Budapest to Zagreb to Dubrovnik

Zagreb Travel Blog

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We had set the alarm early in order to have plenty of time to get organized and to catch the tram/metro to Keleti train station. So, at 5:45 we got up finished packing and made our way without difficulty to the station.

We had been careful to spend most of our Forints the day before while reserving a few for food for the train. As it turns out, we had enough to buy a candy bar, two pastries and a large bottle of Coke Lite. I tried to spend the few we had left over at two shops but when I showed what I had to the ladies tending them, they just shook their heads. So we have some souvenirs.

On this trip we have to manage three different currencies and it is always a challenge to know how much to get when you arrive so you don’t have many left over. The fact that most of Europe uses the Euro makes this easier, of course.

We spent an hour or so in the train station. Deb watched the people come and go and I took photographs. Two or three trains arrived loaded with people and we figured that these must be commuter trains. At about 7:45 our train arrived on track 8 and we boarded. For this trip I had purchased reserved seats due to the fact that we were spending 6 hours on the train and I wanted to be sure we had decent seats. As it turned out, the train was not particularly crowded and, except for the first two hours, we had the compartment totally to ourselves.

The train passed through Hungarian countryside that was mostly rural, though there was a stretch where we passed by a lake that must have been 50 miles long and, much like an American lake might be, it was lined with resorts, campgrounds and small lake cottages. I didn’t see boats or jet skis on the water, though. Judging from the fact that the Hungarian economy seems to be struggling, I’m not surprised that they don’t have all the toys that we do for their recreation.

Our train stopped for several minutes at the last town on the Hungarian/Croatian border. Border agents came on board and asked to see passports – thus we got stamped twice – once by the Hungarian authorities and once by Croatian border guards. The engine that was pulling us separated from the train and a different one hooked up at the other end. When we left, therefore, we were going in the same direction we came from for a while.

We arrived in Zagreb on time and with the help of our travel book, we found the left luggage place, deposited our bags and proceeded to walk the half mile or so to the city center. We were only in Zagreb for 3 hours or so and two things struck me.

First, the people here seemed to be freer spirited than the people we encountered in Budapest. By that I mean they seemed happier and less burdened than those we saw in Budapest. I saw more smiles. I suspect that having spent only 48 hours in Budapest and 3 in Zagreb doesn’t give me the right to draw such a broad conclusion. Perhaps the smiles were due to the fact that it was Friday afternoon. I think I smile more on Fridays than I do on other weekdays. One more real possibility: Deb tells me that the unemployment rate in Budapest is 40% and that 75% of a Hungarian’s income goes to pay for housing. Those two statistics may explain the grimmer mood in Budapest.

The second observation is one that I hesitate to make for fear that you might think that I shouldn’t be looking for things like this. But I’ll say it anyway. In the three hours I was in Zagreb I saw more strikingly beautiful women than I had seen in any city. I made this comment to Deb and she agreed. She hadn’t seen quite as many good looking men in the same time but pointed out that the handsome, tall foreign doctor on ER was Croatian. She also pointed out that while in Budapest I was often the tallest person in the crowd (I’m 6’3”). In Zagreb, there were more people that were at least as tall as I am. Croatian genetics? Am I part Croatian? I am tall and happy. And stunningly handsome. (Unlike most things in this journal, the last statement is a lie.)

Eventually, after strolling through Zagreb, enjoying the food and the ice cream, we made our way to the bus station, where we caught a Croatian bus to the airport. We left Zagreb at 9:20 and an hour later we were in Dubrovnik. I was worried about getting to our sobe because I knew that the owner didn’t live there. I figured we would take a cab and try to call him but I was pleasantly surprised to find him standing with a sign that said “Mr. Scott Shephard.” What a nice thing for him to do!

He drove us into town and talked the whole way about Dubrovnik and the war in the early 90s, which he participated in. His family left by boat in the middle of the night. He said it was a very difficult time. That sounds like an understatement. His name is Pero, incidentally, and we knew about his rooms because of Rick Steves. We asked about Rick Steves and he said that Steves had just visited the week before. Pero said that Rick had been good for business and that he feels that Rick Steves represents travelers who are looking for a nice place at a good value. His followers aren’t looking to be spoiled by luxury. That’s us.

It was dark when we arrived but we were already in love with Dubrovnik just from what we saw at night. After a glass of very strong homemade grappa and a brief orientation, we were shown our room. I got to sleep around midnight, which is very late for me.

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photo by: EmEm