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Published: October 1st 2012
I wondered through out the former Yoguslavia many years ago, dazzled by the beauty of Dubrovinick, Split and islands on the Adriatic Sea. This was just before the war broke, dividing up the country.
Now I return to visit Croatian friends I met in Canada, to explore parts of the country I have not visited before, and to be again delighted by the taste of a cuisine my taste buds have not forgotten. ZAGREB
I took a 1.5 hour flight from Zurich to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, where I will be staying at my friends's flats, in two different areas of the city, and also visit another acquaintance.
After my first Croatian breakfast with Tanja, sipping a delicious cup of strong coffee and eating toast with homemade jams, I took a tram to the city, with my Lonely Planet in hand. A friendly old man appointed himself as my tour guide, and made sure I didn't miss any monument along the way. He spoke a few words in English and many in Italian, and as we arrived at the heart of Zagreb, the buzzling Trg Josipa Jelacica, he
gestured for me to follow him to the tourist information center and then accompany me to a money exchange place (the currency here is the Kuna). He pointed for me to get on the free tourist bus which goes around the town, but I was dead set on walking the widding streets. The old man was bossy, definitely not shy despite the limited hability to communicate with me verbally, getting ticked when I insisted on not following his suggestion. He turned around, and I couldn't stop smiling as I see him waiving goodbye, already with his back turned, as he walked away. ZAGREB'S UPPER TOWN
At the lively KAPTOL SQUARE
, I find the 13th century neo-Gothic Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
, with its 2 imposing twin spires towering over me. I entered it and sat to take in the beauty of the place and for a minute of reflection. Rays of sunshine shone through the windows. The tomb of a cardinal, lying in a glass box, is in front of the altar, with devouts praying around it. The surviving 13th century frescos are beautiful. On the grounds outsite are surrounded by walls
with with a protective tower stil standing. I spot catholic sisters tending to daily activities, just pass a gate. I always enjoy observing locals doing what locals do.
My plan was to wander on the streets of the Old Upper Town, so I got to it, weaving through the cobblestoned streets, admiring the beatiful architecture all around. STREET MARKETS IN ZAGREB:
I love exploring open markets, and here was a perfect opportunity to arouse my senses again at the lively Dolac Market
, where locals shopped for vegetables, fruit, cheese, honey,and you name it stuff. I purchased some fresh figs, still remembering the sweet and juicy ones I ate a couple of decades ago in Dubrovinick. These were just as delicious, I thought.
Sweet scent and bright colors draw me to the lovely outdoor flower market
just below a set of stairs.
I spotted the tower of a church and, forgetting my guide's path, headed on its direction. It was another peaceful place to seat and take a break before heading to the STONE GATE
, which is now a shrine. Locals were lighting candles and leaving flowers by an altar
with a painting of the Virgin Mary which survived a fire in 1731, and is believed to possesse magic powers. There was also a statue of Dora, the hero of a 18th century novel.
Arriving at the iconic Saint Mark's church
, with its white, blue and red tiled roof, depicting medieval coats of arms, I sat on a curb for a while, realizing I am one of the few tourists around. Not being part of large crowds is treat only off season travelers enjoy. I feel grateful, and move on to volunteer to take pictures of a couple of bikers and a group of 3 women, before taking a look at the Sabor (parliament building) and the presidential palace.
I thought for a moment about the war and struggles of the region not long ago. Glad it's peaceful now.
I kept on strolling the lovely street to the Lotrscak Tower
. As a musician plays his accordion, and an young woman dressed in traditional costum sells trinkets, I enjoy the view of the city from above. It's amazing how music adds to the experience!!!
Next, I made a fool of myself,
as on the side of the Jesuit Church of St. Catherine
, I entered a high school, mistakenly taking it for a museum. I found myself laughing, surrounded by a tons of beautiful teenagers.
Having explored most of the highlights of the upper town, it was time to head to the Lower Town. LOWER TOWN:
Time for prime people-watching, one of my favorite activities when exploring another country. Here, no better place to engage on it than at one of the numerous alive alfresco cafes. Cafe culture and Zagreb are synonymous. I sit at a side-walk cafe, to slowly sip another deliciously strong coffee and milk, as locals do, for hours. Nobody rushes you out of a cafe or restaurant here. Lingering around, people watching and chatting, is the norm, and I absolutely love this ritual. I note how beautiful Croatians are, and how most are still slim, a contrast to places like the US, where being overweight is the norm.
The Pastry and Gelato shops: divine. I tried a cone and could feel my taste buds jumping in contentment. Yes, it tasted this good, even better than Italian
gelatos, believe me.
My feet were tired and I caught another tram home to meet Tanja. MIROGOJ:
Definately the most beautiul cemetery I have ever visited. With its magestic arcades and cupolas, it looks more like a fortress from the outside, but the interior, with the growing wines on the walls, the artfully designed tombs, trees, and more arches, have a peaceful feel. A tranquil and lush place to contemplate mortality, I thought, as Peter and I wandered the cemetery, among the beautiful graves. RETURNING TO THE LOWER TOWN TO EXPERIENCE ZAGREB AT NIGHT:
It was late when Natasa, Tanja and I headed to the lower town. We passed by the main museums and the impressive building which hosts the Zagreb's opera and ballet
. We sneaked into the building as people were coming out to smoke (yes, unfortunately tons of people still smoke here) during the intermission. My friends were comfortable to walk right in and even take someone's seats, so I could admire the beautiful architecture. Truly glorious, I thought, nervously snapping a couple of pictures. We were laughing as we sneaked out, before getting caught
my the seat owners.
It was Wednesday night, but the streets were buzzling. Elegant shops, bars and restaurants lined the streets, and tables, not cars, fillled the streets themselves. We sat at a bar to try the regional honey and fruit brandies and people watch some more, before heading to a restaurant for another fine dinner. To die for pasta with Istrian truffles as appetizer, followed by roasted almond covered trout, and a traditional chard and potatoes side dish. Gee, the Croatian food is simply delicious! It's a shame we were too full for the good looking desserts I had spotted at a bakery nearby.
As we head out it was 11:30pm, but the bars and cafes were still packed. At a corner, 3 elegantly dressed old ladies chatted, and I thought, "wow!!! Class and energy, at this time of the night, at the golden ages?". I guess no matter the age, Croatians are party people who enjoy being out. SAMOBOR:
To get a taste of the countryside, Tanja drove me, her sister and her kids to the lovely small town of Samobor. The church, the creak, the
outdoor cafes on the square: Perfect scenario to taste the incredibly delicious, top knotch, kream cake
, with what else, but another cup of coffee. This dessert is a specialty of the city, and a drive here is worth to taste it.
We headed home as it got dark, and stopped by a supermarket to get strukli
, a large baked dumpling filled with cottage cheese, another staple here.
There is more to explore in nothern Croatia, Beyond Zagreb...
"Bog" til next blog.
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