Night location: Zagreb
AV and DV
After a short but turbulent flight from Dubrovnik to Zagreb, we caught a taxi with a lovely driver into the centre of the city to our beautiful Art Deco hotel built in 1925 to accommodate passengers travelling on the Orient Express. While waiting for the room to be ready Amber read one of the two travel guides for Zagreb provided by our taxi driver at no extra charge. With a bit more of an appreciation for what we were about to see, we bought an all day travel pass and caught a tram into Ban Jelacic Square, the commercial heart of the city since 1641. Named after a 19th century Austrian Governor who abolished serfdom and held the first ever elections for the Croatian parliament, the square is surrounded by buildings that mostly date from the 19th century and seem reminiscent of some of the grandeur and ornate detail seen in Budapest or Vienna. In the centre of the square were some fantastic stalls selling Croatian wares and traditional foods. We purchased local pastries from a nearby bakery and a small cup of donut-like treats from a stall, and ate as we made our way up to the Cathedral.
The spires of the 19th Century Cathedral dominate the skyline in the centre of the city. Of particular interest for this Cathedral is that the original church (started soon after 1094) was at one point entirely surrounded by defensive walls. When Zagreb was under threat of the Ottoman expansion in the 16th century, the Cathedral was fortified with a turreted outer wall. During the 18th century the defensive bastions on the south and east were reconstructed to form a monumental bishop's palace. One side of the wall was demolished to provide unobstructed views of the Cathedral, but the other three remain.
Following a short stop on the bustling and colourful street of Tkalca, we walked to the base of a funicular opened for passengers in 1890. The 66-meter-long journey that connects the Upper and Lower town is the shortest passenger cable railway in the world and was the first ever means of public transport used in Zagreb, pre-dating horse-drawn trams by a year. Dominating the Upper Town are the monumental buildings of the aristocracy mostly built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today they house the Croatian Government, museums and art galleries. The 13th century Church of St Mark was particularly beautiful as its 19th century brightly coloured roof tiles form the coats of arms of the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia, and the city of Zagreb.
HH, AH, GH and GC
Rising early from one of the best beds of our trip, we had a substantial breakfast and headed up the hill towards a cathedral which had panoramic views over the harbour and the islands around the city. Another mission we had was to find some local food, so we searched for a bakery to enjoy a kremsnita, a sweet delight somewhat reminiscent of a custard slice. Gemma wanted Gareth and Mum to pose for a photo with the lovely dessert but Mum misheard the instruction and took a mouthful resulting in some less than flattering photos being posted on Facebook. Squashing into the golf kart again we picked up our car and continued our drive north.
Gareth was very excited about our next destination as we headed into Slovenia, his 52nd country, and Dad and Mum were impressed with the changes to the motorways compared to their visit 27 years ago. As a well-informed and intrepid speleologist, Dad was delighted to be revisiting Skocjanske Jame (world-renowned caves) and after a quick lunch at this World Heritage site, we joined one of the largest tour groups we had ever seen. Luckily we had accidentally positioned ourselves near the front of the pack and held that position throughout the tour. The cave included two parts - the silent first section and the noisy second section with the river running through it. The cave we visited was spectacular, and Dad, Mum and Gemma remembered sections of this amazing site while Gareth was blown away by the size and wanted to channel Gandalf crossing the bridge over the ravine. Climbing out of the cave was quite an ordeal and we needed a few moments to recover back at the information area.
Our next stop on the Slovenian whirlwind tour was the Predjamski Grad, a truly remarkable castle that had been built right into a rock face. It was a hideaway for Erazem who used six kilometres of cave tunnels for quite some time to elude his enemies. We also saw a small fair ground where medieval fairs were held.
Our final stop in Slovenia was the capital, Ljubljana. Dad and Mum had very low expectations after their last visit in 1989 when the Communist influence had rendered the capital bleak and grey. This time however the city was awash with colour and people enjoying the varied markets and parkland. We wandered through the old town, seeing the triple bridges over the river and getting a thick hot chocolate before setting off again.
Heading back into Croatia we arrived in Zagreb and struggled to find the Hertz hire car drop-off point with very limited signage. Luckily it was spotted on the second loop and we all squashed into one taxi and joined Amber and David at the amazing Esplanade Hotel.
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After reuniting, we enjoyed a fantastic final dinner together in a restaurant attached to our hotel. We were informed that today marks the beginning of 'Restaurant Week' in Zagreb, and as such there was a three course meal available for the bargain price of roughly $20pp. The food was outstanding, one of the best of the trip, and we spent the evening swapping stories from our travels.