Captivated in Croatia – Zagreb

Up early today for a 3 hour drive to Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the largest and oldest parks in Croatia.

Let’s get this out of the way first…I’m not sure if it was the sausage roll I picked up from the supermarket last night or if it was something in the breakfast this morning……..but I will now spend the next couple of days getting over food poisoning.  I start to feel a bit nauseous on the bus; I’m thinking maybe it is a slight bit of carsickness which is not unusual for me. What is unusual though is to become violently ill. Yep folks, I puke on the bus and it’s lucky that I have a plastic bag nearby.  I feel much better afterwards and figure I’m in the clear…..nope.  Another round of vomiting, this time in the park. I’m not sure if I can withstand the hike we are about to take, but I force myself to go and I am fine.  Alright, back to Plitvice Lakes and the beauty that they are!

Of course the one day we need to be outside exploring this beautiful park, it is pouring rain.  The shop at the entrance is selling ponchos and it is necessary to get one…an umbrella just isn’t good enough (and cumbersome when walking through the paths).

We take a short boat ride across one of the lakes to get to one of the main hikes in the park. It is really hard to describe how stunning it is here..even in the rain. The colors….the water is every shade of pretty green or blue you can imagine.

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This is due to sunlight and minerals/organisms in the water. It’s quiet and peaceful, aside from the sound of the rushing water cascades and waterfalls.  There are 16 lakes in total, and over 90 different sizes of waterfalls. I really wish we had time to explore for a few more hours.  The weather just isn’t working in our favor today.

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It can get really crowded here in the summer, and the paths are narrow so bring your highest level of patience!  There are 8 hiking routes; each one should take around 2 hours so a full day here is ideal. I’m not sure which route we took, but I’m pretty sure our trail took us to the biggest waterfall, Veliki.  IMG_0326

Back on the bus for a 2 hour drive to the capital of Croatia – Zagreb. We are staying at a hostel called Chillout.  I try to get my own room; I’m still not feeling great and I just want to be alone but I am not able to go solo. The room I am sharing is really small, and I have to take the top bunk which is not ideal when I have to keep climbing down to use the toilet.

IMG_0329Chillout Hostel is great though….perfect location to see the sights and the lobby bar is a super fun place to grab a drink and meet fellow travelers! I go for dinner with the group but I don’t stay too long…tea and soup is about all my stomach can handle tonight.

The next morning we take a short walk over to the central square called Ban Jelecic. Many tram lines run from the square, so be careful when crossing the streets!

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We stop at the large statue of a man on a horse. It is none other than Josip Jelacic- a Croatian nobleman, army general and expert military strategist; namesake of the square. The square has existed since the 17th century, and is now the center of the downtown pedestrian zone.  Zagreb is the largest city in Croatia, but it still manages to have a small town feel…rich in history and culture. It is separated into Upper and Lower towns.

The Upper Town is made up of narrow cobblestone streets and historical and fascinating buildings. Our tour guide, Max, first takes us to Upper town where we start at Dolac market that caters mostly to locals; the stalls selling all kinds of fresh food. We go to the first stall, and an older woman gives us a sample of cornbread and then reaches over to her colorful bowls full of cottage cheese.

No need for bread…she puts a dollop on the back of our hands and we eat it like that! The last stall allows us to try pork crackling, which is fried pork fat. Even though I’m still not feeling great, I decide to try it.  Max is pretty excited about it, but OMG it is so gross….the fat juice that bursts out when you bite into it. Just NO.  Outside there are more stalls set up, covered by the famous red umbrellas of Zagreb.

Walking further into Upper Town we reach the magnificent Zagreb Cathedral-the tallest structure in the entire country! It is Roman Catholic and Gothic in style.

IMG_1387We have a look inside, and it is just as grand with many paintings and statues.IMG_1392

The next leg of the tour takes us past the statue of St George on a horse, killing the dragon.IMG_1403.JPG He is surrounded by a garden of flowers.

Around the corner of this statue is the Gradec Gate (Stone Gate) that leads into the historic medieval section of the town.

IMG_1404It dates back to at least 1266, and was damaged in many fires since Zagreb’s structures were made mostly from wood. As we pass through the gate, we see the painting of the Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus. It has a decorative baroque fence around it, and many flowers and candles sit below it.

Historical fact:  This painting survived the fire of 1731, even though the Gate was badly damaged. It’s now a site to light a candle and pray for health, happiness and good luck as many believe the painting has magical powers. Around the painting are stone slabs in the walls with engravings of gratitude carved in them.

Through the other side of the gate is the statue of Dora. She was a hero of an 18th century historical novel who lived with her father next to the gate.IMG_1437

 

IMG_0342Continuing up the cobblestone road, we reach St Mark’s Square, the location of the beautiful St Mark’s church. The roof of the church is made of colorful tiles that represent the coat of arms of Zagreb and the coat of arms of the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia. The church was built in the 13th century; we have a quick look inside to see a white and golden interior, with large murals on the walls.

We think this walking tour is over but Max is very excited to take us down to explore the Lower Town! Ok, let’s go!

Lower Town is all about parks, arts/culture, and is the business district. First we walk past the National Theater, a yellow Viennese style building.

IMG_0351On to King Tomislav Square, just across from the main train station.  King Tomislav sits high on his horse and the large yellow building which is the Art Pavilion stands in the distance.

IMG_0353This is all a part of the Lenuci Horseshoe, a complex of squares and parks and a botanical garden in central Zagreb.  It’s a nice place for a casual stroll, or to sit and take in the surrounding flowers and fountains. Little do we know that this is turning out to be the longest walking tour in the history of all tours. As it nears the 5 hour mark, I decide to sneak off and do the rest of my exploring. Lower Town is nice, but I’m not as excited by it so I want to go back to Upper Town! I head back to the Chillout Hostel for a quick stop and then I take the world’s smallest funicular(conveniently located right next to the hostel).

It is also one of the steepest, and takes only 60 seconds to get to the top. The journey takes me back up to Upper Town and I decide to climb the Lotrscak Tower for some spectacular city views.

The tower was built in the 13th century to guard the Southern Gate.  It is a simple design and there is a large bell in the tower that signaled the closing of the gates and a large cannon that fires every day at noon.  I then head over to the Museum of Broken Relationships, which is dedicated to failed love of all kinds! People from all over the world have donated items, with personal stories of their significance.

 

Some of the exhibits are funny, and some are just purely heartbreaking.  One of my favorite exhibits is pictured here – the toaster of vindication. I love it –  a really unique place to visit!  I then spend some time finishing up my souvenir shopping, and have a small dinner – I’m still feeling the effects of the food poisoning. But later on tonight, I meet up with Emily in the hostel bar for a few beers. And believe it or not, the beer actually settles my tummy and I feel much better! Overall, Zagreb is a fascinating stop on any tour of Croatia. I feel like it can be overlooked, but spending a day or two here will not disappoint!IMG_0358

 

 

 

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