for us, we had plenty of beer and food, Netflix, and Wii to keep us entertained until our key arrived ahead of schedule hours later. At least we got our wish, we had no choice but to relax!
We had plenty of time to ready ourselves to go out that night, so as soon as we heard the door jingling and her friend let us out we celebrated, did a quick jig, and slipped our shoes on to head out on the town in Zagreb for our first time. We made our way downtown and found a local restaurant off the beaten path where we tried some traditional Croatian food, which is heavily influenced by Italian food. Abby and I had some different types of seafood risotto while Emily had a tuna and pasta dish. After supper we began to explore the old town of Zagreb and wound up finding an Irish bar with pretty good live music and delicious beers. We had a great time listening to the music and people watching, when it all of a sudden began to rain. We went in to the bar and decided to wait out the rain. Drink after drink, we finally stumbled home around 3 am and were relieved to open and lock that door that had kept us pent up like lab rats for nearly six hours.
When having drinks at the Irish bar, we made a plan to stay in all day and go out in the evenings after it had cooled off. This was supposed to be the hottest week of the summer, so we all agreed without a problem. After some Netflix and lunch, we made our way out to another part of Zagreb’s old town to do more sightseeing. We visited St. Mark’s Church, upper town, and stumbled on an awesome park that was lit up with all kinds of lights, an outside theater down the hill, lots of art and live music. A couple drinks later and some art gawking, we made our way back to the stretch of bars a short walk away. We tried a few places and of course, ended at the Irish bar for more live music and a night cap before walking our familiar 20 minute stroll home.
Unfortunately, Zagreb is not on the coast like many of the large cities of Croatia. However, they do have a large lake for water sports and public swimming. We took the tram for a ride and went to Lake Jarun for some swimming and cooling off. It was well deserved after suffering through the heat the previous few days. After a nice dip, some drinks and a tram ride back we made some late supper and laid down for some more Netflix and bed.
Our last full day arrived and we spent our Saturday finishing our sightseeing and wandering Zagreb. It happened to be a holiday, Victory Day, and the town seemed to be more alive than all the previous days. We bounced around from different bars and locations throughout Zagreb celebrating a holiday we knew nothing about. A city that many said was one that you could do quickly was a nice change, taking it day by day and being able to get our “work” done; Netflix, Wii and blogs. Zagreb was an easy city, one you could definitely see in a couple days, but we were glad to have the time to catch up with friends, sleep, blogs and plan our next trip to the coast to Zadar.