Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Zagreb: totally stuffed

I meant to post this earlier, but after a good start to January, three quarters of us were struck down with a flu-like virus. However, since I expected us to get far sicker in the move to a new country, I am not complaining. So, back to the Croatia vacation...

Our last destination in the Krapina region was decided by Robocar Poli. That is, Maribor had been on our list, but every time I turned on Youtube for Alcuin's current favourite show, there were ads for the Advent Market in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, which has apparently been voted best in Europe for several years - and was only about 40 minutes away from our AirBnb. And so, for one of the very few times in my life, I succumbed to direct advertising.

I'm not sure exactly what I expected of Zagreb. The name, of course, conjures up stereotypical eastern European images of a grim, post-communist concrete wilderness.
Predictably, the outskirts were packed cheek by jowl with depressing-looking apartment blocks - apparently a quarter of the population lives in the capital. Once inside the city, though, it was surprisingly spacious. Yes, some of the buildings could have done with a clean up (provoking visions of the blackened London I remember as a child), but it was also modern and bustling, and full of tourists. On one level, I was disappointed that the predicted snowy weather had been driven off by a 'warm' front, but at least we could wander around comfortably.

A short stroll from the underground car park (the bane and blessing of visiting European cities), we walked into the first section of the city-wide market, set in Zrinjevac park, with booths lining the pathway, and a pavilion in the centre with live music. A little shopping for the girls, the first hot wine of the day for Ted (Magdalen had volunteered to drive back, woo-hoo).

Up the street, and another, huge market burst on the scene at Ban Josip Jelačić Square: food, shopping, and another stage with live entertainment. I loved the advent wreath fountain, and a mini forest of Christmas trees. And who would you expect to see at a Christmas market but Saint Nicholas with a suitcase?

I hope it isn't violating privacy to show this snap. The mentally disabled boy in the background had already interacted with us at the previous market. He was very happy to spot the old saint, who, just after that photo, turned around and gave him a huge hug plus a gift from his suitcase.

Ted would have been happy eating street food from one of the dozens of stalls, but it was meat, meat, and more meat - not so great for us vegetarians. So we decided to go up to the old part of town, and, of course, why walk when you can take the funicular? Zagreb has the shortest funicular in the world, and walking might have been quicker than queuing up, and shuffling on and off. But we had to ride it, even if only so I can write about it. Funicular is one of my favourite words. It sounds like you're swearing without actually swearing. Funicular, funicular, FUNICULAR.

Random view from the funicular. Did I say funicular?

Ahem, back to the trip. Up in the old part of town, we (okay, Magdalen) consulted Google and found an Indian restaurant. Hurrah! I have noted (in my very small sample) that while regular restaurants in tourist areas have the menu in the vernacular, then usually some combination of Italian or German and English, Indian restaurants have the menu in the vernacular and English only. You just know that all the British tourists are like, "Thank God, a chicken tikka masala! I've had enough of foreign food around here!"

Time for a little culture after lunch. Elder daughter went off to the small Museum of Naïve
 Art, while the rest of us went round the corner to the Croatian Natural History Museum, mainly because teenage daughter was hoping they would have English paleontology books in their museum shop, plus we thought animals would keep the toddler happy.

"Mum, look, the wolves have got a Christmas tree!"

The museum is housed in an old theatre, which turned out to be pretty appropriate. You begin by walking through the cloistered interior and up a wide, creaky staircase lined with posters. The geology section was innocuous enough, and a chance for Alcuin to tell us all about meteors, which he got mixed up with lava part way through the explanation.

But then we hit the zoology section. Case upon case (and jar upon jar) of Victorian-era stuffed and preserved specimens, down corridors, round corners, in and out of glass cases. Octopuses in giant tubes lounging by the window. Litters of baby animals that looked so new they must have been taken from the womb or killed soon after birth. My daughter and I had the simultaneous thought that it was the perfect setting for a murder mystery or horror story. It was so macabre, it was compulsive. And the three year-old loved it. He announced, for some reason, that we were going to be finding elephant bones, and voila, there they were, next to a baby elephant that we could not decide whether was a model or stuffed.

Then back to the shop aka a glass-fronted cabinet next to the cash desk where I paid more for one book on Neanderthals than it cost us to spend a day at the spa. But raising geeks isn't free.

Meanwhile, our adult daughter had also squeezed in a quick trip to the Museum of Broken Relationships. This is where people from all over the world send in tokens of their failed love. Here's a couple of examples:

"When I moved out and across the country, I took the toaster. That'll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?"

"The sweater of indecision": This woman wanted to knit her boyfriend a jumper, but he kept changing his mind about what he wanted. When he left her for a student twenty years younger, she knitted out her anger by making it -  to all his specifications. Apparently, the back is unravelling, "like his heart."

Just time to wander further into town, through another market (see the lovely bookstall below), this time with a modern vibe, and over to an enormous ice rink at King Tomislav Square. Sadly, the queue was too long for a skating session before we wanted to head home (avoiding night driving).

And so back to the cottage, but we will definitely be returning to Zagreb some time to see what it is like outside Christmas.

Touristy stuff:  Zagreb's main tourist page is here. If you have a taste for the macabre, here is the museum website. I hope I am not offending any Croatian readers because, honestly, it was a theatrical experience I won't forget for a long time. On my daughter's recommendation, the Museum of Broken Relationships is definitely on my list for the next visit to Zagreb.

If you are interested, and missed previous posts on Krapina, the post on our Airbnb and waterpark/spa is here, and the one on the Neanderthal museum is here.

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