Sunday, October 25, 2009

A stroll through Zagreb - dead and alive

Daylight saving finished today which meant we all got to sleep in for another hour - whoo hoo. Michael and I certainly got more sleep than Donna did as she battled with her cold last night. She is on medication from the pharmacy, but it sure doesn't have the efficacy of some of those we are more used to being able to get at home. What she really needs is a good decongestant! And that space that Donna could call her own last night was very hot - the window is on the other side of the room, and the airconditioning unit over the door, so it means that Donna's alcove had no circulating air. Poor thing was hot all night.

And it has stopped raining - yahoo! It is still cloudy, but more of the light high type than the dark filled clouds that threaten to burst their edges at any moment. But that is not all together a bad thing - it means that we will not have to worry about beating sun today as we return to inner Zagreb to have more of a look around - today we are concentrating on the Lower Town.
But first we are off to Mirogoj to have a look at the cemetery. And today we are armed with the name of the streets on which it lies to make sure that Kate can direct us there correctly the first time!! We get about half the way up the hill when we encounter what I had thought we might - thousands of people on their way to the same spot. The traffic was at an inch by inch crawl for the last kilometre or so and with cars parked over the (?) footpaths on both sides of the road, as a driver, you had to be ever so careful not to bump the myriads of people walking up the hill. But Frances came good on the second try and we got a parking spot along the wall about 150 m from the entrance gate.

Now, that wall and its cupolas look far more stunning in the light of day. It hides a 500 m long neo-renaissance arcade with 20 domes. There are lots of famous Croatian people buried here - both in the arcade and within the cemetery proper. Graves here are amazing - there is everything possibly imaginable from austere simple crosses or headstones to elaborate works of art that include all forms from the very traditional to art deco to very modern and abstract. Yet they all sit very happily side by side. We go on a search for old graves but don't find many before the turn of the 20th Century. Ahh, the cemetery was only built in the late 19th century - so that explains that. And do you know what is a little spooky? Some graves have the names, birthdates and the numbers 20 already engraved - for people who are not yet dead!

The number of people out here cleaning graves and just visiting is amazing. There are whole families here - with kids (and some teens too!), there are groups of old ladies and the odd very old couple who look like they are not long before permanent residence here themselves! People also stop at a couple of other spots to reflect and/or pray. One is at grave of Franjo Tuđman, the first post-communist leader of Croatia, others are at the memorials to the fallen in the various wars and the last is to a gilded crucified Christ that stands half way down the main avenue. At all these, people leave wreaths and lit candles. You know, it was that interesting that you could spend a whole week here just ambling through the thousands and thousands of graves.
And so now that we have seen at least some of Mirogoj, we take our leave for the lower town of Zagreb. Being a Sunday, there is no charge for the normally metered parking IF you can find a spot. Luckily, we are happy to leave the car at the far end of the area we want to visit, down near the main rail station. There are less residences here and we get a spot first time - thanks Frances! The area we want to see measures about 3 long blocks by 5 blocks. Now, anyone who knows me knows that this is going to be one huge day for me!! So, off we set . . .

First stop (because this is where we have parked the car) is King Tomislav Square - a large open green space with a monument to Croatia's first king (9th century) standing proudly at one end and looking towards the main Railway Station. It is situated across a myriad of tram lines, bus stops and a major road. Built at the end of the 19th Century, it was one of the stops for the Orient Express Rail Service between Paris and Istanbul in its hey day and the nearby Hotel Esplanade was built to cater for these first class passengers.

At the northern end of the park is the classically beautiful Art Pavilion. Parts of the building are shrouded at the moment with works underway. We wonder whether there are problems with the footings as there are lots of core samples being drilled and at the moment, they lie in wooden boxes drying out.

The next park up is much plainer and is basically a green space with a playground and playing fields. With so many people living in the centre of the city, these sort of facilities are really needed. And then comes Zrinjevac. This is the most beautiful square and park that we see in all of Zagreb. It is named for the Croatian man who died heroically defended a Hungarian fortress beseiged by Turks in the 16th century. The park is very formal in its layout with mature Plane trees, flower beds, neat rows of fir trees and plenty of pathside seating.

Within it are located some important pieces of Zagreb's history including the Meteorological Post where weather conditions have been recorded since 1884. The clock however, is wrong by ten minutes! The first fountain in Zagreb was built here in 1878 just after the opening of the Zagreb waterworks. And nearby stands a bandstand - hmmm, I could just as easily be describing a nice part of Queens Park in Maryborough back home! And there are busts to many notable locals - all recently cleaned with their engraving re-gilded by the look of them.

Lining the streets that border this trio of parks are some amazing examples of architecture - most in Neo-Classical and Neo-Renaissance styles. Opposite the park is one building of great interest - it houses the Archeological Museum. We go on over, only to be stopped by the guard at the door. It closes on a Sunday at 1 pm and it is now almost 2 pm. She does however, kindly let Michael walk through the still open doors into the foyer to have a smidgen of a look.

So we are now at the northern most point of the parks. From here we turn to the west and follow the streets to Petar Preradović Square. This is just short of the half way point and there are a number of cafés open and doing a roaring trade. So we decided to join them all in a coffee and cake. But first we want to find the grounded Sun. No, not that yellow thing that hangs in the sky, but rather a contemporary sculpture that is set in the ground amidst the forest of café umbrellas. In relation to its size, there are supposedly metal spheres representing the planets placed around the city in true scale to this sun. Hmm, no clues as to where and if it were true, then we should at least be able to find Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, but no such luck - we wonder whether they are pulling our legs! In the immediate vicinity are two architectural gems - the Octogon and the Napredak Skyscraper, which the architect hates being called a skyscraper as it is only 7 stories high, but it was the first of the modern tall buildings built in 1936 to serve as a commercial and residential building.

The Millenium Café beckons so we sit and enjoy good coffee and great cakes while we gather our gusto for the remainder of our walk and give our tootsies a momentary rest. Thirst quenched we walk back through the square taking photos of the statues of Petar Preradović and Tim Ujević. Both were poets and Petar was an army general as well.

From here it is a few blocks over to the other set of parks that we want to visit. It is amazing to see under the grime of centuries that the grand old buildings now house couture design houses and up market retailers. Street signage is almost non-existant, so you need to walk directly past them to know that they are there. Many of the buildings are covered in scaffolding and hessian and plank walkways that are raised above large holes in the footpaths. Seems that there is much to be done! Masarykova Street houses some lovely commercial buildings and apartments with exquisite finishing touches such as coloured tiles, statuary around doorways and fancy balconies.

And so to the other set of three parks and squares. At the northern most is Marshall Tito Square although there is no statue to him to be found - guess there are mixed feelings about him! The square houses the elegant facade of the Croatian National Theatre, the Well of Life, the Museum of Arts and Crafts and a stunning statue of St George slaying the dragon. His poor horse looks scared half to death! Now, many of the sculptures around Zagreb are the work of one man - Ivan Meštrović and this is considered possibly his best work. It is very striking and you can imagine the figures from young, to lovers to old people reacing in to scoop out the precious water in the well. It is no deeper than the sculpture. This is one busy place - although with the buildings closed on Sunday afternoons, there are not too many tourists around. In fact, the local skateboarders outnumber us all!
The next park is filled with walking paths set amidst mature trees, oh, and that water supply! Nothing much to look at otherwise. And so we come to the last of the large squares within the Lower Town. This is Marulić Square. It houses Croatian State Archives that was once the National and University Library. The building is heralded as the best example of Croatian Art Noveau architecture with its detailed facade elements. The statue of Marko Marulić dominates the open space behind the Archives. He is known as the father of Croatian literature, writing in Latin, Italian and Croatian and wrote Judita (Judith), an epic poem that was the first work to be published in the Croatian language.

And we have now reached the border of the green horseshoe that is formed by these six garden squares and the Botanical Gardens now in front of us. But the day is done and none of us want to explore them, so we turn and head back past the Hotel Esplanade and the Railway Station to the car. We make a quick trip into the Upper Town so that we can get a photo of the amazing tesselated tiled roof of St Mark's Church and one also of St Catherine's Church and the nearby tower. We can't even pull up here for a few minutes as the streets all around here are home to the various consulates and embassies. And Michael is told tersely that he must not take photos of these buildings - a bit hard when they lie directly behind St Marks which comes a very close second to the Cathedral in terms of the wow factor. Sheesh! In the last light of the day, we admire finally the gaslight lamps - more than 200 still exist today in the Upper Town and are lit on dusk by two lamp lighters. Neat, very neat.

We walked a total of 4.24 kms today - no wonder we are tired! There is no way we want to eat out near the hotel tonight and so we decide to try to find somewhere here in the city. We know that there are some restaurants at Kaptol near the Cathedral, BUT, there is no parking up there. Donna pulls out her Croatia guide and we find that we are but a few blocks from one called Restaurant Čiho that specialises in seafood.
Salata od hobotnice (Octopus salad) Michael
Creme škampi juha (Creme scampi soup) Donna and Maria
Kraljevska grdobina sa crnom palentom (Royal Frog-fish with Black Polenta - cooked in squid ink) Michael and Maria
Pijana grdobina (Drunken Frog-fish - cooked in white wine) Donna
Čokolada palačinke (Chocolate pancakes) Michael
Orah palačinke (Walnut pancakes) Donna and Maria

Yep, a marathon day today! And bed awaits . . .

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