Saturday, October 3, 2009

Zagreb, the great surprise. Part 2: the rest of the story

Aside from our hotel frustration with the Hotel Dubrovnik, we loved Zagreb. We did a lot of walking around, seeing the sights. The architecture is varied - sure, a bit of Soviet squat, but not too bad:
Plus these different styles:
I got an aching back and had to rest
One of the main features of the old part of Zagreb is the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. You can see it from most parts of town (the part we were in, anyway), and it is striking. It used to be known as St Stephen's, apparently, and like most cathedrals, it's permanently under repair. Construction began in the second half of the 13th century, on the site of an earlier Romanesque cathedral that was destroyed by the Tartar invasion in 1242.

You can't get it all in one shot - here's my best effort:
Closer, the door:
Closer still, above the door:
And there's a huge fountain in front, shiny with gold:
Golden angels down below:
There were little straw wreaths hanging on each of the fountainheads - don't know why:
I assumed it was Jesus at the top - isn't it always? But no! When we zoomed in on the photo, the breasts were a dead giveaway: Must be Mary.
There were security gates on either side of the building so you could only see the front and enter at the door, but I shot this picture of the side, through the security gate:
You really can see the spires from all sorts of places, which makes it easy if you get lost!
no idea who that guy is!

To the left of the cathedral was this magnificent building - we don't know what it is, but we loved the look of it:

It had this clock on the wall - I love the textures and colors:
The area around this church does seem to be dominated by religious life. We were eating pizza our first night, and a monk dashed into a nearby door, with his little monk hood flapping behind him and his rope belt swaying around his waist. Blurry nuns dash around -

And I'm probably going to burn in hell for this, because the guy was probably a famous and important priest or something, but I saw this in a window of what seems to be a church store, and I thought it was a drawing of the Joker, from Batman.
We walked through a big park, through what seemed to be a gerontology fair. The first giveaway was all the old people, and the second was some word on a sign that seemed to have gerontol in it. Here we have dancing with the oldies: The Anitas!
Zagreb has a really great market, too - flowers, produce, fish, bakeries, meat, honey and olive oil, handmade crafts, the whole market 9 yards. It's called the Dolac fruit & vegetable market, and it's been going on since the 1930s.

We bought some grapes to go with our dried figs
Fish (a whole large building full of fish stalls!)
Meat. In a country that loves meat so much, you'd expect to find butchers.
Bakeries (but hey, the bread was surprisingly bland and uninteresting around Croatia!)
There's a lot of live music around the Josipa Jelacica square (Trg Josipa Jelacica, they call it). There were always guys playing guitars of some kind, usually an accordion player, and always someone on some kind of bagpipe. I wanted to surreptitiously take a photo of this guy, but he turned and posed for me. It was kind of cute.
We also saw the Stone Gate, the eastern gate to medieval Gradec Town. According to legend, there was a big fire in 1730 that destroyed every part of the wooden gate except for the painting of the Virgin and Child. People believe that the painting possesses magical powers and come regularly to pray before it, light candles, and leave flowers. Square stone slabs are engraved with thanks and praise to the Virgin.
We saw St Mark's Church - the roof looked like a lego design to me, but Lonely Planet calls it "one of Zagreb's most emblematic buildings." The roof was constructed in 1880, and the tiles depict the medieval coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia.
It was very sunny that day.
We saw another church, the Jesuit Church of St Catherine, I think, that featured this artwork above the door:

creepy! cut-off arms, really?
And the fisherman being saved, as he always is:
In the same area is the sabor, the Parliament of Croatia:
From that balcony, Croatian independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire
was declared in 1918.

We walked through this pathway of chestnut trees; the wind was blowing chestnuts
down like hail, so we didn't stay long. But isn't it beautiful?
And finally, Trg Josipa Jelacica - Zagreb's main orientation point and the geographic heart of the city. Our hotel looked over this great square. This is where people in Zagreb arrange to meet. The square is named for Ban Jelacic, the 19th century governor who led Croatian troops into an unsuccessful battle with Hungary in the hope of winning more autonomy. The statue stood in the square from 1866-1947, when Tito ordered its removal because it was linked too closely with Croatian nationalism. It was returned to the square in 1990.
Definitely click this one to see the whole thing!
We had gorgeous, gorgeous weather our whole vacation. The morning we left, it was cold and rainy, and the square was empty, with the exception of these umbrellaed stands that appeared overnight - no idea what they're for.
More to come, filling in spaces, but this is it for now. The entire set of photos can be found here. I also have another summary post to come.

Zagreb, the great surprise. Part 1: Hotel Dubrovnik

Maybe because I'd read something in Lonely Planet that described Zagreb as featuring squat Soviet architecture, or maybe it was because I'd read not to expect much of the food in Zagreb, but I had very low expectations of the city. As in, I didn't think I'd like it. I thought it would be a major and unattractive hub, the place we fly in and out but not much more. The end of the trip, where we gather to leave, saturated by the sorrow of vacation's end.

Boy was I wrong. Marc had a more appropriate idea of it, so he wasn't as surprised as I was. It is such a European city - very stylishly dressed women, cafe culture deluxe, Italian shoe stores by the dozens, a variety of architectural styles, and a cosmopolitan feeling. I really liked Zagreb a lot, though they weren't wrong about the food. At all. But more on that in a sec. First: The Hotel Dubrovnik.

Hotel Dubrovnik is always rated among the top hotels in Dubrovnik, wherever you look. There aren't that many hotels in the center of town anyway, so it definitely has location going for it, but sites like TripAdvisor and that feature customer reviews all feature rave reviews. It was a splurge, but we thought it would be worth it. When we got to the hotel, it didn't look at all like it did on the hotel website. The website showed a stately older stone-faced building overlooking the square, but the hotel entrance is this hideous, tall, glassy-windowed monstrosity.
Paging the 1980s, and don't neglect to notice the filthy windows. Like you could ignore them.

We got to our room and were extremely disappointed; it was old and drab, and the view was not of the square - couldn't even see it if you leaned out the window. The only way to see out was to open the windows, because they were so filthy. I didn't even take any photos of the room or the view, it was so bitterly disappointing. We were on the 7th floor, and the entire place seemed empty. We never saw another person anywhere, no signs of housekeeping, nothing. It was like we were all alone in this old empty place. Kind of like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, but without the charm.

On our 2nd day, when we returned to the hotel after doing some sightseeing, we had no electricity. I assumed we had made some kind of mistake so I called the front desk. I kid you not, this is what happened:

Me: Hi, I'm in room 720, and we can't make our lights work.
Desk clerk: Yes, I know, we don't have any electricity. *pause pause pause pause* I see you're scheduled to stay with us again tonight.
Me: Yes. (and I'm assuming the lack of electricity is just a momentary affair at this point)
Desk clerk: Would you like a room with electricity?
Me: (sarcastic thoughts racing through my mind) Yes. We would like a room with electricity.
Desk clerk: OK, you'll have to come downstairs to the front desk and we'll, you know, etc etc etc.

That's literally what she said. And she didn't have a helpful attitude, either. So Marc went downstairs and got a key to a new room, which was "in the other building." We were told to wait 10 minutes, while they got the room ready.

So we packed everything, went downstairs, and walked through the corridor to the "other building." There was no reception area, but we found the elevator.

And voila. We were in the building we'd expected to be in - the stone-faced building facing the square. The room was an awkward space, you couldn't really walk past the bed without hitting into a chair, but it was newer and fresher, and our windows opened directly onto the square, with a 5th floor view. If we hadn't had the 'no electricity' issue, we'd never have known we were shunted into the crappy old building. We were so angry.......hell, we still are.

Here's the view we had on our last day and night:

If you happen to find this blog because you're looking for information about the Hotel Dubrovnik, here's our best advice: go elsewhere.

More about Zagreb in the next post - things improve a great deal!

Bol on Brac

Parking was so difficult in Split we only ventured walking distances from our hotel, which meant we saw all we wanted to see in a day and a half. We took the car ferry from Split to the island of Brac (pronounced Bra-ch), which was about an hour off the coast by car ferry. The main thing Brac is known for is its white marble - used not only in Split everywhere, but also used in the White House. Yep. Have you ever heard that before?!

Bol (pronounced Bowl) is the primary place to visit on the island, which is on the opposite side from the ferry landing at Supetar.

It only took 30 minutes to drive there, and it was a really beautiful drive. We stopped at the first little village, Nerezisca, and walked around a bit. We saw people, but no one seemed the least bit bothered by us. You know how you can go to a small town and people kind of stare, like they're suspicious of you in some way? None of that in Nerezisca. An old woman passed us and greeted us in Croatian, and just kept going. Otherwise, people just kept on about their business.

Very different architecture here - few red tile roofs:
Lots of this very flat stone used for roofs, instead - at least on the older places.
Plus a sweet little goat in someone's yard:
Here's the village center - a restaurant/bar/cafe on the right, a little store, and a post office:
That must be the old church in the middle - they have a newer one now, outside the center of the village.
Someone's yard.
We drove on to Bol, and after a very harrowing drive down tiny little narrow alleys that fit one car only - though we did meet oncoming cars - we found the place we sought, the Villa Giardino. We rang the bell and walked into this little zone of pure paradise.

The Villa Giardino, owned by Christine. Under the arbor, over the garages, is a beautiful terrace where we ate breakfast, which came with homemade fig jam.
And this little patio was just outside our room:
The backyard:
With a gazebo:
This shot doesn't do it justice, but there was art everywhere. Sculptures on windowsills,
in hallways, on shelves and ledges, in the garden. Strangely, most of the art was female. Nude women in every position, some erotic, some explicit, some conceptual. Curious. Even some of the large stones in the garden were female, when I looked at them from a different perspective it was obviously female form.
Bol faces the harbor, and like every other place we visited along the coast, comprises dozens of cafes, restaurants, and shops.

The main thing Bol is known for is Zlatni Rat, a strange but packed-with-people beach which we didn't visit since that's not our kind of scene. Here's the classic shot of it; see all the hordes of people lining the beach? Yech.

Walking toward that beach is a very nice path, lined with market stalls (souvenirs, of course), and art, and strange trees.

This is as close as we got to the beach - if you click to enlarge, you'll see people sailing
and windsurfing. Parasailing too, but lots of windsurfing.
We walked around Bol, ate at a little restaurant off the main road recommended by Christine, drank some cappucinos, ate some gelato, walked for hours, and slept very well in our wonderful room. After breakfast, we headed back to the ferry, which turned out to be a bit of a stressful experience. One thing I noticed in Croatia is that they offer a lot of signs and directions when you're far away from something, but when you get close and really REALLY need to know whether to turn left or right, there are no signs or directions to be found. AAArgh.

Nevertheless, we finally got it all together.
In line, waiting to drive onto the ferry.
Sitting up top, watching the people and the view.
So we drove off the ferry, through Split, onto the highway, and to Zagreb. The days were dwindling, too close to the end for me.