Zagreb, Ljubljana and Oktoberfest (Munich)

It has been a while since we stayed in a hostel. For two of us we have found that AirBnBs are cheaper than hostels. It also gives us our own space including a kitchen we can cook in. The trade off is that we are often outside of the best part of the city. However in Zagreb we booked a hostel in a really great area of the city.

The bus from Sarajevo to Zagreb was scheduled to be about 7 hours. With the border crossings it ended up taking about 9 hours. We decided to take an Uber even though the walk was about 1.5 km. After a long bus ride it was about all I was up for.

We have been to Croatia before but only on a cruise ship. Croatia is shaped like a bird in flight if you look at the map. Picture the most northwestern part on the coast as the head, Dalmatia as the body, and the eastern inland area as the wings in flight. On our Mediterranean/Adriatic cruise in 2013 we went to Split and Dubrovnik. These are part of Dalmatia along the coast of the Adriatic Sea. We only visited them for a day each on the cruise. Zagreb is the capital city in the middle of the geographic area of Croatia and close to the border of Slovenia.

Once we checked into the hostel, we went out to get something to eat for dinner. There was a burger festival on so we decided to check it out. It was a lot of fun actually. In a park about a kilometre from our place, there were many booths set up selling burgers of all sorts and of course beer. These aren’t just plain burgers, they are pretty much gourmet burgers and booths compete for the prize of best burger of the year. Picking the best burger typically means waiting longer to order it and to get it. We decided to share one burger from the best of 2018 and then try another one after. They were both very tasty but also very expensive. Expect to pay $10 to $20 CAD for a burger and fries. The draft beer costs about $5 CAD.

The next morning we did a free walking tour that started from the main square. It was Sunday and the main square was crazy busy. There were about sixty people on the free walking tour which usually means a less quality tour. It is harder to keep the group together and sometimes hard to hear what the guide has to say. We usually tip less when the group is so big because we find the quality of the tour to be less. Even if every person tipped $10 that could be $600 for two hours of work.

Zagreb’s old town area is divided into a lower and an upper section. The tour started by walking from the main square to the upper area. Along the way we stopped to explore some street art with explanations of some famous Croatian inventors. The first was Tesla (remember we went to the Tesla museum in Serbia???), well he was actually born and lived in Croatia for part of his life. The inventor of the pen was Slavoljub Penkala who was also from Croatia (although it was part of Austro-Hungary then). Another is Ivan Vučetić, who pioneered the use of fingerprinting in criminal investigation, was born in Dalmatia but immigrated to Argentina. David Schwarz was one of two who invented the zeppelin but died before it took flight (it was ultimately named after his partner Count Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin and he got no credit).

In the upper area of the old town we saw the Church of St. Catharine as well as panoramas of the city and the Zagreb Cathedral. Perhaps the coolest site though is the Church of St. Mark. The roof is beautifully tiled with the coat of arms of Zagreb and the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia. The only way to inside is to come about a half hour before or right after mass as the priest does not like tourists. Apparently the same is true of the Church of St. Catharine. From the outside this one is not much to see but is supposed to be beautiful inside.

Also in the upper area is the Museum of Broken Relationships. Zagreb has more museums than anywhere I have ever seen. This one illustrates how they have museums for some strange things. This started from a donation from a couple who broke up and rather than splitting their belongings, donated them to start a museum. The purpose is to share stories about heartbreak, of love, and of loss. The items are all accompanied by a story. We did not go in but it is apparently one of the things to see in Zagreb. Back in the lower town we visited the Cathedral. We didn’t have an opportunity to go inside on the tour. After the tour however we went back to see it. It was actually only a few minute walk from our hostel.  

The next day, we did another walking tour with the same company. This one was paid though and cost 20 euros each. It was totally focused on the Croatia Homeland War. At one point on the tour the guide was talking about the break-up of Yugoslavia. A passer-by stopped and lectured her about calling it Yugoslavia. I assume he only got a small piece of what she was saying but clearly it is still a touchy subject. Along the tour we went to a tunnel that was used as a bunker when Zagreb was being bombed by Serbia. We also went to a small basement that the company uses as a small museum and area to watch a movie about the Homeland War.

I am not going to get into any detail about the Homeland War. Most of the war was fought in other areas of Croatia. Specifically, in Vukovar which is in eastern Croatia closer to the border with Serbia which the Serbs had taken. One of the most horrific war crimes was a massacre of everyone in the hospital there. They evacuated everyone including prisoners of war, Croats, Muslims, elderly, women and children. They took them to a massive pit and shot them in groups of 10 or 20. Zagreb was bombed a few times as well and in particular in public areas at lunchtime and rush hour to kill the maximum number of civilians.

On our third day in Zagreb we actually booked a day tour to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, and to Lake Bled. It was about 1.5 hours in a van from Zagreb to Ljubljana. The day tour cost about $120 CAD each which is a lot but I wanted to experience it. We had about 3 hours in Ljubljana which is a very clean and well organized city. Slovenia joined the EU right from the beginning. It was also the first one to declare independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 (although Croatia did so on the same day). It suffered less loss because it basically gave up right away. War in Slovenia in 1991 lasted only 10 days. Serbia had bigger issues with Croatia and Bosnia. It probably also had a very low percentage of Serbs living here. However, it was perhaps one of the wealthier regions of Yugoslavia and losing it would be tough on the economy of Yugoslavia.

In Ljubljana, there are milk dispensing machines on the street. You put in coins and select the amount of milk you want. For about 30 euro cents you can get half a litre of fresh cold milk. So, we bought a bottle and had some milk… mostly for the experience. We wandered around the old town area of the city for a while. We had a map from the Tourist Information office and just found the sites to see. Unfortunately, we arrived in Ljubljana about fifteen minutes too late for the free walking tour. We stopped for lunch for a bit. Then we took a funicular up to the castle at the top of the hill. After wandering for a few minutes we took the stairs down. We felt pretty rushed here but I guess that is what you get on a tour.

From Ljubljana we drove about 45 minutes to Bled Lake. It is on the edge of the alps and is a mountain lake. It has beautiful scenery that is perfect for your Instagram photos. In the middle of the lake there is an island with a church on it. For 15 euros you can get in a boat that goes to the church. We didn’t bother but rather chose to just walk around the lake for a while. One of the things to do at Bled Lake is to have their Bled Lake Cream Cake. It is about 4.5 euros for a small piece. It is light and creamy and very tasty… although not very filling. We bought a piece from the original place that served it.

The next morning we took a bus from Zagreb to Munich. Had we known we would be going to Slovenia we might have planned this a little different. We had to back track all the way through Ljubljana on the way. After Slovenia, the bus went through Austria coming close to Salzburg but not going in. Then it was on to Munich. We are learning that if the bus is scheduled to take 8 hours, expect 10 hours. We got into Munich about two hours late. From the bus station, we took the underground to our AirBnB (we bought a three day pass). Our AirBnB was pretty far from the centre but the public transportation is pretty amazing.

We came to Munich for Oktoberfest. How could we not really? I think it was in Jordan, speaking with Hanna and Emmanuel from Germany, that we first got the idea. Oktoberfest lasts for 16 days and always ends on the first weekend in October. So, if you are wondering why it is in September and not October, now you know that it starts in September and ends in October. It was just a fluke I think that the night I checked AirBnB in Jordan, that our place had just become a brand new listing. There were no reviews and the pictures were blurry. However, I booked it for four nights from September 23 to 27 knowing that I could cancel it. The price was crazy cheap… about $53 CAD per night. We thought it was maybe a mistake and half expected the host to cancel it. But they did not and it all worked out.

We were in Munich for one thing really in my mind. However, there is only so much beer you can drink and only so many hours you can sit in a tent on hard benches. The first morning we went to Marienplatz and did a free walking tour. There were a lot of people there but they split the large group into smaller groups of 30 (Zagreb should take note of this). The first thing we saw was the Glockenspiel on the top of the cathedral that was perhaps best described as underwhelming. We did not cover a lot of distance on the tour but did see many of the important sites. A lot of Munich was rebuilt after being destroyed in World War II. The focus of the tour was not on war but more on the city itself. Munich is the capital of the region of Bavaria.

After the tour we went to the Oktoberfest grounds. I did not expect to see such an amusement park environment. We had a sausage so we had some food in our stomachs. We picked one of the tents to go in as our first. Our guide had said that Augustiner is one of the most popular beers, so we chose this tent. Inside the tent, we sat at a table with a couple of young girls who had come from Innsbruck, Austria for Oktoberfest. We chatted with them for a while. When they left, a group of four Americans sat with us. We were having a great time until we were told we had to get up from our table at 4:30 pm because it was reserved. I had had three beers (each 1 litre) and Nic had had one (and a bit of mine). As soon as I got up it hit me hard and I felt quite drunk. We started our way back stopping only for some McDonalds and a few groceries.

On the second day in Munich we were slow to get going. When we finally did get going we went back to Oktoberfest. This time we went to Olde Wiese. This is the old or original area of Oktoberfest. You have to pay 3 euros to get in this area. It is a little less wild than the large tents. We live in a town of 2,500 people and one of the larger tents at Oktoberfest holds more than 10,000 people. In Olde Wiese, the tents are a bit smaller but there is more of a show going on all the time. We only had one beer each here but I think maybe Nic poured half of hers in my glass.

From Olde Wiese, we went and popped into a couple of other tents. We went to the Lowenbrau tent which I think is maybe the largest. Then we went into the Hofbräu (HB) tent which was crazy. There were no seats to be had but it did not really matter. People were standing on benches and singing. Actually, the music was all sing along English music which might indicate that it was a younger crowd. For example, people sang along to Sweet Caroline, We Are the Champions, etc. Of course, interspersed were regular choruses of Ein Prosit:

Ein Prosit song lyrics (German)

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit

Der Gemütlichkeit

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit

Der Gemütlichkeit

On day three in Munich, we went to the English Garden in the city centre which is bigger than Central Park in New York City. We found an area of a canal in the middle where the water flows fast and rough. Locals use it as an area to surf. That’s right, surfing in Munich, which is nowhere near an ocean. From here we went to Hofbräuhaus in the centre of Munich which is perhaps the most famous biergarten in the city. We ate here and had a small beer (only 500 ml). When we went back to Oktoberfest, we decided to go to the HB tent. It had been crazy the night before so we decided to try it in the afternoon. We sat at a table with some Americans and a couple of Germans. We had one beer each before we got kicked out of our table again. I think Nic kept pouring her beer in my glass. We did not have to leave the tent but had to go stand. I had one more beer but Nic still nursed her first one. By the time we left at about 7:30 pm, I was very ‘dizzy.’ When we got home, I basically passed out right away.

Thank goodness we only booked a short amount of time in Munich. I am not sure my body could handle much more. That said, it was a lot of fun and maybe someday we will go back for a few days. I may need a few years to sober up from the first time. I know it may not seem like a lot of beer but three one-litre glasses is the equivalent of about 9 bottles of beer in Canada. These beers are stronger too. And I am sure I did not eat enough food while we were drinking.

We have now moved on to Genoa, Italy. We have six days here before we go on a 23 day cruise that will end in Mauritius. More about that to come.

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