Trip Start Sep 05, 2008
10Trip End Oct 08, 2008
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Where I stayed
Had fried egg and bacon and a couple of small pancakes with jam at the hotel and checked out. Pre-paid the accommodation so I just had to cover the extras which came to 35E (including 22E for the airport transfer when I arrived). Once again I am ahead of the weather as it was drizzling and foggy this morning after two cloudy but dry days for my stay.
The Concierge got me a taxi immediately and I was at the railway station by 7.45am - plenty of time to catch the 8.35 to Zagreb. The fare was about 5E.
The train departed on time from platform 6. No reserved seats as it was a second class ticket (as I wasn't given the option of 1st class when I booked maybe it’s just a 2nd class train). It’s an old compartment car with three seats on each side and metal grill luggage racks above them
The countryside is very lush and green. We appear to be traveling through a valley with quite steep and wooded hills on either side that in paces come almost right up to the track. Occasionally the terrain opens up and there’s enough flat ground for a village or small town to have been established. Strings of pale houses with steeply raked rooves cluster alongside the rails. There’s a river following the train tracks on the right hand side now, but I don’t know if it’s the Ljubljanica or something else. There’s still a lot of low cloud obscuring the hilltops, which have suddenly turned into mountains.
Arrived in Zagreb a little after 11 and got a cab straight away. Almost had a heart attack when I saw the flag fall on the metre read "19," assuming this was in Euro. As it turns out it was in Croatian Kuna (Croatia aren’t scheduled to join the EU until 2010), which was much better as there are 7 of these per Euro or 4 per AUD. The total fare was 85K - about $20. The Dubrovnik Hotel is in a pedestrian mall so the driver dropped me as close as he could and then pointed out the nearest place I could buy wine and change money before disappearing into the traffic
Checked in then changed all my Euros to Kuna – got over 1,100 for 170E. Bought a bottle of wine for 51K from the Vinoteka across the square (which is really a corner store with a liquor licence), only discovering that I’d bought a bottle of white instead of red when I got back to the room! Tragedy!!
Asked reception where I could find the nearest bookshop with an English language section. By lucky coincidence there is one right next door called Algoritam. Spread over two floors, this a great find with a wide selection of fantasy and crime novels which seem to be all I read these days. Bought a copy of John Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer for 55K.
The Dubrovnik Hotel was built in 1929 and like the Grand Union in Ljubljana is a little faded and has that functional, no frills Soviet Block feel about it. Still, the room is comfortable, and the location is great - right on the main square which is called Trg Bana Jelacica (which the locals call Jelačić plac). I asked for a room looking over the square in my initial email booking but apparently none were available, however if I lean dangerously far out of my 6th floor window I can just get an oblique glimpse of it
There’s a little street across the square with a mini mart where I stopped and bought a bottle of real wine (ie the red variety), some cold cuts and some slices of cheese – no idea what the latter are as the deli lady didn’t speak any English.
Came back to my room and rang room service, asking them to send up a cork screw. Five minutes later a guy arrives at my door with a Coke. Luckily he had the curly wine opening implement with him as well, so I asked him to open the white, as I may as well get it out of the way now I suppose. I took the Coke as well, which I am now drinking. Haven't washed my clothes since leaving home and I’m starting to smell like a vagrant so first priority today is to find a laundry.
First impressions of Zagreb: much bigger than Ljubljana (about a million people according to the taxi driver), more interesting, much more shopping opportunities and a really good vibe to it.
I walked up the stairs on the north side of Jelačić plac to Dolac Market – supposedly one of the best and biggest open air markets in Europe
You can see the 105 meter high spires of The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saint Stephen from the market so I headed there next, stopping at Verbum (a shop that specialises in religious items) for postcards. The cathedral is the dominant feature of Kaptol Square which also includes a fountain crowned with a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary. One of the church’s spires is covered in scaffolding - apparently it’s been subject to restoration since 1990.
The original church dates from the 11th century but was destroyed by the Tatars in 1242. The cathedral was rebuilt but in 1880 was severely damaged in an earthquake and the Austrian architect Hermann Bollé redesigned the structure. The marble pulpit was designed by Slovenian Sculptor Mihael Cussal and there's also a relief of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac - the Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 until his death in 1960 - kneeling before Christ. Stepinac (who was accused of collaborating with the Ustase during World War II) is also buried here, his sarcophagus sitting in front of the main altar
The high vaulted ceilings are supported by massive fluted columns and there are side chapels along both walls. There seemed to be more tourists than worshipers with the former taking photos or shooting video with a total disregard for the privacy of the people attempting to pray.
Walked back down Radiceva (I think) which is basically a long strip of bars. Stopped at one called Boem but the wine had four live fruit flies floating in it. The girl poured me another glass from the same bottle but there were still bugs in it. I left and walked a bit further to another bar where I managed to find an insect-free drink then continued down the strip to the Oliver Twist Pub. This bar is spread over three floors, but I limited myself to the ground level, ordering a glass of red for 18K and sitting in the beer garden out front while reading my book. Across the road is a raised street with what appear to be a row of lovely old apartment buildings.
Walked back to Jelačić plac and took a photo of the statue of Josip Jelačić on horseback in the middle of the square. His raised sword is pointed toward Hungary to commemorate a battle he won against that country in the the revolt against the Hapsburg Dynasty in 1848
Had breakfast at the hotel restaurant – Piccolo Mundo – which is included in my room tariff. Some cold cuts and cheese and a hard-boiled egg. No stamps at reception, or at the paper kiosk in the square – the guy pointed me in the general direction of the Post Office. I stopped at the Information office at the eastern edge of Jelačić plac to ask more precise directions and was told to walk up Jurisiceva.
Found the PO – the guy actually stuck my stamps on for me – then turned left into Palmoticeva and cut through the park next to the cathedral. Found the dry cleaner the Tourist Info office had marked on their map for me, but it wasn't that much cheaper than the hotel so I decided it was easier to get it done in-house.
Walked back through the Dolac Markets, which were in full swing today, then decided to go to the movies
Stopped at the Zagreb Archaeological Museum on the way (10K entry fee) and saw their Egyptian and pre-historic galleries (the rest were closed for renovations). The Egyptian gallery was quite good with some interesting mummy cases and some lovely small finds, including some scarabs and Djed Pillars (which I learned are based on the spine and represent stability).
I walked through the three blocks of narrow park between Teslina Street and the railway station which is very pretty and flanked by some gorgeous 18th century buildings on either side. The clouds cleared and I saw my first sight of the sun since Istanbul – amazing how something so simple can lift your spirits so much!
Walked to the mall the receptionist had sent me but the cinema was closed, so I bought a cake from a bakery and ate it on a bench near the southernmost of the three park areas – Trg Kralja Tomislava – then walked back to the hotel
Checked out Algoritam again, and was going to buy one of Harry Turtledove’s counter factual history books but they had every one but the first in the series, which I’d really prefer to start with. I walked up to the top of the hill above Jelačić plac to St Mark’s, which unfortunately was closed for renovations (like so much of Zagreb seems to be). It’s in the same square as the Croatian Parliament Building.
It started raining lightly so I headed down Kamenita Street (past the oldest pharmacy in Zagreb, supposedly opened by Dante’s grandson) to the Stone Gate. Apparently in 1731 a devastating fire destroyed much of the surrounding area, but the gate (which held a painting of the Virgin Mary and Jesus) was miraculously left untouched. The little chapel built to commemorate the event has been a place of pilgrimage ever since. You enter via one archway and exit through another – it’s really just a covered area of the street. I have noticed that the Croatians seem to be quite religious, and a lot of people were kneeling before the shrine to pray or at least crossing themselves as they passed it. The shrine is enclosed with latticed iron work to protect the painting which is still in place there, and there’s a woman selling candles by the down-slope entrance for 2-3 Kuna
Bought a glass of red for 12K and read my book, then stopped at a tiny bar I’d passed yesterday called Adrenalin. It was halfway down the stairs between Dolac Market and Tkalciceva, which along with Radiceva is one of the Old City's major bar strips. Finished my book and headed back to the hotel. Just after 6 now and I have had a glass of the red I bought from the mini mart (which I asked room service to open before I left) and will now head of for an early dinner, possibly at Ribarski Brevitar, a seafood restaurant at Kaptol 27/1 about 100 meters from the cathedral. It has fairly good reviews and was one of the restaurants I’d earmarked to visit when I was planning my itinerary.
Ribarski Brevitar translates as something like "fisherman’s territory" according to the waiter, and as you may have guessed specialises in fish. Like a lot of places in the old town the restaurant is set back from the street and you enter through an archway, then walk down some stairs into an underground room with vaulted brick ceilings.
I was offered an appetiser called cuvar (I think) which was basically ground tuna on a slice of baguette garnished with parsley – creamier and pastier than tinned tuna and quite tasty
For main I took the waiter’s suggestion and had the Dorado, which I believe is generally called gilthead bream. It was served whole and deboned at my table, the head and cheeks served on a separate plate. It came with a side of spinach with boiled and diced potato – a perfect accompaniment. The fish was firm and tasty. A very simple dish well cooked and presented, but a little pricy I thought at 155K.
The bill was 326K in total including two glasses of red – about $80 plus a 25K tip. Walked back to the hotel and watched the final two episodes of Supernatural with a couple of glasses of room red before calling it a night.
Breakfast in the hotel about 9am – spinach and cheese pastry, boiled egg, chicken stick and vegetable pasta, then a couple of pieces of toast with cherry jam. Asked reception to confirm my flight to Dubrovnik tomorrow then changed 100E into kuna and bought Dan Simmons’ Ilium from Algoritam for 55K (about $14)
The weather continues to be kind with the rain that has been forecast not appearing as yet and the temperature cool but not cold. I walked to Trg Nikole Subica, Trg Strossmayerov and Trg Kralja Tomislava and took some shots of the old buildings running along both sides of the park, then caught the funicular up to Gornji Grad and walked through Katarina Square. Cut across Radiceva to the Franjevacka Crkva (Franciscan Church) then walked to Kaptol and stopped at a bakery there and bought a croissant.
Stopped at a restaurant called Baltazar which shares a courtyard off Kaptol with a cafe called Gaspar and a wine bar called Melkior (the Three Wise Men – cute). Had Leek and prawn soup (which was very tasty but not as good as last night’s prawn bisque) and a mineral water (alcohol free day today) which came to 63K with 8K service charge. About 5.30 now and I am tossing up whether to venture out for dinner or just order room service from Piccolo Mondo.
Decided to try Kaptolska Klet, the place right across the road from the cathedral. Not crowded and I got a big basket of bread and a plate with a ball of something that tasted like liverwurst on my table almost as soon as I’d sat down
Ordered the mixed grill – pork skewers, garlic sausage, two types of hamburger (one with cheese and spec) and a piece of pork steak. Came with raw onion, cucumber and a tasty tomato relish which really went very well with the meat – particularly the hamburger. Had a couple of Schweppes (Tangerina and Bitter Lemon) and then asked for the bill – 112K (less than $30). Good value as the serving was almost big enough for two – at least I only ate half of the plate.
Stopped at a souvenir shop almost next store and bought a little 6X4 ceramic photo frame with “Croatia” written on the top - tacky, but sometimes I just have to do these things.
Woke up early and once again the good weather seems to be following me it has turned very cold (10 degrees Celsius) and wet in Zagreb, while the forecast for Dubrovnik for the entire 5 days of my stay is fine and 20 degrees. Perfect! Check out at the Dubrovnik Hotel is a very civilised 1pm and my flight is at 2.40pm – perfect once again!
Had breakfast of toast and jam, and muesli and yoghurt then went next door to Algoritam to see if they sold any English newspapers. They have, but quite expensive ($5 for a Herald Trib). Might bite the bullet anyway as I have a few hours to kill, and as it’s raining I don’t really want to go for a walk.
Bought the Trib and had a Vienna coffee at the cafe across the road from the hotel - my first coffee since I quit smoking four years ago! - then finished it in the quiet little lounge area on the 2nd floor of the hotel. Checked out and got a taxi to the airport – fixed price 160K which was better than an on-line blog I checked out before leaving that said it would cost around 250K. To celebrate I tipped the driver a 20.
Bought a couple of little ceramic houses from the airport shop (there’s only like three of them and a couple of dodgy cafes – finally I’ve found a major airport more crap than Melbourne) and am now sitting in the waiting lounge. As usual I’m way early – my flight doesn’t leave for another 90 minutes – so I will read some of my new book to kill the time.