Tag Archives: Croatia

Zagreb – a City of Contrasts

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We’ve been to Croatia before – in 2011 – but didn’t get as far as Zagreb so it’s been on my list for a while. We mainly visited the coast: Split, Dubrovnik (with an excursion into Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina), Zadar, Sibenik and Plitvice Lakes (which is one of my top sites in the world) and Pula and Porec in Istria. We then went to Ljubljana, which I loved so it’s a bit frustrating to be whizzing through Slovenia on the motorway without stopping especially as the sun’s come out.

Whizzing past typical Slovenian countryside on the motorway
Whizzing past typical Slovenian countryside on the motorway

We’re staying two nights in an apartment in Zagreb because there are practically no hotels in the centre. Parking also seems to be a problem but there is a cheap covered parking lot less than 10 minutes walk from the apartment which is another 10 minute walk in the other direction from the historical centre.

Our view from the little balcony of our apartment
Our view from the little balcony of our apartment

This is not Italy as far as apartments go, but it’s not the same price either. In Arqua Petrarca, we paid 100 euro a night against 66 euro here. Our Aba Zagreb apartment is spacious and clean (except for the windows), the bed is comfortable, the shower head needs soaking in vinegar to unplug the clogged holes, the floor between the bedroom and bathroom is warped and cracks at night when you walk on it and there is only two or three of everything (cups, plates, etc.) but otherwise it’s fine because we have our own vegetable peeler, kitchen knives and bread knife. I’m not quite sure how the apartment got it’s 9+ rating on booking.com!

Zagreb at dusk
Zagreb at dusk

By the time we get settled, it’s dusk so we make for the old town. I always find that a bit of an adjustment is needed when we enter a former eastern block country because of the many contrasts between old and new, delapidated and renovated. Zagreb is no exception The historical centre is appealing though and we have a glass of wine near the market. – the glasses are 0.10 l and there are no nibbles to go with them. Next to us, a dozen or so young women are obviously celebrating something and have a photographer with them.

Maybe a hens' party?
Maybe a hens’ party?

We make a mistake about dinner and end up paying 60 euro in a restaurant recommended by Le Routard (Balthazar) as being “medium priced” and serving local dishes. My entrée is frankly awful but Jean Michel has delicious pasta and freshly picked boletus mushrooms. We then have a small entrecôte with grilled vegetables accompanied by a house wine.

The "café" street, Tklaciceva
The “café” street, Tklaciceva

It’s next morning and we start with a cappuccino in the “café” street , Tklaciceva, which was once a river separating the Kaptol and Gradec quarters.

The first female journalist in Croatia, Marija Juric Zagorka, 1887-1957
The first female journalist in Croatia, Marija Juric Zagorka, 1887-1957
I love this little café
I love this little café which seems to have grown out of the wall
A house and chapel just next to the cathedral
A house and chapel just next to the cathedral hidden behind an iron fence
Zagreb cathedral
Zagreb cathedral

We go back to Zagreb Cathedral to visit the inside. It has led a chequered existence and was once at the mercy of the Ottaman invaders, which explains the towers on each side which are part of a fortified wall , the front part of which has been demolished.

The buildings on the other side of the cathedral square
The buildings on the other side of the cathedral square
Comparison of renovation and non-renovation
Comparison of renovation and non-renovation

We return to Dolac market and are surprised to see so many local producers selling their own fruit and vegetables, We buy some figs, grapes and green beans from three different vendors.

Dolac market
Dolac market

We find a place for lunch called Nokturno that costs a quarter of last night’s meal and is just as satisfactory. It’s certainly “local” in any case.

Markov Church
We Markov Church

We walk up the hill to Saint Mark’s with Parliament House on one side and Ban Palace on the other. Something is going on. There is a TV reporter and a small group of demonstrators. I hear the word “discrimination”. We go in search of a wrought-iron gate mentioned in our guide book and designed by Herman Bollé. Just then a downpour begins and we duck under a porch. The weather forecast said overcast but no rain so we don’t have an umbrella. Sigh.

The wrought iron gate designed by Herman Bollé
The wrought iron gate designed by Herman Bollé
Sweet corn sellers at the end of Tkalciceva street
Sweet corn sellers at the end of Tkalciceva street

We make a dash for a café and have an espresso while waiting for the rain to stop. We talk about our next destination. This morning we had decided to drive to Split on the Adriatic and take the ferry across to Ancona in Italy, because of the current immigrant problems and the large number of border controls being restored in this part of the world but we now think we should go to Serbia anyway and resume our cycling itinerary along the Danube.


The outside of our apartment building
The outside of our apartment building

We go home and check the weather forecast. We learn that the temperatures are going down in most places along the Danube in this area over the next few days, then going up again next week. So we book a hotel for a night on the Danube in Belgrade for an astonishing 31.50 euro. The Serbian capital is only about 3 hours away so we’ll be able to cycle along the river and visit Belgrade by bike in the afternoon then move on further the next day, perhaps to Vidin where it’s supposed to be warm and sunny. Keep tuned!

My Croatian Itinerary – Part 1: Paris to Milan

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Apéritif to accompany the travel diary

Now that we’ve given up spontaneous travelling and plan our itinerary practically down to the last detail, we spend a lot of time pouring over guide books. Or rather, Relationnel does, because I do the bookings (much more productive in English because you have a greater choice) and then once the holiday has begun, I do the talking because Relationnel’s capacity in this respect is somewhat limited. He keeps reading the guide books. And we both write up our (French) travel diary over our daily apéritif, one of the best moments of the day!

Our travel diary

Once I had convinced him into going to Croatia and Slovenia, we bought an enormous map of Europe to determine how to get there and back by car. There was no really obvious route, so in the end, we decided to go across Italy and take the ferry at Ancona on the Adriatic Coast across to Split in Croatia then come back overland via Germany. The next step was to see how we would divide up our 28 days. We have discovered that, on the whole, it’s very tiring to change places too often so we usually alternate 2 and 3-day stays. We also try to keep the journey time to a maximum of 3 hours after a 2-night stay and 5 hours after a 3-night stay. Relationnel does most of the driving.

Lake Annecy

The most important booking was the ferry, because that would determine everything else. Another thing we like to do is to start the trip with 3 days somewhere in France where we can wind down and get plenty of rest and exercise before moving onto the more serious stuff. Annecy looked like a good choice, after an overnight stay in Dijon to see family. The photos of the lake in our cycling book looked very enticing. As we’d never been to Milan, we decided that would be our second stop for 2 nights before going to Ancona.

View from the window of our room

So I found a B&B about a half an hour from Annecy at a short distance from Thones. It was a cosy little wooden chalet, the owners were very friendly and helpful, we had a little kitchen to cook meals in if we wanted to and a small dining room to eat them in. There was free WIFI and the breakfast was excellent. The B&B is up on top of a hill with some lovely forest walks and views. Unfortunately, despite the fact it was mid-July the weather was cold and rainy and we were somewhat restricted in our cycling excursions as a result. But I can definitely recommend both the area and the accommodation. We had visited Annecy before, but we enjoyed going back again.

Umbrellas in Annecy

We then took the Mont Blanc tunnel to Italy. A word of warning – make sure you get there early – not like us – or you’ll find yourself in a long queue, particularly in the summer. It took us an hour of stopping and starting before we were finally able to take the extravagantly expensive 11.6 km long tunnel (38 euros one way, 49 return). It was 10°C when we left Thones and 31°C when we came out the other side of the tunnel. A rude shock!

Castello de la Sarre

We looked for somewhere to picnic. I personally think the food on the Italian motorways is awful. They have a funny system for buying things as well. First, you have to line up at a cash desk to pay for what you want to eat and drink, then you take your tickets over to the bar and line up again. You obviously have to know exactly what you want (and know how to say it, which is worse) or someone else will push in front of you. That’s why I had cleverly packed a picnic. They also have toilets with an automatic chain which I haven’t quite mastered yet. The cappuccino‘s good!

View from Castello de la Sarre

Just as we came out of Aosta, which we’ve visited several times in the past and is definitely worth a detour, I saw a beautiful castle high up on the hill on the left and decided we’d have lunch there. We followed the signs to Castello de la Sarre and parked at the bottom. We staggered out in the heat, planting our hats firmly on our heads and walked up the path, oohing and aahing at the view on the way up. We found a lovely shady spot at one end with the most spectacular panorama in front of us. We practically had the place to ourselves.

We left reluctantly, but Milan and further adventures were awaiting us!

Patricia et Rémi, Chalet Les Lupins, La Clossette Glapigny, F – 74230 THONES
Tel:    +33 (0) 450 63 19 96, email: chaletleslupins@orange.fr, http://www.francealpes.com 
(65 curos / night for 2)

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Cycling in Croatia

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When I first talked to Relationnel about cycling in Croatia, he was most dubious. It’s full of mountains. But in the end, he agreed and we started organising the trip. I love cycling when I travel because I think you go at just the right pace. You aren’t stuck with the other tourists in the town centre and you’re able to experience places you wouldn’t get to in a car. You ride through the suburbs and out into the countryside. You see into people’s back yards and can observe them in their everyday lives. One of the things I noticed most in Croatia, for example, was that you always saw older people with babies and small children in their arms. You rarely see that in France. Babies are usually in prams.

Our first cycling experience in Croatia was perfect. We had found a very handy appartment on the western side of Split, with a cycle path along the road leading directly to Marjan Hill which is on a peninsula and closed to cars. The first, very easy circuit around the hill took us past breathtaking views of the coast. We had stupidly not taken our swimsuits so couldn’t cool off in the many little inlets like the Croatians for whom it was obviously a popular family outing. When we completed the circle we saw a second path leading further up the hill. We looked at each other and decided the view would be worth the effort. It was a long hard steady climb but I actually made it without having to get off my bike. There was a marvellous lookout up the top which literally gave us a 360° view.  We made the most of it with our trusty binoculars. The ride was only 20 K but took longer than we expected. We arrived back in Split as the sun was setting.

No possibility of cycling in Dubrovnik, although it was one of our favourite venues, but Zadar would have been perfect if I hadn’t picked up the famous turista from eating suspect prawns in Dubrovnik. The paths around the spectacular lakes and waterfalls at Plitvicka were not accessible to bikes so we walked. I definitely recommend going in the morning. While I was still recovering from my turista, Relationnel did the lower lakes, by far the most beautiful, in 2 hours in single file in the late afternoon. When I decided to make up for lost time two days later, we started at 10 am and  it only took a little over an hour! The site is quite magical and the colours unbelievable.

The next stop was the peninsula of Istria. There was a cycling route around our hotel but it didn’t look very interesting so we found another circuit outside Pula with its magnificent amphitheatre. We started out at the Marina and tried to follow the signs but it was not always easy. There were often steep hills and lots of stones. But the views were certainly worth it. There are very few beaches in Croatia but they have lots of little “landings” everywhere so that you can get in and out the water. During the ride, I had spied what looked like a beach but was really like an amphitheatre with the steps going down into the water so we came back by car after our siesta to have a late afternoon swim, wearing the special shoes we’d bought the day before to stop your feet getting cut on the rocks. Afterwards we sat and watched everyone pack up and leave. The whole “beach” was covered with deck chairs that all had to be put away and chained together. There were even two changing tents that were folded up and stored in the bar across the road.

Then we went on to Slovenia, but that’s another story that I’ve already told.

Apartman Riva
Branimirova Obala 6
+385 (0)98 937 0942
Antonela Cmrlec
Matko Jelic
Apartmani Lipa
Plitvice Selo 62
Stanislav Mihinjac
385(0)53 891 0386
385(0)98 389 492 (mobile)
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