Driving from Croatia to Sweden

The final leg of the vacation was the drive back home to Stockholm. Even though we spent a couple of days in Zagreb after coming back from the Alps, those days were not very relaxing. We were running around doing shopping and meeting friends (not as many as we usually do when in Zagreb, though). I felt a bit saturated from all the travels during this vacation up until then and I was physically very tired. I was also dragging a cold which I got in the Alps. Because of all of this, I was not as enthusiastic about the drive back as I was about the drive to Croatia and about the Alps road trip. But it still turned out to be a very pleasant trip.

Day 1: Zagreb – Dresden

For the first day we had more than 800 km of driving planned, so this was the longest leg of the whole vacation. Dresden in Germany was the goal. There were many places we wanted to visit along the way, for various reasons: Maribor because Aneta’s late dad did his military service there and he spoke highly of the city, Leibnitz in Austria because I went shopping there with my family in the early 90s, Graz because it is one of the few bigger Austrian cities we have not visited yet, Vienna because I have a built in attraction to it since it is the capitol of Austria, and Prague because it is Prague :-). There was no way to manage even half of this, so a lot of disappointment was built into the first day from the beginning.

The beginning of the trip was bad, we got stuck for an hour on the border to Slovenia. We used a different border crossing this time (because it made most sense for the planned route), a bit further from Zagreb so less familiar to me. It also has a small border crossing close to it, where my trusted Google navigation was guiding me to in order to avoid the congestion at the big crossing. But in front of the crossing there was a sign that it was only for locals. So we turned around and went to the default crossing. Once we arrived there and got stuck, we wished we had taken a chance at the small one. What’s the worst that could have happened?

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The colorful border crossing between Slovenia and Austria that I remember from our shopping trips to Leibnitz in the early 90s.

Aneta was sleeping while we were driving passed Maribor, so we did not visit the city. We just drove through the very small part of Slovenia on our route and entered Austria. We took a short drive through Leibnitz, I could not resist. I cannot claim that I recognized anything, all my memories from there are vague. I soon realized that it was getting late and we have driven only one fourth of the way to Dresden. I also got very sleepy so we pulled of to a highway rest stop shortly after Graz. Highway rest stops range from completely disgusting and depressing to very nice ones. This one (Landzeit Loipersdorf) was luckily in the latter category. Aneta ate some salad, while Emili and me shared an ice-cream. The ice-cream in combination with a mildly good espresso brought me back to life (btw. Aneta’s cappucino was bad, again). We continued driving, passed Vienna (there was absolutely no time to visit the city) and soon entered the Czech republic (or Czechia as they prefer to be called in English nowadays). The place where we passed the border is called Hatě and must be one of the strangest places in Europe – a mixture of kitschy casinos, shopping malls and billboards advertising strip bars. All very colorful, all very depressing.

Casino kitsch at Hatě. Yes, that is an airplane there. And a planet. And the place is called Excalibur.

After some more driving we stopped to look for a place to eat. We were close to Prague, but had no time to enter the city center so we wanted to find a good place close to the highway. I found a place called Pepř a Sůl, ranked 268 on Tripadvisor. It did not sound very promising, but we had no energy or time to look for anything else. Guess what, this was the best meal of the whole vacation. I keep telling myself I need to stop using Tripadvisor, but despite it being terrible, I still have not found anything better. The restaurant was modern and very price worthy. Both my duck breast and Aneta’s veal checks were prepared to perfection. Even Emili’s chicken schnitzel, which normally is a boring dish, was amazing. Their homemade orange lemonade might have been the best thing I have ever drunk. The cappuccino was just ok, though :-). But after all the bad ones, even ok was good enough.The dinner gave me just enough energy to drive the remaining 150 km to Dresden. This was the least enjoyable leg of the whole vacation, it was late and dark and I was very tired. I had even considered giving up on Dresden completely and spending the night in Prague instead. Note to self, 850 km is too much for one day.

Day 2: Dresden – Świnoujście, ferry from Świnoujście to Ystad

For day 2, we needed to drive only 450 km so we used the morning and early afternoon to sightsee Dresden. The city looks impressive in photos. I was not equally impressed live, though. Do not get me wrong, it is beautiful, but my expectations from the photos were too high. The impression of the city was not improved by the super-sweet and artificial lemonades we had at ALEX am Schloss. Ah, well…

In Dresden. Emili does not always cooperate when it comes to taking photos.

When we reached Berlin and stopped for a break, we were reminded that we were back in Northern Europe – the weather was chilly. An hour later we reached Poland and the most nervous evening of the whole vacation. We wanted to eat something, but had no idea how much available time we had. The ferry was leaving at 22.30, and the not very good Polferries webpage claimed in one place that the latest check in time was 21.00, while in an another place it said that check in closed at 22.00. So we were worried that we would either arrive before 21 and have to wait forever for boarding (and there is nothing in the ferry terminal to do or eat), or that we would come too late and be denied boarding. Another problem was that Świnoujście is located on two islands without a bridge connection. And you guessed it – the city center and the restaurants are on the first island, while the ferry terminal is on the second one. The ferry in between the two islands added too much uncertainty to an already uncertain situation. So we turned our eyes to Miedzyzdroje, a small vacation town with several restaurants 15 min away from the ferry terminal, but on the correct island. The problem was that even there we would not have enough time for a meal. So I hinted to Aneta that we should go to the M place, which she did not understand was our only option at that point. And I was not explicit enough, because, well, it’s not easy to explicitly say “Let’s eat at the M place”. By the time my message got through to her, we had passed all the M places. So we were hungry and nervous and the atmosphere was not the best. We stopped at Lidl and got some supplies, which did not make for a very luxurious dinner but at least we felt better afterwards. Btw. this Lidl was brutally cheap: 4.5 liters of water, a baguette, a hot dog and a Kinder chocolate, 2 euros in total.

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The Baltic sea at Miedzyzdroje

Around 20.15 we got to the ferry terminal where we waited for roughly 45 minutes for boarding. I guess it would not have been a good idea to arrive at the terminal long after 21 o’clock, because by that time most of the cars were already parked on the ferry. I checked out the ferry restaurant to at least get some cooked food, but it looked very uninviting. So I borrowed some chocolate from Emili instead. We took a short walk around the ferry to check its amenities and while it was nothing special, it was much more pleasant than the depressing ferry we took between Gdansk and Nynäshamn back in 2012. Emili even found a nice kids’ corner where she played for a bit.

I really like the concept of sleeping and being transported at the same time, but there is something repulsive about boat cabins. I consider them dirty, although they are probably equally clean/dirty as hotel rooms. This one was even quite spacious, but it still felt bad. After taking a shower, I wasn’t sure if I was cleaner after or before it. Since we needed to get up before 6 o’clock, we went to bed relatively early. Just as I have fallen asleep, I was woken by knocking on the cabin door. Half conscious, I opened. A member of the crew was standing there and said “Aha, you are in the cabin, good” and just went away. I have no idea what that was about so I just went back to sleep.

Day 3: Ystad – Stockholm

In the morning I took another short walk around the ferry. The sun was just rising as we were mooring in Ystad. It was a beautiful morning and we were in Sweden, at home. Well, there was more than 700 km to drive to Stockholm, but it really felt good to be back in Sweden after four weeks of being away. This does not make much sense as these four weeks were amazing. Yet it felt great to be back.

Mooring in Ystad at dawn

We took a very short drive through the center of Ystad, which was still very much asleep. We did the same in Simrishamn, it too was equally asleep. Then we went to nearby Kivik which is a nice coastal village known in Sweden for its large apple production. Here we had a nice breakfast at Kiviks Café & Bageri. Since the province of Skåne is Toni’s domain, I had a chat with him about what we should not miss. He tipped us about the sandy beach at the Stenshuvud national park. Despite the weather turning cloudy, this was very nice. We did not swim there, we are still quite reluctant about swimming in Sweden because the water temperature is usually some five degrees below what we consider comfortable.

At Stenshuvud national park

We had three hours of driving to Kalmar, our next stop. Aneta was driving a bit so I could get some sleep. Toni said Kalmar was a must see place and I had a desire to visit it for a long time. Before driving into the city we passed the bridge to the island of Öland and immediately went back to the mainland, partly for the views from the bridge, partly because the bridge is impressive from an engineering point of view. Öland is a place which we would like to visit at some point for a proper road-trip. The first order of business in Kalmar was lunch. We picked the only Indian restaurant in town according to Tripadvisor (guess what, it wasn’t the only Indian restaurant in town). It was not very good, but even not very good Indian food is good food :-). Then we took a walk around the city which felt much emptier than we imagined it should be on a summer Saturday. But one shouldn’t get surprised by a lack of people anywhere in Sweden. And luckily by the end of our walk we stumbled upon some places with at least some people presence.

Kalmar castle

After Kalmar we planned the next stop in Västervik, where we got another taste of typical Sweden – no cafes are open on Saturdays after 18 o’clock. And we did not feel like going to a bar. Other than that, Västervik looked like a nice little place. Aneta continued googling for a place that was open and found Stavsjö Krog & Kafé. This turned out to be a highway stop, but a surprisingly nice one. So we made a cake stop there.

The final stop before home was Hägersten in Stockholm where our friends Ivan and Matej live. They moved to Sweden from Zagreb recently. We were transporting Ivan’s hiking gear from Zagreb so we left this at his place. I would have loved to catch up, but I was very tired and longing for my shower and bed.

Conclusion

So even though the drive back had some minor disappointments and anxiety, it was still a nice trip without any real problems. And with some very pleasant surprises like Pepř a Sůl.

And as usual, here are some statistics. We drove just over 2100 km, with a diesel consumption of only 4.6 liters per 100 km. The total cost of the trip was around 600 euros. During the whole vacation of four weeks we drove more than 9000 kilometers, without a single problem with the car and with most things going as planned (other than constantly being late because we wanted to visit more places than we objectively had time for, but this was expected). From a logistics point of view, I am very proud we managed to pull off such a trip without any problems. Is this something I can add to my CV :-)?

Ah, yes, to end the cappuccino story… Definitely the best cappuccino that we had during the whole vacation was at cafe Filodramatica in Rijeka.

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