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April 10, 2019

Croatia: Crossing the Border and Trakošćan Castle

Filed under: Croatia, Europe, Photography, Slovenia, The List, Travel, Travel, Writing — Tags: , , , , — anotherheader @ 12:11 pm

St. Mark’s Church is one of Zagreb’s most famous sites.

Leaving Ptuj Slovenia we headed to Zagreb Croatian. When we arrived at the border kiosk we handed over our passports to the agent. On seeing our American passports the guard, in a combination of a few words of broken English and ten times as many emphatic hand gestures, explained that we could not cross the border into Croatia here.

In truth I had a clue that we might have a problem before we left the hotel room in the morning. Scanning the Internet I found a post indicating if one is traveling by road with a non-EU passport you have to exit Slovenia to enter the non-Schengen zone country Croatia at specifically defined crossings. It wasn’t clear to me where these acceptable border crossing points were; it can be hard to quickly put place names to a spot on an unfamiliar map. Nevertheless it seemed likely that the acceptable crossings would be on major international motorway routes. When I looked up the day’s route on Google Maps it showed us taking the major motorway from Ptuj to Zagreb Croatia. This route figured to be fine. If it wasn’t fine, there was a much bigger problem.

Passports: The one on the left is Gigi’s. There was no issue taking our dog across the border.

We carry two GPSs as we travel by car. Our TomTom, nicknamed Homeretta, doesn’t plan the best routes but is easy to read while driving and works (usually) when out of cell range. Siri on the iPhone has the most up-to-date road information and plans routes accordingly but becomes useless when she can’t find a cell tower. Often the two machines disagree. But in this case both GPSs gave us the same route to Croatia.

Likely the source of our border problem was our decision to visit Trakošćan Castle. Trakošćan Castle is located just across the Slovenian border in Croatia. Contrary to the route I looked at on Google Maps, the two car GPSs agreed that the fastest route from Ptuj to Trakošćan was via what turned out to be a secondary road. Without a paper map we blindly obeyed the GPS’s instructions and took what we realized was a scenic but motorway-free route to the castle.

A peek-a-boo view of Trakošćan Castle

Among the hand gestures and the occasional words of English the border agent tried to communicate to us the names of two places we understood as being the places where we could cross. Not that that it mattered. We understood neither place name well enough to navigate to it. In fact both places “sounded” nebulously far away. Doubtless if we read the names we had just been told on the map we wouldn’t have thought that they sounded anything like what we had just heard, such was our difficulty with the Slovene language.

In the end it seemed easier to turn the car around, drive back to the outskirts of Ptuj, and force the digitized girls to route us to Trakošćan via the main motorway. If the motorway border crossing didn’t work for us, getting to Croatia was going to be a much, much larger challenge than we imagined.

Fortunately the motorway did work. After 45 minutes we were back at the border between Slovenia and Croatia, this time on the motorway. Without delay our passports were stamped and we were allowed into Croatia.

Success! Two stamps in the passport documented a successful border crossing.  (Croatia’s country code is “HR”)

Looking back at the map it is clear we wouldn’t have saved much time taking the back road to Trakošćan. The castle was close enough to the motorway that the back road route would have only saved a couple of minutes at best. Sometimes the GPS’s attempts to save time aren’t well founded; we frequently end up on much slower small roads that don’t actually save time. Nevertheless the GPS’s were generally correct in one respect: It is better to take the back roads when possible. Except maybe not this time.


We crossed out of the Schengen Area on the way from Slovenia to Croatia in October of 2018.

Despite the hick-up, the small adventure was worth it to get to Trakošćan. The castle is interesting, though not particularly photogenic.

Typically the authories don’t like people taking pictures of border crossings.

A sign on the outside of the duty free shop at the border. Interesting that it is written in English….

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