Good trivia question – what is alphabetically the last national capital? Congratulations – you guessed it, Zagreb, capital of Croatia.
We drove from Rovinj to Zagreb, 251 Km, or about 160 miles which only takes about 3 hours by highway. The landscape changed from arid vineyards and olive plantations to huge swathes of deciduous forest. The roads are good, but the tolls pretty expensive – it cost us about US15 equivalent for this 3 hours of driving.
The old part of modern Zagreb was actually two distinct towns – Gradec and Kaptol which were separately by a river and often at war with each other. The river has long since been drained, but a vestige of the old animosity remains with a street whose name means Blood Bridge that links the two areas.
There is also a Stone Gate that once protected Gradec and is now a significant pedestrian pathway between the two areas, but is also a shrine, so as people pass through, they stop for a few moments to offer prayers. The walls are crammed with small tablets offering thanks for answered prayers.
We are staying within walking distance of the city center. Since we were in early enough, once we got settled, we walked to the old town and headed to The Museum of Broken Relationships which was open late. On the way, we passed the Church of St. Marks and as this is Saturday and the church is located very close to the registry office, the square was filled with wedding couples having their pictures taken. I’ve honestly not seen so many wedding couples or photographers in one place before!
This is one of the most unusual museums we’ve come across in all our travels and is certainly unique. The rooms are filled with objects and notes or short presentations about how these items relate to the owner’s broken relationship. Not all of these are romantic, some have to do with parental or filial relationships, but most of them are stories about how a love relationship ended. This is not at all depressing – in fact it seems pretty cathartic for the people involved. Some of the stories are lurid, some angry, some sweet, some full of disappointment.
One story accompanying some stiletto heels from a Dutch woman stuck in my mine. She had started a romantic relationship with a boy when they were both young, but they separated after a short while. I think his family may have moved away. She fast forwarded to 30 years later when she was quitting her job as a prostitute and decided to write a book about S&M. In order to do some research, she got herself a job at an appropriate (!) club. As she was disciplining one of the customers, they each realized that they were the same people who had loved each other so long ago. Apparently the boy had grown up with an overbearing father and that led him to feeling like he needed to be disciplined.
We tried to avail of the opportunity for some ethnic food here in the capital and ate dinner at a Sri Lankan curry spot. It was something different, but only so so.
Zagreb is really quite a lovely town. Our restaurant turned out to be on one of the key pedestrian streets and an ideal spot to sit outside and watch people go by. Eating outside is a treat and the weather has been pretty lovely. The downside is that lots of people smoke, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a whiff after only a short while.
After breakfast the next morning we walked back to the old city center of Gradec, first stopping at the extensive market near the main square. There were two main outdoor areas, one mostly fruits and vegetables, and the other flowers.
Adjacent were indoor markets for fish and, separately, meats, cheeses, and other delicatessen type goods. At the market we picked up strawberries and apricots, which were both very tasty. The strawberries were less than $1 for a pound!
We were on our way to a museum next to the Museum of Broken Relationships, The Museum of Naïve Art, which is dedicated to a school of artists who were not formally trained, but nonetheless very creative and expressive. The movement was lead by a man by the name of Generalić and you can see his self portrait here.
The early naïve artist’s medium of choice was oil on glass, as this was a less expensive and easier medium to work with and the images have an almost poster like quality with their vivid colors. The method they used was to sketch a scene, then place the glass over it and paint on the reverse of the pane. Thus all of the images when displayed are actually mirror images of the original sketches. By the way, this is still a popular art form here in Croatia.
Leaving the museum we headed back to St. Marks in order to hear a concert in the church, performed after mass had ended. Coincidentally we arrived just as a military unit marched up and did a changing of the guard ceremony right in front of the church. There are several government buildings lining the square, but the guards stand on the portico of the church itself. Given how hot it was and how heavily dressed they were, one could only imagine that their guard post was an endurance test.
The concert featured the church’s organ and included pieces by Bruxtehude and Bach, some of which sounded very esoteric. The organ was very powerful and as the church is not huge, the lower tones resonated in a most impressive manner.
We had taken our dirty clothes with us in order to use a nearby laundry. While waiting for things to finish washing and drying, I brought back some lunch and we finished listening to one of the David Sedaris audio books we had brought.
Once all the laundry was fluffed and folded, it was time to explore another part of the city, so we headed south and walked to the Botanical Gardens, which are lovely. Sort of like islands of specimen samples, each area of the garden seemed different. Following a well deserved rest, we walked back to town and up to the Cathedral, which dominates the skyline of the city. Apart from having a chance to view the interior, we were also there for another concert, which was also of organ music.
As we headed back to the hotel it started to rain – the first precipitation we have experienced in the Balkans, so we had dinner at a close by restaurant that turned out to be very good. Kelly ordered tomato soup and I ordered nettle soup. For main course Kelly had fresh tuna and I had the branzin (sea bass), both of which served with vegetables. All washed down with the local beer and very reasonably priced.