From the very moment in October when we rejigged our trip to accommodate the bankruptcy of Adria Airways (Slovenia) by round-tripping flights via Zagreb, there was one small problem.
Our flight from the Croatian capital was scheduled to depart on Thursday, December 5 at 1:00 p.m., and we’d be starting the day in Trieste, in Italy, from whence the prevailing rail schedules simply did not offer a way to Zagreb during the required window.
Buses were an option, to be sure, but the most efficient way (although not the cheapest) was to hire a transfer — a driver and a car for a trip that takes roughly 2.5 hours on the autobahn.
This we did, via Daytrip, Uber-like web site in Europe that connects travelers with drivers who speak their language, with options to add sightseeing stops. We winced, paid the fee for a straight transfer (circa $200) and were rewarded with the delightful wit, humor and professionalism of Davor, a native of Croatia who owns his own travel agency (Adria Private Tours) as well as Lupo, a small bar and cafe near his neighborhood in Zagreb’s southern suburbs.
As Davor explained to us, Daytrip merely makes the connection and takes a finder’s fee. For him it’s a good way to odd-job the off-season and keep his own contacts constant. I feel fortunate that we made his acquaintance, and there’ll be no hesitation contacting him should we ever tackle Croatia in greater detail.
Diana and I exited the Hotel Roma in Trieste at just before 7:00 a.m. after breakfast, and within minutes Davor materialized. Quickly the ride began, with Davor cutting against incoming morning drive-time traffic by means of back alleys and short cuts, up the escarpment to Villa Opicina and the gateway to the Karst plateau, through the cursory border checkpoint with Slovenia and merging onto the four-lane for a trouble-free passage past Ljubljana to Zagreb.
|Tram in Villa Opicina.|
Davor was a font of information and I peppered him with questions about the life and times of Croatia. It was fascinating. As we approached Zagreb he asked if we might be interested in a brief detour to his cafe for a coffee, and this respite reminded me a great deal of olden times in the (now former) socialist burbs.
Lupo is located in the patchwork residency quilt where tiny old villages were surrounded first with a sprinkling of Yugoslav-era housing blocks, then newer private homes and condos dating from Croatia’s post-1991 independence. Davor’s bar, agency and home all are situated close to the airport, and only two miles from Zagreb’s city center. He has it figured out.
The ride was a great start for our journey home, and once we arrived at the airport, checked in, cleared security and relaxed with our books and coffees, everything went to straight to shit and stayed that way for 30 hours.
Foggy weather in Munich meant the arriving plane was late to Zagreb, which made us late to Munich, where we had only an hour and 45 minutes to make our transatlantic flight to Chicago. By the time we were in the Munich terminal, the Chicago plane was gone, but thankfully Lufthansa rebooked us to Washington DC, the last plane of the day to depart for America.
There was only one difficulty: No one told us. No personnel were at the gate, and the only official in sight waved us to the rebooking desk, where we waited for more than an hour, only to be told by the horrified woman at the desk that we’d missed the rebooked flight, too.
Now there was no choice except spending the night and catching the first flight back on Friday, and this was accomplished with Lufthansa’s assistance: taxi, hotel and meal vouchers, and be back Friday at 6:00 a.m.
Welcome to the ultimate in good news/bad news paradigms.
- The bad news is you can’t make it home.
- The good news is there’ll be a night in Munich!
- The bad news is your free hotel is at the airport, too far away to make anything of a public transit jaunt into the city center when it’s already 7:00 p.m.
- The good news is your hotel has Bavarian food and beer.
- The bad news is they’re serving only a Rotary Club-style buffet which isn’t Bavarian at all.
- The good news is at least Paulaner is on tap, and so you drink as many of those as possible to ease the pain.
Before we redeemed the taxi voucher with a pissed-off elderly former hippie driver, there was time to examine Airbräu, the world’s first airport brewery. Actually it was the smaller “satellite” of the two airport locations; the latter has a brewery, restaurant, Tenne (barn), Stube (reconstructed 19th-century Alpine private room), another snug outfitted like the gondola of a balloon, and a 600-seat beer garden, all facing the Munich airport center.
The beer was delicious.
Our request for the earliest flight possible to the States on Friday morning was honored, and our departure to Charlotte was 9:00 a.m. The hotel shuttle delivered us to the airport at 6:00 a.m., and of course the flight was late — every single one of the seven legs we flew on this trip was delayed.
Desperate for reasons to be optimistic about life, I was delighted to see a traditional Munich breakfast being offered by the kiosk in our arm of the terminal: Weißwurst (white sausage), special sweet mustard (Senf), a nice little Brezel and a Hofbräu Hefeweizen. The key to proper dining in this instance is to score the sausage skin and remove the succulent contents. An unexpected detour, perhaps but glorious localism for Frühstück.
At long last returned to American soil, and yet again late, we were in the position of being forced to sprint from one side of Charlotte’s airport to the other. We arrived in the nick of time for boarding to Louisville to begin — then waited almost two more hours for boarding actually to start.
However, as you already know, in due time we made it home safely.