Will and I were able to spend a fabulous weekend in Zagreb, Croatia (Hrvatska) in August. We took a train, which was especially exciting for us because we hadn’t been on a real train ride in awhile. The trip there took 6 hours which may sound lengthy, but really there’s not much to complain about when your view is of lush green hills and the majesty of the Alps. We got to know our 3 compartment-mates: an Englishman from Birmingham, an Englishman from…somewhere near Birmingham, and a German from Cologne. The two guys from England are primary school teachers, and the guy from Germany just recently got his Ph.D. engineering and is now teaching an engineering class in University (and he’s only 31 – unreal). After learning that we are also teachers, the 5 of us decided we must be the cleverest compartment on the train. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of us with our compartment-mates, but I do have a picture of the scenery.

Scenic view of Austria (photo credit: Will Kooi)
Our train arrived in Zagreb late at night which put Will and I at our hotel, Hotel Ilica, about 11:00pm. Our hotel was one of the most unique places I have ever stayed in. As my husband puts it, “It’s like Atlantic City meets Liberace”. I said it looks like the house straight out of Clue. Seriously, I would not have been surprised if Will and I had checked into the hotel during an interrogation of the maid, chef, butler, etc. Anyway, Will and I had to sleep in separate rooms our first night in Zagreb because the nice toothless man at the desk gave our reserved room away and all that was left were single rooms. Luckily we survived our first night in the potentially haunted Atlantic/Liberace/Clue hotel.
Lobby of our hotel (photo credit: Will Kooi)

We had limited time in Zagreb because we had to catch a train for the Plitvice Lakes National Park (Nacionalni Park Plitvička Jezera). So with Rick Steves’ book in hand, we saw most of the must-sees: Zagreb Cathedral, Jelačić Square, Dolac Market, and The Museum of Broken Relationships.

A fish I totally ate…after the waiter cut off the head for me (photo credit: Holly Kooi)
Dolac Market (photo credit: Holly Kooi)

What is The Museum of Broken Relationships, you ask? Well, it’s a museum of items from broken relationships – anything from a frisbee that was given to a wife as a 2-year anniversary present to the blue blouse a woman was wearing the night her husband of 16 years announced he would be leaving her in 6 weeks. The basis of the museum is, the world celebrates marriages, engagements, togetherness. But what about break-ups? What do those people do? So, as a way of healing or at least helping with the healing process, the museum came to be and people from all over the world sent in items from their now broken relationships along with short descriptive stories explaining the donated item. I left the museum not necessarily feeling merry nor sad, but rather, challenged, or reminded even – reminded to work hard in my marriage every single day; to keep it God-centered and loving, and even if Will comes home on March 11th and hands me a partially wrapped frisbee as my Happy Anniversary present, so be it. It won’t end up in the Museum of Broken Relationships. (However, please don’t get me a frisbee for an anniversary present unless it plays Beatles music when I throw it or something. No frisbees. Thanks William.)

Items in the Museum of Broken Relationships (photo credit: Will Kooi)
Item in Museum of Broken Relationships (photo credit: Will Kooi)

After touring as much of Zagreb as we had time for, we boarded a charter bus and rode out to the Plitvice Lakes. We arrived at our adorable hotel, Hotel Jezera, late in the afternoon but early enough to still see at least one lake before the park closed. Will and I paddled around in a cute little boat, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the natural turquoise-blue color of the water. The color of the water is due to a mineral that is at the bottom of each lake, and because the water is so blue, it’s also clear which allows its admirers to see the creatures that have a home there in a way they’ve never been seen before, as well as nearly to the bottom of the lakes. It’s absolutely breathtaking. The next morning Will and I woke up incredibly early in order to beat the majority of the tourists to the trails. We started at the bottom lake and worked our way up to the top. Each lake was gorgeous in its own way – some had enormous natural waterfalls while others sat quietly without any disturbance.

(photo credit: Will Kooi)
An amazing example of just how blue the water really is. It’s INCREDIBLE. (photo credit: Will Kooi)
Will and I looking adorable in front of a blue-green lake (photo credit: some guy)

It took us about 3 hours to finish the park. The park has a bit of a different way of getting its visitors back to whence they came. If you didn’t come by car or by giant tour bus, you have to walk a bit of a ways down an extremely busy road until you see a tiny brown graffiti-covered shack. That’s the bus stop. Then, you are to wait outside of the shack until you see a charter bus. When you see the bus, you have to wave wildly at the bus so the driver knows to stop and pick you up. Basically you’re required to hitchhike if you have any hope of getting back to Zagreb. We knew a specific bus would be driving by at 12:45pm, so Will and I were at the bus stop by 12:25 just in case. Two guys were also with us, about our age. We waited, and waited, and waited, and we also waited. Several buses drove by, not the one we were looking for, but still, they were charter buses, so we tried to wave each one down. None of them stopped. The bus we knew the name of never came, and by 1:30pm we were all frustrated and acquiring a sun burn. As we complained alongside our new English companions (oh the two guys were from England by the way), a taxi van pulled up and said he’d take the 4 of us to Zagreb for such and such a price. Though the price was a little higher than the bus, it beat waiting in the sun for 3 more hours. I don’t really know much about the taxi man other than he’s an avid radio station switcher and insane driver. If you’re in need of your faith to be tested, ride in a taxi in another country. That ride alone will produce more prayers than you’ve ever prayed in a week. Possibly a month. He swerved, passed and overtook car after car, rarely breaking or slowing down. And we were on mountains! At one point in the ride, after realizing that though we had been talking nonstop with our new friends for nearly two hours we still hadn’t given them our names, we each introduced ourselves and thought about what our gravestones would say if we were buried together. I think we came up with something like:

Here lies Chris, Nick, Will, and Holly.
“It was fun, guys.”

Realizing the bus probably isn’t coming (photo credit: Will Kooi)

Short and sweet. Luckily there was no need for a such a gravestone. We made it to Zagreb in one piece, though emotionally I think we were a little traumatized. We bid our friends farewell and enjoyed our last night of vacation on a neat and busy street that consisted of nothing but cafes. We had coffee at Cafe History then spent the night back in the Clue hotel. The next morning we went to the church of some missionaries we had contacted prior to our arrival. Afterwards we had a traditional Croatian lunch with the missionaries as well as other church members. The dish I had is famous for being cooked “under a bell”, while Will had his turn of eating an intact fish. You can read about the traditional bell-cooked meals here.

My Croatian meal (photo credit: Holly Kooi)

We caught a train back to Vienna where we shared our compartment with a Polish, German-speaking, priest-in-training fellow. He was a little older than us, 27 I think. He’s from Poland but studies in Germany which is why his German was fluent and perfect. We spent 6 hours talking to and learning about him. He spoke to us primarily in German so we could practice our German, however we would occasionally switch back to English so he could practice his English. It was a good time.

So that’s our trip! Again, if you have the chance to go to Croatia, go. The people and country are nothing less than wonderful.

(photo credit: Will Kooi)

My next trip is coming up this Sunday. I’m going to a women’s retreat (Frauenfreizeit) in Upper Austria and I’ll be staying in this beautiful area for a week. It’s called Filzmoos! (I love that.) I’ll write about it when I come back.

Hotel Alpenkrone

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