Thursday, 12 December 2013
We caught the train from Ljubljana to Zagreb, early the journey was quite slow and included a border station where immigration officials from both countries checked our passports. When we arrived mid- morning and it was heartening to see our hotel virtually opposite the railway station as we had no map it certainly made it so much easier. We were soon booked in then grabbed ourselves a free map and went to explore the city. Zagreb the capital of Croatia has a population of nearly one million contains almost a quarter of its people. There are many interesting places and the vibrant street life makes it an enjoyable city to visit. We started our orientation by walking away from the station past many beautiful buildings arriving at the square in front of the cathedral which still dominates the skyline with its neo-Gothic style and is surrounded by well- preserved Renaissance walls. The Cathedral was first constructed in 1093 but was destroyed by the Tartars in the 13th century. The Ottomans invaded in the 15th century and constructed the walls around it. In 1880 it was badly damaged by an earthquake and the facade was reconstructed in 1906. Not far from the Cathedral is a lively food market. Markets are always interesting to walk around. We admired the large juicy tomatoes which are full of flavour. Finding a place to eat was not difficult as there are restaurants and cafes everywhere, it’s more of a matter as to what one wants to eat. We found a small café which sold absolutely delicious simple hamburgers. Zagreb is divided into an Upper and Lower Town. The Lower Town is newer and the streets were planned on gridlines and must be the same width and all buildings the same height and type, included in this plan were many parks and squares with an abundance of neo-classical buildings which makes walking around the town a delight. Our second day here we went to the Modern Art Gallery. It was extremely interesting and broad selection of art from various eras across Europe as well as a good selection from Croatian artists. We also visited the Technical Museum another interesting place. They had a ‘Tesla Laboratory’ set up and had demonstrations relating to his experiments with electricity. Nikolai Tesla was instrumental in the development and introduction of alternating current, x-rays, remote control devices and radio waves Although the commentary was only in Croatian we were able to understand the gist of what was being demonstrated, it is handy if you have some science background though. The demonstrator spoke some English as we spoke to him afterwards. The Upper Town is entered via the Stone Gate, the only town gate that has remained intact and was originally built in the Middle Ages. Under the arch of the gateway is a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It holds the painting of the Virgin that was miraculously saved from a devastating fire in 1731. The chapel is still a place of pilgrimage. Prayer services take place regularly and many people make private devotions. The chapel is not enclosed and you wander through the gate and can find yourself in the midst of devout pilgrims. Sensitivity is a must. In the heart of the Upper Town is St. Mark’s Church which is a 13th century Romanesque Church; however it was substantially rebuilt in the 19th century. The roof tiles, which are reminiscent of Stephansdom in Vienna, are decorated with the coat of arms of the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slovenia. We walked in and out the narrow streets and lanes of the Upper Town passed a Museum of Broken Relationships (bizarre); there were a number of other small museums in this part of the city. While we were here in one of the large squares a Vegan Festival was being set up. On our last day in the city, which was a Saturday the festival was in full swing. So we wandered around the various stalls. We tried the ice-cream on one stall. They had some very interesting flavours which in included lemon and mint, very refreshing and apricot and rosemary the combination really worked. There were children’s performances and overall it was very enjoyable. We walked around some of the little lanes near the market as we were having a coffee a group of women in national costume appeared and sang some traditional songs. Then there was a parade of people dressed in animal costumes which I think was related to the Vegan Festival. The weather was great and it was just lovely to wander around taking in the atmosphere. While having something to eat another street parade took place of men in historical military uniforms both on foot and on horses. One guy with his rather bushy moustache on his horse looked as though he had just returned from the Battle of Balaclava. It seems that these types of displays are held most weekends which are great for both tourists and locals alike. One of last locations to visit was the Botanical Gardens which run parallel to the railway tracks, according to the blurb there is a collection of 10,000 plant species, ranging from the exotic to indigenous Croatian plants. However the gardens overall were very disappointing, the poor layout and the lack of labeling didn’t help either. There are many interesting places to visit in Zagreb and our stay was extremely enjoyable. Outdoor stalls in parks and entertainment, cafes, markets and just the buzz of the city make it a great place to visit. As you walk around the city look up, if you look carefully you will notice unusual characters on façades, balconies and posts, towers, next to windows and above doors. Beasts, demons, dragons, owls, angels and spirits are not just mere decoration but are ‘guardians’ of the city. The tourist office has two great books called ‘Zagreb’ and ‘Step by Step Zagreb,’ just pop in and ask for them. The information contained in them will keep you exploring every nook and cranny of the city. The next day we were off to the Plitvice Lakes. We had bought our bus ticket and as the tram that went to the bus station passed our hotel it made it very easy to get ourselves and our luggage there.