Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dear John (Plitvice National Park and Zagreb)

From Krka it was an easy trip to Plitvice National Park. Plitvice isn't off the beaten path, but I'd still recommend it to anyone visiting Croatia, even in August, when the waterfalls aren't as full as they are on the posters we saw everywhere (see below in the restaurant).

While hiking in the park for two days, J and I kept debating whether our Salt Lake friend John would like the place. On the one hand, John hates crowds, especially in the outdoors, and Plitvice offers yet another over-crowded and sanitized National Park experience involving multi-car "panoramic train" buses, boat rides, and boardwalks.

On the other hand, it's such a developed and crowded park that one is never more than a couple kilometers from a $1.40 espresso -- and John surely would approve of both this aesthetic and price point -- especially given this is Europe, where espressos are served in real cups, whether in parks or at highway rest stops (I can't get over that last part. If you want to see America's decline in action -- go to a Jersey Turnpike rest-stop sometime and then go to one in Europe).

John would also love the 1970s communist-design hotels on the edge of the park still very much in use. We enjoyed our throwback, $5-for-two-people soup and plate of potatoes lunch at the "National Restaurant."

And John might be willing to tolerate the crowds for the views. Croatia has some seriously green and clear water, some of it moving downhill quickly.

There aren't a lot of food options around the park, so we ate at the nearby ski hill. You could see the top of the lifts from the deck. Um, I get now why Croatia is known for its slalom specialists.

Day 2 it was time for the lower falls, a series of falls cascading down a chain lakes that culminate in what we think is called the "Big Waterfall." Or maybe that wasn't the translation of the Croatian name but just the sign for the tourists. 

Our last stop in Croatia was Zagreb. It took a while for us to warm up to the city, especially as we spent a lot of time looking for a restaurant our first night. Not a particular restaurant -- any restaurant. We weren't exactly in a tourist area after a while, and Zagreb still has a lot of rebuilding to do. Below is a pretty typical example of a building -- what used to be a nice building, that is. J wouldn't let me take pictures of the cement monstrosities we passed getting a bit lost on the way to the bus station (don't get me started on airport hotels without shuttles to either the city center or even the airport. For that matter, don't get me started on Zagreb cab drivers ripping you off on the 4-minute trip from the airport to the airport hotel).

Luckily we found a good pizza place (there's much less fish in the North) by turning into an area with a sex shop and a dilapidated (bombed out?) building. Strangely, here I had one of the best German beers of the whole trip, a Fisher's Helle from Erding, near Munich.

Zagreb is sort of a mini-Vienna, give or take the recent war (and a church with what looks like Lego on its roof, which John definitely would have appreciated).

We skipped Europe's shortest funicular ride.

J was able to add to her Caravaggio count, as The Supper with Emmaus was on loan to the Arts and Crafts Museum in honor of Croatia joining the EU.

I could have added to my Bruegel count, but it's not like I'm a professional researcher or anything, so  I can't blamed for going to the two museums out of three without the Bruegel (we figured as much out, but not before everything was closed for Assumption Day).

The Food Revolution has not yet come to Zagreb. We like čevapčiči (tri-meat) sausage a lot, but the fries are horrible throughout the country, and, even allowing for my resilient Germany-induced craving for vegetables, one can only eat so much overly oily zucchini. 

And yet EVEN Zagreb, unlike Germany, has figured out the concept of a brewpub, which, combined with our last cake and coffee Pause on the continent, made for a wonderful last unhurried day before flying to Ireland. When in Zagreb, we prefer the Pivnica Mali Medo. Still no American Pale Ale, but there's no doubt what John would think about the excellent copper lager -- a bit reminiscent of flagship Sam Adams.

1 comment:

  1. It all looks great to me. Nothing wrong with good access to espresso and beer and waterfalls! Hope Ireland is agreeing with you.