A Travellerspoint blog

Croatia

Osijek to Zagreb

The hotel breakfast this morning was fancier and tastier than the other days' breakfast, despite being smaller and having fewer hot items. And I'm not just saying that because they had cake for breakfast ;)

We met our local guide after breakfast and took a walk around the town. She told us about many of the buildings and statues in town, as well as why they are the way they are. I thought that one of the coolest part was the main town square. Apparently, it is heated so that in the winter, the ice doesn't build up and people don't hurt themselves. However, there is one sight that topped this. Hidden away in an unassuming Osijek wall is my favorite sight, their "Monument to Human Stupidity." It is not marked, so you just have to know where to look. The story is that the engineers who built the fort situated it far enough from the town so that they couldn't accidentally hit anything in the town if they were firing in a war. One day, some soldiers got a little drunk and decided that they wanted to fire some of their weapons, since they hadn't had an opportunity to. The winds were better than the engineer anticipated, the soldiers were stupider, and a canonball got lodged in a wall. The townsfolk left it there as their reminder of how stupid people can be sometimes.

The other main sight we saw is the church. The church is pretty on the inside, and the ceiling and upper walls are done with colors that look right and not dark in the light that comes in through the stained glass windows. In the church, the guide told us stories of the saints that protected people during various hard times, and of course, the war. Like all of the other guides, she had some comments about the war, how it had affected her life, and what she thought of the whole situation. Another really unique aspect of the town is that they are very literary. For a small town, they have 17 public libraries, their favorite statue is of a guy carrying books, and even many of the the green pedestrian lights that tell you to walk are in the shape of the statue carrying his books. From there, she took us to the old fort. It was originally settled by Croats. Then, the Ottomans came. Originally, the Osijek residents from long ago had peacefully surrendered to the Ottomans to save their town. But, years later the Ottomans wanted to build a bridge across the river and swamp and put troops through the area, so they ended up destroying the town a bit. Ultimately, the fort was built there for protection from battles between the Austrians and Ottomans. It is made of bricks, and not stone, because the area has clay and not stone. In fact, many of the bricks in the area are ancient Roman bricks that have been reused many times. More recently, they took down many of the fort walls in order to reuse the bricks again, and to better integrate that part of town with the rest. Part of the fort is currently an operational monastery. During the war, people were very religious and maintained a lot of their faith because although people were shooting everywhere indiscriminately, the monastery only once incurred minor damage by a grenade. Compared to the bullet-riddled rest of town, God's House was pristine. After the war, a monk admitted that every night, he would make a little cement and repair any damage that had been caused that day. This helped people maintain hope and faith in a time where they were hard to come by. Lastly, we visited the old-fort town square. The main attraction there is a statue to help keep the citizens of the town protected from the plague. There's not a whole lot to see in Osijek, but there would have been even less without a guide, so it was good that we got one. From Osijek, we rode through the flat fields of corn and other crops until we arrived at the vineyards. We popped out of the bus to eat fresh grapes, straight from the vine. The wine grapes were nothing like the regular eating grapes we get in the store. They were sweeter, with thicker skins, and exploded like blueberries when bit or squeezed. They were quite good. Of course, many people would say they're even better when they've been turned into wine. The winery we visited had been turning those grapes into wine since just after the second world war. The actualy crushing and fermentation is done in a huger factory-looking building, which we passed on the way to the cellars.The cellars had been used as dungeons and storage places during Ottoman times and had been converted into wine cellars a few hundred years ago. They have been recently restored and are currently filled with large barrels full of ageing finer wines. We tasted 3 of them, as well as local bread, cheese, and some meats. I really enjoyed the cheese . The red wine was actually pretty good as well, although the group favorite seemed to be the first white wine we tried. For me, tasting the wines next to each other was interesting. Individually, I'm not sure I could have tasted the difference- it all just tastes like wine. But when tasted one after another, it was clear that even the whites had a different texture and a different flavor than each other.From the winery to Zagreb was another few hours on the bus. The scenery in this part of the country is pretty, but less pretty than any of the other areas, in my opinion. It's flat and full of corn, not too different than the US midwest. If you told me I was back driving through Indiana, I would totally believe you.

We arrived in Zagreb and had a little time to check out town before dinner. We started with the botanical gardens. They were pretty, and provided a nice place to walk, but I didn't see too many plants that were really wild. The one exception was a room full of lilypads large enough for a person to sit on. We continued our walk around town and saw quite a few Austrian/Hapsburg-style fancy buildings before hitting another park. At the end of this park, a food and film festival was running. It's too bad it was right before dinner, because some of the food at the various stands looked really interesting. Dinner tonight was still not stellar, simply because the meal choice didn't happen to be my favorite, but it was the best dinner I've had so far and it was of a caliber appropriate for the number of stars of the hotel. The meal reminded me of a meal you might get at a nice wedding or other similar function. The quality and presentation of the food was excellent, and I actually enjoyed the tomato soup very much- probably even more than the broccoli soup last night, which was the highlight of that meal. Really though, it was just nice to sit with the other folks from the tour. I've spent the past several days with these people, and they're all very nice. It was our last night together, so it was great to just grab a large table and chill.

Monument to Stupidity

Monument to Stupidity


Cathedral

Cathedral


Cathedral

Cathedral


Old town monastery

Old town monastery


Vineyards

Vineyards


Walking man

Walking man


Wine cellar

Wine cellar

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Old City Dubrovnik

I got up for breakfast- again, a 4-5 star ambience with 2-3 star food. I was satisfied. We got a late start, which I suppose is a good thing for people who just flew in from the states and might be tired, but for me it meant that I got a lot of homework and reading done in the hotel room while enjoying the lovely weather and views. We headed to Park Hotel, which is a bit closer to the bay, and dropped our luggage before heading to old town Dubrovnik itself. Out tour there started with one of the oldest pharmacies in the world in the Franciscan Monastery/Museum. The Franciscan monks here started the monastery in olden times and have continued running it to this day. In the olden times, monks used plants, mortar and pestle, and handwritten books to figure out what medicines to make. All of these are on display at the museum part. Today, pharmacy school graduates sell pills made by pharmaceutical companies, but the pharmacy is still in operation. It was also in operation as a hospital during the war, but despite posting a big "red cross" banner on the roof, it was shelled, like everything else in old city Dubrovnik. Here, we got our first information about what the 1990s war was really like. I can tell it's going to be a recurring theme on this trip. On an only slightly lighter note, we also saw the burial sites that the monastery contained. Rich citizens of Dubrovnik in older times would spend their life financially supporting some specific group of Catholics (Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits...) and then get to be buried in their respective chapels. One really rich guy even got his sarcophagus placed high on a wall, not just in the ground.

From there, our guide took us to the Rector's Palace for a tour of where the old-time mayors would live. They had a lot of mayors here, because every month they would change. The populace picked the council and each month, the council would appoint a new, rotating mayor. The mayor didn't really have any power, he just lived in the palace, greeted foreign dignitaries, and got a vacation from his crazy family for a month. At the end of the time, he was allowed to see his family again, go back to whatever he was doing before, and still have the honor of saying that he had been mayor. The last sight on our tour was Orlando's column. Its just a statue dedicated to a war hero- Orlando. But what's special is that in pre-SI system days, his elbow-to-hand length was used as a measure in Dubrovnik. Sort of like a foot, but different.

At the end of our tour, we needed cold beverages and lunch, so we just walked a few feet to the first cafe we saw and grabbed seats. I also made an ATM run for kuna. The guide had said that people take Euro almost everywhere, and my parents were planning on paying for everything with credit card, but I always like to have some cash on hand when I travel as I find that it comes in handy. I was glad I did, as when it came time for the bill, there was no place to leave the tip on the credit card (as there isn't in most non-USA countries). As for lunch, the burrata was pretty decent, and the rest of the food was good, but unremarkable.

Fully refreshed, and having discussed our plan of action, we headed to the closest sight to where we were- the synagogue. At this point, it is only a museum, there is not a Jewish community that still runs services. It was built in the older style, with the bimah in the center, and is small to begin with. I find it a little sad that they can't fill up a space that tiny. However, it was interesting to see the style it was built in and the artifacts that they have in the museum. From there, we attempted to see the Homeland War Exhibition, but it was closed, so we walked by the city hall and out towards the bay. The goal was to get to the Maritime Museum, as it had been recommended to us, but first, we ended up at the end of the city walls where people were swimming in the water and using the rocky area like a beach. The view was pretty great, so I'm glad we stumbled across that area. We finally found the hole in the city wall that brought us by the museum- it says "Aquarium" and leads first there, and then afterwards to both the Maritime Museum and the City Walls. The museum was interesting and had lots of great old maps showing the history of the Croatian maritime presence. Displays were in Croatian and English, and discussed the various pictures and items they were showing you. If you have a lot of time, it's maybe worth seeing. What was kind of more unique was the random guillotine that was standing in somebody's "yard" nearby. From there, we headed over to the Ethnographic museum. On the way there, we had to walk many streets that had stairs in the middle of them, like in Cuzco, Peru. These were streets made for people and maybe donkeys, but certainly not carts or automobiles. We arrived only 10 minutes before it closed, but that's really all the time we needed. It was interesting to see the different styles of roofs- thatched, concrete tiles, ceramic tiles- and to see the different lincoln-log style joints used in making traditional houses, but there wasn't a whole lot more to see. At this point, we were hot and tired again, so we made a quick stop for some pretty decent ice cream on the way out the Ploce Gate. They don't raise the drawbridge any more, but all of the mechanisms are still there, and I suppose that they could, if the had to. The city walls are very thick and did a great job defending the city against spears and arrows in the past. It did defend somewhat from the modern missiles that were lobbed its way in the 1990s, but a lot of the projectiles were coming in over the wall. After we took the cable car to the top of the mountain (great view), we learned all about Dubrovnik's role in the war in a Napoleonic fortress-come war museum that is at the top of the cable car path. The museum is mostly what I call a "book museum" in that it was a book somebody wrote (in Croatian and English) on the walls. It was a book with a lot of pictures (most of which were inexplicably in black and white), but it was still basically a book, as there were few artifacts other than old shell casings. To be fair, it was a somewhat interesting book about how the "Aggressors" (aka Serbia and Montenegro) invaded a sovereign nation and bombed them. However, the highlight was a video showing new reports from the 90s that showed what was going on and the world's reaction to it at the time. What I learned about the war today, in brief: Slavic countries were tired of being conquered by everybody else (Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, French, Austrians, etc), so they banded together into Yugoslavia to be stronger. After Tito left power, many of the formerly separate countries decided that they'd rather go back to being separate and stop sending their money to Belgrade. The countries exited, but the Serbian government wasn't really a big fan of that because that meant that they lost income and sea access. So they tried to make the internationally-recognized new countries either rejoin to form a large Serbia or at least give up land to them if even a tiny portion of the land had Serbian nationals living there. (By that logic, they should have invaded the US and other countries.) The Croatians weren't big fans of this and didn't want to rejoin, so they resisted. Then, the armies of Serbia and Montenegro tried to force them to give land to Serbia via shellings, bombings, and war. (The Serbian and Montenegran royal families were working together because they had married their kids together and so were friendly.) The war only ended when a peace treaty was signed in Versailles.

Side note: Dinner at the hotel was a cafeteria-quality buffet, although the ambiance was that of a much nicer restaurant. If I was eating this quality of food in a lower-class hotel, I would be 100% satisfied. I think that the dissonance between the quality of the food and the quality of the ambiance is what made the food seem worse than it actually was.

View of Bay from Hotel

View of Bay from Hotel


Franciscan Monastery

Franciscan Monastery


Column at the Palace

Column at the Palace


Old City Dubrovnik

Old City Dubrovnik


Old Town Bay

Old Town Bay


Dubrovnik Old City

Dubrovnik Old City


View from Funicular

View from Funicular


War Museum in Napoleon Fort

War Museum in Napoleon Fort

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

It's Mom and Dad day!

Woke, got dressed, went to the lobby to get the shuttle, and 5 minutes after it was supposed to arrive, asked at the front desk why it was late. His response: it left on time, you're late. Lesson: go stand outside, because the shuttle doesn't come close to the door or in so you can't see it. As a result, I was at FRA only an hour and a half before the flight, which really isn't enough time with baggage. I participated in the Airport Dash. I may or may not have joined a shorter line I wasn't supposed to be in. Ultimately, by the time I was at immigration, another person on my flight used the 'my flight boards in 5 minutes" card to cut the line, but I knew I'd be ok, so I ended my participation in the race. It all worked out as the flight was a little delayed anyway. Landing in Croatia reminded me of St. Kitts in that the planes just kind of sit out on some big open area, and you take stairs down them and into a tiny little immigration hall. Plus, it is a bright, sunny day, and there are mountains in the background. It's not exactly the same, but somewhat reminiscent as the size is similar. My flight got delayed, but the guy sent by the tour company was waiting for me. I felt like such a VIP, arriving and seeing a sign with my name on it. He drove me to the hotel (Adria) through the one road they have. It's gorgeous. I can totally see why people say this is a must-see beautiful place. The mountains on the right and the sea on the left provide a view that is hard to beat. The hotel is built into the mountainside, so the entry floor is 0, and all of the guest rooms are on floors with negative numbers. The view from my room on floor -5 was incredible. The buffet dinner here was included as part of our tour. The ambiance is that of a very fancy restaurant- tablecloths, a great view, friendly waiters, but the food was cafeteria-quality. It didn't matter though, we were thoroughly enjoying the view, and the food was only secondary.

View from Hotel Room

View from Hotel Room

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

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