Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Exploring--Zagreb, Croatia's Capital City--An Unplanned Travel Bonus

This will be my third post about non-typical destinations in Croatia. Although Zagreb is Croatia's capital city, its location away from the famed Adriatic Coast means that relatively few travelers see the city.
We had not planned to visit Zagreb either, but had a lovely morning there as an unplanned bonus due to plane and train schedules. When our 2 week Rick Steves tour of Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia ended in the breath-taking, walled coastal city of Dubrovnik, we were at the far southern tip of Croatia with a long journey ahead of us. From there, we visited Krakow, Poland (including an unforgettable time at Auschwitz) and Budapest, Hungary on our own. The most convenient and affordable connections I had been able to arrange started with an early morning flight from Dubrovnik to Zagreb, then continued by train. Since we had several hours between our arrival at Zagreb's airport and departure by train, we made the best of the time by seeing Zagreb's center city.
Train travel in Europe abounds with similar serendipitous opportunities. Many European train stations, including those in Eastern Europe, are centrally located and offer inexpensive luggage lockers. So, that Sunday morning, we took a quick cab ride from the Zagreb airport to the train station, stowed our luggage in a locker, verified our train connection, and strolled a few park-lined blocks to a main square. Worshippers were streaming into the Neo-Gothic Catholic Cathedral, so we joined them, slipping in near the back for an uplifting treat. Croatia has a proud tradition of choral music, especially robust men's choral music, and deep, rich harmonies echoed in the vast cathedral--truly a universal spiritual language. 
Across from the church, the market was in full swing below the old city tower (see photo above). We relished the fragrant flowers, plump produce, and hand-crafted items, choosing freshly baked rolls, salami, cheese, tomatoes, and fruits for the long train journey ahead.
With almost an hour to spare, we strolled through an extensive, free, university-run botanical garden that our Rick Steves Eastern Europe guidebook had recommended. A colorful variety of early fall flowers were in bloom, while green houses boasted more exotic specimens. The two photos above only hint at the beauty--given our limited time, I took very few photos in Zagreb--mostly just breathed in the unplanned treat of a lovely, relaxing morning in a city that had not even been on our original itinerary.
We can recall similar times on other journeys. At times, even delays or cancellations that seemed disappointing at first turned into travel bonuses when we looked around creatively and took advantage of our surroundings.
Question of the day: What travel layover or delay did you turn into a memorable unplanned travel bonus?   

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