First Observations on this Journey: 21stCentury Train Travel. Not your father’s Orient Express.

The boarding process in Vienna was like any queue in an Italian airport. Those of you who understood that sentence know that it can not be described to those who do not.

We arrived at our reserved compartment to find a squatter in my seat; an older gentlemen who pretended that it was an accident, and then proceeded to ask the other 4 passengers in the compartment when they were disembarking the train before finding another place to squat. He also left his luggage(two pieces!) to take up space he hadn’t paid for, meaning that one of our suitcases was wedged in the aisle between our seats, and my camera bag rested on my lap for 3 of the 4 hours. A comfortable ride it was not.

The other paying passengers in our car included two college-age students, both appropriately dressed in shorts and t-shirts, and an older Pleasant Couple wearing long pants and shirts. Just looking at them made us perspire.

When one of the passengers in our cabin disembarked, Old Squatter appeared from nowhere to claim the seat. At that point I commented to Anna Grace, “I hate people who take seats they haven’t paid for.”  The look I received from him, as he clearly understood English, was priceless.

One of the few interesting scenes from the train, if you don’t count all the cows.

For the last hour I was able to move the camera bag onto an empty seat and try to stretch my cramped legs. Of course, this is when the AC in our car fails. On a 33°C day.  The student group traveling in our car became restless, roaming up and down the aisles to open windows and find fresh air. The Pleasant Couple in our car decided to close the door to our compartment to block the noise, but doing so trapped us without circulating air. Having none of that, especially as Old Squatter was sitting next to Anna Grace wearing long pants, a shirt, and a jacket, and perspiring like the fool he was, I opened the door. Old Squatter and Pleasant Couple quietly sulked for the remainder of the trip to the Slovenian border.

The best thing about Zagreb (so far) is real ice in our beverages.


Neither Anna Grace nor I were holding much hope for a better second-half of the journey, and so were pleasantly surprised to find a respectable (circa 1990s) train with considerably better AC than the Austrian train had (before it failed, even!), and the entire compartment to ourselves!

Crossing the border from Slovenia to Croatia required us to provide our passports (and Austrian residency cards) on three separate occasions.

Taking advantage of having a compartment to ourselves.

We arrived at the Zagreb train station in the late afternoon with fresh, cool, and renewed spirits. The first priority was to (hopefully) secure two first-class seats for our train from Zagreb to Sarajevo in a couple of days.

Nope. General seating. First come, first served.  That should be fun. The tickets were hand-written, the copy made with a carbon paper, too.  Quaint.

Dinner rounded out the evening, at Pizzeria Karajola, self-proclaimed, “best pizza in Zagreb.”  We had a little trouble finding the pizzeria on our first attempt; had the directions included, “go through the questionable alley to the left of the Petit Bateau store and up the stairs by the sex shop,” we would not have missed it.

The waitstaff appearing with water glasses containing REAL ICE CUBES felt like Christmas morning!  Ice cubes—even thoroughly cooled beverages—are rare finds in Europe. And the local diners at the table next to us had an entire small bucket of ice cubes, so we knew that the restaurant wasn’t just saving the ice for the Americans.

We can’t say whether Karajola’s serves the best pizza in Zagreb, because our paper-thin, wood-fired crusts adorned with roasted garlic, Buffalo mozzarella and rocket salad disappeared too quickly for us to make an assessment.

We returned to a hotel room with no AC. (“It is too hot. The AC can not work.”) What were we thinking to expect functional AC in a newly renovated hotel?  And, as seems to be the case in Croatia, non-functional Internet. (“The Internet is not working. It has not worked all day.”)  I did not bother to ask if someone had contacted the service provider.

Breakfast is also included with our hotel rate. I hope there will be ice cubes.