We weren’t planning on going to Croatia during our time in Europe, but when the opportunity arose to join some friends who were headed there, we couldn’t pass it up. We had already had a fun weekend with Dane and Randi in the Julian Alps, so when they asked if we wanted to travel on to Croatia with them the answer was an enthusiastic yes.
We ended up spending about a day and a half in Zagreb and a day in Plitvice Lakes National Parks. Dane and Randi continued south from there, while Matthew and I returned to Slovenia.
Our time in Zagreb was centered around eating. (Not surprising, as our love for food is already well-documented on the blog.) Luckily, we also walked a lot which hopefully burned off some of those calories.
We arrived in Zagreb around lunchtime with no idea where to eat and no internet access. (Very poor planning on our part.) So we walked and wandered for a bit.
I had done almost no research about Zagreb ahead of time, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I found it to be charming, with lovely historic buildings and flowers everywhere.
For lunch, we landed on a little café called Bistro Fotic. As it turned out, we made a really good choice. The pizza we ordered was both beautifully presented and delicious.
After lunch (and after acquiring a Croatian SIM card), we went to meet our Airbnb host, Bruno. He was able to give us some recommendations for how to spend our evening. And of course, they involved eating. We walked to a local brewery to try some Croatian craft beer. Each couple ordered a sampler with small amounts of 6 different beers, and then we each ordered full glasses of our favorites.
From there we went to a place called La Štruk to try a dish that Zagreb is known for called Štrukli. It’s essentially just a bunch of dough and cheese baked together with various other ingredients depending on whether you want it to be sweet or savory.
The four of us ordered four struckli and shared them so that we could try different kinds. We had roasted red pepper, four cheese, blueberry, and honey walnut. It was extremely rich and heavy but also delicious.
The following morning, we set out to explore Zagreb a little more. We checked out the huge open-air market where we enjoyed some fresh local strawberries.
We also popped in to see the cathedral and wandered around the town center a bit.
We had lunch at a place called Mundoaka Street Food. The food took forever because it is made fresh, but it was amazing. Matthew had a quinoa salad with smoked salmon, fresh dill, marinated beets, creamy dressing, and baked ricotta. I ordered gnudi with asparagus cream, caramelized cream and a small salad. It was phenomenal.
For dessert we shared something called “Dulce,” which included a roasted hazelnut cake with Bavarian cream, dulce de leche, white chocolate mousse, miso caramel topping, and seasonal fruit.
We also visited two rather unique museums in Zagreb. Instead of going for one of the many more traditional art or history museums, we decided to check out the Museum of Broken Relationships, and the Museum of Illusions.
The Museum of Broken Relationships is one of the most famous attractions in Zagreb, and it sounded so strange and interesting, we didn’t want to miss it. The museum is full of items given by real life people that symbolize the end of a relationship. Next to each item is a description of how it relates to the end of that person’s relationship.
The items are diverse ranging from toys to dresses to keys to an axe that someone used to chop up all of his ex’s furniture when she left him for a woman. Some of the stories are heartbreakingly sad, some disturbing, and some are funny. A few of my favorite funny ones include a toaster whose caption says, “When I moved out, and across the country, I took the toaster. That’ll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?” and a Linksys router whose caption simply says, “We tried. Not compatible.”
For someone like me who is fascinated by individual people and their stories, the museum was captivating. I walked around and read every single sign. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Zagreb.
We made a pit stop right around the corner from the Museum of Broken Relationships at St. Mark’s church. It has a beautiful mosaic tiled roof.
The other museum we visited was the Museum of Illusions. We didn’t know much about it but thought it sounded cool. It’s a small museum full of interactive exhibits.
Unfortunately, when our visit happened to be at the same time as a group of local middle schoolers, which made it louder (and smellier) than we would have liked. Still, we had fun playing with the exhibits that demonstrated various illusions. This one in particular was our favorite:
After that, it was time to hop in the car and head down to Plitvice Lakes National Park, a park in central Croatia known for its stunning turquoise lakes and waterfalls. We wanted to spend the night right outside the park so that we could arrive early the next morning and beat the crowds. We got a nice sneak preview of the park when we dropped Dane and Randi off at their guesthouse and realized that it was up on a hilltop overlooking the lakes.
The following day, we were up bright and early to head to the park. I was surprised at how big it is! There are two main sections, the lower lakes and the upper lakes. You get around using a combination of hiking trails, buses, boats, and wooden boardwalks that cross over the water. The day we were there, the lower lake section was closed, as the very rainy preceding weeks had flooded the boardwalks. So we only got to see it from above, which was a bit of a bummer. It was still beautiful though.
The upper lake section is where it got truly amazing. The park is just so well designed. The wooden pathways take you right over the water, so close to the waterfalls that you can feel the spray on your face.
In total, we spent nearly seven hours in the park. You can spend less time, but we took the longest hiking route that went around the entire park. We never got tired of it, either. Around every turn is another gorgeous view.
We packed a picnic lunch so that we could take our time in the park and just stop and eat whenever we got hungry. We found a nice shady area with picnic tables to enjoy our lunch and then continued on our hike.
At the end of the day we were sad to leave and extra sad because we had to say goodbye to our temporary travel buddies. Dane and Randi hopped on a bus to head south to the Croatian coast, while Matthew and I returned to our home base in Ljubljana.
We’re so glad that this random, fortuitous opportunity presented itself! Honestly, with all the buzz that I had heard about Plitvice Lakes, I wondered if it was going to be one of those overrated tourist sites that couldn’t live up to the hype. This was absolutely not the case. Our day at Plitvice was one of the highlights of our month in Europe, and it was absolutely worth the drive from Slovenia.
Now, after our little three-day taste of Croatia, we’re dying to go back to really devote some time to getting to know it. We’re enjoying spending time in Asia right now but dreaming of a return to Europe in the not too distant future, and Croatia is high on our list.