grey marble

November 10, 2010

From city to castle and back again

I took a bus to Varazdin and another to the Trakoscan castle. The bus wound its way through small villages and vineyards and I gazed out the window at the passing scene. Yesterday, after leaving Bianca, I walked through the Trg Petira Preradovica to the Trg Marsala Tita (pausing at Vincek for an ice cream) en route to the Museum Mimara. As I passed the Croatian National Theater I could hear a tenor practicing scales from an open window atop the building. The walk reminded me of St. Petersburg, and I was suddenly nostalgic for that city and the Hermitage. In my mind, I vowed to return.

The Mimara was modest but engaging, and I spent the rest of the suddenly rainy afternoon there amongst the art.

Trakoscan castle proved to be a complete surprise. The bus left me at its base and I stared up at it perched on a hill lording over the valley below. I could only compare it to castles I had seen in Japan, and the approach up a stone path through the forest grounds reminded me of a similar approach to Matsuyama-jo, the highest castle in Japan.

I made my way through the rooms and exhibits before returning to the base of the hill. A small lake rested in the shadow of the castle and I began circumambulating it before realizing the path was longer than I had anticipated. From everywhere were amazing views of the castle, perfectly reflected in the still water.

Back in Zagreb, I made arrangements to meet with Ana, a friend of a friend from New York. We met on the steps leading to Dolac. She told me that usually they would take out-of-town guests to Japanese food. I asked her what our other options were. She suggested a member's club that served home-cooked meals. She told me it was favorite haunt of our mutual friend when she lived in Zagreb, and I readily agreed to try it.

She told me it was ostensibly a club for writers. I asked if she was a member and she said no, her father was. I asked if he was a writer. No, she told me. He deals yachts.

The restaurant had the cozy feel of someone's living room. We feasted on squid ink risotto and aprivate label wine made by the club. To start, I had a sald of some of the best arugula I have ever tasted with cherry tomatoes. One of Ana's friends stopped by for a glass of wine and they set upon revising my itinerary. Ana called various friends for advice and when she asked one to compare Hvar with Rab told her it was like comparing champagne and caviar to dirt. I immediately dropped one place for the other.

Eight minutes to 11, the waitress handed us the bill. They were trying to close up, but we ordered dessert and ate quickly. At 11 everyone was ushered to the door. Ana asked if I'd like a drink, and she took me to a small bar on the corner of Tkalciceva and Skalinska for rakija, a local brandy.

A large group was standing outside drinking and she greeted them as we approached. You know everyone, I exclaimed. It's a small city, she replied. Her friends had been to a jazz concert, part of Zagreb's jazz festival. The night before, Ana had gone to hear Evgeny Kissen. I told her I had thought of trzing to get tickets but the rain kept me from walking to the theater. She said I should have called her. One nice thing about Zagreb being a small town, she told me, is that if you know someone, they can usually get one in for free. One of her friends was in charge of selling CDs at the concert, she arrived with the shipments.

Ana ordered the rakija, explaining the different types that were available. The one we had was infused with a plant that, if eaten in too-large quantities could kill. We toasted each other's health with our glasses raised, and then toasted again to sharing another meal somewhere in the world.

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November 9, 2010

Zagreb II

I rose early and walked to the Cathedral. A mass was underway and so I took my leave, walking north from the square to Mirogoj cemetery. Designed by Herman Bolle in 1876, the majestic walls boast cuploas that shade a beautiful interior arcade. The effect is imposing rom the outside, but serene once you enter the grounds. I wandered the tree-lined paths as workers used leaf blowers to clear the promenade.

Back in the upper town, I followed the guidebook past the stone arch (now a shrine after a fire burned the church that once stood there, leaving only a portrait of the madonna and child) and into the Markov Trg. Flanked by the country's parliament and presidental palace, the centerpiece is St. Mark's Church, with its tiled roof depicting the medieval coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia on the left, and the emblem of Zagreb on the right.

The church was closed and so I wandered a side lane to the Mestrovic Atelier, the former home of the Croatian artist and now a musuem of his work. A docent poinsted out various works, noting to a Spanish visitor one in particular as a study for a statue in Split. Throughout the morning, we would leapfrog each other, each of us with the Lonely Planet in hand. She followed me to the Museum of Naive Art, and then I saw her exiting the Galerija Klovicevi Dvori, where I had paused to view exhibits of Greek art, the paintings of Robert Auer, and a survey of the avant-garde collective known as Biafra.

At the Lotrscak Tower, I finally introduced myself. Bianca was from Barcelona. She had just graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering, 'Planes,' she explained, and was debating what to do next. She had an internship in Split, but her professor was away for the weekend and so she took the opportunity to see some of the country. She was returning that afternoon.

The tower offered commanding views of the town and I circumambulated the small walkwaz to gather it all in. Every day at noon a canon is fired from it and the attendant invited us to return the next day to witness it. Legend has it that a canon was fired at the Turks during one of their occupations across the river. The ball struck at a rooster and that act so demoralized the Turks that they never attacked.

Bianca took her leave of the tower first. She had little time left and a lot to see. As we parted I told her that Split was my final destination before returning home and that perhaps we would run into each other again. She paused as if contemplating an idea, then thought better of it. She smiled and descended to the street.

Posted by eugene at

November 8, 2010

Zagreb I

I arrived in Zagreb in mid-afternoon. The tourist office was closed; a hand-written sign indicated they would return in 10 minutes. I stepped outside the modest airport. A bus driver briskly stowed my bag under his bus and sold me a ticket to town. I was on my way.

From the main bus station I took a tram to the center of town. I stepped out into the bustling Trg Josipa Jelacica and climbed the steps from the square to Dolac market. It had closed, but a few merchants were idly packing up their tables for the night. The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary loomed over the scene.

Continuing up Opatovina I ran into my guesthouse owner's daughter. She was just returning from walking their dog, Otto. She showed me my warm room and disappeared with my passport, calling out 'Five minutes!' as she bounded up the stairs.

I showered nad changed and set out to wander the streets. I stood a long time in the square, watching the trams pause to let their passengers board and alight and I was happy with the scene before me. A light rain had fallen, and the streets shone with reflected light. Later, Ana would cast a disparaging remark on the square, lamenting its tree-lined past. 'Now it looks like they just poured concrete over it all' but at that moment I was full of the life around me and I was content.

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