We took off from Sarajevo heading to Karanac in the northwest corner of Croatia, near the border of Hungary.
It’s true, we spent lots of time on the bus, but it was spacious and comfy. I was in awe of our bus driver, Marin Santic, who masterfully managed all the narrow two-lane roads and saved us from being tramatized in Zagreb. No, I didn’t spell that wrong, I mean tramatized by the ubiquitous blue trams. Numerous close calls, but we stayed safe.
They say food is the way to the heart. Well, Marin turned that one on its head; he bought the bus a bottle of honey slivovitz (brandy) to share.
Speaking of ubiquitous, look who we found in a prominent spot on the way out of Sarajevo.
We drove through the Communist block city of Zenica, which primarily housed iron workers in the day. The name of the city is now synonymous with incarceration, as in “I’ve been to Zenica” means you’ve been to prison.
Along the route, we saw this sad little house-with-a-view that was on the way down the mountain due to recent rains.
Vlatka set out a challenge: take a picture of a Yugo, and you win a prize. None of us had any luck until we spotted this little car. The bus driver pulled into a parking lot so we could all pile out and oogle. The owner, Dino, wondered what the heck we were up to, so came out to tell us all about his baby. The last model was produced in 1982, so this car was only one year younger than him.
We stopped for lunch at Dvorac Restorzn, a touristy little compound with hay stacks, horses, and thatched roof houses. This is in a region of Croatia known as Slovonia, not Slovenia. It is flat land with corn fields.
Here was the lil’ buddy who followed me around. I’m a kitten magnet.
We weren’t having any fun.
We finally arrived at our farm stay in Karanac at The Living History House Sklepic, with hosts Denis & Goca. This small village of 800 is located near the Hungarian border (thus the paprika we loaded up on). The flat lands are referred to as Panonia.
It was hands-on at this location. Lily taught us to make cheese from scratch. (That’s Kevin cutting the cheese.)
We all participated in a not-figurative stone soup event. It was our lunch and delicious!
We witnessed a clay demonstration by cousin Daniel and tried our hands at it. Kevin made a coil pot masterpiece.
Freda before her untimely “death”.
Speaking of animals, Cica, a lovely little kitty lived at the farm. She followed me everywhere and sat on my lap when invited. Cica tied with my little Dubrovnik buddy for the “best cat of the trip” contest.
The breakfast at Sklepic was a gastronomic delight. Homemade everything, including bread the braver of us rose early to fry. That morning I slept through the roosters. Now that is bone tired.
There was interesting décor in the breakfast room. Here it is, David Childers, a Radio Moscow.
In the evening we were split into two groups and went to our second Home Host Dinner. This evening was hosted by Lily, and her mother Luba, and father Mircah.
Leaving the farm was sad indeed after being immersed in such good cheer and so much fun. Thank you Denis and Goca!
We headed out on the Highway of Brotherhood and Unity to Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia.
In my notes this morning, I wrote how masterful Vlatka was in securing agreement. She would say, “We’re going to do so-and-so today, is that all right with you?” Who could say no to such a welcoming invite?
Zagreb has 800,000 inhabitants. They have had the best Christmas Market in Europe two years in a row. The two hills, once defined as the Merchant Hill and the Church Hill, merged in the 11th century, but they are still distinct.
We arrived in Zagreb on the Day of the Necktie. Although the UK usurped the “Windsor Knot”, and Louis the 14th loved the tie, it originated in Croatia. The many statues around the town sported ties around their necks.
It was in this market I almost got pick pocketed for the second time. Do I have “tourist” with-bad-belongings-securement all over my face?
We stayed in The Hotel Palace, built in 1907.
Night one we ran into these walking billboards.
It was easy to navigate this charming, not so little, walkable city. These signs went a long way in helping.
Our guide, Neven Kamenski, was cited by Rick Steves in his book on Croatia. Well deserved recognition. But it wasn’t until he told us he polished his English with buddies from Chicago, that we finally put a finger on his dees-dems-and-doe’s accent…real Chicago! Here he is in front of St. Mark’s cathedral.
He took us through the oldest part of the city called Bascarsija.
We rode up the funicular connecting the lower city to the upper, and walked through a massive meat market.
Two-hundred and thirty gas lamps are manually lit every night and extinguished every morning. Someone has a job in Zagreb!
We visited Ivan Meštrović’s home studio (now a museum). A sculptor, painter, and writer—he is a Croatian titan. Can you tell he studied under Rodin?
We took a pass at the Museum of Broken Relationships. Clever concept, but there was just not enough time to do everything.
We loved that the golden chandeliers inside the cathedral of the Assumption of St. Mary were donated by the Croatian-born owner of the Gold Coast in Las Vegas when he redecorated his casino.
We saw graffiti all over Croatia; not gang related according to Vlatka. I thought this door in Zagreb was quite a work of art. Inspiration by Banksy?
What trip to Zagreb would be complete without a trip to the cemetery where 300,000 people are buried? A sight to behold. It is on par with the cemeteries in Paris and Buenos Aires. Here is a woman tending to her ancestors grave, a tombstone waiting to be engraved, and an example of the family trees on display at the cemetery along the promenade. November 1st, which was upon us (thus the grave tidying) was called “All Saint’s Day” until Tito renamed it “The Day of the Dead”.
We got a chance to do laundry at the Wash and Dry and Pub. The owners ran both establishments. How convenient. We saw this little peach romping around the sidewalk bar. And this durned mosquito, like the striped ones we have in Charlotte, lit on my glass. Little bugger.
This was the night I discovered and fell in love with pumpkin seed oil. I thought my salad was delicious because of the lamb’s lettuce, but it was the pumpkin oil. Treat yourself, if you can find it in the states.
In keeping with “Learning and Discovery” (the Overseas Adventure Travel tagline) we took a chance on a concert that was being held that night to raise money for thyroid cancer. The philharmonic played and three divas sang like birds. It was spectacular, and tickets cost all of $15 each. (One of the divas who sang was the judge on TV previously mentioned.) They sang a couple lovely pieces made famous by a recently deceased and very beloved singer from the Dalmation coast.
The Mayor of Zagreb is Milan Bandic. He has been in prison for two of the 17 years he’s held office. He gets elected through the publicity brought on by doing crazy things. He organized a ski slope on a city street in Zagreb. At an interview, near a new city fountain, a journalist accused him of installing worthless works, that you “can’t even swim in”. So the mayor rolled up his pants, took off his shoes and conducted the interview from the water to prove the journalist wrong. Such an endearing move. People fall for crap everywhere, not just the U.S.
Today’s excursions outside Zagreb were again amazing. First stop was in the little town of Klanjec, to the studio of sculptor, Autun Augustinčić’s.
This artist was a master of the gigantic monument. We saw some of his smaller pieces in one room, and then walked into a very large room. The sculpture there took my breath away. Turns out it is the same as the Peace Monument outside the UN building in New York City. He has monuments all over the world.
One is even depicted on the currency.
Davorine Vujcic is the museum curator. Talk about someone who loves his job. He managed to raise funds to build a climate controlled space to house many of Autuna’s models.
“That’s not our cat,” Davorine said, but I managed to cajole it into following me so I could get my daily kitty fix.
We went to the very touristy “Old Village” in Kumrovec where Tito grew up.
I’m really into fences, and I loved the ones on this property. And is it any surprise why cabbage is often on the menu in this part of the world? Look at those babies!
Our very informative guide was Gabrjela Jurican.
Tito was the president of Yugoslavia for 35 years, and head of the communist party for 45. His father was a rich smuggler. There were 14 children in Tito’s family, but only eight survived. Tito was 88 years old when he died in 1980. There was a huge funeral for him in Belgrade. One hundred and twenty-eight countries sent representatives, but neither Fidel Castro nor the US president attended. Lillian Carter attended on Jimmy’s behalf.
Tito started “Tito’s Pioneers” for 7 year olds. At 15, youngsters became “Tito’s Youth”. Vlatka was herself a Tito’s Pioneer. Here she is sporting the cap and reading the treatise.
Of course, we had to have fun.
I spotted this darling baby and got permission from the parents to add beauty to my blog post.
We spotted the drivers of various buses, we figured they were comparing notes about all the old folks they were hauling around.
As if this day hadn’t already been full of enough fun, we went to lunch at the “Hill of Sin”, an agroturizm business.
We weren’t the first OAT group to enjoy the place.
Here was one of the many brandy pre-meal greetings. It’s such a nice tradition. Be ‘specting some brandy when you come over next.
The place got its name from a, story partly true, partly legend, about a young lower class lass and her beau of noble stature who were caught together. After hiding in the hills for five years, she was located and put on trial. Although she was only found guilty of infatuation, not an executionable offense, she was eventually drowned in the well of her lover’s castle by his father aided by guards. Her body is said to live on in the walls of the castle…and you know the rest, you can still hear her moaning today.
This was a splendid turkey lunch on the veranda in the sunshine.
Here was the distant view, and a closeup of one of the prettiest flowers ever.
The Growing Boy in our group sure scrounged on this meal. “You going to eat that? No? Ok.”
No cats, but there was a sweet dog, and goats, and pigeons, and a snoring hog. Such fun!
Back to Zagreb with some time to take in the botanical garden.
More of beautiful Zagreb and another sculpture by Croatian treasure, Ivan Meštrović.
That was just three days in the middle of this trip. No wonder we came home exhausted (and energized, and in love with the Balkans!)
Coming up next, Part 3 is the trip from Zagreb through Ljubljana, Slovenia. Along the way we visit an amazing national park, the largest cave in Europe, learn about brandy and truffles, and trek up to a fortified city not to be missed. Don’t miss the fun!