Full Day in Zagreb

Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Zagreb, Croatia
Today was a packed day in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Croatia was independent until it become part of Yugoslavia along with Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. When Yugoslavia started breaking up, Croatia was hit pretty hard in the Yugoslav Wars. It become fully independent again in 1996.

My walking tour started at 11 am . I wasn't sure about the tram/bus station, so it took me about 30 minutes to walk to the Old Town. With my Google map, it was easy enough to find, and the morning was crisp and cloudy. I found the Old Town and the Ben Jelacic Square's horse statue, where the tour was supposed to meet. Luka was our tour guide, and this was one of the best free tours I have ever taken. He was informative, funny, kept us moving and ended it on time. 

Zagreb was started as two towns, Gradec and Kaptol. Gradec had more merchants and workers and Kaptol was for clergymen, which made sense because it is where the Cathedral stands. The two towns groups used to fight in between on the "Bloody Bridge," which is now a street. In 1848, Ben Jelacic (yell-a-chec) helped end feudalism and united the two towns, which became known as modern day Zagreb, and built the town square. There are legends how the town became known as Zagreb, one involving a woman named Manta "za grabbing" water for people from a well. Ha! 

We walked up the hill to Gradec and saw a viewpoint of the Cathedral, St. Mary's, and St Francis. Zagreb is 90% Catholic. St. Catherine is the oldest baroque-style church in Zagreb. He pointed out the street lanterns in the old town, which was still manually turned on with long sticks (powered by petroleum) EVERY day by a man who has been doing this for 30 years, and his apprentice . He said it takes them 2-3 hours to turn them on and off, and it's a 4-mile walk. 

At 12 pm, we heard the cannon blast from one of the towers. This happens every day, and it was LOUD! Back in the day, bells used to sound at 9 pm to signify the gates were closing and that people needed to come back, as it was unsafe outside the gates. The Stone Gate is the only one that is still preserved. 

We saw St Mark's Cathedral and its square with the Parliament building. Luka pointed out where the "Column of Shame" used to be. It was a pole that people were tied to when they did something shameful - caught lying, stealing, cheating, etc. He joked that some government employees should be tied to it today. The Parliament building was bombed in 1991 by Serbia, as things were heating up with the "Homeland" War, as they called it. The war ended in 1995 and Croatia became independent. Yugoslavia ceased to exist.  
He took us through the Stone Gate, where people write "thank you" messages on the tiles . If they pray for something and it comes true, they write a message on the tiles. We walked through the Green Market (farmer's market) and toward the Cathedral, where the spires are 108 meters high. Luka said Croatians are laid back and relaxed. It's not uncommon for them to meet with friends and sit and have coffee for a good 2-3 hours. 

We ended the tour in the square, and by chance I ended up having lunch with some Canadians I met on the tour, Joanne, Barb, Mary, are sisters. Pierre is Mary's husband. They were so nice and so fun to sit and talk with. After lunch (ate a traditional dish called Strukle), I kept walking, bought some jewelry, went to mass at the Cathedral, had "cobanac," Shepherd's stew for dinner (very Croatian), and took the tram a few times around town. It was very easy to figure out. Before lunch, I ended up at the Green Market because I knew it would soon be closing. I saw a sign that of clementines that said "2 for 5." I took this to mean two of them for 5 kuna is about $.70, which I thought sounded about right? No, the man kept filling my bag. It was 2 KILO for 5 kuna, so I ended up with enough of them to feed the Croatian army. I gave some to people at the restaurant and to some men I bought souvenirs from. I explained what I thought the sign met, and they laughed at me. I was laughing at myself, so it was ok in this case. 

Zagreb is clean, safe and very cute. It's not as touristy as the coastal Croatian cities, and although there were a number of tourists, it's still not a "tourist destination." I think that will change, and I'm glad to have visited now. 

Today I head to Maribor, Slovenia by bus. It's only a two-hour ride. More on that experience later.
Thanks, as always, for reading.