Through the Balcans: from Italy to Zagreb

This is a short journey (7 days) that allows you to get a general idea of two main countries (Croatia and Bosnia Erzegovina) of the so called Balcanic Area or former Yugoslavia. It’s a definitely low cost trip (we spent 1.000€ for 2 persons) and it was done just by travelling by public transportations. We did this trip on summer, but it’s better either in spring or autumn because in summer and in winter temperatures reach their extreme levels.

Our departure and arrival city is Milan. There is a train (Frecciabianca) running daily from Milan to Trieste and if you buy the ticket a month before you can find, as we did, good offer with Trenitalia company (two one way tickets cost 54€). You can take the train in the early morning at 7.30 am and be in Trieste at 12pm. The bus going to Zagreb leaves at 5pm so that you have some free time to spend in Trieste. Go to the Bus station, get your tickets (previously booked at http://www.autostazionetrieste.com-28,50€ each) and leave your luggage in the cloakroom so that you can visit Trieste more easily.

Piazza Unità Italia Trieste

Head to the main and probably one of the most beautiful square of Italy, Piazza Unità d’Italia and from there go behind to the ancient Roman Theatre and start “climbing up” the hill to reach the stunning paleochristian church of San Giusto with its beautiful byzantine mosaics inside.

San Giusto

Since it’s already lunch time take the street behind the cathedral on the left and go to Via delle Fornaci. Our choice is l’Antipastoteca di Mare, a tiny, cheap and antipastotecagood quality restaurant that only serves fish and mainly starters. It’s a really good and genuine option outside the main city center. We spent only 10 euros each to eat two big plates of fish!

Go back to the center passing through the Parco delle Rimembranza, take the stairs and go down the main shopping avenue, Corso Italia. You can spend the few hours left by sitting in one of the famous cafés of the towns so loved by writers like James Joyce.

Then while going back to the bus station you can start feeling the cosmopolitan and multicultural spirit that you will find in the Balcan region, by visiting different churches: San Nicolo, a Greek-orthodox church, San Spiridione, a Serbian-orthodox Church and San Antonio Church, a catholic church in neoclassical style and also walk around the Jewish district behind Piazza Unità d’Italia. If you have more time to spend for this journey I highly recommend you spend a night in this town so that you can visit the beautiful Castello di Miramare on the coastline of Trieste.
The ride by bus to Zagreb lasts aprox. 3,5 hours considering a stop for toilets and a stop for checking the passports while crossing the borders with Croatia (it’s possible that since Croatia is now part of the EU, the customs check will soon disappear). Once you are in Zagreb, at the main bus station (Autobusni Kolodovor) change your Euros in Kunas (the exchange rate isn’t the best one but at least change 50euros) and you can already buy the bus ticket to Plitivica Jezera that you will need later (101 Kunas each). Buy the tram ticket and take the tram nº6 that will bring you straight to the city center, Bana Square. We booked a room with private toilet at Hostel Shappy (120€/ 2nights + city tax ~ 2 €/day), a modern hostel located in the city center.

DAY 1 ZAGREB Our day in Zagreb start with breakfast at Eli’s Café (Ilica,63) a SONY DSCmodern café with a mouthwatering cappuccino. They don’t sell anything else, so be free to stop at a bakery or pastry shop and buy some delicatessen to eat together with it.

If it’s Sunday from the cafè go to Britansky Square where there is a nice flea market. End the morning at the Dolac Market where you can buy fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables, cheese and honey..ah don’t forget bees are an integrated part of the market.

Dolac

After shopping you can visit the Cathedral.SONY DSC

Take the funicular to reach the hill of Gradec where you can’t miss a visit of the Museum of Broken Relationships (25KN) a unique emotional journey around the world through hundreds of break-ups.

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Admire the roof of St. Mark’s Church in the square of the political center of Zagreb. Go down the hill passing through the Stone Gate on the right and walk along Tkalciceva Street, is the street where the main movida of the city arises from the evening till night.

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From the main square again you can a start a pleasant walking through the main gardens of the city passing from the Archeological Museum, Strossmayer Gallery and the Exhibition Pavillon, reaching the main train station and the elegant hotel Esplanade. Take Mihanoviceva Street, pass in front the Botanical Garden and turn left, have a look at the Central Library and the National Theatre at Tito Square.

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For dinner our advice is to start going to a restaurant at around 8pm, we had several occasions when they told us that the kitchen was closed and it was before 9pm! So unfortunately we couldn’t try the restaurants we were recommended. We ate pretty well (and at least the waiters were kind!) at Restaurant Tkalcina Vura (Tkalciceva Street), I tried muckalica, a soup of meat, pepper and onions, delicious! Enjoy the night along Tkalciceva Street, a lively street full of bars and pubs where you can try Rakija a typical spirit of the Balcans (my favourite flavor was peppermint!). If you are looking for a more sophisticated atmosphere sit down in a terrace in the modern town near Preradovicev Square. Zagreb nightlife is really alive during the weekend a little less during week days.

DAY 2 PLITVICE NATIONAL PARK At 8:15am leaves from the main bus station the bus to Plitivcka Jezera (there is a bus every hour) but this is the best if you want to enjoy a whole day in the park (www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr). The ride is about 2hours. Get off at entrance nº2 (second stop), is definitely less crowded. Take the little train at station nº2 that goes to station nº3. From there you can start a pleasant walk (wear trekking or sneaker shoes) along the main lakes. SONY DSCLose yourself in the brilliant colors of the water: blue, crystalline, green, cobalt

The temptation to jump into the water or run down a waterfall, especially in the summer, will be really high but unfortunately swimming is completely forbidden for safety and conservative reasons. Spend the entire day inside the park and stop at one of the station if you want to eat something (bring water with you).

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Our hotel choice was Plitvice Miric Inn, a family hotel in Mukinje on the main road (direction south). It’s only 30minutes walking from the main entrance nº2. If you are lucky you can find some of the buses of the park that goes to Mukinje, ask at the bus stop for the timetable. We walked and we didn’t have any problem. Miric Inn is a relaxing, clean and pleasant place to stay and to end the day inside this marvelous natural area (80€ for a twin room and private bathroom). The owners are really kind and they serve you a fantastic dinner at a reasonable price (20€each) if you are lucky you will finish the dinner with the traditional Balcanic songs. It’s probably one of the best options you have considering the fact that you can’t reach the others if you don’t have a car and it’s really near the bus stop that you need for the next day…

To be continued

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