Sunday, 7 September 2014

Croatia: Chapter 3 - Zagreb

Hello Campers

After a good night out for my birthday yesterday I am surprisingly awake and perky this morning! Perhaps being ill and therefore home asleep all of the previous day builds up a surplice of sleep to cushion the blow of a night out followed by little and poor quality sleep? Either way I am glad of it. Thanks to everyone who came and sorry for being late (I may be older but apparently no more punctual).

Back to Croatia.

The questionable bus stop prevailed and a few hours later we were in the capitol city. Zagreb has trams everywhere so we took one to our accommodation. While on the tram there was no obvious way to pay and everyone we saw merely got on and sat down so we did the same. Later we were told you have to buy a ticket from a kiosk and they spot check but how were we meant to know that?

One of the walls
Our hostel was lovely and every wall was covered in a mural of some kind. I also don't think I've ever had such an enthusiastic explanation of a city! The lady behind the front desk animatedly explained the good places to visit, who several "dude on a horse" statues were (her words not mine) and the local tale of a wicked queen. Upon her recommendation we went to a local restaurant for lunch and ordered the "Zagreb Steak" which is confusingly not steak at all! What arrived at our table was a whole turkey breast that had been stuffed with ham and cheese then coated with breadcrumb and fried! It was a love child of a schnitzel and a kiev. We noted that the place had a microbrewery attached to it and wanted to try it. We also noted that they had those individual beer taps for your table. So in keeping with the ridiculous portion size of the Zagreb steak we had 3L of mictrobrew in our own tap to wash it down!
Concentrating hard

We probably arrived at the restaurant at about 3.30 intending to grab something moderately quick then go and explore the city. When we finished the beer a casual glance at the time told us we had been there 3 hours. Ooops.

We still pottered into town. Maybe pottered isn't quite the right verb. At one point Ami decided she was going to skip through the flowers so perhaps gambled is more appropriate? After ticking off some of the things to see from our list we found a little chic coffee and wine bar and had a lovely glass of locally produced white. It was odd to have the smell of coffee all around you while drinking wine but everywhere in Croatia seemed to sell coffee, anything other than coffee was not to be expected which left us perplexed on several occasions. Why do places open in the morning only serve coffee and not breakfast? Why will the bakery not sell coffee and the coffee house not sell cake? Is this an English thing to want coffee and food simultaneously? It was very frustrating.

That evening, or was it the next? Hang on. No I think it was that evening, we went for a few drinks. We found a lovely hipster cocktail bar and sat at the back playing cards for a while. We asked the waitress (because bars have waitresses that bring you your order and a bill rather than you going to the bar and paying upfront) where was good to go next for a dance and she sent us looking for another place. We wandered about for a while without finding it but on the way we found something very similar to archies in Manchester but with huge pizza slices instead of burgers. Despite it being bright and white and pink a quick slice of pizza renewed our search for this place.

We found it and was told it was empty which we thought was odd for 11.30. The bouncers said it probably wouldn't get busy till about 1am and the barman was even more pessimistic estimating 2am and even then not very busy. So with the club to ourselves we explored and found a pole tantalisingly separated from us behind a velvet rope. 2 minutes later we were playing about doing tricks having a great time in our private bar until we were told that was the VIP area and we couldn't be in there. Protestations at there not being any one else there to deprive were ignored and we moved to a more comfortable but boring place to sit.

At 12.30 we decided we didn't want to wait for it to get busy so left to get a taxi home. While explaining where we wanted to go to a taxi another woman got in it and the driver left saying he had called another taxi for us! So the second taxi comes that had been called for us and two lads jump in it and it drives away! There are no other taxis now and Ami got a little angry. It was hilarious. Do you remember how jigglypuff was when it got angry that everyone fell asleep at its song? It was just like that.

So jigglypuff and I started the walk home. Up until now I had not been attempting to navigate as when they were handing out senses of direction I must have not been paying attention. But after a while and having recognised nothing I started to question jiggly's judgement. After consulting a map and correcting course we managed to get back to bed.

The next morning, de-puffed, Ami and I rented bikes and intended to cycle to Medvedgrad castle that was 15km outside the city. Sounds easy right? They told us that it was up a slight hill but the views would be amazing and the restaurant was good at the top. Two of those were false. For the first hour we cycled along merrily enjoying the sunshine and the breeze until it started to get a little steep. Then it got steeper. Then it got ridiculously steep. Then we came across an unexpected hairpin in the road which made us realise we were on the wrong road! Our nice simple journey of "just go straight" was now a rather complicated mix of garbled instructions from a friendly local who took pity on the poor sweaty tourists.

We contemplated going back to where we went wrong but decided to press on not wanting to lose the hard work we used climbing up this far. So up we went... and up.... and up.... and up. The roads got so steep it was impossible to ride and we pushed the bikes. Do you know what feels like the heaviest thing in the world? A bike going up an incline. Many more bruises from hitting the peddles later we seemed to plateau in a little village. Thinking we were nearly there and spurred on with the thoughts of the food and the view we kept going. A little while later we met some local walkers who told us the castle was at least another 2k away! I was running on empty now and the last hour of climb was spent humming the alphabet just to have a rhythm to move my feet to.

Finally we got to the castle!! There was no one at the ticket office so we wandered in and found a peculiar man sitting on the wall who proclaimed himself to be the ticket man. We asked where the food was and rushed (as best we could with no energy left) to find it. What did we find? A vending machine. That was it. No restaurant, no cafe, not even a sad sandwich.

After our banquet of crisps, biscuits, chocolate and cola we explored the castle. Yes the view was amazing and we could see how far we had come! So our earlier information about the view, food and incline had a tiny bit of truth in it. Bits of the castle were rubble but other parts were intact like the well where the wicked queen drew water so as not to be poisoned by her subjects, a small chapel and a tower. At the chapel I startled a grasshopper who in turn startled Ami as he flew into her face. The tower had many floors however each passage to reach them was poorly lit and had little alcoves that could be hiding any number of scary things. So with imaginations fueled by exhaustion we decided not to risk the dark corridors.

We headed back out of the castle relieved to be out of sight to the caretaker/ticket man who had silently followed us round the site. He did not help dispel our fabricated phantoms and contributed to the overall eeriness of the place.

We were now late to return the bikes and still on a mountain. Walking up we had seen many people biking down the mountain in special streamlined helmets and Lycra suits however we had neither the skill not the helmets of these bikers so we gingerly started down the hill with the brakes protesting the whole way. This was terrifying! But in a different way to the spooky castle so at least we were mixing it up with fear genres?

We reached the little village again and decided it wasn't safe for us to continue like this and our only option was to find a taxi that could take 2 girls and 2 bikes. We found a taxi rank and one taxi pulled up. It was a tiny car suitable for the area's hills and he seemed more bemused than anything upon encountering us. He informed us there was nothing big enough to take the bikes in their entire fleet but he was trying to contact another company that had a minivan. Isn't that sweet?

Meanwhile I spotted a large old volvo with a taxi sign on it and jumped on it. Well not literally. The driver said he was already booked but he would be back in 10 minutes. I had as much faith in him returning as I did spontaneously sprouting wings and flying myself back. However I should not have been so quick to judge and he did indeed come back! The other taxi man even helped us maneuver the bikes in!

It's hard to look majestic with a pigeon on your head
We had been told to call the bike rental guy when we got back so he could come and pick the bikes up but as we were so late he was there waiting for us when our taxi swung round the corner and saw we had crammed his bikes into the back of an old volvo. Embarrassing.

A gloriously welcome shower later we were starving and went out and found possibly the best burger I have ever had, or maybe I was just that hungry!

The next morning we had some time to see some more of the city we missed spending too long drinking beer on the first day. We found the large cathedral, some gold figures and a cute market. After a little confusion on how to get back to the hostel (why doesn't the number 8 tram run if its on the map?!) we were back on the tram (with tickets this time) to the bus depot to start our long journey all the way to Dubrovnik.