Do you ever ask yourself exactly what happened to Yugoslavia? It was right there in our school atlas, but is no more. In its place are seven independent nations spanning the Balkan peninsula from Slovenia in the north to Macedonia in the south, with Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo in between. How this happened is far too complicated for me to wrap my head around, and takes up an entire chapter in our Rick Steves guidebook! But we hope to gain a better understanding, or at least an appreciation of their differences, as we visit most of them over the next month.
We are starting in Croatia, and flew here from London, only to find out at the airport that it's actually called............
try THAT with a mouthful of pastry! Croatia joined the EU last year, but still uses the Kuna for currency.
We began our adventure in the capital city of Zagreb. Our tiny rented "apartman" is in a shabby old building facing a tiny courtyard off a quiet, but central street. Door number 3 on the right of this picture. So imagine our surprise to find it looking like a page from an Ikea catalogue when we opened the door! Even the cutlery and dishes are from Ikea! It's perfect!
Exploring the city began with a trip to the market, which filled half of the enormous central square and continued up a side street, filling another large square, plus an indoor fish and meat market! It was overwhelming! We thoroughly enjoyed sampling all kinds of strange foods while we bought supplies, serenaded by a very loud traditional Croatian group singing sappy romantic ballads (we presume!) with great passion!
Next up was a 55-second ride to the upper town! Zagrebians are proud to have the world's shortest funicular! Another source of pride is their claim to have invented the neck-tie back in the 1600's - tie shops and tie-shaped souvenirs abound!
However, compared to other European capitals, Zagreb has remained refreshingly un-touristy. We saw very few groups of tourists, the market certainly was crammed with locals, older Croats do not speak English and are quite grumpy and unhelpful - though I noticed that using my one word of Croatian "hvala" - thank-you - elicited the odd smile. Younger people are much more friendly, learn English starting in grade 1, and are happy to practice! There are a lot of young men who look very like Novak Djokovic! OK, I know he's Serbian, but I swear I saw him a dozen times today!
Croatians are devoutly Catholic, and even during the communist era religion was tolerated, but not encouraged of course. Here's the beautiful cathedral, properly called the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saintly Kings Stephen and Ladislav! Quite a mouthful! Of course, like any European cathedral, parts of it are cloaked in scaffolding - but instead of just cleaning this cathedral, they are actually replacing much of the stone work after years of neglect: the communist government may not have pulled it down, but they did nothing to maintain it. A combination of pollution and cold weather has reduced some of the limestone to rubble as is well illustrated by this display of old and new.
Here's their discard pile...... and a group of friendly gargoyles waiting to be lifted up to their new homes!
Here's another outstanding church, St Mark's. No, the roof is not made of Lego! Those coloured tiles from 1880 depict the coat of arms of Croatia on the left and Zagreb on the right.
Zagreb is chock-full of excellent museums and galleries. We chose two: the first being the unique and world-renowned Museum of Broken Relationships! Opened in 2010 by a couple who had just broken up, this museum collects stories of people from around the world whose relationships foundered, along with an artifact that represents their relationship, or its demise! It now has a touring exhibit that goes around the world and next year will make its first visit to Canada! Some of the stories were long, some short, some heart-breaking, some hilarious! Here's one of the shortest:
It says "When I moved out, and across the country, I took the toaster. That'll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?"
Speaking of relationships, here's where today's romantics demonstrate their commitment by attaching a padlock to some railings.
Our other choice was the Croatian Museum of Naive Art. Opened in 1952, this museum displays 80 works of art from the 1930's to the 1980's. These paintings can be described as "peasant art" but are not considered "amateur" but works of art by highly talented artists who were never formally trained. Most are painted on glass, which was cheaper and more readily available than canvas and required less skill. We loved them! Here are a couple of favourites borrowed from Google images.
Zagreb is definitely worth a visit, and if you ever come here, be very glad Croatia didn't adopt the Glagolitic alphabet, developed here, but never formally adopted! It was later adapted to become the Cyrillic alphabet used in Russia.
Tomorrow we pick up a rental car and head north into Slovenia for some hiking and exploring before it gets too cold there!