Croatia by the Numbers

Hailstorms spent hiding on the portico of a basilica/mausoleum: 1

Clouds of cigarette smoke accidentally walked through: at least a dozen, ew

Roadside breakdowns while driving up a mountain: 1

Elaborate breakfast buffets consumed on a hostel balcony: 4

Outdoor choir concerts stumbled upon: 2

Adorable French children befriended: 1

Bell towers climbed while Vertigo played in the back of my mind: 1

Nights spent dancing on a giant outdoor light-up disco floor: 2

Green-blue waterfalls admired: at least 10

Island beaches sunbathed on: 2

Servings of the very strong local rakia consumed: 5, aka plenty

Total days spent in Croatia: 14

Total money spent: $1,078

Average per day: $77

Total money spent, minus the airfare: $906.36

Average per day, minus the airfare: $67.74

Expanses of otherworldly blue water seen: leagues

Looks good from here

Looks good from here

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A Short Photo Tour of Zagreb

By the time I got to Zagreb in June 2013, I was worn out after nearly two weeks of late nights along the Croatian coast. I stayed just a couple days in the capital city, long enough to visit the Museum of Broken Relationships, catch a choral concert outside the cathedral, and eat burek. I spent at least half a day seated on a bench in one of the plazas, near a bubbling fountain, reading a book in the sunshine–a very pleasant experience, but one which doesn’t lend itself to exciting retellings or dramatic photos. So here’s a photo post of some of the sights I enjoyed on my short walks around Zagreb, a city worth a closer look on another visit.

Cathedral of the Assumption

Cathedral of the Assumption

Grand interior

Grand interior

zagreb

I always enjoy a good stained glass window

I always enjoy a good stained glass window

Opera House

Opera House

If you're looking for a change in your eyelashes routine, you've come to the right place

If you’re looking for a change in your eyelashes routine, you’ve come to the right place

Decorative flourishes

Decorative flourishes

Church of St. Mark

Church of St. Mark

This tile pattern depicting the coat of arms of Zagreb is very old, but it kind of looks like a pixelated video game screenshot

This tile pattern depicting the coat of arms of Zagreb is very old, but it kind of looks like a pixelated video game screenshot, or Legos

Possibly the only non-sketchy train station neighborhood in Europe--this is across the road from the main station

Possibly the only non-sketchy train station neighborhood in Europe–this is across the road from the main station

King Tomislav

King Tomislav

Burek! Delicious meat (and/or cheese) pastry

Burek! Delicious meat (and/or cheese) pastry

Next up, Croatia by the Numbers, and then on to new countries!

Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb

I didn’t meet that many people who had been to Zagreb, Croatia before I visited, but everyone who had been suggested I go to one place: The Museum of Broken Relationships. Well, with a name like that, of course I had to check it out.

Museum of Broken Relationships

Museum of Broken Relationships

The museum started as a traveling show, for which the founders asked people to donate something that symbolized their ended relationship as a means of coping with that end. The founders, Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, see submitting to the museum almost as a ritual, like a marriage or funeral, that can formally recognize the end of something once vital to one’s life.

One of the first displays I encountered

One of the first displays I encountered

Great imagery

Great imagery

The rooms were labeled with themes, like “Rage and Anger,” although on the whole, I didn’t find the themes that useful a division. The stories are interesting enough on their own, and there’s too much overlap in the end of a relationship among rage and heartbreak and loss to divide it all up into rooms. Maybe the only theme I would’ve taken care to separate items into would be “Death,” because it’s one thing to read about how two lovers broke up, and quite another to read about the tragic circumstances of a loved one’s death. I’d separate those out, to reduce the emotional whiplash.

Different kinds of relationships

Different kinds of relationships

The museum displays about 15% of its collection; they accept any donation (except things that are racially, religiously, sexually, or ethnically offensive), and they only have so much room. I imagine the turnover is pretty good, so that you could visit every year and see almost a whole new exhibit every time. They don’t turn donations away, as they really seem to want to be a physical place for people to locate their pain from a broken relationship.

Different goals for donating

Different goals for donating

They also don’t change the written story submission at all; they encourage people to submit in their native language, and they employ translators to do their best in changing it into English (the language of the museum). They accept multiple objects, tiny objects, large objects. They let the donor decide what’s being displayed and how it’s being talked about, and it seems to me that in doing so, they’re radically addressing what it means to be a museum at all, and what it means to curate one.

There were a lot of stuffed animals

There were a lot of stuffed animals

zagreb croatia museum

It was as fascinating and emotional as I’d been promised it would be, so I’ll pass on what other travelers told me: if you’re going to Zagreb, go to the Museum of Broken Relationships.

They Only Come Out at Night in Zadar

Last June, I stretched out my time in Croatia from four days to fourteen, because there was so much to see and do: Dubrovnik, Split, Sibenik, Krka… After days of amazing cultural and natural sites, I got to Zadar and flipped to the party hostel schedule. Zadar was my last coastal stop before heading inland to the fantastic Plitvice Lakes, and I intended to make the most of my time on the sea. So I slept in late in the mornings, went to the saltwater pool in the afternoons, listened to the sea organ at sunset, and danced on the sun salutation at night.

Disco lights by the seaside

Disco lights by the seaside

No big deal, I just live on Karma Street

No big deal, I just live on Karma Street

The saltwater pool was the first of its kind I’d seen. It was literally a pool built around a part of the sea, with bleachers along the shore, and an Olympic-height diving board looming over the sea outside the pool. As someone commented before, it’s all the fun of ocean swimming with none of the fear of sharks. When I was at the pool with a few people from the hostel, one of the guys revealed that he hadn’t been swimming in ten years, but now he was going to go try the high dive. The rest of us watched with bated breath as he climbed the stairs, paced the board a couple times, and then jumped right in. Impressive!

The saltwater pool

The saltwater pool

Like everywhere else in Croatia, Zadar has several historically important sites, and I kept intending to visit them, but I stayed at a hostel outside of town, and during the two or three days I stayed there, I somehow never made it to the city center before sunset. I’m sure on another trip, I’ll check out the church and cobblestone streets.

Some of the historically significant sights I never saw in daylight

Some of the historically significant sights I never saw in daylight

This time, I danced in clubs until the music got too unbearable, then I danced on the sun salutation to the sounds of the waves lapping on the shore and the mournful song of the sea organ. The sea organ consists of holes cut into the concrete of the boardwalk, and tubes underneath, which are played by the waves lapping against them and the wind whistling through them. Different tones come from the length of the pipes and the height of the waves. I listened to the random notes for nearly an hour, mesmerized by the repetition and slight variation.

The sea organ

The sea organ

The sun salutation art installation uses solar cells to soak up the sun during the day, and then lights up a giant glass display starting in the evening and going well into the night, depending on how much sun it took in over the day. The lights change colors in what appear to be random patterns–sometimes a block of red, then purple, then all the colors blinking on and off at once. It’s hard to see at sunset, because everyone crowds around, but it’s a different story later at night, as the lights twinkle well past four in the morning.

The sun salutation installation at three in the morning

The sun salutation installation at three in the morning

Here’s a video of the sea organ. Enjoy the soothing whistling sounds.

 

Cathedral of Stone, Temple of Water in Sibenik

Sibenik is famous for two things: its cathedral, and the nearby waterfalls of Krka National Park. Rightfully so, because these things of beauty stand out.

The Krka River

The Krka River

St James' Cathedral

St James’ Cathedral

St. James’ Cathedral is a World Heritage site, as its construction over a period of more than 100 years incorporated different styles and building techniques in a unique way. The only material used was stone from the quarries of the island of Brac, and it was fitted together in a way more similar to shipbuilding or cabinet-making than traditional building construction, which is one of the reasons it’s listed.

A Renaissance exterior

A Renaissance exterior

Also, being built between 1431 and 1555 meant that the cathedral bridged the Gothic and Renaissance styles. There are flourishes around the interior that echo famous cathedrals in other cities, and a baptistry famous for its intricate designs.

The transept

The transept

Cheery church iconography

Cheery church iconography

My favorite part, though, was the frieze around part of the exterior, which was decorated with faces carved in the stone. Stories go that these are the faces of donors to the project, and the unpopular donors are depicted in unflattering statuary.

The baptistry

The baptistry

The baptistry ceiling

The baptistry ceiling

If we don't look at the lion, maybe he won't eat us. Don't look at the lion, man...

If we don’t look at the lion, maybe he won’t eat us. Don’t look at the lion, man…

Krka National Park is lovely. I met some people who didn’t like how accessible it was–they wanted their waterfalls earned through a couple hours of hiking–but the waterfalls aren’t a spectacular reveal here, so I don’t see the point. The park consists of a blue-green river flowing over little ridges, small changes in gradation, one after another, so it’s more like collections of tiered falls separated by expanses of river. The water flows at a good rate, so by the time it reaches the lower falls, which are actually a decent height at 47 meters tall, it’s rushing over and splashing down magnificently.

Ribbit

Ribbit

The lower falls

The lower falls

It only took fifteen minutes of following this guy to get this shot

It only took fifteen minutes of following this guy to get this shot

I visited the park with a young French woman I met at my hostel. We walked along the boardwalks trying to photograph bright green frogs and iridescent dragonflies, stopped for lunch at the bottom of the lower falls, and then decided that despite the slight chill in the air, we’d brave going in. It was cold but fun, and we got a workout in walking against the current.

krka sibenik

Overlooking Sibenik

Overlooking Sibenik

Laure and I doing our best to look glamorous and not fall over

Laure and I doing our best to look glamorous and not fall over

Palatial Living in Split

I’ve visited palaces before, from England to Ecuador, so I figured I knew what to expect when I went to Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia. But Roman emperors building themselves retirement homes at the seaside did not mess around. This was not just an imposing building, this was an entire city. Built in the fourth century, the palace originally held Diocletian’s retinue and military guard, and a few centuries later, people moved in and set up shops and homes. It’s been the heart of the city of Split ever since.

Bell tower of the cathedral

Bell tower of the cathedral

One of the imposing walls of the palace

One of the imposing walls of the palace

Gregory of Nin, the 10th-century bishop who introduced Croatian in church services.

Gregory of Nin, the 10th-century bishop who introduced Croatian in church services

As a World Heritage site, the palace has to keep to strict rules of conservation, so the shops and restaurants inside the structure use the same marble from nearby island Brac whenever possible, and the streets are paved with white flagstones. Of course, before UNESCO started making rules about what could and could not stay, the city went through centuries of change. The main structure is still the same one that Diocletian lived in, but since then, nobles installed their coats of arms over doorways, bishops replaced temples with churches and Diocletian’s mausoleum with a basilica, and one religious group even turned part of the city walls into a very narrow Christian chapel.

Chapel in the fortified palace walls

Chapel in the fortified palace walls

Climbing the steep stairs of the bell tower

Climbing the steep stairs of the bell tower

Not a bad view

Not a bad view

The peristyle of Diocletian's Palace

The peristyle of Diocletian’s Palace

I visited Split in June 2013, as part of my two-week journey along the Croatian coast. I had astonishingly good weather the whole two weeks–the kind of warm, sunny weather that intensified the blue water and orange-roofed houses in each town–but one afternoon in Split, I got caught out in a hailstorm. I huddled with some other people on a balcony of the Cathedral of Saint Dominus, then dashed across the peristyle to the dome and listened to a quartet sing a cappella as the rain thundered outside.

View from the top of the bell tower

View from the top of the bell tower

Even the graffiti is educational

Even the graffiti is educational

As I mentioned in another post, I also took a ferry across to the island of Brac, to visit the beach Bol. The beach was stunningly beautiful, but people aren’t kidding when they say that the beaches in Croatia aren’t sandy. Only pebbles in every direction, which made getting in the water more of a hobble than a carefree dash. Once I settled onto my towel, I was able to appreciate the pebbles as a kind of massage bed, but any movement was a little uncomfortable. But maybe it’s just me; I didn’t notice anyone else having any problems. Ah well, small sacrifices.

Bol Beach on the island of Brac

Bol Beach on the island of Brac

Paradise looks like pebbled beaches

Paradise looks like pebbled beaches

View from the hill outside city walls

View from the hill outside city walls

Falling for the Charms of Dubrovnik

I’m going to let my American readers in on a little secret: the best place to enjoy the Mediterranean is the coast of Croatia. I didn’t know this myself until my four-day visit to Dubrovnik became a fourteen-day trip along the length of the country.

The old town of Dubrovnik

The old town of Dubrovnik

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d sort of assumed Croatia was still recovering from the war in the ’90s, and therefore wasn’t a great place for visitors, but that ridiculous idea was immediately proven wrong as I walked the streets of Dubrovnik (which has been a World Heritage site for over 30 years, and which charmed my mother when her family went on vacation there in the ’60s–its been attracting tourists for awhile). Croatia has recovered just fine, thankyouverymuch, and it’s one of the more popular vacation spots for Europeans.

The walls of Dubrovnik

The walls of Dubrovnik

dubrovnik

I rented an audio tour of the city walls of Dubrovnik, and the theme of the tour was how much the people of the city have always valued liberty above all. Dubrovnik was a city-state for several centuries, and all its (male) inhabitants were citizens. There were no slaves. They also abolished participating in the slave trade in 1416, centuries before the rest of the world caught up.

Take a boat back in time

Take a boat back in time

The fort across the bay

The fort across the bay

With major power Venice just across the Adriatic, smaller Dubrovnik had to do some maneuvering to maintain a measure of autonomy. It was a big trading power until the 17th century, when shifts in trading routes and a major earthquake changed the city’s fortunes. Still, the city remained a republic until Napoleon’s forces came through in 1806, and later it fell under Austro-Hungarian rule.

Red rooftops, blue sky

Red rooftops, blue sky

Narrow streets

Narrow streets

As with any medieval town, Dubrovnik was built within sturdy city walls. The approach from land was rocky and mountainous, so the main concern was an attack by sea. Walking the two kilometers of city walls, you can look at the islands dotting the sea and the cruise ships docking for an afternoon, and then you can turn in and see the back gardens of people’s homes, church basketball courts, laundry hanging limply in the still, hot air. Being at roof level makes for a different view, and all the buildings are topped in the same curved, orange-ish tile, which is striking against the deep blue of the sea.

The Dominican monastery

The Dominican monastery

Orange trees in the courtyard

Orange trees in the courtyard

There are several churches and grand buildings in the old town. Probably my favorite was actually the courtyard, or cloisters, of the Dominican monastery. The columns and decorative touches were particularly graceful, and greenery and orange trees filled the open space in the middle.

Inside the monastery

Inside the monastery

Listening to live music in the courtyard of the Rector's Palace

Listening to live music in the courtyard of the Rector’s Palace

The Rector’s Palace had quite a few paintings and treasures, but my favorite part about it was sitting on a ledge on the second floor of the open courtyard and listening to two women rehearse for a violin and piano concert later that evening.

The church on Lopud Island

The church on Lopud Island

The walk across the island

The walk across the island

One afternoon, I took a ferry to the island of Lopud, then walked across the island for about 40 minutes, at which point I was rewarded with Sunj Beach, the only sandy beach for miles. It was a lovely little spot, with shallow and warm water. I made friends with a six-year-old French girl and her grandparents, read my book, took a dip, and then shared the cost of the golf cart taxi ride back across the island so I wouldn’t miss the last ferry back.

Sunj Beach

Sunj Beach

Dubrovnik had many other lovely spots: churches made of marble and white stone, a cable car that climbed the hill overlooking the city to give a good view, the tower rebuilt after it started to lean like the one in Pisa, a massive fountain greeting people as soon as they walk through the impressive gates at the southwestern entrance, dozens of alleys and steep side streets leading past ivy- and flower-bedecked buildings. Despite the masses of June tourists blocking the main roads (myself included), it was still a charming place, steeped in history but not frozen in time, and I hope to visit again.

A beer on the sea

A beer on the sea

This man played Hendrix songs beautifully, but when I requested "Wind Cries Mary" he said he only does songs Jimi performed live

This man played Hendrix songs beautifully, but when I requested “Wind Cries Mary” he said he only does songs Jimi performed live

Very cool lock on a pirate's trunk

Very cool lock on a pirate’s trunk

The "zelenci"--the bronze statues that hit the bell in Orlando's Tower. I believe these are the originals and replicas currently keep time in the tower.

The “zelenci”–the bronze statues that hit the bell in Orlando’s Tower. I believe these are the originals and replicas currently keep time in the tower.

Dubrovnik Cathedral

Dubrovnik Cathedral

Dubrovnik by night

Dubrovnik by night

Charmed, I'm sure

Charmed, I’m sure