Visiting Varaždin was never on our itinerary, in fact, I'd never even heard of it until the day before we went. We stopped at the tourist information office inside of the bus station after we arrived in Zagreb and asked for advice on easy day trips from the city, and we were given a great little softcover book full of ideas. My initial thought had been Trakošćan Castle, but after finding out that it was indeed pretty tricky to reach via public transit (I'd heard similar things online, which is why I wanted to check in person), we looked into other options like Plitvice Lakes National Park but nixed that after seeing how limited and pricey transport options were.
We finally settled on Varaždin, a town of about 50,000 people in northern Croatia, and a little over an hour away from Zagreb by car. We didn't really have any plans going in, aside from hopes of checking out Sermage Palace, something we'd seen a few intriguing photos of in the book of day trips. What we didn't anticipate, though, was finding a near-ghost town, and, after being dropped off by the bus, that we'd be spending five hours in said town.
D - I think we kind of realized our "mistake" pretty much immediately after getting off the bus in Varaždin and went and asked the guy at the bus station how long we had to wait for a bus going back to Zagreb. I think we were both hoping he'd say about two hours so that we'd have time to explore the town so, yeah, we were both pretty shocked and crestfallen when he said five! What were we going to do!?
We arrived around 11am, walked around for a while, and took photos - as always, of course, but this felt novel since there was virtually no risk of anyone else walking in or out of them - we truly had the place to ourselves. After giving the old town a really good look, we started feeling a little desperate - we had five hours to kill, and only one restaurant to pick from (which we later deduced wasn't serving food, only drinks, and allowed smoking inside) and the weather didn't seem too stable. We saw movement through the windows of one coffee shop so we walked in, but much to our disappointment the guy and his dog inside were just cleaning up after what was surely a fun New Year's party the night before...and they certainly weren't open on New Year's Day.
D - Not only did we walk into one cafe that appeared open but actually wasn't, but we actually tried another one when we were walking by the castle. As we were walking past, I heard some music inside and I got really excited because I knew I was about to eat! We rounded the corner and entered the restaurant only to be turned away by a confused Croatian man listening to music and mopping the floors. He didn't speak any English, but I'm pretty sure he was saying, "What are you crazy? Of course we're not open, it's New Year's Day!"
As our desperation (lol) grew we sought out a hotel with a restaurant on the edge of a park we'd put on our mental "Last Resort" list earlier in the day. We sat down for a couple of hot chocolates as it started sprinkling outside, and calculated how slowly we needed to sip them before we could then order food and really linger over it. Could we reasonably sit in the restaurant for two and a half hours, we asked ourselves? Yes, yes we could, and yes we did.
It was actually really nice to sit over food for such a length of time, as we typically eat meals in about (this is embarrassing), depending on what we're eating, 10-20 minutes. Obviously, this was a massive change of pace for us and forced us to not only think about what we were eating (and we ate a lot - the pressure's really on if you're in a restaurant for that long!), but spend a lot of time talking to each other too. We went through these 20 questions for New Year's Eve two years prior when we spent the holiday in Malta, and I was reminded of them as we sat (and sat) in that restaurant. We went through many of them, and gosh, no matter that it wasn't New Year's Eve - it was really good and meaningful.
So...what a day, right? I'm sure I've really convinced you to make a trip to Varaždin after all of the exciting things we did there! Honestly, I'm sure that it's a nice place to spend a few hours when it's sunny and warm (or even when it's cold, just as long as there's a few places open to warm up in!) but we had an unusual visit, I think. Had we known ahead of time that the bus schedule would be so reduced due to the holiday and we'd be stuck in a virtual ghost town for five hours, we probably would've stayed in Zagreb where at least a few more things would've been open (and we had an Airbnb to hang out in!). All the minor 'mishaps' aside, we still had a pretty good time, wandering around a pretty town, its 17th-century palace, and staying dry from the rain with a leisurely meal. This kind of stuff happens while traveling (and in life!) - holidays, closures, bad weather, and so on - and so while we weren't pumped about all of the circumstances at the time, I have to say, it all turned out just fine, didn't it? ;)