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Overnight in Zagreb

I’m at the train station in Zagreb, Croatia, awaiting a train to my next destination, which is along the Adriatic coast. I spent only one night here, mainly to break up a long train ride, but I’ve found this to be a charming city. Like many of the cities I’ve visited recently, you have to look to the historic center to appreciate Zagreb. Apart from the center, it’s a concrete, Communist-era shithole. However, I’m looking forward to spending another night here on my trip back from the coast.

The ride from Budapest yesterday was not pleasant. Most of the trains in this part of the world are, at best, marginally air-conditioned, making it only a few degrees cooler inside than outside.

One brief moment of levity arrived at the border. The Croatian border patrolman boarded the coach, looking all bad-ass with his bloused SWAT-style uniform, defending his homeland with handcuffs, a 9-mm pistol, and a rubber stamp. As he entered our compartment, his mobile phone rang. The ringtone was “The Final Countdown”, the ’80s hit from the band Europe. The five of us in the compartment all looked at each other, trying to choke back laughter as he sternly announced “passport control” while radiating some seriously cheesy ’80s music. Welcome to Croatia.

I’m finding a lot more people here speak English than in the last two countries I visited, but it’s nothing like the Netherlands or Denmark or even Iceland. I got lost finding my hotel yesterday, and the guy I asked for directions didn’t speak English, but he could read the address, and I understood his pointing pretty well. However, an older man sitting in a cafe five yards away overheard our “conversation” and asked, “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” Apparently those two years of German in college were not for nothing, and I was at my hotel in about five minutes.

Rail tickets in this part of the world have been very cheap. The ticket for today’s 5.5-hour train ride was about $30, including the reservation fee and the “fast” train supplement. The ticket from Budapest to Zagreb was about $36, but it looks like I was sold a round-trip ticket. I’ll add the second half of the ticket to growing list of stupid things I bought by mistake, like the ticket I bought to Hastings instead of Harwich in England. I’ll have a lot of letters to write when I get home.

My train just pulled into the station, but this is a terminus, so I still have almost a half-hour to board. It looks like a relatively modern train, at least from the outside. Let’s see how it smells …

I’m aboard now. It smells like a modern train. In fact, it almost has a “new car” smell. The old woman sitting next to me smells like baby powder, and the air conditioning is better than marginal. This may be an okay trip. However, I’m not seeing a cafe car. I ate a decent breakfast, but I may arrive very hungry.