My Croatian Honeymoon Pt. 1: Zagreb & Plitvice National Park

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Oh, the places you’ll go.

I know, I know, I know. I haven’t exactly been timely here with my Croatian honeymoon recap. But, if you will, throw me a freakin’ bone. In the last month, I’ve been settling in to my new Philly home, my new Philly job and, generally speaking, an entirely new Philly life. I can’t say I’m there yet, but it’s all about baby steps Pholks. In the City of Brotherly Love, I’m learning to take it one day at a time.

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(This was actually written on the wall in Zagreb. I learned things there.)

So… about Croatia.

I guess the first thing to address is, how did Noah and I even choose Croatia to begin with?

Knowing we were moving out of New York City and that we’d likely be able to get away for a semi-substantial amount of time, we toyed with a bunch of different ideas.

Thailand was on the list, but after traveling to South Africa late last year, I decided I couldn’t deal with the time warp and crazy long flights again (as fun as the trip was).

An American road trip was on the list, but then we realized how stupid it’d be to spend half our honeymoon cooped up in a car.

Turkey… Italy… Greece. The list goes on and on.

So, like most rational people, I turned to Google for the answer.

“Google,” I asked. “What’s the most beautiful place in the world?”

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This is what Google came up with. (Though this one is my photo — not Sir Search Engine’s.)

Turns out this heavenly expanse of lush forest is located in northern Croatia. A few weeks later, we were booked to fly into Zagreb, the cheapest way into the country from New York and, coincidentally, only a two-hour drive from Plitvice National Park. Done.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First stop, Zagreb airport.

June 10th: New York to London to Zagreb

Noah and I flew out of New York on Monday June 9th and arrived in Zagreb around noon on the 10th. After renting a golf cart car and navigating our way into the city centar (no really, center in Croatia is simply “centar“), we dropped off our bags in the hotel and ventured out to do the whole tourist thing. Here are a few of the highlights from that first, somewhat frazzled day.

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(Looks like a golf cart. Drives like a golf cart.)

Hotel Jagerhorn

We stayed in the Hotel Jagerhorn, which was just perfect for what we needed. Clean room, check. Central location, check. Good shower pressure, check. Best of all, the hotel was located at the bottom of a giant set of outdoor stairs that leads up to this adorable market and beer garden-type thing. If you’re in Zagreb, just search for Strossmartre.

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This is an awesome hilltop bar, and after dinner, that’s where we’d go to drink Ozujsko, the Croatian beer, and relax.

IMG_4645 Hemingway Bar

I was starving by the time we walked out of our hotel at noon, not to mention in dire need of veggies (I tend to overload on salt when flying). First stop, Hemingway Bar, which our travel book (we used Lonely Planet) said had great cocktails. That’s kind of like a salad. Anyway, since we weren’t quite on the market for an alcoholic drink (yet), we instead ordered two cappuccinos, a prosciutto sandwich (because apparently in Croatia I wasn’t a vegetarian at all) and a surprisingly delicious and simple salad. It was here that I got my first taste of Croatian greens; they are always fresh and never dressed in more than olive oil, vinegar and a little dash of salt.

Upper and Lower City Walking Tour

While at Hemingway Bar, Noah and I took the time to glance at a map and figure out our afternoon. After about 10 minutes of debating whether to walk the upper or lower loop of the city, we finally realized that the collective distance of both routes was less than two miles. If you’re first going to Zagreb anytime soon, know that the entire city is walkable (about six times over) in a day.

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(Flattering shot, I know. Jet lag is my color. Thank me later.)

Botanical Garden

Not the most glamorous one I’d ever seen, but it was a particularly hot day, and the greenery offered a nice little reprieve from the sweltering city streets.

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Plus, it was right on our walking route, so we figured, what the hey.

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After roaming the streets for a while…

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…and climbing a tower I couldn’t remember the name of if you offered me a million dollars…

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…we ended the day with a much-deserved meal.

Konoba Didov San

A delicious little restaurant located not far from our hotel, Konoba Didov San offers simple, tavern-like bar food with a local flare. I learned two important lessons while dining at this restaurant.

1. Konoba means tavern. It’s not actually the name of the restaurant. Practically everything in Croatia is a konoba.

2. Vegetable skewers really means vegetables-in-between-chicken-and-bacon skewers. I waved the waiter over to tell him I think there had been a mistake with my dish; I ordered the veggie skewers.

“Yes,” he responded pointing in between chunks of grilled chicken and pork. “See the vegetables?”

Lesson learned.

June 11th: Mountains, Lakes and Trail Runs

Honestly, you can do Zagreb in about a day and be satisfied. But one of the most delightful parts of the city is that it’s actually really close to mountains, and the people themselves are super active. In fact, the small suburban homes on the outskirts of the city center (centar?) felt a lot like a miniature version of Vail.

Since we had a car anyway, Noah and I took the 25-minute drive to Medvednica Mountain. More specifically, we followed the signs to Sljeme, a mountain resort area, and drove our car up from there. Eventually, we stopped at a small mountainside konoba (see what I’m getting at), parked the car and got out to take a walk. While hiking, we discovered relatively flat trails that were perfect for running, so naturally, we did a bit of that too.

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After Medvednica, Noah and I drove across to the entirely opposite side of the city (super convenient) to check out Jarun Lake. It turned out to be a little run down and not all that nice, but the area had a lot of elements of charm. It seemed like a lot of locals go there to read, tan, hang with friends, and drink at the small bars that line the pebbly beach. So, that’s what we did.

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Trilogija

For dinner, we turned to Trip Advisor and found what turned out to be one of our favorite meals of the entire honeymoon. Trilogija is a small, cave-like restaurant with delicious wine, a rotating menu (based on what local ingredients are available at any given time) and a quiet, low-key ambiance. I can’t speak highly enough about our experience and, at my waiter’s recommendation, even ordered the trout — a type of fish I typically find too strong and salty but that they managed to cook perfectly. They served it with a light horseradish sauce that really cut the taste of lake. Seriously, I could have eaten it for days.

World Cup Fun

After dinner, we headed over to the main square to watch — drumroll please — the Zagreb vs. Brazil kickoff game of the world cup. Watching the world cup is exhilarating. Watching the world cup in Europe when the native country is on the field is insane.

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Also, pivo (beer) was $2, so there was that.

June 12th: Plitvice National Park

Finally, that takes us to the reason why I booked a Croatian honeymoon in the first place. Plitvice National Park, land of the bluest, cleanest and most untouched water I’d ever seen.

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Plitvice is about a two-hour drive South of Zagreb, most of the trip which is through cute towns and past green pastures. When you get there, you know it. As you approach the national park, the water begins to turn a brilliant shade of blue.

A word of warning: this is absolutely a full day affair. Noah and I tend to think we can finish trails quicker than most people (assuming the average hiker isn’t a spritely 27), but that’s not the case here. When the map says that the trail will take about six hours, between boats and buses, trust me when I confirm that it will take you six hours.

Six. Glorious. Hours.

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Everywhere you turn, there’s beauty.

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There’s water.

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There’s awe-inspiring scenery.

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And big slaps. Big, big slaps. Slap, btw, is Croatian for waterfall — not an abusive husband.

There were also a bunch of cool small slaps. How fun is that to say? Slap, slap, slap.

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Anyway, if you are ever given the opportunity, go to Plitvice and explore. Go to Zagreb and meet the people. Go to Trilogija and eat the trout. With any of those decisions, I promise you won’t regret it.

Zagreb was just days 1-3 of 18. Next up, part deux of my Croatian honeymoon: Split. Also known as four days of yachts I’ll never own and rain. Stay tuned!