Summer holiday: Zagreb

Yes, another instalment in my Summer Holiday posts! I’m almost finished documenting Joanna’s and my whirlwind trip from Italy to Croatia to Turkey. This post is about our final day in Croatia, when we went to Zagreb, the capital.

The city of Zagreb’s coat of arms in flowers.

The hostel we checked into gave us a map that had marked out a walking tour of the Upper and Lower towns of Old Zagreb. The map had helpful miniature illustrations of the major sites, but unfortunately did not say what they were! So it was an adventure walking around the Old City.

First we went to Zagreb Cathedral, which is currently undergoing restoration (and has been for some time). The inside was beautiful and quiet.

At the back of the cathedral was an incredible sculpture of the crucifixion. It took up the entire wall, and above it was what I presume to be a passage from the Bible written in ancient Croatian. Beside it was a shrine to the Virgin.

   

As we continued on our walking tour, we also took a little detour. While chatting over steaming mugs of Turkish coffee, the hostel receptionist asked us if we were religious and then told us about a shrine in the Old Town Gate. Inside the gate is a shrine to the Virgin and to St Anthony. The painting of the Virgin is said to be holy because it was the only thing to have survived a large fire that destroyed most of the area, even though it is made of wood. People pray there, lighting candles, and the walls are covered with plaques of thanksgiving for answered prayer. (Hvala is ‘thank you’ in Croatian.) It was beautiful.

   

What struck me most were the plaques: not only did people come here to pray, but they came back to give their thanks. The walls were covered with the testimonies of answered prayer. I, too, lit a candle in that special place.

Outside the city gate was a statue of St George and the Dragon. Several countries claim St George as their patron saint (England included). I’m particularly fond of depictions of St George and the dragon, though ever since I used the painting by ___ as my writing totem for The Faerie King, I’ve felt sorry for the dragon. I was glad to see that this statue showed St George and his horse looking particularly sorrowful.

We finally did go to a couple of museums — the Croatian Naive Art Museum and the Museum of Broken Relationships — but not without first passing St Mark’s Church. This church probably has the most colourful roof I have ever seen on a church:

Neither Joanna nor I knew anything about Croatian Naive Art, so we went to the museum to find out. From what we could gather from the leaflet and the labels of the paintings, Croatian Naive Art is a type of modern art. A couple of my favourites were Zima s velikim nebom (Winter with a Big Sky) by Mio Kovačić and Velika Jesen (Big Autumn) by Ivan Lacković.

As for the Museum of Broken Relationships — that is one of the weirdest museums I have been to. The concept behind the museum is that society has events and ways to mark the beginnings of relationships, but not for the endings of them, even though the ending of relationships can be just as emotional. The museum’s collection consists of items that people from across the world have donated to the museum, often with a little anecdote, which is put on display next to the item. The galleries are arranged by theme. The first gallery was funny, with humourous anecdotes and really quirky items, but it quickly became depressing, making the visitor take part in some sort of odd voyeurism. Joanna and I left the museum somewhat downhearted, and, vowing never to receive gifts, especially of the plush toy kind, went to get ice cream.

Having had our spirits lifted by ice cream, we continued our tour. We went by the Croatian National Theatre:


‘Alas, poor Seamus! I knew him, Joanna.’ *

Outside of which was yet another statue of St George and the Dragon. This one is by K.K. Kunst-Erzgiesserei and it’s of George fighting a rather vicious looking dragon.

The horse looks particularly terrified. I don’t blame him!

With the light quickly fading, we ate dinner and went back to the hostel to pack and prepare to leave Croatia. The next day we would be flying home, taking a rather circuitous journey…

* Who is Seamus? Only Seamus the Traveling Duck, of course.

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