The train ride from Vienna to Villach was one of the prettiest I’ve ever taken. We went through the mountains with pretty little towns down below and ruins of castles perched on cliffs and the whole time had our faces pressed against the windows being the lame tourist who take pictures from moving vehicles! But it didn’t matter it was so pretty. Once we got into Villach we were starving, so we bought pastries and more coffee before boarding the train again. When we realized we would have to go another five hours without food Janice made a mad dash back to the bakery to pick up some more supplies! Europe has certainly not been good for my coffee habit – I now drink coffee all the time – whoops!
We crossed through Slovenia (mostly passing through rougher neighbourhoods of cities and little farming communities before stopping at the Croat border to go through customs, which took ages and delayed us by forty minutes. We finally arrived in Zagreb and followed our host’s instructions to her house, which were very clear until we were supposed to get off the tram and cross the bridge. Of course there were multiple bridges going in different directions and we chose the wrong one. It took almost an hour for us to get sorted out and meet our host, Ivana, and we had a chuckle about running around in circles just missing each other multiple times.
It turned out that Ivana had a cold and had an exam the next week, so we only had a place to stay for two nights. We decided we would head down to the coast for a couple days before heading back into Slovenia. The next morning we headed downtown and explored for a couple hours – the food and wine market, the flower market, the vegetable market (yay markets!) as well as the Cathedral and main square. Then we met up with Pam, another couchsurfer who had offered to show us around the city. She took us on a fabulous tour and explained the history of the city – one side of the river had the religious community and the other the merchant community and they used to fight on the bridges till the water ran red. She also told us all about the problems in Croatian politics with corruption (the former Prime Minister is currently in jail) and showed us some very pretty architecture. We accidentally ended up following around a photoshoot of a group of guys who may or may not have been in band… and then we stumbled upon the filming of a political documentary (we think) so we escaped to the safety of the Museum of Broken Relationships. It was named one of the best museums in Europe in 2010 and was a really interesting experience. Some of the stories were funny – a present from an inconsiderate boyfriend led to the breakup, or the guy who made huge paper mache breasts and wanted his girlfriend to wear them (she dumped him) but many were sad – a woman whose husband was stabbed in front of her. It was all incredibly interesting to be able to peer into those aspects of other people’s lives.
After the museum, Pam invited us back to her house for lunch. Her mother had prepared this huge meal using things they mostly grew themselves. We had roast chicken, roast pork, crackling, cevapici (little ground meat sausages sans casing), grilled vegetables, bean salad and a red pepper relish that was renowned among their friends and family. Everything was delicious! We mentioned to Pam that we were heading to the coast the next day and she suggested we check out Zadar and then immediately emailed a friend of hers to see if we could stay with him (he said yes) and then she gave us a crash course in Croatian! She was definitely one of the loveliest people I’ve met and I sincerely hope I get the chance to spend more time with her in the future.
On our way home we tried to stop at a grocery store near Ivana’s house to pick up some stuff to make dinner, but as we found out multiple times in Croatia, the Croats are slightly directionally challenged. Signs are often misplaced or incorrect and people will send you in the exact opposite direction of where you’re aiming. So we went back to Ivana’s and google mapped the store before trying again (and succeeding this time!) We had a lovely dinner with Ivana and her roommates and then settled down for the night. Onto Plitvice and Zadar in the morning!