Zagreb

Getting to Zagreb was hard. Getting away from it proved even harder; the process became such a mess that I would rather forget it than blog it. But I will tell you what happened at Plitviče Lakes.

No bus, no private vans, the concessionaires at the entrance are closing up and getting ready to roll up the sidewalks, even though there’s hours of daylight left. Dragan, our local guide, gets on the task, and starts talking to the concession workers (who cannot—or will not—speak English). Eventually, something can be arranged after all. Someone has a friend who is willing to drive us to Zagreb—for 900 Kuna…

I guess this is as good a time as any to tell you that Croatia’s currency, the Kuna, is named for the wolverine. Apparently, when Croatia became an important state (I didn’t get clear on whether this was before or after the Roman Empire), its main stock-in-trade was wolverine furs, which became the standard of currency.

…that is, about $140. A little more than we had planned on!

Then we encounter the other English-speaking tripper who was stranded in exactly the same way. He was even worse off, with no native friend, no friend at all (his comrades remained in Zagreb, where they had gotten too hung over to come to the park), and no 900 kunas. But with three of use, only 300 Kuna apiece, a bit more manageable.

After about 30 minutes, the driver arrives, a youth of perhaps 18 or 20. Since he stops for me when I need to pee (try that on a Croatian bus!) and takes us right to the door where we are staying in Zagreb, we figure it was worth the premium price.

(click on image for captions)

Our host is Renka, who is generous with his time. He takes us on a guided tour of the city. His apartment is on the outskirts of the city, in a large 1960s-era, socialist-inspired residential area. I say socialist-inspired because it is a point of pride for him: the layout is efficient and family-friendly.

The older part of the city is a 19th-century relic of the Austrian empire, with the usual assortment of monumental museums and government buildings. One such classic is the railroad station, where we go to to buy a ticket for the onward journey (which we never used). One point of interest is that where most big-city railroad stations now have shopping malls in the center, and where Madrid has its botanical garden, the Zagreb station has a book market!

Another outstanding feature of Zagreb is the coffee shops. I think you could walk from one end of the city to the other on coffee cups, and if you time it right they would all be hot. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but the coffee is really good).

IMG_8523The most memorable visit here, besides Renka himself, is the “Museum of Broken Relationships.” It’s not the relationships themselves that are on display, of course, but little bits of memorabilia, and the donors’ explanation of what these items meant. Some of the stories are extremely poetic and poignant, and as I imagine what the people went through as they donated their little treasures to the museum, I alternately laugh and cry.

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