Thursday, May 6, 2010

Zagreb, Croatia: It's Like Something Out of a u2 Video

Zagreb, Croatia, reminded me of a u2 song. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For? No. Try again:

Where the streets have no name!

(Sorry, but I like the Pet Shops version better. Especially in video format.)

I google-mapped directions to the in-town car rental location and the hotel I booked, the Best Western Astoria, which I selected because it was close to the train station. So I thought if I can't find the hotel or the Hertz store, at least I should see signs to Glavni Kolodvor, the train station. What could go wrong?

Well, except for the fact that google-maps is worthless, because the streets either (a) do not have any sort of name visible and (b) do in fact on the maps change name block by block by block (literally, and I am using the word "literally" to mean "literally" and not "figuratively," like some people do nowadays). It took me three hours -- again literally literally -- to find the Hertz location. (And by the time I got there, it was closed. One half hour early.) I used up so much gasoline trying to navigate the streets of Zagreb, that I had to refill the tank from the pre-drop-off fill-up.

And before some of you do the "why don't men ask for directions" thang, I did. Three times. The directions from the first gas station only got me more lost. The second set of directions -- when I ended up back on the tollway pointed in the wrong direction facing a 20km drive to the first exit to turn around -- helped some. Finally, a "policija" gave me a street map when Direction Set #2 got me close, but still lost. The map he gave me was all dog-eared, but it was a lifesaver. (Figuratively. Not literally. My actual life was not in danger at that point. But I did have to use a bathroom.) He was apologetic for the condition of the street map, and I could tell he was rifling through his English language vocabulary to describe the dog-eared condition of the map. When he handed it to me, he said, "it is cabbage."

I love it. Next time I'm given something all dog-eared and worn, I'm calling it "cabbage."

My first impression of Zagreb was poor. And not just because of the completely indecipherable street layout. I was lost primarily on the southside of town, called Novi Zagreb. It was filled with all these worn-out 1960s "urban renewal" era construction. It looked like something out of Soviet Russia. Literally! Or Cabrini Green Chicago. Southside Zagreb is lousy with that look. The core of the city -- Centar -- is much more attractive, with that old "European capital" look. Literally! Again! Such as, por ejemplo:

That said, given my problems finding anything in downtown Zagreb, I am very happy I re-adjusted my plans to be in Zagreb Wednesday, rather than trying to return the rental car the same day as my train trip to Budapest. I'd have missed my train and literally would have been stuck in Zagreb.

Internet connection slow tonight. More pics of my Thursday AM walking tour to follow.

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