|January 2, 2011
Today we had a nice early train from Ljubljana to Zagreb in Croatia but thankfully we had a decent night of sleep as the Italians seemed a little more reserved than usual. One of the girls was really whiny when we kept going through their room to the kitchen and toilet but after the last few days she can go swivel if she thinks I care one iota about waking her fat arse up!
We headed to the train station and had a short wait for the train but we were soon comfortable in our seats and settling in for the ride. We were leaving the EU and Schengen zones today and entering a new country so we had to go through border formalities but we weren’t expecting any problems. However, as we were leaving Slovenia the border guard really scrutinized Elizabeth’s passport and eventually called over one of his colleagues. They started to tell us that she had over-stayed her visa-free period in the Schengen area as we were only allowed 3 months and we’d had over 5! We of course knew this as this was the problem we’d been trying to resolve in both Poland and Ukraine but as we’d got back into Poland alright we assumed getting out would be easy. The guys gave us some hassle and warned us that if we over-stayed in future we were liable to a €200 fine but they would let us off this time. The exclamation of ignorance on our part might have helped this issue! In contrast, the Croatian border was a piece of cake and we were both stamped in nice and easy. The main issue we have now is that in about 2 weeks time we want to go into Greece which is part of the Schengen zone and now Elizabeth is concerned they might not let her in!
Anyway, we were soon in Zagreb and while we were at the station we took the chance to book our tickets for the next destination to ensure we got the reservations. One man wasn’t able (or willing) to help us and so we had to wait 20 minutes for someone to finish their break but once she got back and hand-wrote our reservations we were good to hit the streets and find our hostel.
It was lunchtime by the time we checked in and so we quickly headed out for some food, finding a local bar that brewed its own beer and did lunchtime specials. The local beers were really good and the food was, too, although we were both really stuffed at the end. Back at the hostel we didn’t have a whole lot to do – a lot of things were still closed because of the holidays and so we planned our next couple of days. We did have a small wander around the open air market although it looked like everyone was shutting up shop as we were walking around. It was really close to the hostel so we decided we’d come back another day when it was a bit busier.
The two girls who work at the hostel (who we think are a couple) are both a bit strange. One is a bit, well, forthright and her line of interrogation seems very intrusive. However, they were able to offer us some ideas for dinner although it took some time to convince them we wanted more than a sandwich. She is really insistent and it feels like we can’t do anything we want but I wasn’t having a sandwich for dinner tonight. We eventually ended up at a Greek restaurant called Hellas (hardly local, I know!) and it was really nice. For the first time in a while we skipped the alcohol with dinner and just had water but we made up for the calories on the food front! After an appetiser of pita with hummus, tzatziki and a couple of other dips I had a lovely chicken breast in tomato sauce and smothered in cheese and Elizabeth had moussaka. We left there completely stuffed and decided to have a bit of a walk around to try and work off some of our dinner. The town was very different in the dark and the squares and churches looked very pretty. Most of the things here are still lit up for Christmas as Orthodox Christmas is on Friday and they still have that (and Orthodox New Year) to celebrate!
January 3, 2011
Today was a Monday which means that most of the museums in the town are closed and, like yesterday, we didn’t have a whole lot to do. We headed out to find a coffee shop to have a sit down and relax with a drink for a belated breakfast but the two options we were given by the girls at the hostel didn’t turn out too well – one was a smoke-filled coffee shop and the other was closed! We decided to grab a sandwich from a shop we’d passed and just have a stroll around.
The map we had of the city included two walking routes of the lower and upper towns and so we decided to follow these around. The walk around the lower town went past a lot of cool buildings and old museums, including a lovely fountain in front of one of the old hotel buildings. The botanic gardens looked really pretty, too, with a layer of snow covering the trees and plants but we could only view it from the outside as it shuts for winter. It was a nice stroll around the lower town and we were soon at the bottom of the funicular leading to the upper town.
We decided we’d take the stairs rather than the lazy route so we plodded our way to the top and some great views. We also walked around the area where some of the museums are as well as seeing the interesting St Mark’s Church. The tiled roof of the church has a couple of shields designed into it and they look quite impressive, even with a slight snow covering! The next stop was the cathedral. We’d seen this in the dark and it looked impressive lit up although the scaffolding on one of the towers was a bit of an annoyance. In the daylight, we headed inside too and the architecture was really impressive. It wasn’t as dark inside as some others we’ve seen and actually seemed quite open, with the massive arches and high ceiling.
After walking around we returned to the hostel to rest up before dinner. We’d had a nice light lunch and we’d had it quite early but we both felt so better for it. We’ve had so much heavy food that a bit of a respite was a good thing! For dinner we headed to a nearby local restaurant called Vallis Aurea where Elizabeth had the biggest bowl of tomato soup in the world (it had pasta in it and actually tasted like Heinz spaghetti in tomato sauce!) and I had a local speciality of slow-cooked ham, complete with a fried egg and chips. So much for light dinner! Still, it wasn’t as bad as yesterday and we were even comfortable enough at the end to go for another tasty beer at the place we had lunch at yesterday. It was really busy and we couldn’t get a seat but we stood at the bar and watched people with empty glasses sit around and stare at each other or spend half their time eating the other person’s face. I guess they hadn’t had a filling meal like we had!
January 4, 2011
Today was our last day in Zagreb before we headed south to the coastal town of Split and so we wanted to make the most of it and visit a couple of galleries, given this was the first day they’d been open since we’d been here! We packed up our stuff and took our bags down to the common area, had a bite to eat and then went out.
The first gallery was the former house of a sculptor called Mestrovic, a Croatian artist. The house was full of his sculptures although many of the items on display were smaller works, often models for his larger pieces. The main theme throughout much of his sculpture though seemed to be women with their legs open. It didn’t seem to matter what he was depicting, from the Virgin Mary to (seemingly) his relatives, they all were shown with minimal clothing and legs open. Obviously, his models of nudes were as you’d expect but almost every one had their legs open. I’m not sure whether he was perverted or had a fascination with that area but it certainly liked sculpting it! The sculptures were very impressive though and the house was equally so. The outer courtyards had some of his larger works and a side room included more contemporary works by a Croatian called Bourek. His sculptures were much more humorous but were equally good. This was a good stop but Elizabeth and I did laugh at the suggestion that Mestrovic was the best sculptor of his generation, a generation that included Rodin, amongst others.
The gallery was up in the old town but the sandwich bar we wanted to go to for lunch was back in the lower town so we walked down the hill until we found what we were looking for. The little outside hut called Pingvin looked fairly busy but we were able to order and grab a seat (outside! Brr!). We both got the Mexican style wrap which was really yummy but very messy – it wasn’t so much a “wrap” as an open tortilla filled with chicken and beans and corn which you were supposed to eat with your hands! Mess or no mess, we managed to work our way through it before venturing back to the old town for the other gallery we wanted to visit.
This gallery was called the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art. It sounded really interesting to us when we’d read about and despite the annoying girl at the hostel telling us not to go there we ignored her and went anyway. We weren’t too sure what Naïve Art was supposed to be but we’d seen a couple of interesting pictures and the paintings in the museum were equally fun and they provided a good topic for discussion as we walked around. The style seems very much a Croatian thing and this is claimed to be the first museum showing works of this type. To give you an idea of some of the works that we saw, you might want to try checking out Google for some or the following:
Emerik Feješ – St Mark’s, Venice
Dragan Gaži – The Wind in Winter
Martin Mehkek – My Neighbour (Cross-eyed Steve) (this one was very funny!)
Ivan Rabuzin – On the Hills – Primeval Forest (this was one of our favourites)
Slavko Stolnik – Cows Coming Home (Elizabeth’s favourite as she wanted a pink cow!)
Drago Jurak – Luxury Ship
Willem van Genk – Leipzig
Those should give you an idea for now and the ones there seem quite different in their nature. Nothing really explained at the museum what naïve art was and none of the pictures gave any telling signs either. They were just a lot of interesting, often thought-provoking paintings and drawings. Despite the opinion of the girl at the hostel, we both thought that the gallery was really interesting and it was also a lot different to anything else we’d seen lately, too.
The only problem with both the exhibits we visited today was that they weren’t very big and we were therefore finished quite early. This meant having to head back to the hostel to hang out until our train, which wasn’t until nearly 11pm. We weren’t looking forward to dealing with the two girls that worked there and we weren’t surprised when we got the third degree for our choice of museums which was closely followed by one girl telling us we should go out to a café (we had a load of drinks we’d bought and didn’t need to be just hanging out at a café) until finally she queried our choice when we went out for dinner. This was all accompanied by a strange atmosphere when the two girls were have a “disagreement” about spending time with one another and what they were going to have for dinner. It just made it so uncomfortable in the hostel and as a paying guest you shouldn’t have to deal with the personal issues of the staff. At one point, during the food discussion, one girl came over to our table, looked at what we had in front of us and returned to her partner saying “no, they don’t have any food for you”. I bit my tongue and avoided saying anything although when we left for dinner and she recommended an Italian restaurant that was “a bit more expensive than other pasta places but not the best” I felt the urge to chuck this idiot over the balcony.
Thankfully I refrained and we headed back to Hellas for some lighter food to set us up for our train ride. After another plate of pita and dips we shared a dish of chicken kebabs on skewers with roasted potatoes. The end of dinner came and we didn’t want to go back so we headed to the pub with the good beer, called Pivnica Mali Medo. This made it three visits in three days but we were really there to delay the inevitable of heading back to the hostel! We’d previously tried the “Brown Bear” red beer and the “Two Spikes” wheat beer so I went for the dark beer called “The Black Queen”. All very interesting names but all lovely beers which made the regular local lagers seem a bit bland.
Back at the hostel we sat and watched TV for half an hour before walking to the station. We were there about half an hour before our train was due to leave but it was already at the station and we were able to find our beds and get our stuff put away. We actually had the room to ourselves so we knew we’d not be disturbed later by anyone getting on or off the train. After leaving Zagreb and having our tickets checked, we quickly got into bed and fell asleep.