Zagreb, Croatia to Budapest, Hungary
10.10.2009 - 16.10.2009
Having a coffee while dodging the rain at a cafe here in Zagreb. Got on the bus earlier this morning back in Zadar and met a really sweet girl Ayumi from Japan, who was also heading north up through Croatia and got off at the Plitvice National Park - lots of fun passing the time, we had a great time at the rest stop somewhere in the middle of Croatia, with the crazy random stuffed animals on display.
I got into Zagreb and made my way to a hostel, got checked-in then headed over to the Museum of the City of Zagreb, historical artifacts of the city from ancient times up to the present with really, really interesting displays!
Of all the museums I've been to around the world (and there have been many), this ranks up there for one of the most enjoyable! As I was leaving the skies opened up and started pouring - apparently, according to the woman working at the bakery across the street that I visited earlier, this is the first rain Zagreb's had since before the summer... just my luck!
Back at the same coffee shop from yesterday and relaxing after running around all day - this morning started out with more rain (blah), so I began by visiting the museums indoors with the hope the weather would break. First stop was to the Strossmayer Gallery of the Old Masters - cool enough name for a gallery, so I thought, "Why not!".
After observing the works from the Old Masters, stopped by the Archeological Museum - sped past the Egyptian display and photos of Central American Mayan ruins.. I want to see archeological stuff from Croatia, not places I've already been! - although I had to stop and peek at the climate-controlled room with the sign outside reading, "The Zagreb Mummy". Nesi-Hensu from Thebes (390 BC) and donated to the museum.
Finally the rain stopped so I was able to wander around outside a bit, passing the Ban Josip Jelacic square (main pedestrian area of the city),
and up to get views of the town and landmark Cathedral of Assumption (with its permanent state of reconstruction) sounding off bells at noon,
and the remarkably well-preserved 16th c. Archiepiscopal Palace and fortifications surrounding it.
Continued uphill to St. Catherine's church with the spectacular baroque alter and ceiling (just barely got a photo off as they were turning down the lights!),
then over to peek inside the Klovicevi Dvori Gallery which had a really good collection.
Back outside, kept hiking up the hilltop (phew!) through the 18th c. "Stone Gate", which used to be the city entrance in medieval times and where little old ladies were praying,
to the iconic St. Mark's Church with the beautiful spectrum of colors adorning the tiled roof.
Finished up at Ivan Mestrovic's former home/current sculpture museum, which I also really liked. Now I gotta get out of this cafe, way too much 2nd hand smoke for the day!
Watching TV in my hostel room, catching up on world events (Pakistan suicide bombing, don't think that'll be on my list of places to visit any time soon) and about to go grab dinner here in Bled - but not before I bundle-up, I'm back into Autumn weather! Got on the train this morning back in rainy Zagreb, arrived in rainy Ljubljana and decided during the ride up that since its Monday which means all museums will be closed and with the weather conditions not ideal for strolling around the city, walked across the street and hopped on the next bus up to Bled, which was on my list to visit anyway. Very quaint little town in the snow-covered Julian Alps, with its church on an island in the emerald-green lake and medieval castle clinging to a rocky cliff, love this place... plus no rain here!!
When I arrived and got checked-in to the hostel (pretty sure I'm the only one here), went over and hiked up the path to the castle. Visited the museum inside - pretty bland and a rip-off for 7 Euros, but the views over the town did make up for it.
Descended down and then hiked around the lake, then up -- way up -- the footpath to the Velika Osonjnica viewpoint up in the mountains - very nice!
Finished the 8 km stroll around the lake and stopped for lunch where the locals were telling me that 2 days ago it was still sunny and warm (25 degrees C or so), and then overnight the cold weather came, the snow on the mountains wasn't there even just yesterday!
I'm about to go grab a late dinner here in Ljubljana, Slovenia's smallish capital city. After surviving the crazy wind storms (and subsequent temporary power outage) last night/this morning back in Bled, got on a bus backtracking to LJ - now much nicer without the freezing rain I passed through yesterday morning! Speaking of freezing, watching the weather on the news this morning saw a massive cold front/snow storm all across northern to central Europe -- now cold weather I can tolerate to a degree, but snow??... we'll see how long I spend around this area! So I arrived in LJ, and based on the recommendations from the Aussie guys on the bus went and checked in the the over-hyped (and overpriced) former prison-turned-hostel. Started wandering around the city, across iconic "Dragon Bridge"
to the bustling Preseren Square, named after Slovenia's favorite poet (who apparently was an accountant and only wrote in his spare time... must be slim pickin's for Slovenian poets!).
Crossed over to LJ's old town where the Town Hall, Cathedral of St. Nicholas and Hercules fountain formed a very picturesque "Pogarcarjev" Square.
Bypassed the funicular and decided to hike up the steep hill to the Ljubljana Castle, where I had originally thought to do a quick walkthrough and then head back down (I've seen so many castles now in Europe that my interest is fading...), but some media event inside the castle wall was going on. Come to find out the annual tradition of "The cutting of the grapes from vine" by the Mayor of Ljubljana was taking place. There were some important political guests present (I'm guessing anyway), and everyone (including me!) was handed a glass of some kind of milk wine (awful) to toast the event. A few speeches were made in Slovenian (so I have no idea), and then the Mayor, Zoran Jankovic (so I learned) cuts down a selection of grapes that will be part of an extremely select reserve (apparently only people like Queen Elizabeth II get bottles of this).
So that was a pretty cool local traditional event I got to witness!
Spent nearly the whole day on the train from LJ to BP! But barely caught the train this morning, since the person who was supposed to be working at the International ticket booth was wandering around somewhere -- of course, the person working at the Domestic ticket booth couldn't be bothered with helping. Finally got her to call to the Int'l ticket issuer so I could buy a ticket 5 minutes before the train departed... thanks for making me run to catch the train, lady! So somewhere after we cross the Hungarian border the ticket-checkers switch, and the new man looks at my ticket "Budapest Spezial", and asks me if I know that I'll have to get off at some station, grab a connecting bus to another station in a nearby town, and continue on from there to Budapest? Huh? Ah, no, the incompetent ticket-issuer back in LJ failed to mention that! The ticket-checker tells me he'll let me know when to get off, so I'm thinking this is pretty strange, but oh, well! So about an hour later we get to a station where we're stopped for a pretty considerable time.. I'm leaning out of my cabin doorway looking back and forth down the passageway for the guy, hoping he hasn't forgotten about me if this is the stop to get off! So the train starts back up and then I notice, it is going back in the opposite direction, I'm thinking, "crap!" So we're just moving along backwards for a while and finally the ticket-checker passes by my cabin and I ask, "Uh, was that the stop??", but no, fortunately it wasn't! So eventually he comes back and does let me know "Next stop", and when the train stops everyone (including the ticket-checker) get off, we all follow him to a bus waiting. I see another backpacker girl and ask her, "So just making sure, you are going to Budapest also??", to which she replies, "I hope so!"... so apparently I wasn't the only one ill-informed of the schedule. It takes about 20 minutes or so bus ride then we're at another station. The girl Robin (from Vancouver) and I exchange traveling stories to pass the time, since there wasn't a whole lot of scenery along the way!
We arrived into BP 1.5 hrs late, so now its dark (and raining, go figure). Robin already made plans to stay with another traveler's family home in Buda and was getting picked up at the station by the father (lucky!). Me, I have no idea where I'll stay or how to get there, but decide to head over via metro to the busier Pest side of the city. Miraculously, I found the first-choice hostel that I saw in the poorly-detailed map in my guidebook. Got checked-into the dorm room (with the guy from Nigeria who I'm convinced doesn't understand the notion of deodorant), back out into the sh-t windy, rainy, cold weather to grab a bit to eat for the first time all day (forgot about that small detail for the 11 hour train/bus/train ride!), now going to sleep!
Just got back from dinner at the same Kebab place near the hostel I ate at last night... I thought I might have just imagined it before, but sure enough, the 1/2 hour spent in the restaurant and my clothes reek like fried meat - lovely! So this morning, after limited sleep thanks to the Nigerian Skyping or something all night, woke up to another rainy, dark, cold, super-windy day - oh, well! Went across the street to visit the impressive Great Synagogue & Museum (with tighter security than JFK airport).
Made my way over to meet up with Robin from the train at the Hungarian National Pastime, thermal bath house!
Today's weather, near winter-like conditions, made the outdoor heated baths really nice... all that was missing was snowboarding and beers! After enough baths and sauna to make me woozy, I headed over to the Museum of Fine Arts nearby. Very nice, impressive displays I was enjoying,
then one of the younger security guards mentions to me there is a special event in one of the museum wings, some bartender competition/contest sponsored by Stella, and there's free beer. Well, hello!
Everything that was being said during the competition was Hungarian, but who am I kidding... who cares?!? After a couple free samples (and free lunch!), make my way to the "House of Terror" museum at #60 Andrassy Street, which was the former HQ of Nazi supporter group and then taken over for the HQ of the "AVH" (secret police during Soviet occupation). Now a sort of flashy audio & video pretty cool supercharged memorial museum.
Friday night in Budapest, getting ready to head out for a cocktail or 2. Woke up to yet another cold, wet, windy day - crap! Still, had to go check out the rest of the sites in Pest as well as the Buda side. First swung by the Hungarian State Opera house, then over to the "Magyer" (what Hungarians call themselves) National Museum, with really really good layout and displays spanning from the first settlers in the region, up to modern times.
I really was impressed with the building itself as well!
Strolled along Pest's main tourist/pedestrian area of Vaci Utla, then up to the crazy looking Parliament, with its out-of-control # of spires.
Hopped on the metro over to Buda to roam around Varhegy (Castle Hill), where the beautiful Matthias Church was about 99% covered in scaffolding,
but fortunately the nearby Halaszbastya (Fisherman's Bastion), was open for climbing around and provided for some unobstructed views of the city.
Finished up at Kiralyi Palota, Royal Palace, just as the clouds were beginning to break!