Category Archives: Croatia

Trogir, Croatia

Sun and sea and ancient cities — Trogir and Split

Some more notes from Croatia.

  • Spent 2 nights in Trogir, which is more or less a suburb of Split, but on an island which is neat, even if it’s only an island that you get to by bridge, not an island you get to by boat. The name “Trogir” will never not make me think of “Trogdor” — why yes I have moved in nerdy circles for at least 10 years, why do you ask?

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    This is actually the new town. Now imagine how nice the old town is. You have to imagine; I didn’t bother to take any photos.

  • The hostel in Trogir is next to a small square, with a big shady tree and a tiny church. At night, the hostel guests sat around on the plastic chairs under the tree, drinking beer from the nearby convenience store and smoking and swapping notes on where they’d been. The local kids would play soccer in the square, using the church doorway as one of the goals. The hostel owner would sit and chat and occasionally arbitrate in disputes between the kids. “You should send the parents the bill for babysitting,” I joked. “Oh no way,” he said. “Then I’d have to be responsible for them!”
  • There’s not much to do in Trogir once you’ve walked through the old town, except find a beach and relax and watch the planes fly into nearby Split airport. As I learned while drinking beer under the tree, the secret to finding a good beach is to slather on the sunscreen and take a walk to the far side of the island, to where the locals go. I failed in the first step and got horrendously sunburnt, but the perfect clear water more than made up for it.

    Ahhhhhh...

    Ahhhhhh…

  • I only gave myself a morning in Split, figuring it would be over-touristy and underwhelming. It was certainly full of tourists, but if you treat it as a sort of Disneyland for ancient Roman nerds, it was rather fun. I had enough time to climb the cathedral tower, which was an occupational safety nightmare with 2-way traffic on steep, narrow, slippery stone stairways. But they kindly let me leave my heavy backpack at the bottom, and the views were amazing.
    Behind the pretty facade lurk terrifying stairs...

    Behind the pretty facade lurk terrifying stairs…

    ...but this sort of view is why you climb it.

    …but this sort of view is why you climb it.

In fairness, what I’ve left out of this write-up is that the area is somewhat industrial, the suburbs of Split do sprawl, and if you go to the beach in the wrong spot you’re liable to have a ciagrette butt float past you. Dare I say it, the beaches are cleaner and prettier in the south-west of Australia (but oh my goodness the water is so much warmer in Croatia!) If I were to travel here again, I’d rent a car and head further along the coast until I found somewhere a bit less crowded. But I would also spend some more time in Split and try to see it properly, and I’d definitely drop in at Trogir in the evening and see if the kids have managed to work out who’s goalie yet.

Zagreb to Split by overnight train.

Yeah, so this blog is rapidly turning into a collection of “Zoe catches a train” stories and I don’t care. As an aside, I definitely get it from my parents: a few years ago they took a trip around the US by train which from their accounts sounds amazing but if you know them you can just imagine Dad geeking out about AMERICA!!! the whole time and Mum being the most organized person to ever take a multi-week trip with only a small carry-on bag. Like I say, I get it from them.

So there I was at Zagreb’s main train station at 10.30 pm, peering into the train that was going to trundle down to Split overnight. It was a cool evening and I was glad I’d changed into jeans before I left my hostel. Almost everyone else on the platform was a backpacker, presumably with the same idea as me: get to the coast, with a night’s accomodation, for around 200 kuna (~30 euro). My ticket was for a seat, which I was quickly realizing was going to be a bolt-upright seat in a compartment of 6 — 3 facing 3. Uh oh. I can sleep on planes, but I need that 1–2 inches of reclining and I prefer not to have to negotiate leg room with the stranger facing me.

I kept walking along the train, and I’m glad I did because right at the end was the one car that had couchettes. A horizontal bed! What luxury! I found the conductor, and she had a spot available, for 13 euro (euros, not Croatian kuna. Huh?). I’ve paid more than that for mediocre sushi in Torino. Easiest sale she ever made.

I started to see why it was only 13 euro when I got into my compartment and there was zero aircon. It was sweat-pouring-down-your-face hot. There wasn’t much of a common language between the 6 of us in the compartment, except for the phrase “very hot” which we all agreed on, except for the Serbian lady who was apparently completely unaffected by heat and kept her cardigan on the whole time. As I was settling in for what promised to be a sticky night, I heard a girl in the next compartment say “Maybe we won’t be able to sleep, we’ll just have to party all night!” I got my earplugs out.

Once we got moving, the open window made a huge difference to the temperature and I ended up dozing beautifully, rocked by the motion of the train and the low background noise of the diesel engine (Ms Party All Night seemed to have slept, too).  I say dozing, because it’s hard to fall into a deep sleep when you’re on the upper (3rd) bunk and the straps that are supposed to stop you from falling out and breaking your leg are only tenuously attached.

But light sleep means you catch the early morning light, which makes everything worthwhile:

I swear my phone has an anti-Instagram filter and real life looked 20x more magic-light than this.

I swear my phone has an anti-Instagram filter and real life looked 20x more magic-light than this.

Yup I'm in a train.

Yup I’m on a train.

Practical details for future reference: You can buy tickets at Zagreb station and don’t particularly need to book in advance as far as I can tell (though I don’t know if the ticket window stays open as late as the train departure — I bought my tickets the day before). The lady at the ticket window didn’t mention to me there were couchettes, which is how I ended up with a seat ticket, but they do exist! The train leaves Zagreb at 11-ish and arrives in Split at 7-ish, at the train station which next to the bus station and the ferry terminal.

Zagreb: my kind of city

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Zagreb, for me, was full of surprises.

I’d had a look at a Lonely Planet guide before I left home, which asked “Is Zagreb worth visiting?” It answered with something vague that suggested you may as well stay the night if you had to stop there on your way to the coast. I think it even used the word “pleasant”.

Let this be a lesson not to rely on Lonely Planet. I loved my 2.5 days in Zagreb.

It started as soon as I got off the train. The weather was perfect, and at 5pm the afternoon light was magical. Unlike Ljubljana, where I had come from and where the train station faces onto a bus station and some dreary office blocks, Zagreb station is near the centre of town and faces a grassy square with trees and surrounded by beautiful buildings. It was so pretty my diary from that day took a turn for the teenage-girl-ish: “I felt I had arrived.”

Overwrought sentiment aside, the city benefits from a strong Austro-Hungarian influence on the architecture, but it’s not a museum and mixed in are elegant 1920s apartment blocks, some modern city buildings, and even some art deco. The blend makes it perfect for strolling, which goes well with the sheer number of cafes in the city — my pattern was walk around a bit, have a coffee and read some of my book, repeat repeat repeat. I could live like that.
Other things I did:

  • The evening I arrived, there was a free organ & violin concert in the cathedral. Heck yes free concerts. And it got me to sit down for an hour in the cathedral and actually look at the art, which is pretty great for me who normally does a 2-minute lap of a church and then walks out again.
  • The Museum of Broken Relationships, which is the one museum that seemingly every backpacker who goes to Zagreb visits. It lives up to the hype. If you’re a sap like me, bring tissues. (I didn’t, and had to suppress every thought of “he left her then??” and focus on giggling about the Toaster of Vindication until I got out.)
  • The other museum I went to was the Croatian Museum of Naive Art, which I enjoyed although I wish there had been more explanations. Like, one of the artists had a chicken in almost all his paintings on display. Did he just like chickens? Did it have a symbolic significance? I started to make up my own interpretations. The chicken stands for human unwillingness to face life’s deep questions.
  • Maksimir Park was well worth the walk out of town. It’s a really well designed city park, very peaceful with beautiful gardens. And apparently one of the first free public parks in Europe.