Saturday, October 24, 2009

Zagreb and that blasted 'spider' crew

It was just after 11 am when we left the Hotel Paradise - the large room with separate lounge room and bar was very nice. We all had a tad of privacy. Breakfast was good but predictable. Michael is craving a good old Aussie breakfast now - cereal, poached eggs and toast, FRESH orange juice and his brand of coffee!

We can't get in to our next booking at Hotel Stella until mid afternoon, so we drive in to Zagreb city. And if we ever thought that there was difficulty in parking anywhere else, Zagreb 100% takes the cake. We find that all the street parking is for 1 hour only. And even on a Saturday afternoon, the 'spider' team are alive and well and very very active. We see them on the prowl and later, actually watch them remove a car from a spot - aha, so thats how they do it. Now we know how our car was moved in Dubrovnik!!

Anyway, Frances finally finds us a spot about half a kilometre away from the Cathedral (but it will mean that Michael has to come back to feed the ticket machine!) and we set off to take a look through the Upper Town. You see Zagreb is divided into the Upper and Lower Town by a mighty cliff of about 66 m. Oh, it can be climbed by stairs - that would make about 440 steps - not likely for me thanks very much. So we just explore the Upper Town and will leave the Lower Town until tomorrow.

The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary holds an impressive place at the Kaptol - one of the higher points of the upper town. Its twin spires tower over the city and can be seen from many vantage points. Construction of the cathedral began in the 11th century but over the years has been adapted and added to many times adopting new styles as they became 'fashionable'. An early gothic facade was added in the 13th century, but the gothic facade that it primarily shows today dates mainly from the early 19th century.

Anyway, whatever, it is beautiful and like many of the large churches in Europe, it too is currently undergoing major cleaning and restoration works - thankfully only on the outside, so we can have a good look around inside. Probably the most stunning thing about this church is the back wall where there is a statue set of the crucifixion. But behind it there is a piece of text that covers the entire wall that is in a language that we have not seen before! It does seem to have some familiar looking letters, but lots that are not. Turns out that it is a text called Glagolitic text and has been used in parts of Croatia for millenia! The exact origins are not known, but it was in use before St Cyril visited the region while preaching Christianity in 860! They also have a saintly resident effigy lying in state - its Bishop Stiepan, the 13th century bishop who had a chapel built next to the church and dedicated it to his patron saint to give thaksfor the deliverance of Zagreb from the Tartar invasion.

As t
he Virgin Mary is the Patron saint of Zagreb, there is a tall column that a gilded statue of the Virgin sits atop and four angels - Faith, Hope, Innocence and Humility stand beneath her column. At its base is a four-leafed clover shaped fountain complete with bronze reliefs of a face around the base - all crowned with dying wreaths in a somewhat pagan look. And the Cathedral is surrounded on three sides by renaissance walls built to safeguard it from attacks from Ottoman Turks between 1512 and 1521. There are small huts built into the inside of the walls that still stand. These are some of the best preserved renaissance walls in Europe.

We wander down the street opposite the Cathedral straight in to the Dolac markets. These daily markets are one of the landmarks of Zagreb. There are heaps of fresh fruit and vegetables and down on the lower section down the first of all those steps we can also see the flower sellers. There are some junky bits, but not nearly as much as we have seen in many areas. Everyone is very busy and if only our markets at home could be like these ones - fresh farm cheeses - hard and soft, figs fresh and dried - some tied with bay leaves in garlands, mounds of walnuts freshly shelled and never bitter. Ah, the tastes, and the smells! THIS is what markets are all about!!

Down behind the Dolac market is St Mary's Church - it looks a little forlorn with its leaves buried forecourt where the moss is already growing. We wander around to the front and the only reason we even got to look inside was because there was a veritable army of lady parishioners cleaning it with a vigour that was amazing. I think that they were all trying to be the one who cleaned the hardest and fastest - gosh, they can come do my cleaning any old time! This church is much more sombre than the cathedral (maybe fittingly) and had only its original lights fitted with electric lights, so that it is still very sombre. Baroque in decoration, we can only get a quick glimpse.

From here we head down some of those stairs to Tkalčićeva Street where we meet Marija Jurić Zagorka - a local suffragette and author who wrote a series books titled The Witch of Grić based on the witch trials of the 17th to 18th centuries that Empress Maria Teresa later abolished. She stands in the ground beneath a lovely sundial that is the only part of the rendering on its wall - the rest has crumpled and fallen. In fact, there are lots and lots of statues throughout Zagreb, paying homage to all sorts of locals - minor and major, who have impacted on the lives of the community. This street was the separation point of property owned (and I think still is) by the church and that owned by the secular community.

The meter needs a feeding again, and so we head back to the car, passing through part of the remains of the medieval walls into Ribnjak Park which was the original site of the Bishop's ponds where the priests caught their Friday fish! Now it is a green space with a lady trying to train a very enthusiastic dog and children on a playground.

From here we walk past the Franciscan Church where it is said that St Francis himself lived for a time. Like most of Franciscan buildings, it is much simpler than other churches. There is a florist tying garlands on to the pews for a wedding later today and one of the monks is sweeping. He willingly lets us take some photos including this mural which depicts St Francis being welcomed into Zagreb. A church has been on this site since the 13th century and this church, rebuilt in the 17th century was damaged in a great earthquake in 1880 but repaired.

Back at the car, we are pulling out of the parking spot with another car is inching in behind us - yep, parking sure is a pain here. The other 'attraction' we want to have a look at today is the city's main cemetery - Mirogoj. It crowns the top of a hill and is known for its beautiful park and its amazing wall topped with multiple cupolas at its entry. Well, it takes us well over an hour to find it. Sure it crowns a hill. But so do many many mature trees! And that big wall - well, it is on the other side of the hill, so can't be seen from below. By the time we find the correct road in the honeycomb of narrow winding ones that go up into the hilly area, the light is fading fast. We do see the cupolas along the top of the wall and the impressive entry facade, but decide that a good look in the light of tomorrow is warranted (now that we know where it is!).

One suprise today has been the amount of rubbish and debris that is sitting on the streets of Zagreb. We are not sure whether there is one of those annual council clean-ups happening or what. A lot of the debris appears to be from offices while there is also rubbish from renovations. And there are lots of people scavanging and there appears to be a rather healthy trade in lumber - with Romany people seeming to be the most active sellers.

Once we get out of the city area, we come upon more of that high density housing that we have become accustomed to seeing in Europe. While there are smaller apartment blocks on the CBD fringe, it is not too far out that they mushroom to those huge soul-less blocks that see thousands of people living in very close proximity to each other, relying on public transport and the provision of close by shopping facilities. Gosh, I know that I could never live in these. And they are suffering the same fate of many of the buildings in Zagreb - decrepit, grey, broken and falling plaster. It combines to make it look very very grubby. Other areas are pristinely clean and we see a whole parade of Canadian and Croatian flags flying. We rack our brains trying to work out what the link is and find out later on the news that the Governor General of Canada is visiting - ahhh, politics - should have known it would be something like that!

After 1.9 kms walked this afternoon, tonight we are staying at the Hotel Stella. Funny shaped room, but it means that Donna has a little space of her own! They do not have a restaurant and have recommended a the Turk Restaurant a couple of kilometres away. Despite it being Saturday night, they are not very busy. None of us are really hungry so we just order mains. Michael and I shared Teleće pečenje s police krumpir (Roast veal with roast potatoes) while Donna had Teleće Turopoljski odrezak (Veal escalope Turopolje style – mushrooms in cream sauce) and we shared Pirjano povrće (Braised vegetables) and Šampinjoni na žaru (Grilled mushrooms). And if Donna's meal last night was a highlight, then this was the opposite for her, although the Roast Veal Michael and I had was moist and delicious in a light tomato based gravy.

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