Budapest, Zagreb, Ljubljana: Double Time to Western Europe


“You know it’s almost September, right?” Pat asked me. I guess I had a vague notion. “Where are we going next?” he continued. That was a good question. We wanted to see so much; Moldova, Hungary, Croatia, and Slovenia before heading back into Italy and checking out Venice, then to France for Nice and Montpellier. We also knew that we wanted to spend a month tooling around the French countryside searching for wine. We hear they make some good stuff. And, we wanted to spend at least a week in Perpignan. Everything needed to fit into the next two months. Why were we still in Romania?!

Scratch Moldova. It’s in the wrong direction. I worked backwards from our drop-dead date of Nov 5th when we needed to be in Barcelona to board the ship. Did I mention we were taking a cruise ship back to the States? No? Well, that’s another story for another post. We could fit Budapest, Zagreb, and Ljubljana into a short period since they aren’t too far apart. The rest of Hungary, Croatia, and Slovenia would need to wait for another time.


Bull’s Blood in Budapest

In Vino Veritas. How true.

Obviously our first bit of business in Budapest was to find a nice wine store with a knowledgeable staff. Google Maps found a few so we set off in the direction of the nearest store with good reviews.

The staff at In Vino Veritas hooked us up with a few bottles of Hungarian wine. The Egri Bikaver, Bull’s Blood, was our favorite. There are different stories as to the origin of the name. It is a deep red wine with tannins and a nice body. We tossed one into the backpack along with some snacks and headed out to explore Pest. Did you know that Buda and Pest are two parts of Budapest separated by the river?

We found the City Park in Pest. It’s huge with an impressive plaza boasting the massive Millennial Monument and sculptures throughout. There is even a sculpture of George Washington. We also spent some time at the Elliott Erwitt photography exhibition and the Capa Kortars photo museum. Both very worthwhile and well done.

Sculpture in the Budapest City Park

Buda was very different from Pest, but pretty as well, though it’s more touristy. There is a castle on the hill with a great view of Pest. We spent a morning walking around and taking photos then ate an overpriced and underwhelming lunch. We headed down to the Danube River to use our all-day public transport passes on the water taxis. We love all-day public transport passes. They are the original hop-on hop-off and go absolutely everywhere!

The castle on the Buda side. Looks like Walt Disney may have been consulted.

The menu is on a tablet with photos and in English!

Well, the water taxi seemed like a good idea at the time… We hopped on one of the water taxis heading north figuring it would go up and around Margit Island and dump us off back near where we started. The water taxi crossed the river to the Pest side and made a stop. It continued north to Margit Island. Stopped. It continued north beyond Margit Island. Stopped. After a long while it came to the terminus and we were ushered off. Long story short, our little river cruise took over 3hrs!

While in Budapest we were lucky enough to cross paths with our friends, Motoroaming. We had met them in Melnik, Bulgaria, and have faithfully been following their blog since. We got together for a fabulous lunch in the center of Pest near the main plaza and the parliament building. It was fun to catch up with them and the food was phenomenal. If you get to Budapest, give Hungarikum Bistro a try!


Zig Zag through Zagreb

Sculpture by Meštrović

Time to really kick into touring mode. We only spent three nights in Zagreb, but found a nice wine store despite the rainy weather. The favored Croatian wine is Plavac Mali. If you are into Zinfandel, this is a great wine for you. We picked up a couple of bottles and headed back to the room where we enjoyed the first bottle because the rain wouldn’t let up.

Museums are always a good option when the weather is inclement, so we went to Atelijer Meštrović. It was a sculpture museum of a single artist, Meštrović. His sculptures were all figures and his understanding of the human form was really spectacular. There were male and female nudes, busts, and beasts, and tortured souls. Definitely worth a visit if you get to Zagreb, even if the sun is shining.

The weather was a little bit better the second day so we packed our bottle of wine and planned to pick up some food at the huge food festival that our host and another person from the area told us about. The “Huge Food Festival” proved to be very elusive. We asked a couple of people and they all told us “You can’t miss it. It’s right in the center.” We missed it and missed it again. Finally we came across a bunch of kiosks in a park with signs for food and beverages. Excellent! But, it didn’t open until evening and it really didn’t look all that big.

Cool plants in the Zagreb botanical gardens

We walked around some more and came across a large gathering of people and tents with vendors. Ahhhh, this must be the food festival. There were people selling local honey, fruit preserves, health supplements, and lotions and things. There was one tent with a giant steam table full of trays of not-very-appetizing sludge. Hmmm, not what we were expecting from a food festival. We chucked the idea of finding food there, picked up a sandwich and headed toward the botanical gardens.

The gardens were nicely displayed and well kept with plants of all types. We found a quiet place and had our usual VinoLunch. The weather was finally cooperating so we took the opportunity to stroll through the gardens and get some fresh air. It was a nice way to end our short time in Zagreb.


Ljubljana [lyoo-BLYAH-nah]

Ljubljana wasn’t very far from Zagreb, but we wanted to stop and try to connect with a couple we had met in Bansko, Bulgaria. We found a BlahBlah car to take us door to door. That’s always nice. No worries about missing a connection.

We arrived on a Sunday and were shocked to find that all of the grocery stores we closed. Uh oh. We had no food and no wine or scotch. It was raining but we thought we’d walk around and try to find a quickie mart or something that had essentials. We were pretty much out of luck, but many restaurants were open. Turns out we went all the way to Slovenia to have Chinese food.

The historic center of Ljubljana

The city is very nice and the center straddles a small river. The next day we managed to find a good wine shop under a bridge. One of the owners was there and when she found out that we had questions about a certain wine that we read about from Slovenia, she called her husband and he joined us in a nice wine tasting and good conversation.

We were lucky enough to be able to meet up with the couple we met in Bulgaria. They were on a road trip on their Harley Davidson when we met them. They took us to a fabulous authentic Slovenian restaurant that specialized in frog legs. We had a great evening eating local specialties and drinking carafes of Slovenian wine. As a parting gift, they gave us a bag full of fresh produce from their garden. Thanks guys!

I forgot to take a photo of our friends. Here is one of frog legs instead :/


Budapest, Zagreb, and Ljubljana were a blur. We only had a couple of days in each city and our luck with good weather finally fizzled. It was really nice to be able to reconnect with our Brit friends, Motoroaming, in Budapest and our Slovenian Harley-riding friends in Ljubljana. We only got a taste of each country, but it was enough to let us know that we need to return.


Hike, Drink, Live, Laugh

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