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zagreb is lovely, now get me the hell out of here


My dad and I allocated ourselves two hours to get our rental car, pick up my mom at the hotel, pick up my niece at the airport and head up to Lake Bled in Slovenia.

How hard can it be to find the airport in a city with only two main roads, a population of less than a million and the airport is a mere 10 miles from the center of town?   It looked so simple when the cab driver did it yesterday.

We find Europcar in minutes, get our car and promptly got lost on the way back to the hotel. Well, not lost exactly as much as caught in a maze of one way streets. While the walk to get the car took no more than 15 minutes, the car ride back took an hour. We rush to check out and start the 20 minute trip to the airport.

A word of warning about Zagreb: the signage is awful. Especially the signage to the airport. We circle every roundabout within a 30 mile radius of Zagreb and try every single option twice..

We ask directions 20 times, get 20 different routes, and almost drive into 5 ditches (okay, the truth is, we actually DID drive into two of them). None of them lead to the airport, although we might have more luck following the ditches. Halfway to Hungary, we stop at a gas station, and while the attendants are unable to help us, a kindly woman who speaks English gives us detailed directions and draws a map, which we still manage to screw up.

My mother and I giggle nervously as my dad yells at us to stop as it affects his concentration. Then my mother and I quietly wonder how much concentration it takes to drive into a ditch, which makes us howl with laughter and Dad madder which causes us to swerve dangerously, which makes my mom and me laugh, which makes my dad madder… You can see, it’s a vicious circle.

We’re constantly on the lookout for tell-tale airplanes taking off or landing to give us a hint of which direction to drive, but Zagreb international airport doesn’t have a lot of traffic. None from what we could tell. By now, we’re two hours late, without cellphones and imagine Katherine an exhausted weeping pile waiting for us. Our only hope is that her plane is delayed. At this point our conversation is limited to “left, no right, no straight ahead” “tee hee hee” shut up” “guffaw”, “this is awful,” “goddamn Croatians”and “pooooooor Katherine.”

After breaking every traffic law in Zagreb, pulling god knows how many illegal u turns and risking our lives as well as the lives of countless innocents, we finally make it to the airport.

We look in the coffee shop, no Katherine. We look in arrivals, no Katherine. And then we hear her dulcet tone: “I don’t know you, I’m going back, NOW!” And there she stands down by the “parking lot” with a small duffel bag slung over her shoulder looking very tired and cranky.

She handled it all very well. I probably would have stabbed me in the stomach with an airplane fork when I hugged her. Especially considering that her luggage had been lost somewhere between Frankfurt and Zagreb. But it’s possible her hatred for the airline diluted her hatred for us. So we might be safe until the luggage comes. And maybe by then, she’ll be so happy to get her luggage, she’ll forget how hideously late we are.

The drive to Lake Bled is tense, mainly because we we’re afraid of getting lost again, but crossing over into Slovenia, we relax a bit. And once we see the mountains and the beautiful countryside (and the sign indicating Lake Bled ahead) the relief is palpable. When we finally round the corner that reveals the lake with the mountains behind it, it’s like new years in the car (without the champagne, of course—we were dangerous enough on the road without the liquor).

We find the Villa Bled (our hotel), which was one of Tito’s retreats. Its architecture is definitely communist inspired, but the surroundings are inspired by God (if you believe in such a thing). While checking in, we complain about our difficulties finding Zagreb airport from the town center and the man at the desk nods knowingly, telling us he had similar problems once. Despite the language barrier, we’re able to bitch together about those backwards Croatians before being led to our rooms. Like I always say, there’s nothing like a little contempt for a third party to bring people of differing cultures together.

The room is nothing like the one in Zagreb. It’s nothing lavish, but it’s fine and clean and has a balcony with a heartbreakingly beautiful outlook of the lake. Katherine takes a long bath and I sit on the balcony gulping in the view and fresh mountain air. Yeah, this is the life. The scenery is pristine, the colors vibrant. The lake is blue and crystal clear. The air is crisp and clean. Boy, I wish I had a cigarette.

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2 Responses

  1. Interesting read! I’m currently in Zagreb, finding it difficult to occupy my time haha. I’m leaving tomorrow though so I’m not worried. Your story about finding the airport worries me, hopefully I can find it via public transport tomorrow haha. I was at Lake Bled two months ago (to the day!) and it is probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to! Anyways, thanks for the entertaining read!

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